Authors: Tiffany Patterson
Tags: #Black Burlesque
“Great, I’m sure I won’t need anything though,” Mercedes responded. She looked him up and down. He wore a pair of dark blue slacks and a light blue button up shirt, with a pair of freshly polished black Stefano Bemer shoes. Mercedes unconsciously bit her lower lip. It didn’t matter what he wore, Raul always looked like he just stepped off the runway. She bet he looked even better naked…
“I’m sure, but in the event you should need me, I’m just a phone call away,” Raul said, interrupting her fantasy. She looked in his eyes and saw the knowing glint in them. With a few steps he closed the gap between them and pulled her into his arms. Before she could even protest he swooped down and placed a lingering kiss goodbye on her lips. She absentmindedly tilted her head to grant him better access to her mouth. The kiss was brief, and before she could gain her bearings it ended. Raul placed another kiss on her forehead and turned to head out the door.
“Don’t forget to put in the alarm code once I leave,” he reminded her. Mercedes was brought back to reality as she heard the door close. She walked over to punch in the code, marveling at how his kiss had the ability to make time stop. She shivered a little just thinking of the feel of his lips on hers.
Yeah it’s definitely time to put some distance between us.
They hadn’t even had sex yet, and she was already losing track of time and reality when he kissed her. Besides, maybe the whole stalker thing was over with. She hadn’t received any new threats. No hang up calls to her knowledge, at least not on her cell phone. And in New York there hadn’t been a trace of any threats. She planned to talk to Raul about it later that night. She knew he probably wouldn’t like her going back to her apartment, but it was her life and she wanted to get back to what she knew. Maybe she could convince Raul to hire one of his men to check in on her at her own apartment. That way, she could have her distance and still be kept safe.
A she worked at designing her costumes, over the next few hours, Mercedes convinced herself more and more that going back home was the right thing to do. She thought about how she was going to break it to Raul that she was going back to her apartment. Just when she thought she had a plan in place, her phone rang. Looking at the number she found it odd that this person would be calling her.
“Hi Ron, how are you?” Mercedes asked, answering the phone. Ron Sherman was the principal at her school. Mercedes, along with two other assistant principals, worked closely with Ron to ensure the success of their school. It was their summer break, and though they all worked well together, most of the administrators at the school didn’t talk to one another over the summer until a few weeks before the fall semester started. Most of the staff made plans to go away with family or just take time off to decompress from the busy school year. The fact that Ron was calling Mercedes in the middle of July sent alarm bells off in her head.
“Hi Mercedes. I’m sorry to interrupt your day, but I was wondering if you were in town and had time to meet me at the school today?”
Mercedes could hear in his voice that whatever this issue was, it was serious. She wondered if someone on their staff or one of their students had been hurt. A few years ago a student of theirs was killed in a car accident over the summer break, and Mercedes received a similar phone call.
“Sure Ron. Is everything okay?” she asked feeling her anxiety grow.
“Uh well, everything is fine. We just need to talk to you.”
“We?” Hearing it was more than just Ron who wanted to speak with her caused the hairs on the back of Mercedes’ neck to stand up.
“Yes, myself and Superintendent Walters.” Mercedes was now standing. If the superintendent of schools was going to be there, it must be something serious.
“O-okay. When did you want to meet?” she asked trying to keep her voice calm.
“We were hoping today. As soon as possible,” Ron responded.
“I can be there in thirty minutes,” Mercedes answered.
“Great, we will see you in thirty minutes,” Ron said, before hanging up the phone.
Mercedes didn’t like the sound of this. She wondered if she was being terminated, and if so, for what reason. She had an impeccable record as both a teacher and as an assistant principal. Mercedes had to admit that the job could be demanding. In fact, she’d had a couple of run-ins with new teachers, but nothing too serious. Besides, she never let differences get in the way of doing her job. Mercedes went upstairs to change into a plum colored business skirt and matching blazer. She was not sure what this meeting was about, but did not want to show up looking unprofessional. She thought about calling Raul or leaving a message with his assistant, but decided against it. She assumed she’d be back long before Raul got off. He didn’t have to know she ever left.
Once Mercedes arrived at the school, she was greeted by Ron’s assistant, Marcy. Marcy welcomed Mercedes and told her Ron was still meeting with the superintendent, and that he’d be with her shortly. As she waited, Mercedes’ nervousness grew. By now, she figured this wasn’t something about one of their students or staff, but about her. She went over and over in her head any possible complaints of misconduct or disagreements she had with parents or staff. She remembered none. There were a few minor disagreements of teaching style she had with members of the teaching staff, but nothing of major importance. After about ten minutes of waiting, Ron’s door opened and he came out to meet Mercedes. Ron was about five-eleven and his almond colored skin looked a little darker than the last time she’d saw him. She figured his tan was a result of his recent vacation to the Bahamas with his wife and children.
“Mercedes, thank you for coming down on such a short notice,” he greeted her with a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes. Mercedes wanted to ask if she really had a choice, but held her tongue.
“Hi Ron, it’s no problem. Can you tell me what this is about?” she asked not wanting to beat around the bush with small talk.
Ron nodded. “Why don’t we step into my office? Superintendent Walters is here as well,” Ron said, gesturing for Mercedes to proceed to his office. As she entered the room, she saw the superintendent sitting at the wooden round table, in the corner of Ron’s office. Mercedes moved to the table and greeted Superintendent Walters with a handshake. Mrs. Walters was about five inches shorter than Mercedes, but her professional attitude and demeanor gave her a commanding presence. Mrs. Walters spent two decades teaching and then working her way up on the administration side of the Atlanta Public School system before taking over the role of superintendent of this charter school system. She was responsible for the oversight of five major charter schools in Atlanta. Mercedes looked at the woman’s peach colored skin, greying hair that actually served to give her a presence of regality. Superintendent Walters was a tough leader, but she had always been fair and commanded the best of her staff and her students. Mercedes could tell by the look on Walters’ face, this meeting was not a friendly call.
