Read an Excerpt
A Way Out
"Excuse me, ma'amwill this be with cash or credit?" The waiter, a short, bald Caucasian who had introduced himself earlier as Paul, walked up to Natalie.
"I don't know," Natalie answered roughly, her narrow, copper-brown eyes peering up at him. Her matching pearl necklace and earrings complemented the black dress she was wearing, which accentuated every curve of her body. Her dark, shoulder-length hair was pinned up and two tiny spiral curls dangled on either side of her honey-colored face. "You'll have to ask my boyfriend. He'll be backhe went to the rest room." Natalie's sharp glance at the waiter silently requested that he leave until her date returned.
"Are you referring to the gentleman who was just in here with you?"
"Yes," she answered, though it seemed like a pretty dumb question. Who else would she be referring to?
Paul frowned. "Ma'am, he left. On the way out, he said you were ready for the bill. Again, will this be cash or credit?"
"What! You have got to be kidding me," Natalie accused. Her eyes roamed back and forth between Paul and the private-dining-room door. She hoped he'd been mistaken. It wasn't her date who'd left the restaurant. It had to be someone else's. Any minute, Kevin would come waltzing through the door and the two of them would work out their issues and go home.
Her eyes were now glued to the door as she drummed her nails on the table, still trying to convince herself that Kevin would be back shortly. He had to come back. After all, it had been his idea to eat at this fancy restaurant in the first place. In addition to ordering a very expensive Italian wine, Kevin had ordered three entrees: lobster, steak and chicken, though he'd barely touched any of them. At an upscale establishment like Skyler's, each one of those entrees ranged anywhere from fifty to seventy-five dollars. Sure, he had a right to be upset with her, but he wouldn't walk out without paying the bill would he?
"Willthisbecashorcredit?" Paul raised his voice, seemingly irritated by Natalie's lack of response. The intensity with which he spoke forced Natalie to accept the truth. Kevin was gone.
Natalie stood up and snatched the bill out of his hands. "Oh my God!" She grabbed the table to keep her tall, slender frame from falling when she saw the total printed in bold, black ink at the bottom. The dinner came to $567.98, including tax, tip and the service charge for using a private room. "III can't afford this," she stammered.
"You are Renee Coleman, correct?"
"Yes," she admitted quietly. The reservation had been made using her middle name.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry but since you made the reservation, you are responsible for tonight's meal," he affirmed.
"Wait a minute. There has to be a misunderstanding here." Natalie had less than twenty dollars in her purse, and all of her credit cards were maxed out. Since moving back to Ohio from New York where she'd been pursuing a modeling career, Natalie hadn't worked full-time. She still modeled occasionally and was also registered with a local temporary agency. However, with her mother battling breast cancer and being in and out of the hospital so much, the work assignments that Natalie could accept were few and far between. It was impossible to hold down a full-time job, model on the side and look after her mother all at the same time. "I'll just call Kevin and clarify this whole thing. I'm sure he probably meant to give you his credit card or pay for it before he left," Natalie said to Paul as she nervously got her cell phone out of her purse and dialed Kevin's number.
"Yeah?" Kevin answered the phone in a calm voice.
"Where are you?" Natalie demanded.
"I'm in my car driving on the freeway."
"How dare you leave without telling me? You forgot to pay the bill."
"No, I didn't."
She turned away from the waiter and whispered into the phone, "Kevin, I know you're upset, but this is not the time for games. I don't have any money."
"Aw, I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you can come up with it somehow. Skyler's does prosecute people who leave without paying. It's called theft of service."
"Theft of service!" Natalie looked behind her. Paul impatiently tapped his foot on the floor, waiting for payment. Natalie turned back around and pleaded with Kevin. "Look, Kevin, please come back and pay this bill. Hate me if you want to, but don't leave me in this position. You're the one who ordered three entrees, not me."
"Sorry, Natalie, or whatever your name is, but I'm afraid I can't help you out."
"You idiot!" she screamed. "How can you justify doing this to me?"
"Let's see. What was that you said to me when I asked you how you could justify your deceptiveness these last few months? Oh that's right, you said, 'I don't have to,'" Kevin retorted sarcastically and hung up.
