Authors: Aurora Rose Reynolds
“Okay, Dad, I'm ready,” I yell into the living room while scratching Beast behind his ears.
“Wow, you look beautiful,” he says, kissing my cheek. “Let’s get this shit over with.” I smile at him, knowing that he’s nervous. I think at this point, he’s more nervous than me.
“Dad, it’s going to be okay.” Going with my dad to his club is completely nerve racking for me. I mean, my dad owns a strip club where naked girls work. I'm freaking out on the inside but trying to act cool. I don't want him to feel any more uncomfortable than I know he already does.
"Just so you know, baby girl, the women who work for me are not your friends. There is nothing wrong with what they do but you are not going to be hanging with them."
I raise my eyebrows at him and he shakes his head. “I know that you won't be there during club hours but I want to make it perfectly clear—there is no reason for you to ever be in the front of the house when you’re in the building. You can come in, sort shit out in the office, but there will be no drinking at the bar and no socializing with the employees. The only reason I'm bringing you here tonight is because I want the people I trust to meet you. That way, you will always have someone to go to in case I'm not around."
“Dad, don’t worry so much. You’re giving yourself grey hair and soon you’re going to look like Uncle Joe.”
“Very funny!” he says, smiling.
The club is pretty much how I pictured it. Not that I've been in a strip club but what do you really think of when you imagine a strip club. There's a long bar on the back wall with stools in front of it. Off to the side, there's a stage with two poles and a girl dancing. Along the stage, there are four tables with guys of every age watching the show. In the back of the room, the lighting is so dim that you can barely make out the couches. Behind them is a wall of mirrors. Looking around, everything looks new and modern.
"Okay, baby girl.” My dad snaps me out of my perusal. “This is Rex.” He points to the guy behind the bar. "Rex, this is my daughter, November. She's going to be doing the books and helping me out from behind the scenes. You won't see her much but I wanted you to meet her so that if I'm not around, she knows who to talk to."
“Hey, girl,” Rex says, wiping his hands on a towel. “Nice to finally meet you.”
“You too,” I say as my dad pulls me into his side.
"Wow, Mike, didn't think that with your ugly mug you could make such a pretty girl," Rex says and I feel myself turn red.
My dad looks down at me with so much pride. “Yeah, I did good," he says, smiling.
“Oh, geeze, Daddy, stop,” I say while squeezing his middle and rolling my eyes. That's when I feel like someone’s watching me. I look around but don't see anyone.
"I'm gonna take her to the office and show her my mess," Dad says.
"Okay, man, but when you’re done, we need to talk about the shit Skittles pulled the other night."
“Once November leaves, I’ll be on the floor," my dad says, pulling me with him.
After meeting a couple other people, we go into his office. He was not joking—the place is a mess. It's going to take me weeks just to get everything organized. There are papers, books and files everywhere and the computer looks like the first one ever invented. "Well, here you are. You can start tomorrow morning. Just try to be out of here by three. Once you get stuff figured out, you can always move your office to the house if you feel like that works better.”
“Okay, I'll start tomorrow. It's gonna take some time just to get things sorted. After that, I should be able to do it from home most of the time.”
"Sounds good," Dad says, looking around. Just then, the phone rings on the desk. He moves some papers around. When he finally finds the handset, he puts it to his ear. "Yeah, okay. I’ll be out. I have to go, baby girl. There's a problem out front."
“That’s fine, Dad,” I say to his back as he runs from the office. Looking around for a few minutes, I see that I have my work cut out for me. I decide to go home and get some sleep so that I’ll have all my brain cells in the morning when I come back to this disaster.
I walk out into the cool November air. I pull out my phone and text Dad that I’ll see him tomorrow. The music is now just background noise, but I can still smell the alcohol, perfume and beer that lingers on my clothes from being inside the club. I'm almost to my car, thinking about taking Beast for a walk. I want to go before it’s too late and we have another skunk incident like we did the other night. "Yo," I hear shouted from behind me. I jump and end up dropping my purse and keys to the ground. I pick them up then look around. All the air is pushed out of my lungs. The most beautiful man I have ever seen is standing a few feet from me. He is more than a foot taller than my five feet four inch frame. His dark brown hair is cut so short that I can see his scalp. His jaw is so square that it looks like it was cut from glass. He has a couple days of stubble on it that makes me want to rub my cheek across it to see how it feels. His nose looks like it may have been broken but it does nothing to take away from the beauty of his face.
