Information about the serialization ("The Wattpad Experiment")
Links to: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9
It took Viv almost two hours to drive her father’s car to his house and make her way home again on the streetcar. When she walked into the condo’s blessed air conditioning, she was hot and tired. Sabrina was sitting at the kitchen island eating curried chicken salad and drinking an iced tea. Viv plunked down on the stool beside her and kicked off her pumps from her aching feet.
Sabrina turned to look at her. “Tough day?”
“Yes. I went to see Daddy at the new house, and he got heat stroke. I just finished helping to take him home.”
“Is he okay?”
“I think so. Magda’s there to look after him. I’m making him go to the doctor for a complete physical, though.”
Sabrina nodded and ate her last forkful of food. “Good idea. There’s some more chicken salad in the fridge if you want some.”
“Thanks. Maybe later.”
“Maybe you should eat now. Rick’s coming over in half an hour.” Rick Wilson was the new man in Sabrina’s life; they had been dating for three weeks.
“Okay. I’ll take a shower and make myself scarce. Are the two of you staying in tonight?”
“No.” Sabrina climbed down from her stool and picked up her dirty dishes. “And he’s not coming alone. He’s bringing a friend for you. We’re making it a foursome.”
“What?” Sabrina walked into the kitchen and opened the dishwasher. “I thought we were done with blind dates after Julie tried to fix me up with Josh.”
“No, we agreed that Julie wasn’t going to set you up with any more blind dates. You and I are just getting started.” She placed her dishes in the machine and looked at Viv, who was staring at her in dismay. “Rick got tickets for the opening of the ‘Five Ages of Man’ art show you wanted to see at the Freedom Gallery. So, even if you don’t like the guy Rick’s bringing, you’ll still get to see the show.”
“That’s true,” Viv said, perking up a little. “Gwendolyn Seer is one of my favourite photographers. I’ve really been looking forward to this.”
“And I think you’re going to like Rick’s friend. I haven’t met him yet, but Rick’s told me all about him and shown me pictures. I’ve checked him out on the internet, too. He scores 40 out of 50 on the dating do-over scale. He scored a bit low on attractiveness ‒ he’s short and pudgy ‒ but a 10 for earning potential.”
Viv shrugged. “Short and pudgy sounds cuddly to me. What’s his name?”
“Get going, then.” Sabrina checked her watch. “The guys are supposed to be here in twenty-seven minutes.”
Forty minutes later, Viv was just putting on her earrings in front of the bathroom mirror when the telephone rang. She heard Sabrina answer it, and her friend’s heels click across the floor as she went to the door. Their guests arrived a minute later. Viv applied a quick swish of lipstick, took a last look in the mirror, and scurried out of the bathroom, right into the foyer where Sabrina was kissing Rick.
“Hi, Viv. You look gorgeous,” he said. Sabrina turned to see what Viv was wearing, and smiled approvingly. Since they were going to a gallery opening, Viv had dressed up in a sleeveless, cream-and-gold dress with inset shoulders and an above-the-knee hemline. Elegant, but alluring. Rick, who was tall and dark with a shaved head and a gold earring, looked fabulous in anything. Today he had opted for a white shirt and slim, tan dress slacks.
“Viv, Sabrina, this is my friend, Drew Collins.”
“Pleased to meet you, ladies,” Drew said, stepping in from the hallway. The first thing Viv noticed about him was his perfect, gleaming white teeth. The second was his build. Sabrina had been right; his stomach swelled visibly above his belt, and he stood only an inch taller than Viv in her heels. Still, with a full head of curly black hair and dark stubble on his face, he was definitely the teddy-bear type. She liked his firm handshake and noticed that his nails were manicured. Definitely someone who cared about personal hygiene, which was a point in his favour.
“Pleased to meet you, Drew,” she said. “Have you and Rick known each other long?”
“Not long.” Drew glanced at Rick. “About six months, isn’t it?” Rick nodded. “We have season’s tickets side-by-side at the Leafs’ games. Although I hear that you and Sabrina have been friends a long time.”
“About ten years. We were in residence together for our first year of university, and then we shared an apartment for three years until I moved out.”
