Authors: Pamela Yaye
His eyes returned to Ms. Garrett. She smelled good, she looked good and she sounded good, but he wasn't going out with her. No matter how hard she pushed. The woman was far too aggressive for his tastes. She had a backside that could rival J-Lo's, but experience told him women who looked like supermodelsâprimed to perfection and smelling like a cosmetics counterâusually had the diva attitude to match. And besides, he wasn't interested in a one-night stand; he was seeking a meaningful, long-term relationship that would eventually end up at the altar.
“I'm sorry, Ms. Garrett, but I can't.” He freed his arm from her grasp.
“Are you sure?”
this woman is as persistent as a recurring dream.
“Again, it was nice meeting you.” Xavier walked away, without giving her or her offer another thought.
When Ebony retook her seat a minute later, Opal greeted her warmly. “So, how did it go? When are you guys going out?”
“A quarter to never,” she said.
Opal broke out into a fit of giggles.
Ebony didn't know what her friend was tittering about. The man had been about as friendly as a bulldog. Draping her napkin over her legs, she reflected on their exchange. The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. Mr. I'm-Too-Good-To-Go-Out-With-You was an arrogant jerk with an unlikable personality.
Her eyes searched the banquet hall. In his tailored suit and designer shoes, Xavier Reed was easily identifiable in the crowd. He was standing near the stage and, to her shock, laughing it up with a plus-size woman with an outrageous weave.
So, he can laugh with her but he can't even give me a smile?
As she scrutinized him from head to toe, her eyes narrowed in distaste.
Xavier Reed wasn't all that. He wasn't even six feet and he had shifty eyes.
What woman in her right mind would want to go out with a short, leery-eyed, sourpuss anyway?
she thought, stabbing her fork into a coconut drop. Xavier had done her a favor by turning her down. Going out with him for dinner would undoubtedly have been the longest two hours of her life. Comforted by her thoughts, she told Opal, “He's not all that. He might
good from a distance, but up close he's just as cute as the next guy. The man is
Taye Diggs.” When Opal rolled her eyes, Ebony laughed. “He's not the one to help you get your groove back, girl.”
Brushing aside Ebony's fallacious remarks, Opal said, “Who are you trying to fool? âHe's just as cute as the next guy.'
That man is fine. He'd turn heads in the dark.
said so yourself.” After a brief pause, she asked, “Did you at least get his name?”
“Xavier Reed,” Ebony uttered, as if saying his name made her mouth ache.
“Ooh, he even has a sexy name!”
Ebony said nothing. She sampled her piece of carrot cake, and then washed it down with some sparkling apple cider. “Can we please talk about something else?”
“Oh, you're just bitter because he turned you down. Just goes to show you, girlfriend. You can't always get what you want.”
Ebony checked her program. Eight performances left. She plopped her purse on her lap and fished around for her car keys. It didn't matter if Kirk Franklin & the Family were up next, after this song she was going home. If Ebony had to sit through another hymn or contemporary gospel song, she was going to scream. Holler so loud people would think an evil spirit had possessed her.
When a middle-aged Spanish woman with a beehivelike hairstyle took the microphone a few seconds later and started singing an off-key rendition of Donnie McClurkin's “We Fall Down,” Ebony bit down hard on her bottom lip. Most of the performers had an abundance of talent, but they had no stage presence whatsoever. The delivery was always the same. Take the mike, say a few words of encouragement, sing, give the Lord a wave offering or two and wrap it up. The first performance was tolerable, but by the sixth it was akin to slow torture.
Should have left with Opal,
Ebony thought, folding her arms across her chest. Opal had departed to pick up her daughters from a birthday party, leaving Ebony to suffer through four more songs. Straightening her shoulders, she inched her chair back and swung her legs out from underneath the table. When Ebony caught her aunt Mae, she gave her a half wave and mouthed “goodbye.” One of the church sisters was giving her aunt a ride home, so Ebony was free to go whenever she was ready. She checked her watch again: 10:37.
Time to bounce!
