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Luck on the Line

Zoraida Cordova

  Luck on the Line

  On the Verge: Book One

  Zoraida Córdova


  Diversion Books

  A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.

  443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1008

  New York, NY 10016

  Copyright © 2014 by Zoraida Córdova

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  Cover Designed by Najla Qamber Designs

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  For more information, email [email protected]

  First Diversion Books edition November 2014

  ISBN: 978-1-62681-499-8

  For all the lost girls searching for the right place.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44


  Chapter 1

  The universal rule of servers is: the bigger the order, the bigger the prick.

  It was true during my year of “soul searching” after high school graduation, bartending at El Gallo on Espanola Way, when sunburnt moms sent back LITs for being too strong.

  It was true the year after that at the Old Post in Missoula, Montana, when diet-obsessed sorority girls asked for the Country House Special Sauce Deluxe burger, but, you know, without the onions and tomatoes and, oh, no special sauce.

  And it was true, when I made health shakes at Super Green Joe’s in Brooklyn the year after that. If I hear “is that protein gluten-soy-dairy-free and fair trade?” one more time…

  Now at The Red Cup, Mr. Tall Vanilla Latte No Whip, No Foam, Extra shot, Half Skim, Half Whole, Pump of Hazelnut is a pretty big prick.

  I’m next in line. I cross then uncross my arms, shift the weight of my duffle bag, then check my phone for the time. I should have been at my mom’s ten minutes ago. Ten minutes ago, this guy started ordering his drink. My mom might be a lot of things, but late is never one of them.

  He leans forward at the barista, making his triceps flex. He has broad shoulders. His white t-shirt hugs every lean muscle. I can see the shadow of a tattoo barely visible under the thinning cotton of his too-many-times-washed shirt, and a tendril of black ink peeks above the collar. He has the kind of back that begs to be touched and caressed like it’s solid ground after being lost at sea. If he weren’t holding up the line, I’d be more than tempted to try.

  Or, maybe it’s just been too long since I’ve had a man this delicious.

  The shuffle of feet behind me announces a new round of customers. They cock their heads from side to side like the hands of Kali to see what the hold up is.

  Shuffle, shuffle, grunt, sigh.

  Mr. Tall Latte says something that makes the barista giggle. I can practically hear his eyelid wink.

  Holding my camera around my neck, I adjust the lens. Just because he’s annoying doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a beautiful specimen when I see one, and his shoulders frame the art deco coffee shop just right. I wonder if his face is as wonderful to look at as his back. I catch a bit of his strong jaw and high cheekbone. During my internship with fashion photographer Louis Devereux, I got to shoot lots of beautiful guys. They had sultry pouts, skinny muscles from Pilates, and hair so slick that when I touched it, I needed rubbing alcohol to get the grime off. They were pretty men. Lovely men. This guy, Mr. Tall Latte, in worn jeans and scuffed leather boots, is a manly man. And my camera loves him.

  But even with the manliest of men, something ruins it.

  When he purrs, “You can sprinkle some cinnamon on top,” I want to gag.

  I catch a peek of the barista. Her long curls are tamed under a duck billed cap that is unforgiving on everyone else who works here, but on her, it’s fitted. Flattering even. Her tan skin and apple cheeks are red and welcoming, like the summer blossoms blooming all over Boston. I catch my hangover-green pallor in my camera screen, unwashed brown hair probably full of leaves from trying to walk off the drunk with a photo shoot in Boston Common, and I realize I need my coffee as much as I need fresh air and a shower.

  The barista takes Mr. Tall Latte’s money and her eyes dart to the counter of condiments and coffee fixings. “The cinnamon is over there, sir.”

  “Jay,” he says. “Sir is my Dad.”

  “Jay,” she repeats.

  Behind me the long line is getting longer. I need my coffee. Need the caffeine to clear my head of the mess I’ve made, and not just in the past 24 hours, but in the past four years. Maybe even before that. Something to wire me up and get me to think about anything, anything but my yearly migration back to my mother.

  Someone behind me mutters a curse and the line shifts in the way caffeine junkies have. Shaky legs, jittery arms that can’t even text right, pronounced sighing, and eye rolling. I am not about to get trampled by a lunch-slump, un-caffeinated work crowd. I peek-a-boo around Mr. Tall Latte and wave at the barista, breaking up their love connection.

  “So, do you want her to put frosting and birthday sprinkles on it, too, or are you going to move it along?”

  The line snickers and when he turns to face me, I’m affronted by the full force of his angry sea-green eyes. I hate when I’m right. His face doesn’t just match the perfection of his back—it’s better. The skin under his five o’clock shadow hardens when he clenches his jaw. His nose, which looks like it’s taken a few beatings in the past, scrunches up in a way that would be cute if we had met under different circumstances. I can practically feel his irritation radiating like a tanning bed. Or perhaps he’s thinking, “who the hell are you?” I bet girls don’t talk to him this way. His eyes go from my eyes, to the tiny silver star around my neck, to my messy clothes. He parts his full lips, ready to counter my insult. But then he notices the disgruntled others behind me, and with a grimace mutters, “My birthday’s not till next month, Princess,” then walks passed me to the drink pick-up station.

