Authors: Carl Weber
I shuffled through the rest of Louis’s things, trying to convince myself that Louis had simply moved the suit to a new spot. But the sudden sick feeling in my stomach told me what my heart already knew—the suit was not there. And just like that, my suspicious nature kicked back into overdrive.
* * *
I was waiting at the door early the next afternoon when Louis stuck his key in the lock. I snatched it open to find him in his regular sagging jeans and white T-shirt, grinning like he had just stepped out to the store for a gallon of milk instead of stepping out for something—or someone—else. It was the same stupid grin I ’d seen my father give to so many women, fooling them into believing he was faithful when in fact he had three or four other chicks on the side. Well, I was not gonna be that kind of fool for Louis. And the bouquet of flowers he handed me was just another trick I ’d seen my father use a million times before.
“Thanks.” I kept my voice as calm as I could. I wasn’t going to go off this time; I was going to let him hang himself with his lies.
He put down his suitcase and reached out his arms for a hug. I gave him a weak embrace and stepped back quickly. “So, how was Pennsylvania?”
“It was good, baby, but I missed you.”
I felt my hand twitch, like it had a mind of its own and wanted to slap him right now. He missed me. Yeah, right. He didn’t miss shit while he was all up in some other woman.
“I called you. You didn’t return my call,” I said, still trying to keep my tone neutral. It wasn’t easy, considering the adrenaline racing through my system.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to bring my charger,” he lied again.
“Really?” I glanced toward his pocket, where he usually kept his phone. A look passed over his face, and it was clear he knew where this conversation was headed.
He sighed as he pulled his phone out of his pocket
and handed it to me. “Here. Check it for yourself. It’s dead.”
I looked at the phone, and sure enough, the screen was blank. But that didn’t mean he was off the hook.
“Dead phone, huh? How convenient. Did you two plan that in advance?”
“Jamie, what the hell are you talking about? I was so damn busy at those auctions that I wouldn’t have had time to plan anything even if I ’d wanted to.” Then he added sarcastically, “Would you like to call my boss and ask him?”
Oh, hell no. I wasn’t gonna fall for that again. His damn boss was probably in on the whole scheme anyway. You know how men can be, always ready to provide an alibi for their boys.
“So, what’s with the suit?” I asked, pointing toward the corner, where he’d set his suitcase.
“What do you mean, what’s with the suit?”
“You brought it, didn’t you?” Ha! He was busted now. Let him try to lie his way out of this one.
“Yeah, I brought it. What’d you do, X-ray my suitcase before I left or something?”
“No, but I know it’s not in your closet, so it must be in that suitcase,” I said, doing my best imitation of a prosecuting attorney revealing the final piece of damning evidence. But Louis proved to be a tougher witness than I ’d expected. He was still trying to defend himself.
“Yeah, I brought my suit, but so what? My boss told me he was gonna take me to that Italian restaurant you and I saw near the hotel, and it’s not exactly the kind of place I could wear khakis and a polo shirt.”
I remembered the restaurant. Louis’s boss had pointed it out to us and told us what great food they had there. And I did notice a few people walking into the restaurant dressed in more formal clothes. This place
was no Olive Garden. But the fact that we had seen it together two weeks before just meant that Louis had filed the information away to use it as part of his alibi. I guess he figured if he could cloak his lies in enough details, I would believe him.
In the short amount of time that I stood silent, formulating my next question, Louis tried to flip the script on me, just like all men do when they’re caught.
“Girl, why you trippin’?”
I finally just came out with it. “Darnel saw you in the city yesterday.”
I don’t know what I expected to see on his face—fear, guilt, maybe even regret. But I couldn’t see anything, because he turned his back on me and went toward his suitcase. I watched impatiently as he dug into the pocket on the front. I was itching for a fight now. But then he pulled out a pile of papers.
“Here.” He shoved the stack of receipts into my hands.
I was almost afraid to look down at them, because I already sensed my whole case had just been lost. In the pile was a hotel bill with a small room service charge, definitely less than what breakfast for two would cost. There was a receipt from Starbucks, again an order for one. I looked at the toll receipt that confirmed he had been driving on the New Jersey Turnpike. I didn’t need to look any further. There was no way Louis had been in the city.
