Authors: Nia Forrester
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Literary, #United States, #African American, #Women's Fiction, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Contemporary Fiction, #Literary Fiction
, how could this have happened?
Tracy looked down at the bright and unmistakable plus sign. Honestly, she’d known what it was going to say even before she took the test. She had been sick for two weeks now and her already irregular period had come and gone, but had been so light, it was almost unnoticed. Still, the evidence of what she thought she already knew, in bright, cheerful, blue made it all the more real.
Oh God, she knew when, and she certainly knew how. She even knew where.
Generally speaking Tracy wasn’t interested in going on Brendan’s business trips with him, because it wasn’t as though she didn’t have a very busy life of her own. But she knew only too well what the Essence Music Festival was like, having once gone because she got free tickets from a client. It was a several days long bacchanal during which women wearing skimpy clothing wandered about the Festival parties on the prowl, looking to score themselves a high-profile performer or some mover and shaker from the music business. Brendan fell into the “mover-and-shaker” category as the chief operating officer of So Def Records, and it didn’t hurt that he was pretty damn cute, either. So there was no way in a dozen hells Tracy was letting him go to New Orleans unattended.
Over the past year and a half, she’d definitely learned how to manage her possessiveness. For the most part, Brendan believed she was completely over it, but the truth was, she’d just figured out that it was better to internalize it and make her own course adjustments rather than act like a lunatic every single time a woman looked at her man. And they looked
all the time
. Brendan, being tall and model-handsome was a double-edged sword. Tracy loved that they made such a striking couple, and that together they commanded attention wherever they went; but at the end of the day she could have done without the excessive flirtatiousness of a good percentage of the women he encountered, from checkout girls at the grocery store to women they met socially.
And Brendan, being who he was, didn’t notice it at all. He thought people were
just that friendly
. But Tracy knew better, and was scrupulous about guarding what was hers. So sending him to New Orleans like a lamb to the slaughter was out of the question. Even the best of men—and she definitely had the
of men—could fall prey to some woman on the make. A couple of So Def’s artists were performing and Brendan was sure to be busy for much of the time they were there, but still, when he’d suggested in passing that she might want to come, she assented immediately.
I’ll be working pretty long hours
, he’d warned her.
So you’ll be on your own a lot.
I think I can manage
, Tracy said, not looking up from her book.
New Orleans is a fun city.
And when they got there, she
on her own a lot. Brendan left the hotel suite before seven each morning to meet with his artists—a 19-year old Blues singer and a young woman who was being styled to become the next Beyoncé. Apparently the Festival was more about networking than it was about performing so much of what he was doing was taking his artists to meet people and giving them exposure that would be far more valuable than that they would get from their brief appearances onstage.
The third day, when Tracy had begun to regret coming at all, Brendan leaned over her in bed before he left the suite that morning, telling her that there was a party in the evening he wanted her to go to with him. So Tracy spent the afternoon shopping, finding a dress to wear with delicate nude high-heeled sandals she’d brought from home. Before they left the suite for the party Brendan had grabbed her about the waist and kissed her neck in that way he had that made her lose her breath.
We won’t stay too long
, he’d promised, pressing his lips to that sensitive spot behind her ear.
Tracy heard the subtext clear as a bell. The entire time they’d been there, she’d gone to bed before him and he woke before she did. And except for one instance of sleepy-middle-of-the-night-sex that Tracy hadn’t even been certain the next morning happened at all, she and Brendan hadn’t had any intimate time during the entire trip. Since he was clearly working very hard she hadn’t wanted to press him.
But if there was one thing she’d learned about herself over this past year and a half, it was that she needed physical intimacy to feel secure about their relationship. If more than a week went by that they didn’t make love, Tracy knew from experience that she grew irritable, insecure and difficult. And knowing that about her as well, Brendan rarely allowed that long of an interval to pass without touching her, unless they were separated by his travel for work and it couldn’t be helped. Being away from home with Brendan, but unable to get any couple-time with him had disturbed the rhythm of their relationship and Tracy was craving his attention, so she was relieved that he seemed to have intuited that and was making plans for them to be alone.
But the party was not at all what she expected. He was pulled in a dozen directions by different people, wanting to seek his counsel, curry his favor or hear about his new artists. Tracy stood on the edge of the room with the wife of a radio deejay and together they griped about their partners’ schedules. And Brendan’s schedule was definitely something worth griping about.
Trips to help promote artists were unusual for him these days. As COO, he was more involved in the day-to-day operations than in the development of artists but occasionally the label signed someone that they thought was bound for super-stardom and Brendan was pulled onto the project as part of So Def’s A Team. Apart from the trips, his schedule was brutal. He worked eleven-hour days at So Def and after hours often checked in on a club he jointly owned with his best friend, Shawn Gardner, aka ‘K Smooth’. Brendan had been his manager years ago, and was responsible for making him one of the most sought-after performers in the world, managing his career and catapulting him into the stratosphere. Tracy and Brendan met, in fact, when her best friend Riley had fallen hard for and eventually married K Smooth. Who would’ve thought that Riley’s good fortune in love would lead to her own?
And there was no question that being with Brendan was good fortune. On their best days, he made her believe in divine intervention more than ever, because it seemed that in every way imaginable, Brendan had been fashioned for her and no one else. It had taken her a little while to recognize it, but now that she had, she felt completely and inextricably bound to him, as fiercely possessive of his time as she was of his person.
