From ‘The Come Up’:
Oh god, she was going to die. She was going to just D.I.E. No one could throw up as much as she had and not just keel over and drift into the sweet hereafter. Her stomach felt like it had been literally turned inside out like an old gym sock, and Makayla was pretty sure that was what its lining tasted like as well. Bitter and bilious, foul and … ugh, just thinking about it made her want to vomit again.
Slowly rolling over, she reached for the pail next to her bed, too weak to do anything about the rancid stench that rose from it. She would have to get up and empty it. The odor wasn’t helping her already fragile stomach, and pretty soon she would have to manage being in vertical position so she could make sure her grandmother took her medication.
Putting a hand over her mouth in case there was some of the same projectile vomiting she’d experienced in the wee hours of the morning, she managed to slide over the edge of the bed and sit on the floor. It was cool, which felt unexpectedly good, so Makayla allowed herself to slide the rest of the way down until she was curled in a fetal position, her cheek pressed against the wood. Just as she was beginning to entertain the thought of taking a short nap there, her phone rang.
The noise was jarring and unpleasant to her clanging brain, so she made herself sit up as quickly as was possible in her current condition, and groped about until she found it, buried somewhere among her bed sheets.
“Yes?” She croaked as she answered it.
On the other end someone laughed. “Thought you said you could keep up, Hughes.”
Jerking upright, Makayla was rewarded by a swimming, dizzying sensation, accompanied by the now familiar roiling in the pit of her stomach.
“Jamal?” she said.
She’d forgotten—probably too drunk to recall—that it was Friday, not Saturday. A workday; and unless she got her ass in gear, it would be a late-for-work day as well.
“Yeah. I need you in here for a nine-thirty with your boy. Drink lots of water, Hughes. And then call for a car.”
“A car?” Makayla repeated.
“We have a car service. I’ll have Karlie send you a car. You need to be here for this meeting. C’mon now. I thought you said you could keep up.”
“I can. I just … never…” Makayla reached for the pail, hoping against hope that she wasn’t about to throw up while her boss listened on the other end of the line. “I just …”
“Here’s a tip,” Jamal said, amusement still in his voice. “Every alcoholic beverage you consume must be followed by twice its volume in water. No exceptions. Because of that rule, I haven’t had a hangover since I was nineteen. It’ll make you piss like a racehorse all night, but you won’t miss work the next day. And you better not miss work today either. I need you in here.”
And with that, he hung up, leaving Makayla to hug the pail next to her and upchuck the very last remnants of whatever that greenish-gray stuff was, and then stand up to stagger her way to the shower.
When she made it into the office, she was only fifteen minutes late for work, and comfortably on time for the meeting that Jamal said he needed her for. Clutching a large bottle of water, Makayla walked slowly toward her office, ignoring the stares and titters from the offices flanking the long hallway. She looked like half-baked cow crap; she knew that, but just didn’t care. Having mustered up only as much energy as it took to drag on a rumpled gray linen skirt and white t-shirt with black gladiator sandals. She wasn’t even sure whether her last pedicure was holding up but had neither the will nor the energy to go in search of her ballet flats.
All she could manage before heading out to the waiting car was a quick check that Nana had taken her pills and a promise that she would be home early to cook.
Now, as she got to her office, she was surprised to find none other than Devin sitting at her desk, feet up, and playing around with something on his phone. Wearing jeans and a distressed army jacket, he looked like the very antithesis of how she felt—bursting with energy, health and a decent night’s sleep.
“What the … damn, Kay, what you been up to?”
“Shut up,” she said shoving his feet off her desk.
“You smell like … Are you drunk?”
She was. Apart from being hung-over, Makayla realized as she swayed unsteadily in the shower earlier that morning, that she was also still a teensy bit inebriated. Insufficient hours had passed for her to be completely clear of all the alcohol in her system. Jamal Turner had been no joke to keep pace with. He ordered drink after drink, each and every one names she had heard of but never personally imbibed—Courvoisier, Perignon, Bombay Sapphire, Tequila Ley … drinks that should probably never be consumed in the same sitting. But like an idiot, she had.
