Ava Grimaldi twisted one of her long, brown curls around her finger and grinned at her best friend, Claire. Light streaming through the large plate glass windows sparkled into the space, creating blinding white flares on her laptop screen as she folded down the lid and picked up her cup of coffee.
“So, how’s the writing going?” Claire asked, setting her steaming latte onto the table. She smiled at Ava and slung her purse over the back of a mismatched wooden chair. “I’m late, but you know I’d never miss our Saturday morning coffee here at MoonBeans.”
“I’m on a really sexy scene right now,” replied Ava, blinking back the solar glare and sipping her Americano. “Coincidentally, this particular short story starts in a coffee house very similar to ours.” The eclectic Chicago café enveloped them with the deep aroma of espresso and the sounds of low chatter, grinders, and soft jazz, and Ava gestured as if inviting the atmosphere to join them.
Ava shot Claire a mischievous smile, crossed one lean, muscular leg over the other, and continued, “About my novels – I’m nearly going crazy waiting for my first book to come out in stores. It will happen in the next two weeks for sure, Claire! And for the second book? I just sent the latest copy to my editor last night. I added in that scene she wanted. You know,” and she lowered her voice and leaned forward, “That special one.”
She giggled and made a hand gesture near her mouth to let Claire know exactly what kind of “special” was on the menu.
Claire snorted. “I can’t believe you’re writing another kinky sex novel, Ava. Before you started your part-time author gig? I would never have guessed that you were the one with the dirty mind. You always came across as innocent and clean, the fresh-eyed computer programmer next door.”
“Hey,” Ava protested, and took a sip from her hand-painted green and blue mug, a modern-art ocean in her hands. “Coders are cool. I’m representing my kind, you know? Showing that numbers geeks have many talents. Who better than a math expert to capture the beauty of a sixty-nine in words?”
Claire rolled her eyes and tapped the side of her cup. “I’m curious. You must have given hundreds of specials to be able to write about them so well. Am I right?” She gazed at Ava with her Inspector Detective look, the one where she narrowed her pale blue eyes and pulled some of her brilliant red hair into a fake moustache.
Claire grinned. “In round numbers. Estimate it.”
“Well,” Ava shot back, “how many times have you specialized?”
“Me?” Claire paused and deliberated, releasing the fauxstache. “I mean, Ryan loves a good special. So, at least once or twice a week.”
“Really?” Ava was impressed. “Wow.”
“Well, sure. But he gives as good as he gets,” replied Claire with a wink. “Now you answer, Ms. Perverted Hemingway.”
Ava retorted, “You know I prefer to be called Emily Dick-inson.”
“Francis Ford Coppola-feel.”
“Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Haha.”
There was a pause, then Claire interrupted. “And you totally changed the subject. Is it weird to ask? I’ve just been wondering.”
Ava fidgeted. “You’re funny. Honestly? Not often. Okay, once. Half of once.”
Claire popped upright in her chair. “Seriously?”
Ava shrugged. “I haven’t been with that many guys, Claire.”
Claire still appeared astounded. “I thought I was kidding about calling you innocent.”
Ava rolled her eyes. “I’ve had plenty of sex, okay? It’s just never been earth-shattering, I guess. And I never really wanted to try doing a blow job with any of them. It’s a mental thing.”
Claire had a strange look on her face. “How did you do half? You only licked one side of it?” She giggled.
“Shut up! It was with my ex, Matt, last year. He started pushing my head, and it tweaked my neck in this awkward way, and I got pissed. Then he told me I wasn’t doing it right, and I broke up with him. Not just because of that, but it was the final straw on our lukewarm romance.”
Claire slammed her cup down as hard as a cardboard container could go, causing coffee to slosh out of the plastic lid and onto her hand. She licked it off, commenting, “Never waste a good Java.”
Then she continued her interrupted tirade. “What a jerk-off. A guy can’t just shove your head down there and be all, Blow me, baby. Maybe he was blaming you for his lack of sexability.”
Ava frowned. “He turned out to be pretty toolbox. But also? We didn’t have the right chemistry. Things between us were…tepid.”
