Sneak Peek of Love (Again)
In the Closet
Stylish, upwardly mobile millennials named Zack Reid’s beloved Fourth and Inches, the most exclusive Speed Dating destination in the city. On the fourth Thursday of each month they crowded into the sexy midtown sports bar judging and jockeying for mates. A widower before his 32nd birthday, the Fourth and Inches was more than Zack’s passion project, it was the last thing he and his wife shared. The sports bar fed his love of sports and entertaining, but most importantly, it symbolized his wife Karyn’s belief in him.
Karyn Fordham-Reid drew her final, jagged breaths then died. It happened in Cabbagetown on a May afternoon, and it rained. Zack was Diane Reid’s only son, and she worked hard to provide him a good life. Partially because his father had been a disappointment. Diane and Franklin Lovefield never married and after their breakup, his visits to his son grew fewer and farther between. At Zack’s seventh birthday party, Franklin showed up at the bowling alley late and drunk. He gave the boy a lame excuse about his lack of a gift and left shortly after. Neither Zack nor Diane ever saw or spoke to him again. Growing up an only child with a single working mom gave Zack Reid a strong independent streak, but his Libra traits made him a social creature. After three years as a staff writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Zack bought the bar and left journalism to those who loved it back. The lofty position filled his mother with pride but stifled him. No one outside of Karyn supported his decision to walk away from his writing gig. She trusted his instincts, and hers was the only endorsement he required.
Zack stood watching the animalistic scene while wiping the marble bar top and halfway listening to his mentor drone on.
“What about Vanessa?”
“As in the person who accused you of rape to make her boyfriend jealous, Vanessa?”
Zack chuckled. “She was a kid. We both were.”
“You weren’t dating her,” Theseus argued. “You went out with her to shut your mother up.”
“And your wife,” Zack added.
“I’m merely suggesting you take part in one of these fancy meetups. There are plenty of good-looking women here,” the old man said looking around the masculine sports bar. “It’s time for you to get back out there. Date. Enjoy the scent of a woman. You’re a young man with a lot of life ahead of you.”
“The scent of a woman,” Zack grumbled. “Listen to yourself. I date.”
“You do not. You’re here all the time.”
“Look, I love you like a father, but I respectfully decline. I’m not interested in these kinds of women. This whole scene is a thirst trap.”
“A what trap?”
A shapely flash of white and wheat blonde hair caught Zack’s eye.
“Hold up, Theo. I’ll be right back.”
Theseus watched his young friend disappear behind the vintage swinging bar doors, with curiosity further lining his wise features.
Lacey kicked off her pointy toe stilettos and pushed her glasses up her nose before peeking out the closet door. “Oh my God, what’s that smell? An old mop?” She gagged and choked out a small cough. “This is MJ’s fault,” Lacey mumbled. “I would have never lowered myself to come to a Speed Dating event. This is a goddam thirst trap, and now I have to contend with them.” Lacey checked once more to make sure her eyes weren’t deceiving her. “Shit! ‘There’ll be plenty of high quality, eligible men there’, she said. High quality, my ass. Pure bad luck and soul crushing humiliation—that’s what’s here.”
Lacey Robinson wasn’t hung up on her ex, but she couldn’t let him see her at a Speed Dating Event. She dated Oliver Barnett for less than two years. They weren’t well suited for one another, but their relationship was passionate. It burned hot and fast, then in her way, Lacey sabotaged it. Upon learning she was pregnant with their son, he asked her to marry him, but not in the right way, and she set him free.
Lacey popped up and held her breath when the doorknob turned. Her head dropped, sending her bangs into her face as she let out a sigh of relief and an uneasy giggle. “I’m sorry. I know how this looks, but I’m not a crazy person. My ex is out there with his wife,” she said, over explaining with her hands waving about. Her golden eyes fixed on the handsome man. He stood at least six inches taller than her.
For the love of God! He is so fine.
“He brought his wife Speed Dating?” Zack asked. His forehead gathered between his friendly brown eyes, and Lacey laughed.
“He was rolling a cart, so he’s here for work. He’s a chef.”
“Chef O? He’s catering the event, and his wife—” Understanding registered in Zack’s eyes and he tipped his head towards the beautiful stranger hiding in his storeroom. “I think I understand. But this is a storeroom, he’ll end up back here at some point tonight. I’m Zack.” He extended a hand to Lacey. “I own the place.”
Lacey wiped her sweaty palms on her off-white jeans and shook Zack’s outstretched hand. “I’m Lacey Robinson. Your place is beautiful. I mean it. Whoever designed it did a spectacular job for a bar.” She squeezed her eyes shut and shuddered. “I’m sorry. It’s spectacular for any establishment. But, especially for a bar. Chef O and I have a son together!” She blurted out. “I don’t know why I said that.”
Zack flashed perfectly straight rows of white teeth and chuckled. “Thank you. I designed it, and the whole deal with Chef O makes complete sense. It explains why a woman of your stature is hiding in a dark closet at the back of said bar.”
A flush of pink deepened her honey brown cheeks.
I could watch him talk all night.
“No worries. I’ll get you out, sight unseen,” Zack said. “It’s hot back here. I can’t have you melting in my spectacularly designed bar.”
Lacey thanked her gracious host and savior as she followed him through a hallway and out the back door.
“Thanks again,” she said before darting out into the humid night air. “Your place is great. It truly is.”
Street lanterns pushed dapples of light through the perforated window coverings, marking the end of another successful night. As the Speed Dating crowd wound down Zack and his business partner, Garrett Leakes, sat at the bar listening to Gary Clark Junior’s funk laden tune, What About Us and going over the books.
