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Authors: Bonita Thompson

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BOOK: Vulnerable
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Tamara played with the idea in her head:
Why can't I be attracted to people who are emotionally and psychologically available? Why can't I
or fall for—people who
or fell for—me?
Henderson's theory still stuck in her head four years later:
Daddy issues.

“Hey, baby,” Tamara said.

Henderson looked over his shoulder, and instantly his grimace turned into his trademark grin—a set of naturally white and even
teeth—was all she even noticed.
He is so damn fine. Why are the fine ones always complicated, married, tragic, vain and emotionally bankrupt?

“Hey,” he said back. Offhandedly, he reached for his classy watch on the table and looked at it fleetingly. “I can't miss my flight. Are you hungry?”

“Tea sounds delightful!”

“Do you mind taking me to Sea-Tac? You know what to do with my ride.”

Henderson was bare-chested and in a pair of silk pajama bottoms. As a rule, he slept in the nude, even on the road. Actually, hours ago, he took Tamara by surprise when he slipped on the PJ bottoms before he crawled under the fine bedding that draped over the king-sized bed. When he rose from the chair, Henderson reached for paperwork that he had been studying soberly when she disturbed him, and said, “Order me something, okay? I'm in the shower.”

“Okay,” Tamara said in a subdued voice. “Bacon or sausage?”

“Surprise me,” he said with a wink.

Tamara waited until she heard the shower water running before she pulled herself up with her elbows. She squinted at the slice of calm sunshine trickling into the large suite; the bank of ominous clouds that attempted to take over the sky disappeared, at least for the meantime. Tamara noted the time on Henderson's cellular.

Hastily, her feet met the soft carpeted floor. Clad in a black lace thong and bra, she slipped into her outfit from the previous evening. She checked herself out in the mirror and finger-combed her cropped hairdo. She looked closer at her image in the mirror. “Oh, God. I'm starting to look…my age. How much longer can I hold the attention of a man like Henderson?”
Is he still attracted to me or am I nothing more than
I've been hearing lately that thirty is the new forty?

While walking across the suite to her heels at the foot of the bed, she used her fingertips to remove any sleep in the corners of her eyes. She wet the tip of her pinky and wiped mascara that smeared beneath her almond-shaped eyes. Tamara tucked the heels under her armpit and reached for a pen and scribbled a note to Henderson on the hotel stationery:
I'm running late. I need to meet a client. Bisous-bisous.

Outside his hotel suite, she slipped on her sandals and eagerly trotted to the elevator. Waiting in front of the elevator doors, she thought better of leaving the way that she had. She told herself if, at the count of five, the doors did not open, she would go back. At three the elevator arrived. When the doors closed, in an explicit voice, Tamara prayed: “God, I need you to help me out. I can't get caught up in drama anymore. Don't put me in the same place and at the same time with men like Henderson again. Send me a man who's available—not only physically, but emotionally.” Just when the doors opened, she finished her prayer with a frantic,


he day was as clear as crystal, and the sky a stunning cobalt blue. Heading eastbound on the twin bridges, the tranquil color of forest green and spots of clouds in the distant horizon blended exotically into one. Imani was hitting about 57 miles per hour when she had to brake fast to keep from slamming into the Land Rover ahead of her. Instantly, the early day traffic began to swerve right and left like there was an earthquake rattling the floating bridge; automobile after automobile came to an abrupt, screeching halt. Imani feared the possibility of the Armageddon at some point in the New Millennium, so she freaked! Catching her breath, she studied the road ahead, trying to ascertain what had happened. She had not heard anything on the radio that would indicate there was a pileup, not even a fender-bender. Through her rearview mirror, she witnessed dozens of cars lined up behind her, and in the accompanying lane. She was running late.
I need to break down and buy a cell phone.
She switched off the “smooth jazz” station—the music was a distraction. Trouble started barking at a kid making faces at him in the car next to hers. “Shush!” Imani snapped at Trouble. “Stop it!” Trouble ceased barking for a few seconds before he began barking again. “Trouble!” Imani was getting testy and annoyed. She knew she should have left Seattle sooner, but that was not the real issue. From the time she got out of bed she was feeling strange. The elusive sensation reminded her of the day her mother collapsed and Imani called 9-1-1. Within minutes of reaching the ER, her mother's life—her life story— ended.

