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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

EXCERPT: Between Goodbyes

A Novel
By Anita Bunkley

In BETWEEN GOODBYES is the unforgettable story of a beautiful survivor with everything to offer -- and to lose...

Three men desire her. Three men have claimed her. Which one will Niya choose? As Niya carefully weighs her decision, she discovers that all she's ever dreamed of might not be what she really wants...

Inside the tiny bathroom stall of the water park, Niya shed her blue cotton slacks and her red Castaway Cove tee-shirt with the name of the water park plastered across the chest, and stepped into the mermaid suit she had been told to put on. Immediately she knew she was in trouble: Joanne had been a flat-chested, slim-hipped white girl with long legs and a narrow waist -- a walking scarecrow, compared to Niya. But Joanne had quit, and now Niya had her job.
With a great deal of effort, Niya managed to squeeze her voluptuous hips into the skirt of the costume, and then groaned: The skirt had a slit up the front that nearly reached her navel and it flared out around her thighs in two metallic spikes, cheap imitations of fish fins. With a tug, she pulled on the tight-fitting bustier, which pushed her breasts into two mounds of bronze flesh that rose ridiculously high on her chest. At least the glittery sea-shell crown fit her head and did not look too bad.

Niya jammed her Castaway Cove uniform into her handbag, yanked open the stall door and stomped over to the mirror, anxious to check herself out.
"Damn! You look hot," a plump teenager wearing postage-stamp-size shorts and a tube top exclaimed as she dried her hands under the hot air blower. "You a part of the show?"
"I guess I am now," Niya murmured as she leaned into the mirror and fluffed up her thick black hair.

The people seated in the Dolphin Dive stadium roared with glee when the piped-in music finally come on, blaring Ricky Martin's popular Macarena. Niya burst from behind a beaded curtain shortly after the music began and flashed the audience big welcoming smile. Everyone began clapping their hands to the beat of the song and she instinctively began to dance, undulating her hips while making the jerky Macarena moves with her arms.
This isn't so bad, she thought, finding her groove and getting into the music, enjoying the opportunity to dance in front of a crowd. But I'd feel a lot better if I had on a costume that didn't make me look like the Neptune witch. Shutting out her worries about her appearance, she concentrated on her dancing.
For weeks, her life had revolved around survival; in Oyster Cove, on the road with Sandi Lee, while searching for a job and a cheap place to live, getting her green card and becoming legal. Now, she thought, it's time to have a little fun.
She motioned for the audience to join her, and almost immediately everyone jumped up and began to dance along with her, shaking their hips, swinging their arms, generally having a good time. As the music blasted from the loud speakers, she improvised a jazzy rendition of the Cuban mambo combined with the Macarena and danced her way around the edges of the pool, often bending down to touch an outstretched hand here and there, feeling just like a real stage star.
At one point, her eyes locked with those of a drop-dead gorgeous guy with smooth brown skin and a bright white smile. He was wearing a white straw hat, a white shirt and a thick gold chain around his neck. When he reached out to greet her, she bent down and clasped his fingers, and then laughed when he tightened his grip, nearly pulling her off the stage.
"No, no," she cautioned, throwing back her head and tossing her hair from her face. "No fair pulling."
"What's your name?" the guy called out, still holding onto Niya's fingers, his other hand at the side of his mouth to make sure she could hear him over the music.
Grinning slyly, Niya shook her head, refusing to answer, and pulled her hand from his. Waving at him, she did a quick salsa side-step to the other side of the pool and concentrated on the audience.
The people were enjoying themselves, and that pleased her, though she was not sure if the crowd liked her, the music, or was simply glad that at last the show was about to begin. But either way, she knew that this was the Castaway Cove job she wanted permanently, and was certain that Deep Diver Sam would be more than willing to make sure she got it.
"Why did you do that?"
"What?" Tremont asked, glancing at LaShaun, who had jammed herself so close to his side that her sweet Chole perfume was making him nauseous.
"Ask for that girl's name," LaShaun said in a huff, narrowing her lips at him. "What'd you want that Siesta-sister's name for?"
"Oh, calm down," Tremont threw back, annoyed. "She's a good dancer and York is looking for dancers at the club. I was just thinking…"
"Well, you can stop thinking about getting that hoochie gal's name," LaShaun demanded, jerking her neck back and forth, making her braided extensions flip over her shoulder. "Robert York can do his own recruiting. He's paying you to play your horn, not scout talent for him," LaShaun finished, linking her arm through Tremont's and scooting even closer.
Gritting his teeth, Tremont cut his eyes over at LaShaun, who was wearing oversize dark sunglasses, a low-cut African print sundress, and at least a dozen thin silver bracelets on each arm. He could not read her expression, but knew her ebony eyes were flashing in anger -- and for no reason at all. Her insecurities were getting to him, and he had had enough.
"Whatever," he grumbled, un-hooking her arm from his, thinking, She better not make a scene while we're here.
He had made a big mistake, asking LaShaun out today after swearing he was through with her. Being with her had become more of a habit than a pleasure and he was definitely going to break it off for good. Today.

She ought to be glad I gave up my Saturday afternoon to bring her to this stupid water park when I ought to be rehearsing with my band, anyway, he thought, turning his attention back to the stage.

A loud burst of applause erupted when Deep Diver Sam leaped from a flaming lift high above the pool and landed onto the back of a dolphin, which quickly swept him under the water.

