“Professor, you made it!”
My friends chirp excitedly as I reach their table. I unwrap my rose-colored cashmere pashmina, plop down onto the booth seat, and exhale, “Finally.”
“We ordered a few apps,” Samantha tells me as our usual waiter, Tony, makes his way over with a tray laden with dishes.
“Chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, and mac and cheese balls.” Tony places the delicious-smelling plates onto the center of the table. “Can I get you ladies anything else?”
“An order of nachos please,” Fawn orders, looking up from the cat picture she’s meticulously coloring with crayons. The veterinarian can be a bit obsessive about staying in the lines. I’ve often wondered if coloring is truly relaxing for her.
“Yes! An order of nachos sounds delicious. Can I also get some of the sliders?” I ask, plucking a mozzarella cheese stick from the plate and dunking it into the marinara sauce. “And a cosmopolitan please.”
Having missed lunch due to an unplanned meeting with the library curator between lectures, I hum softly as I take a bite of the perfectly crispy stick.
“An old-fashioned and an order of the glazed meatballs too,” Samantha adds, looking up from where she’s cracking open her Disney Princess coloring book. She breaks the spine, forcing the pages to lie flat on the table.
“Good choice,” I mutter around my bite as I carefully eat the piping-hot cheesy, gooey goodness. “I’m starving. I didn’t eat lunch.”
“I’ll put your orders in and be right back with your cocktails.” Tony smiles and moves off to a chorus of thank yous.
“Skipping lunch?” Samantha asks sternly, looking up from selecting a colored pencil from her carefully organized case.
I stick out my tongue at her, grinning as I reach into my bag to pull out my coloring book and pencil case. Fawn giggles around the chicken finger she’s bitten into.
“The turn-of-the-century cameras arrived today.” They’ll understand how excited I was about their arrival. I’ve been talking about little else for weeks. “So I got a little distracted between my two classes.”
“We’re coming to the opening,” Samantha says, and Fawn nods.
My heart warms from the love and support I receive from my friends. They’ll make time in their busy schedules to come support me on Friday night when the library’s exhibit opens. Despite having my girl gang behind me, I still wish I had someone to share my passions with—a Daddy.
“How’s the case going?” I ask Samantha. She’s a lawyer in the district attorney’s office and has been working on prosecuting a ring of car thieves. Even if I didn’t know her, the news has been on every local blog and newspaper, telling everyone just how lucrative it is stripping old cars and selling their hard-to-find parts online.
“You know I can’t discuss a pending case,” she states, waving a bright pink pencil at me. “Off the record, things look good for a successful prosecution.”
“You’re going to kick ass, Sam,” Fawn states, pointing a well-loved red crayon in her direction. “You always do.”
Samantha blushes and refocuses on her coloring. Despite her confident exterior, my friend has trouble taking compliments, especially when they’re well deserved.
“And what about you, doc?” I snag a chicken finger from the plate, giggling. “Did you neuter anyone today?”
“Not today.” She grins. “Today, I cuddled a litter of kittens who needed vaccinations. But tomorrow is neutering day at the clinic.”
“Do you do humans too?” Samantha asks with a smile before thickly swallowing a mozzarella stick. “I know a few colleagues who would benefit from it.”
Fawn and I burst into laughter.
This is why I force myself to join my friends even when I’m tired or have had a bad day and would rather go home to curl up on the sofa and watch Beauty and the Beast for the trillionth time. In the end, I always feel happier and lighter once I spend time with them.
Today is a perfect example. Not only was I busy all day dealing with the various responsibilities that come with my adult job, but I also received several creepy text messages from an unknown number, asking if I was behaving myself. I ignored them, crossing my fingers they weren’t meant for me.
Shortly after moving to town five years ago, when I took the position as a history of photography professor, I became active in various local groups as a way to make friends. I joined the library’s book club, the cycling club the local gym organizes, and I attended several adult coloring evenings. There, I met a group of professionals who are also littles in their private lives. We now meet weekly at the local ski resort’s restaurant for cocktails and coloring.
The restaurant here has amazing appetizers and happy hour cocktails. Aside from certain times of the year, the restaurant is quiet during the week. It’s the perfect place to meet, relax, enjoy each other’s company, and dream of finding our Daddy or Mommy. It’s the best night of the week.
“How’s the rest of the planning for parents’ weekend going?” Fawn asks.
“Really good,” I tell her excitedly, picking up my pencil and coloring Belle’s dress. “We had an impromptu department meeting right before I left, to discuss our plans. They want the new photography professor, Etienne Martin, and me to run workshops for the parents that weekend.”
The college was ecstatic they had been able to get the famous nature photographer onto our faculty for several of the practical photography courses. I’m the current faculty advisor for the photography club on campus, though Professor Martin will be taking it over, and I teach several history of photography courses.