With only the light from the street lamp above us, I can’t tell his exact eye color but they look blue or light gray. His lips have a perfect cupid’s bow at the top and bottom. They’re so full, they would make my mom, the queen of lip injections, jealous.
Taking in his face, I’m completely caught off guard by the anger I see in his eyes. He is about three times my size. His arms are so large he could squash me like a bug. I can make out the definition of almost every muscle in his torso. His body is as impressive as his face and the thermal shirt he’s wearing does nothing to hide it from me…or anyone with eyes. His legs are planted shoulder-length apart. His jeans hang low on his hips and with the way he stands, I don't even think a tornado could move him. He crosses his arms over his chest while looking down at me.
I take a step back towards my car and remind myself that I need to breathe. I adjust my keys in the palm of my hand so they become a weapon. He doesn’t miss this move, judging by the flash of surprise I see cross his face.
“Hi,” I squeak out.
"Yeah, hi,” he says back in a mocking tone that catches me off guard. “You need to have an escort to your car anytime you leave the club.” He’s practically growling at me.
“Wh… Wha. What?” I ask, stuttering.
“You,” he says slowly, like I'm stupid, “need an escort anytime you leave from inside the club to your car. All the girls know this shit."
“Um…okay?” I say, still not understanding.
"It’s my boy’s job to make sure your ass is safe from the building to your car. So don’t piss me off by not doing what you’re told. And trust me, sweetheart, I don’t give a fuck if you’re fucking Big Mike. Next time, wait for one of the guys to walk you out here.”
“Who’s Big Mike?” I ask. I’ve only been in town a short while. How can rumors of me and some guy already be going around?
"Big Mike, the guy you were hanging on and calling ’Daddy!’” he says with distaste. “I don't give a fuck if you’re sleeping with the boss. He should have told you this shit himself or had the decency to walk your ass out here to your car."
Oh my God! Ewwww… Now I get it. He thinks I'm sleeping with my dad. Gross! And he's being totally rude.
“Excuse me?” I ask, narrowing my eyes, hoping that he gets the message that he should choose his next words wisely.
"What part don't you understand, sweetheart?” he says, mocking me. I'm sure at this point, my eyes are bugging out of my head and steam is coming out of my ears.
I jerk my hand out angrily in his direction. “I'm not ‘sweetheart,’ I’m November. I'm also Big Mi—”
"Don't give a fuck who you are.” He cuts me off.
“Wow, you are so flipping rude, buddy.”
"Don't care that you think that shit either."
“Who the hell do you think you are?” I ask him, hands on my hips, my voice bringing my New York attitude out in full force.
"The guy that’s waiting for you to get in your car and leave so I can go do my job instead of standing out here with you.”
“Uggggg, you are such a jerk.” I growl, feeling like I should kick him.
"November?” I hear my dad call me. I smile on the inside. This is going to be good.
“Yeah, Daddy, over here,” I yell back, exaggerating the daddy part. I look at the guy in front of me, daring him with my eyes to say something. He doesn’t, but his eyes narrow.
My dad walks towards us then sees big jerk face standing across from me. He pats him on the back while smiling. "Hey, Asher,” my dad says.
Oh my God, seriously? Asher. Why did this guy have to have a hot guy name? Why couldn’t his name be Urkel or Poindexter. I mean really, something’s just were not fair.
“I see you already met my daughter." I can't help the small giggle that climbs up my throat from the look of pure shock on the big jerk’s face. Okay, it’s safe to say that his look made me feel somewhat better. My dad looks down at me, smiling, not understanding what has gone on for the last few minutes.
“Um, yeah, Dad. He was just telling me that I need an escort when leaving the club,” I say through my laugh.
"Oh," my dad says, scratching his head. “Yeah, I didn't think about it because you’re not… Ugh, you don’t work here… I mean, you work here but not really in here.”
“Dad, it’s okay. Asher didn’t know and just wanted to make sure I was safe.”
"Yeah, okay,” he says, looking a little sheepish. “Anyways, Asher, this is my baby girl, November,” he says, pulling me into his side. “She just moved here.”
I look from my dad’s smiling face to Asher and he still looks stunned but there's also something else working behind his eyes.
“Hi,” I say, sticking out my hand with a big smile on my face. When he puts his hand to mine, I feel a jolt go from our connection straight through my body. What the heck is that?