  My face is on fire, like the heat of his hatred seared my top layer right off. The barista isn’t happy to see me and the crowd has easily forgotten my heroics because now I’m the one holding up the line.

  “Venti. Black,” I say and when she asks my name, all traces of her smile are gone from her rosy cheeks.

  “Lucky,” I say.

  She arcs an eyebrow as if to say, “Yeah right.”

  But I get that all the time. Lucky Pierce. No, it doesn’t come with an
y luck or significance, other than that my dear old dad must’ve indulged in a little more than a cigar while I was being born.

  I pay and step to the pick-up station. In the afternoon flurry of the coffee shop with girls on their laptops churning out their feelings and hipsters bopping to music, I fiddle with my camera and tap my shoe while I wait for my coffee, and try not to glance at the guy I just cock blocked.

  “Small, black.” The pretty barista lands my drink on the counter as if it say, “Now get out.”

  I should correct her. I should tell her that I’m having a case of “what is wrong with my life?” and she should feel some sort of female solidarity, but then she turns her back around and busies herself making drinks. She chicken-scratched a LUCY on my drink. That’s me, Lucy.

  “Right.” I take my coffee. The lid is faulty and my grip squeezes hot black liquid down my hands, soaking into my jeans and the black cloth of my Chucks.

  Mr. Tall Latte chuckles, then covers his mouth in a mock apology.

  “Nice,” I tell him. “You’re a real gent.”

  His smile makes my stomach heave like a balance weight and I grind my teeth, wishing I could punch my subconscious for its poor choices in men.

  He bends down to read the name on my decrepit cup and says, “Well Lucy, I’d say it’s been a pleasure, but my friend Karma disagrees.”

  “Somehow I doubt you and Karma are on friendly terms.” I grab a bunch of napkins and clean the coffee that’s rolled down to my elbows and the surface of my camera.

  He shrugs and glances back to the barista suddenly making drinks like the world depends on it.

  “You know,” I start, “I probably did her a favor.” I shake my hand and droplets of coffee pock the pristine white of his shirt.

  “Aren’t you a good Samaritan?” He licks his finger, pulls on the cloth and dabs at the stain but it won’t come out. He mutters, “Great. Just what I needed. Who does that?”

  I was going to apologize, but I won’t let myself. I dry my hand on my duffle bag. “Who wears ripped jeans like it’s 1989?”

  “Who wears a Yankees cap?” He takes it, and holds it over my head. I have to hop a bit to snatch it back. “Are you lost or something?”

  Lost is one way to put it…

  My reaction to him is more physical that I’d like. I can smell his freshly washed skin with something that reminds of warm beach days and suntan oil. Heat spreads from the pit of my belly like an unwatched fire. I should slap him. I should curse him out. Wipe the smirk off his face. Just when I decide to leave, his phone rings. He sticks a finger in one ear and turns his back to me. The comeback is lost on my tongue and I tell myself it’s not worth it.

  The counter is full of drinks now and disgruntled people reach over me for their orders. Then I see it. The name on the drink—Jay—written in perfect black marker. Beside his name is a heart and a phone number.

  His back is still to me, and before I can rethink it I grab his vanilla latte no whip, no foam, extra shot, half skim, half whole, pump of hazelnut and dash out the door. My heart is racing in my chest as the sweet, hot liquid dribbles down my hand.

  He shouts, “Hey!”

  But a new crowd rushes into the Red Cup, and I’m out and around the corner breaking into a jog onto Seaport Blvd. I’m blind to traffic, the trucks and cars honking as I jaywalk. I jump over a toy dog that barks and tugs on his pink leash after me. I turn sideways so I fit between a couple of girls giggling behind pinks manicured hands, and finally land at the shiny entrance of my mother’s new apartment building. In the wide open space of the Waterfront, new condos create a shiny new skyline along the hulking ships on the harbor.

  I take a sip of the sequestered latte in my hand, burning my tongue and forcing it to go down. Then I summon all of my energy, because I’ll need it all to get through this. I haven’t seen my mother since this same exact time last year when she still lived in Cambridge, unless you count seeing her every week on TV.

  I let myself into the lobby, where a pale and freckled young doorman smiles and buzzes me up. I take another sip, but this time, the sweetness just won’t go down. I chuck the wasted caffeine into the nearest trashcan. Damn, that was nasty.

  Chapter 2

  When you haven’t seen your mother in a year, you expect more of a welcome. Fake bises, like I’d get from this French roommate I had in the Village once. Maybe even a one-armed hug, because nothing says “we are family” like a one-armed hug.

