If Cyn Elder had to look at another crusty heel today, she thought she might heave. Normally, helping customers find shoes wasn't such a chore, but today she felt as if she'd seen every bunion in the state of California. Was a pedicure such a novelty? And would it kill people to handle their corns before they tried on her shoes?
"Will there be anything else?" The tight smile she forced across her face must have spoken volumes to the woman, who quickly shook her head, and picked up her shoes to head to the counter.
Cyn watched her retreat with a small twinge of regret. Never would she be intentionally rude to a customer, but today had been a day from hell. The two workers her father insisted she hire didn't show up as scheduled, that alone was annoying, but knowing the twin sisters were kicking back in her apartment per her father's other order, was downright infuriating.
Trying not to dwell on the negative aspects of her life, and man were there many, Cyn grabbed the shoehorn and grimaced in pain. Standing, she stretched her aching back, feeling the tender muscles cry out in pain. Three more minutes to closing time and then she was off to do as she pleased. And it pleased her to take a long hot shower, slip in between her comfy cotton sheets and pass out.
Cyn mustered the last bit of goodwill she could find, and made her way over to the counter to ring up the customer. After quickly seeing the lady out, Cyn sighed with relief. Her day was over. With a twist of her wrist, she flipped over the sign and then pulled down the blind, bringing her horrible day to an end. The Glass Slipper was officially closed. Seven o'clock had never looked so beautiful to her before.
Cleaning up though, especially tonight, felt like a reward after the day she'd had. If she had only been given a second or two to pop in the back and get the smell of feet out of her nose, the day might have gone a lot smoother. Or if she had any real help, real being the key word, things wouldn't have seemed as if they were piling up.
Stop it, she ordered herself. Stop dwelling on the bad. Her life wasn't horrible. In all honesty she didn't have much to complain about. The only thing she wished was for her father to wake up and realize his live-in lover was a live-in loser. Then again, if wishes were horses--
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Startled, Cyn jumped and glanced around. With her hand over her pounding heart, she made her way nervously to the front door. There was someone there, but with the blind pulled down she couldn't tell who it was.
"We're closed," she yelled out, refusing to open the door.
"Yoo hoo, girlfriend, you have to help me."
Well damn. The falsetto voice gave her customer's identity away. Sighing, Cyn pulled up the blind and tried not blanch when her visitor's face popped into view.
MeShell was one of the ugliest women Cyn had ever see, but that wasn't saying a lot because she was a he. A very unattractive he in fact, but that didn't stop Ms. Thang from going all out in drag. Looks aside, MeShell was a sweetheart, but nice or not, Cyn wasn't in the mood to deal with any more customers.
Shaking her head, Cyn gestured grandly to the clock on the wall behind her and shrugged her shoulders in fake sympathy.
Still MeShell persisted. "If you help me out this once, I'll be your best friend for life. It will only take five minutes, ten tops."
Cyn rolled her eyes and kept her hand firmly on the door. She'd heard this spiel from MeShell before, and the way she was going, they were going to be best friends for several lives to come.
"It's been a long day, MeShell."
"Each day is only twenty-four hours, darling, so please do me a favor and I'll do you one in return."
The only favor she could possible do Cyn would be to leave. "Thank you but no."
"Please, please. I know you've probably had a hard day, girl." Dramatic to the bone, MeShell gestured wildly as she spoke. "And you know I wouldn't dream of bothering you at closing time, but I hobbled here as fast as my little feet could carry me with a broken shoe. But I have plans, girl. Big plans that involve me looking as hot as a tamale and landing Mr. Right and by landing I mean I need him to land on me because this girl hasn't been landed on in a long while. You get my drift, sugar?"
Did she ever. Sighing, Cyn watched MeShell with guarded eyes. She was beat. Tired to the bone, but an extra fifteen minutes wouldn't make her any less tired. Besides if it helped the fellow sexually deprived, she was all in. Maybe she'd earn her wings to horny heaven for helping out and the God of all vibrators would send her an energizing toy.
