Wanna hear a story? Cool.
So, about two years ago now (feels c-RAZY to say that), I wrote a few holiday shorts. I was in the middle of writing Finding Kennedy and hadn't released anything in a while so, I wrote a few shorts to remind folks about me. Anyway, last year, I reposted those shorts in the FB group I have with Nia Forrester, Lily Java and Rae Lamar, Because My Heart Said So. People seemed to like them, and one in particular, stood out—Ava and Elias' story and their meet-cute at a boring Christmas party. I started to write a full novella based on the short last holiday season but didn't end up getting finished in time to publish it (at the time, I was also finishing up Blind Expectations). It's worth mentioning that Blind Expectations also started from those holiday shorts. Makes me wonder what other stories I'll end up writing from those mini-pieces.
Which brings us to now. I sat on Ava and Elias' story for like, eight months. It was maybe half-way finished (or a little less) last year when I stopped writing on it. Well, I'm finally getting around to completing it... woo-hoo!
My new holiday novella, The Night Before, the continuation of Ava and Elias' story is coming on Dec. 15. For #SampleSunday, I'm posting the original short that sparked the novella. Hope you enjoy.
Ava scanned the crowded living room, releasing a soft sigh as she twirled her candy cane in her rum and coke. Her eyes flitted from the half-drunk guy in the corner of the room who was vying for the attention of a woman who looked as bored as she was, to a woman dressed in a seductive elf costume, as if it were Halloween, before landing on her friend. Ellie looked up and Ava raised her brows.
“10 more minutes,” Ellie mouthed, barely able to look away from the tall guy she was hugged up with.
Ava sighed and plastered a fake smile on her face. For the tenth time in the past hour and a half, she wondered why she’d let Ellie drag her to this party. On the rare occasions that she returned home, she preferred to spend them hanging out with her mom. Ava didn’t get to see her nearly as often as she would’ve liked. But instead of hanging with her mom, watching bad Christmas movies on Lifetime and drinking too much rum and coke, she was out at this soul-sucking party with her best friend from high school. She didn’t even remember half of these people, and didn’t want to. High school—the entire town— was a dead-end waste of space. As soon as Ava graduated, she’d left. She didn’t even wait out the summer before heading to college. In fact, this was only the second time she’d been back in the past seven years. Usually, her mom flew out to see her in Atlanta…where there was life, and coffee, and sushi available at any time of the day, if you wanted it.
The longer she sat on the plush oversized couch that seemed to be made for sleeping, not entertaining, the more convinced she was that the life was literally being zapped out of her. She pulled at her phone and glanced at it. She’d give Ellie five more minutes and then she was kicking rocks. She clicked on her Kindle app and started reading.
“You know reading at a party is pretty rude.”
“Excuse me?” Ava lifted her eyes from her phone, her brow furrowed at the owner of the deep baritone who’d interrupted her, just as she was getting to the good part. Her gaze settled on a tall figure, hovering over her.
“Reading at a party. It’s rude. But then you were stuck up in high school, so I’m not surprised.”
Ava’s mouth parted slightly.
Who the heck did this guy think he was? She craned her neck looking up at him, trying to make out his admittedly handsome features. His skin was the color dark roast coffee, just before the cream and his eyes were aware but lively with playful intrigue. His beard was groomed but still managed to give him a rugged edge, and he was wearing a dark blue sweater that stretched snuggly across his chest. She was drawing a blank, though she didn’t know how that was possible. If this dude had gone to school with her, there was no way she would’ve forgotten him. He was still smiling cockily at her and she frowned. Fine or not, he was an asshole.
“I was not stuck up,” she muttered, internally kicking herself for not thinking of a better comeback.
“Yes, you were,” he refuted, still grinning when she frowned. “You used to walk the hallways with your nose so far up in the air, it’s a wonder it didn’t get stuck there.”
He seated himself next to her on the plush couch, stretching his long legs out comfortably and crossing his booted feet at the ankles.
“What are you reading? It must be damn enthralling.”
Ava stared at him, shocked by his audacity.
“You already said that, Ava. Twice.”
He flashed another overly-confident grin her way and she tilted her head, glaring at him. The way he said her name was familiar, as if he’d been saying it forever, and it was doing weird things to her stomach. He was still peering nosily at her phone. She snatched it from his gaze and his lips curled up, revealing a smile that probably typically worked to leave women dumb and panty-less. But she wasn’t typical. Or dumb.
“I’ll bet it’s some feminist shit, huh? Roxanne Gay? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? bell hooks?”
He arched a brow, patiently waiting for her to answer.
