Author’s Note: Please note this is a short story. There is no HFN or HEA. While this short is a standalone, several characters from my short story 'The New Year's Bet' make an appearance. You DO NOT have to read that story to understand this one, but you should just to do it!
As a favor to his best friend, Caron Thompson agrees to attend a singles’ event. How bad can a fifteen-minute date be?
“Did you know Valentine’s Day is based on the pagan ritual Lupercalia during which the Romans would sacrifice a goat and a dog, skinning them then turning their hides into whips?”
Slowly, I shook my head, not believing what I was hearing. No, it didn’t have anything to do with the facts the woman sitting across from me was spewing, but more so, this was how she’d chosen to introduce herself. No greeting. No name. No age. She didn’t even hit me with a line like the last woman. Though, if I were being honest, I appreciated her not doing so. I mean, I get it. I’m a good-looking dude. Six-foot-six, a solid two-hundred-forty pounds of muscle, blemish-free pecan-colored skin, but what usually drove women wild were my eyes. Green with flecks of gold, they’d been the topic of plenty of conversations.
But never had I been approached like this.
“It is.” Her stormy gray eyes lit up with excitement as she continued, “The ritual was supposed to promote wellness and fertility. During the ritual, young women would line up for lashings because they believed it would assist them in becoming more fruitful.”
“Wow.” Was I interested in this? Nah, not at all. I didn’t want a history lesson on Valentine’s Day. But my mother taught me manners, and if this was how Jessica, per the name scrawled on the tag pinned to her black dress, needed to get over her apparent nerves, then I would sit and listen for another … I stole a peek at the timer on the other side of the room. Ten minutes and thirty-five seconds.
Why was time moving so slowly?
I didn’t want to be here. My plans were to head home after work, hit my gym for my second workout of the day, then watch television before going to bed. Doing anything but being caught in Downtown, DC in the rain since motorists in the metropolitan DC area couldn’t drive for shit when precipitation was present. I damn sure didn’t expect to be sitting at a speed dating event, surrounded by people searching for “the one.” Whether that meant the one they would take home for the night or the one who they would spend their lives with, it didn’t mean a thing to me.
I didn’t do Valentine’s Day. Refused to give in to the commercialization of the day that made people measure how much they loved someone based on what they received from another. Like an overpriced dozen roses, calorie-ladened chocolates, heart-shaped jewelry, and reservations at a restaurant could actually depict the depths of someone’s emotions.
Newsflash: it didn’t.
I wasn’t bitter like people—namely friends who knew how much I detested the day—believed. In fact, I love to love. Even if my relationships ended disastrously, I never allowed myself to subscribe to the heartbroken beliefs that all relationships would end the same way. Still, I would rather be getting a root canal at this exact moment than be here. The only reason I was sitting at this table listening to Jessica explain how the holiday—and I use the term loosely—was possibly named after two priests who were decapitated for healing and converting people to Christianity during the third century AD, was as a favor to my best friend, Zyair. He’d begged me to attend, hoping to score major brownie points with his girlfriend, Nyssa. Despite only dating for a little over a month, Zyair had known and crushed on Nyssa for about a year before she finally asked him out as a way to ensure she didn’t lose the New Year’s Bet she’d made with her best friend.
I glanced over to where the lovebirds stood, near the front of the room, and judging by the huge-ass grin on his face as he fed Nyssa a champagne-infused truffle, it was apparent Z was more than a little smitten. If anyone deserved that kinda happiness, it was his simp ass.
“Did you know those conversation hearts started out as medical lozenges?” Jessica asked, pulling my attention back to the conversation. I barely got the word no out before Jessica was talking again. “A pharmacist, Oliver Chase, invented the machine to make the lozenges but ultimately shifted his focus to making candy. He founded Necco, and the lozenges became the Necco wafers.”
“Wooow, that’s interesting.” At this point, I was sure I looked like the Wee Bey shocked gif floating around the internet.