It was simply not avoidable; Imani had to look at the time.
I should have taken the ferry.
She stretched her torso to get a better look, but cars spread beyond what her eyes could perceive. It was not like she could just pull off at the next exit. Over 6,000 feet above Lake Washington, the closest exit was a good mile, and she could barely see the exit sign from her vantage point. Trouble barked again. Imani turned and snapped, “Trouble! I mean it, stop barking.” Her warm brown eyes darted to a little boy sitting in the passenger seat in the SUV next to hers, sticking his tongue out at the Afghan hound. When Imani caught the little boy's eye, she gave him a long stare and held up her hand which implied
The kid, reacting like a child whose hand was caught in a cookie jar, snapped his neck in a new direction. Imani exhaled deeply, leaning her head against her fist. The sailboats dotting the aqua-blue body of water caught her eye. Wetting her lips, she cut her eyes away from the sailboats and tried to stay calm. “Come on! What's going on up there?” Only moments later did she hear a helicopter overhead which made her say to Trouble, “It's serious. Trouble, and we're so late!”

Ninety minutes later she dashed into her Pilates studio, and the receptionist stopped her with, “I take it you didn't get my message?”

“Trouble!” The Afghan hound sat obediently. “What message? No,” Imani said. “Take care of Trouble for me. Did Patsi take my one o'clock?” Imani dropped her tote to the floor.

“No, I mean yes. But…Imani, you got a call. Something's happened.” The receptionist reached down to smooth Trouble's soft coat of sable-colored fur.

“Okay, but…How about my twelve o'clock? Who took over the class?”

The receptionist reached for Trouble's collar. Her look was a mixture of dismay and empathy. “I wish you'd gotten my message.”

Still annoyed for having to sit on the floating bridge for nearly two hours, Imani snapped, “What message?”

“You need to call your sister.”

“My sister? You mean Kenya?” Imani barely spoke to Kenya, and knew that her calling the studio meant something was up. Divorce? No, her marriage was solid. Besides, she probably would not bother to call Imani with that news.
That might warrant an e-mail, but a call, and to the studio? Their father, Dante Godreau, the celebrated jazz pianist, was on both of his daughters about grandchildren. Imani was not feeling that; Kenya would tell Dante and Dante would tell Imani. She refused to go to any number of dark places. Imani reached for her tote and draped it over her forearm. “What did she want?”

“Imani, you
to call your sister!”

The pitch of Patsi's voice gave Imani pause. The receptionist was so unyielding.

“Call Kenya,” said the receptionist, in a no-nonsense tone.

When Imani opened her studio, no one on Crescent Island had even heard of Pilates. After a serious Vespa accident while vacationing in Montenegro five years back, she had to end her career as a professional dancer. Roughly ten years ago, a colleague introduced Imani to Pilates, and following her accident it helped to put her body back into alignment. Something Imani lacked was concentration, and Pilates worked wonders for her awareness of the breath; likewise, her balance.

She traveled for a year until she met someone, and she fell deep; so much so she lost all sense of her
When they broke up, it was both devastating and heartrending. Imani was not sure she could trust herself again. While visiting a close friend, Jean-Pierre's wife, Carmen, on Crescent Island, her spirit felt renewed and whole and she decided to move to Washington. The Pilates studio was Carmen's
idea. Imani, who customarily waited until she stopped overanalyzing the pros and cons of a decision, enrolled in a Pilates teaching course in Vancouver, B.C. two days later. She dared not ask her father, Dante, for one red cent. As an alternative—and it was potentially risky—Imani took every dime she saved while dancing and opened the first Pilates studio on Crescent Island, and purchased a fixer-upper in Seattle.

“It's not like you to be impulsive,” her father said.

“This one, Dante.
very right.”

“And it has nothing to do with Blaine?” her father, Dante, asked.

“Of course not,” Imani snapped.
Blaine had everything to do with it.


“Where have you been, Im?”

“Well, hello to you, too.”

