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Authors: Nikki Woods

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“And I left your Christmas present underneath your bed. Don't open it until Christmas, Randy, or at the very earliest, Christmas Eve.” I delivered these instructions knowing full well green foil wrapping paper would be strewn all over his beige two-ply Berber carpet by ten o'clock tonight. The latest model HD video camera —searched for and purchased on the
Internet—was going to disappoint him. He would much prefer jewelry or clothing, but I was no longer, motivated to engage in that kind of personal shopping. Besides, Randy really did need to get organized and according to the advertisement this new-age gadget was better than a real-life, note-taking, Danish-bringing, secretary. There you have it, rationalization at its best.

I continued adjusting my seat into a reclining position but couldn't get comfortable, then it dawned on me. Randy's silence was making me uncomfortable, not the seat; so I flopped into a final position and stayed put.

“I hate that I'm gonna' miss your annual Christmas party. I bought a new dress and everything, red, tight, and slinky, just the way you like ‘em.”

Randy responded with effort, his deep voice pushing the words forward, “Well, then we'll have to find an occasion for you to wear it when you get back.” He patted my leg, a nervous attempt to mask the insincerity in his last statement.

“You're not too disappointed that you're not going to make this one, are you?” I asked.

He raised an eyebrow at my assumption and threw back casually, “Who said I wasn't going?”

Never lifting my head from the leather headrest, I turned and looked at him. “Well, I just thought . . .”

The cold glance on his face stopped me mid-sentence. It clearly said, ‘That's what you get for thinking.' The iciness in his sleep hooded eyes caught me off guard.

“So, who do you plan on taking?” I tried to be as nonchalant as possible. Even though our relationship did not fall into the “happily ever after” category, might not even fit into the three-more-months slot, still some rules and regulations applied. As of right now, Randy was still my property. I was not going to be disrespected—thus my line of questioning. I needed to know who was tap dancing on my territory.

“What are you talking about, Kingston?” Randy's half-hearted attempt at feigned innocence only fueled the fire.

“Did I stutter? I meant just what I said. Who are you taking to your company's Christmas party?”

The name ‘Cynthia' had to fight its way from between tensely gritted teeth. It sounded like it hurt. He switched on his turn signal, looked over his shoulder to make sure the coast was clear and merged to the right, the exit ramp for the airport blessedly less than a mile away.

“Your ex-girlfriend, Cynthia?”

“Yes, Kingston. My ex-girlfriend, Cynthia.” He paused, then exhaled, air rushing from his nostrils like a bull. “Is there a problem, Sweetheart?” he drawled. “If so, I really don't see what it is. You obviously can't go to the ball and Cynthia fits the bill.”

My blood boiled. “First of all, don't call me Sweetheart. And actually, Randy, there are a couple of problems. The first one being that Cynthia wants to get back with you so badly, she literally shakes each time she sees us together. She's been sweatin' you ever since we hooked up and you know this, but yet you're still gonna flaunt her in front of all your colleagues. That's just disrespectful.”

I paused slightly for effect. “And secondly, you must have already asked Miss Cynthia to go if she's already accepted. I mean, I didn't even know I was leaving until three hours ago.” The third problem went unsaid. Cynthia just happened to be a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, very white debutante who had never once stepped foot on the South side, not even to visit Randy. And if that wasn't bad enough, she was an heiress to a billion-dollar tobacco fortune. Randy was her “ doing good in the hood” project for almost two years.

My words were low and steady. “What's the deal, Randy?” Bullets sat on my tongue, aimed to pierce the jugular should I have detected even the tiniest bit of bull. One look at his face and I might as well have tattooed “busted” on his forehead.

“You know this isn't working, Kingston.” He blinked rapidly, sweat beading on his forehead. O'Hare International Airport loomed right in front of us, poking out through the early morning fog like a giant phallic symbol.

“I do know this isn't working. But correct me if I'm wrong, shouldn't you quit one job before moving on to a new one; or in this case, I should say going back to an old one?”

“I was going to tell you, Kingston.”

