SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Fall’

The Fall Final Promo

From ‘The Fall’:

Tea usually worked to help calm her when her mind was racing, or if she could not sleep. Something like chamomile or peppermint, neither of which she really enjoyed under usual circumstances. But the chamomile didn’t work tonight, and neither did the one very small glass of chardonnay that she had immediately afterwards. Finally, Lorna tried just lying in bed, but when she closed her eyes, she saw Riley’s face—the surprise, and the disappointment, the hurt and the withdrawal.

Sitting up cross-legged after an hour of fruitless tries to get to sleep, she finally gave in to the impulse she’d had since early evening. The jeans she had been wearing that afternoon were on the floor nearby. She put them on. Then she slid her feet into her clogs, pulled a random sweatshirt over her head and left the house without even bothering to check in a mirror to see just how crazy she might look.

Malcolm answered his door surprisingly quickly, and looked tired but not as though he had been asleep. He said nothing when he saw her, but simply looked surprised.

“Are you alone?” Lorna asked.

It had only occurred to her on the drive over that he might not be.

He nodded. “Everything okay?”

“No,” she said. “Not really.”

And then she took a few steps forward which made him step back. He shut the door behind her and locked it.

“Lorna,” he said when they were facing each other again. “What …”

“Nothing. I was home, and couldn’t sleep.”

Malcolm waited for more, but then she saw him decide not to press her further about why she was there.

Lorna advanced slowly, and he watched her, waiting to see what she would do next. She didn’t usually have to initiate anything because normally he wasn’t one to wait. This time he did.

Putting her arms up and around his neck, Lorna exerted gentle pressure to pull him down. She closed her eyes just before their lips met, and relaxed her body against his. His lips softened, but he didn’t do what he always did. He was still holding back, to see what she might do. What she did was kiss him more deeply, press her tongue into his mouth, pull back and capture his lower lip between hers coaxing him, frustrated when he didn’t immediately take charge.

Letting her arms drop, she took a step back and shook her head. “Maybe I made a mistake. I thought …”

“What?”

“Nothing. I just wanted …” She turned away from him, but Malcolm grabbed her arm, pulling her back so she collided with his chest.

“You wanted what?” he demanded.

“I don’t know. I just …”

This?” he said. His lips pressed into hers, bruisingly hard; and he kissed her the way she liked him to—no waiting, no hesitating, just taking. One large hand came up to almost span her neck. He tilted her head to the side, kissing her there as well, his rough stubble scoring her skin. “This what you want?

“Yes.” Lorna exhaled. “This …”

Malcolm reached down and opened her jeans, sliding his hand down into it. He parted her with his fingers, stroking her none too gently while Lorna moved against his hand. His lips came to hers again, and he swallowed her moans, even as the rhythm of his fingers produced more of them. He moved her again, exposing the other side of her neck, licking and biting her there.

Now, he was out of control, but in charge at the same time.

“You came here to get fucked?”

“Yes,” she said again.

Abruptly, Malcolm lifted his head but his hand still worked on her. He looked angry. “I’m more than that, Lo,” he said.

Lo. He had never called her that before.

We’re more than that,” he added.

Lorna looked at him, or tried to. It was difficult to keep her eyes open or even to listen when he was touching her this way. She got on her toes, kissed him again and he made a sound of frustration. Then they were tussling with each other’s clothing, moving, lifting, peeling away. Malcolm had her naked in less than a minute and she had only succeeded in removing his shirt. Lifting her so her legs were wrapped around his torso, he carried her into his bedroom, which was dark. He had been writing, because the light and computer in his office were on. Lorna felt only the tiniest stab of remorse at having taken him away from his work. And even that disappeared when he lay her across the bed and immediately spread her legs wide.

Without further preliminaries, he stripped off what remained of his clothes and sank between her knees, shoving hard inside her with one long thrust. Gasping, Lorna clutched the sheets as Malcolm moved, each time with long, deep strokes. After her body’s initial slight resistance, she loosened and softened around him, warming and becoming more liquid.

Bowing his head as much as he could, Malcolm captured a nipple between his lips, tugging and sucking on it. The feeling was electric. Lorna’s hands came up atop his head, holding him there, and he nipped her, causing her hips to buck upward. When they did, he held her in place and pulled back, both of his hands pressing her immobile into the bed. Shifting tacks, he pulled out of her completely and sat back on his haunches. Hands still on her hips, he dragged her forward so that her butt was on his thighs. Now grabbing her at the knees, Malcolm used her legs as levers while he pumped in and out of her, forward and backward, his eyes trained downward, watching himself.

Lorna’s back was arched, only her shoulders and head making contact with the bed. She opened her eyes and saw only Malcolm’s face in a scowl of pleasure and concentration, his focus on their bodies joining. He didn’t look at her face, which was for a moment mildly troubling until the pleasure overtook all thought, and her head thrashed back and forth.

“This what you want?” Malcolm panted between breaths. “Like this?”

“Yeah,” Lorna panted. “Like that. Keep it … right there … like that …”

“Y’know what, Lo?” he said. He sounded angry. “Fuck you.”

Then he shoved her back further, so her butt was once again on the bed and he was no longer inside her. Lorna’s body clenched, protesting his sudden absence and she opened her eyes, just in time to see Malcolm come for her again, this time slinging both her legs over his shoulders and stabbing at her like he wanted to drive her through the mattress. His face was buried in the space between her neck and shoulder, again, not looking at her. She shouldn’t have cared, but she did.

Grabbing his face between her hands, Lorna forced eye contact.

“Malcolm …” she forced out. “It’s you I needed. You.”

Something in his eyes shifted and he slowed.

“Please. Don’t doubt that,” she said.

He blinked slowly and lowered his head, kissing her.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Fall’

The Fall Promo

About the book:

In the summer of her fifteenth year as a professor at Gilchrist College, Lorna Terry is at a crossroads and, she fears, also on the downswing of her career as the “sole remaining radical feminist in academia.” Having built her life on a theory of non-attachment, she is disturbed to find herself becoming very much attached to the somewhat younger, Malcolm T. Mitchell. A writer-on-the rise, and her college’s newest wunderkind, Malcolm is about to challenge everything she thought she ever knew about her life, her loves, and her work.

But her growing attachment to Malcolm may well be the least of Lorna’s worries. For some in her academic community, she has risen too far, and too fast. And for others, she is much too smug in her accomplishments, enjoys adulation she doesn’t deserve, and is much too proud. And you know what they say about pride …

It cometh before the fall.

