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Authors: Bonita Thompson

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BOOK: Vulnerable
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Sicily decided a drink would relax her. She reached for a Ste. Michelle bottle in the wrought-iron wine rack. It was a refined red she bought last time she and Rawn went to Chateau Ste. Michelle. She had not planned to open it this soon, but she was antsy. After pouring a glass, she went back to her armchair and stared out at the day while it began to fade softly into a dramatic dusk. In that moment it became obvious to her that summer was almost over—the hues of the day vanished earlier in recent days.

Throughout the board meeting she had to keep pushing away the intrusive thoughts about the date she had a few nights ago. It took experience, wisdom, or both to figure it out: If someone did not return her call within a day and a half, she could scratch that one off the list. It became her thirty-six-hour rule. There was little reason to even put them in contacts. As a rule, Sicily was honest. She let the date know that the chemistry was not there. Yet more people than Sicily cared to think about were immature, narcissistic, and anxious when it came to being honest. It stroked their ego to play games with people's sentiments. Likewise, they operated
under the belief that they needed drama and chaos so as to feel relevant. It was such a pathetic cliché, but it did not mean it was any less true:
You have to kiss a few idiots…
She was halfway finished with her glass of Cabernet Sauvignon when she finally became aware of the sound of her new ringtone. Her cellular was in her mailbag across the room.

Sicily dashed for the mailbag she bought at Everything Dayna—and a few too many women were carrying the same bag and in the same color around Seattle. Eagerly she rummaged through the stylish, junky handbag, saying beneath her breath, “Where is that thing?” She reached deep into the bottom. “Why do I carry all this crap?… Yes, hello! Rawn.” Not conscious of it, but the intensity of her body naturally relaxed. Sicily reacted like his voice was a prescribed drug that did the trick. “I was thinking about you. Did you get my message?” She sat in the armchair and curled up; the self-pity that only moments ago started to kick in began to ease up. “So you're up for going to Kingfish tomorrow? And you'll be here by…I can drive. No, really, I don't mind. Okay. See you then. 'Bye.”

When she released the call, Sicily stared out at the stunning sunset; vivid colors perched over the calm bay. She sighed.
Goddess, I want a lover.

•  •  •

Kingfish Café, with its storefront façade, was an unassuming restaurant in a residential street where closely quartered houses and ancient trees dotted the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Amid an intimate setting, Rawn and Sicily leaned against a wall sipping wine, expecting a table to become available any minute. A number of people sat or stood nearby having drinks and indulging in conversation. A small queue trailed out onto 19th Avenue into the Seattle air that was characteristically cool and damp.

“Are you going to resign from the board?” Rawn asked.

Sicily pondered momentarily, her mind seemingly elsewhere despite the fact she had looked forward to seeing Rawn all week. “No. I like the contribution they make to the community. AIDS has taken too many friends away from me. Between the Academy's trustees and the A Blanket for My Friend board…I didn't become a member of that board to deal with a lot of B.S. AIDS isn't a game, and politics has no place with something this important.”

“You're serious? Politics has its hands in everything. And life…hey, there's always going to be some B.S. in life.”

Sicily looked into her wineglass, contemplating. She stared at the dark plum-colored wine. “Rawn, really. Do you always have to go deep?”

He grinned to himself, casually looking at the queue on the sidewalk that never seemed to move, not even a foot.

“I thought I met someone,” she said, to change the subject.

“What happened? No, let me guess. Not your
type?
As much as you get on my case about…”

“You're right—not my type. But that wasn't the problem.”

“So what happened?”

“I'm not sure. Maybe it's that first sign of flighty. Besides, the date was too young.”

“How young?”

Sicily nursed her wine while scrutinizing the people whose faces she could scarcely make out from the warm glow of the room.
“Young.”

“Young as in cradle-robbing—what?”

It was rare Sicily did not feel some level of contentment whenever she was in Rawn's company. Giggling, she remarked, “Close enough. Nineteen.”

“Nineteen! Where did you two meet?”

“U-Dub. A student.”

“What were you doing with a student at UW?”