I locked and loaded. “When, Randy? I've already bought the dress and shoes, scheduled the hair appointment, everything. Your nail appointment is the same day as mine! So, when exactly were you going to tell me? When Cynthia and I both showed up at the same party because you weren't man enough to tell me the truth?”

Randy maneuvered alongside the curb directly in front of the terminal and threw the car into park. He sat back in his seat as if trying to think of an answer that wouldn't totally set me off. Two minutes later, he was still quiet. He knew when a black woman was about to snap past mad to “way out of control.” He popped the trunk, then slid from his seat to the back of the car and in one fluid motion, began to pull my luggage out. I stomped from my side of the car, waved him off, and did it myself, signaling a skycap in a spiffy red jacket to load it up on a dolly. I started to walk away, then that womanly instinct hit me like a brick. I turned back and faced Randy as he was about to fold himself back into his Benz. The Bastard.

“Are you sleeping with her?”

He stared at me blankly, his jaw slack. He opened his mouth, then closed it just as quickly. Nothing else needed to be said—by him or me. Besides, I had more important things to worry about. And lying, cheating, broke men barely fell into the top ten. Chalk this one up to a lesson already learned by a million women the world over. I shook my head sorrowfully. I didn't even get to share my news about Scooby with him.

But as quickly as the thought came it left. I had more important things than Randy to focus on. Worrying about this was just a waste of my time.

Chapter 4

My nonstop Air Jamaica flight scheduled to take off more than forty-five minutes earlier still sat idling on the runway, delayed so the wings could be defrosted. It was expected, so I bypassed the irritable and pissed-off phase and settled decidedly in the resigned stage. The lady sitting in the seat on my right hand side—her hair overly teased and dyed an unimaginative shade of red—was fidgeting and fussing, trying to memorize the safety instructions on the air mask as the flight attendant whined another update over the loudspeaker. The complaining that seeped through her falsely-full lips, stained Bubble Gum Pink, amazed me. I would much rather arrive at my destination late and safe as opposed to the other option—not making it at all.

The ruddy-faced man seated to my left had already requested a complimentary bottle of scotch and a can of orange juice. “Flying makes me nervous,” he said, gratefully accepting his medicinal mixture from the flight attendant while ogling her more than generous breasts.

“Hi, my name is Jim,” he added as an afterthought and it took all I had to bite back a comment about his last name being Beam.

Instead, I shook his beefy hand. “Kingston,” I replied shortly and flipped open an airline magazine.

Jim was not discouraged. “Business or pleasure?”

“Neither.” I solidly met his gaze. “My grandmother just died. I'm going to the funeral.”

“Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. So your grandmother was Jamaican?”

I nodded simply.

“I thought you looked exotic.” He memorized my facial features, then snapping his fingers, he came up with an answer. “Sort of like that model, Iman.”

“Iman is from Somalia.”

“Yeah, right,” he said as if it was all the same thing to him. Jim swirled the light brown liquor in the tiny plastic cup before thrusting it toward me. “You mind?”

I shrugged and held the cup while he shifted his cumbersome body in the undersized seat, sticking his elbow in my side as he struggled to fasten his seat belt, then reclaim the prized cup.

He tipped the plastic cup to his lips as I reached up and adjusted the vent. The cool breeze blew lightly on my face and I felt better. How I longed for the day when first-class flying with its additional elbowroom, leather seats, free top-shelf drinks, and food that tastes like something other than cardboard would be my reality. For now, I shrunk into my seat to avoid any additional contact from either side, pulled out the latest whodunit from James Patterson, sighed, and awaited departure.

After another fifty-eight minutes and minimal turbulence, we were gliding through the air. Jim—as I learned was short for James—snored, his breath catching every other time he sucked in oxygen. Spittle congealed in the corner of his mouth. Barbie Doll Sue had skipped off
to an empty seat closer to the back of the plane. “To join my tanning buddies,” she explained as she crushed my toes while reaching into the overhead compartment. It wasn't long before a disgruntled Asian man shuffled up the aisle and plopped in the seat next to me. Obviously not happy at trading seats, he stuck his nose in a book and sulked.

