I focused on the fourth yellow cab. Good as any. Miami International was profoundly soulless for a Friday evening. I blamed the New Year. January air here versus January air there improved my mood immediately. I tossed my canvas duffle across the dark vinyl backseat, checked my watch, then typed.
Gotta give me more than that
We pushed into minimal, exiting traffic. I watched my phone fade dark, doubting she could actually give me more. I cracked the rear window, salty warmth eased in.
"Headed to the Cove."
"Kebi?" The driver mumbled over radioed dispatch.
"Yes, Kebi Cove. Um… Corner of 17th and 1st."I lit my phone, scrolling contacts, considering a quick confirmation.
Going to sleep
Ok. Headed to a dinner meeting. Talk tomorrow
I forced rolled sleeves up, a deep breath out. Mile markers glowed as we headed south down the coastal highway. The driver eyed me in the mirror.
"You coming home?"
"Yes. Yeah… spent the holidays in a blizzard. Grateful to be back."
"You a native?"
"No. A transplant. But it's home now."
"Why would anyone leave Miami… Beautiful women, year round summer, delicious food… did I mention the beautiful women?" I mirrored his smirk.
"You speak the truth, my friend. The absolute truth…"
I conjured a mental calendar of the week's schedule, thumbing over Brendan's number.
"Hey, just got into town. Almost to the restaurant. Your sister's still a go?"
"Yeah, yeah she left like over an hour ago though. I'm actually here at the house. Mom's babysitting." I checked my watch. Shit, an hour ago…
"It was eight, right?"
He laughed. "Don't worry, I filled her in on your travel time issues. She's probably three margaritas in by now."
"Well, this should be interesting, then." We edged the curb in front of Gracias Padre.
"Nah, she'll be good. She's pretty excited about it. She seriously deserves a break. Thanks for doing this, Edward. I owe you one."
I balanced my cell, paid the driver with a wide view of the outdoor dining.
"No problem. She'll be doing me a favor, actually. None of my staff is quite equipped for a sports cover. You know?
"She'll kill it."
"I'm sure she will. Hey, I'll get with you soon. We'll hit the course or get a drink next week." I smoothed my duffle strap across my chest and watched her through the landscape and lights.
The waiter refilled her glass, hung a minute too long. She shrugged dramatic, hands thrown in the air, a deep exasperated laugh. I was monumentally late. I weaved through tables, ducking below strands of wired globe lights.
"Bella?" I grinned, hand extended. "Edward Cullen."
She startled, standing to shake, hand in and over. "I was seriously thinking I had the wrong night."
"No. And I apologize. My flight was…" She waved off my bullshit, tucked her dress beneath and sat again. I followed, gesturing for service from a then annoyed waiter. Glass and votive reflection lit her pale, soft complexion. Nothing like Brendan's full freckles and bright red hair. After ordering beers, an appetizer, two mushroom tacos, her shoulders relaxed.
"I really do appreciate this. I've been selling overpriced furniture to bitches in South Beach for a little too long." She shook her head, shivering in frank disgust. "I've been reading The Cove since high school. I'm so anxious to get back to print, it's ridiculous. Your magazine is just so totally wide open, the best of culture and attitude and modern thinking all wrapped up in this fabulous local package… " She tugged the tiny gold arrow at her neck. The line and cut of her burgundy knit was difficult to ignore.
"Thanks…Bella." I paused, staring, letting her words sink. "The Cove basically breathes in my dad's shadow, so I want it to be all those things. It'll be an honor to have you on board. Your portfolio was impressive. I was blown away by the SEC scandal piece. What a bunch of good old boys network dickheads. Not sure I could've handled that. Probably would've been sitting on my own felony before I went to print. I've got no one who can cover sports really of any kind…"
"An honor?" she scoffed, interrupting. "I don't know about all that…" She rolled dark eyes, sipping her bottle slow and long, sneaking a smile. "But thanks, I'll take it.. Those guys are puss… pussy cats beneath all that alumni money and big talk. Nothing to be afraid of." She was fearless.
"So tell me something random. Something completely random about yourself." I kicked back, flexing to stretch. My feet weary and too warm in the boots I wore from the cold departure. She straightened, playfully cringing. The restaurant was filling up, yet the mood still light.
"Random… okay… Wait, you'll play too though?" She winked, then quickly covered her face with shaking hands, a flash of geometric gold where a band would be. "Oh my God, I promise I didn't just wink at my boss." I laughed. Her honest energy was infectious. We hovered somewhere between family friends and business associates. I'd come to appreciate that blur of relations in South Florida.
"Bella, this is really just a freelance piece. You're welcome to come use our office space though. But, I mean if all goes as planned, we can definitely pick up some future work for you."
"Yes, oh yeah, Brendan said your loft is amazing. It's downtown right?"
"Right. On the blue line. And we've got plenty of room if you'd rather work there. Monday morning we have a roundtable. It'd be a perfect time to meet everyone and get inspired."
"Oh, I'm inspired." She nodded with pursed lips, I angled, brow raised. "Oh my God again, and again, I'm making a complete flirtatious fool out of myself. Ahhhh…" She pushed long, loose waves behind her ears, quickly smoothing her low ponytail. "It's been a while…" She mumbled to herself, I caught every syllable. "I like cheap gas station coffee!" She snapped, pointing. "Like… love it. Love. Love. Love it. Crave it. The more bitter, the better."
"Random. That's definitely random. And good for you. My addiction rolls the opposite way and it's a complete pain in the ass."
"And expensive. My adoration for the 7-11 cheap brew was born out of being a broke college student and a single mom." The last dropped on a whisper. I hadn't planned to go there, it was hers to share. I knew enough of her struggle and story from Brendan.
"But it stuck?"
"Yeah… I'm kinda like that I guess. Faithful to what I know…" We shared an odd, knowing smile. "You make eye contact in elevators don't you?"
"What?" I laughed, caught off guard, confused.
"You do, don't you? That's your random thing."
"I never thought about it. I guess so maybe… I don't do awkward silence very well."
"No, It's great. A little intense. But real, I think."
I grinned, remembering my dad's golden rule of business, knowing the exact eye color of each and every client. Bella was equally real if that's what I was.
The waiter laid a dessert menu in front of Bella. Her eyes widened. "Want to share something?" I wasn't ready for the evening to end. My legs ached and my head dizzied, but it was one of those mellow, easy moments that reminded you you're exactly where you need to be.
"Sure. You pick." I watched her mouth twist in sincere thought. The last hint of natural gloss remained.
"Mexican wedding cookies? Sound good? I mean… Coconut ice cream on the side. We must."
"Then we will." I grinned, finishing the last of my beer, back to business. "So… Ty Tanner. Baseball rock star. Hometown hero, homerun king, prodigal son returns… "
"And all that…" She shrugged. "My younger brother, Ryan, knows him well. They graduated a year apart, played competitively together since like grade school. I'll get the dirt, find his weakness and get the goods. No worries. I'm on it." Confident, authentic, quirky and beautiful… "It'll be the best February cover you've ever run."
"You're hired." I nodded, tossing my spoon towards hers.
She gasped, clutching her chest in mock surprise. "Mr. Cullen, you won't be sorry. I'll even bring you coffee!"
"Keep your cheap coffee. Please. Really…"
"Okay, okay. But you don't know what you're missing…" She chuckled through a huge spoonful of chocolate drizzle and ice cream. Maybe I don't.
thanks a bunch for reading.
for tara. she does it all. xo