“I had a committee meeting over there. Our paths…crossed. We hung out. It was fun. I knew it couldn't be anything else.”

“Nineteen. I guess not. I saw someone.”

“Saw
—what, like a celebrity? What are you talking about?”

“I have to say, this one did get my attention.”

“Well, did you say anything?”

Rawn ruminated. “I wasn't sure it would lead anywhere. Besides… I—I didn't bother.”

“It's not like you're looking for someone to marry. Where did you see her?”

“Café Neuf.”

“Why didn't you say something? Do you think a
sister
on, of all places, Crescent Island, would turn down your extra fine…?”

“She was white.”

“Like Caucasian white?”

“Like Caucasian white.”

“What?”
Sicily frowned. “That's why you didn't say anything. That's more Khalil's thing.” They each drank their wine choices, and Rawn gazed at the mix of people lingering nearby. “How's Khalil, by the way?”

“He's in London.”

“You know, I don't see you with a white woman.”

“You have trouble seeing me with any woman. You didn't like Jas. You thought she was using me. Using me for what?”

“Then she moved to L.A. and slept with your best friend. I mean, look, Khalil is who he is and I love that he makes no apologies. But Jas? Even Khalil deserves better. She was with Khalil because she thought he could help her get a record deal. I mean, he's a sports agent with connections, I'm sure. But… Sisters without credibility…she makes us—the credible ones—look bad.”

“And DiDi. You loathed her…”

“Oh, please—her!” Sicily butted in. “She has three snotty-nosed kids, or is it two kids?—I forget. That's the last woman you needed. Besides, she was only twenty-six, goodness gracious! She wanted a daddy figure because the daddies to those snotty-nosed kids weren't responsible and hadn't paid child support in who knows when. Who, in their right mind, has three kids by three men…?”

“Two!” Rawn interjected.

“Sorry,
two
different men, and before she even turns thirty? I'm thirty-five and I've never even been proposed to. And I have far more to offer than a woman who spreads her legs… Who doesn't discriminate.”

Rawn chuckled. His eyes followed the svelte waitress passing by. It was hard to disagree with Sicily because, while she was opinionated, there were few flaws in her argument.

“What about that Café Neuf waitress? The one with a name like—something Kwanzaa—Unity, no…See, now she's fine. Without all that drama. She has credibility!”

“How do you know? You never even talked to Imani.”

“Oh, trust me, she's
credible.”

A waitress interrupted Sicily. “Your table's ready. Follow me.”

Rawn and Sicily tagged behind the poised waitress to their table in a softly lit spot of the dining area. Over her shoulder, Sicily said, “Now she's what I'm talking about.”

Rawn lowered his voice. “Sicily, give it a rest!”

•  •  •

Every tangible detail about Tamara suggested anonymity. Her beauty was natural. Most men—and women, too—would pause and give her stunning look a prolonged appraisal. Shy of six feet tall, she was seductively built. Tamara stepped out of the black sports car in a pair of skin-tight black slacks, and a next-to-nothing
halter top that revealed her full cleavage, slender abdomen, and a small but visible tattoo. The line of people waiting to enter the café could not help but witness her awkward misstep. She reached for her date, Henderson Payne, who managed to catch her before she slipped and fell. The crowd looked on at the couple inquisitively, as their appearance created a buzz. Both were accustomed to attention, but for totally isolated reasons.

Tamara slipped off her open-toed shoe. “Oh, no, my heel. It's loose.”

“Tamara, baby, I'm sorry. We don't have to eat out tonight. We can order from my suite. It's more private than this restaurant. Even better, I know the owners; they'd have something delivered for me.”

Tamara attempted a makeshift repair and slipped the sandal back on her foot, using Henderson's multimillion-dollar right arm to maintain her balance. “No,” she said. “I want to
dine
at Kingfish, that's why we came. I'll manage.”

“Woman, you're six feet tall barefooted. Why do you wear stiletto heels anyway?”

“Let me ask you something, Henderson.” She leaned into his chest.

“Oh, no. Here we go.” Henderson placed his hands into the pockets of his trousers and, without intending to, posed like a male model.