"November,” he says softly, looking down at our hands and it makes me wonder if he felt it too. Then, without another word or look, he turns around and walks back towards the club. Well, alrighty then. He might be hot but he’s definitely strange. I look at my dad and he’s watching him go.
"Um… Hey, Dad, I'm gonna go,” I say, regaining his attention.
"What?” he says, looking at me.
“Oh, yeah. Of course, honey. I’ll see you tomorrow at home." He bends, kissing my forehead. When I pull out of the parking lot, I can see a tall figure leaning against the door that leads into the club, watching my car leave. My pulse starts to race, wondering if that’s Asher. Then, I remind myself that he’s a jerk and not to think about him anymore. Sadly, I don’t stop thinking about him until my head hits my pillow and I'm dead to the world.
“I'm coming, I'm coming. Geez, you have to slow down, boy. My boots are too high for running,” I say, following Beast to my car.
The minute I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride, he was running out of the house, dragging me behind him. Today is the day we visit the nursing home, and I swear he knows exactly where we’re going. We have been doing this every week since we came to town.
Beast loves the attention and the elderly love Beast. It's been six days—not that I’m counting—since I last saw Asher. I wanted to ask my dad about him but I chickened out. Really, I just want to see him again. I don’t really want to talk to him because, truthfully, he’s a jerk. But I do want to look at him. He has made me consider taking an art class. Maybe something like body sculpting or painting. It’s not normal for a guy to be that beautiful. Now I sound like a weird stalker. Like that movie where the guy puts the girls in the hole and forces them to eat so he can wear their skin. Okay, I'm not that creepy, thank God. I need to stop. Maybe he brainwashed me. I need a hobby.
The last few days have been uneventful. Monday, me and Grandma went up to Nashville and got new computers. One is for my dad’s home office and one is for the club. Tuesday, I went to the club at seven in the morning so I would have plenty of time to get the computer set up and to start organizing the office.
I don't know what I thought I would find, but there were no lap dance spread sheets or pole dancing tables. It was all normal office paperwork. Spending reports, payroll, and ordering sheets. I finished as much as I could before I had to leave at three. The next few days went the same. I was at the office till three, making dinner with my dad before he went to work, walking Beast in the evening, then setting up my dad’s home office before I went to bed at night.
I am getting settled. I feel more at home here in Tennessee than I ever felt in New York. Everyone in town was nice. They always have a smile for you. The thing I had to get used to was everyone waving at you when you pass them on the road. At first, it caught me off guard. Then I asked my dad about it and he said it’s just what they do. Now every time I pass someone, I make sure to wave. Okay, okay, my wave may be a little dramatic but I like it and it makes me smile.
“Alright, boy. Let’s go inside,” I say as I turn off the car. The nursing home we visit is a long brick building. The front sits on a hill of green grass with large pine trees that give shade to sitting areas located all around the building.
"Hi, Beth," I say quietly while giggling. Beth is in charge of greeting people as they come into the building. At least she should be greeting people but she's always asleep in her wheelchair with her chin tucked to her chest and her blue hair is the only thing you can see.
“Damn.” I sigh to myself. Now I want some cotton candy. Every time I see her hair, I get a craving for the stuff. I look down at Beast and his head comes up. “Looks like we're gonna be making a stop at the store on our way home, boy.” I should have bought more than one pack of cotton candy the last time I was there. He looks at me and tilts his head.
“Okay, boy. First stop is Max so you better be on your best behavior,” I tell him, walking into Max’s room. Billie Holiday is playing on an old record player and Max is sitting in his chair with the newspaper in front of him.
“Hi, Max. I brought Beast here to see you,” I say loudly, knowing that he never remembers to put in his hearing aid.
"Well, hello there, pretty lady. How are you today?" he shouts at me.
“I'm good. How are you?” I ask, bending to give his wrinkled cheek a kiss. I find his hearing aid in a small bowl by his bed and hand it to him. He shakes his head and puts it in.
"Well, gotta say that my day just got better.” He smiles. “Hey, Beast. How are you, boy?” he asks as Beast places his head in his lap for a rub. “Betsy was in here earlier bugging me about going to the dance tonight. I keep telling her that I'm not interested but she won't leave me alone. She’s already stopped by four times," he grumbles.
I laugh. Betsy is one of the older ladies here and has more energy than I do. She’s always on the hunt for a new man. “Aw, Max, you should go. You might have fun. I hear the band that's coming is really good.”
"Nope, I ain't going. You couldn't pay me enough to go to a dance."