“Yeah, it is. I—”
The ringing of a bell, followed by a woman’s voice delivering a two-minute warning, interrupted whatever Jessica was about to say. I stood and extended my hand, ready to put this entire evening behind me. “Jessica, it was nice meeting you.”
With a soft smile, she took my hand. “Thank you, Caron, for being respectful and listening to me babble. I never attend events like this, but my therapist suggested I try to get out and meet new people.”
Therapist? Shit. I had no response to that tidbit of information she’d offered. Thankfully, I didn’t have to say a thing. Jessica continued speaking.
“As you might’ve noticed, I get extremely nervous in social settings and say whatever comes to mind. Today, it’s facts about Valentine’s Day because, well, you know.” She shrugged, then chuckled.
While I personally didn’t have that problem, I worked with a couple clients who lived with social anxiety disorder despite being professional athletes. I saw how difficult it could be to handle, and I commended Jessica on taking the first steps to live the life she wanted.
“There’s no need to thank me,” I told her as the bell sounded once again and the same woman’s voice announced a fifteen-minute intermission. “Good luck on the rest of your evening.”
Nodding, she walked away, and I released a heavy sigh. I’d thought the previous “dates” of the evening were brutal, but I doubted anything would top that last one.
I would soon find out just how wrong I was.
An hour later, I was all but ready to kill Z. I’d gone on three dates, and each of them was worse than the previous.
The first woman, Chandler, was a self-proclaimed “cat lady.” I thought nothing of it when she told me this since I’m a lover of all animals, although my busy schedule prevented me from having them. I soon found out Chandler meant it in every sense of the phrase. She’d gotten her ears surgically altered to resemble a cat, had cat tattoos, and admitted to saving money to get whiskers implanted in her face. She even walked around wearing a belt with a tail attached. But what really fucked my head up wasn’t her randomly meowing at me. It was the two kittens she’d stowed away in her oversized purse. She’d claimed she was their mother and had to bring them along because, after leading the babysitter to believe she would be taking care of actual kids, Chandler learned the babysitter was allergic. During the fifteen minutes we were together, she checked her purse, tossed food inside it, and pulled an all gray kitten out to shower it with kisses. Prompting her to be immediately removed from the establishment and leaving my ass sitting there alone.
After that date, Nyssa promised me free food from her café for three months.
I was reluctant to stay, but I bit the bullet for Z. I was that kinda friend. So, when Beverly walked over to the table wearing a pair of baggy jeans, black crocs, and a red sweatshirt that read ‘Love is in the air. Try not to breathe,’ I shot my best friend a death glare since he’d made it clear the dress code would be strictly enforced, then plastered a smile on my face I wasn’t feeling. One that dropped seconds later when she admitted to not being invited to the event. She’d seen the line of beautifully dressed men and women while heading to her apartment a few blocks away and wanted to check things out.
When asked to describe herself, a question I’d drawn from a stack of cards the hosts placed on each table in hopes of getting the conversations between the couples flowing, Beverly leaned forward, looked me dead in my eyes, and said, “‘I’m an ‘overly horny, down-to-fuck, pegging princess who stays with the strap.’” Thankfully, I didn’t have to endure that torture for long. Her spiel on how empowered she felt pegging dudes of all shapes, sizes, and races was interrupted when the bouncer, Nyssa, and Zyair came over to our table. According to Nyssa, several men—and a few servers—complained about feeling sexually harassed by her aggressiveness towards them. When it was discovered she didn’t have an invite, Nyssa had her escorted out.
From that train wreck of a date, Nyssa decided to give me free food for the year. Z chipped in VIP tickets to this year’s Broccoli City Festival.
By the time the third date sat down, I was praying for a bit of normalcy. Sadly, my prayers landed on deaf ears. In God’s defense, it started out normal. Danielle was sexy as fuck in a black one-shoulder, cut-out bodycon dress that molded to her curves and stopped several inches above her knee, a pair of black thigh-high boots with a five-inch heel, and gold jewelry. After introductions were made, we talked about our likes, dislikes, how the new name of the Washington football team sounded like a name of a fictional team from a movie or from a romance novel, and the shows we were binge-watching. Shit felt chill with Danielle. So right, we’d skipped changing partners at the end of the first fifteen minutes to continue our conversation. In all honesty, I was pleasantly surprised and excited, knowing I’d made a connection with someone after dragging my feet and not wanting to be here.
