My heart pounds against my chest as Haley eases the car down a darkened alleyway. I peer ahead to see a valet attendant opening the door to the car in front of us. Another man stands in the doorway of the building to our right. My heart resumes its normal pattern. Haley knew what she was doing all along and I am chastising myself for not having more faith in her. Glancing at her, a grin is spreads across her face but only for a moment. As we approach another valet attendant her expression morphs and becomes deadly serious.
“You remember the rules?” her eyes narrow as she glares at me.
“Good. Follow them and we’ll be fine,” her eyes hold mine prisoner for a moment, then shift forward as she eases the car up next to the man.
My heart speeds up once more as I do a mental check of the rules. A tremor runs through me as another man opens my door and offers me his hand. His lips are moving but I am too busy repeating the list of rules in my mind to hear what he actually says. I place my hand in his and step out of the car. I stand waiting for Haley to come around from the driver’s side.
“Follow me,” she relays in a clipped tone as she heads for the door.
Stunned by her tone, I want to say something, clarify her harshness, but I don’t because one of the rules forbids talking. Instead, I fall into step behind her. She glances at the doorman as he swings the door open.
“Good evening, Miss Rose."
“Good evening, Riley,” Haley responses, curtly.
My eyes fall to the ground. Another rule -no eye contact with anyone.
Walking into the building the heavy steel door slams shut behind us causing my heart to drop into my stomach. I stand, consumed both by fear and excitement waiting for further instructions. The room is silent. I desperately want to look around but keep my eyes fixed to the floor. Another rule -permission must be granted to look around. Haley walks forward a couple of steps as I quickly follow. Abruptly, she stops making me almost run into her. She spins around to face me.
"Sit," her tone clipped once again.
Immediately, I sit on the couch next to us as Haley takes a seat beside me.
“You may look around this room,” her tone, that of a mother reprimanding a young child.
My eyes snap to hers noticing the mask of indifference in her features for the first time, completely contrasting the Haley I have known for years. The Haley I have known for years is straight forward and stern with people she expects things from. With her friends she is always supportive, helpful, a complete contrast to the woman sitting next to me. I have seen this person make an appearance only once before at a lunch I had with Haley earlier in the week.
I pulled up to the restaurant, got out of my vehicle and gave my keys to the valet attendant who looked annoyed at the prospect of driving my car. As if my Audi was a piece of junk not included on his list of acceptable vehicles. The valet attendant looked like a juvenile delinquent, furrowing his eyebrows at me before smirking as he sat behind the wheel of my car and pulled away from the curb. A little faster than I thought necessary. As I turned to the other valet attendant to protest, squealing tires and blaring music commanded not only my attention but everyone else’s. Several heads turned to see the crazy lady driver, but that was nothing new because Haley is extremely beautiful and garners plenty of attention. She is a tall, blonde with the most piercing blue eyes. A real woman with all the curves to prove it. She comes from a privileged background which gives her a sense of arrogance enough to be confident, but not enough to make her annoying. She is a self-assured woman who knows what she wants in life and stops at nothing to get it. I love this woman as if she were my own sister.
I, on the other hand, stand at a whopping 5' 4", with long brown, shaggy hair that never does as expected. Big, round eyes that are sure to enhance the muddy brown coloring. At least, I have a straight nose, although, it could be a bit smaller. Not that I have a huge nose, per say, but if I'm being completely honest it's easy to find faults in myself. As for my wardrobe, well, as Haley would so eloquently say most of my clothes make me look forty five instead of twenty five. Fashion was never a priority for me, unlike Haley who has to have the best of everything, her wardrobe being no different.
Haley and I have been best friends since we were five years old. She has always been a huge part of my life. She is the one person in the world I could tell anything to and know she would never steer me wrong. Somehow, she had a way of fixing things.
“Hey Alexandria, how are you?” Haley asks, while walking towards me arms out for a hug.
I glare completely offended by the use of my full name.
“Alright, alright, Lexi. How are you?” she corrects with an exaggerated eye roll, while presenting her arms for a hug, once more.
Stepping up, I give her a solid hug and squeeze. Our last get-together was two weeks ago an unusually long time by our standards.