“Please, have a seat, Ms. Holmes,” Walters requested as she sat in her own seat. Ron followed, pulling out a chair for himself. It wasn’t until she sat down, that Mercedes noticed an opened laptop in the middle of the table, and an envelope sitting on the table next to it.
Superintendent Walters started. “Ms. Holmes, some disturbing bit of information has come to our attention.”
Mercedes raised an eyebrow, but remained silent.
“A couple of days ago, Mr. Sherman and I received separate packages in the mail. They were DVDs of some recorded, uh, performances of yours.” She had said the word ‘performances’, with a hint of admonishment.
“I’m sorry, you said you received videotaped performances of me? What were these performances?” Mercedes believed Walters was talking about her burlesque performances, but did not want to assume. She remembered back to when Devyn had been blackmailed by her ex after he secretly recorded them having sex. She didn’t want to believe someone was doing the same thing to her.
“They looked like they were taking place at some club, in front of an audience,” Walters stated. Mercedes almost sighed in relief. She was relieved to find out that this wasn’t some sort of sex tape, but then the realization that one of her burlesque performances had been mailed to her bosses left her stunned.
“Like I was saying, Mr. Sherman and I received these DVDs on the same day. At first, we did not think much of it. We realize our staff has a life outside of this building, and you weren’t doing anything illegal. However…” Superintendent Walters paused and looked at Ron. Mercedes felt her heart sink as she looked between Ron and Walters.
She knew she was not going to like what Walters said next.
“…the following day,” he continued. “We began getting calls and emails from some of our students’ parents. It seems whoever sent this DVD to us, also sent it to a number of parents. Many of them were understandably upset.” Mercedes nearly slumped back in her chair. She felt like she’d just gotten the wind knocked out of her. Did someone really send the parents of her students a video of her burlesque performances? Mercedes made it a point not to get too personal with the members of her staff. She never told anyone at her school she danced burlesque. Superintendent Walters was right, what each staff member did in their private life, was just that, private. Mercedes was not ashamed of her performing, and never would be. However, she recognized that not everyone was as progressive as she was, and that some people saw burlesque as a form of whoring oneself, for lack of a better term. Mercedes was all too familiar with the strict rigidity of the super religious and conservative crowd, having been raised in it.
“Is that the DVD?” Mercedes asked motioning toward the DVD case that sat next to the laptop.
“Yes, it is,” Walters said, nodding her head.
“Can I see it?” Mercedes saw Ron look questioningly at Walters, before she nodded her head in agreement. Ron slid the laptop closer to him and placed the DVD to play it. Within seconds, Mercedes saw herself on stage at the Black Kitty dancing to Nina Simone’s
as she danced and stripped down to her revealing thong and pasties. Out of the corner of her eye, Mercedes saw Ron avert his eyes from the screen and clear his throat before turning off the DVD.
“This note was also attached to the copy that was sent to the parents,” Ron said sliding over a folded white piece of paper.
The note read:
Is this who you want teaching your children?
Mercedes closed her eyes as all of this sank in. Whoever was stalking her definitely had not given up. They were now targeting her career. Mercedes felt the need to defend herself.
“This is ridiculous. Whoever sent these letters is violating my privacy,” she said trying to keep her voice even.
“Well technically, Ms. Holmes you’re performing for the public so no privacy violation was committed,” Walters reminded Mercedes.
“Yes, but the sending of these videos to the parents? That has to be some kind of violation of privacy. As you stated Superintendent Walters, what staff does in our private time should not be called into question as long as it is not illegal. I have never done anything against the law, and I certainly never brought anything to do with my performing into my professional career,” Mercedes was barely keeping her rising anger in check.
“Ms. Holmes, that is our school’s policy, but now that this has been brought to the attention of the parents of our school, we have to look further into this. A number of parents are upset about what they saw. And...” Walters held up her hand to stop Mercedes who opened her mouth to defend herself, “...and I agree with you, nothing on this tape is illegal, but there is a matter of ethics. Some parents are questioning if someone who strips on the side can be a good role model for their children.” Walters’ last comment made Mercedes see red.
stripping, and though I personally do not believe there is anything wrong with strippers or stripping, I must inform you that burlesque has a long history of performance in this country and many others. It is a legitimate art form.” Mercedes was pissed. She was angered that whoever was stalking her would target her career like this, and she was angered at the way Walters was looking down her nose at burlesque performers.
“Ms. Holmes, I understand you’re upset, but you must understand our position. Parents are contacting us asking if we are teaching their children to strip in class. I know that sounds preposterous to you, but until we do a full investigation and make sure no codes of conduct were violated, we’re going to place you on administrative leave.” Mercedes was confused. Administrative leave? They were in the middle of summer. There weren’t any classes going on. What exactly would this administrative leave entail?
“So, what does this mean?” she asked looking Superintendent Walters directly in the eye.
“Mercedes,” Ron interjected, “We’ll have to review with our legal team to make sure your performing does not violate the ethical clause in your contract, and then we will meet with the board of directors to see what they want to do. We are also meeting with the parents who’ve shown concern over the DVD,” he finished.
“How long will that take?” Mercedes asked, looking between the both of them.
Superintendent Walters spoke up this time, “Well some members of the board are on vacation and I am going away next week for two weeks--”
“So this could take all the way up to the fall semester, possibly longer?” Mercedes asked, cutting Walters off.