Ebony was thankful she had had the foresight to pick a table at the back of the hall. Now that she was ready to leave, she didn't have to worry about disrupting the program when she walked out. The same time Ebony slipped her purse over her shoulder and stood, the emcee asked Brother Xavier to join him on the stage.
I guess I can stay a few more minutes,
she decided, lowering herself back onto the chair.
Xavier took the microphone, greeted the audience warmly and thanked everyone for coming. “On May 1 our âChanging Lives Through Meals' program will kick off again. The last three years of the program have been an enormous success, due largely to our dedicated and selfless volunteers. We're looking for people who can commit to helping out on Wednesday and Friday evenings for the duration of the summer. If you're interested in getting involved in a worthy cause and want to give back to the community, please see me at the end of the program. I would love to discussâ¦”
Ebony thought, standing and moving briskly out of the banquet hall.
Good night, sourpuss.
are my thongs? The purchase order I'm clutching has an arrival date of April 28.
was three days ago.” Taking a deep breath, Ebony drew on every ounce of self-control she had to remain calm. But Mr. Rutherford was goading her, trying her patience like only he could. Tucking a loose curl behind her ear, she half listened as the owner of Logan Warehouse droned on about the latest problems with his business. Two of his best men had quit yesterday. He was understaffed. The warehouse security system was on the blink.
“The truck had mechanical problems while en route to your boutique, Ms. Garrett. You have to understand these things happen from time to time in business. But don't you worry, little lady. I'll have my best driver out there first thing in the morning with the shipment. Now, how's that for service?”
Ebony's eyes narrowed. He was patronizing her. She could almost see the balding man leering on the other end of the line, rubbing a stubby hand over his liver-spotted head. If she had the power to reach through the phone, she'd snatch him up by the collar and shake all two hundred and fifty pounds of him.
“Now, you listen to me, Mr. Rutherford. This is unacceptable and I refuse to tolerate your company's incompetence any longer.” He tried to interrupt, but she swiftly cut him off. “This is not the first time I've had to put up with delays and inconveniences. This type of ineptitude has occurred at least a half-dozen times over the last six months. Tomorrow morning is simply not good enough. I want that shipment
.” Ebony paused, took a deep breath and waited for him to come up with a reasonable solution to the problem.
“Take it easy, little lady. Having a hissy fit isn't going to get the shipment there today. Like I said, it'll be there in the morning. That's the best I can do.”
Ebony gripped the body of the receiver, the veins in her neck throbbing uncontrollably. “Let me put it to you in terms you'll understand, Mr. Rutherford. If the shipment is not here by the end of the day, I'll terminate our contract and find another trucking company to do business with.” Ebony calmly replaced the receiver. Truth be told, she couldn't afford to do business with another trucking company. The larger companies charged astronomical fees, didn't guarantee shipment arrivals, either, and forced customers to sign long-term contracts. Ebony was bluffing, but Mr. Rutherford didn't need to know that. If he came through for her today, she would renegotiate their contract in a way that would satisfy them both. And if he didn't, she'd kill him with her bare hands.
Ebony inspected her two-week-old manicure. She would call and make an appointment at Total Image Salon. Her French manicure was all but ruined. Chipped paint, dry cuticles and a broken nail needed tending to, and the sooner Ebony could get her nails done, the better.
Ebony buzzed her receptionist.
“Yes, Mrs. Garrett?”
“Please prepare a cancellation request form and fax it over to Logan Warehouse immediately.”
“Another late shipment?”
“For the last time.” Ebony clicked off the intercom. She moved over to the window and drew open the blinds. From where she was standing, it looked like colorful ants were shuffling down Eighth Avenue. Setting up the Discreet Boutiques headquarters in the Accenture Tower had been the best decision she and Kendall had ever made. The rent far exceeded what they had planned to spend, but on days like thisâwhen Ebony needed tranquility and a moment's peaceâthe location was worth every cent. Her eyes tracked the sun as it dropped behind the clouds and then faded out of sight. Wrapped up in her observations, she didn't hear the knock on her office door.
“Daydreaming about frolicking on the beaches of Negril again?”
Ebony moaned. This time last year she had been sipping fruity Caribbean cocktails at Beaches Negril Resort, dancing with men of every shade of brown and a few in between and sleeping in hammocks under the shade of overgrown palm trees.