“And now you’re back together again.”
“Temporarily. Sabrina’s letting me crash here until I find a place of my own. The competition for an affordable, one-bedroom apartment is pretty fierce, and it’s been taking me a while.”
Sabrina embraced Viv with one arm. “I’m not in a hurry to lose you,” she said. “So, would you gentlemen like to come in for a drink, or go to the gallery first?”
“The gallery first,” Drew said. “We can get a drink afterward. I left my car around the corner, if we want to drive.”
“Aren’t we going to walk?” Viv asked. “It’s only three blocks.”
Drew nodded at Sabrina’s shoes with their four-inch heels. “In those shoes?”
“Don’t worry about me.”
Rick smiled. “I have to carry her when it’s more than three blocks.”
“Why do you think I wear them, handsome?” Sabrina wrapped her hand around his muscular forearm and grinned. Turning back to Drew, she added, “If you like, you can leave your car in the underground parking. We have visitor spaces.”
“Perfect. Shall we?” Drew smiled and offered Viv his arm.
They took the elevator down to the lobby, where they stepped out onto Parliament Street and strolled around the corner. Next to the sidewalk was a gleaming, Mediterranean-blue sports car that looked like testosterone on wheels. Drew steered Viv toward it.
“Like it? It’s a Maserati Quattroporte.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said with a smile. Boys and their toys.
“Let’s all go down to the parking garage so that you can see how she rides.”
“She’s a sweet ride,” Rick added.
Drew unlocked the car and held the front passenger door open for Viv while Rick helped Sabrina into the back. Viv felt like royalty sliding onto the butter-soft black leather. After the men had climbed inside, Drew started the engine with a roar and checked over his shoulder before slipping into the traffic.
“I wish I could take you out for a run and really open her up,” Drew said. “It’s a sin to drive her in Toronto traffic.” He paused at a stop sign, revving the engine a couple of times to demonstrate its power.
Sabrina gave Drew the combination to key into the entry pad when they reached the door to the underground parking. Drew parked as far away from the other cars as possible and patted the hood before they left, as if the car were a faithful pet. Once they were back on Parliament again, the couples walked in two pairs with Viv and Drew in front. It was a treat for Viv to walk beside a man whose stride matched her own; she had always been hurrying to keep up with Kyle. She was sure there must be other advantages to dating a shorter man, too.
“Nice evening,” she said.
“Looks like it’s going to be a hot summer.”
“Do you have any special vacation plans this year?”
“As a matter of fact, I’m flying to Chicago in a week and a half to surprise my parents for Father’s Day.”
“That’s nice. I bet they’ll be excited to see you. Do you visit them often?”
“Two or three times a year. I don’t have any family here in Toronto.”
“You’re originally from Chicago?”
“I grew up there, but I’ve lived here ever since attending York University.”
They made other small talk as they walked down Mill Street and passed through the Distillery gate. Even though it was a Wednesday evening and the stores were closing, there were still lots of people milling about the red brick streets. Viv and her friends strolled past the rustic, brick-and-stone buildings where whiskey had been produced during the Victorian era. A sign on the sidewalk outside of the Freedom Gallery advertised the art show opening. Drew held the door open as the friends walked inside.
The interior retained its original industrial style with concrete floors, brick and plaster walls, and an open ceiling revealing duct work and wooden beams. The space was L-shaped, divided into a rabbit’s warren of rooms with two open spaces in the middle. Rick handed their tickets to an attendant at the door, and a waiter offered them a glass of white wine from a tray. The couples mingled with the other well-heeled guests, perusing a collection of plastic and paper maché sculptures until they reached a sign announcing the “Five Ages of Man” exhibit.
Viv read aloud from her pamphlet. “Gwendolyn Seer took photographs of her subjects for fifty years to record the transition from youth to old age. Gwendolyn revisited the participants every ten years to capture the changes. The eldest subject is now ninety-eight.” She looked up. “What a broad artistic vision. She must have come up with the idea while she was in her twenties.”