“Oh!” Fawn looks up. “I follow him on Instagram. I just love his animal pictures.”
“You would,” I tease.
She sticks out her tongue at me, making me laugh. “Is he as gorgeous in real life as in his profile picture?”
“More.” I sigh, remembering how he smiled when he sat next to me in the conference room. His blue eyes were bright, his lip quirked, and the hardness of his large body seemed to melt into the chair beside me. My entire being had hummed with desire.
“That’s not possible,” Fawn argues.
“He smells good too,” I say a bit dreamily. “Like falling leaves and sunshine.”
“You’re smitten,” Samantha states, pointing the end of her colored pencil at me and smiling.
I don’t know how not to be attracted to the intelligent and ruggedly handsome man who shares my love for and knowledge of photography. We spoke for several minutes after the meeting and agreed to meet later this week to discuss our plans for parent’s weekend. Professor Martin also told me how much he’s looking forward to attending the opening of the library’s new antique camera collection. I felt ridiculously giddy when we swapped business cards with our email addresses. The slight brush of his fingers against mine sent a jolt of longing through me.
“It doesn’t matter. You know how small my department is. I could never date a coworker.” I sigh, deflating from the memory of this afternoon. “Plus, I want a Daddy.”
“You deserve one,” Samantha states emphatically, giving me a sideways hug.
“We all do!” I say.
“I just wish there was a secret handshake, so you’d know if they were a Daddy or not,” Fawn grumbles, glancing toward the bar where several groups of men are enjoying beers.
“There is,” Samantha teases. “It’s called a spanking.”
Our table erupts into a fit of giggles, some of them more nervous than others.
“Not sure you ladies need these,” Tony mutters, setting our cocktails in front of us.
Thanking him, I pick up my glass and take a restorative sip.
“Your food will be right out,” he tells us before disappearing as quickly as he arrived.
“Did you make any more students cry today, professor?” Samantha grins at me as she sips her old-fashioned.
“It was only that one time.” I roll my eyes. “She thought crying would get me to raise her failing grade, but it only pissed me off.”
“You better be careful,” Fawn states in mock seriousness. “Karma will get you, and your Daddy will be a hard-ass too.”
“As long as he has a great ass, I don’t care.” I grab a mac and cheese ball and take a bite.
“Be careful what you wish for.” Samantha snickers, unzipping her pencil case and selecting several more colors.
Over the next hour, more littles join our group as they get off from work. We eat, drink, and color in companionable silence broken occasionally by friendly chatter and going over the plans for our next group outing in two weeks—a tour and tasting at the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. Samantha, Fawn, and I organize an event every other month or so for the group. It has been a great way for me to explore Vermont and uncover all the hidden fun to be had.
“Be right back,” I tell Samantha, who is sitting next to me, as I set down my colored pencil and close my coloring book. “I’ve got to hit the little girls’ room.”
“Hurry up, or I’m finishing those nachos,” she warns.
Fawn reaches across the table to steal a nacho while Samantha isn’t looking, giving me a playful grin.
I wrap my pashmina tighter around my body, snag my phone from the table and tuck it into my pocket, then make my way through the restaurant. As I reach the bar, my phone vibrates. Pulling it out of my pocket, I read the messages as I walk toward the restrooms.
Unknown Number: Are you being a good little girl?
Unknown Number: I’m watching you.
My steps falter as my heart pounds.
“Watch where you’re going, little girl.”
I jump, and two large hands curl around my shoulders as I run into someone. Looking up from the screen, I’m hit by the deep, ocean-blue eyes of Professor Etienne Martin.
“Good evening, professor.”
His deep voice barely penetrates as I anxiously look around for whoever texted me.
“Did you just text me?” I ask, almost hoping he’s the person who sent me the messages today. Even though the idea is creepy and would lower his hotness factor by about ninety-seven percent.
“No.” He looks confused.
“Are you sure?” The greasy sliders in my stomach are sliding around, making me queasy.
“Yes.” The space between his eyes pinches together before smoothing out. “You haven’t given me your cell phone number yet.”
“Right, sorry.” I try to smile and move around him.
His sternness, the Daddy-ness, halts my steps and forces me to slowly turn around. He crooks his finger. Wordlessly, I take two steps back to stand in front of him.
He says gently, “What’s the matter?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” I attempt to assure him.
“Show me.” He takes my phone from my trembling fingers and glances at the string of text messages. “When did these messages start?”
“Today,” I say. “I’m sure it’s a wrong number.”
“Or not,” he growls as my phone buzzes in his hand and another message appears. Etienne’s head jerks up as his gaze darts around the deserted hallway.