An unedited excerpt from Chapter 1 of ‘Rhyme & Reason’, from the new generation of ‘Afterwards’ novels, coming 2019.
She had fallen asleep while watching The Best Man and woke up to the sound of her phone ringing. On television, the Netflix home-screen was scrolling through programming options. Grappling for her phone, expecting to see either her brother’s name or Asif’s, Zora sat upright when she saw the initials DS.
Why don’t you have my whole name in your contacts?
Because you’re kind of famous.
Deuce had twisted his lips and narrowed his eyes skeptically.
Here’s what we can do to fix that, he said. Just change it to ‘My Man’. I can live with that. So, whenever you see it, you know.
I already know, she’d said, trying not to blush.
“Hello?” Her voice sounded gravelly, so she cleared her throat and tried again. “Hello.”
“Hey. I wake you?”
“No. I mean, yeah, but it’s fine. I was …” She didn’t finish her sentence, imagining how pathetic it might sound.
I was watching Netflix all on my own. On a Friday night. Yes, I was.
Zora thought for a moment, wondering why he would think … Oh, yes. Asif. He hadn’t allowed her to explain earlier. One would have thought he would figure it out. Asif and she could have passed for siblings.
“Yes. I’m alone. And Deuce …”
“I just … I wanted to say I was sorry,” he said. “For speaking to you the way I did.”
Zora felt her throat tighten.
“I’m sorry, too,” she said.
“What’re you sorry for?”
“Springing up on you. I mean … it wasn’t fair. I should’ve …”
On the other end of the line, Deuce sighed. “I don’t know that it would have made a difference anyway,” he said.
“Zee, you know when it comes to you …”
She held her breath.
“Anyway. I’m just sorry I came off like that,” he said in a rush.
The silence stretched.
“How … how are you?” she asked finally. “Lately. How have you been? With work and everything. And that plan you had.”
The last time they spoke he mentioned he was about to make a pitch for a special project with an artist his father’s company had high hopes for. But after the way the rest of that conversation went, they hadn’t spoken since.
“You mean with Devin Parks?” Deuce asked.
“Yes. Did Jamal ever give you the go-ahead to have him as the first …”
“Nah. He shot it down. Said he couldn’t give me an artist of Devin Parks’ caliber right out the gate. Told me to work with the team to find my own people.”
“Ouch. That’s harsh,” Zora said, settling back into her pillows again.
“Not really. He was right. Devin Parks is going to be huge. He is huge. Lettin’ me have him for this new label would have been giving me something I didn’t earn. Hell, I didn’t even earn the right to develop a new label.”
“Don’t say that …”
“It’s true though. Who graduates from undergrad and gets that kind of opportunity from jump? I mean, if I was just some regular dude, I would be an intern at SE for real.”
Zora had heard him speak this way about himself before, but it hurt her every time.
“You’re always underestimating yourself,” she said. “So what if you’re not ‘some regular dude’? So what if you got a foot in the door because of your father? Now that you’re in, you just have to prove you deserve to be there.”
“Tryin’,” he said.
“It’s goin’ okay, I guess. Mostly I’m learning the business, y’know?”
“Does your father help?”
“I don’t ask him.”
“That’s such a wasted opportunity. Your father probably has an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge about how to develop a record label. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?”
“So he can get confirmation that I’m just fakin’ through it right now?”
“Are you?” she asked.
Deuce said nothing for a few beats.
“Not really. I mean, I did my homework. I’ma have to take a couple risks, but I feel good about where things are at, considering.”
“Okay, so where are they?”
“What d’you mean?”
“I mean, tell me where things are. What stage are you at in developing the label?”
Deuce didn’t realize this about himself, but Zora knew he needed to process things aloud. To talk them over with a thought-partner, and problem-solve through conversation. When he did, his confidence strengthened. Deuce was not short on confidence by any means, but Chris Scaife Sr. was a formidable yardstick to measure oneself by.
“You won’t be bored by all that?”
“Have I ever been?” she asked, before she caught herself.
Then they both laughed at the same time.
“Okay, fine,” she said. “There were moments, I admit …”
“Moments?” Deuce echoed, laughter still in his voice. “You fell asleep on me, Zee. When I was talking about …”
“In my defense, it was right after …” She broke off.
Right after they’d made love. Made love. That’s what it was with him. Every time, maybe even including the very first time.
After lovemaking, Deuce was wide open. He talked. Told her his greatest fears, his biggest dreams. He talked until he was exhausted, and sometimes until she was, as well.
“Yeah,” he said now. “I’ll give you that. The moment wasn’t … opportune.”
The sound of a female voice, interrupting their conversation was so unexpected that Zora for a moment didn’t know where it was coming from. Her eyes instinctively shifted to her tv even though the sound was clearly coming from her phone.
She heard shuffling, and the muffled sound of Deuce talking to someone. To the someone who had called him ‘baby.’
From ‘Rhyme & Reason’ COMING 2019