The foursome stopped to study the first collection of sepia-tinted photos. In the first picture, a young woman wore a simple white wedding dress with a circlet of daisies atop her tangled long, blond hair. Her feet were bare, and she was grinning as she waved a peace sign at the photographer. In the second picture, the same woman, wearing a pair of knee-high black boots, hot pants, and an orange turtle neck sweater, was being chased across a lawn by two children and a dog. In the third, the subject was stretched out on a lawn chair under a tree, her hair short and wavy where it peeked out from under the brim of a straw hat. Her head was tipped back and her eyes were closed, as if she were sleeping. The fourth picture was singular. The woman was standing at a podium dressed in a dark suit. She was captured with her mouth open and her eyes blazing, one hand gripping the podium while she gestured with the other. The wrinkles around her eyes and mouth were more evident now. In the fifth and last photo, the woman wore glasses, had silver-coloured hair, and a saggy jawline, but there was the same grin and twinkle in her eyes as she cuddled a baby in her lap.
Viv shook her head as she studied the pictures. “Beautiful.”
“Wait’ll you see the soldier over there,” Sabrina said, touching Viv’s shoulder and pointing at the wall ahead of them. The friends browsed through the portraits together, weaving past the other admirers until they reached the entrance to a small room. Standing inside was a diminutive, white-haired woman dressed in a navy pant suit, a strand of pearls dangling from her neck. Her hands were clasped over her rounded stomach as she chatted with a gaunt, middle-aged woman in a red cocktail dress and a silver-haired man in a black suit.
“That’s her,” Viv whispered. Her friends paused to stare, Viv’s eyes shining with admiration. “That’s Gwendolyn Seer.”
Drew took her arm. “Would you like to meet her?”
Viv’s eyes widened. “Do you know her?”
“No, but that doesn’t matter. Come on, I’ll introduce you.” He led her forward with Sabrina and Rick trailing behind them. They waited until the elderly woman looked up and smiled.
“Mrs. Seer?” Drew asked. The photographer’s companions turned to stare at him.
“Yes?” she said, tilting her head to one side.
“I’m Drew Collins, and this young woman is your biggest fan, Viv Nowak.”
“Mrs. Seer will be addressing her audience in twenty minutes,” the gentleman said. He stepped forward as if to shoo them away, but the artist offered Viv her hand.
“Are you a photographer, dear?” Viv took the wrinkled hand carefully, but the older woman had a surprisingly strong grip.
“Yes, but I’m just an amateur.” Mrs. Seer nodded, studying Viv with lively, intelligent eyes.
“I thought as much. I noticed how you were looking at my portraits. What kind of pictures do you take?”
“I’m a grade-school teacher. I photograph my students.”
“Children are wonderful subjects. They’re so transparent.”
“Yes,” Viv said. “They want to share their dreams with you, and they still believe in magic.”
“Some people never grow out of that. Perhaps you will share your photographs with the world someday? In an exhibit like this.” Mrs. Seer gestured around the room.
“Oh no, my pictures are just for fun.”
“Sometimes those are the best.” The elderly woman patted Viv’s hand. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my publicist and the gallery owner are about to tell me where to stand and what to say about my photographs. But it was lovely meeting you, dear.”
“Thank you. It was entirely my pleasure,” Viv said. She backed away, bowing. Stopping in the middle of the next room, forcing people to swerve to avoid her, she took Drew’s hand.
“That was awesome! Thank you for introducing me to Mrs. Seer. I would never have had the nerve to do that on my own.”
“It was easy,” Drew said with a smile. “Celebrities like to be fawned over. Did I ever tell you about how I met George Clooney at the Toronto International Film Festival?”
Viv’s eyes widened. “No!”
They stayed at the gallery until Gwendolyn Seer had spoken, and then left in search of a drink. Drew took Viv’s arm, and Rick and Sabrina followed, exchanging a smile. They turned down a side street on their way to an outdoor café. There were lemon-yellow tables with white wooden chairs. Circular, black metal lampshades with candelabra bulbs were suspended from a web of wooden beams overhead. The foursome sat down beneath a sky of wispy pink and purple clouds and ordered their drinks. Viv smelled barbecuing meat and suddenly remembered that she hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch.