“I was out last night,” she explained, collapsing into the vacant chair and taking another swig of water.
“Who with? I never known you to drink like that.”
Before she could say another word, Jamal Turner was leaning into her office. Nodding at Devin, he crooked a finger at Makayla.
“Lemme holla at you right quick,” he said. “Devin, we’ll be back to get you in a minute.”
Standing once again with some effort, Makayla followed Jamal down a few doors to his office at the end of the hall, noting that he looked none the worse for the wear. His office, which she’d only been in a couple times before, was more like the living room of a luxury apartment, decked out with modern showpiece furniture. The desk and computer were relegated to the least obtrusive corner of the room, like afterthoughts, which made sense since most of Jamal’s “work” seemed to happen elsewhere. Like at Onyx.
“Take a seat,” he told her, indicating a comfortable chair near the door.
Makayla obeyed, while he pushed his door so that it was almost but not quite shut.
“So how’re you feelin’?” he asked.
Makayla shook her head, not able to muster up the will or energy to lie.
“Don’t ever do that again,” he said.
Sitting even more upright, she looked at him in surprise. “But you …”
“I goaded you into it,” Jamal said. “Egged you on?”
Jamal nodded. “And I’m your boss so you thought you had to go along with it.”
“Well, yeah.” Makayla moved closer to the edge of her seat. If he was about to reprimand her for behavior he had practically forced her into, she was going to flip out on his ass. If she could manage it, feeling as crappy as she did.
“The people you’ll be working with are big-name performers. People used to having folks do what they tell them to do.” Jamal sat on a chair opposite hers. He wasn’t smiling now, but looking directly at her, his expression focused and compelling her to do the same. “Most of them work hard; some of them play even harder. Last night, the drinking you did …”
“No. You. I drank one drink for every two you had, Hughes.”
Makayla was shaking her head as Jamal nodded his.
“You did. I counted. I put something in front of you and you drank it. I only sometimes drank mine. Most of the night I had water with lemon.”
“Why?” he supplied for her.
“Yeah. Why? Were you trying to get me drunk?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t sure you’d take the bait. But you did.”
“I still don’t get why you would do that,” Makayla said, beginning to get a little angry.
“Like I said. The people we work for—the performers? They’re our bosses, just like I’m your boss. Sometimes they play real hard, and they try to get us to play with them. Like we’re their peers. Their … friends. But we’re not. We’re the help.”
“Those high-dollar, high-alcohol drinks I gave you? Some of our clients indulge like that on a daily. And they don’t always enjoy having someone sitting across from them who’s stone-cold sober, looking all judgmental, making them feel like they might not have things under control.
“So they’ll push you, press you, and sometimes even ridicule you if you don’t join in. And once in a while they have other things, too—cocaine, heroin, hell, I’ve even seen some with PCP—and they might try to push that on you as well. You need to learn how to say ‘no’. Even when you’re talking to your boss.”
So. It had been a test. She had known it was, but it wasn’t the test she thought it was. And she had failed miserably.
Seeming to see something on her face, Jamal leaned forward, his eyes more sympathetic now, and holding hers.
“Look, this is a lot to take in. I just don’t want to see you learn it the hard way. We’re tourists in that life, you and me. We don’t live there like they do. Okay? So you go in, you take a look around, you sample some of the local specialties if you want. But don’t get caught up.”
“So I should have said no to the drinks.”
Jamal shrugged. “Or said yes. But know your limits, and have only as much as you can handle. Every minute you spend with the talent you’re working. And you need to stay sharp, especially when they’re not. Remember that. They’re not your friends, they’re your work.”
“But not with Devin,” she said. “He’s not just work to me.”
“I understand. But now he’s not just your friend either.”