All business in a tweed suit, a few pieces of expensive-looking jewelry and her wavy hair pulled back in a neat bun, Kendall Douglas radiated cool sophistication. The co-owner of Discreet Boutiques sat down on one of the navy-blue padded chairs, crossed her legs and clasped her hands together.
“You'd be daydreaming too if you'd had Caribbean men catering to your every whim.” Ebony returned to her desk. Once she was settled in her leather chair, she asked, “So, how did the meeting go? Did Yolanda heed your advice, or do we have to fire her?”
Kendall smoothed a hand over hair, taking a few minutes to gauge her partner's mood. “I got through to her, Ebony. Don't worry.”
“Don't tell me not to worry, Kendall. Her unprofessional behavior and complete disregard for the company have caused lost revenue and dissatisfaction among our employees and valued customers.” Yolanda Simmons, the store manager for boutique number six, had been showing up late to work, helping herself to unauthorized days off and delegating her duties to other employees for the past month. Yesterday, when Ebony had learned about what was going on, her first inclination had been to fire Yolanda immediately, but Kendall wouldn't hear of it. Her partner liked the single mother and thought she was an asset to the company. She had promised Ebony she would meet with Yolanda as soon as possible and get to the bottom of things.
“Yolanda knows she has a good thing going with Discreet Boutiques and that she'd be a fool to mess it up. Her next raise increase is set for August 1 and I know for a fact she's been eyeing Bridget's position. I told her only serious and committed employees would be considered for the Human Resources post when Bridget goes on maternity leave. I told Yolanda she had two optionsâeither clean up her act or start looking for another job.”
Ebony raised an eyebrow. “You said that?”
“What was her response? Was she open to what you had to say?”
“The poor thing burst into tears.” Glancing down at her blazer, Kendall brushed aside specks of lint. “Cried all over me. She confided that her live-in boyfriend has been messing around, and she suspects he may have gotten another girl pregnant. You know what the crazy thing is?”
Ebony shrugged a shoulder. “No.”
“She doesn't want to leave him! I could sympathize with her because God knows I dated my fair share of
before I married Turner, but I
allowed personal problems to impede my work.”
Ebony shook her head sharply. Happily unmarried, she enjoyed a rich life, a life more enjoyable and fulfilling than her married counterparts'. No drama. No stress. And most importantly, no heartache. “All relationships start off smelling like roses, and end up reeking like sour milk. When a diamond ring slips on a woman's finger, she becomes a bodyguard, a private investigator, aâ”
“Huh?” a completely baffled Kendall asked. “What are you talking about?”
“I've seen it happen a million times before. Confident, self-assured, intelligent women will follow their men around like a Doberman, just to make sure other women don't get too close. They'll take a day off work to investigate whether his business conference at a five-star hotel is a company meeting, or a personal one.” Ebony added, “I like my life the way it is. Uncomplicated, stress-free and all the freedom I can stand.”
“You're going to be thirty this year, Ebony. In two short months to be exact. You're not a teenager anymore. It's time you found yourself a man, settled down and started working on having a
of your own.” Kendall chuckled at her joke. She sobered long enough to say, “You can pretend to be happy, but I know you're miserable sleeping in that big ole house by yourself. Just admit it!”
“Girl, please,” Ebony scoffed, her mouth fitting into a smirk. “I'm as happy as a dolphin at Sea World!”
After the security alarm was disabled, Ebony shut the door behind her and kicked off her four-inch heels. There was nothing she loved more than returning home after a grueling day of work. She lived on a quiet street with other impressive homes in Linden Hills, a first tier suburb ten miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis. In the winter, the normally short commute was a killer, but Ebony didn't mind. The privacy and solace that came with living in a respected and valued community outweighed all inconveniences.
Charmed by the elegance of the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home, Ebony had fallen in love with it on sight. It had all the features and amenities she had been searching for: lofty, ten-foot ceilings; colossal picture windows; hardwood maple floors; and a small pool with an adjoining hot tub. Ebony loved the warmth and the light of the sun, and the surplus of oversize windows guaranteed daily doses of sunshine.
