God: Thank you for EVERYTHING.
To Wendy, Tati, and Nati: I love you!
To Mom, Dad, Daren, Teyana, Evan, Granny, Grandmother, and the rest of my family: Love you all! Pat, Mike, Christina: it hasn't been easy, but we're surviving. Kirt: still and always will be in your corner, kid.
To my friends: Too many to name, but you know who you are. My Friday night Xbox 360 crew: Chris, Scott, Gregg, Russ, Jay, Shawn, Steve: is there a better guys' hangout! Bring your A game!
To Carl, Martha, Arvita, Roy, and the rest of the Urban Books team: Thanks for caring about our careers. To La Jill Hunt . . . who got your back, twin? Red . . . you're an Eagles fan, but I still got love for you. Eric Pete: Can't stop. Won't stop. Believe that. Now hurry and come on over the 360 side of the force! Robilyn Heath: You know you're still the Mother Hen. Portia Cannon: BIG love for you! Thank you a million times.
To the peeps I've met through myspace.com . . . thanks for shouting out and letting me know you enjoy the books. Peron: man the time is coming.
To the book clubs: One Book @ A Time, the African Violets Book Club, The Sweet Soul Sisters Book Club, African American Sisters In Spirit Book Club, Sisters In Spirit II, Brown Sugar Sistahs With Books, Page Turnas Book Club, For Da Sista's Book Club, Aminia Book Club, Circle Of Sisters, Ujima Nia, Sister 2 Sister Book Club, Ebony Jewels Book Club, Sistah On The Reading Edge, Cushcity.com Book Club, Between the Covers Literary Group . . . I TRULY, TRULY enjoyed meeting with you all and I loved each and every lively discussion. Believe me, I am the one who is honored. I sincerely and anxiously look forward to meeting with you all again! For those that I haven't had a chance to visit YET . . . I thank you for choosing my books to read, and I look forward to meeting with you.
To the readers: My deepest thanks for supporting my work. Please keep the e-mails and reviews coming. I truly appreciate them. Missy “Misher-ald” Brown . . . much thanks!!
To my New York Giants: Tiki . . . all the fans miss you already. Eli . . . your time to shine. That Super Bowl is coming!!
Tina called my cell again. That made twenty times in three days. You would think that when I didn't answer or call back after the first ten calls, she would have gotten the hint and given up. But not her. She just wouldn't accept the fact that I was through with her. We'd been apart for more than three years, but she still swore that we were each other's soul mates, and insisted that no matter how much time passed, one day I'd come to my senses and realize she was the woman for me. Yeah right. Straight up, Tina was a nut job. I swear she has multiple personalities. Some days she could be really laid-back and pleasant to be around, and then other days she'd be the most conniving, crabby, self-centered bitch who'd have me wondering if she had permanent residence down in the underworld. If that wasn't enough, she could be so emotionally unstable sometimes that looking at her wrong would cause her to become depressed and as needy as a two-year-old.
If having a dual personality wasn't her problem, then I'd say being bipolar was. I'd actually made the mistake one day of saying that to her, and even worse, suggesting that maybe she see a doctor for a little help. Without even giving me a chance to explain where I had been coming from, Tina flew off the handle, literally spitting curse words in my face. Guess I should have expected that, considering the fact that she'd never really had the capacity to be rational.
Tina's a high-maintenance headache and a half. And with her modeling career having taken off, you couldn't say shit to her about anything. With her divinely blessed physique and beauty, Tina floated up into her own made-up stratosphere, high above the rest of us. Like Mr. T, I pitied the next fool that wound up being her man. Of course, that all depended on whether she'd leave me the hell alone. Had I been able to see past her sex appeal and damn near perfect pussy, I would have jumped ship before she had the chance to become tied to me forever.
I'd finally moved on and found peace and happiness with my fiancÃ©e, Monique, who I met a year after I'd finally officially broken things off with Tina. At that time, I wasn't looking to hook up with any other women; at least not for a relationship. After all of the shit I'd gone through with Tina, I just wanted to live unattached and drama free. But I guess since I wasn't out looking for love, love decided to look for me. I just wish it had found me before Tina had the chance to stop taking her birth control pills because they “caused cancer.”