Claire tilted her head and her freckles glowed in the sunlight. “Remind me why you dated him in the first place?”
Ava shrugged. “In the beginning, he was actually kind of sweet and funny. It was only later on that things fell apart.” Her eyes crinkled as the next thought came to her. “And if I’m being completely honest, I thought dating Matt would get my mind off of Damián. Not the best reason to start a relationship, apparently.” She gave Claire a wry grin and lifted her coffee cup. “Live and learn, or so they tell me.” She took a deep sip of the creamy drink and savored the hint of hazelnut.
Claire sighed. “Ava. You’ve been mooning over Damián for how long now? Half a year?”
Ava ran her finger along the table, mopping up a stray drop of coffee and using it like paint to make a swirl pattern. “It’s not a big deal. I date other people. It’s only a crush…it’ll burn out eventually, right?” A ray from the window made the droplets glow like tiny suns.
Claire pushed at her cup. “But you don’t really date other people, not more than one-time deals. I know you like working out at Damián’s gym. And you spend a lot of time with him since he hired you off-hours to design his website. And he is really handsome. But–”
Ava broke in, thinking of sexy Damián. “Right? He’s gorgeous. It’s frustrating, because he flirts with me a lot, and I almost think there’s something there. Like last time when we met about the web design. He asked a lot of personal questions, and we were teasing each other. He got so close, and looked right into my eyes – I thought he was going to kiss me.” Her voice lost some spark. “He didn’t, though, and the next time I saw him at the gym, he was distant. I was something useful and dull, like a folding chair.”
Claire tapped Ava’s hand. “Folding chairs can be fancy, Ava. Did you know that the Versailles Palace in France has folding stools made of hand-carved, gilded walnut wood, covered with silk and velvet cushions with tassels? Fit for a queen. Or should I say king? Because you want him to sit on you, right?”
“Merci beaucoup, Claire,” said Ava, making a face. She did, in fact, want Damián’s hot, muscular body on top of hers, his dark eyes shooting her looks of passion, his warm brown skin hers to touch. She could almost feel her fingers running through his black hair, her mouth meeting his. And when it came to Damián, she’d be more than happy to lock her lips around the most intimate part of his anatomy. She’d do almost anything with him, including every wild escapade in her own romance novel.
While pondering this, she felt the small pang of concern that had been hitting her more often as the publication date of her first book loomed closer. Maybe? Maybe it wasn’t so cool that the fictional hero of her debut novel was kind of – well, nearly one hundred percent – modeled on real-life Damián Perez.
Tired of fantasizing about Damián, Ava had tried to exorcise him from her thoughts by writing her kinky sex novel with him as the hero. And when it came time to publish, she didn’t tell her editor that the protagonist was remarkably similar to a flesh-and-blood person. She probably shouldn’t have done it, but the truth was that she liked the character so similar to real-life Damián. This was a piece of her soul, now, this book; she didn’t want to change anything. This was her fantasy all written out, his face and body and traits mixed in with some imaginary, hot alpha-male sex.
Damián would never read a BDSM romance, so he’d never find out that his body and gym, his art and his love of rock climbing, his sexy accent and his Puerto Rican heritage had formed the inspiration for her hero. Who knew if anyone would buy it? Even if they did, what were the chances they’d even recognize him, especially since there was all the BDSM, something he surely wasn’t into? And she’d changed his name.
Still, though, she felt guilty, like she’d stolen something valuable, something irreplaceable.
She shook her head, as if dislodging the thoughts, and added, “Yes, but I don’t know if I’m his type. His ex-girlfriend? Mariana? She’s so pretty that I’d want to fuck her if I were a lesbian. She’s that hot. And she’s his ex. The one who didn’t make the cut.”
Claire shook her head back. “Didn’t you say Mariana was a raving bitch? See, personality matters to him, if he exxed her. Way to be a real man, Damián.” She raised her cup in a mock toast. “There’s hope for him yet.”