“Would you like to see the matchbook from the Italian restaurant?” he asked angrily.
I reached for his hand. “Baby, I—”
“Don’t, okay?” He pulled away. “I’m not gonna live like this. You hear me? I’m not gonna do it.”
Before I could even start an apology, he had picked up his suitcase and headed to the bedroom. The sound of the slamming door told me that I was not welcome to join him this time.
“Hey, Jamie. How you doing, Louis?” Sandra slipped into the backseat behind Louis, then leaned forward to kiss us both on the cheek.
I smiled as Louis put the car in gear, pulling away from Sandra’s apartment complex. I couldn’t wait to get to Daddy’s house, because my girl Sandra was about to break Keisha’s hold on my brother. There was no way he was going to be able to resist Sandra’s charm, smarts, and exotic good looks, not to mention her dynamite figure. She was tailor-made for my brother. Heck, she was even into sports, and he was a sports fanatic. She was the type of woman who could accompany a man to a black-tie affair one day, then hang out and play hoops and drink beer with him and his friends the next.
I turned sideways so I could see both her and Louis from my seat. “Girl, look at you. You look so cute.”
Sandra was wearing a pair of tight jeans and a red Baby Phat shirt that showed just enough of her assets. She didn’t have them spilling out in a distasteful, ho-ish fashion like some of the sisters I knew, which is
why I thought she might make a perfect fit with Darnel. She managed the health club where I worked out, and over time, we’d talked, which eventually led to us hanging out.
Men were always fawning over Sandra, because she was absolutely gorgeous—half-Korean, half-black, with a body even I was jealous of. She looked like a young Kimora Lee Simmons.
Men at the gym kept sweating her for her number, but she made it clear that she don’t shit where she eats, and since the gym provided her livelihood, the brothas didn’t have a chance. Besides, from everything I could tell, Sandra was into the more sophisticated, professional guys like my brother. Her previous boyfriend was a stockbroker. Now, that preference did make me think she might have some gold-digger tendencies, but I wasn’t too worried about it. It wasn’t like I was looking for her to have no long-term relationship with my brother. I just wanted him to get a taste of someone other than Keisha so he could move on with his life.
“I hope I’m not dressed too casual,” she said.
“Girl, please. Look at me. I got on jeans too. We’re just going over to my daddy’s for a barbeque, so you can meet my brother.”
Sandra smiled, leaning forward so that her head was between the two front seats. “So, tell me about this brother of yours.”
“Well, like I told you at the gym, he’s fine, so you ain’t got to worry about that.”
“Oh, I could tell that from his picture. But what kind of man is he? ’Cause I’m looking for a man, not a boy. Lord knows I’ve met enough of them.”
“Then, girl, you’re going to the right place. And I’m not just saying this ’cause he’s my brother. He’s a good
guy—fine, hardworking, and he treats a woman like a queen. Aside from Louis, he’s one of the only good ones left.”
“I hope so, Jamie, ’cause I’m sick of wasting my time.”
“Trust me, girl. His last girlfriend didn’t know how to appreciate him, ’cause she was a lame-ass snake.” I hadn’t bothered telling Sandra all the sordid details about Keisha and Darnel and Omar. She was cool and all, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I mean, what if she heard the whole story and decided my brother was damaged goods? “But I know you two are gonna hit it off,” I assured her.
“With all the losers I’ve met, it would be a miracle to actually meet someone who is who he says he is. Most of the ones I meet are such liars and have so much drama,” Sandra complained.
“Well, not Darnel. Ain’t that right, Louis?” I asked, trying to include him in the conversation. The silence made me glance over at Louis, who seemed to be ignoring me. He was still mad at me after I accused him of not going to Pennsylvania. “Louis?”
“I told you before we left home, don’t bring me into this, Jamie. I’m just the driver. If your brother was looking to find someone to date, don’t you think he could do it without your help? It’s not like there’s a shortage of women in New York.”
“But he does have my help, because that’s the kind of sister I am. I love Darnel, and I don’t see anything wrong with setting him up with someone who would appreciate him.” Maybe because Louis didn’t have any family, he didn’t understand that I would do anything to see my brother happy. “Besides,” I argued, “he told me it was all right.”
“Yeah, almost two weeks ago,” he mumbled.