From ‘The Fall’:

Malcolm had just backed out of the driveway of his small, college-owned house when he thought of her. So rather than resist the urge, he called. The first ring sounded in the confines of his car. He waited through a second and then a third, fully expecting that he would be sent to voicemail; so her voice was a surprise. It was smoky, smooth and sounded like that of someone who had not too long ago woken up. But that was the way Lorna Terry sounded all the time, and it just about drove him crazy.

“I wondered whether you might want to keep me company for a little bit,” he said.

“Who is this?”

Her humor. That was another thing he liked about her. It was biting and sharp, not for the feint of heart. He could only imagine the number of men whose balls shrunk in the face of a woman like her.

“You answered.”

“I seem to recall having been ordered to do so.”

“I was bluffing,” Malcolm said.

On the other end of the line, Lorna sighed. “I’ll remember that the next time you order me to do something.”

“You never would do anything you didn’t want to do anyway.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I can occasionally be coerced.”

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “When was the last time anyone ever coerced you into anything?”

“Just this afternoon. Steven insisted I change the title of one of my courses. You walked in on the tail-end of the coercion as a matter of fact.”

“Is that why you looked so put-out and annoyed? I thought that was because of me.”

“You’re vastly overestimating the effect you have on my moods, Malcolm,” she said.

He smiled. Another zinger. A man would have to bring his ‘A’ game every single time with her, for sure.

Malcolm heard sounds like her moving around crockery, perhaps washing dishes, or grabbing a mug for coffee? He was curious about her life, and what she did to occupy it. Did she read in the evenings? Drink a glass of wine? Watch trashy television and drink flowery teas? Did she write, or entertain lovers? Everything about Lorna Terry intrigued him from the moment they’d met, and for a while he was proud of himself for having ensnared someone so fascinating, until his unreturned calls forced him to admit that it was she who had ensnared him.

“So what was the title of the course you were coerced into changing?”

When she told him, Malcolm spluttered into unexpected laughter. On the other end of the line, Lorna laughed with him.

“I don’t think it’s that shocking,” she said finally, a smile still in her voice. “I mean, do you know what young people are up these days?”

“No, I don’t know. Do you?”

“Well, no, but …”

“It can’t be much worse than what went on in the sixties.”

“I know you’re an English professor, but your math is terrible. I have no idea what went on in the sixties. I was born when all that was over—Kennedy had been shot, Dr. King was gone—and I missed the whole free-love party.”

He was beginning to think the whole age thing was more of a soft spot for her than she was acknowledging even to herself.

“I didn’t mean you’d experienced it, Lorna. Just that there’s nothing new under the sun.”

“Well, men’s squeamishness about women co-opting their vocabulary to refer to our sex is definitely not new. So I guess I should have known that the word ‘pussy’ would have Steven clutching his pearls.”

God, he could talk to her all night. He hadn’t been kidding when he said what he had at dinner. She made his dick hard, just because of her intellect alone. And that there was all the rest of it? Well, that just made the whole package infinitely more appealing.

“So have you come up with anything? Anything other than ‘pussy power’ I mean.”

“No,” Lorna said sourly. “I think my brain is rejecting the exercise entirely. It’s refusing to help me. Maybe you can help me think of something.”

“No ma’am. I’m staying well clear of this one.”

“Oh I didn’t peg you as a coward, Malcolm T. Mitchell.”

“I’m not. I just steer clear or coming up with, or using clever names for women’s anatomy,”

“That’s not what I remember,” Lorna said.

Malcolm felt a twitch at his crotch, but said nothing.

“And speaking of cowardice. Why are you talking to me on the phone and not here with me in the flesh?”

The way she said the word ‘flesh’ positively dripped with sex. If he wasn’t careful, this woman would have him whipped, quick and in a hurry.

“I’m not about to let you use me for my body, Professor Terry,” he said, trying to keep the tone light.

“So what would you like me to use you for?

“Well, I don’t want to be too hasty on the body thing. You can use that at will. But I want to be more than that. And I have an instinct about you.”

“Really? What’s that?”

She was practically purring now, and Malcolm felt himself developing what felt like an honest-to-goodness woody. Just from talking to her.

“My instinct tells me that you’re a woman who doesn’t value anything that comes too easily.”

“Trust me. You’re far from easy,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to work this hard to get laid a second time by a man I’ve already slept with once.”

Malcolm laughed again. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

“Yes you do. You’re just too frightened to do it.”

“Hey. Not frightened. Cautious,” he chided. “I want us to get to know each other better. Is that so terrible?”

“Not at all. In fact I look forward to it. But there’s no reason we can’t do that and sleep together too.”

“You’re being too agreeable. I think you’re messin’ with me.”

“Not at all. So come over. I’ll leave the door open for you.”

For a split second, Malcolm shut his eyes. Christ, he wished he could.

“Can’t tonight. On my way to the city to see my girls.”

“Oh. Another time then.” Lorna sounded as though it made no difference to her one way or another. If it was the last thing he did, he was going to make this woman beg for him.

“Tomorrow,” he said.

“Well …” She let the word drag out. “Tomorrow’s tricky for me.”

“You didn’t say anything about it being tricky when I mentioned it earlier. What’s tricky about it?”

Down boy. You’re the one who’s begging right now.

“I told you, Steven wants …”

“Bullshit,” Malcolm said. “I’m coming for you at one, just like I said.”

“Malcolm …”

“G’night, Lorna. I better go. This is a weird spot for cell service.”

“Malcolm …”

He hung up on her and waited. If she called back, then she was serious about canceling. Malcolm counted to ten very slowly but his phone didn’t ring.

Twenty. Thirty seconds. A minute.

The phone remained silent.


Coming soon!

Evolution & Completion

mistresscover4I didn’t expect to feel this way.

Letting a character go, ‘finishing’ their story and moving on to the next is usually every easy for me. By the time I kick them out of my head and write ‘THE END’ I’m a little bit glad to see them go. Like a parent sending their kid off to college (which I’ve not yet done, so there is a strong possibility I don’t know what I’m talking about) there is sadness, but also eagerness to see what the next phase will bring.

This week, I finished my journey with Keisha, my main character in ‘Mother’, and I didn’t expect to feel so terrible about saying goodbye. I think it’s fair to say she’s my least-liked character. The backstory is, she did something in my book ‘Commitment’ that by some standards would make her an irredeemable human being. I’ve gotten numerous emails from readers saying some variation of, ‘I really love your work, but I can’t read about Keisha; I just can’t. I don’t even think she deserves a happy ending and I’m scared you’ll give her one.’

In ‘Mistress’, we see that there might be some merit to those strong emotions because Keisha has apparently learned nothing from prior experience and has gone on to live a life that other people would say only confirmed that she was “a bad person.” But I happen to believe that are very few “bad people” in the world. They do exist, I just don’t believe there are very many.

