Lawrence Wellington rolled off Charmaine with a huff and landed heavily beside her on the bed. She stared at the ceiling. It was covered with that white popcorn texture that had always baffled her. Sure, such a treatment was a hassle to remove, but a flat ceiling was certainly worth the trouble.
Lawrence patted her thigh then turned and faced the wall. “I’ve got an early day tomorrow. Hope you understand, I’ve got to get some shut-eye.”
Sighing, Charmaine responded, “Oh, that was more than enough.” Her voice dripped with a sarcasm she expected to be lost on him, but she was wrong.
He turned to face her, his caterpillar-like brows furrowing to meet in the middle. “What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “Just that I had expected so much more, you know.”
By this time he’d sat up, defensively covering his lower half with the bed sheet. “No, I don’t know!”
Charmaine fiddled with a lock of her long hair, twisting it between her fingers, continuing to gaze absently at the ceiling. “I had higher hopes for you, for us.”
“Are you serious?” His incredulity told her he wasn’t an advocate for honesty at all costs.
Undeterred, she scrunched up her face and continued. “Yeah.”
Standing up, Lawrence pulled the sheet around his waist, leaving her naked and exposed on the bed. “I think you need to leave.”
She snorted. “Why? Did I insult your manhood?” The slur in her voice was unmistakable and she wished she could make it go away. Apparently she’d already had a significant amount to drink, yet she suddenly wanted another one. “Hey, do you have anything to drink?”
“I just told you I have to get up early tomorrow!”
She could almost see smoke coming out his ears. This made her giggle, which proceeded to make him even angrier.
“Charmaine, some of us have to go to work for a living. It’s time for you to go.” He bent over and hunted for her clothes which were strewn all over the room. Once he had an armful, he tossed them at her. “Here, get dressed.”
She gave him an exaggerated eye roll before saying, “Fine. God, you’re such a party pooper.”
As he ran a hand through his hair, he began to tug on it in frustration. “Me? I’m a party pooper? That’s rich.”
Charmaine snickered. “Okay, chill player.” She drawled out the word “player” then snickered. Lawrence was anything but a ladies’ man, and if the performance she’d just been treated to was any indication, she knew why. She stood up and started fumbling to put her clothes on.
Once she’d put on her skirt and blouse she felt Lawrence’s hand on the middle of her back guiding her to the door.
“Okay, okay, you don’t have to be so rushy rushy,” she whined.
“Here,” he said, placing her Birkin handbag and Louboutin shoes in her hands and opening the door to his apartment.
Charmaine drew herself up to her full five foot six inches and tried to steady herself. “Wait, I have one more thing to say.”
He shook his head in a way that said, “You always have one more things to say,” but she ignored that.
She placed a hand on his forearm and leaned into him as if she were going to tell him a secret.
“What?” he asked impatiently.
“It’s not your fault. I’m sure you’re perfectly good at doing other things,” she whispered and patted his arm.
With a grunt of disgust, he pushed her into the hallway and slammed the door in her face.
Charmaine exhaled then said loudly, “Some people are too damned sensitive.” She leaned against the wall for support as she put on her five-inch heels. Then she slung her bag over her shoulder and weaved her way down the sad, bare hallway of Lawrence’s apartment building.
The elevator took forever, but it finally arrived and she toppled into it. Pressing “1” she rummaged in her bag for her cell phone. She texted her driver, Rollins, that she needed a ride.
Within seconds she received a text back saying he would be outside in five minutes.
She opened the door to the street and a wall of Dallas heat and humidity hit her in the face even though it was past two in the morning. Blech! God how she hated summer and it was only June. She had been planning to sit on the curb and wait, but she was afraid the asphalt would burn her behind so she found a column to lean against instead.
Lawrence. She’d had such high hopes for the man. After years of running around with pool boys, baseball players, and even the occasional European club owner, Charmaine had tried to do the right thing, the mature thing, by dating Lawrence. He was an upstanding citizen, an attorney who worked for a non-profit organization. She thought he even went to church. Unfortunately, she’d just found out that he was as dull in the sack as he was out of it.
Like most men, he’d been attracted to her. She knew men were drawn to her beauty, her wildness, her fame. The fact that she was one of the wealthiest girls in Dallas probably didn’t hurt either, she grinned wryly to herself.
She checked her phone. 2:33 a.m. Rollins should be here…
She and Lawrence were clearly mismatched. He couldn’t have been more boring, and she could tell he was beginning to grow weary of her high maintenance personality. But in the past couple of years, she’d come to feel something was missing in her life. Dammit, she was lonely. That was the only reason she bothered with guys like Lawrence.
Good riddance, she thought as a Lincoln Navigator pulled to a stop at the curb. Rollins exited the driver’s seat and wordlessly opened the door for her. She appreciated that he didn’t ask any questions. Rollins never gave her the third degree, never asked her why she was somewhere, never mentioned the wobble in her walk when she’d had too much to drink. Hell, he’d even had to pull over to the side of the road for her to barf a few times. But he did not interfere and thank God for that.
