Note to reader: This is a continuing story. The previous sections are here if you want to go back:
We left off with Tessa hiding under a jacket at Joelle’s feet when a mystery man enters the store, whom we learn is named Layne. Tessa thinks she met Layne at a nightclub called The Velvet Crush and spent the evening with him, only he was gone when she woke up in the morning in what appeared to be a deserted warehouse with a makeshift bed and kitchen, with the smell of coffee in the air. Since the previous evening is a blur, she cannot recall if they had sex or not.
“Go to the Crush much?” Much came out mush because her mouth felt like cotton. Tessa’s attempt to bolster her impression rapidly declined. She had already fallen flat, literally, and flatter still.
“Uh, no,” Layne said. He didn’t seem deterred; a smile still lingered on his face. He looked more puzzled than anything. His manicured fingers cupped his chin, displaying smoothness and good hygiene. Even his eyebrows were expertly shaped. On closer inspection, he appeared to have shaved and applied a generous splash of aftershave. Was it for her, she wondered. Tessa hoped it would at least mask her more organic scent of mud and sweat.
“So, what, uh…In a hurry this morning, I guess.” Tessa sighed audibly. Her head spun as she rose from the floor, and stopped when she focused on a black dot that said Sexy Hair. Was any of this really happening to her? She wobbled with each step, trying to regain composure. The harder she concentrated, the more uneven her steps.
“Yeah, I usually am,” Layne followed close alongside her.
“Coffee would have been nice,” Tessa said. “I see you had some.”
“I can’t live without my coffee,” he took a few steps in front of her to face her, and he held her at her waist, stopping her. “Look, we can do coffee some other time. But right now…”
“That was pretty rude, you know. And then I had no way to get back. How could you just leave me out there in the middle of nowhere?” Tessa rattled off everything except the one thing that gnawed at her. She was hard-pressed to say it aloud even though the words drummed inside her head all morning. Did we have sex? Did we do it? “Did we, you know, did we…”
A lady in a cotton candy pink sweater with graying hair walked by, her shade of lipstick a perfect match to her ensemble. Her pace limped along, hanging on to their every word.
“I almost don’t recognize you,” he stared at her lips, seeming genuinely concerned. “What is it? It’s something with the…” and he gestured with his long fingers in a circular motion across his face. “I, I don’t…you look…”
“It’s a before and after. One side has makeup and the other, without. Which do you like better?” Tessa’s pre-work makeup preparation blurred into a hodgepodge of creamy reds and runny blacks. “No, on second thought, don’t answer that.” She looked at him head on now, even though she felt like a freak show no one wanted to see. “Oh, my God you don’t know, do you?”
“Uh…it’s hard to say,” he squinted his eyes at her, his smile slowly fading.
“What do you mean? Don’t guys know these things?” Tessa tidied up shelves by pushing all products to the front and then to the back again.
“Look you have something of mine…from last night.” He got quiet and a look of determination settled on his face. He crossed his arms, and took a stance as if he’d wait until the sun went down.
Tessa’s mind was too muddled to focus, wanting only an answer to her question. He took the trouble to find her, certainly he could manage a “yes” or “no.”
“It’s pink, but darker than hers.” Layne gestured toward the gray-haired lady walking towards him, making no effort to hide her eavesdropping. The old woman stopped flat and stared until Tessa frowned at her. Layne scanned the store, with a concentration on the exits.
“What?” Tessa asked, raising her voice. Bianca and Joelle held a steady gaze from the front of the store, their heads positively still.
“Keep your voice down please,” Layne said.
“Are you embarrassed?” Tessa dragged him into an aisle. “Why don’t you just tell me what happened already?” She waved her finger in front of his face and he grabbed her hand, pulling her to his chest and dropping below eye level like a sunken ship onto the floor.
“Shhh. Calm down,” he whispered
“What are you doing? It’s not like no one sees us. Huh?” Mostly no one was there. He held her hand to the floor, pressing it. “I just wanted to know if we…Did we have sex or not?
He laugh escaped his lips. “Oh,” and he shook his head. “You’re a little confused.”
“Oh, you don’t know, do you? You have no idea.”
“I’m not your boyfriend. Look, I don’t have time for this,” although sitting on the floor, he appeared to have all the time in the world. “I need it back.” He rose and straightened his pant legs.
“Need what?” Tessa asked. “It might help if you told me, don’t you think?”
“Shh.” He turned on his heel. “I’ll be in touch.”
He made he way to the front of the store, returning his shades to his face, and walked out the door before Tessa resurfaced from hiding.
Joelle ran to her side, “Girl, what is it with you on the floor this morning?” She dusted Tessa off and embraced her. “Well? What did he say?”
“He said he’ll be in touch,” Tessa said, putting her head on Joelle’s shoulder.
“Oh good. We get to see him again.”
“I don’t care if I ever see him ever again,” Tessa said. “He says I have something of his.”
“And?” Joelle pursed her lips. She just loved juicy gossip.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Tessa held back tears.
“Could it be this?” Joelle revealed a smart phone. “I was gonna give it to you, and then I forgot. Mr. Hotshot was kind of a…a distraction. Well here. Maybe it’s his.”
The android phone was black with not a hint of pink in sight. “Well, it’s the wrong color. But let’s have a look.” She clicked on the button to find it was password protected. “Damn. No dice.”
“Found it at the Crush,” Joelle said, rubbing shoulder to shoulder with Tessa. “I saw it on the bar and put it in my purse. I wasn’t really thinking. I guess I just thought it was yours.” Joelle raised her eyebrows. “We could return it.”
“Or,” Tessa gave Joelle a few slow nobs. “Or…”
“Awww. Or…we could ask James to look at it.” Their neighbor and resident hacker enjoyed pitching in when he could, although it might cost them a pizza and his favorite beer.
“Just a little peek,” she said. “Maybe there’s a pink picture in here.” Whatever it was, she really hadn’t the foggiest as she stared at the walls of Sultrix and all its glimmering products.
Pink was everywhere.