Relenting, Cyn unlocked the door, much to the drag queen's delight.
"You are the living end, girl," she practically squealed, hobbling into the store on broken heels.
"Tell me about it," Cyn murmured, closing the door behind MeShell's back. Cyn locked the door firmly and pulled down the shade again. She didn't want to chance any more lost souls begging for entrance. "Just don't go telling anybody I let you in after hours."
"Girl, please. You know discreet is my middle name." MeShell fluffed her blonde wig and batted her sea green contact-lensed eyes Cyn's way. A six-foot-two drag queen who was almost so black she looked blue, with fuchsia pink lipstick and matching eye shadow was not Cyn's idea of discretion, but hey, whatever made her boat float.
Trying to find her hidden smile, Cyn thought of good things. Fuck raindrops on roses, she needed lime in tequila to cheer her up. "So which pair were you eyeing?"
"As if you have to ask." MeShell struck a pose, with her hands held highly in the air and shimmied her hips. The silver sequined after-five dress shimmered in the light. "The six-inch silver stilettos, baby."
"I'm not sure if I have them in a size thirteen, MeShell." The drag queen community had always been a big supporter of independent stores like Cyn's, so she made it a habit to carry larger sizes for such occasions. The lively nightlife of San Francisco had helped keep her family's shoe store in the game for three generations, despite the Bill Gates super malls of the world.
"I'm a size ten." She snapped her finger over her head. "Thank you."
"Girl, please." Cyn cocked her head to the side and tried her best to hold back her laughter. Even on her bad day she could tell a person's shoe size from a block away. "Those are gun boats and you know it."
"You stop it. Have a seat while I go check the backroom, and keep your grubby little paws out my stocking sampler box."
"Please. As if I'd take your old raggedy pantyhose."
"Whatever, I meant what I said," Cyn tossed over her shoulder as she slipped into the stockroom. Thankfully, everything was organized and it only took her a minute or so to find the shoes. "Here you go. Let's try them on."
"Girl. Girl. Girl." Before Cyn could sit all the way down on the stool in front of MeShell, the woman had her shoes off and feet stretched out. "Put them on. Put them on."
"Step it down a notch." Exhausted or not, Cyn couldn't help but be infected by MeShell's enthusiasm as she helped her slip on the shoes. The size thirteens fit, as she knew they would. Damn she was good. "Well, what do you think?"
"I think they look divine." MeShell stood and began to sashay around the room. "I look fierce, don't I? Go ahead, don't be afraid to tell the truth."
Laughing, Cyn stood. "Too fierce, girl."
"Don't I know it."
"Let's ring you up and get you on your way. I don't want you to miss your party." The phone rang as she begun to total up the purchase. "One sec," Cyn said to MeShell, as she picked up the phone. "Hello."
"What are we doing tonight?"
Cyn smiled, feeling the first sense of real pleasure since the whole damn day had begun. But Miller Tate had the ability to cheer her up without even trying. It was a gift only a best friend possessed, and he was the best. "I don't know what we're doing tonight, but I know what I'm doing, and it involves a bed, cotton sheets, and a headscarf."
"As stimulating as that sounds, I'm afraid I'm going to have to break your heart, because you are going out tonight. Even if I have to pull your fine behind kicking and screaming all the way."
"I so don't think so." Was no one above listening? She just wanted to sleep.
"I don't hear you. As your best friend, it is my duty to save you from yourself and the two evil flying monkeys you have waiting for you back at your place."
Cyn smiled at Miller's apt description of the demonic duo. She was worn-out, but she knew, as Miller did, if she went home, she'd just end up regretting it.
"So where are we going?" Please say movies. Please say movies. Please say movies.
"To a party."
Damn it! At least at the movies, Cyn could have drifted off to sleep, but there seemed as if there was no chance of that happening now.
"DelRay's new club is opening tonight, and guess who is on the guest list?"
"You're going to DelRay's too?" MeShell asked, butting into the conversation. "That's where I'm heading. Who are you talking to?"