The silence was welcomed, but at the same time it was overwhelming. My thoughts continually floated back to Mama Grace. Her passing was no surprise, she was well over ninety years old and pretty sickly toward the end. The doctor had advised me that most of her ailments just came with the territory. Even with that said, I could have done more for her. It certainly didn't help that Mama Grace was in Jamaica and I in Chicago. I sent money; I called and wrote, but would my presence have meant more to Mama Grace? Shouldas, wouldas, couldas were designed to send one on a guilt-tripped ride. And if that wasn't enough, Randy kept shouldering his way into my head. No doubt we would have broken up eventually, but it irritated me that it wasn't on my terms. My heart wasn't hurt, but my pride sure was.

“Not worth my time,” I swore again softly and Jim choked himself awake before resettling with his head on my shoulder. No amount of nudging moved him. A long two and a half-hours passed before the flight attendant called for seatbelts to be fastened and chairs to be returned to an upright position. I elbowed Jim sharply in his side and he shot straight up. I repacked my small carry-on bag, made sure my papers were in order, and wiped a tear from the corner of my eye before it had a chance to travel too far. This was not about Randy. I knew that another one like him would come skipping along in no time. No, this was about the dream. The
dreams that daddies tell their little girls as they tuck them into bed, dreams of Prince Charmings on white horses who whisper of that special, poetic, forever kind of love.

As the plane made its final approach, I knew that as sure as I had left one country to be in another, I had just left another piece of that dream behind.

Chapter 5

The plane dipped dangerously close to the sea before righting itself and touching down on the narrow landing strip of the Norman Manley International Airport located right off the Kingston Harbor. A slight haze covered the Blue Mountains as they rose majestically in the background and the long finger of the Palisades curled enticingly out into the sea.

My legs tingled as I twisted in my seat, slowly rolling one foot, then the other, before my toes came to life.

Jim polished off a final plastic bottle of scotch, then breathed heavily in my face before scooting into the aisle. “Enjoy your stay.” He frowned, then added thickly, “Well, as much as you can.”

I fought against the urge to flip him the finger and waited until the other passengers had finished hustling though the exit doors, jostling luggage and elbowing people with hurried sorries and apologetic looks. Didn't they know they had just arrived in the one place where time really did stand still? Where the phrase, “soon come” could mean five minutes, two days or a lifetime.

A feeling of peace washed in with the salty dampness of the ocean. The pungent smell of the rubber trees combined with the persistent heat, vibrant sounds, and glorious colors all meshed to weave a fabric that cloaked me, protected me. I was home.

The sun beamed overhead and a humid breeze gently rolled across my back. Finally, I slipped on my tortoiseshell Liz Claiborne shades and looked on top of the airport at the hundreds of family and friends, in a sea of color, cheering and waving; the majority anxious for a glimpse of their loved ones, the rest have nothing better to do with their time.

I scanned the throng of waiting relatives, but already knew that no one would be standing up top waiting for me. My Uncle Winston—who for the last thirty-five years had been designated as the airport pick-up person — would be in the parking lot leaning against his truck, one leg kicked lazily across the other.

“Cha na man! Why fight the crowd when you have to meet me in the parking lot anyway?” he always asked with a shrug.

Thick brown-skinned women attired in the colors of the Jamaican flag—yellow, green, and black—greeted each passenger, while carefully balancing baskets of fruit on their heads.

They grandly swayed their hips in wide circles and sang the Jamaican National Anthem: “
From riverside to mountain, From cane field to the sea, Our hearts salute Jamaica, Triumphant, proud and free.

A sign, “Welcome to Jamaica” hung above their heads, featuring a skinny ass white woman with a hunky overly tanned white man in speedos, drinking a margarita served by a plain, round-faced brown Jamaican woman with a mammy rag on her head.

A handsome, smartly dressed customs officer detained me for a few minutes, even though my papers were in order. He gave me the once-over with sparkling brown eyes, his teeth white and straight. His smile was marred only by the gap between the two front ones—the left yellow, the right gold. He moved aside my stash of books and fondled my Victoria's Secret lingerie with a sneer. My lacy purple bra twirled on the same finger that sported a dull gold wedding band.

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