“Good, how’s everything with you?” I reply, as we separate and move into the restaurant.
Walking up to the podium we are greeted by a friendly gentleman who seems familiar with Haley. But, then again, everyone knew Haley.
“Afternoon, Miss Rose, your table is waiting."
“Right this way ladies,” Simon waves us through armed with menus.
Walking to the center of the restaurant, we are seated at a table for four, even though we are a party of two. Only the best for Haley no matter what the expense and somehow Haley could demand such treatment without appearing pretentious. It was a gift.
We took our seats while Simon took our drink orders and retreated, reminding us that our waiter would be along soon.
“So, Shaw, what’s up? What’s with impromptu lunch during the week?” Haley asks, reverting to using my last name. She is the only one who can get away with it, it's a college thing, I suppose.
“I don’t know. Boredom I guess.”
Before I can utter another word Haley snaps at me.
“Wait… not this again. How many times do we have to have the same conversation? Jesus, Alexandria, what the hell is the matter with you?” Haley is angry, and she has every right to be.
“Haley, I know. I’ve said it before, but now, it’s different,” I sputter.
“What do you mean different?” Haley inquires, her curiosity clearly piqued.
“Well, it used to be parts of my life I wasn’t happy with, but now,” I let the sentence hang between us.
“But now what? Spill,” Haley begins tapping her perfectly manicured fingernails on the table.
“Stop doing that, you’ll break a nail and then you’ll be really pissed.”
“Fine,” she stops immediately.
“Okay. Okay. It’s my whole life,” I put my head in my hands covering my face from her glare.
“What do you mean your whole life?” she inquires, while glaring at me.
I felt the heat from her eyes burning a hole into the top of my head. Raising my head enough to peek at her through my fingers, I take a deep breath deciding it's time for full disclosure.
“It’s David. I’m just not… I don’t think I can…,” I stutter, unable to form a coherent sentence.
“You’re not what? You can’t what? Words Lexi, I need some more words here,” she starts her relentless tapping again.
Haley is not someone who beats around the bush she much prefers a straight shooter. As I am about to spill my guts the waiter approaches our table to take our orders. I am overly pleased to see him because it gives me more time to gather my thoughts.
Haley continues to glare at me as I give, Gus, according to his welcoming speech, our waiter my order. Once I finish, he turns his attention to Haley who flashes her million-dollar smile while explaining what she'll have. It amazes me that she can go from one personality to another so quickly. I believe she has more than one person living inside of her. There is happy Haley, sad Haley, upset Haley, flirty Haley, but the worst of all nightmares is angry Haley, and she could flip the switch becoming any one of these personalities in a heartbeat.
As the waiter walks off, Haley's smile fades as her glare hardens. If I don’t get to my explanation soon, she will be angry Haley with little effort.
“I don’t think I can keep living this way. You know how it’s been for a while now and I don’t think David makes me happy anymore. I don’t know what to do.”
Haley sits silent. A look of concentration on her face I find difficult to read. It is somewhere between happy Haley and angry Haley. The longer the silence stretches between us the more concerned I grow. The subject of my marriage has always been a sore one for us. Haley's never been a fan my husband. In fact, she believes he is a poor excuse for a man (her words not mine). Being well aware of her opinion lead to a conscience decision not to engage in conversations about David. But, with my home life is taking a toll on me I'm left with no choice but to seek advice.
“Lexi, what is it you want from life?” she asks, a curious look crossing her features.
What do I want from life?
I want fun, excitement, things I have been lacking for a few years. Things like adventure and danger, stuff that makes me feel alive again, because I have to face it, for the past five years I have been no better than dead.
“I want fun, I want adventure… I want to be excited and I want to live again,” I reply, while waving my arms around dramatically.
Haley becomes quiet again with the same look I still have yet to figure out. Her eyes fall to the table as a look of apprehension crosses her features. Her eyes snap to mine. Expression unreadable.
“Lexi, it's time,” she announces.
“Time for what?” I ask, my voice higher than normal.