Wife Cover1f2In my other line of work as a lawyer, I often say about the people whose interests I represent (most of whom have broken some law, some of them in very hard-to-defend circumstances), “would you like to be judged in your totality as a human being on the basis of the very worst thing you ever did?” That question often causes people to become very pensive, thinking back to the time they, let’s say, told a vicious lie about someone, stole something, or committed some other act about which they are now very ashamed. And after thinking about it, they say something like, ‘no, I wouldn’t. I’m a better person than that act would indicate.”

And see, that is why I wanted to write about Keisha. In ‘Mistress’, ‘Wife’ and ‘Mother’ I wanted to write about the evolution of a woman who must learn not to judge herself on the basis of the worst thing she ever did, and not to define herself on that basis. She has to learn self-acceptance and self-love. And of course, there’s a little romance thrown in there as well, but Keisha’s romance is also about learning to love yourself enough to believe you deserve love from someone else; someone worthy. So for me, the more important love story is that which Keisha begins to have with herself.

How does a ‘mistress’ learn she can be more?

How does a woman who was a ‘mistress’ embrace the role of ‘wife’?

How does a wife who has no recollection of being mothered decide to become one herself?

Mother cover mistress FINALThat was what the ‘Mistress trilogy’ was really about for me. And so it stood to reason that once I had written ‘Mother’ I should be glad to let her go because from the standpoint of a writer, she has ‘evolved’ and is now ‘complete’. But Keisha’s complexity made it hard for me to end her story. And in fact, I couldn’t even bring myself to write the words ‘THE END’ as I customarily do.

Like that parent sending their kid off to college, I know they may never live with me again, but find myself thinking, ‘would it be so bad to just drop in for a visit?’ But that’s as far as I can go with that analogy because it would be a very bad parent indeed who never did drop in for a visit to their college-age kid. And sadly, in this case, I would be a very bad writer indeed if I could not simply let Keisha be … complete.

Happy Reading.

N.

The Mistress Trilogy (based on the Commitment Series)

Mistress (Book One) On Kindle & Nook

Wife (Book Two) On Kindle & Nook

Mother (Book Three) On Kindle & Nook

Stalemate

black couple2“I’d like to meet her.”

“Why?”

“She’s your daughter. More than your daughter. You talk about her all the time. Why wouldn’t I want to meet her?” Malcolm asked.

“I don’t recall banging down the door to meet your two,” Lorna said, reaching over and spearing one of the brussel sprouts on his plate.

“I know. Which I find somewhat insulting if you really want to know the truth, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day. Tonight, I want to know why I can’t meet Riley.”

They were in the Portman Arms. It was a shabby, pretentious little restaurant the next town over from the college where people went to meet when they were having adulterous affairs and inappropriate relationships with their students. Lorna and Malcolm’s  . . . thing wasn’t inappropriate on any level—he was divorced and she was long single—but somehow by suggesting this clandestine meeting place, Lorna felt it kept everything very tongue-in-cheek, not quite as serious. But now he was pressing her, and had been for weeks now, to meet Riley.

“Why do you find it insulting that I don’t want to meet your children?” Lorna asked leaning forward in her seat. “I find families complicate things. Especially kids. Don’t you?”

“I generally don’t think of my children as complications, no,” Malcolm said, taking a bite of his glazed salmon.

Lorna smiled.

This was why she liked him so much. A different, lesser man might have been peeved at a comment that implied that his progeny were anything other than the “joys of his life”, or “apples of his eye” or some other such triteness. Malcolm was many things, but he was not trite. She liked that about him; that and much more.

Lorna had been sleeping with him for almost eight weeks now. That was how she liked to think of it, “sleeping with”, though they did many more things together now than just have sex. Mostly they talked, debated, ruminated, brainstormed. He was her intellectual equal, possibly her superior, and the mixture of competitiveness and awe she felt toward him was the most potent aphrodisiac she had ever experienced in her life. That he was nine years younger than she was not a factor for him, and had grown less significant to her as well over the course of their time together.

They suited each other, and made few demands that the other was not prepared to meet. But lately Malcolm had been making overtures, expressing curiosity about the rest of Lorna’s life, particularly about her daughter and son-in-law. Just when she thought he might have forgotten this ill-conceived quest to make incursions further and further into the rest of Lorna’s life, Riley or Shawn would show up in the media somewhere, and Malcolm’s curiosity would be piqued once again. This time, his interest was revived because Riley had been quoted in The Times (which both irritated Lorna—she had never been quoted in the Times!—and had her ridiculously proud) making some remark that Malcolm found amusing. Asked about the influences for her new contribution to an anthology on race and gender, Riley had quipped that her influence on gender was undoubtedly her mother, Dr. Lorna Terry, who was a “staunch feminist, or as my husband Shawn would call her, a ‘fucking-feminist’.”

Lorna didn’t mind the quip, nor the reference to Shawn calling her a ‘fucking-feminist’. He’d called her as much to her face which Lorna didn’t mind because she adored him and thought of him as a friend and compatriot, and knew full well that he thought the same of her. Well, Malcolm found the comment intriguing, and it only re-lit the flame of his fascination with Riley and her unlikely mate, the world-renowned rapper, blah, blah, blah. Such an old and tedious storyline, in Lorna’s view. Riley and Shawn were a couple in love, whatever the hell that meant, and that was all they were; a story as old as the hills.

He particularly wanted to meet Riley because like Malcolm, she was obsessed with writing about race. Not that Lorna took any issue with an interest in racial politics, but as a twenty-first century topic of focus, she had begun to believe it was all so . . . retrograde. At some point Black folks needed to stop crowing about their Blackness and just . . . get on with it. Of course, Riley would argue—as had Malcolm —that she was just as anal retentive in her insistence at discussing the implications of gender bias in every single little thing.

“Does she even know about me?”

“Does who know about you?” Lorna asked, taking in a mouthful of pasta primavera.

Malcolm held his fork still, aloft and midway to his mouth, and looked at her.

“Okay fine, yes, she knows about you,” Lorna admitted. “But only in the most academic sense.”

“What the hell does that mean? How can she know about me . . . academically? Either she does or she doesn’t.”

“She knows that I’m seeing someone. And she knows that it’s one someone.”

“As opposed to . . ?”

“As opposed to more than one someone, Malcolm,” Lorna said pointedly.

Malcolm paused once again.  “Maybe we should talk about that as well,” he said finally.

Then he took a sip of his pinot.

Uh oh. Here it was. The Monogamy Lecture.

Women generally initiated this talk, but Lorna almost never had. Not since she was about twenty years old. Her theory of relationships was one of Non-Attachment, which was really a misnomer because of course she formed attachments, just loose ones. The kinds that were easy to let go of when the time came. Non-Attachment was far easier if one wasn’t monogamous, and if every relationship was viewed as an opportunity for learning rather than a lifelong partnership.