“Well, you don’t have to dance. You could just go listen to music.”
“Not happening, darlin’, and we’re not talking about it again.”
I giggle. Max is set in his ways. I know there will be no convincing him. We visit for a while longer until I look at the clock and see how late it is.
“Oh, crude, Max. Me and Beast better go. We have a few people to visit before dinner.”
"Alright, darlin’. See you in a few days,” he says while still petting Beast. “And see you too, boy."
Walking down the hall, the smell of cleaning supplies is overwhelming until we reach the assisted living units. Then, it’s like walking into a country club. The floors are beautiful printed carpet. There are fresh flowers on all tables along the wall. The whole place looks warm and inviting with sitting areas and cozy nooks to read. I can't help but feel bad for the people who can't afford to live on this side of the building.
“Alright, boy. One more stop. Remember, be good,” I say, looking down. He just looks at me then back towards the direction are walking. I was just dismissed by my dog.
Walking into Ms. Alice's room always makes me happy. She has photos and things from all over the world on shelves and bookcases. Her husband was in the military and they traveled a lot. When he retired, they moved to town and opened a hardware store. They were married for sixty-two years and when her husband passed away, she refused to move in with her family. She moved here when she could no longer be on her own. But still, the room feels like a home.
“Hi, Ms. Alice. How are you?” I ask, leaning down and kissing her cheek.
“Oh, November. I'm wonderful. I was just talking to my grandson. He's on his way to visit too."
“That's nice. We won't stay long, then. I just wanted to bring Beast by and say hi,” I tell her, sitting down.
"Hey, you handsome boy. Come here and give me some sugar,” she says, patting her leg. Beast walks to her and puts his head in her lap. “You are such a sweet thing just like your mama," she says, making me smile.
Beast is like my child. I feed him, love him, and make sure he is cared for. But I hope one day I find someone to have a real family with. I don’t want to be single for the rest of my life and become known as the crazy dog lady. Since I'm allergic to cats, I can’t even be the norm and have a million cats. Well, I could but then I’d just walk around with puffy eyes and a runny nose.
“I hope my grandson gets here soon. I would love you too meet him. He's very handsome,” she tells me with a big smile on her face. I can see her mind racing with ways to hook us up. “I keep telling him he needs to settle down. He has never brought a girl home and he's getting too old for all that playing around business that men these days do. I want great grandbabies before I leave this earth. Back in my day, it was normal to get married young. I was eighteen when I got married and I stayed married until I lost my James. I miss him every day and still love him. I want that for my grandsons."
“Well, I hope they all find the kind of love you had, Ms. Alice. It sounds beautiful,” I tell her truthfully. I can see the love that she still carries for her husband whenever she talks about him.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" I jump and Beast barks at the sound of the voice. I slowly turn around, praying I'm wrong.
"Asher James Mayson, you watch your mouth. Don't talk to my guest like that," Ms. Alice scolds him. I can feel all the color drain out of my face and my stomach drops to my toes. Oh my God, he's more beautiful than I remember in his dark green thermal with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows and the colorful tattoos on his arms are so bright that even his tan does nothing to take away from their beauty. His jeans are light blue overwashed and hug him perfectly. His light brown boots are so dirty that you would think he spent the day playing in the mud. Great! Just flipping great. He's Ms. Alice's grandson. Can my life get any worse?
“Hi,” I say, trying to smile but I know that I probably look like I'm in pain. I stand up, ready to bolt. “Come on Beast, Ms. Alice has a guest and we need to go to the store.” Yes, now I'm talking to my dog out loud in front of hot jerk face. Ugh, I'm such a loser. “Well, Ms. Alice, I’ll see you in a few days,” I say, leaning down to kiss her cheek.
“Okay, sweet girl," she says quietly. She looks like she wants to say something but she closes her mouth then glares at her grandson. I'm sure if she could have made him catch fire, she would have. If I could make him catch fire, I know I would. I turn and start walking down the short hall towards the exit when I feel pressure on my elbow.
"I'm gonna walk November out. I’ll be right back, Gran," Asher says from behind me.
Crap, crap, crap. “Umm… No… No, that's okay,” I say, trying to pull my arm free from his touch. I can already feel his fingers burning into me.
"No, I’ll walk you," he whispers near my ear, causing goose bumps to breakout across my skin.
