“How long did you say the drive was?” Presley slipped from beneath the sheets as she spoke, and walked naked toward the bathroom. Nate let his eyes follow the side-to-side sway of her retreating ass.
Moments later, he heard water running. She was brushing her teeth. With his toothbrush, no doubt. He’d told her a million times that she could leave one here, but she always ignored him, preferring to use his, which he would have found borderline disgusting, if it were anyone but her.
“Twelve hours. Give or take,” he called after her.
“And you’re not flying, why?” She stuck her head out into the doorway. Just as he’d guessed, her mouth was frothy with toothpaste.
“Because the ticket prices are ridiculous.”
“No. You’re ridiculous,” Presley said. “You know what traffic is going to be like out there?”
“Shitty the whole way, probably,” Nate acknowledged.
“Exactly. Why would you put yourself through that?” She ducked back into the bathroom.
“Because I’m a masochist,” he mumbled under his breath.
“I said I’m not paying almost a thousand dollars to fly somewhere in the contiguous United States.”
“It’s your own fault for waiting so long to book your ticket.”
“That’s not the point, Presley.”
In the bathroom, she made a scoffing noise, and then came the sound of the shower. “Are you coming in to join me?”
“What’re you doing for the holidays?” he called, ignoring her invitation.
“I don’t know yet. Get in here before the water gets cold. I have to make it over to the club by ten.”
When he walked into the bathroom, it was to the sight of Presley shoving aside the shower door and stepping under the rainfall showerhead, letting her head drop forward, chin to chest as the water drenched her, and her hair fell in curtains on either side of her head, obscuring her face. Nate watched her for a few moments, taking in her Rubenesque figure with a smile of appreciation. That ass was just unreal, and rivaled only by her beautiful, large, doe-like eyes with just the hint of a slant to them.
“Are you getting in, or not?” She flipped her hair back and turned to look at him. With the water streaming down her face and over her breasts, it almost looked like she was covered in honey, because of her golden-brown complexion.
“Yeah.” Nate joined her and purposely brushed his forearm against her nipples, grinning when they hardened.
“You want to get on the road tonight you’d better not start anything,” she sang.
“You didn’t tell me what your plans were for the holidays,” he reminded her as he pulled the shower door shut.
“I don’t have any. I’ll wake up on Christmas morning and see what the day brings.”
Nate heaved a deep breath and bit his tongue. It was cute at first, that Zen nonsense. But once in a while, an occasional plan wouldn’t hurt. Just once in a while.
“You’re not going to go see your family, or …?”
“No. My family lives in Hawaii, remember? Somewhere where a thousand-dollar plane ticket is the standard cost of admission, because it’s not in the contiguous United States. I told them I wouldn’t be making it home. Too expensive.”
“I would’ve bought you the ticket,” he said.
Clearly his impatience was audible.
“What’re you getting so bent out of shape about? I wouldn’t have expected you to buy me the ticket. Don’t be stupid. Especially since you don’t even want to buy your own.”
“To New Jersey, a thousand dollars is unreasonable. To Hawaii on the other hand …”
“I’ll be fine, Nate.”
“Okay, so what’re the options?” He reached across her for the body wash.
“What d’you mean?”
“For Christmas. If you’re not going home, what’re your options?”
“I told you. I don’t know.”
“Are you going to be alone?”
Presley didn’t answer, and instead stepped under the showerhead once again, dousing herself completely and making it effectively impossible to carry on a conversation.
“Pres, I asked you something.” Nate pulled her from beneath the stream and turned her to face him.
“I don’t know. Maybe, but probably not. I actually have a pretty rich social life, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Actually, he had noticed. Presley’s ‘rich social life’ was the reason they met in the first place. She and her friends were at a club he was at with his boys; the first stop on what was to be a long night of bar-crawling for a bachelor party. Presley had been in the same VIP area with a group of women, whooping it up and ordering bottle after bottle of champagne. Turned out they were having a divorce party, and Pres was at the center of it, keeping everyone animated and in the spirit of things.