“What would you like to talk about?” she asked, as if she didn’t know.

“Eve Rogers asked me to dinner the other day.”

Lorna almost spluttered her pasta across the table and onto Malcolm’s very well-tailored, perfectly-fitting beige blazer. Eve Rogers, the pushy English professor who hated women? Well. Lorna couldn’t say she was surprised that Rogers would ask him out; she was however surprised and a little disappointed that Malcolm would consider it. Not because he shouldn’t keep his options open, of course, but because Rogers was so . . . obvious.

“And what did you say?” she asked, taking a delicate bite of penne.

“I was noncommittal,” Malcolm said. He looked at her over the top of his glasses, the way she imagined he looked at his students during his lectures.

“That’s not like you,” she said lightly. “You’re generally rather committal, I find. Why the hesitation?”

“Because I’m otherwise occupied,” he said. “Except the extent of it . . . this occupation . . . eludes me.”

“The occupation being . . ?”

“You.” He put down his wineglass and for a moment gave her his full and complete attention.

So, she was correct. This was the Monogamy Lecture. But leave it to Malcolm T. Mitchell to be so stealthy about it. It was a question wrapped in a threat, swathed in a gently prodding inquiry: “I want to meet your daughter but is it necessary if I’m dating someone else? And by the way are you also dating other people?”

“Malcolm, what we are is what we are. I see no need to define it. If you’d like to go to dinner with Eve Rogers, you should feel perfectly free to do so.”

Why was that so difficult to say? Why did it make her feel like each and every word was choking it’s way past her lips?

“Really?” he asked. Then he looked at her plate. It was almost clean as was his. “Dessert for you? I’m feeling like something sweet tonight.”

Then you’d better get something sweet here, Lorna thought. Because there’ll be no sweetness for you later, that’s for damn sure.

“Just coffee,” she said. “And yes, really.”

Her voice had taken on an edge, though she was trying valiantly to control it.

“So you would have no issue with me taking Eve Rogers to dinner?”

“None,” she enunciated.

May as well let him know now. She was not That Woman. The clingy, I-want-you-for-myself woman. The ‘your-dick-belongs-to-me’, ‘where-were-you-all-evening’, ‘I-need-to-know-where-I-stand’ woman.

She was Lorna Fucking Terry. Asshole.

“Then we may have a problem,” Malcolm said. He raised his hand, trying to get the attention of the waiter.

No shit, Sherlock.

The waiter responded to Malcolm’s summons and took his order for tiramisu and Lorna’s for a double espresso. And then they were alone once again. She wanted to, but could not resist asking:

“What would be the problem?”

Malcolm looked at her, giving her the full Malcolm T. Mitchell He-Man stare. The one he gave her when they were in bed and he wanted her positioned differently than she was. The look he gave before he grabbed her by the ankles and yanked her toward him, with not a hint of gentleness. The look he gave her before he took her like no man ever had.

Malcolm had discerned about her what no other did, which was the paradox that as a feminist, she felt most powerful as a woman when she was with a man who knew how to be a man. There were no kid-gloves in this thing they had—Malcolm gave it to her straight, and always had.

“The problem would be,” he said, “that in telling me I should go to dinner with Eve Rogers, you might be under the impression I would be equally understanding if you were to go to dinner, or anywhere else for that matter, with any man but me.”

Lorna sagged in her seat. Now he’d gone and done it . . .

“Malcolm,” she sighed, her voice kind as though addressing a three-year old. “I wish you hadn’t said that. You had to know that I’m not one to stand for ultimatums. Especially not those that would tell me what to do, and with whom. You had to.”

“Yes,” he said, downing the last of his wine and meeting her gaze evenly. “I do know that. And you had to know that I’m not one to sit blithely by while you squander a good thing on some half-baked notion that you’re polyamorous or some such foolishness. You had to.”

They went back to his house and had sex anyway. Angry sex, because they were both unfulfilled by their conversation at dinner. Neither had gotten what they wanted, and later there would be a reckoning.

Later, but not now.

Not now because the challenge Malcolm issued turned her on. Lorna was certain she was going to have to leave him, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t revisit, just one more time, the heady, achy, exhilarating feeling of being taken by a man who knew exactly how to take her.

As soon as they made it inside, they were shoving each other against walls, pulling aside clothing, nipping at necks, nipples, stomachs, thighs. Wide-open mouthed kisses, thrusting pelvises, grasping and grappling hands, noisy climaxes.

Afterwards, Lorna let him talk her into going back with him into his bedroom. The wine at dinner had done her in. She wanted to close her eyes for only a few minutes before shaking Malcolm awake and having him drive her home to sleep in her own bed. The idea, of course, was that once she was there she would simply disappear from his life. Avoiding him would not be too difficult. He was all the way across campus most of the time and their schedules did not coincide. They were able to have time together only because they made time. She would stop.  That was the plan. No more time, no more Malcolm.

But when Lorna opened her eyes again, it was morning, and bright sunlight was bathing the stark white sheets in Malcolm T. Mitchell’s bed. And he was lying partially atop her, his limbs intertwined with hers, and her arm was wrapped about him, his face buried in her neck, and she didn’t want to move, and didn’t want to disappear from his life, nor have him disappear from hers.

Shit.

Read how Lorna and Malcolm met in Forty-Six. And to learn more about her daughter and son-in-law, check out ‘Commitment‘, available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

SAMPLE SUNDAY — ‘Mistress’

** WARNING–CONTAINS SPOILERS**

When he was gone, Keisha Mistress promo2showered. She scrubbed between her legs though she was swollen there and it hurt. Then she opened her mouth under the stream of the shower, thoroughly washing out her mouth, using soap though it tasted bitter and made her gag, and want to throw up. Then she sat on the shower floor, under the water, allowing it to beat against her back. It felt like she was being flogged with a whip.

Keisha sat there until the water began to grow cool and then she got up, dried herself and dressed. Horace had left her with instructions to have his car service take her home whenever she was ready, being overly solicitous, almost sickeningly so.

After he came in her mouth, he seemed ashamed of himself and had kissed her on the forehead and stroked her hair. He called her “my lovely girl” and told her that he had never before been unfaithful to his wife.

But I seem to take leave of my senses when I’m around you, he added, almost convincingly.

And then he asked if he might see her again, and said he would call. There was that, at least. He would be easy, Keisha decided as she stepped back into her black lace panties.

It ached when she raised her leg, and she could feel an unpleasant throbbing sensation deep inside her, like she’d injured something, and a dull ache, like menstrual cramps in her lower abdomen. For a moment, she almost wanted to cry. But she didn’t do that. Crying was a waste of time and energy and changed absolutely nothing. From the time she was thirteen, she’d trained herself not to, and she never had, not since then. Not even once, except when she pretended to in front of a grand jury.