Ava waved her hand. “Of course personality matters. But you need the spark of attraction. And he can get any sparkplug he wants. He has infinite choices. I guess I’m not his, even if he’s flirty sometimes. Maybe I’m just not cute enough. No, I mean – something enough.”
She paused to think about it. Was she enough? At twenty-six, she was fit and toned, with a happy smile and sparkling green eyes and long curling hair (Claire often told her it was Pantene-Worthy); her friends often complimented her witty attitude and her generous spirit. She was successful in her career as a programmer and worked hard to do her own private consulting jobs on the side. She had loyal friends and a happy life, a comfortable routine. She knew she was pretty, but she wasn’t the kind of woman who got constant catcalls, free drinks in bars, and so many phone numbers that her purse fluttered and bulged with hopeful scraps torn from the hearts of handsome men.
Damián was in his thirties and seemed successful at everything he tried, at least from what she knew of him – his art, his climbing, his sports. He had the full attention of every single woman at the gym, and even the happily married moms liked flirting with him. Although he didn’t seem like a vacuous player, his effortless ability to capture the attention of every female in the vicinity seemed unequal to her own, weaker pull on humanity. She didn’t like that.
Claire poked her back. “You’re perfectly cute as you are. Anyway, it’s not about cute. It’s just about chemistry. And moves. If he doesn’t make a move, and you’re too chicken to make one yourself? Stop obsessing. No more furniture or auto shop references. Move on.”
Ava grimaced. “Yes. I know. But sadly, the Good Decision Center of my brain didn’t get the message. Apparently the appropriate neurotransmitters are either on strike, or incredibly lazy.”
Claire laughed. Then she leaned forward, her head tilted, expression eager. “Ava, I need to know. How are you able to write about all this stuff if you haven’t actually done it? Your sex scenes are seriously hot. Not all stuff I’d do, like the bondage and spanking…but some of it’s wow. Like the blow job scenes – they really work. I tried one of your techniques with Ryan, the grapefruit thing? And let me just say, Oh. My. God. Happiest boyfriend in the world.”
Ava lowered her voice. “I research it. I have, like, eighty BDSM and graphic sex romances on my tablet. Don’t tell anyone,” she interjected. “I’d die if people at work knew.”
“You know I would never,” said Claire. “I take my HR confidentiality to heart. But seriously? Just reading gives you all of those ideas?”
Ava smiled with pride. “I have a good imagination. And I Googled dungeons and spanking and BDSM and blow jobs. I learned things, Claire.”
Claire bent over in her chair, laughing. “I can just see you watching blow job videos and taking notes!”
“It’s not that funny,” protested Ava, but she was laughing, too. “You’re right. I do take notes. It is kind of hilarious.” She leaned toward Claire and confided, “You know what? It’s harder than you’d think to find a good blow job tutorial on Google,” and giggled with pleasure at her friend’s surprise.
Claire regained her composure and scoffed. “Ava. I seriously can’t believe you looked that up. And I can’t believe it’s hard to find a BJ video.”
Ava raised her eyebrows. “Videos, yes. Tutorials, no. If you Google “how to give a blow job,” you will not find any actual footage of a real blow job on a real penis. Sure, there are tons of articles. But the only teaching videos are porn stars demonstrating on a banana.”
Claire protested. “But, potassium. So good for you.”
“It’s okay to see it done on a banana, but you know, it’s even more helpful to see it done on a real person. By another real person.” Ava’s voice rose. “Turns out you have to search for “blow job video,” and leave out the “how to.” Then you hit the mother lode, pun intended. But it’s surprisingly monotonous work, sorting through all the 3-ways, disgusting stuff, and amateur hour. Most of it is repetitive and dull, made to appeal to a misogynistic asshole.” She shuddered, took a sip of coffee, and added, “Also, I wanted to watch something that’s doable by two people who aren’t porn stars. So it was a big job. Pun. Anyway, I’ve watched, say, well over a hundred blow jobs.”
Claire acted impressed. “Sounds like you have a Bj.D by now.”
“Oh, you can just call me Doctor Blow. Hey, if you want any pointers, I can send you a list of my favorite clips. I mean, I’ve never done one, but I could probably teach a class by now. Isn’t that ironic?”