“Fine,” I mutter because I don't want to cause a scene in front of Ms. Alice. I'm sure she likes me but not so sure she would like me ruining the chances of her having great grandchildren when I ‘accidently’ kick him in the nuts. She doesn't say anything as we leave. She just waves goodbye with a face splitting smile. Oh, if she only knew.
“Come on, Beast. Asher is walking us out,” I say then bite my tongue. I really need to work on not talking to my dog in front of people. Once out the door, I pull my elbow from his grip. “Look, I'm sorry. I had no idea that she is your grandma. I just bring Beast here to see anyone who wants the company. I watched a show on TV about animals visiting with people in hospitals and nursing homes and how much joy it brought them. So I figured, I’d give it a try. I have a beautiful dog who loves attention, so why not, you know.”
Asher's not saying anything and I realize I'm rambling. Crap. “So we're just gonna go.” I turn to leave but he grabs my hand, pulling me back.
"Hey, not so fast. You caught just surprised me. I didn’t expect I would see you here."
“Well, I really like your grandma and she likes Beast so if you just tell me the days you’re gonna come, I’ll make sure not to show up then.”
"That's not gonna work for me.”
“Okay,” I say, feeling my shoulders slump. “Well, have a good day.”
And don’t fall off a cliff.
I say it under my breath as I turn to walk off again.
“Meet me tonight," he says and I know that I must have heard him wrong. His rough voice and his southern accent are making it hard to concentrate on what he is saying. I swear I heard him wrong. I look over my shoulder.
“What?” I ask, scrunching my nose.
"You, me, tonight, beer, a game of pool?"
“Um…" Nope, didn’t hear him wrong. I look around to make sure that it’s still just me and him in the parking lot.
“It's just a beer,” he says, smiling.
“You’re kind of a jerk,” I tell him. It’s something he probably hears all the time.
"I can be but it's still just a beer, November.” The way he says my name makes me think that this is a lot more than just a beer and a game of pool. Plus, when a guy admits that they are a jerk, is that really a good thing? “Just meet me at the Stumble In at seven,” he says, taking a step closer to me. All of the sudden, I can feel the heat from his body, smell the scent of his cologne and I can finally make out the color of his eyes.
“Light blue with gold flecks,” I mumble to myself. My lips part and my eyes glaze over. All my senses are on overload.
“Pardon?” he asks and I realize that I just said that out loud.
“Nothing,” I mumble, still staring at him. I realize that I probably look like an idiot so I take a step back. He smiles, revealing one perfect dimple and I know in that moment that I am so screwed. Crap!
“Meet me at seven,” he repeats, taking a step closer to me. His hand comes up, moving my hair to behind my ear, and I'm totally lost. Just floating away in a hot guy fog.
“Um…” I blink, trying to pull myself together. “Okay, seven,” I say, wondering what the heck just happened. The words are out and I need to get away from him and his Jedi mind tricks. I turn to go but get tugged back. I almost fall on my butt when I turn my head and see Asher squat down to pet Beast.
“Alright, babe. Seven. See you then." His smile gets bigger, like he knows something I don’t. He stands from his squatting position and winks. I turn around because I need to go, go, go before I throw myself at him and ask him to help me give Ms. Alice great grandbabies.
“Come on, Beast.” I tug on his leash but he wants to stay with Asher. “I know the feeling, boy,” I whisper.
Walking into my dad’s house, I'm assaulted by the smell of garlic and butter. I stop in my tracks when I realize that he’s home. “Crap,” I whisper to myself. Dad’s home. Of course, he's home. We have dinner together every night. I try to act normal as I walk into the kitchen. My dad is standing in front of the stove, wearing an apron that looks like a girl in a bikini. I start laughing. "Hey, now. What's so funny?" he asks, smiling.
“Nothing, Daddy,” I say, giggling.
"I'll have you know that your uncle got this for me."
“I'm sure Uncle Joe did,” I say, smirking. Uncle Joe is a funny guy.
“Well, I like it. I look hot," he says, holding his hands out to his sides.
“That you do,” I agree, shaking my head. “So what are we having?” I ask, hopping up on the counter.
“Shrimp Alfredo, garlic bread and salad."
“Yum. Sounds good. I'm leaving at six thirty to head to the Stumble In,” I say, glad that it sounds casual.
"The Stumble In? Why are you going to the bar on a Thursday. I'm not driving you to drink already, am I?"
“Um… No, I'm meeting someone there?” I say, asking rather than telling him. Please don’t ask who, I pray.