Her cell phone rang and she picked it up, looking at the face.

“Hey, Avery,” she said, her voice dull.

“Hey! So what happened? It’s past midnight, and you’re answering your phone but I’m guessing dinner went well?”

“It went okay,” Keisha said, not wanting to recount anything for anyone. Not wanting to recount it for herself. “I think he likes me.”

Avery laughed. “Oh honey,” she said. “Likes you? I’d say Horace M. Smythe is smitten. Did you check him out? Is he solvent?”

“Very,” Keisha said. “Look, Avery I’m at the Four Seasons . . .”

On the other end of the line Avery gasped.

“Oh my goodness, I didn’t consider that you might still be with him. Call me tomorrow and we’ll dish! Welcome back, kiddo.”

Keisha ended the call and looked at the phone.

Welcome back.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, she considered staying the night. After all, the room was paid for. But she couldn’t imagine sleeping here, at the scene of the crime so to speak. What the hell was getting into her? She never used to care much about the sex. Whatever the act, she could perform it; she just made herself disappear when it was happening, going someplace far, far away, just as surely as though she’d literally absented her mind and soul from her body. And afterwards, she would wash it all away as though it hadn’t happened. This time though, she still felt soiled.

Maybe it was because Charlie had just so recently died. And she couldn’t get out of her mind the look that would have been on his face if he knew she had sex with Horace Smythe. Of course, if he hadn’t fucking died on her, she wouldn’t have had sex with Horace Smythe.

Or maybe she felt like shit because she had so ruthlessly and cold-bloodedly pursued Horace Smythe, with the sole intention of getting him hooked on her, and making him feel compelled to keep her for himself. But she’d done that before as well.

So why did this feel different?

Out of nowhere, she remembered a few afternoons ago; Jayson, just below the deck in the backyard. He was wearing his mechanic’s overalls, but had unbuttoned them to the waist and was sweating, his skin glistening in the late afternoon sun. He and Rey were working under the hood of a car, a boom box nearby was playing All About the Benjamins, that old Puff Daddy song from when he wanted to be called Puff Daddy. Suddenly, Rey moved away from the car and began doing a little dance.

Aw c’mon now, Rey, Jayson laughed. What you know ‘bout all that, ol’ man?

Jayson’s laugh was like nothing else she’d ever heard out of him before, deep, resonant, and joyful. And at just that moment, he’d looked up and spotted Keisha watching him laugh. He stopped laughing then, and instead he smiled, a smile that looked like it was meant to be only hers.

Keisha stood there for what seemed like forever, unable to move, like he’d hypnotized her. The idea that he had been in prison didn’t make sense when he looked like this. In unguarded moments like this, he didn’t have that ex-con vibe; and all the hardness, bitterness and jaded patina slipped away.

Hey, baby girl! Rey had called up to her. Throw us down a couple beers, would you?

And so the spell—or whatever the hell that was—had been broken.

Watching Jayson laugh like that, Keisha had felt a million years older than him. She felt that way now.

Next Door

nextdoorMy next-door neighbors’ children are enthusiastic and frequent criers.  I didn’t actually know them – my neighbors nor their children – but I knew the children’s names, having heard them being cajoled, scolded, implored and occasionally begged to do as they’re told, sit still, eat their cereal, put on their raincoat, find their school books or toys, or simply be quiet. They are Cassidy and Cullen.  Post-modern names.

The first time I spotted the mother at the mailboxes I only knew it was she because our doorman inquired after Cullen who had apparently been down with the “kiddie-flu.”  That’s what Henry the doorman called it, which made it sound like something you got from grubby children, rather than something children contracted from sources unknown. Cullen and Cassidy’s mother was ridiculously chic.  She looked nothing like the harried, worn-down housefrau I expected or let’s face it, had hoped to see.  She was about five-foot-seven and had shoulder-length dark-brown hair as smooth and glossy as polished mahogany.  Her complexion was flawless café au lait and her nails coral pink and perfectly manicured to a reasonable length for a woman who worked.  She wore a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress in peach and white, and high strappy sandals; a look I could never in a million years pull off.

I’d heard interesting little tidbits about this couple from Ericka on the third floor.  Ericka was an artist whose hands and clothing were perpetually stained with one garish color or another.  She made conversation in the elevator, unlike most other residents in the building, and pried loose intimacies you would never think of sharing with a virtual stranger.  The first time we met, she’d commented that I looked “a little more bloated than when I saw you last week” and then she suggested a tea she used for PMS that would work wonders.  To which I replied reflexively that I was actually not on my period.  All this in the first conversation I ever had with her. Anyway, she told me that Cullen and Cassidy’s parents were a famous rapper and his writer wife.  That the rapper had been charged with sexual assault, about one year after he married his wife but the charges were dropped when it turned out to be a spurned lover kind of thing.

“You’ve heard of K Smooth haven’t you?” Ericka said.  “That’s him.  And his wife is editor of a journal for literary geniuses or something.”

I said I thought I might have heard of them, but wasn’t sure.

“They were the ‘it couple’ for awhile,” Ericka continued.  “Sickeningly in love and stylish and rich all at the same time.”

Great.  One more reason to feel inadequate and unloved living right next door.  I had heard of K Smooth and his wife and may even have known that they lived in the building.  I hadn’t recognized her when I saw her because if I remembered correctly, she was kind of a hippie.  Oh, but success tended to change things like that.  I went to college with one of Rupert Murdoch’s daughters and distinctly remember her wearing Guatemalan skirts, a nose-ring, and having disgusting toenails.  And a year after graduation she was in Vanity Fair in a Chanel suit, so go figure.

After hearing who they were, I developed a semi-obsession with my famous neighbors.  The kids wailed sometimes for the reasons kids wailed (i.e., no reason at all) but I never heard the parents arguing.  Once I heard her greet him at the front door.  Their voices were so low and sexy, I’d initially mistaken him for a lover, but then the kids came charging up with screams of ‘Daddy, Daddy’ and I was disappointed.  No intrigue. Just your run-of-the-mill happily married celebrity couple.

I finally ran into the mother on the elevator with Cullen and Cassidy one afternoon when I was coming from a long weekend picking apples with friends in Dutchess County.  I had a duffle bag and was wearing overalls and boots with a long-sleeved white shirt that was kind of filthy.  Cullen was about six and Cassidy looked to be three.  They were ridiculously adorable – big eyes and chubby fingers and curly hair. They twitched and fidgeted as their mother dug in her purse, probably looking for her keys.  Cassidy actually grabbed her mother’s leg and hugged it as I boarded the elevator, peeking from behind her knee occasionally.

