Authors: Pamela Yaye
“I'm glad you asked. The first thing we need to do is find a face. A name. An image. I contacted BeyoncÃ©'s people to see if she wanted to be the face of the Women of Sensuality line. Her assistant said BeyoncÃ©'s flattered that we considered her, but she has too many commitments to sign on with us right now. The woman suggested we try again in six months.”
“Six months!” Kendall scoffed. She took a mouthful of herbal tea. “We can't wait around for the rest of the year. BeyoncÃ© is fabulous and all, but she's not the only celebrity woman synonymous with glamour and sensuality. I vote we move on to somebody else. What about Jada Pinkett Smith? Or Layla Ali? Or Kelly Rowland?”
Sabrina read from her notepad. “On tour with her band
Training for an upcoming fight. And shooting a VH1 special about life after Destiny's Child.” When Kendall sighed, Sabrina patted her hand. “No worries. I promise we'll get someone spectacular. There are some other ideas I'm flirting with, but I need another week or two to iron them out. I'll let you know what I come up with at the next meeting.”
The next hour and a half was devoted to discussing company revenue, employee relations and how to increase sales. When Jocelyn poked her head inside the conference room and told Ebony she had an urgent call on line two, Ebony returned to her office. It was probably Mr. Rutherford. It wouldn't surprise her if she picked up the phone and he lashed out at her. The contract she had faxed over to his office was more than reasonable, but she had a feeling he wouldn't see it that way.
Ebony took a deep breath. She would need an extra dose of strength to get through this conversation with the officious warehouse manager. “This is Ms. Garrett,” she greeted, in her friendliest voice.
A brief silence followed. “Hi, Ebony. How are you?”
Ebony didn't recognize the voice. “Fine, but I would be even better if I knew who was calling.”
Another pause, this one considerably longer. “Xavier.”
This was the urgent call? Ebony gripped the receiver. When she got off the phone, Jocelyn was going to get an earful. Ebony had given her secretary very strict orders not to put through personal calls while she was in meetings, and what did Jocelyn go ahead and do? Pull her out of the meeting to take an “urgent” call from a man she didn't want to talk to. She wondered how he had gotten her number. “Hello. How did you get this number?” she asked, keeping her tone light.
“I have my sources. We missed you last week at Changing Lives Through Meals. What happened? You promised you'd be there.”
Ebony didn't have the time to get into this. She was at work and if there was one thing she hated, it was when people brought their personal lives with them to the office. “There was an emergency at one of my boutiques last week.” Before he could question her further about the problem she had just invented, she said, “I have to get back to work, but thanks for calling.”
Kendall stuck her head inside Ebony's office. “The meeting just wrapped. We're going to lunch. You coming?”
She tilted the receiver away from her mouth. “If you're buying the drinks.”
“Meet us down in the lobby in fifteen minutes.”
Ebony nodded, then put the phone back to her lips. “Sorry about that.”
“Do you think it's wise to be drinking in your condition?”
“I feel fine, Xavier. It only takes a couple days for food poisoning toâ”
“I'm not talking about that,” he cut in. It wasn't his place to tell Ebony how to live her life, but somebody had to educate her on the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant. Xavier had seen firsthand the challenges children with FAS had to face. Not to mention those kids born with facial abnormalities, heart defects, mental retardation or learning disabilities. “I know, Ebony.” He paused long enough to push the rest of the words out of his mouth. “I know about the baby.” The line was so quiet you could hear a pin drop miles away. “What you're doing to your unborn child isâ”
“What child? I'm not pregnant!”
“No! Why did you think I was?” She anticipated his response and added, “Just because I got sick doesn't mean that I'm pregnant. I had food poisoning, Xavier. That's all it was.”
Xavier didn't know whether or not to tell Ebony what Ms. Certified Nurse had said. Some things were better left unsaid, he thought. And besides, he didn't want to risk sounding any more idiotic than she already thought he was. “Ebony, I'm really sorry. I guess I should learn to check my facts before I go off and start accusing people of things.”