And so this party was uncomfortable to say the least. He was too busy to even look at her, so she was left to make small-talk with this woman, Maxine, whose husband was a mega-deejay named Zaire, a dreadlocked hipster who had an enormous following all along the eastern seaboard.
“I wonder whether they’d notice if we slipped out and just went to some other party,” Maxine commented, taking a sip of her wine. “Found some men who
pay attention to us.”
Tracy smiled but said nothing.
Yeah, well it
good, but she could no sooner muster up interest in some other man besides Brendan than she could fly the space shuttle Explorer to the moon.
Maxine was tall and dark-skinned, with a dramatically-large nouveau-Afro, shaped like a Mohawk. She wore a tight, multi-colored maxi-dress with a daring split up one side, and platform pumps that made her appear ten feet tall. Brendan’s business—the entertainment business—was densely populated with women like this: women who did not eschew attention, whose personalities were as brash and bold as their preferred style of dress. All the more reason, Tracy thought, that she had come to New Orleans, no matter how mind-numbingly boring parties like these were.
“I’m about to pitch a
,” Maxine said, “if Zaire doesn’t bring his ass on. I hate these things!” She all but stomped her foot.
Tracy took a small sip of her drink. She recognized this—the unrelenting neediness. She almost felt like recommending to Maxine that she see a good therapist to get that under control.
“This is a really nice place,” she said instead, hoping to distract them both.
Maxine looked around as though noticing her surroundings for the first time. The party was at a swanky hotel in the Garden District where the streets were lined with beautiful, stately homes, adorned with colorful vegetation and some of them painted just as brightly. Tracy imagined that late at night, if you walked down these streets, one might almost see the ghosts of old New Orleans walking them with you. It was a beautiful place. Though she’d visited before, it was never with sightseeing as her sole mission. One day, perhaps.
A server stopped in front of them offering tiny cups of crab
étouffée with a tiny piece of French bread to act as an edible spoon.
Tracy took one in exchange for her now empty wineglass. Maxine did the same, her face impatient as though she’d decided to eat instead of complain, but only just to pass the time until she could think of her next complaint.
“So how long have you and your man been married?” Maxine asked as she took her first taste.
“We’re not,” Tracy said.
“Oh,” Maxine said, taking another bite.
Tracy knew she’d imagined the slightly sympathetic undertone in Maxine’s voice. It was just her own stuff; no one else cared that she and Brendan weren’t married. He certainly didn’t seem to care and hadn’t even hinted at moving in that direction. Tracy took a bite of the French bread, which suddenly tasted dry and bland, even coated with the thick and flavorful seafood stew.
Glancing over at Brendan once again, she saw that he was now laughing with his artists and two other people. One was a woman in an ethereal, pale blue organza dress. She had an edgy, short spiky hairstyle that made for a striking contrast with the soft lines of her attire. She was stunning. Brendan’s laughter was infectious, and everyone standing with him responded in kind, leaning in closer to listen to what he was saying. Tracy turned away and looked out toward the terrace, festooned with tropical plants and overlooking Esplanade Avenue. It was no doubt hot and muggy out there, but it was beginning to feel a little too close in here as well.
“I’m getting some air,” she told Maxine with a smile. “Want to come?”
“Not me, girl,” Maxine said. “I’m wearing way too much makeup to go out there and have it all melt off. You go ahead and I’ll catch up with you later.”
So Tracy went out on her own, leaning over and looking down into the street which was brimming with festival-goers. There were parties all over town this weekend, but few were likely to be as exclusive as this one, filled with the kinds of people who made festivals happen, with the backing of their considerable assets and connections. Glancing down at her watch she could just barely make out that it was a little past eleven-forty. The watch had been a birthday present from Brendan just three months earlier. It was a rose gold Atlas dome watch from Tiffany & Co., and Tracy had been petty enough to go over there at lunchtime one day after he’d given it to her, just to check out the price, which was pretty hefty. Then she was embarrassed that even after almost two years together, she was still doing stupid stuff like checking prices of gifts, as though looking for evidence of just how much Brendan thought she was worth. She knew he valued her but still, there was that old, ugly voice inside that asked whether maybe, still, he wondered if she was good enough . . .
The terrace was almost pitch-black, lit only by gas lamps that were there more for mood and historic fidelity than to provide illumination. Tracy smoothed the skirt of her long dress. Underneath it, within minutes, she felt the beginnings of a light perspiration from the humidity. She’d chosen to wear the long dress with voluminous skirt because so many women she’d seen at events this weekend had opted for short and tight, showing off their legs and boobs to flattering effect. And being one who preferred not to follow the crowd she instead picked a pale yellow full-length chiffon dress with three layers beneath the skirt to add volume, a pleated peplum at the waist and thin, delicate satin straps.
Over the past year, her thick, reddish-auburn hair had grown longer and she often toyed with the idea of cutting it, but she could tell Brendan liked it long. Even though he’d never actually voiced a preference, instead of cutting it she wore it back quite a bit because it was difficult to manage. Tonight she had it slicked back from her face and in a single braid that fell just past her shoulders. Tracy could feel its weight against her skin, uncomfortable because of the sultriness of the evening, and wished she had chosen instead to wear it all the way up. And at precisely that moment, someone lifted it off her neck and blew a cool breath against her dampening skin.