Claire snorted. “I… think I’m good. But thanks. And douche-ball Matt would kill himself if he knew what he missed,” she said with a raised eyebrow.
Ava warmed to her topic. “When I first started my research, I found a few websites reference this one movie, Caligula. There’s a blow job scene in the middle of this orgy? She starts with a graceful thing with both hands. It’s actually very pretty. Like a finger ballet.”
Claire was holding her stomach. “Ava. You’re killing me!”
Ava gestured, stacking her two hands as if gripping a cucumber, then rotating her wrists in opposite directions while moving both hands up and down and wiggling the fingers. “This is really the most popular technique in all of the videos, too, at least on the huge long dicks.” She demonstrated again. “Isn’t that elegant? It’s like I’m making pottery on one of those spinning wheels. Or doing an ethnic dance.”
Claire snorted, spewing coffee, trying not to laugh. “Ava, stop!”
Ava smiled and shrugged, a “who, me?” kind of guilty shrug. Then she continued her explanation. “I didn’t want to pay for any hardcore sites just to see some sex. Who wants to give their credit card information to a porn website? I wanted free research, Claire. Free.”
Claire was wheezing. “I can’t even breathe!”
Ava sighed. “So I ended up with some useful footage, but I did have to clean malware from my computer a few times.”
The two laughed together for a few more minutes, but suddenly Ava felt tears pricking at her eyes. She brushed at her lids.
“Why do you look sad?” Claire asked with sympathy.
“I don’t know,” said Ava, rubbing at a rough spot of glaze on the handle of her ceramic cup. “I guess it’s a little lonely, Claire. I write about these hot encounters and my first book is being published, but I still don’t have a special someone.” She blew out her breath. “Well, I’ll just keep on being myself and doing what I can. Karma will eventually lead me to my perfect match.”
Claire thought about it. “If Ms. Karma doesn’t produce, there are tons of dating websites. I’m sure someone out there is ready to appreciate your fountain of knowledge. Or to use your knowledge on their fountain. Ha! I’m so funny.”
Ava rolled her eyes at Claire. “Hilarious.”
Claire patted Ava’s arm and jingled her keys as she stood. “Ava? I have to go. Ryan and I are having lunch with his parents. But can I treat you to dinner this week? I need to thank you for spending so many hours teaching me that financial budgeting software last month, and how to deal with my stock options at work. Seriously, if it weren’t for you? I wouldn’t be so, what do they call it? Solvent.” She sliced a finger across her neck. “They’d be coming to repossess my freckles by now.”
“Oh, you know. That’s what friends are for,” said Ava, blushing. “No big deal.”
She had actually spent a significant amount of time helping fix Claire’s financial records, and had plans to do her friend’s taxes and help her start investing. “You’re my best friend,” she reminded Claire, “So it’s time well spent. But,” she added with a grin, “I won’t turn down a dinner at that sushi place with the moving conveyor belt.”
“Extra wasabi and sake if you get on top of it and act like a sexy cover girl while you ride around the bar,” encouraged Claire, wiggling her eyebrows and striking a pose.
The two women hugged, and then Claire left, waving her fingers in a small goodbye as she took a final sip of coffee and tossed the empty cup into the trash. Ava watched through the thick glass and saw her friend purse-fishing to extract a box of white Tic Tacs while she hurried to her car.
Alone at the table, Ava took a sip of her now lukewarm and no-longer-pleasurable coffee. Since she was not meeting anyone’s parents, or anyone at all, she didn’t need a mint. And for some reason, that thought made her want to cry hard. “Stop,” she told herself, “You’re twenty-six years old, not six.”
She didn’t usually go to a Saturday class at Damián’s gym since it was a longer, tougher workout. But today she needed to burn off this nervous anxiety and vague sadness, so she decided to head over. She was toned and strong, in good shape, but it was always important to stay on top of it, not to lose the routine. She wasn’t going specifically to see Damián, of course – only to work out.
And just for the hell of it, she ate three mints on the way.