“First of all, you may think you know me but I don’t have any idea who you are and don’t really care to. And I don’t appreciate you inviting yourself into my personal space and then interrupting my reading just to insult me,” Ava said, raising her voice as she sat forward, pointing a finger at his muscled chest.
His smiled widened and Ava felt her entire body heat. “You’re still just as cute as you were in high school.”
She blinked caught off guard.
“Nah, never mind,” he said, his deep voice dropping an octave. His gaze roamed over her features, taking in her curly twist-out, long eyelashes, and lips she’d painted coral pink. “You’re even more beautiful now.”
He was switching gears fast and she frowned. Why wasn’t her brain keeping up with him? She did this for a living. She was known for her quick wit and ability to persuade, qualities that helped her immensely as a network publicist. She wasn’t easily charmed by anyone. She did the charming.
“I’m Elias Young, by the way.”
“I would say it’s nice to you meet you, but it hasn’t been thus far.”
He chuckled, his eyes dancing with amusement. “Now that was just mean, Ava.”
“Are your feelings hurt?”
“A little bit, yes.”
She arched a brow, holding back a smile at his deliberately crestfallen expression. There was nothing cute about a grown ass man pouting. But damn if this dude didn’t make it sexy.
“You should learn how to talk to people if you’re gonna act all sensitive when they call you on your bullshit, Elias.”
He laughed, his eyes telling her he was thoroughly enjoying their exchange. “Kendrick is my cousin,” he offered unexpectedly, bobbing his head toward the host of this dead party, who was now whispering in Ellie’s ear. “I went to East too but I was a few years older than you. Obviously, we ran in different circles.”
He chuckled again at the disdain in her tone, a deep sound that made her pulse start beating too hard. She frowned again, thrown by her reaction to him.
“What were you reading?” He shifted his position on the couch, getting even more comfortable. Clearly, he wasn’t leaving. And there was no way she was letting some fine, strange man run her off from the only acceptable seating in the house.
“The Road,” she finally answered, just as “Baby It’s Cold Outside” came on.
“The Road?” he echoed incredulously. “At a Christmas Eve party, Ava? That’s gotta be one of the bleakest books ever written.”
She chuckled reluctantly, looking off toward the middle of the living room, where a few couples had started dancing.
“It is pretty depressing,” she conceded. “But it’s poetic.”
“Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it,” he said, quoting a line from the book.
Her gaze met his, and her mouth fell open, but only a little. Who was this dude? He smiled, watching as she hastily took another sip of her drink, hoping to cover her reaction.
“I guarantee someone is writing that on a suicide note right now.”
She laughed before she could stop herself, shaking her head at him.
“So, do you still live here, Elias?”
He bit the corner of his lip, an almost satisfied glint entering his dark brown eyes.
“Nope. I’m back visiting my folks for the holiday.” Subconsciously, her eyes took in his ring finger. He wasn’t wearing one. He noticed her checking him out and his smile became more relaxed. Damn his fine ass. “I work in Atlanta.”
“What do you do?”
“Ah, come on,” he groaned, throwing his head back. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those.” He lowered his voice tilting his head as he studied her.
“One of what?” She arched a brow.
“One of those women who judge dudes based on their occupation.”
“You got all of that from me asking what you do for a living? That’s kinda presumptuous. And also kinda sexist.”
He grinned, eyeing her. “I’m not sexist. I love women. Everything about them.” His voice had dipped an octave, his gaze roaming slowly over her. He grinned lazily and she shifted on her seat, her heart beating way too fast. “I also abhor America’s patriarchal power structure and the objectification of women in the realm of American pop culture and society at large.”
She rolled her eyes, holding in another smile. He chuckled.
“All I’m sayin’ is my gig is what I do, not who I am.”
“You must be miserable in your professional life.”
He laughed. “I enjoy what I do.”
“Uh-huh,” Ava said eyeing him, as he let out another chuckle. “Did you ever consider maybe I’m just interested in finding out how you spend your days, or what interests you, and not making a snap judgment about your character traits or desirability?”
She met his gaze, challenging him.
“I’m a photographer,” he answered in surrender. “Macon doesn’t have enough opportunities for me to make a living, so I had to leave.”
“You’re saying you would’ve stayed if you could’ve found a gig?” Ava asked, wrinkling her nose.
He shrugged, fixing her with another one of his grins that affected her breathing. “I like the quiet.”
“It’s boring,” she said, arching a brow.
“It’s real. People in small towns are who they are. I find that to be refreshing.”
“I find that to be lame.”
He laughed, his eyes raking over her frame again.