“I don't have time for this. You need to get to New York. Papa's in the hospital.”

“Why? What?…”

“You need to get to New York as soon as humanly possible. I'm leaving Toronto in two hours!”

“Kenya, you're scaring me.”

“Have you watched the news? I know you don't have cable, but you do listen to the radio. It's all over the news, Im.”

Imani reached for her chair and pulled it close, then sat. “Kenya, you have to tell me what's happened to Dante.”

“Im,” Kenya sighed. “It's serious…he—he may not make it.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” she yelled into the receiver. Mechanically, she stood and planted a hand on her hip.

“Get your ass on a plane!”

Stunned, Imani looked at the receiver. “No she didn't hang up on me.”


ickboxing never let D'Becca down. When she put in a workout she felt such freedom, and any angst was released. Whatever stress claimed her spirit, kickboxing took care of it. Troy, her dear friend and personal trainer, could detect her aggression with each kick and punch. When the fifty-pound heavy bag scarcely missed his groin, he said, “Whoa, hey!”


“Look,” Troy said, “let's call it a day, all right?”

D'Becca, hyped and sweaty, felt better at that moment than in weeks. “I needed that, thanks.” She tried to control her breathing.

Troy helped her take off her striking pads. “You want to talk about it?”

Wiping sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand, D'Becca said, “What do you mean?”

“Come on, it's me, Becca.”

She reached over and gently caressed Troy's cheek with her lips. “I'm fine, really.”

His eyes lingered on her face for a brief moment. “Tonight?”


“You know I leave for South Beach first thing, and I won't be back before the New Year.”

“I hate that you're opening up a gym in South Beach. Not only am I losing my trainer, I'm losing one of my dearest friends.”

“Come to Miami. Hang out. My place is more than big enough for the both of us.” Troy studied his friend, trying to decide where her head was.
“The climate's about to change here. Soon it'll be raining every single day. You'll get really moody—that winter blues thing you go through every year since I've known you. You love South Beach.”

“I used to love South Beach. I'm not in that frame of mind anymore.”

“But a hiatus will do you good.”

“You know I can't do that. Don't even tempt me,” she warned him, fanning her damp and flushed face with her hands.

Troy took her into his arms and they shared an affectionate, lingering embrace. He released her and said, “Go! Tonight. Seven?” His left brow placed an emphasis on

“Seven! Cheers!”

D'Becca started walking toward the showers, and Troy slapped her buttocks with a towel. “And I mean seven, Becca!”

“Seven. I cross my heart and hope to die.” D'Becca sketched a cross against her chest with her index finger.

Although he said it in a voice that was not intended for her ears, D'Becca heard Troy say, “You need to learn to choose your words carefully.”

Twenty minutes later, she was towel-drying her hair while reciting a mantra: “I will be on time.” In a pair of boyshorts and a demi bra, D'Becca reached for her ringing cellular nearby. “Hello. Hey.” After listening to the caller momentarily, her shoulders drooped in apparent disappointment. “What now? So when?” And with an edge to her voice, she said, “Fine.” D'Becca rolled her eyes. Not exactly sure when, but she had finally reached a breaking point with the lame excuses and hollow apologies. “Okay, sure.
. 'Bye.” She stared at the cellular before tossing it to a gym bag nearby. The workout with Troy must have mentally prepared her for this moment. Even while she was quite let down, oddly, D'Becca did
not pity herself as she had done numerous times in the past.
Maybe—Am I immune to being treated this way?

When D'Becca entered Street Two Books and Café, the first person to catch her eye was the black guy she saw in Café Neuf a week before. If the concept that nothing happened randomly was a sure thing, then to presuppose that they both being at the same place at precisely the same time could only mean that it was incontrovertible fate. But that was purely based on whether one believed in that sort of thing. She could ignore the fact that she saw him—because so what that she did—and chalk it up to no more than a coincidence. A fluke was something she trusted far more than metaphysical ideas about nothing in life happened by chance. Still, running into the same person twice—and in the same neighborhood?—was not something that happened to D'Becca. Surprises, serendipity, that kind of stuff—it was not her brand of karma.

BOOK: Vulnerable
7.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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