“Time for me to let you in on a little secret,” she leans forward in her seat cupping her hand over the side of her mouth, “but not here, I’ll tell you about it later. Just leave Friday night open because we have a date,” she winks at me as the waiter brings our food.
We finish our lunch while discussing everything that is going on in our lives. No topic is left untouched, except the one I that has piqued my interest. Haley's secret. She never revealed it.
I leave the restaurant with the promise of a call from Haley and my curiosity clawing at my brain. I find myself scared because when it comes to Haley even the sky is not the limit. My drive home and the rest of the afternoon is spent with my imagination running wild thinking of Haley's secret.
At six o’clock, I give up and begin dinner knowing that David will be home at seven. As I take a casserole out of the fridge to put in the oven, the phone rings. With the casserole in one hand, the oven door in the other, I push the oven door closed and run to the counter placing the casserole down, while reaching for the phone. Evidently, I'm too late and the answering machine springs into action.
“Lexi, honey, It’s me. I won’t be home for dinner, have to work late. Don’t wait up,” as my husband’s voice fills the room, disappointment consumes me.
Another dinner ruined. This is what my life has become multiple dinners ruined and nights alone. I turn the oven off and place the casserole back in the fridge for tomorrow night. Spinning on my heel, I wander into the living room picking up a book I've been immersed in for the past week and plunk down on the couch hoping to be engaged in someone else's drama for the evening. Unfortunately, my mind has other plans and keeps drifting to Haley’s secret, which has me reading the same page three times. The phone rings throughout the silence of the room startling me from my thoughts. I retrieved it from its base on the side table.
“Lexi, do you have time to talk?” Haley asks, in her not-so-subtle way of asking if my husband is home.
“Yeah, I’m just reading a book, what’s up?” I lie, not a fan of her cryptic games.
“Well, it’s about Friday night.”
“What about it?” I ask, intrigue spiking once again, as if I've been able to think of anything else.
“Okay, first there are rules,” she reveals.
“Haley, what’s going on? What kind of rules?”
“I can’t tell you, you have to see for yourself, but as I've said, there are rules. I sent you the list of things you need to prepare for Friday night. There will be a list of things you can and can't do. It is important you learn them before we go. Do you understand?” she asks, her voice a commanding tone, startling me.
What the heck?
“Haley, what’s going on? Where are we going?” I implore.
“Lexi, just read the list and if you have questions before Friday or you want to change your mind, call me. I’ve emailed it to you so go have a look. I’ll talk to you soon.”
The line goes dead. She hung up. Just like that. Calling her back is an option but instead I run to my computer and log onto to my email account. She has me thoroughly flustered. Haley is so direct, so upfront, this behavior is out of character for her. I open the email.
There are important things to remember Friday night. What you wear & how you act. I’m sending you an outfit. It will arrive tomorrow. I know it’s not something you would consider wearing, but please keep an open mind. Second attached is a list, print it off, memorize it. I’ll be in touch tomorrow to make sure the clothes fit.
My hand hovers over the email attachment as my mind races through the possibilities of what her offer could be. I press the button and print off the list. As I read my confusion increases.
1. No talking to anyone without my permission.
2. Keep your eyes on the floor unless I tell you otherwise.
3. You are to stay behind me to my left and one foot back at all times.
4. Your facial expression will stay undetectable the entire time.
5. There shall be no outbursts, gasps, giggling of any kind.
6.You are NEVER to speak to anyone about this establishment. EVER.
*Memorize these rules and I’ll see you Friday night.
Part of me is screaming she’s crazy -tell her no. Another part of me is intrigued, excited to know where she is taking me. Against my better judgment, I know there is no way I was staying home Friday night. I trust Haley, she was not dangerous.
By the time Friday rolls around I am a complete basket case. Haley checked with me the next day regarding my outfit, if you could call it that. Other than that, no word from her. She informed me she would be here at 7 sharp. And by a small miracle, or Devine intervention, David is working late which works out perfectly for me. I am certain he would have a problem with me leaving the house in my current attire. This outfit is non-existent.
