[Mahlena wrote this short story! Please leave a comment! 🙆🏾]
“How am I embarrassing you?”
“By consorting with that child. He's half your age.”
“What I do is none of your concern, Basil. You're the one who left me, remember?” In a royal blue, ruffled evening gown, Sunshine stomped through the parting elevator doors in the bustling lobby of the Park Place Hotel
Basil, clad in a white on back tuxedo, tailed her across the marble floor to the durable hallway carpet. “I can’t believe you brought him tonight.”
Sunshine kept walking toward the open doors of the ballroom, which was overflowing with dressed up parents dancing under flashing lights to hip hop classics. “It’s not like you came here alone,” she said. “What do you think everyone’s saying about your date to the Winter Ball?”
“That’s she’s of age. Athena can vote, she can drink. Can that boy rent a car by himself?”
Sunshine slowed her stride to think. “Yes. Yes, he can.” She bristled. “Why do you care?”
“It’s my business who you bring around our daughter.”
“Agatha hasn’t met Matt. We’ve only been hanging out for a couple months.” She spun around to face her ex-husband. “Has she met Athena?”
Basil stumbled and shut his mouth.
“Whatever,” Sunshine dismissed. “I’m done with this conversation. Go back to your girlfriend.” She pointed at the party as she scooted in the direction of the Ladies’ room. “You are her problem now.”
“Dude, look where you’re—”
“Sunshine?” In the restroom and water fountain vestibule off the hotel hallway, Pablo gathered himself after a distracted woman had barreled into his cummerbund, elbow first.
“I didn’t see you standing there,” she wheezed.
Pablo surveyed the area. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sunshine replied. “Is Venice waiting for you inside?”
“I left her chatting with Priya and some other PTA parents, so I have a few minutes.”
“If Venice is talking shop with the PTA crew, you might have a few days, “ she joked. “Rumor has it, she’s going to make a play for the presidency this spring and try to unseat Cappie.”
“Devious,” he observed. “So, what’s got you vexed?”
She let out a long sigh. “Basil.”
“Does this event make you feel nostalgic about the good times that made you laugh? Thinking about where you’ve been, and what you’ve been through?”
“It wasn’t before,” she frowned. “Thanks a lot.”
Sunshine jammed her fists in her dress pockets. “What do you think of Matt?”
“I don’t really know him.”
“Aren’t you gym buddies?”
“We’ve occasionally crossed paths at the leg press machine. Not exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“So you don’t like him,” she surmised.
“I’m sure I would love him if we exchanged more words than ‘What’s up, brah?’ and ‘Nice deadlift.’ Where is this coming from?” Pablo asked. “Wait, does Basil have a problem with Matt being…”
She shook her head. “He thinks I’m too old for him.”
Basil crossed his arms. He leaned against the wall next to the mounted phone. “All that matters is what you think. Which is?”
Sunshine looked at Pablo. “He’s wonderful. I like him a lot. We make each other laugh, in new ways.”
“Ta da. Go after what you want, regardless of what anyone else says.”
“Thanks.” She gave him a hug. “I like having you as a real friend.”
He wrapped his arms around her. “What are friends for?”
Sunshine let her eyes close on his shoulder. “I’m glad we found a nonprofessional way for our relationship to work.”
“Seeing you without being on the clock isn’t as lucrative, but it does lessen any conflict of interest.” Pablo saw Sunshine’s eyes open.
“What are you interested in?” she asked, searching.
Pablo took a step back, releasing her.
Sunshine stood still, waiting for an answer.
“I should get back in there,” Pablo said without moving.
Sunshine edged toward the white woman symbol on the gold plated sign. “You should.”
“When I left Tiburon at home with my mother, she made me promise I’d try to have a good time.” His patent leather shoes remained in the same place. “Tell Matt I said, ‘What’s up?’”
“Certainly.” She disappeared into the restroom alcove.
Pablo slinked away down the hall, blinking rapidly. He entered the glittering ballroom and reunited with his date.
“I would hope so. It’s my 15th Winter Ball. The formula I created should have been perfected by now.”
“Even better than last year,” Sunshine assured, holding Matt’s hand. The projected white snowflake lights glistened against the ballroom’s dark blue walls. “Your Ball was lovely, Cappie.”
At the jiggling buffet table, Cappie avoided the slosh of the soy sauce dispenser and kept the front bow of her crème brûlée colored wrap gown tidy. “I will accept your praise with the love that it was given in.”
Sunshine watched the crowd this as the clock crept closer to midnight.
“Getting tired?” Matt asked, smoothing a dark tendril that had escaped Sunshine’s elegant bun.
“Yeah,” she replied.
“I’m ready when you are,” Matt said.
Sunshine said her good-byes to Cappie and the other remaining partygoers, all pleased to have met Matt.
“I recognized more people than I thought I would,” he told Sunshine, as they strolled through the lobby. “Like that guy next to the potted plant.” He gave the other gentleman a head nod. “We’ve seen each other around town.”
Sunshine also knew of him. “Lionel. He’s the mayor’s husband,” she said, exiting the building through the automatic doors.
“He’s lethal on the squash court.” Matt paused with her at the valet station in the expansive circular driveway. “Since we took separate cars, I guess this is good night.”
“When will I see you again?” She swung his hands.
“When would you like? Is Agatha with her dad the rest of the weekend, after she wakes up from the giant school sleepover upstairs?”
