From ‘The Come Up':
“Don’t you want to know what happened?” she asked.
Jamal saw out of the corner of his eye that she had turned in her seat to look at him. “Really.”
Pulling out of traffic and onto a side-street, he hit the button above his visor that opened his building’s private garage. As they pulled down the ramp, Makayla seemed momentarily distracted, looking around the well-lit expanse in the underbelly of one of Manhattan’s most exclusive addresses. The apartment was expensive, no doubt about that, but the parking space was as well. In New York City, off-street parking was among the most prime of prime real estate.
“So how come you’re not curious about what happened when I went upstairs?” Makayla asked again.
“Because I’ve seen it a million times. I know that scenario so well, I could write the script.” He backed into the numbered parking space that was mere steps away from the elevator. Its location had been one of the main selling points, and had set him back an extra ten grand over some of the other spaces would have, but Jamal still considered it money well-spent.
“That’s kind of sad.”
“What these guys do to their women. Just because they can. All the cheating and lying. And y’know what the saddest part was?”
Jamal turned off the engine and gave her his complete focus. “What was the saddest part?”
“I could tell she didn’t believe me. She knew I was lying about it being my bag, but she chose to accept it. It was almost like she wanted me to tell the lie.”
Jamal shrugged. “Maybe she did. Because then it gives her the excuse she needs to stay.”
At that, Makayla said nothing, looking straight ahead.
“C’mon, let’s go up,” Jamal said, touching her arm. “Forget about all that.”
While they rode up in the elevator, Makayla remained quiet and Jamal wondered whether he’d made a mistake by exposing her so early to the seedier side of their work. This wasn’t the first time he had helped one of his artists out of a jam when they were deceiving a spouse. In fact, this was one of the tamest episodes he’d ever been involved in; and it was only because he knew the spouse in question that he was able to send Makayla up there on her own. Some women were considerably less reasonable and much more prone to violence. Once, he had personally had to talk down the knife-wielding fiancée of a top ten recording artist while she threatened to “slice his Johnson off.”
Three-Base’s domestic drama wasn’t the worst Jamal had seen by a longshot, but he was definitely a serial offender in the game of adultery; and Makayla was right, Missy wanted to be lied to. She made a lot of noise about her husband’s infidelities, but had yet to make even the slightest gesture toward separation. In fact, the few times he’d been caught red-handed, her way of coping had been to slam the other woman on social media. It was hard to maintain sympathy for a woman in a situation like that.
In the hallway leading to his apartment, Makayla walked slowly, so Jamal modulated his pace to match hers. Tonight at the book party, he wanted to spend a lot more time with her, but it was a work event, so there were about a dozen people he needed to touch base with. While he did, he couldn’t help but watch her across the room. She spent most of her time with Devin, both of them obviously thick as thieves, talking with heads together and laughing at private jokes. Occasionally, someone approached Devin and Makayla wandered away on her own, a drink in hand that she never actually took a single sip from that he could see, and an almost shy smile on her face.
She was still getting her legs under her in this world, and hadn’t yet come to realize that at events like that, she was supposed to be networking, introducing herself to people, and getting in with the right ones. Jamal would teach her all that in time.
“Here we are.”
He stopped at his door and fished out his keys while Makayla waited. Holding her clutch purse in both hands, Jamal could see the subtle lift and fall of her shoulders as she took a breath. She was nervous.
When the door opened, she paused before going in. Jamal watched her take it in. Immediately opposite the front door was the sitting area, flanked by a wall of windows, opening out to magnificent view of the Hudson. This view alone had sold Jamal on the place when he first looked at it. The price, then, had been somewhat out of his reach and the mortgage required him to forgo a lot of other stuff for a while, like furniture. For eighteen months, he’d lived in an apartment empty of furnishings except for a bed and dresser, just so he could come home to this view.
Makayla took a few steps in, and looked right and left. His living room was ultra-modern, with pieces in white and pewter. A white stacked slate fireplace was to the left, and behind it the kitchen. To the right, a long narrow hallway led to the two large bedroom suites, and an entertainment room where Jamal rarely entertained, but often sat with this laptop or tablet, or watching a solitary game. Though he had imagined his bachelor pad as teeming with people and parties, once he moved in, he found that he really wanted it to be his sanctuary. On occasion he had women over, but the parties never happened. His home was, thus far, his greatest accomplishment and he wasn’t eager to expose it to the uncertainties that came with a room full of rowdy guests.