“What did you say?” I wished he would repeat that in front of Sandra and embarrass me.
“Nothin’. I just think you should stay out of it,” he added. “I’m not saying you won’t get along with him, Sandra. I just think Jamie should stay out of it.”
“I understand, Louis. It’s not like we’re going out on a date. She’s just introducing us.”
Louis was always hating on the way I got involved with my family, but hey, it wasn’t my issue. If I listened to him and stayed out of it, my brother would just continue to chase after that stupid bitch. But I knew what was best for Darnel, even if he didn’t. There was one thing guaranteed to get Darnel’s mind off Keisha—the present I planned to deliver to him on a silver platter.
“Maybe you should call your brother and warn him I’m coming,” Sandra offered.
“Girl, don’t trip on Louis. I got this.”
Louis’s jaw tightened, and I knew he was upset. I hated it when he was mad at me. I slid my hand over onto his lap, giving him a reminder of the fun we’d had earlier. He might have still been upset about the whole Pennsylvania thing, but that never stopped Louis from wanting to get some of my good stuff. I gave him a little squeeze to let him know that I was not finished with him, and his facial expression relaxed just a bit.
“Did I tell you that Darnel has an MBA? He got a good J.O.B. too.”
Louis removed my hand from his lap. Damn, he could be so stubborn sometimes. But then again, I guess he would say the same thing about me.
“Gotta love a man with a job these days,” Sandra said with a smile. “Especially if it’s one that pays well.”
I turned around and high-fived my girl, paying no attention to Louis’s funky mood. “And did I tell you he used to run track? You two should run together.”
“Yeah, I love to run around Flushing Meadow Park,” Sandra added just as we pulled up to Daddy’s house.
I was surprised there wasn’t an unfamiliar car parked in the driveway. My father usually had some woman inviting herself over. He didn’t have any one type; they were mostly women from the church who knew how to stir a little something in the pots. Of course, it was still early enough for one of his latest fans to show up with a pie or a cake in hand, fawning all over him like he was the judge in the Miss Past-Your-Prime contest and she was hoping to win the big prize—him.
I carried some of the groceries to the door and used my key to let us all in, letting Louis grab the case of beer. Sandra carried the bottle of Bordeaux she’d brought. Mmm-hmm, I thought, Darnel had better be thanking me for convincing a banger like Sandra that he was worth a shot.
“Hey, Daddy.” I smiled as we walked out the back door and onto the deck. “This is Sandra.”
Daddy offered his hand to her; then he shot me a look. He knew me too damn well to think I had just casually invited some friend over. Even when I lived with my father, I wasn’t great about sharing his company, so friends were rarely over. Plus, Sandra was fine and smart, and exactly opposite of that loser Keisha. I gave my father a dazzling don’t-mess-this-up smile. He and Louis exchanged looks as if to say, “Women!” but I didn’t care, because I always knew what was good for the men in my life, even if they didn’t.
Daddy was lighting the grill, talking to Louis and Sandra as I prepped dinner in the kitchen.
“You want some help?” My girl came over to the table, where I was slicing the cucumber for the salad. I was about to hand her a knife to cut the carrots when
Darnel came into the kitchen, dressed like he was expecting company.
I hadn’t seen my brother in a couple of weeks, and thankfully he had pulled his stuff back up a few notches. After canceling the wedding, he’d been looking a little rough, but clearly that phase had passed. I just hoped Daddy was wrong and it wasn’t because he was sleeping with Keisha again. He was sporting a LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey over a red T-shirt, jeans, and some new sneakers. Even I had to admit he looked fine.
I glanced at Sandra and saw the unmistakable look of appreciation on her face. She definitely liked what she saw.
“Darnel, this is my friend Sandra. Could you get her a cocktail?” I threw them together quick before he got all weird on me. Since his fiasco, something was going on with my brother, but he didn’t let me close enough to figure it out. Fortunately, that mother of his did have the good sense to teach him how to treat a woman.
“Sure, what would you like?”
“Do you mind if I see what you have first?” She gave him this smile that could have changed the world. The next thing I knew, they were off into the house. My plan was moving along much more easily than I expected. I rushed my preparations and started putting the food on the table so I wouldn’t miss anything.