“I’m pretty sure she and her friends will be staying up all night,” Sunshine replied, “to the chagrin of their weary chaperones. Afterwards, yes, her father will have her till Sunday night.”
“Then how about you and I have dinner Saturday night?”
“Yes. Call me tomorrow morning?”
He checked his phone. “It is tomorrow morning.”
The valet arrived with Matt’s crossover vehicle.
Matt gave Sunshine a farewell kiss. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
“Okay, goofball, bye,” she smiled.
The next car to arrive was Sunshine’s. Once belted into the driver’s seat, Sunshine removed her bejeweled heels, motored off the hotel grounds, and parked on a side street so that she could think.
She pressed a speed dial button on her phone. “Hi… yes, it’s me… I’m fine… I know it’s late, and I don’t usually make special requests, but would you be able to help me out?... Yes, I know exactly what I want.”
“I’ll be there soon…
“Nothing that can’t wait.” Pablo shoved his phone into his black jacket. He resumed walking with his companion past the concierge desk toward the Park Place Hotel exit. “This was a fun night, Venice. Thanks for inviting me.”
In her flowing peach dress, Venice twirled in front of Pablo to stop him in his tracks. Her silver stilettos elevated the top her head to the bridge of his nose. “The night isn’t over already, is it?”
Pablo’s face relaxed. “What did you have in mind?”
“You’re the expert. I’ll follow your lead.”
He surveyed the space. “Drinks at the bar?”
“Sure!” Venice guided him toward the bartenders in the distance. “Is this included?”
Pablo slowed his stride. “In what?”
“I assume there’s a package for all night? I should have asked how much earlier, but I thought that would be gauche. Like, if I’m asking, then I can’t afford it?” Venice reached her palm up to his shoulder. “I can. Regardless, you’re worth it.”
Confounded, Pablo removed her hand from his body. “What do you think is going on right now?”
“The same arrangement you had with Sunshine,” Venice replied with candor. “Or do I have to got through the agency?”
“Where did you hear—”
“My friend in Bel Air recognized you from the Football Rumble pictures on the school’s social media profiles. She said you were old friends—”
“Old friends.” Pablo grew queasy. “I know who you’re talking about.” He saw Venice assess the situation.
“That’s not what this was?” she realized. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.” Venice backed away, stumbling. “I am going upstairs to my room because I booked it ahead of time, before—”
Pablo watched her try to complete the sentence.
Venice checked for the key card in her metallic clutch. “I’ll see you at the next PTA meeting.” She scampered to the elevator bank.
Pablo found the nearest armchair and collapsed. He made a call. “Bueno. I’m on my way.”
On the edge of the king sized bed, Sunshine retied the white terrycloth belt on her robe.
She tested the mattress for springiness. The she pulled off the comforter, stuffed it in the corner, and bounced on the springs again.
She stared at her cell phone, willing in to ring.
Then she confirmed that the room phone, embossed with a Hotel Xavier of Pasadena logo, had a dial tone.
As she dried her dripping hair with a bath sheet, every communication device in the room went off, creating a digital cacophony.
Sunshine attempted to respond to the cell phone first, but it slipped out of her twitchy fingers and tumbled under the bed frame.
She turned her attention to the corded phone on the desk. “Hello?... Yes, send them up.” Then she followed the beeps and vibrations to locate her other caller, muttered a quick “Yes” at the screen, and hurried to the door.
She peered out the peephole for a full minute before anyone walked by.
Before her visitor could knock, she snatched the door open. “I heard you coming.”
A handsome stranger, dressed as the groom topper on a wedding cake, was standing in the quiet hall. “Sunshine?”
“Calvin?” She stuck out her hand. “Nice to meet you. Thanks for doing this on short notice.”
He gave her an appreciative grin. “It’s my job, and I love it.”
“Isn’t there supposed to be—”
Down the hall, the elevator dinged. A similarly attired, equally attractive man hustled toward them. “Am I late?”
“The party just started,” Sunshine told him.
Calvin introduced the two of them. “This is Tommy.”
“At your service.” He took a bow. “I would have arrived sooner, but it’s difficult to find a dinner jacket at one in the morning.”
“I should have been less specific.” Sunshine gave Calvin’s top hat a gentle pat. “This is a bit much.”
“We aim to please,” Calving replied. “Can we come in?”
“Yes, of course!” Sunshine shut the door behind them. She wondered what to do next. “Sit wherever you like.”
Tommy took a seat in the desk chair. “You’re the boss.”
Sunshine peeled herself away from the doorframe. “I’m the boss,” she reminded herself. She approached her guests with confidence. “I’m the boss.”
“We are here for you,” Calvin said. “And we’ll be here till the sun comes up.”
Sunshine opened the closet. “Take all that off.” Under the boxes of latex prophylactics in various sizes, she unfurled two more robes off their hangers. “Put these on.”
As the other two partygoers fulfilled her requests, Sunshine took her place at the head of the bed. She gestured for them to join her on the sheets.
“Conversation first,” she stated. “Because I like to know who I’m dealing with.”
“Naturally,” Calvin agreed.
“Then you can continue by massaging my feet.”
Tommy raised his hand. “My specialty.”
“And you,” she told Calvin, “can keep working your way up.”
He gave her a high five.
Sunshine crossed her arms, satisfied. “I’m the boss.”
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