Ebony had listened with half an ear, as the rail-thin Realtor lectured about the history of the house, the most recent renovations and the previous owners. After a brief walk-through, she had concluded that this was the house of her dreams. It was four thousand square feet of paradise and she was willing to do anything to call it home.
“A single woman could go mad in a place of this size and magnitude,” the Realtor had teased. Ignoring him, she had strolled through the French doors and into the tree-shaded backyard. It was the size of a tiny forest. The Realtor chatted on, and was so unenthusiastic about her buying the Tudor-style house, Ebony started to think he had other clients lined up for it. Making note of his pessimism and mentally slashing his commission, Ebony ordered him to put her offer in. This was the house she wanted, and no one was going to dampen her enthusiasm. By the close of the month she had finalized the deal and moved in five weeks later.
Dragging herself up the stairs, she stripped off clothes as she went. The master bedroom was the size of the apartment Ebony had lived in when she was a freshman in college. The light, open bedroom was an explosion of bright colors. Fuchsia bedding. A maroon area rug. Flower vases overflowing with every color of roses imaginable. The room was boldly decorated, ultrafeminine and perfectly Ebony. A full bathroom, completely outfitted in white; an enormous walk-in-closet; and a balcony wide enough for lounge chairs and a dainty glass table were her favorite aspects of the opulent master bedroom.
Not wanting her sanctuary to be muddled, Ebony had selected a few choice pieces from an antique furniture store. A mahogany dresser, a steel vanity table, an iron-rimmed chair and a pair of glass nightstands framed her elevated sleigh bed. In the adjoining office, alabaster walls were adorned with African art purchased in Manhattan at the legendary Abuja Art Gallery. Her favorite painting was positioned beside the elliptical mirror, and at the peak of day, sunshine bounced off its golden frame and reflected off the opposite wall. A shapely Nigerian woman in traditional dress, balancing a water bucket on her head, and her offspring on her hip, served as a reminder to Ebony that there was nothing she couldn't do. As she reflected on the potency and resiliency of her evocative female ancestors, self-respect stirred within her spirit. She was proud of who she was. Proud of her heritage. Proud of the legacy of her people. And proud of where she had come from.
Ebony turned away from the picture. Clad in nothing but a black silk robe and slippers, she returned to the main floor to get a drink. En route to the kitchen, she passed the family room, which housed a fireplace which she had yet to useâcomfy chairs and couches and a fifty-inch plasma screen TV. Ebony entered the kitchen and after opening the window above the sink, poured herself a drink. Ceramic tile counters, stainless steel appliances and a center table that seated eight made it a chef's paradise. Ebony didn't cook, so the less time she spent in the kitchen, the better off she was.
Back in her bedroom, sipping peach-flavored iced tea, Ebony selected CD number three on her stereo. Jill Scott's hypnotic voice filled the room, offering a sweet escape. Closing her eyes, she sang along. She bobbed her head fluently, feelings of tranquility washing over her. But Ebony's peace didn't last long. The telephone interrupted her thoughts and yanked her back into the here and now.
“Hi, suga. Did you just get home?” Not bothering to wait for a response, Mae continued. “I called your office and that precious little receptionist of yours told me you were gone.”
“I had a nail appointment.”
“Are you okay? You don't sound like yourself, honey.”
“I'm tired,” Ebony replied. “Wednesdays are typically hectic days and today was no exception. I was about to step into the tub for a soak when you called. Everything all right?”
Mae coughed. “Just fighting off this flu bug that's been going around.”
“Do you need me to bring you anything?” Ebony loved aunt Mae with all her heart and she would do anything to put a smile on her face. When her husband died from heart failure, Mae had packed up her load and moved to Minneapolis to be closer to her brother and his family. Out of respect for her husband, she had never remarried or had children of her own. But the seventy-four-year-old woman would tell anyone who listened that her feisty niece was the daughter she had always wanted. Ebony had quickly grown attached to her father's sister. And when her parents had died in a horrific car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, it had been aunt Mae who nursed her through the ordeal and welcomed her into her home.