My daughter, Jalisa, had been born during the first of the two years I'd lasted with Tina. Now don't get me wrong, having Jalisa in my life is a blessing that I wouldn't trade for the world. I love my little princess and would give up my own life if it would save hers. I just wish that I could have had her with Monique. But as it is, Tina's my daughter's mother. Wish she wasn't, but that's just the way it is. Only because I wanted Jalisa to have as normal a life as she could going back and forth between parents, did I put up with Tina's shit as she stopped at nothing to consistently throw a monkey wrench into the life that Monique and I were trying to build together. Hence the blowing up of my cell and her attempts to get me back, such as the last time we'd spoken.
“How's my little girl doing?”
Nice and normal; that's how the call started out.
Short and to the point, I wanted her to know that the last thing I wanted to do was be on the phone with her.
“Is she eating properly?”
“I haven't been reported for starving her yet.”
“Is she doing her schoolwork?”
A sigh. “Tell her I miss her and can't wait to see her.”
“Speaking of which, when are you going to be back? I thought the assignment was only supposed to last two weeks. You know you only have her for four months. You're losing one already, and there is no getting it back or getting extra time.”
“We ran into a storm and the shoot was delayed for a week. We should be finished soon.”
“How long does it take to snap a photo?”
“You know it's not that easy, Randall. Besides, I'm not the only model here. Of course, if you are that worried about my time with her, you could just hop on a plane and bring her here. The Bahamas are beautiful this time of the year, and it would give the three of us some good quality time together.”
So began the transition of the conversation. Like a sucker, I took the bait.
“We don't need quality time, Tina. We're not a family.”
“Randall, don't say that. We are a family. We should be together. That's how God planned it.”
“Don't bring God into this. We're Jalisa's parents, and that's all.”
“And why do you think He gave us Jalisa?”
I sighed but didn't respond, hoping that Tina would see that I wasn't interested in the answer. Of course my non-response meant nothing.
“He gave us that beautiful little girl to keep you and me together because He knows a good thing when He designs one.”
“So now God is a designer?”
“Of course. He plans everything, and everything happens according to His plan. You and I met, fell in love, and had Jalisa. Planned. You're only delaying the inevitable by keeping us apart.”
“Tina . . .”
“Randy, you and I are a natural fit. Why do you keep denying what you know is the truth.”
“Tina . . .” I started again.
“Soul mates, Randy. Look it up. Our picture is there.”
I clenched my jaws and squeezed my eyes shut tightly, knowing that if I didn't get off of the phone as soon as possible, I was going to get a migraine. “Tina, I have to get going, okay. I have plans.”
Tina hmmph'd. “Plans with who? That yellow bitch?”
And so the migraine ensued. “All right,” I said holding back the urge to toss my phone across the room, “conversation over. You want to call and talk about Jalisa, that's fine. But I told you the last time we talked that if you had any negative things to say about Monique, tell them to someone else. I don't have time for your fucking teenage bullshit.”
“Randy, baby, I'm sorry. Don't hang up yet. Please. Don't be mad.”
“Randy, wait. Please. Look, I'm sorry, okay. I know it was unnecessary and I was wrong for going there. It's just that . . . that . . .” Tina paused for a brief second and when she continued, she did so with tears. “I just love you so much. We fit together so well. Much more than you and that . . . that . . . We just belong together, and we should be together. It's what's right.”
“I'm hanging up, Tina. Call me when you get back in the States and call before you come to pick Jalisa up. I don't want Monique around when you come by.”
“And why the hell not? Are you afraid that bitch will finally understand that she's outclassed and will leave you?”
Without a response, I ended the call. That was pretty much the pattern of our exchanges whenever she called. We just used different words. It was damn frustrating. Jalisa was the only reason I made any effort at all to be civil with her, because I figured the worst thing I could do was to let her see her mother and father going at it. My mother understood my reasoning, but felt I was still being too nice, and insisted that if I didn't start putting my foot down, sooner or later Tina and her bullshit were going to damage my relationship with Monique. Of course, that was the last thing I wanted to have happen.
From the first moment we met, we connected. I was in the mall struggling to find a stylish outfit for my mother's birthday. Shopping has never been one of my favorite things to do and after two hours of maybe and maybe nots, I was ready to call it quits and go with a gift certificate. That's when I bumped into Monique. Literally. I hadn't been paying attention to where I was going when we collided, and I caused her to drop a few of the bags she'd been holding. It took me a couple of seconds to react and apologize and help her pick up her things because when my eyes first settled on her, I found myself immediately captivated by a pair of feline light-brown eyes that were a cross somewhere between sensuality and mystery. As a matter of fact, I would have probably continued to stare at her, had she not cleared her throat.