MeShell grimaced at the same time Miller asked, "To whom are you talking?"
Miller's snort of annoyance made Cyn bite back a smile. Miller and MeShell might both be batting for the same team, but that didn't mean they liked one another. "What does shim want?"
"MeShell is going to the same party."
"Maybe we're going to the movies after all."
Now he was talking. "Did anything come out this week worth seeing?"
"Movies? Oh no." MeShell reached across the counter and snatched the phone from Cyn's hands. "Listen, Miller. This is the party to end all parties and my girl is not going to miss it."
Cyn just shook her head and let them battle it out as she swiped the credit card. By the time the transaction was through, MeShell was handing her back the phone.
"Did the two of you get things settled?"
"Yes," Miller muttered. "I'll be by in an hour to pick you up. Don't worry about clothes. I'll pick out your outfit when I get there."
"I do know how to dress."
"Really, since when? Later." Miller hung up the phone before Cyn could get another word out, much to her amusement. With a shake of her head she clicked the phone off. Turning back to MeShell, she handed her the receipt and her bag. "I guess we'll see you later tonight."
"You know it, sweet meat. I'll be the one on stage shaking my tail feather."
"I can't wait." The hell she couldn't. This was so not how Cyn had pictured the night ending.
This was so not how Parker Maguire had pictured the night starting or being at all, for that matter. When his college buddy had called him with a business proposition, Parker'd thought, sure, a nightclub in the heart of San Fran sounded like a wonderful way to invest some money. The investment was a step away from the Hollywood scene. A way for him to branch out into something new and fun.
Good Lord, what had he been thinking? It was becoming increasingly clear he didn't have the slightest clue what partying consisted of these days. The exact moment he apparently morphed into his father wasn't exactly clear, but nevertheless, it happened.
The Hollywood night life had nothing on the Bay Area and that wasn't a compliment.
So instead of being on the crowded dance floor, groping and grinding, he was standing in the VIP balcony, feening for a cigarette, wishing he'd stayed home and merely wrote a check instead of demanding to be more than just a silent partner. Right then and there, Parker thought, silence might not have been so bad.
The crowded club and overpowering smell of desperation leaking from the pores of the half dressed girls and over dressed men reminded him why he had stopped going to meat markets such as this in the first place. That and the fact everyone he met these days wanted something from him.
His high-profile role as a wheeler-dealer in the land of make-believe ensured him a place of honor in the sexual hall of fame. In his early years in the business, Parker had caressed more pussy than a veterinarian. Surprisingly, he'd grown tired of it. The countless encounters that is, not the sex. He was bored not dead.
He was looking for more. What that entailed, he wasn't sure, but a glance at the crowded floor assured him that more wouldn't be found here. The only thing he'd found so far was the beginning of a headache.
Despite the balcony being enclosed, the loud music still somehow managed to seep into the room. It wasn't as deafening as on the dance floor, but the steady thump was still mind-numbing. When had he reached the point where loud music was disturbing him, not that he would describe the pounding mix playing as music? It was more like a never-ending version of the same song being played at different speeds which just further beat home the point he was just too damn old for clubbing.
He needed a drink. Then a good kick in the ass. Maybe not even in that order. With a disgusted snort, he headed out the room and almost collided with the bouncer standing on the steps leading to the dance floor. Surprisingly, the bulky man wasn't alone. He was in the midst of a face-off with a very attractive, yet tired-looking African American lady.
In spite of her club-like attire, which consisted of a black, midriff exposing halter-top and matching black short skirt, she seemed a bit different than the other women skulking around the club. For one, the man-hungry-hunter look was nowhere to be found in her hazel eyes, just a hint of boredom and annoyance. Also, even though her clothes were sexy, they weren't blatant, I-can-see-your-pubic-hair-runway-from-a-mile-away sexy. Parker couldn't speak for any other man, but he was a bit old fashioned. In his book, the one with the balls led the chase. Plain and simple.
The hallway was as insulated as the room, so it didn't take much to clearly hear the argument at hand.