  Instead, my mother swoops down the coiled carpeted steps (she timed it, I swear) and takes my hands in hers to examine my appearance. My unwashed hair, my unkempt clothes, and the dark circles under my eyes.

  That’s okay. It’s only June 10th. We save our once-a-year hug for June 24th, the day when ten years ago, both of our lives changed. Now we’re here, in a room so white it hurts my eyes. So white, I already notice the trail of Boston rain and dirt I’m trailing in. The exposed brick of the fireplace wall is painted gold. White stag antlers hang above the mantel. I guess Mom’s not a proud member of PETA anymore.

  A white carpet that looks soft to the touch is carefully, artfully thrown across the floor, surrounded by white leather couches. The walls, the floors, the designer tailored suit hugging my mother’s surgically excavated curves. After four years of apartment hopping and near-homelessness, I always return to my mother’s life and feel like a bit of coal in a stash of diamonds. The only sign of life in the Home & Garden ad that is my mother’s new pad is a half-empty wine glass on a red ceramic coaster.

  “You’re late.”

  “I stopped for coffee,” I say.

  Briefly, I search her face for my mom. She looks younger. The result of chemical peels, and skin tugs. I picture an old man cutting up her beautiful face and removing the signs of aging. When I was in high school everyone would say that I looked just like my mother in her pageant years, but I try to find myself in her new face and the only resemblance is in the stormy gray of our eyes.

  “Well?” An eyebrow tries to cock up but fails. Botox.

  “Well what?”

  “The coffee?”

  Oh, shit. That. “The line was crazy long. This stupid guy—”

  “Not to worry,” She shrugs, and tries for a smile, as if the cameras are rolling. “I’ll make us some.”

  This is so strange. Why is my mother being so nice?

  I leave my duffle bag at the entrance and rub my shoulder as I follow her down a long corridor lined with pictures marking her lifetime. The first is her famous pageant photo: my mother in a blush-colored taffeta monster. She holds up her crown with a gloved hand while cradling a massive bouquet in the other. Then her wedding photo—the first time around, the only one that counts for me—a white flower crown around her straight golden hair, a real non-Botox smile on her face. Then there are six years missing, jumping to galas with celebrities, politicians, and then her big break when Husband #3 gave her her own cooking show. Every Monday night the US of A tunes into Foodie TV to watch my mother prance around the kitchen in Jimmy Choos and aprons by Oscar de La Renta. My junior year of high school, every guy in school tried to date me under the guise of coming over. I had “Stacy’s Mom” Syndrome. I hated it. It’s like I wasn’t worth being friends with if it weren’t for her.

  Even with Husband #3 gone and married to Miss Poland, my mother is successful in her own right. She took what she got in the divorce settlement and created a culinary empire. This from the woman who couldn’t open a soup can without my dad coming to the rescue.

  “I like what you’ve done with the place,” I say. Our footsteps echo in the high ceilings of the penthouse. “It’s so—”

  “Wonderful?” My mom says playfully. I wonder if she ever “turns it off.”

  I was going to go with excessive.

  When we finally get to the kitchen, my first impression is that there is no way my mother, who burned my frozen pancakes every morning, cooks in this kitchen. But there are dishes drying on the counter and the French p
ress is out and ready.

  “The only way to make coffee,” she says, and that statement alone fills me with the worst kind of heartache. My dad used to say that.

  I sit on the high-top counter and watch her move around. She starts talking about her assistant, Felicity, a sweet young thing who just graduated from Boston College and was working in interior design when they met. Then her producer, who’s in the middle of getting a divorce, but then again who isn’t? Her “up and coming” restaurant, which is set to have a grand opening in two weeks.

  I sip my coffee and keep my lips pressed together. This is the life she’s always wanted. Without me. Without dad. It goes without saying.

  And then the conversation turns to me. There’s the: why aren’t you using moisturizer? Your forehead is as dry as the Sahara. And the: weren’t you wearing these pants the last time you visited? The: you’re almost 23, Lucky, you can’t be a bartender forever. The: please tell me you didn’t change majors again. And finally the: are you dating anyone?

  Every question is a hammer sinking me deeper and deeper into my filthy shoes.

  “Nope, free as a bird,” I say.

  “Well Bradley’s been looking all kinds of delicious lately.”


  She shrugs and sips from her coffee. Black. “I’m only just saying. His family and ours go way back. I’m sure if you really wanted to, you could have him.”

  “I’d rather not have that conversation.”

  “Did I ever tell you that his dad and I dated for a week in high school?”

  I love how she always reminds me that she had the best of everything back in the day, when Massachusetts upper crust was as inbred as the South. Then, her family lost everything and moved to Westchester, NY, where I was born. Not much of a downgrade, not to me at least. As soon as Husband #2 and his Smithson Lumber Empire brought us back to Boston, she tried to reclaim that life with moderate success.

  “It’s nice to know that my best friend’s dad and you had a fling.”