“I think we can have the chocolate before dinner,” Cullen opined out of the blue.  “I’ll still eat my dinner if we have chocolate, Mommy.”

“No you won’t but nice try,” his mother said not unkindly.  She didn’t look up from her purse.

“I would,” Cullen insisted.  “I would too.”

“Cullen.” Now she looked up.  “I wish I believed you.”

Then she noticed for the first time that they were not alone and looked at me, smiling ruefully.

“Hi,” I reached out a hand.  “I’m Jaime.  I live on your floor?”

“Oh, of course.  I’m Riley.  This is Cullen and this is Cassidy.”

“Nice to meet you Cullen and Cassidy.”

I looked down at the kids.  Cullen pouted in response and Cassidy retreated further behind her mother’s True Religion jean-clad leg.

Riley laughed.  “We’re just coming back from a weekend at their grandmother’s,” she explained.  “Not the most fun place in the world for some of us.” She looked significantly in Cullen’s direction.

“Grandma doesn’t even have a TV!” Cullen pleaded his case to the jury.

“Cullen, there’s more interesting things in the world to do than watch television all the time,” Riley said.

She spoke to her son like a person, not a semi-idiot little nonentity; the way I heard some of my very few friends with children speak to their kids.

“No there’s not,” Cullen mumbled. “Daddy’s on TV.  I wanted to watch Daddy.”

Riley smiled at me, but didn’t attempt to explain that her husband was a famous rapper.  I might have expected she would; that she might faux-apologetically explain that her husband was on MTV all the time because of his career and all.  But actually, now that I was up close and personal, she didn’t seem like the type.  I knew how to recognize money and privilege, and how to distinguish the old from the new.  Nothing about her told you hers was new.

After Ericka told me who he was, I looked K Smooth up to refresh my memory of him.  He was good-looking in a smoldering, sexy way and had recently graduated from being a mere performer to super-producer, releasing fewer CDs of his own over the last five years.  He was sometimes on MSNBC and CNN talking about hip-hop culture and its relevance.  He sounded like an African-American Studies professor in some of the interviews I’d streamed online.  He talked a lot about the Hip-Hop Nation.  He said it like that: “Hip-Hop Nation” so you could tell that he meant it in capital letters.  He was clearly on a different mission than most rappers.

Riley and her kids disembarked first.  She herded them ahead of her and turned to drag their weekend luggage – a very enviable soft calfskin leather bag – along.  I smiled and politely held the door for her.  When she unlocked the apartment, the kids went charging ahead of her, exuberant to be home.  She turned and gave me a brief wave.

“Nice meeting you, Jaime.”

“See you around,” I smiled again and returned the wave.

#

I sometimes waited around, listening for K Smooth to get home.  He was unpredictable, and never seemed to arrive at the same time each evening.  And of course, he was away quite a bit.  Whenever he got home, I could hear his arrival in the hall.  Riley almost always greeted him at the door.  I could hear some of their conversation each time but the majority was abruptly cut off when they shut the door.  The only other room in their apartment that permitted me to eavesdrop seemed to be their kitchen, where most of the conversation centered around Cullen and Cassidy’s eating habits, misbehavior at the table or conduct in school.  But once in awhile I got little nuggets.  Like the time Riley and her husband talked about his travel schedule.  I was standing at my kitchen counter, nursing a lukewarm cup of coffee when their voices rose to just the right pitch that permitted me to eavesdrop.

“. . . all over the country,” he said.  “It’s always been that way.   Since we met.”

“So you have dibs on a career that involves being away from home, is that it?”

“No, but what I do means I have to travel.  That’s not how it is with your work.”

“But I want to travel sometimes.  What’s so wrong with that?  I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty just because . . .”

“No one’s making you feel anything.  If you feel guilty it’s probably because you know as well as I do that kids don’t raise themselves.”

“But I’m not their only parent, Shawn.” There was strain in her voice at this.

“What do you want me to do? Cancel my engagements?”

“Yes, when the situation calls for it.  And book fewer to begin with.  Even if I don’t get to travel more as a result, I would still like it if you traveled less.”

He said something I couldn’t hear and then there was Riley’s voice again, this time barely controlling her anger.

“So you would rather we get a nanny . . .”

“No, I didn’t say that.  I just mean some help.  Any kind of help.”

“The only kind of help I need is from my husband.  I need you here.  Especially if I’m not.  We’re not the kinds of people who leave our kids to strangers.  I know you don’t honestly want that.”

There was a long silence during which I shamelessly pressed my ear against the wall.

“There’s a symposium at the Sorbonne about the Jazz Age.  I want to go.” Riley finally spoke again.  “It’s one week long.  I can give you the dates now.  If you cleared your calendar to be home with the kids, I would really appreciate it.”

“You could take them with you,” he suggested.

I could tell he didn’t mean it.  It was funny how hearing a disembodied voice made things obvious.  Without the supplementary and sometimes misleading information in a person’s expressions, you could almost always understand the emotion behind the words.  He didn’t want her to take the children to France, but he didn’t want her to go either.  But she probably couldn’t hear it the way I could; she was probably looking directly into his face, searching only for signs of acquiescence.

“I could, but they would miss school.  And who would look after them when I’m at meetings?  Why are you making this so difficult for me?  I never do anything without thinking of you guys first.  Never.”

“Okay, you’re right.  When is it?  I’ll see what I can do about the schedule.”

“Thank you.”  But the words were said in exasperation.

“C’mere,” he said after a moment.

“You say I knew about your traveling before we got married and I did,” Riley said.  “But you knew how much my writing means to me, and how much the journal means to me.  It’s not fair for you to . . .”

“I know,” he said, interrupting her.  “I’m sorry.  C’mere.”

“I can’t start to resent my kids, Shawn.” Her voice was muffled now, and I imagined that he was hugging her as she spoke and her face was pressed against his chest.  He was, from all the photos I’d seen fairly tall.  “And I feel that about to happen.  I want to be the best mother I can . . .”

“You are,” he said.  “You’re the best mother I know.  I love that you’re the mother of my kids.  I love you.  I’m sorry.”

There was nothing more.  They were probably kissing, or doing something more.  I walked away, wanting and not wanting to hear further intimacies.

#

My mother was sitting opposite me in my favorite chair.  It was brown microfiber and frayed at the arms.  She rested her Chanel purse on her lap as she spoke, not even deigning to place it on the coffee table in front of her.  I could only imagine the act of will that it took for her to sit on my grubby furniture at all.  She was telling me about her disappointment – she emphasized the ‘DIS’ more than necessary – that I was not coming to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer.  She was leaving in the morning and this was her last-ditch effort to make me come along.  It had only been a year since she’d permitted me to live in the apartment alone, and she wasn’t yet certain I could be trusted to remain in the city without her being a stone’s throw away on the East Side.