Without waiting for his invitation, Makayla walked through the rooms, one by one, and Jamal silently followed her. She opened doors and looked in the bathrooms (all three of them), sat on his chairs and went to stare for a few moments out the living room window.
“Wow,” she said, when finally she had seen everything.
“I never knew anyone who could afford to live like this in the middle of New York City.”
“I didn’t always live like this.” Jamal shrugged.
“I bet you’re happy you kicked your corporate law career to the curb, huh?”
“Yeah, but not because of the money. Or not just because of the money.” He headed for the kitchen, opening the refrigerator, and Makayla followed. “You want something to eat? They didn’t have much at that party.”
“What have you got?” She put a hand on his back as she leaned around him to peer into the open fridge.
Her hand on his back, exerting very slight pressure, the light scent of her perfume and just the awareness of her being here, in his space felt good. Jamal turned to face her and Makayla looked up at him, expectantly. Her eyes were wide, and large, her nostrils flared slightly and her lips fell apart a little as though she was about to speak. If that was what she intended, Jamal didn’t wait to find out. He kissed her. He couldn’t seem to stop doing that.
Sometimes their kisses were almost whimsical, like in the car earlier outside of Three-Base’s building. Sometimes they were exciting, and dangerous, like when he grabbed her in his office and stole some time before they had to go to a staff meeting. But now, this kiss, this was something else entirely. It was a prelude to something more, so Jamal took his time with it, tugging her lower lip between his, using the tip of his tongue to tease hers and letting her do the same. Both her hands were around him now, and she leaned her head to one side so they could kiss deeper, and harder.
Suddenly, a high-pitched whine broke the quiet and Makayla jerked away from him.
“It’s the fridge. It has a sensor for when the door’s left open,” he explained. Moving them away from it, he reached over to shut it but Makayla stopped him.
“I actually am hungry,” she said with a sly smile.
“Me too,” Jamal said, and she smiled wider, knowing that he wasn’t talking about food.
They made omelets with gruyere, diced tomatoes and onions, and when Jamal tried to go easy on the onions, Makayla playfully dumped more of them in. Jamal planned to take her into the entertainment room to eat but she instead wanted to go out to the balcony where they ignored the dinette and sat side by side on the same lounge chair. The chair was large but still, to accommodate them both, Makayla had to be partly reclined against his chest, which made it awkward for Jamal to eat, but he didn’t say anything because he liked having her there.
“So … about this whole thing with Three-Base,” Makayla said, while she dug into her omelet.
“Aw, man, are you still on that?”
“Yeah. I’m just curious. Don’t you ever feel … like you’re contributing to it, by being the alibi when those guys mess around on their women? Doesn’t it ever make you feel guilty?”
“Not really, no.”
“No?” Makayla turned a little so she could look at him.
The loc that he’d pulled from her bun earlier that evening had come free once again and was resting on her shoulder. Jamal reached for it, feeling its coarse thickness between his fingers. Her locs smelled like coconut.
“I don’t make them cheat. And whether I was there or not, that’s what they would be doing.”
“You sure about that?” she challenged. “If they didn’t know they had a clean-up crew, would they really be as brazen as they are?”
“I’m not the Morality Police. I’m a guy who develops artists, and does what he can to make sure nothing gets in the way of that development …”
“Or in the way of Scaife making money.”
Jamal shrugged. “That too, yeah.”
Makayla turned and leaned against him again, resuming her meal. Though she didn’t say anything, he could feel her disappointment, her judgment.
“If you’re thinking I condone what they do, that I’m cool with it, you would be wrong. If you’re thinking that because they do it, I would do it too …”
“Would you?” She turned and looked at him again.
“I want to believe that,” she said finally.
“Look at me.”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said simply.
“You might not mean to,” Makayla said. “But …”
Jamal grinned. “How do I know you’re not going to hurt me?”