Halfway through the evening, Nate realized that his eyes kept returning to her, the voluptuous dark-haired beauty with the red, red lips in the black cat-suit and impossibly high heels. About the third time she looked up and caught him staring, she had smiled, walking up to him as bold as you please.
Was there something you wanted to say to me?
“What’re Celeste and Stacy doing for the holidays?” he asked her now.
“I have no idea.”
Celeste and Stacy were her closest friends, her partners-in-crime among the notorious party-girl set Presley ran with. Nate’s boys ribbed him about her sometimes, telling him that he had managed every man’s dream—having a beautiful woman use him as a booty-call. And yeah, sometimes that was what it felt like, because by necessity, Pres worked pretty jacked-up hours and often showed up at Nate’s only after she was done in the wee hours of the morning.
Very well-known on the club circuit as a one of the hottest party planners and hostesses, Presley managed events that were so hot, she didn’t even need a celebrity’s name on the marquee any longer. Presley Paine had become a name in her own right. The women at the divorce party where Nate had met her hadn’t been her actual friends, he later learned. Pres was just there to keep them happy, liquored-up and prone to spending more and more on the overpriced club cocktails.
Her surname wasn’t even really Paine. She just had a theory, she’d once explained to Nate, that people were more likely to remember names that were alliterations. Her last name was actually Kahele. Her father was Hawaiian Native, and her mother was Black, and they both still lived on the Big Island with her three siblings, all boys. In addition to being the only girl, Presley was the eldest and the most rebellious. She rarely went home not only because it was expensive, but because she and her father fought a lot. He didn’t approve of her “club lifestyle”, she had said, making air quotes with her fingers.
“I feel like we need to do it one more time before you leave,” Presley said, turning and grabbing Nate in her soapy hands. “Just to calm you down. Reassure you that I won’t be here crying into my egg nog or something while you’re home with your family.”
“So what will you be doing?” Nate asked, trying not to be distracted by the slow, back and forth motion Presley was making with his member grasped in her fist.
“This and that.” Presley’s voice sounded dreamy. She released him, and Nate opened his eyes just in time to see her drop to her knees.
Nate sat up in bed and looked around. It was dark now. Glancing at the clock he saw that it was just past eleven. He had allowed Presley to lure him back to bed after their shower, and then once she’d worn him out, she had slipped out. He wasn’t surprised she was gone, but he wished she wasn’t. Their relationship, which she preferred to refer to as their “arrangement” was unconventional to say the least. Pres didn’t expect dinner dates or daily phone calls; she didn’t squawk when he went out with his friends, or disappeared out of town for work without telling her in advance. She just popped in and out of his life on a whim—sometimes he’d see her every day for a week, and then she’d be gone for a month. And she might spend two nights with him over a weekend, and then not call or answer his calls for two weeks.
I was on the road. That was always her explanation. She did parties in different cities, and people paid her for that. Sometimes handsomely, sometimes just by comping rooms and drinks for her and a few friends. She had a BMW x5 that she barely made the payments on most months, and a shitty apartment in a ramshackle house in Cabbagetown where she paid next to nothing because the building wasn’t up to code.
Nate never asked her whether she met guys when she was at the clubs. Because of course she did. And he never asked if she hooked up with any of the guys. Because he didn’t want to know.
He planned to hit the road around midnight, or one a.m., when traffic was light, with the intention of making it to New Jersey by noon or so on Christmas Eve. His sister’s house was sure to be a zoo, with her two little ones, her three stepchildren and his brother-in-law’s extended group of friends with their kids, all of them under the age of six. The only saving grace was that the house was so doggone huge, Nate was sure he could find some quiet if he needed it.
He would call Pres when he got there, just to see what she was up to.
He was packed and ready to go by midnight, right on schedule. Nate dumped his leather duffle in the passenger seat of his car and backed out of the driveway. Atlanta was alive tonight, everyone getting the non-wholesome partying out of their system before sitting at their momma’s Christmas dinner table. Nate’s own mother wouldn’t be with them this Christmas. She was heading to Paris to spend it with her … boyfriend. Nate almost cringed at the word, associated with his mother. But hell, she was entitled. Robyn had tried to enlist his help to persuade their mother not to go, but he’d refused.