I should’ve known better than to get my hopes up.
The scene that played out was something straight outta a movie, happening in slow motion. Loud voices, one of which I instinctively recognized as belonging to Zyair, eclipsed the hushed whispers of conversation and the mellow jazz music floating from hidden speakers. Unsure of what was happening, I informed Danielle I would be right back, to which she mentioned running to the restroom. I watched as she hurried towards the other side of the restaurant where the bathrooms were located, then turned my attention back on Z, ready to throw hands—if need be. Z and I had known each other for years, and if he was fighting, then so was I. But before I could take one step towards the commotion, Zyair and Nyssa appeared, followed by Nyssa’s best friend, Alexis, two women I’d briefly met earlier but couldn’t remember their names, only recalling they were co-hosting the event with Mug Shot—the café Nyssa and Alexis co-owned—and the police.
Of course, the presence of the police caused a spark of confusion and panic to ripple through the space. While the other couples talked amongst themselves, some exchanging contact info, others asking the servers for information on what was going on, I kept my eyes trained on Zyair, trying desperately to decipher the annoyance and irritation etched in his features. Z was a mellow, laidback kinda guy. Even-tempered. So seeing him visibly upset was … different.
“Is everything okay, bruh,” I asked once I arrived at his side.
“Nah,” he answered, shaking his head. “Shit ain’t good at all.” He gestured for me to follow him a couple feet away with a head nod. Once there, he turned to face me. “Tonight’s a fucking disaster. Nothing seems to be going right. The entertainment Alexis booked canceled an hour before we opened the doors. Some idiot mixed up the signs of desserts, resulting in a member of the media being rushed to the hospital because she ate peanuts. The asshole who was supposed to be doing the picture booth forgot a cord at home, went to retrieve it, but came back drunk. After I threatened to beat his ass if he didn’t give me back the money they paid him, I kicked him out. Not to mention all the crazy shit that happened with your dates. Now, this.”
“Don’t even mention those interactions. The last one might’ve scarred me for life.” After we shared a laugh, I asked, “What’s doing on?”
Zyair groaned. “From what the police told us, a woman met with a couple dudes off a dating site and robbed them.”
My eyes widened. “What the fuck? Are you serious?”
“Yeah, man. Four of them.” He waved a hand, as if to dismiss that topic. “But enough about that. How’s the current date?”
I couldn’t stop smiling. “Danielle is beautiful. We’ve been talking for almost thirty minutes. I think Imma see if she wants to get out of here and maybe go get dinner.”
“That’s what the fuck I’m talking about,” Zyair damn near yelled, mushing my shoulder. “Well, don’t lemme stop you from bagging shawty. I—”
His statement was cut off when Nyssa approached us, her face a mask of concern. “Hey, Caron,” she greeted, forcing a smile that failed to reach her eyes. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but umm … these officers need to speak with you.”
“For what?” I asked incredulously. My eyes shifted between the two police officers, Nyssa, and Zyair.
When Nyssa offered no other explanation, one of the officers stepped forward. “Before I begin, Mr. Thompson, I want to say I’m a huge fan.”
As annoyed and confused as I was, I gave the young officer a gracious smile. I’d played football all my life, from elementary through college, and finally to the NFL. But a career-ending injury snatched my dreams away from me. Now, along with Zyair, we make dreams of pro-athletes come true as agents. “Thanks.”
The second officer cleared his throat. “We’re sorry to interrupt your evening, Mr. Thompson, but thanks to Ms. Williams,” he motioned to Nyssa, “we were able to identify the suspect in a string of robberies that took place this evening.”
“Okay, but what does that have to do with me?”