Kevin's demeanor toward her was undoubtedly dramatically different than it had been just twenty-four hours ago. Last night he had expressed his willingness to explore the possibilities of their relationship now that he and Wendy were getting a divorce. Having pursued this manand his moneyfor months, the words were soothing to Natalie's ears. Somehow, between yesterday and today, Kevin had learned that Natalie had befriended him using her middle name purposely to conceal from him that she and Wendy had been friends since high school.
Natalie and Wendy had lost contact when she'd moved to New York, and it was during this time that Wendy and Kevin had married. They were already separated by the time Natalie came back to Ohio, so, when the opportunity to get to know Kevin appeared, Natalie took it. Sure, there were other well-to-do men in Columbus, but it made no sense to let Kevin get away especially since Wendy had told her so much about him.
Being the "middle man" provided Natalie with the perfect opportunity to manipulate the couple's situation. She had urged Wendy to "move on" while advising Kevin to file for divorce. Natalie knew that she would have to admit her dishonesty to Kevin eventually. She'd planned to do so well after the divorce was final, hoping by then Kevin would be willing to overlook her transgression. However, tonight he'd angrily confronted her and Natalie now realized that this whole evening had been a set-up. "Ugh!" she grunted.
"Ma'am, is there a problem?" Paul asked, appearing unsympathetic to her plight.
"No, there's no problem____I"
"I take it your gentleman friend is not coming back."
"No, but that's okay," she said, nervously biting her bottom lip while trying to think of a solution. Her first impulse was to try and charm her way out of this unfortunate situation. Maybe she and Paul could work out a deal. On second thought, Paul looked too serious to be overcome by any type of female persuasion. Besides, the gentle sway in his walk suggested that Kevin was more likely his type than she was.
"Ma'am, I'm afraid that if you don't pay, I'm going to have to get the manager."
"Hold your horses, will you!" She frantically punched numbers on her cell phone. She really didn't want to call Richard, but there was no other choice. It's not like her mother could get up from the hospital bed to come and help her out. Natalie was totally out of optionsshe had to call him.
"Great!" Natalie uttered as the voice mail kicked in and she prepared to leave a message. "It's Natalie. Um I need a favor. I'm downtown at Skyler's. My date left me with the bill and no money. Can you please help me out?" she pleaded.
"I'll be right back with the manager," Paul insisted.
"No! Wait" Natalie tried to object, but her words trailed behind Paul as he stormed off. How in the world would she get out of this mess? She desperately glanced around the private dining room looking for a way out. There was no way to escape except by going through the main restaurant. If she hurried, maybe she could leave before Paul returned with the manager.
With her heart pounding at three times its normal rate, Natalie took off her two-inch heels before grabbing her purse and her suede, knee-length coat, then sprinted toward the door. The adrenaline rush was almost more than she could handle, except it was quickly subdued; she opened the door to be met by Paul and a tall, stocky, dark-haired man who looked more like a bouncer than a manager.
"Going somewhere?" the manager smirked.
Short and Simple
Natalie tried calling Richard again after she'd been taken to jailstill no answer. She left another message, stressing the urgency of the matter. Under Ohio law, because the restaurant bill was over five hundred dollars, she was arrested on a fifth-degree felony theft charge.
Now, trapped inside a holding cell, her sexy black dress replaced with a plain light-brown shirt and green pantscompliments of the Franklin County Corrections CenterNatalie quickly glanced around. With the exception of one heavyset woman who was propped up in the corner of the cell sleeping, the other women looked up briefly when Natalie entered. No one said anything to her, but soon returned to their conversations. Frightened by her circumstances, Natalie stood frozen. She wasn't a criminal and didn't like being treated like one. She'd watched movies about women in jail before. What if she got jumped, or even worse, raped!
Silently she pleaded with God to get her out of this situation. But, having nothing to offer Him in exchange, she felt her prayers were in vain. She would vow never to date another married man again, but she wasn't sure she'd be able to keep that promise especially if the right one came along. She didn't mind dating married men who weren't going to remain married, but Natalie demanded too much attention to be someone's permanent mistress. The one thing she knew for sure was that she'd never date Kevin again. That was definitely a commitment she'd be sure to keep.