Ebony discounted his apology. She didn't care how handsome he was, or how scrumptious he smelled, or how her body tingled when he said her name. The man had some
issues and his predisposition to judge people, namely her, was infuriating. Ebony couldn't abide any more accusations and there was no telling what would come out of his mouth next. “Goodbye, Xavier.” With that, she clicked off the phone.
Taking a seat behind her desk, she leaned back in her chair. The man had some nerve. If there was one thing Ebony hated, it was people pointing fingers. Even if she was pregnant, it wasn't any of his business what she was doing with her body. He wasn't God; he couldn't part the sea or walk on water or turn water into wine. Xavier Reed apparently thought he was something special. Shaking her head, she wished she had taken the time to set him straight.
Ebony took a few minutes to calm herself. She didn't want to show up to lunch in a funk. When she felt better, she stood and grabbed her trench coat from the back of her chair. Discarding all thoughts of Xavier “Nosy” Reed, she slammed her office door behind her and told Jocelyn to hold her calls. As she was boarding the elevator, she heard Jocelyn ask Mr. Reed if he would like to leave a message.
avier slumped back in his armchair, stunned. Dragging a hand down the length of his face, he wondered what had just happened. The lunch bell sounded but Xavier didn't move. He wasn't hungry. And besides, going to the staff room and listening to fellow teachers whine about how this student was that or the other would only aggravate him further. He was better off in his office.
Lockers squeaked, the rapid-fire talk of teenagers polluted the air, basketballs bounced on the tile floors and high-pitched giggles drowned it all out. Then the halls were quiet. The bird outside his window chirped merrily, but it did nothing to squelch the heaviness in his heart.
How could I have been such a jerk? And not once, but twice?
Xavier had to find a way to rectify this situation. Something told him flowers and candy wouldn't be enough to soothe her bruised feelings. He had to come correct. Had to do something big. Huge. No, enormous. Something that would knock her off her feet. Just as he was about to pick up the phone and call his sister for some suggestions, bits and pieces of past conversations with Ebony came back to him. A slow smile stretched across his lips. Xavier knew exactly what he had to do. When he was finished with Ebony, she wouldn't know what hit her.
Somebody was going to lose an eye when Ebony got downstairs. Couldn't a woman sleep in anymore? If it wasn't aunt Mae calling at the first light of day, it was some jerk trying to sell her something she didn't need. Belting her silk robe, she stomped down the stairs, mumbling under her breath. Ebony worked like a dog during the week, and all she wanted on the weekends was to sleep in.
Just wait until I get down there,
she thought, growing more agitated with each shrill of the doorbell.
Ebony yanked open the door with such force, the long-limbed teenager in the white delivery uniform almost teetered off the steps.
The tail of her robe flapped in the wind, giving the pimpled adolescent a glimpse of her bare thigh. His eyes glistened like a puppy's, about to get its first meal of the day. Warm sunrays kissed her face; the cool morning breeze whipped her hair to and fro. She propped herself against the door, waiting impatiently for the teenager to speak.
“I have a package for a Ms. Garrett,” he said in a shaky voice. When he spoke again, his sentence had more cracks in it than a sidewalk. “Sorry to disturb you, but my manager told me I had to deliver thisâ” he tipped his head toward the package in his hand “âbefore ten o'clock. Are you Ms. Garrett?”
She nodded and scribbled her name on the invoice. “Let me get you something for your trouble,” she said as he turned away.
“No worries, ma'am. It's already been taken care of.”
The teen jogged down the steps and climbed into a navy truck with the logo Spanky's Delivery Services on the side. When he waved, Ebony returned the gesture. She shut the door and thoroughly inspected the package. There was no card, no note and no hint as to who might have sent it. Not unusual. She hadn't expected to find one. None of the previous packages had had a card or a note, either. Anonymous gifts had been showing up for the last week. The first, two dozen helium balloons with the words Thinking About You, had arrived Monday afternoon while she was at lunch, and on Tuesday, it was a bottle of her favorite wine. A seafood lunch had been delivered on Wednesday and when she arrived home later that evening, an enormous box of edible chocolate roses was waiting for her on her welcome mat.
Thursday morning, Ebony had more than enough work to keep her occupied, but every five minutes she checked the clock. She was anxious to receive gift number four and jumped out of her chair every time there was a knock on her office door.