Garrett and Zack met in college and became fast friends. Many people didn’t understand their connection. Garrett was brash and personified the playboy stereotype, while Zack was the charming, well-liked boy next door—reliable and easygoing. Zack married his first love fresh out of grad school and lost her after only five years of marriage. Garrett, in contrast, was never with any one woman for more than a few months.
“I liked the new band,” Zack said, handing bottles of white wine to their irritated bar manager.
“What took you so long?” The angry woman snapped. “I need to finish stocking these wells so I can get home.” She scurried off, whispering under her breath.
He and Garrett exchanged a curious glance, then burst into laughter.
“What’s her problem?”
Garrett gave a dismissive shrug but averted his eyes and wrung his hands.
“Dammit, G-Man. You’ve got to stop sleeping with the staff. You’re gonna get us sued.”
“Hire dudes, or at the least committed lesbians.”
Zack dropped his chin but laughed at his friend. “You have no chill.”
“None,” Garrett agreed, bellying up to the bar.
“Speaking of no chill, you won’t believe what I found in the storeroom tonight.”
“What?” Garrett poured himself a drink.
“The most beautiful woman in the world.” Zack’s face softened and his heartbeat quickened.
“Damn. That’s what I get for calling out sick. Who is she?” The leather stool squeaked as Garrett turned towards Zack.
“I don’t know. Her name is Lacey something. I let her out the back door.”
Garrett raised a brow. “What was she doing in the storeroom?”
“Avoiding baby daddy drama,” Zack said, clearing his throat and pouring himself a drink too.
Garrett let out a cackle. “She’s cool and sexy? Are you sure you didn’t bump your head back there? A baby mama who avoids drama. I wish I’d had one of those.”
Zack twisted his mouth and smacked his teeth. “You don’t have a baby or a baby mama.”
“I thought I did, and I served the whole nine or ten months with your crazy ass friend.” Garrett sat back against the leather stool and shook his head. “Talk about baby mama drama,” he whispered and took a dramatic swig from his glass.
Finding her footing in the big city challenged the over achiever. Lacey wove through the weekend revelers who packed the parking garage near her Old Fourth Ward development. She and Oliver had picked the place as a compromise. He loved the bohemian vibe of the historic neighborhood, while Lacey liked its proximity to the city. When Lacey was single, she dreamed of living in the city. The constant hum of Atlanta, Georgia was a far cry from the serenity of Lacey’s childhood home in Flatrock Branch, Alabama. But, as a mother, whose family lived hundreds of miles away—the city was loud, always lit up and congested. After her breakup with Oliver, she attempted life in the suburbs, but found the upkeep of the large home and the commute more than she cared to handle alone.
Lacey and her nine-year-old son, Luca, lived on the city’s beltline, which was its only saving grace. The beltline boasted 22 miles of walking trails and parks, complete with trees and the neighborhoods where his friends lived. With all the festivals and shops along the popular landmark, there was always something free and mostly family friendly for them to do.
After narrowly escaping the Speed Dating fiasco, Lacey feverishly dialed her cousin, Mary-Anthony who promptly sent her calls to voicemail.
“MJ,” the angry woman growled into the cellphone. “You better not answer this damned phone, because I’m going to kill you.”
After two more attempts to reach her cousin, she gave up and turned in for the night. The quiet of her two-story brownstone made her miss her son, Luca. He’d begged to sleep over with his friends, who lived south of the city. She needed a break and agreed.
“Where is my purse?”
Lacey gritted her teeth and slipped into a pair of sweatpants before going out to check her car for the missing handbag. She tore through the entire vehicle and even the trunk before relenting.
“Pure bad luck,” she shouted into the electric night air before storming back to her door.
She threw her keys across the room and stomped upstairs to the bedroom, spitting expletives at her cousin for convincing her to go to the bar and standing her up. Her red-faced reflection in the mirror finishes of her bedroom furniture, stopped the threatening implosion. She folded her arms atop her head and drew in three deep breaths.
“Calm down, Lacey Jackson Robinson. Calm down. Call your son, tell him you love him, and then find the number to that bar. Shit! What’s the name of the place?” She asked, racking her brain and coming up empty.
Lacey flopped on her bed and dialed Luca. The carefree cheer in his voice put her at ease and a wide grin bloomed on her face.
“Hey, Baby.” She tried steadying her voice and emulating his carefree tone.
“What’s the matter, Mom?”
Lacey giggled. I am raising a very astute young man. “Nothing to worry about. It’s been one of those days when nothing goes right.”
“Like what? Give me an example.”
Lacey laughed out loud this time. “Well, MJ stood me up—”
“That doesn’t sound like Cousin MJ. Is she OK?”
Lacey shut her eyes and shook her head. The thought hadn’t crossed her mind. “I’m sure she is. If she wasn’t Grammy would have called.”
The answer satisfied the little boy. “OK, what else?”
“I’m trying to help you feel better. You always do when you talk things out. That’s what Daddy says.”
That’s what Daddy says. Lacey clenched her teeth and pressed her lips into a hard line.
“I lost my purse! How’s that? Does that rise to your exacting standards, Mr. Barnett?”
“Ahh, Mom. That stinks. I’m sorry. You should retrace your steps.”
“That’s the plan, but I can’t remember the name of the place where I last had it.”
“Did you use your GPS to get there?”
She had and, acknowledgment covered her pretty face. “Yes, I did.”
“Great, so the address should be in the car’s GPS. You’ll find it. Watch.”
“How d’you get so smart?”
“My school’s a good one and my mom’s pretty smart. Are you any better?”
She was and laughed again. “I am, bud. Thanks. How’d I live before you?”
“I don’t know. But you have me now.”
“Yes, I do. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom. Thanks for calling.”
Equal parts Lacey and Oliver, Luca Barnett was a little, old man. He always thanked people for calling him and genuinely meant it.