"You'll probably be here for a while," called out a Caucasian woman with a boyishly short hairstyle. She looked around Natalie's age, maybe a few years younger. "You might as well make yourself at home, sweetie."
The woman had to be a repeat offender in order to say something so stupid. How could Natalie possibly make herself at home in this place? And what was up with the pet name? Sweetie? Natalie didn't like that inference. Was the lady coming on to her? Just to make it perfectly clear that she wasn't interested in having any type of relationship, Natalie slowly walked over and took a seat on the opposite side of the cell from where the Caucasian woman was sitting.
"This is your first time, ain't it?" another lady asked. She was Black, her hair pulled back into a ponytail.
Natalie nodded yes. The woman reeked of alcohol, but didn't show any obvious signs of being drunk. Her speech wasn't slurred nor did her eyes appear to be glassy. She just stunk.
"Don't get too paranoid. You're in the county jail, not the female penitentiary. Nothin's gonna happen to you in here," she assured her. "What's your name?"
Natalie answered, praying her voice wasn't shaking. She didn't want people to know how scared she was.
"Well, Miss Natalie, I'm Jacqueline, but my friends call me Dee. It's short for Denise, my middle name.
Whatcha in for?"
"Theft," Natalie reluctantly answered, sickened by the stench of the woman's breath. It was just as assaulting as her body odor. Somebody really needed to pour some mouthwash down her throat.
"When you go to your arraignment hearing, make sure you plead not guilty," she advised. "See, if you plead guilty, the case will automatically be over. What-cha wanna do is make them prove your case to a jury." She pointed at Natalie as if she was scolding her. "All you need is reasonable doubt to be scot-free, baby!"
When the woman called her "baby," Natalie's heart raced. Maybe Jacqueline was coming on to her now. "I um, this seat isn't too comfortable. I'm gonna try and sit somewhere else." She sprang up and moved to a different part of the cell. This time she chose to sit between the heavyset woman sleeping in the corner and an unattractive, dangerously skinny Black woman leaning sideways against the cement wall, her back toward Natalie. At least that's how the thin woman was positioned when Natalie first sat down. Within seconds, she turned and faced Natalie.
"Whatcha in for?" she asked, her front teeth missing.
Natalie groaned, closed her eyes, and laid her head back against the wall. It was going to be a long night.
"Coleman " the guard called out about an hour after Natalie had come back from her arraignment hearing the next morning. Bond had been set and paid, and a pre-trial hearing was scheduled for six weeks from now. "You're free to go," the guard announced.
Richard must have finally gotten her message. If only she could've reached him at the restaurant. Spending the night in this place was horrible, and unfortunately there was no VIP section. As if being humiliated at the restaurant hadn't been enough, she'd been locked up with women who, in her opinion, were inferior to her. They had real issues like drugs and prostitution, unlike Natalie, who merely didn't have enough money to pay for dinner.
I could just kill Kevin, Natalie thought to herself as she changed out of the jail uniform back into her black dress. Unhumbled by the experience, Natalie had a speech decorated with profanity ready to deliver to Kevin later. In all of her life, she had never been rejected to such an extent by any man. She honestly didn't know what upset her more: the fact that she'd spent the night in jail or that she'd been dumped in such a public and mortifying manner.
"You need to sign here, indicating that you are receiving all of your belongings," a lady instructed, shoving a paper and Natalie's personal things toward her.
She leafed through her confiscated items. Everything seemed to be intact. She scribbled her signature on the paper. Moments later she anxiously waited as the woman in the control room buzzed her out.
"Nat." Richard smiled and greeted her with open arms. He had on a dark-gray pinstriped suit and a black leather trench coat. His attire seemed to complement his dark-brown complexion. His leather beret covered up his slightly graying hair. Richard and Natalie's mother had been dating on and off for several years. For a middle-aged district attorney, he didn't look too shabby, although he could stand to lose a few inches around his waist.
"Hello, Richard," she said dryly, ignoring the invitation for a hug.
"Do you need to get your car from the restaurant?"
"No, I just need you to take me home." She whizzed past him.