Stephanie: Hey, you busy? Sharky: no Stephanie: Wanna do me a favor? :D Sharky: no. Stephanie: Pleeeease Angelito.
Why she insisted on calling me Angel was beyond me. She was the only person, besides coworkers and my abuela, who bothered. But then I’d known her before Raymond and Chris had started up with the ‘Sharky’ business in 6th grade.
Sharky: what’s the favor? Stephanie: I need a ride. Stephanie: In your car. :3 Sharky: …ok? Are we going someplace in particular or you just dying to be in my wack Sentra? Stephanie: I need to go to the city and I don’t want to take the train Sharky: lol you want me to drive into manhattan? that’s cute. Stephanie: I’ll owe you a favor :9
I was one hundred and twenty five percent convinced that Stephanie had the same sex drive and casual attitude about fucking as a frat boy dudebro.
Sharky: you can buy me lunch.
Stephanie: Cya soon. Thanks, Angel.
Girls and their fucking “K”s. Did that ever mean shit besides “you’ve pissed me off for unknown reasons”? I was convinced it didn’t.
Releasing a long suffering sigh, I got off the couch, turned off the Knicks game, and forced myself to shed my basketball shorts. I had no idea where we were going but I always felt obligated to wear real clothing if I went to Manhattan. It was likely ingrained bullshit from childhood—a belief that the city was a magical place full of rich white people who would judge me if I wore track pants.
Even knowing it was nonsense, I pulled on some jeans, Timberlands, and a leather jacket, and left my building. Stephanie had an apartment north of Hillside Avenue. Basically, the part of Jamaica that transitioned from crumbling under the weight of extreme poverty to nice and quiet before it becomes Jamaica Estates. Her apartment was also pretty swagged out. Too big for one person in my opinion but she’d gotten a sweet deal after picking up the lease from her aunt, and she made more than enough with her paralegal salary to cover it. Way more than I made at Time Warner Cable.
It took less than ten minutes to get to her place from mine, and I honked twice while idling outside the building. She was out in a flash, and it took a fucking miracle to drag my eyes away from her and stare straight ahead. How was it possible for her to look so good while wearing an extremely oversized Yankees hoodie, a snapback, and high top sneakers?
“Hey.” After gracing my cheek with a quick kiss, she settled in the passenger’s seat. “Thanks for driving me.”
“Uh huh.” Putting the car back into drive, I guided us down the hill. “It looks like you’re not wearing anything under that hoodie, you know.”
She snorted. “So?”
“So, people are gonna think you’re half naked.”
“I should make my clothing decisions based on what strangers might think?” Stephanie twisted in the seat to face me. “Do you think I’m half naked?”
“You never know,” I said vaguely, just to piss her off.
Instead of getting mad, she grabbed my free hand and shoved it up her hoodie. I immediately tried to jerk it away, but her grip was tight enough to give me other ideas. Ideas that intensified once she had my fingers grazing the tiny scrap of denim covering her upper thighs.
Not even close.
I pulled away quickly. “Sure.” Stephanie kept looking at me, and I tried to keep my expression shut off under the scrutiny. “Why are you wearing Raymond’s hoodie, anyway?”
“How do you know it’s his hoodie?”
“I’m the one that drew on the Y with a permanent marker when I was drunk.”
Stephanie leaned closer, smirking. “You boys are soooo close. I bet you could even identify Raymond by the smell of his cologne.”
“He doesn’t wear cologne.”
Stephanie cracked up and sat back in the seat. “Ahhh, I love it. So bromancey. So close to being homoerotic.”
She may have been amused but I wasn’t. Not in the slightest. I was still wondering why she was wearing his clothes. It was irrational. Raymond was with David now, and Ray would never cheat on his dude. But she spent so much time with Raymond, and now he and David, which made me wonder. I’d always wondered. Especially given her hatred for Crystal—the only girl Raymond had ever dated. Stephanie was the chillest person I’d ever met but the one individual she’d despised to an almost ridiculous degree had been Crystal. We’d always teased her that it was jealousy and she’d sworn up and down it wasn’t, but I wasn’t convinced.
Unable to bring myself to ask again, I changed the subject. My go-to strategy for dealing with my decade-long infatuation with Stephanie Quinones.
“Where am I going right now?”
“Rivington Street. I’ll be your navigator if you trust me with the job.”
It pulled a smile out of me, and I glanced at her. Some of her hair had come loose from the ponytail it was in, and escaped the cap as she tapped at her phone. I’d always loved her hair. When we were teenagers, when I’d thought I had an actual shot before she’d become a sex goddess, we’d done homework together but my primary focus had been on her. I’d braid her hair while she read our work out loud.
There was no way she’d been oblivious to my interest, but she’d ignored the hell out of it and I’d never pursued the topic. If she wasn’t into me, she wasn’t into me. I wasn’t going to make things awkward by trying to make her have a discussion about it, but that hadn’t stopped my seething jealousy when she’d started hooking up.
Stephanie looked up and held my gaze. She smiled.
“Put your seatbelt on,” I said gruffly.
“Yeah. For real. I’m not Raymond.”