“Come on, I'm curious. Where does your wife think you are right now?”

“She thinks I'm in Seattle taking care of business. Why?”

“Does she know you're having dinner with me? Your ex-lover? The one you were sleeping with while she was carrying your third child? The one that nearly…”

“Hold up, now. You need not go back in time and dredge up…”

“I'm just saying…”

“Do you mind?…” Henderson held out his hand which suggested
after you.

Tamara reached up and kissed Henderson's cheek, leaving a deep berry-colored imprint on his skin in the shape of luscious lips. “I promise to be a good girl, I promise. I won't embarrass you.”

He moistened his mouth with his tongue, considering how good she looked under the glow of the streetlight. Henderson draped her arm into his, and they strolled past the crowd of people still waiting to get inside the café. Henderson opened the door for Tamara, and people inside waiting for tables promptly fell all over themselves to shake Henderson's hand, and a string of hellos and how-are-yous and shoulder bumps traveled with them while they made their way to the crowded bar.

•  •  •

Rawn often spent a good amount of time deciding what he was in the mood for. He was a picky eater. Sicily had already decided and asked their waitress to bring an order of catfish cakes to get her started. She twirled a lock of hair with her finger and nursed her wine, checking out the clientele. She thought, the pseudo-sophisticated crowd, and her line of thinking helped to amuse herself. Rawn was still mulling over the menu when she looked over at him. Sicily looked away and her eyes—accentuated by hazel-colored contacts—wandered to the bar. They fell straight on Henderson Payne dressed in his traditional urban black.
He is one fine man. Who is he with?
Sicily's back went ironing board-straight. Henderson towered over a woman sitting on a stool striking a pose, basking in the attention they were receiving. Henderson was definitely with her—they were too familiar, too
cozy. That man is so brazen!
His date was naturally striking; clearly ersatz.
Henderson liked them tall and unanimously attractive. Sicily checked out the outfit the companion was wearing. Smirking, she took notice of others dining nearby to see if anyone else had recognized Henderson. Nearly everyone was looking his way, but were they looking more at Henderson or the woman who accompanied him? Even if she was not in a well-known Seattle restaurant and openly flirting with one of the highest-paid players in the NBA, her presence would command one to do a double-take.
She can't possibly live in Seattle. Our paths would have crossed long before now.

•  •  •

Tamara needed to get out of the townhouse, and when Henderson rang her up and asked if she wanted to “hook up” because he was in town “for a minute,” she was dressed and waiting for him in twenty. The type of girl that did not require too much makeup to camouflage small imperfections, all Tamara needed to do was to decide on what she would look good in. Since she was bloated—that time of the month, and unfortunately for Henderson—she needed to wear black! Before he called, she was starting to feel sorry for herself. Calling friends in Amsterdam and Istanbul and back home in D.C., and family in the Caribbean; not one unreliable soul was answering their phones! Now, feeling more herself, she looked around the room with its Pacific Northwest energy while combing her long fingers through her cropped hairdo that emphasized her exotic features. She placed her hand on Henderson's chest like it was the most natural thing she ever did, and she could hear the chatter, but like years ago, Tamara was unfazed.

While Henderson made polite small talk with a “fan,” she searched the dining room for any familiar faces—clients, for one—and detected this woman sitting at a table with a man across the romantically lit room, staring at her.
What is she gawking at?
Henderson
leaned toward her and said into her ear he needed to take a call. Tamara nodded with understanding. She smiled broadly to the woman who was very interested in what was going on between her and the married ballplayer. When the woman across the room clumsily reached for her menu putting on like she was not remotely intrigued, Tamara laughed. But curiosity could leave one spellbound: the woman who sat across the room could not keep her eyes away from the bar. For a split-second, Tamara wondered if she had some Henderson Payne history. But then she thought better of it because the woman, while attractive, was not his type. Tamara bent forward—her naturally full breasts nearly exposed from the skimpy halter top—and blew the nosy woman a deliberately seductive kiss.

BOOK: Vulnerable
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