“According to Ms. Williams, you were on a date with her,” the first officer replied.
My mind raced with possibilities. Any one of those women I’d spoken with this evening could be a damn thief. I thought back to each of the dates I’d had. They all weren’t terrible. In fact, a couple of them was actually decent, although I hadn’t felt a connection. Still, I couldn’t picture any of the women robbing someone. Not even Beverly.
I shrugged. “I’ll answer whatever questions you have, but I’m not sure how much help I’ll be.” I looked around the room. “A couple of the ladies were asked to leave.”
Nyssa groaned. “Caron, I’m still so sorry about those women. I feel horrible.”
“You shouldn’t. None of it was your fault.” Between the sincerity in her eyes, the regret lacing her voice, and her determination to make it up to me, I knew Nyssa meant every word she said. It wasn’t like she placed the kittens in the purse or encouraged Beverly’s aggressive behavior. Besides, I wanted to believe my luck was changing.
My eyes went back to the table, only to find it still empty.
“Actually,” the second officer said, pulling my attention back to him, “the young woman we’re looking for is still in the building.” He pulled out a cell phone, typed in his password, then extended the device to me. All I could do was stare at his outstretched hand, willing myself to accept the phone.
There was no real reason to look at the picture. No point in putting myself through the potential distress when the dread seizing my body, the knots forming in my stomach, the hairs on my forearms standing on end, and the rapid beating of my heart all told me what I needed to know. When I didn’t immediately accept the phone, the officer turned it around, confirming my worse suspicions.
“Nooo! Are you fucking kidding me?” Zyair looked from the phone, to the officers, then finally, his gaze landed on me briefly before going to Nyssa. “Babe, we were just talking about how much he was vibing with her. This must be a mistake,” he said to the officers.
“Unfortunately, it’s not. Though beautiful, Ms. Tinnerson was ID’d by her victims. They all provided pictures from the dating profile she used to lure them, then rob them at gunpoint.”
“Wait, she used actual pictures of herself on the site, then robbed these dudes?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the first officer answered, nodding his head. “We are unsure what her motives were, but we need to find her now.”
“She’s considered armed and dangerous,” the second officer added.
“Armed and dangerous?” I repeated, finally able to find my voice.
I knew they needed to find her, and our questions prevented them from doing so, but I wanted to know everything. Especially since the police were in my face in a public place where anyone could take pictures or record. I wouldn’t be surprised if this entire exchange ended up on TMZ.
“Yes. During one of the robberies, Ms. Tinnerson assaulted her victim by pistol-whipping him. When he fell to the ground, she kicked him several times before taking off with his belongings. This is why it is imperative we find her.” He faced me. “Do you know where she might’ve gone?”
“To the bathroom,” I hurriedly supplied.
“Thank you, Mr. Thompson.”
As I watched them take off in the direction of the restrooms, I couldn’t believe my luck or this turn of events. I came here as a favor to my best friend, only to be humiliated over and over. What made matters worse the only woman who captivated me and made me want to see where our attraction could go was about to be locked up. She belonged on an episode of ‘World’s Dumbest Criminals.’
The moment Danielle stepped back into the main space and saw the police officers waiting for her, she froze. Her eyes went wide, then searched the space, connecting with mine from across the room. The desire I experienced upon first seeing her was replaced with anger. I felt betrayed. Foolish even. Danielle walked into this event like she hadn’t robbed four dudes and assaulted one. Nothing about our conversation hinted she was a fucking criminal mastermind.
As the officers handcuffed her, she shrugged. Her full lips, painted in a bold red, tugged into a sad smile, but I wasn’t moved. I just stared at her, not knowing what to do or think. I damn sure didn’t want to breathe life into the questions coursing through my mind.
“If it matters,” she yelled as the officers led her handcuffed to the door. “I wasn’t going to rob you.”
Da fuck? It did matter, and this night taught me one thing: never to do a favor for Zyair’s ass ever again.
*If you enjoyed this short, please leave a comment below. I would love your feedback.*