Over lunch, Ebony had listened to Sabrina and Jocelyn discuss who they thought her secret admirer was. Her receptionist thought it was one of the corporate attorneys who worked on the first floor; Sabrina was convinced it was an old flame who had finally come to his senses. Ebony pretended she didn't care who it was, but she did. Deep down, she was touched. What woman wouldn't be? Someone was going to great lengths to impress her. Romantic gestures of this magnitude were restricted to romance novels, Hollywood movies and dreamy love songs. Things like this just didn't happen to her. The man behind the gifts was sharp and Ebony found herself intrigued by the creative workings of his mind. Mr. Secret Admirer had taken the time to study her. He had investigated what her favorite things were, found unique ways to surprise her and kept her guessing. And even if it turned out that they were all wrong for each other, she would never forget him.
Thursday afternoon crawled by. No peculiar packages arrived. No deliveryman showed up. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. By the time Ebony left her office that evening, she was feeling low. She was so consumed with her thoughts, she didn't notice the card stuck in her windshield, until she unlocked the driver's side door. Inside the card was a list of twenty-five ways to beat stress. Ebony laughed until her stomach ached. Her mystery man had a rich sense of humor and she liked that.
Gift number five was propped up against the office door when Ebony arrived at work the next morning. A gift certificate for the ultraexclusive Serendipity Spa and Hair Salon in downtown Minneapolis suggested her secret admirer knew how to treat a woman right.
Ebony sat down on the couch. She shook the box. No rattle. No tinkle. No jangle. Not even a thump. When the last slither of wrapping paper was ripped off the box, a hand flew to Ebony's mouth. Inside the box was a five-disc CD set, entitled Jazz Vocal Greats.
A hundred thoughts whizzed through her head.
There was only one person who could have sent this.
One unbelievably handsome man.
Ebony sighed softly, an impish smile curling the corners of her mouth. Xavier Reed was something else. It had never crossed her mind that he could be the man behind all the gifts. Xavier just didn't strike her as the type who would go all out to impress a woman. But he had.
Ebony studied the cover of the CD set. An extended version of “Come Rain or Come Shine” by Art Bailey and George Benson's “Kisses in the Moonlight” would inevitably become her favorites. She turned the box over, anxious to see what other artists she could look forward to hearing. A single slice of paper was taped to the back of the case. It read, “I'll be there at four to pick you up.”
Ebony combed over the nine words to ensure she had read it correctly. Xavier was taking her out? If someone had told her yesterday that not only was Xavier the man behind the presents but he would cap off the week by taking her out, Ebony would have laughed in their face.
Why did he go through all this trouble?
she wondered, rising to her feet. Xavier didn't want a woman like her. He was a good old-fashioned church boy. Soft-spoken. Decorous. And as hard as it was for her to believe, chaste. He rarely drank, he didn't smoke, he didn't do drugs and his last relationship had ended six months earlier. When Ebony asked Xavier how he managed to control his urges in a society inundated with sex-sex-sex, he had credited his pastor and his parents for keeping him on the straight and narrow. Gloria and Theodore Reed had been married for thirty-plus years and according to their son, still fawned over each other like a couple of teenagers. That's what Xavier said he wanted. He wanted a woman who would love him unconditionally. He was searching for a type of love that came around only once in a person's lifetime, and if he was lucky enough to recognize it, he'd embrace it.
Ebony was unsure of what to make of all this. Xavier had something up his sleeve. But what? Flashbacks of their last conversation came back to mind.
Maybe this is his way of saying sorry.
Ebony stood up. She had much to do between now and four o'clock and not a moment to waste. Closing the doors to her thoughts, she raced back upstairs to her bedroom.
“Wrong. Wrong. Wrong,” Ebony said, as outfit number three sailed to the floor. She combed through her closet, decided on a skintight apple-green dress and was in the process of putting it on when she heard the doorbell.
Oh no! He's early!
Ebony couldn't let Xavier see her like this. No makeup. Half dressed. Hair uncombed. He would take one look at her and sprint down the walkway faster than Carl Lewis.