“Small towns aren’t any better than big cities,” Ava said. “You just see people’s flaws up close and personal so it feels more authentic, even though it’s basically the same crap, just a smaller toilet.”
Elias laughed again, his eyes dancing again with appreciation as Ava sipped from her drink.
He bit his lip, still grinning as he eyed her. “I had a crush on you in high school.”
He laughed boisterously as she finished off her drink, hiding her smile.
“Come dance with me, Ava.” His voice had dropped an octave and he was staring at her again with eyes that held secrets and depth beneath the playfulness. Boyz II Men’s “Let it Snow” had just started playing in the background and a few more couples were now slow dancing in the living room. Kendrick had dimmed the lights and the twinkle of the white Christmas lights that hung over the wide fireplace was casting a soft glow on the room now.
“Dance with you?”
“You know how to do that, right? Weren’t you a cheerleader?”
“You had a crush on me in high school, remember? You know I was a cheerleader.”
He chuckled again, his eyes growing heavy as he openly assessed her.
“Pretty sure I still do… have a crush on you,” he clarified when she stared at him.
Unexpectedly, she felt her face flush at his compliment.
“We’re both too old for crushes. And you know nothing about me.”
“I know enough. And I like what I do know. A lot.”
Heat crept into her cheeks again. She rolled her eyes, annoyed with herself. She wasn’t a blushing kind of chick. But this dude was not at all shy, and his confidence was arousing. Plus, he was smart and funny and seemed refreshingly genuine. He stood, extending his hand toward her. She put on a show of setting her empty glass on the coffee table in front of her and releasing an audible breath. She touched his hand, charged energy sweeping through her bloodstream at the contact, and let him pull her up. He moved them to the center of the room, where he pulled her close. Her skin hummed beneath his easy touch, as he glided his hand to the small of her back. His touch wasn’t overtly sexual but the implication, the possessiveness, was there. Once again, she questioned her mental state because she was legit turned on. He smelled of man-- virile, and her body was reacting.
“Ava,” he murmured in her ear as he swayed them around the steadily filling makeshift dance floor in the living room. “Come hang out with me.”
“We met 2.5 seconds ago. You’re moving pretty fast don’t you think?” Her voice huskier than she intended for it to be but his arms were around her, his strong chest pressed against her softer frame, and she really just wanted to lean into him.
“I don’t think I’m moving fast at all. You like me.”
She attempted to pull back so she could tell him exactly what she thought of his cocky statement but he pulled her back against him. She felt, rather than saw, his smile.
“And I really, really like you,” he continued easily, his voice deep and seductive, causing her breath to hitch. “I’m not interested in wasting time pretendin’ like I don’t want to immediately spend more time with you.”
“Tomorrow is Christmas,” she pointed out, her eyes fluttering closed when his nose brushed against the shell of her ear.
“So we’ll hang out the next day. You’ll be best Christmas gift ever.”
She grinned, inhaling as he pulled their bodies a little closer.
“Laying it on pretty thick there, guy.”
He chuckled and his fingers brushing against the small of her back, against her red sweater dress. “Is it working?”
He smiled. “Look, how about this-- you hang with your family, I’ll hang with mine and we can go to the late show tomorrow night. I’ll even save you a plate. I’m cooking.”
She blew out a breath, biting on her lower lip. “You’re cooking?” Her tone was disbelieving.
“It’s the men’s turn this year. Me and my pops and my brothers are on kitchen duty. I’m making the gumbo.”
He was tracing his thumb lightly on the small of her back, as he moved them to the music. “Come be my Christmas gift, Ava.”
This time she couldn’t contain her smile. His ass was charming. That was for sure. “My mom… it’s just me and her,” she said. “I don’t want to leave her alone tomorrow.”
Elias shrugged easily, still swaying them to the music. “So, bring her.”
Ava shook her head. “That’s… doing way too much.”
“Then we can hang the day after Christmas.”
Ava blinked, pushing out a breath.
He smiled down at her, his eyes heavy with desire and intrigue.
“Spend some time with me,” he asked again, his breath warm against the shell of her ear. He pulled her completely against him this time and she couldn’t deny that she was turned on even if she wanted to. She inexplicably wanted to spend more time with him. He seemed to sense her acceptance before she even uttered the words because he smiled.
“I’ll pick you up at 7:30,” he said. “Sound good?”
She shook her head, thoroughly confounded by the turn of events. “Alright.”
Elias let out a long breath then, as if he’d been holding it, and Ava smile and relaxed further into his arms. Maybe this party wasn’t so boring after all.
From The Night Before, Coming Dec. 15.