I toed a very delicate line with her because I was living here in this luxury building rent-free, having persuaded her that she need not sell the place even though she was newly-married and now had a much nicer townhouse with my stepfather, Sheldon.  Of course, the persuasion not to sell had been easy enough – no one parted with prime real estate in New York City and Sheldon could very handily afford to pay the maintenance fees for this place.  She did need a little push from me about not renting it though.  The income she was forgoing was considerable and I was just out of college, so hardly in need of a 2,500 square foot home.  But I liked it here.  It reminded me of my father and of the times we’d had here as a family.  It reminded me of what it was like before Yale and all that stuff.

“Jaime, I hope you know that Sheldon would be more than happy if you decided to come with us.  He suggested it in fact.”

She shifted closer toward the edge of the chair. I wondered if she might fall off altogether.

The one concession I’d had to make was that she took almost all the furniture.  Much of it was in the townhouse.  I kept the dining set and the furniture in my bedroom.  Everything else I’d gotten from friends and assorted thrift stores.  God only knew where some of it had been.  Because I had so little, the apartment looked immense, and voices echoed in most of the rooms.  But it was still home, and I wanted to hold on to it for as long as I could.

“I know that, Mom.  Sheldon’s great.  I just want to spend time with my friends here this summer.  I’ve got a few from school who’ve got summer jobs in the city and we’re planning all kinds of things.”

Lying to my mother was easy.  She was always desperate to believe the most favorable version of everything and Lord knows, she had just about had it with bad news and fear and suspicion where I was concerned.

“Surely you can spend a few weekends with us.  Bring whomever you want.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said smiling reassuringly.  “But I might not want to miss all the festivities here.”  I tried to sound mischievous, like any normal twenty-three year old might, if she were planning weekend high jinks with her girlfriends.

“Well alright.  But I wish you would reconsider.  It would be wonderful.  Like old times.”

I bit my tongue.  It would not be like old times.  My father was alive in the “old times” and my mother was not married to this man whom I did not know, and who did not know me except as the very problematic offspring of his new wife.

“I’ll definitely think about it.”

I stood, hoping she would do the same.  She did.

“Well, I put a little something in your account.  Like I said we leave tomorrow, so if you need anything additional, please let me know and I’ll have that arranged.”

A little something.  Anything additional.  Both were code for money.  In my family, and in families like mine where there was money in plenitude, it was never spoken of directly.  A “little something” when spoken by my mother meant at least a thousand dollars.  She gave me money fairly frequently because I was enrolled in NYU’s MFA program.  It was a ruse.  I didn’t quite know what to do with my life was the truth.  NYU’s program was fairly exclusive and sounded great at cocktail parties.  It evoked images of the TriBeCa Film Festival and wealthy doyennes who didn’t mind slumming for the sake of high art. I had one more year of this and then I would have to literally get a life.  While my mother might be content to pay my way for the rest of my life if it meant I would be “good”, I sensed that Sheldon was cut of a different cloth and was only biding his time before he made a pitch for her to insist that I make a go of it on my own.

“You look a little thin, Jaime.”

My mother tucked a strand of my unruly auburn hair behind my ear. This was as close as she could come to physical affection and despite my age, it still made me want to fling myself into her skirt and hang on to her leg, starved for a more overt gesture of love.

“Understandably, since I subsist mainly on apples and vodka,” I joked.

She didn’t smile.  References to drinking did not go over well given everything.

“In any event,” she turned and headed for the front door.  “I trust you’ll be alright and will call me if anything . . . arises.”

More code.

“I will.  Of course.”

I walked with her and stood at the threshold as she headed toward the elevator.  I watched as it opened and she got in.  As she did, someone stepped out.

The rapper.

I smiled in spite of myself.  He was handsomer in person than I expected.  Tall, lean and with new facial hair; a neatly-shaped goatee that made him look unexpectedly serious.  He was dressed in business casual, a yellow button-down with t-shirt underneath and lightweight khakis with brown shoes.  As I stood there, I realized that he would have to walk right by me to get to his apartment, and that it would look strange if I simply stared.

“Hi,” I said.  “You must be Riley’s husband.”

He looked at me for the first time and a half-smile crossed his face.  It must have amused him to be referred to in that way.

“Hey,” he said.  He stopped to briefly shake my hand.  “You are . . ?”

“Jaime,” I said.  “I met your wife a few weeks back with your kids.  Adorable, by the way.”

“Thank you,” he said.  “She is adorable.”

I laughed.  “Yes, she is, but I meant the kids.”

He grinned at me.  “I’m just messing with you.  I hope they don’t keep you up at night.  My baby girl’s got a pair of lungs on her and she hasn’t made friends with her bedtime just yet.”

“No, not at all.”

“Good,” he started walking again.  “Nice to meet you, Jaime.”

I watched him for only a moment more, afraid he would catch me gawking when he opened his door.

I thought I heard him in the kitchen getting something but mostly, all there was from the other side of the wall was silence.  I listened to the quiet for awhile then changed to go for a run in the park. I thought about the rapper as I ran. I wondered about him and his picture-perfect kids, his picture-perfect life. I wondered whether I would see him again.  I hoped so.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: Mistress

AurelleBefore and after her run-in with Shawn from ‘Commitment‘, Keisha had her own story. This is it . . .

This is a sample from ‘Mistress: A Novella’.

Keisha Crawford was worried. Sitting cross-legged on her bed, she spread out in front of her, all of value that she owned in the world. The jewelry probably totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred thousand, but that only mattered if she was willing to part with any of it. Like most men, Charlie had been very generous when it came to “things.” Actual cash he’d been a little more squirrelly about. Now that she thought about it, he’d probably only ever given her about five thousand dollars in cash. Sure, he would take her shopping, let her spend whatever she wanted, which he charged on his black card; he would pay for vacations for her and her friends, he paid her mortgage, and bought her gifts but rarely if ever did he give her cash.

Getting cash hadn’t been that important, and to be honest, Keisha preferred that there not be an exchange of money. It would have made her feel like a whore, and she was not a whore. Charlie, like the boyfriends who had gone before him, simply wanted to take care of her, and she was willing to let him do it.  The age difference hadn’t mattered at all, even though they raised a couple of eyebrows when they were out together. Once a waiter had asked Charlie whether he and his granddaughter wanted another bottle of wine with their dinner. Keisha could have sworn he’d smirked when he said it, the bastard. Anyone who’d been paying a moment’s attention would have known that she wouldn’t be hanging onto her grandfather the way she’d been hanging onto Charlie.