The young waitress returned with the glasses of Lagavulin Drew had insisted on ordering. “I’m not much of a scotch drinker,” Viv had protested, but Drew had laid his hand over hers and said, “Trust me. There’s nothing like it.”
“Can I bring you menus?” the waitress asked.
“Is anyone hungry?” Drew asked.
Viv nodded. “I’m famished.”
Rick turned to Sabrina. “I could eat. How about you, honey?”
“I wouldn’t mind an appetizer,” she said.
“What is that delicious smell?” Viv asked the waitress.
“That’s our Guinness-smoked ribs. Specialty of the house.”
“We’ll all have that,” Drew said with a dismissive nod at the waitress. Viv saw Sabrina raise her eyebrows at Rick, but she didn’t care. With such a simple order, the food might come faster.
“So, Drew, what do you do?” Viv asked. She took a cautious sip of scotch and averted her face with a wrinkled nose. Sixteen years old or not, she still didn’t like it.
“I’m an executive recruiter.”
“A head hunter,” Sabrina said.
Drew shrugged. “Call it what you like. I help people make the most lucrative use of their talents. You have to be a pretty good judge of character to do my job, and I’m the best. I make a very good living at it, too.” He rested a hand on Viv’s shoulder. “For example, I would say that Viv is brimming with potential. How do you earn your living?”
“I’m an elementary school teacher, so I’m not really the kind of person you’d be interested in. Sabrina’s more up your alley. She’s a real estate banker.”
“Really,” Drew said, eying Sabrina. “Rick didn’t tell me. Interesting.”
“Sorry, Drew. I’m happy where I am.”
He drew a card from his pocket and passed it to Sabrina anyway. “You never know.”
She shrugged and rose to her feet. “Just need to wash up before dinner. Coming, Viv?”
“Sure,” Viv said, standing. She followed Sabrina to the washroom, where they fixed their hair.
“So, what do you think?” Sabrina asked in a low voice.
Viv frowned. “It’s hard to say. There are things I like about him, but other things make him seem a bit conceited.”
“Oh, trying to impress us with his car and his Lagavulin.”
Sabrina shrugged. “Some guys try a little too hard at first. I think it was really sweet of him to introduce you to Gwendolyn Seer.”
“So did I, but he did force himself into her conversation.”
“It took guts to do that, and he wasn’t rude about it.”
“It didn’t look as though you were happy with the way he ordered food for everyone,” Viv added.
“Well, I have to admit that did rub me the wrong way.”
“I didn’t mind. I like it when a man takes care of me.”
Sabrina snorted. “Where were you during the sexual revolution?”
Viv shrugged. “Just because I like a man to take care of me doesn’t mean that I can’t look after him, too. We all have our different strengths.” Sabrina stared at her without saying a word, and Viv began to feel doubtful. “Do you think I’m too dependent on men?”
“Are you kidding?” Sabrina sighed and squeezed her friend’s shoulder. “Just make sure that a man has your best interests at heart before you let him look after you, okay?”
Viv nodded. “I’ll be careful. I’ve learned my lesson.”
“I know, hon,” Sabrina said with a rueful smile. “C’mon, let’s get back to the boys.”
Drew picked up the dinner tab, and when they arrived back at the condo, Sabrina invited them in for an after-dinner drink. She and Rick sat on one of the couches, Rick with his arm around her, while Drew and Viv sat on the other. They became immersed in a long discussion about the future of public education, but Rick was preoccupied with drawing lazy circles up and down Sabrina’s arm. Sabrina watched him through half-closed eyes, practically purring. At last his hand rested on her shoulder, and he leaned in for a kiss that went on for several seconds. Viv and Drew’s conversation petered to a stop as they watched. When the kiss ended, Sabrina stretched self-indulgently, yawned, and glanced at her watch.
“It’s almost midnight. I’ve got an appointment tomorrow morning at nine. Time for bed, eh, hon?” Rick smiled into her eyes. “No, don’t leave,” Sabrina said as Drew started to his feet. “You and Viv take all the time you want. Viv can let you out later.”