I quickly said I was sorry a multitude of times and hurried to get her things. She smiled a beautiful smile with lips so perfect and full and held up her hand. “I'm fine, really,” she'd said. She smiled again, and I could tell she was going to continue on with her own business, but I didn't want our meeting to end there. I extended my hand.
“Monique,” she said, slipping hers in mine.
“I apologize again. I don't make it a habit to not pay attention to where I'm going and bump into beautiful women.”
She smiled that smile again. “No harm, no foul. Luckily for you I didn't have anything that was breakable,” she said, winking at me.
I smiled. “True.”
“You were obviously preoccupied.”
“I'm just here trying to find something for my mother's birthday. I usually buy her jewelry or something for the house, but this time she specifically said she wanted a new outfit.”
“And so you were left with the task of finding the perfect one.”
“How old is she? If you don't mind me asking?”
“Not at all. She'll be fifty, but she's going on twenty. So whatever I find has to be trendy enough for her to wear, but not so trendy that my father will have a fit over it.”
Monique laughed. “I got you. Classy, not trashy.”
“Exactly. Chic, stylish; not too old, not too young. Like yourself, my mother's got skills.”
I couldn't stop staring at her. She was a natural sister with natural beauty that didn't require makeup. Her poise was confident, like she knew she was the shit, yet she didn't flaunt it for the entire world to see. I should have been less obvious with my flirtation, but damn it, she was just too damned fine and at that moment, smooth was just something that I couldn't be.
“So where's your wife or girlfriend? She should be here to help you.”
I had to struggle to keep my smile to a minimum when she said that. Obviously, I wasn't the only one doing some shameless flirting.
“I don't have either. I'm all alone in this cruel world of women's clothing.”
She raised an eyebrow and said, “Well, baby, don't take this the wrong way, but from the looks of what you have in your hand, I'd say you're going to need some help.”
“You think so, huh? Maybe I should go for some stripes and polka dots instead?”
“Uh, no. Tell you what. Why don't I help you?”
“Sounds like a good idea,” I said.
“Before we get started, why don't you put those clothes down before they kick you out of the store and meâfor standing beside you.”
My two-hour tour of duty easily turned into an all-day affair as Monique and I went from store to store, in search of the hippest fifty-year-old's outfit we could find. Monique chose the baddest of ensembles, but I didn't let her know that, as I found a way to find fault with everything she chose, while I made sure we got to know each other better. We eventually chose a silk blouse low-cut enough to reveal a touch of cleavage, and a black skirt that would rest just above her knees to show a pair of legs she's proud of. My pops was probably going to have a heart attack, but it was all good because before we left the mall, I had Monique's number, which I didn't hesitate to use the next day.
“So, did your mother like her gift?”
“My father didn't, but yeah, she loved it. She said she was surprised I had such good taste.”
“Oh, do you?” Monique asked.
I lowered my voice to a sexy baritone. “Yeah, I do.”
We had dinner later that night, and we officially started dating two weeks later. Monique and I connected so well that it was hard to imagine a time when she wasn't my woman. We became best friends and great lovers as we complemented each other in every way.
I was feeling Monique like I'd never felt any female before. She was real and kept it real, and I did the same, which was why I never kept Jalisa a secret. From the start I let Monique know that I was a father and that my little girl came first. I also explained the whole frustrating situation with Tina. I didn't want to hide that from her either. Just like I'd suspected, she had no problem with Jalisa, and she told me about how she'd dealt with a couple of Tinas in her lifetime.
I felt blessed to have finally met a woman I could relax around. I eventually took her over to my parents' place. I wanted them to meet the woman who was being seriously considered for the role of Mrs. Randy Lincoln. She and my mother hit it off from the start, which I knew they would. My pops was more than pleased. I introduced Monique to Jalisa six months later. I waited that long because I wanted to make sure that we were on the right track. Just like she did with my parents, Monique immediately clicked with Jalisa. It was almost hard to believe she didn't have any kids of her own the way she carried on with my little girl. That was a big reliever for me, because there'd been other women who didn't get along with Jalisa in the past, which was why I was no longer with them. Everything was working out for me. I had a beautiful little girl and a sexy, intelligent woman at my side. My future was looking damn bright.
And then the migraines started.
Out of the blue, Tina, who couldn't seem to stand me before, suddenly came to the realization that I was her soul mate. Of course, I knew her change of heart was because of my growing relationship with Monique. I think up until that point, she thought I was going to come crawling back to her, begging for her to take me back. Once that didn't happen I think she suddenly realized what she'd lost when she'd decided to sleep around with her former agent behind my back.