But all that was over now. Charlie was dead, and Keisha would have to fend for herself. She guessed that she had about three weeks maximum and it would be goodbye penthouse apartment, goodbye 24-hour concierge, and goodbye weekly mani-pedis, exclusive gym membership . . .

She couldn’t think about it all now, it was too depressing.

One week after his death Charlie’s family already had begun sorting out his affairs. This morning she’d gotten a very disturbing phone call. It was his daughter, Beth. Charlie had spoken of her often and with pride. She was one year older than Keisha and an attorney at a very prestigious law firm in the city. She had sounded on the phone just as Keisha would have expected: cool and haughty.

“Might I ask to whom I’m speaking?” she said when Keisha answered the phone.

“You called me,” Keisha said. “Who are you?”

“I’m Elizabeth Staynor,” she said. “I’m calling because, as I’m sure you know, my father has died.  And in looking through his papers I came across information about this apartment which he purchased in my name. I called the building and was told that it is occupied. They transferred me up to you.”

Keisha had been struck dumb. She remembered clearly the day Charlie had brought her here for the first time.

Look what I got you, Bunny, he’d said. A place of your own.

She’d never examined or asked what that meant, “a place of your own.” She honestly hadn’t believed he bought it in her name—it was a million-dollar piece of real estate after all—but she couldn’t have imagined he’d put it in Beth’s name either. Especially since he wouldn’t have wanted anyone in his family to know about her.

“Are you there?” Beth Staynor asked.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“I’m not going to inquire into the nature of your relationship with my father. I can imagine, though that it was something my mother need not know about. My strong suggestion is that you take the next two days to empty the space of your belongings—and I do mean empty—and find another place to live.”

Keisha cleared her throat. “You really think that’s what Charlie would have wanted?”

“Don’t you dare . . .” Beth Staynor raised her voice for a moment then seemed to think better of it. “Don’t you dare imply that you know what my father would have wanted. His putting the apartment in my name is ample evidence of what he wanted. Whatever services you performed for him will no longer be needed. You have two days.”

And then the line went dead.

Keisha had no intention of leaving in two days. She would stay until she was forced to leave, and as far as she could guess, it would be a few weeks before that happened. Charlie’s funeral was on Saturday according to the obituary in the paper. Lots of powerful people from around the country would be flying in for what was sure to be a huge event. Then the family would have to have a reception or a dinner to host some of the more important guests. Then there would be meetings with lawyers and boards of directors and the staff of his many companies. Keisha’s guess was that Beth Staynor would be way too occupied to worry about her anytime soon.

But that didn’t solve the problem at hand, which was that she very little money, and no job. In her checking account, she had about seven hundred dollars. In her purse, maybe another five hundred, and that was it. Not even enough to make a deposit on a decent place to live if she needed to. Keisha wondered whether Beth had gotten around to closing out Charlie’s accounts at all the restaurants around town. She could probably eat out a few times at places where they knew her as Charlie’s girl but how long would that last? Less than a week, certainly. Charlie was not exactly low-profile; everyone in the business world and high society were talking about his death. He had fallen over at the eleventh hole on Shinnecock Hills on Southampton and been declared dead before the ambulance even arrived.

At sixty-three, he’d been relatively young, and by far the youngest of all Keisha’s recent boyfriends. Ironic that he would have been the one to die on her. And she’d really been starting to like him, too. She met him at the Met Costume Institute Gala which she was attending with Stewart Lawson. Stewart was a venture capitalist and her friend Avery’s boyfriend. But Avery had the flu and had been happy to let Keisha take her place for one night. Stewart was seventy-three and looked like that old-time movie actor, David Niven. Keisha suspected he was gay and only wanted Avery around as a beard, but she didn’t mind filling that role for an evening, especially since it meant going to so exclusive an event.

Keisha’s own boyfriend had begun to tire of her. She knew it because he was calling less, and had forgotten on two occasions to pay her rent. When she’d called to remind him, he had been short with her. The last time he came to visit, he hadn’t even been interested in sex, so Keisha knew her days were numbered. He had found someone else, it was clear, but perhaps had not yet made his move. His drawing away meant that Keisha needed to find a new benefactor.

At the ball, Avery’s boyfriend had practically ignored her. As wealthy as he was, he was still starstruck and wandered off every few minutes to meet some actress of actor who caught his eye, leaving Keisha standing alone and feeling foolish. Charlie had been standing alone as well and when their eyes met at one point, he raised his champagne glass to her. Keisha returned the gesture and smiled her most winning smile. Charlie approached and she straightened her back, presenting her chest in its best light.

“These things are a crashing bore, aren’t they?” he said.

“Depends on who you’re with, I suppose,” Keisha said.

“Well, who are you with?” Charlie asked leaning in closer.

Keisha indicated where Stewart, a few feet away, was having his photo taken with Anna Wintour.

“Stewart Lawson,” he laughed. “You can do a lot better than that.”

“Oh can I?”

“Yes,” Charlie said. “You can.”

That very night, Keisha had blown him in the back of his Bentley. Then she’d reapplied her lipstick and gone back to the party. She expected that he would want to screw her but not much more than that.  But he called her and took her to dinner the next evening and within a week he had moved her out of her apartment and to the penthouse. In the first three months, it was clear that she was not his only mistress— he seemed to be dividing his time between her and at least one other woman, but she didn’t care, just so long as she was being taken care of.  Once Keisha Googled him however, she realized she would be foolish not to try to get him for herself so she upped the ante, exerting a little more effort to be sexually creative, surprising him with role plays and greeting him at the door stark naked, silly little tricks like that.

But it worked.

Soon, Charlie was spending every free moment with her and showering her with so many gifts, it became unusual for him to show up empty-handed. He had begun modestly enough, with a five thousand dollar Tiffany Grace drop pendant, but by the time he died, the last gift he had given her was a twenty-five thousand dollar necklace. He always got the jewelry from Tiffany, though Keisha always secretly hoped he would move to something even higher end.

Now, Keisha scooped up her jewelry and put it all back into the cases in her walk-in closet. Spinning around, she realized something else she’d overlooked. She had to have tens of thousands of dollars in designer clothes. There were lots of consignment shops around the city that would pay her well for some of this stuff, much of it not yet worn.  And the furniture in the apartment could also command a good price – Charlie had gone all out with the decorating, giving her a budget that was known only to him and the designer. But Keisha could not recall being told that anything she liked was too expensive. So ultimately, she was fairly well-off. She just needed a place to live. There was one place that was a sure bet. It was her last resort, and she need not consider it right now so she wouldn’t.

Instead, she got showered and dressed and headed over to Avery’s. Avery had had a boyfriend die on her once before. She would know what to do.