The amorous couple rose, and Sabrina pulled Rick from the living room. “You remember the code for the underground parking pad, don’t you?” she called to Drew.
“What a terrific memory. Night.”
“See you,” was all Rick had time to say before the bedroom door shut.
Viv stared after them. What kind of stunt was that to pull? It might give Drew the wrong idea. She glanced at him as he sat down beside her, so close that their knees touched.
“Well, this is cozy.” His arm glided around her shoulders, and he snuggled Viv against his side. She could smell the brandy on his breath.
“It certainly is.” Viv laughed nervously. She felt Drew’s other hand on her knee.
“You have the most beautiful blue eyes,” he murmured.
“And your lips,” he added, “have a pretty little pout” ‒ he touched her bottom lip ‒ “right here.” His mouth hovered near, about to follow. Viv averted her face, and Drew nuzzled her neck instead.
“You smell so good.”
“So do you,” Viv said shakily. “What scent are you wearing?”
“Mmm?” He was distracted because his hand was on her thigh. Viv pushed him away and jumped to her feet.
“Drew, you’re going too fast!” Her sudden movement made him tumble forward, but he caught himself with one hand on the couch. Looking up at her, his bangs fell into his eyes. They were mischievous eyes, like a little boy’s caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“Sorry, Viv. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. Why don’t you sit down again,” ‒ he patted the couch ‒ “and I promise to be good.” Drew grinned, and Viv spotted a dimple she had never seen before.
“Well, if you promise.” She sat down with her hands clasped in her lap, but Drew reached over to take one.
“I could tell you were one of those women the minute I laid eyes on you, but you can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“Oh? What kind of woman is that?”
“The kind with standards. The kind of woman a man could get serious about.”
Viv started. “I beg your pardon?”
Drew crossed his legs and leaned back on the couch. “I told you I’m a good judge of character. I think we’re going to be great together. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a wedding coming up in a few weeks. He’s a business associate, and it’s going to be pretty dull unless I have the right kind of woman with me. How about coming as my date?”
Viv pulled her hand away and began twisting her ring. “We just met, Drew. We hardly know each other.”
Drew laughed. “I always move fast when I’m onto a good thing. That’s why I’m so successful. Look at the two of us. I’m smart, I make good money, and I don’t have any bad habits. You’re beautiful, educated, easy to get along with, and you like children. And I’m sure we won’t have any problems in the bedroom.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Trust me, baby, we’d be nuclear together.”
He leaned in for a kiss. Viv stared at him like a rabbit hypnotized by a cobra. Her eyes closed as he came nearer, and then their lips touched. His mouth was soft at first, but grew firm and demanding. His tongue slipped between her lips as his hands caressed her back. When he finally released her, Viv’s heart was pounding and her eyes were glazed.
“Wow,” she said in a small, breathy voice. He looked smug and tapped her nose lightly.
“Told you so. How about dinner on Saturday night? You can come over to my place and cook. I bet you’re a wonderful cook.”
Viv nodded. That was three days from now. She was sure she could come up with a terrific menu in three days.
“Great.” He rose to his feet and pulled her up with him. “I’ll pick you up at five so that you’ve got lots of preparation time. I’m not fussy, so whatever you make will be fine.” He guided her to the condo door and pressed her against the wall beside it. Viv’s insides melted as he wrapped his arms around her and his mouth took control of her brain again. When they broke apart, she felt light-headed.
“See you in three days, baby,” he said, gazing into her eyes. “Night.”
He shut the door noiselessly behind him, and Viv leaned her forehead against it and sighed. She knew she shouldn’t fall for a man so quickly, but she felt helpless with Drew. He was so persuasive ‒ and manly. Viv tottered shakily to bed.
Check back on Sunday, April 26, for Chapter 11.
Wonder what Viv is going to cook up for Drew? You can purchase the e-book for half-price at $1.99. But hurry - the price will go up as more chapters are posted!
Wonder what Viv is going to cook up for Drew? You can purchase the e-book for half-price at $1.99. But hurry - the price will go up as more chapters are posted!
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