"I'm not going to tell you again." Muscle guy had his arms crossed over his massive chest, in what Parker assumed was to be an intimidating pose. But from the annoyed look on the woman's face, pressure was the last thing she was feeling.
"You didn't have to tell me the first time. All you needed to do was ask. You know, just because you have a dick, doesn't mean you have to act like one."
"That's it. You're out of here."
"Eat me," she spat.
"Hey," Parker shouted, angry now. He didn't know what exactly had gone down and he didn't care. There was a right way and a wrong way to talk to a lady. "Back down."
Muscle guy turned around with a scowl, but when he recognized who was speaking to him, his attitude immediately disappeared. "Sorry, sir, this lady was blocking the stairs."
"No, this lady was sitting on the stairs, for a moment."
"It's a fire hazard, sir."
"Yes, because if by some off the wall chance Club A Go Go caught on fire, my big ass sitting on the second to last step was going to be the reason everyone burned up and died. Yeah, right."
Apparently the bouncer didn't know when to leave well enough alone. "It's against the law, sir."
What an ass. Parker truly didn't invest half a million dollars in tittypolozza to referee grudge matches. Though, before he could speak, the fireball mouthed off again. "No, what should be against the law is the overpriced, watered-down drinks. Whoever owns this place needs their ass kicked."
"Really?" Amused now, Parker focused all his attention on the woman. "Well, as one of the aforementioned owners, should I be worried?"
"Maybe." Her bottom lip quivered as if she was biting back a laugh. "Sorry, I didn't know I was in the company of club royalty."
Her obvious amusement made it difficult for Parker to believe her. Bored no longer, Parker leaned against the wall and smiled. "Forgiven. Now if you would--"
The spitfire raised her hands, halting his words. She in essence shushed him. A first for Parker. He was an order giving type of man, not someone to be dismissed. Yet instead of being irritated, he was intrigued. Who in the world was she?
"No need to call for reinforcements. As I was telling Schwarzenegger here, I was just resting for a moment. I'll leave."
The hell she would. "I wasn't going to say that. There's no need to hurry. In fact, if you feel the need to ... rest a bit more we can go back upstairs."
"We?" She tilted her head to the side and raised an eyebrow. "And why would I go anywhere with a complete stranger? I don't know you. You could be crazy."
The bouncer snorted and shook his head, much the way Parker wanted to. A complete stranger, wow. Parker didn't want to toot his own horn, but he'd been on more magazine covers than some of the movie stars he produced films for. He was called the "Prince of Hollywood" or sometimes the "Movie Midas", because every film he produced turned to gold. Yet, from the disinterested way she was watching him, Parker was willing to bet that even if she knew all of that, she'd still be hesitant about going into the room with him.
"True, but there's a couch and all the free overpriced, watered-down drinks you can drink. Plus it's going to annoy the hell out of him." This time the smile broke free, turning her pretty face beautiful. Damn. "I can promise you I'm not crazy, but then again, a crazy person would say the same."
"Then what do you have to lose."
"Only my life."
"There is that. But I promise not to kill you." When she still didn't look convinced, Parker took his hand from his pocket and raised it in the air, with his index and middle finger pointed up. "Scout's Honor."
"When you put it that way, it's almost impossible to resist." She smiled.
"Almost?" Parker wondered what he'd have to do make the offer irresistible.
"Hmm..." Leaving was no longer an option for him. Parker was there to stay. "Almost means there's something I can do to convince you."
"There're two things."
Parker loved a good negotiation. "I'm listening."
"The door stays open at all times."
"I text my friend to let him know where I am and he's allowed to come up at anytime."
He ... Parker didn't like the idea of a he, but she did say friend. "Deal."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
Her eyes widened as if she was surprised, then flashed with amusement. "This club may not suck so much after all."
"Great." Parker stepped away from the wall and pushed the door all the way open for her. "Maybe we'll put that on the napkins and billboards."
Laughing, she walked past him and into the room. The night was looking up already.