The studio was like a fortress…

Its facade designed so that you wouldn’t know it was there, if you didn’t know it was there. “Go ahead and pull in, I’ll show you where to park,” Dominic said gesturing toward what looked like a wall of ivy. A second later, the “wall” rolled to the left revealing a driveway and a parking lot flanked by buildings on three sides, just beyond. I pulled in and a white guy wearing all black motioned for me to park next to a row of mostly luxury vehicles against a wall on the left-hand side. While I did, Dom stood off to the side talking to the guy in black. I cut the motor and flipped my visor down to check my reflection. Then, I smoothed my hair, applied another coat of lip gloss, and took a deep breath, my anxiety on ten. When I flipped the visor up again, Dom stood there alone, watching me, another smirk playing on his lips.

He crossed the lot in a few long strides and opened the car door. Now I was the one smirking. “Oh, so you’re a gentleman tonight or what?” I’d asked as he held out his hand to help me from the car. He didn’t respond, instead pulling me from the driver’s seat and into a tight embrace. He leaned down and whispered into my ear, “You look amazing.” My skin prickled and I told myself it was just the cool summer breeze and not his breath against my neck. I tried to take a step back but he only loosened his hold enough to be able to look me in the face. I was glad I had worn heels, since this meant we were almost eye-to-eye. He stared for one more intense moment and then finally released me. “Come on,” he said, taking my hand.

Now I’m trying to play it cool, but in my head, I’m screaming, ‘is this nigga holding my hand?!’ It was strange. Familiar and foreign. Comfortable, but not. And because it was Dom, and because I didn’t want to make it weird, I let him lead me by the hand, ignoring the screaming voice in my head.

We made our way through a maze of hallways and out into a courtyard full of twisting paths lit by plants and palms strung with white lights. It reminded me of my favorite restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter with its deceptive entrance, iron gates, and lush greenery. There was incense burning somewhere, and I could hear rushing water coming from a fountain at one end of the courtyard and the muted sound of bass coming from one of the rooms facing it. It was super tranquil and zen, a direct contrast to how I was feeling and I had to remind myself to chill.

As we rounded a corner, I heard voices up ahead and I instinctively dropped Dom’s hand and busied myself digging in my bag for my phone, suddenly self-conscious.

“Who’s here?” I asked, hoping I sounded casual. Dominic stopped walking and turned to look me in the eye again, “Why? You worried?” he asked and I shifted wondering if it was that obvious. My stomach emitted a low grumble and I realized that I was starving. I hadn’t eaten since earlier at lunch with Crys, and even then, the nerves that I was trying hard not acknowledge had only allowed me to pick at my food. A slow smile spread across Dominic’s face. “Relax, it’s just us,” he said. “I’m solo tonight.”

A few more steps and we reached a smoked glass door. “Besides, we won’t be here long… did you eat?” he asked holding the door open and motioning me inside. “No,” I said stepping into the private studio, “Did you?” I turned to find Dom still standing in the doorway. He hit a switch in a panel on the wall and the overhead lights dimmed, replaced by a bluish glow. He looked me up, then down, licked his lips and said, “Not yet.”

I laughed nervously, I couldn’t help it. “Umm… you need to quit,” I said avoiding his gaze and taking a seat in one of the rolling chairs. “What?” he asked, feigning innocence and taking a seat near me. “All of that,” I said gesturing at him. “And what’s up with the mood lighting?” I asked. “Aye, this is just how I work. If it gets you in the mood, that’s just a bonus,” he replied.

I rolled my eyes and my chair a little further away from him, putting some distance between us. Dominic turned to the spaceship-like console, pressed a few buttons and suddenly the room was filled with music. He nodded his head for a few beats, adjusted the volume until it was comfortable to talk over, and then he turned his attention to me.

“So, how do you feel?” he asked. “How do I feel?’ I repeated? “I mean, yea… Look I didn’t mean to dump all that on you… but now that you know how I feel, how do you feel?” He asked again. “So we’re just jumping right in, then.” I said, laughing again nervously. He shrugged and sat back in his seat, waiting. When I didn’t say anything more after a few seconds, he followed up with, “Cali, say word, you’ve never thought about us?”

The truth was, until the moment Dom let me know what he was feeling, I never had. I mean, I had… but I hadn’t. Of course I thought about us… our friendship… our history. But I didn’t think about us. Not like that… Ok, maybe once, when Crys had asked why we had never hooked up. Or that one time back in the day when Dom and I went out for drinks with his friend Kalan. We were hanging and clowning, telling stories about how Dom used to sic me on the girls he liked when we were younger, and Kalan had said something along the lines of, “I don’t know how this dude let you put him in the friend zone cause ain’t no way,” and we’d all laughed. But that was it. Wasn’t it?

In that brief moment, Dom read my hesitation and laughed. “Yea you’ve thought about it,” he said turning back to the mixing board. “You don’t know…” I said feeling a little flustered as I again busied myself, this time inspecting my manicure. Anything not to look him in his eyes. “It’s cool… you just weren’t ready then. I get it,” he said still focused on the board. “Ready? Ready for what?” I asked without looking up. “For me,” he’d said, simply. “You are now though, right?”

I finally glanced up to find Dom watching me. Our eyes locked. He reached for my chair and pulled, closing the distance between us. Before I could respond or react, he was holding my face in his hands, his touch both gentle and forceful. Then his hands were gripping the back of my neck, his tongue was in my mouth and suddenly, I couldn’t make sense of the jumble of thoughts racing through my mind. I knew I should stop but I didn’t want to. It had been so long and this felt so good. And so I gave in to the good feeling. I felt my hands reaching for him, and though that voice inside was screaming again, I let them explore, first his neck and the back of his head, then his chest and back. I was acutely aware of Dominic’s hands doing some exploring of their own and after what felt like forever but could only have been a few minutes, Dom took my hand and placed it in his lap and my breath caught in my throat. “You good?” he asked, his voice a whisper in my ear. And that was all it took. I snapped out of it, pulling away and catching my breath.

“What are we doing,” I asked breathlessly. “You tell me…” he replied.