"Wasn't that fantastic?" LaShaun shouted, rising to her feet, enthusiastically clasping her multi-ringed fingers together. "What a rush! Wouldn't you love to swim with a dolphin?" She looked over her shoulder at Tremont, who had remained seated, not paying much attention. "Well, wouldn't you?" she insisted.

"Not really," he muttered, clearly bored. However, he immediately perked up when he saw the girl in the sequin mermaid costume exit the stadium and start across the grassy esplanade, her head thrown back, her hips swaying, her gorgeous body beckoning to him.

Standing, he told LaShaun, "I'm gonna get a bottle of water. Want something from the concession stand?" He was already moving toward the exit.

"Yeah. A large cotton candy and a Diet Coke," she replied, concentrating on Deep Diver Sam's next trick.

"Be right back," Tremont said, hoping he could catch up with the dancer before she disappeared into the crowd.

It took him a few minutes to find her. She was standing at the ticket booth talking to the blond girl on the other side of the window. He went right over and said, "Hello. Now will you tell me your name?"

Breaking off her conversation with the blond girl inside the booth, she looked over at him and smiled.

That's a good start, Tremont thought as he waited for her to say something. When she didn't, he went on. "I enjoyed your dancing. You certainly livened up the place."
"Thank you," she replied in a rather bemused tone. "I enjoyed it, too."

"My name is Tremont Henderson," he boldly continued, extending his hand, which to his surprise, she accepted.

"I'm Niya," she told him, letting go of his fingers, and then cutting her eyes at the blonde in the booth with a who-in-the hell-is-this-man, and what-does-he-think-he's-doing kind of look.
Tremont just stared at her, grinning, unable to say anything else. She was the most incredibly beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her skin was flawless, her dark hair was thick and soft and threaded with undertones of gold. Her large dark eyes were heavily fringed with the longest lashes he had ever seen. He had to struggle to keep his eyes from drifting down to the two luscious mounds of tan flesh bulging from the bodice of her mermaid costume. He could tell from her accent that she was not an American, and thought she must be from some island in the Caribbean.

"And you wanted….?" Niya prompted.
With a start, Tremont plunged ahead. "To talk to you."
"About what?" Niya asked, edging away from the ticket booth window to let a woman with three kids step up to purchase tickets.

Tremont stuck close to Niya, hoping she would listen to what he had to say. "I'm a musician. I have my own band and I'm playing at Club Cariba over on the strip. You know it?"
Niya shook her head. "No, sorry. I'm new in town."

"Anyway," Tremont went on. "The owner of the club is looking for dancers, and I thought ..."
"Dancers?" She shook her head. "I'm not interested. As you can see I have a job, and I don't do the club scene. I'm not in to taking off my clothes on stage."

"Club Cariba is not that kind of joint. It's a jazz-salsa kind of place. Classy. You'd love it. The owner is looking for dancers to mix with the customers, teach some of the latest dance steps, kind of liven up the place. You know?"

Niya shook her head again and turned, preparing to leave. "Sorry. I'm still not interested. But thanks, anyway."

Tremont quickly removed a business card from his shirt pocket, and held it out to her. "Come by the club tonight and check it out. Ask for me. No cover charge, drinks on me. What do you say?"
Niya took his card, studied it for a moment, and then palmed it. "I can't," she lied with a slight lift of one shoulder. "I've got plans. My friend ..." she paused and tilted her head toward the ticket booth, "and I are going ……"

"Next Saturday, then," Tremont interrupted. "Please. Bring your friend. Bring two friends. Hell, bring as many friends as you want, but try to drop by, okay?"

"I'll think about it," Niya relented, tossing back her hair. "Right now I gotta get back to work. The next show starts in five minutes." With a quick wave, she hurried away, leaving Tremont staring at the sequin fish fins that swayed with the swish of her hips.

Sandi Lee waited until the lady at the window had pocketed her change and walked away before exiting the ticket booth. "I'll be right back," she told the pimply young man who was her back-up.

She hurried through the crush of people, searching for the guy who had been talking to Niya, finally spotting him sitting on a park bench under a tree, sipping a diet Coke and holding a big puff of cotton candy. She had heard every word of his conversation with Niya and no way was she going to let Niya blow this invitation. Club Cariba was the hippest place on the strip and the place to see and be seen.

Plans for tonight? What plans? Sandi Lee fumed. Niya could be so damn naïve sometimes. Didn't she know how difficult it was to gain entrance into a club like the Cariba? No one got in there unless they had a connection, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Besides, the guy was definitely worth checking out, too.

"Hey," she called out to Tremont, who looked over at her. Sandi Lee came closer, and then stood, her hands on her hips as she nodded her head. "My friend and I will be there."

"Excuse me?" Tremont blinked up at her.
"My friend, Niya, and I will be at your club next Saturday night."
"Oh! Yeah. Really?" Tremont beamed and stood up. "You're Niya's friend?"
"Yeah," Sandi Lee replied, checking Tremont out. He was fine! And from the way he talked, she could tell that he was educated, had manners, and was not some creepy jerk out to get over. And his clothes, as well as the sleek watch on his wrist and the heavy gold chain around his neck, screamed cash. Lots of cash. "We'll come on one condition," she added.
"What's that?" Tremont asked.
"Send a car for us. A limo. Okay?"
A quick beat. "No problem," Tremont agreed. "What's your address?"
"Just have the driver pick us up here at the water park. Ten o'clock. At the front gates."
"You got it," Tremont said, a huge grin on his face.
"We'll see you at the club, then," Sandi Lee called out, giving Tremont a double thumbs-up.

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