I stand gaping at myself in my full-length mirror contemplating canceling altogether. Haley sent me a blue shirt that was so small my boobs were spilling out of it. Then, there's the head band she's passing off as a skirt. I have never worn a skirt this tiny in my entire life. To top off the outfit are a pair of stilettos that had to be at least 5 inches high. Not being the most coordinated person in the world, I knew wearing these shoes could only mean one thing… bandages on my knees from the falling I was sure would happen. Peering in the mirror and seeing this unrecognizable version of myself has me wondering what the hell I am doing. A horn blares outside pulling me from my nervousness.
“Too late to turn back now,” I tell myself.
Walking carefully, while adjusting to the heels on my feet, I walk through the house grabbing my purse and head out the door turning around to lockup. As I turn back I see Haley sitting in her car with the biggest grin on her face. She looks excited, so disappointing her was no longer an option. Cautiously, I walk to her car and slide into the passenger seat.
“I can’t believe you’re being so cryptic,” I scowl at her.
“You’ll see why. Now, did you learn the rules?” she peers at me as if I were a small child.
“Yes, but I don’t understand.”
“I know, but don’t worry, you will,” she says with a wicked smirk across her face.
She pulls out of the driveway heading in the direction of downtown. My mind spins attempting to figure out where we are going. We never go downtown. There are plenty of bars downtown, but none that meet Haley’s standards.
As my mind drifts to the thousand different possibilities Haley suddenly turns down an alleyway. My mind goes into full panic mode. We are downtown on a Friday night, pulling into an alleyway, and here I sit dressed as a hooker.
What. The. Hell?
My heart is pounding against my chest as Haley eases the car down the darkened alleyway. I peer ahead and see a valet attendant opening the door to the car in front of us. Another man stands at the doorway to the building and my heart resumes its normal pattern. It seems as if Haley knew what she was doing all along and I chastise myself for not having more faith in her. As I glance at her, she is smiling, but only for a moment. As we approach another valet attendant, she turns serious.
“You remember the rules?” her eyes narrow as she glares at me.
“Good. Follow them and we’ll be fine,” her eyes hold mine prisoner for a moment, then she shifts them forward as she eases the car next to the man.
My heart speeds up once more as I do a mental check of the rules. A tremor runs through me as another man opens my door and offers his hand. His lips are moving but I am too busy repeating the list of rules in my mind to hear what he says. I place my hand in his and step out of the car. I stand waiting for Haley to come around from the driver’s side.
“Follow me,” is all she says as she approaches and heads for the door.
I don’t answer because one of the rules forbids talking. Instead, I fall into step behind her. She glances at the doorman as he swings the door open.
“Good evening, Miss Rose."
“Good evening, Riley,” Haley responds curtly.
My eyes fall to the ground. Another rule.
Walking into the building the heavy steel door slams shut behind us causing my heart to drop into my stomach. I am consumed both by fear and excitement as I stand waiting further instructions. The room is silent. I desperately want to look around but keep my eyes fixed to the floor. Another rule -permission must be granted to look around. Haley walks forward a couple of steps as I quickly follow. Abruptly, she stops causing me to almost run into her. She spins around to face me.
"Sit," her tone clipped once again.
Immediately, I sit on the couch next to us as Haley takes a seat beside me.
“You may look around this room,” her tone, that of a mother reprimanding a young child.
My eyes snap to hers noticing the mask of indifference in her features for the first time, completely contrasting the Haley I have known for years. The Haley I have known for years is straight forward and stern with people she expects things from. With her friends she is always supportive, helpful, a complete contrast to the woman sitting next to me. She holds me in her gaze for a moment before I snap out of it and glance at my surroundings.
The room is nothing special, simple furnishes of two long couches and a coffee table in the middle. The color arrangement is fairly strange, blood red and black. The bottom half of the room is black and the top half of the room is red. My curiosity is piqued wondering who the interior designer might be. Haley's voice pulls me from my musings.
“Alright, Shaw, game faces on. No laughing, smiling, giggling. Keep the look you have on your face now throughout the night, unless I give you permission otherwise. Alright?” she is deadly serious and I, a little afraid.
Just what the hell is this place?
“Alright,” I answer, sounding more like a petulant child then the adult I claim to be.