The doorbell rang again.
Ebony checked her options. Go downstairs looking like a mess, or risk him leaving because he thought she wasn't home. The latter was a far worse fate. Dinner at Dakota's Bar and Grill had been a disaster, but Ebony wasn't going to start date number two on the wrong foot. She dashed down the staircase. Displaying her most seductive smile, she opened the front door. “You're early.”
Kendall smirked. “No, I'm not. You didn't even know I was stopping by.”
“I thought you were someone else.”
“And I thought we were supposed to meet at the office. What happened? Everything okay?”
“Couldn't be better. Sorry, I should have called. I had every intention of coming in, but things changed. I have a date with my secret admirer.” She couldn't resist asking, “You remember what a date is, don't you, Ken?”
Kendall stuck out her tongue, and Ebony laughed.
“So, did Mr. Romantic turn out to be Gavin, or Michael?”
“Well?” she prompted. “Don't leave me hanging, who is it?”
“Humâ¦That's the church guy, right?”
Ebony shot her friend a look. “Don't call him that. He's the fine guy,
the church guy. Get it straight, girlfriend.” She returned upstairs to her bedroom, her best friend hot on her heels.
Kendall made herself at home on the bed. “Fill me in. Start from the beginning and don't skim over the juicy parts.”
Ebony told Kendall everything. By the time she was finished, they were both laughing. “It was bad, Kendall.”
“I hear you. Sounds like the two of you had the date from hell!”
“We did, that's why it is so hard for me to believe that Xavier was behind all those gifts. Most men would fall off the face of the earth if their date had gotten sick like a dog on the first date. Having him carry me out of the restaurant was the single most humiliating experience in my life.” Ebony dragged the curling iron down her hair and sprayed the ends with hair spray.
“At least he cared enough about you to make sure you were okay.
like that bone-headed husband of mine, who only cares about himself.”
Ebony took a close look at Kendall. Her bottom lip was quivering, her shoulders were hunched and she looked as if she was about to cry. “Uh-oh. What did Turner do now?”
Ebony had never seen a woman love a man the way Kendall loved her husband. In some ways it was touching, in other ways it was disturbing. Ebony had never taken a psychology course, but she knew it wasn't healthy for a woman to worship a man the way Kendall did Turner. Turner was the be-all and end-all. His opinion was the
opinion. Ebony wouldn't be surprised if one day Kendall opened her mouth and said, “Thus saith Turner Douglasâ¦” Kendall punctuated her sentences with “Turner says,” and “Turner thinks,” and when she wasn't yammering about what a delight he was, she was gazing off into the sunset, thoughts of him clearly on her mind.
Ebony would never admit it, but she inwardly rejoiced when the couple had a fight. Because when the couple argued, Kendall shut up about how wonderful Turner was. She excluded him from all conversations and didn't want anyone around her to mention his name, either. Ebony, and the rest of their employees, got a much-needed break from Juliet nattering on about Romeo. A Kendall and Turner blowout usually lasted for a few days. The reprieve wasn't long enough, but it was better than nothing. For two full days, Ebony didn't have to hear about how great Turner was or how he did this or that wonderfully.
“Before Turner left for the hospital this morning, he pointed out that I was due for my next Depo shot. I reminded him that we agreed
would try getting pregnant this year, and therefore I didn't need to make another appointment. You know what he said?”
“He said â
did? Well, I think we should wait another year.' I was so angry I started crying. He stormed out of the kitchen and I haven't heard from him since.”
“Why is he so dead set against this? You've been married long enough, you're financially stable and the two of you have a solid relationship. What more does he want?” Turner treated Kendall fabulously and had been spoiling her silly since they met on a singles' cruise, six years ago. He was devoted, responsible and sensitive to his wife's needs, but when it came to getting pregnant, he kept stalling.
“Every year it's the same story, âwe'll try next year. We'll try next year,'” Kendall ranted, mimicking her husband's voice. “But we're no closer to getting pregnant than a ninety-year-old woman with a hot stud and a bottle full of fertility drugs.”
Ebony laughed so hard, she had to put the curling iron down to keep from burning herself.