She raised an eyebrow. Now was the time to crack a joke to detract from my obvious jealous reaction to her closeness to him, but someone honked. I jerked my eyes away. Shit. Now I was going to kill us. Or be extremely unimpressive with my bad driving.
We got stuck in traffic as soon as we entered Manhattan, and I was brimming with irritation by the time we made it downtown. I didn’t even know why I was so pissed off. Being stuck in a small space with Stephanie wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to me, but it almost always put me on edge. Whenever we were alone, I was on edge. Everything she did put me on edge.
The constant empty flirting, her casual comments about her conquests, and her existence as a person who was physically perfect in my eyes, not to mention smart and charming as hell. Her laugh made me want to laugh even when I wasn’t in a laughing mood. It wasn’t fair. My Stephanie angst hadn’t been this bad in a while, but I’d also been single for almost a year and she’d been coming around more than usual lately. It didn’t take much for my adoration to reactivate.
“There’s no way I’m going to find parking,” I said. “I’ll just wait for you.”
“Shut up. I’ll pay for parking.”
“It’s like twenty bucks for five minutes. Don’t be an idiot.”
“You’re the one acting like my chauffer, which is pretty much the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard.” There was a beat of silence before her tone sharpened. “Is it really that hard for you to spend time with me, Angel?”
“What?” I looked at her, surprised. “No. What the fuck?”
“Then shut up and come in the store.”
She was still glaring and talking shit under her breath, but I went to a garage and we parked. It made the process of driving in Manhattan so much easier, but I was always too damn cheap to do it.
It was raining when we hit the pavement, and she pressed herself against me as if that would help. My first response was to space between us, but I put my arm around her instead. The smile she shot me made it pretty clear that had been the right decision. A little hum of pleasure build up in my chest, but it popped as soon as we stopped in front of the store.
“You want me to go with you into a fucking sex shop?”
“Yeah, why not?” She tugged on my arm. “I want a new vibrator.”
Oh, holy shit.
I didn’t budge.
“No way, Stephanie. This ain’t happening.”
Laughing, she kept tugging on my arm. The laughter quickly turned to eye rolling when I became an immovable object.
“Don’t be such a bitch. It’s just a vibrator. You carry your huge dick with you everywhere, and you don’t see me getting nervous about it.”
Why did she have to talk about my dick?
“This isn’t happening,” I repeated. “If you’d have told me—“
“Oh, you wouldn’t have come?” Stephanie stopped holding my arm and put her hands on her hips. “Are you kidding me? Out of everyone we hang with, you’re the most judgmental—“
“Then you should have asked Ray to drive you,” I snapped. “I’m sure he’d be about it.”
Her mouth tightened. “What is up your ass about Raymond lately? You’ve brought him up like five times in the past hour. Is it that upsetting that I borrowed his hoodie when the temperature dropped twenty degrees in the three hours I spent hanging out with David last week?”
She knew I was jealous. It was the only explanation for her careful wording. She’d hung out with David not Ray.
“I don’t give a fuck about that. I don’t care who you hang out with.”
“Then are you pissed at him about something?”
“Steph, we’re standing in the rain—“
“You think I care?” she demanded, voice rising. “Tell me what your problem is!”
My problem was that our crew was so sex positive and incestuous that no one gave a second thought about everyone fucking each other. Chris had told me about his string of threesomes with Ray and Steph like it’d been the most normal thing in the world. And when she’d fooled around with them both off and on for years, we’d all still hung out without any drama or jealousy or strings beyond the friendship that had kept us together since childhood.
I was the odd man out. Because I didn’t do the casual sex thing. Especially not with friends. Especially not with her.
“I’m just in a bad mood, nena. Family shit.” That was true enough. “And I am pissed that Raymond finds time to hang out with you but he hasn’t seen me or Chris in over a month.”
“Because I go to Sunset and you refuse to leave Queens.” Stephanie grabbed my arm again. “Well, you usually refuse.”
“I’m not going in,” I said, returning to the initial argument. “It’s weird.”
“Then stop picturing what I’m going to do with my new vibrator and it won’t be weird.”
Well, she had me there.
“It’s just a piece of silicone,” she cajoled. “Besides, maybe you’ll see something you like.”
“That’s pretty fucking doubtful, sweetheart.”
Stephanie jerked me forward a step so we were under the awning. “A fleshlight?”
I stared stonily ahead and watched an annoying child splash his poor mother in the puddles.
That kid needed his ass whooped.
My mouth twitched. “You’re such a—“
Dragging my eyes away from the kid and his mother, I found Stephanie giving me a serious mean mug complete with a snarl and narrowed eyes. Even her murderous looks made my heart beat faster. I was pathetic.
“You’re such a jackass? You want everyone to be bisexual just because Raymond likes the cock now.” I arched a brow when she relaxed. “What the fuck did you think I was going to say?”
“First off, using a butt plug wouldn’t make you bisexual. Especially if I—a woman is using it on you.” Her eyes gleamed. “Second—you don’t need to know that information.”
I didn’t respond. I was too hung up on her slip-up. If she was the one using it on me? If things were different, she could do whatever she wanted to me.