“I mean it, this is extremely important,” she gives me a pleading look.
“Fine, I’ll follow all your rules. Promise,” I offer, giving her a small smile.
“Okay. Here we go,” is all she offers in return.
Here we go! Here we go where?
The sound of a door opening has my eyes quickly falling to the floor. Footsteps echoing on the tiles get louder and closer. Expensive Italian loafers come into my line of vision letting me know the person standing in front of me is a male. My heart rate picks up as my mind scrambles with thoughts.
“Miss Rose, how have you been?” the gentleman asks, false enthusiasm laced in his tone.
“Great, Leroy, and yourself?” Haley replies, as I keep my eyes on the floor, straining not to peek.
“Good. Things have been good. Busy, of course. Now, who’s your friend?” he inquires.
“Leroy, this is Alexandria. You may look up, Alexandria,” Haley snarls in the same cold voice she used early.
Peeking up, the man standing in front of me is very tall, well built and glaring right at me. He is a nice-looking man wearing an expensive three-piece suit, muscles rippling almost bursting out of the suit. He has brown curly hair that appears messy, but not quite messy, because nothing about this man is out of place. He is very well put together. The way his eyes are assessing me is scary, his presence, all consuming as he keeps me prisoner in his gaze. He appears to be searching my eyes, for what I have no idea, but I know immediately this is not a man I want to upset in any way. Something in his eyes tells me to behave –and that’s exactly what I do.
“Well, nice to meet you, Alexandria. What a lovely name you have,” he offers as he places a slight smile on his face.
“You may speak,” Haley speaks in a curt tone shocking me, once more.
What does she mean I can speak? None of this is making sense. What kind of place is this? More importantly, how the hell did I end up here?
“Thank you,” I reply with the quietest, calmest voice I can muster. I am terrified, but want to keep that hidden. Leroy quickly turns his attention to Haley.
“What will it be tonight, Miss Rose?” he inquires.
“Just the usual, I’ll only be looking around tonight, thank you,” Haley answers calmly, with her natural voice.
“You won’t need a room tonight?” Leroy asks, as he glances my way again.
A room, what the hell did that mean? Shocked by this question my eyes hit the floor again trying to figure out what the hell was going on, while attempting to keep a straight face.
“Not this time Leroy, but thank you for offering,” she replies.
“Anytime, and if you change your mind come find me,” he walks over to the other side of the room and I glance at him while his back is turned.
He pushes a button on the wall, which makes a piece of the wall, about the size of a filing cabinet drawer open. He reaches in and pulls something out of it. Turning to make his way back to us, I see he has a file in his hand. I quickly drop my eyes to the floor and twist my hands together in my lap. My mind a constant swirl of a thousand possibilities about where we are and what goes on here.
“Okay, here’s your card,” I assume he handed something to Haley because her arm extends towards him. “I’ll see you at the end of your visit, have an excellent time,” he finishes with a smile in his voice, almost giddy. He is making me even more nervous than I already am.
Haley stands from the couch while she speaks to him.
“Thank you, Leroy, for everything. I know it was short notice and I’m happy you could accommodate me,” she expresses with a tone I have rarely heard from her. She is grateful, for what I don’t know, but I am sure to find out.
“No problem. Anything for you, Miss Rose. You’ve been a wonderful customer and we appreciate your business. Have a good evening.”
With that, Leroy turns and leaves the room the way he came in. I steal a glance at Haley and she quickly gives me a chastising look so I drop my eyes to the floor quickly. I wish I knew what was happening. My whole body is tense and my heart has yet to settle, if this keeps up much longer I'm quite certain I'll have a heart attack.
“Come, Alexandria,” Haley says, as she snaps her fingers at me.
I quickly rise from the couch and follow her even though every instinct in me is screaming at me to run the other way, there is no way I can, I have to know what this is all about. I have to keep reaffirming to myself that Haley would never hurt me or put me in any kind of danger. I have to keep faith in her.
Haley reaches another door. She uses what appears to be a credit card and runs it through the slot of a device sitting just outside of the door frame. Immediately the door I hadn’t noticed earlier opens and she walks through with me in tow.