Let Carolyn live a little, he’d told his sister. I mean, live for herself for a change. Not for us.
Fine, Robyn said. He heard the pout in her voice. But it won’t be the same without her.
Robyn was definitely a momma’s girl. After her divorce, she had returned home and clung to their mother’s apron, just like when they were kids. Nate remembered those days, seeing his sister sink into a deep, dark and lonely place when her marriage ended. And he remembered how skeptical he’d been at first when she took up with the notorious Chris Scaife. But he was happy to be proven wrong. Chris, music mogul or not, turned out to be as bowled over by his sister as she was by him; and now, two babies and a few years later, they were as close as ever. Nate almost didn’t mind the noise and chaos at their house during the holidays because it was all about family—and what else should the holidays be about if not that?
The route out of town took him past Concourse, the club where Pres would be working tonight, and as Nate drove by, he took in the convoy of flashy cars and flashier women outside the main entrance. Even with his windows rolled up to ward against the cold he could hear their voices, loud and excitable and they prepared to go inside and get their party on.
Pres would be in there somewhere, wearing a short skirt, something sleeveless, arms in the air and dancing up a storm. He didn’t often go to the clubs when she was working, because now, that woman seemed like someone else entirely. Pres was to him the sometimes-goofy girl with her hair in a sloppy ponytail, wearing one of his shirts, legs bare and stretched into his lap, eating from a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and interrupting Game of Thrones, asking, ‘wait, who’s this guy again?’
Grinning at the thought, Nate swung over into the right lane and hooked into an underground garage. Since he would be gone for a week, what the hell? One last quick goodbye, one last kiss, one last look at her goofball face before he hit I-85.
He couldn’t find her. Nate checked out all the usual places in the club where Pres was likely to be – the VIP area, the private party rooms and behind the bar. Then he went up to the balcony to look down at the dancefloor.
It was stupid to think he would be able to spot her in this crowd, he thought as he headed back downstairs, being jostled by people who were heading up. So, he’d text her or something. Tell her he was thinking about her, and wish her Happy Holidays. Not that she was likely to respond.
It was Stacy, among a group of women at the foot of the stairs, a glass in hand containing a strangely bright pink liquid.
“You here for the Ho-Ho-Ho?”
Nate squinted. “The what?”
“The party!” Stacy laughed, shouting to be heard over the music. “It’s called the …”
“Nah, just looking for Pres,” he said, shaking his head.
“Oh. She’s not working tonight,” Stacy said. “Sorry.”
“You sure? I’m pretty sure she said …”
“What?” Stacy yelled. “I can’t …” She indicated her ears.
Holding her by the forearm, Nate nodded an apology to her friends and steered her in the direction of the alcove behind the stairs, and the corridor there that led to the restrooms. It was somewhat less noisy in that spot.
“She isn’t working tonight,” Stacy repeated.
“Maybe somewhere else?” Nate suggested.
Stacy shrugged. “Nope. She stopped in. Said she wasn’t feeling well and went home.”
Nate considered for a moment. “What’re you doing for the holidays, Stacy? You and Pres hangin’ out, or what?”
“Flying home tomorrow. My folks are in Florida. Lucky me, huh?”
Stacy shrugged again.
“She didn’t even try to make it to Hawaii, huh?”
“Why would she?” Stacy looked confused.
“Because that’s where her family is from.”
Stacy’s face fell and she pursed her lips.
“Pres doesn’t have family in Hawaii. Not anymore,” Stacy said. “Not that she can find anyway. She has a brother in prison there, and her mother’s dead. She lost touch with her father ages ago. That’s how she and her brothers wound up in foster care.”
Taking a step back, Nate leaned against the wall. “Wait. What? Foster care?”
“She’s a former foster. Doesn’t talk about it much, but yeah. So there’s no family in Hawaii to go back to for the holidays. Don’t tell her I said anything, okay?” Stacy was already angling her body away from him, ready to go back to the party.