Sliding onto the leather bench seat she relaxed. It felt good to sit down. She lay down, pressing her cheek against the cool leather, grateful at least she had Rollins to take care of her. No one else did. Not the revolving door of men in her life, or her family, or even the housekeepers who passed through her life. Nope, Rollins was a constant.
She must have fallen asleep because the next thing she remembered was Rollins helping her into the lobby. She stumbled to the elevator.
Lifting her eyebrows she told Rollins, “You don’t have to see me all the way up. I can get there myself.”
“It’s alright, Miss Charmaine. I don’t mind a bit.”
She sniffed, but secretly appreciated the extra care he took with her. Through her alcohol-induced haze she contemplated Rollins. He stood well over six feet tall, had a slim build and always wore starched dress shirts, slacks, and a tie. His children were grown, and his wife had passed away a few years ago, breast cancer or something. The main job he had was tending to Charmaine, or at least taking her where she needed to go. These days he shopped for her too. It hadn’t originally been in his job description, but she hated going to the market, one day he offered, and now it was a habit.
When the elevator arrived at the top floor, she exited and Rollins followed. With a wave of her hand she indicated he should go back downstairs. “Thanks, I’m good.”
He took a step back into the elevator and held the door open with the palm of his hand. “I’ll just wait until you get inside,” he said.
She fished in her bag for her key, muttering under her breath. “Ugh!” Losing her keys was a common occurrence, and as helpful as Rollins was, it irked her that he suspected she might not find the blasted thing.
The keys jangled as she pulled them from her purse with the flourish of a magician. “Voila,” she said holding them up by their silver spoon handled keychain.
Rollins removed his hand and allowed the elevator doors to close. “Goodnight, Miss.” For a brief second she felt alone. A sense of sadness threatened to settle upon her, but she pushed it aside.
The key wobbled in her unsteady hand and it took several tries before she could insert it into the lock. Whew! She really had tied one on, hadn’t she? Click! The deadbolt turned and she pushed open the heavy door.
Her white leather sofa looked so tempting, but a loud growl from her stomach made her head for the kitchen instead. She opened the refrigerator, then the freezer and stood there letting the cold air wash over her. The cool air on her skin felt divine. She closed her eyes, inhaled the frigid air, and almost forgot what she was doing. With a start she opened them again. Hmm. What looked good?
The SubZero was stocked even better than she expected, and she narrowed down her choices to ice cream or jalapeno poppers. The craving for grease outweighed her desire for sweets so she removed the package of frozen poppers. She turned on the oven to preheat it and read the directions from the back of the box. She rarely cooked, and the words on the back were so blurry that she had to squint to see them. Looks like I can heat them up on the cooktop. She rummaged around until she found a skillet. Turning on a burner she went in search of some cooking oil. Surely, you needed oil to fry these things.
She found some on the high shelf of a cabinet and doused the skillet with it. She set the skillet down on the hot burner then her phone beeped alerting her she had a text message.
Her eyes scanned the kitchen for the phone, but it sounded like it was coming from the living room. She found it beeping in her purse, which she had thrown on the luxurious couch. She read the text. A coupon code from one of her favorite retailers. Figures, she sighed and tossed the phone on the floor.
The lure of the cozy cushions won her over and she stretched out on the couch and grabbed the remote control. She turned on the television and flipped through a few channels stopping on an infomercial for a hair styling tool that appeared to turn wild, unruly hair into sleek, gorgeous up-do’s with the flick of a wrist. With each hairstyle makeover they showed, she became more entranced. Eyes glued to the 50” curved HD screen, she reached for the alpaca blanket draped over the back of the sofa and snuggled down beneath it…
Charmaine was awakened by the loudest alarm she’d ever heard.
BEEEP! BEEEP! BEEEP! BEEEEP!
What was that God-awful sound? She covered her ears. Where was it coming from? Her brain was foggy, and it took longer than usual to process the information.
She opened her eyes slowly, and a spike of pain shot through her head. The incessant beeping was not what she needed with the hangover she now had. Gathering her bearings she realized she was in her own bed. How did she get here? Hadn’t she been with Lawrence last night? She tried to remember how she’d gotten home, what she had done… but the alarm was going off at a disturbing decibel level which made it difficult to think.
Reaching for her phone to turn off the alarm, she sat straight up in bed. Sunlight was barely beginning to stream through the window but it was enough for her to see her phone wasn’t on the nightstand in its usual place.
And something smelled funny, like something was burning. Oh dear Lord, that is not my alarm! Bolting out of bed, her head pounded as she ran toward the noise. When she reached the kitchen she froze.
Flames engulfed the room, the whole kitchen was ablaze. Her eyes darted to her favorite couch where she’d fallen asleep last night, flames licking all around it, threatening to turn it into a puddle of soot.
The heat from the fire warmed the room to an unbearable temperature and she felt pangs of nausea in her stomach. Panic rose in her throat as she registered that her path to the front door was blocked by flames.
Then she noticed her phone on the floor.
When the phone started melting, she began to scream.