We entered a room that is about 10 feet by 10 feet and completely colored in red, the same blood red continued from the other room.
“Okay, listen up. You need to remember all the rules I gave you and don’t slip up. Okay,” Haley asks, panic in her tone. Her words fluster me because she had never been panicked about anything before.
“Yes, I promise, I’ll do everything you said. But can you tell me where the hell we are?” I whisper.
“You’ll see, it’s something I had to show, you wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain. Now, be the good girl I know you are and follow my rules, I promise you’ll love this. One more thing, if for any reason you want to leave, if this gets too much for you, just say the word 'brown'. I’ll understand immediately and we’ll go. No questions asked, alright?”
“Okay, 'brown' if I want to leave,” I whisper.
“Alright… here we go.”
Haley swipes her card threw another slot in the wall and once again a door opens. Haley quickly steps into the next room and I follow quietly. Once inside she spins around on her heel and I quickly follow taking notice that we are now in an elevator. She presses a button, the doors close and we are on the move. My heart is racing even faster than when we first arrived. Haley thought I would love this place, she knows me so well I figured we must have entered an exclusive club. My mind starts to ponder who we might see in this club and why everything is so secretive.
The elevator stops and the doors open. Haley steps out and I follow with my eyes glued to the floor. Soft music plays in the background. I can hear whispered and hushed conversations being had, but can't tell how many people are in the room. Haley walks straight ahead as I follow closely behind her. We end up going through another exit at the back of the room. This brings us to a long narrow hallway which has us walking for longer than I would like as my feet scream in protest from the stilettoes I am forced to endure. I wish we would get to where we were going already so I can sit down, at the very least.
Haley stops at the end of the hall and turns on her heel, I glance at her, but she gives me a stern look, which tells me to follow her rules to the letter. I quickly duck my head as she grabs my elbow and leads me into another room. She pulls me along the wall about half way into the room, then turns us around.
“Feel free to look around,” she says in cold crass voice.
I am completely consumed by nervous tension, afraid to see where we are. However, there is another part of me that is intrigued and needs to know what is going on. The argument that plays out in my head is quick as I remind myself that Haley would never put me in any kind of danger and that I am just acting insane.
Slowly, I lift my head taking in my surroundings. The room is crowded with people, both men and women, but most notable is the direction their attention is being held. Everyone is staring at the other side of the room. At first glance, I can’t tell what everyone is looking at, the crowd is too large to see over everyone's head. I shift my eyes off to the left side of the room. And there stands the most beautiful man I have ever seen.
He is a tall, lean man with the most beautiful face and enhanced features. He has a strong angular jaw line, perfect size nose, luscious lips that make up a well-proportioned face. Deep set eyes with thick, long lashes surrounding the forest green color that stand out amongst the rest of his beauty. He is dressed in a dark suit jacket with a white shirt underneath, dark pants, the fit tailored made for just for him. He is also wearing a pair of very expensive pair of Italian loafers. His hair is dark with shades of blond running through it short enough to be presentable in any situation, but long enough to give off an air of defiance. My eyes are glued to this man and as hard as I try to make myself look away, I can't. His gaze is captured by whatever is partaking at the front of the room.
Suddenly, Haley pinches my arm. I'm caught staring and she's not too pleased. It takes everything in me to pull my attention away from the beautiful man and as I do his eyes shift to mine. Our eyes lock and I am hypnotized. I have to literally shake my head in order to return my attention to the front of the room. I can feel his eyes still on me and it takes all of my strength not to look back. In an attempt to shift my focus, I returned my attention to the front of the room and the reason we are here. Unfortunately, the man in front of me stands over 6 feet tall, so I maneuver sideways a little in order to see.
To say I am shocked would be an understatement, for not twenty feet in front of me is a woman who appears to be chained to the ceiling. The chains run from the ceiling to her wrists, which are encased in cuffs. She is completely naked with only a necklace hanging around her neck. There is a man standing approximately 6 feet away from her addressing the crowd, but I am so stunned by the appearance of the woman that his words sound like a foreign language.