“No,” Nate said quietly as Stacy walked away. “I won’t say anything.”
“Thought you were working tonight?”
Nate pretended not to notice that Presley’s eyes were a little puffy and pink, and skirted around her at the front door of her apartment, looking around once he was inside. It was only a cut above his senior year apartment when he was in college, with mismatched furniture pieces that had more likely than not been reclaimed from the side of the road. It was obviously a place to lay her head, and no more than that. Except that, incongruously, there was a state-of-the-art television against one wall. Some stupid VH-1 reality show was on. Women wearing too much makeup were swearing and swinging at each other, their hair weaves whipping in wide arcs, the only dialogue a cacophony of bleeps interspersed with the word ‘bitch’, and for variety, ‘low-rent ‘ho’.
“I changed my mind,” Pres said. “Decided to stay in for a change. I think I might be coming down with something.” She sniffled for effect, which Nate figured was her alibi for the swollen eyes.
“Seemed fine earlier at my place.”
“You probably gave it to me,” she said.
He smiled, and rather than look directly at her, which he sensed she wouldn’t want him to do, Nate perused the books on her sad little lopsided bookshelf. There were lots of celebrity biographies, tell-alls by B-listers, and one by an infamous former video vixen.
“If I gave it to you, it’s only fair that I stay here and look after you,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Pres asked the question slowly.
“I mean …” This time Nate did turn to look at her. “You can’t be here, sick and alone over the holidays. So I have to stay and look after you.”
Presley’s lower lip wobbled. “No, you don’t.”
“Yeah. I kinda do.”
She shook her head, but didn’t try to speak again. Nate pretended he didn’t see the tears pooling in her eyes.
“Yeah,” he said again.
“If I thought …” She was forcing each word out, obviously struggling not to cry. “If I thought you were feeling sorry for me, I would be … infuriated.”
Nate smiled at that—the thought of Presley infuriated. He couldn’t imagine she would ever be any more threatening than an angry poodle.
“And besides, you have your family thing to go to.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, as though he’d only just remembered it. “There is that.”
“So, you have to go.”
It was probably meant to be a statement, but it sounded somewhat like a question. That was when Nate knew for sure.
“You’re right. I do have to go,” he acknowledged. “My sister would kill me if I didn’t show. So … you’re just going to have to come with me.”
Presley’s eyes opened wider. And it was that that did it. The tears finally spilled onto her cheeks. She ignored them, so he did too. Glancing down at his watch, Nate feigned impatience.
“C’mon. Pack a bag. We’ll be gone a week.”
Presley was slowly shaking her head. “You can’t just bring … strays to your family’s Christmas.”
“You’re not a stray,” he said, his voice sharper than he’d intended.
He took two steps toward her. Presley’s head fell back and he leaned in, touching his forehead against hers.
“You’re not a stray,” he said softer. “You’re my girl. So where else should you be at Christmas, other than … with me?” He leaned in closer to kiss her, but Presley pulled back,
“My nose is dripping,” she explained, wiping it with the back of a hand.
Nate smiled. “So … wipe your nasty-ass drippy nose, get packed and let’s roll.”
A look crossed her face then, a mixture of excitement and trepidation, and then outright fear.
“Nate, your family though? I mean …” She shifted her weight from one leg to the other and then back again.
“Come with me, Pres,” he said. “Please.”
“Are you su…”
“You know why I didn’t buy a ticket sooner?” he interrupted. “Because I always wanted you to come. I was hoping I would be buying two tickets. And then I chickened out on asking.”
Presley’s beautiful large eyes grew larger still, and she managed a tiny smile. “Is that … true?”
“Yes,” he said honestly. “Come with me.”
Nate pulled her close once again, and with drippy nose and all, he kissed her. The tension in her shoulders subsided, and her body relaxed into his. He felt, rather than heard her sigh.
“Okay,” she said, her voice a whisper. “Yes.”
Hope you enjoyed this visit with Robyn’s (aka Mrs. Chris Scaife’s) brother.