‘The Fall’ – COMING APRIL 20th

TheFall_Forrester_EBOOK (2)

A note from the author:

You may remember Lorna Terry from my book, ‘Commitment’; Riley’s mother, the professor who resented her daughter’s decision to marry a rapper of all things, but more than that, as a radical feminist sometimes resented the very idea of marriage.

Of all the characters I’ve ever written, Lorna Terry seemed to be the most sure of who she was and came to me feeling ‘whole’–like there was very little for me to do but put her on the page. I didn’t wonder how she became the self-assured woman she was, she just … was. But no one comes ‘whole’. We’re all the product of little tiny pieces of experiences, lessons, prejudices, assets and flaws. So I wanted to deconstruct Lorna, figure out who she is, and why she is the woman we see in ‘Commitment’. What I uncovered was someone much more flawed than I expected, and much more layered. I loved writing this book. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to leave the characters.

On April 20th, I introduce you to her. I hope you love her –with all her flaws and complications–as I do.

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’:

“It’s so weird visiting you here,” Riley said walking around the office. “I don’t recall ever coming to your office when I was actually enrolled at the college.”

“You didn’t. But I wasn’t in this office. When you were here, I had the much smaller one in Rayburn Hall.”

Riley had left Shawn with the kids for the day and driven up. For lunch was what they said, though they both knew the real reason was to finish the conversation that had been started in Riley’s kitchen a few days after she brought Cassidy home from the hospital. Already, her daughter had resumed the size she was before her pregnancy—breastfeeding and her father’s genes, probably. Lorna remembered carrying around an extra twenty pounds for months after Riley’s birth. And of course, she hadn’t breastfed at all.

“Which classes are having their reunions this year?” Riley asked lifting and inspecting a book on Lorna’s desk.

“Not sure. I usually leave town for all that brouhaha.”

“Which I’m sure makes the deans mad at you. I bet lots of people come just to meet you.”

“Don’t kid yourself. They come to get drunk and sleep with their old college boyfriend or girlfriend, to see whether all those sweet romantic memories are accurate.”

Riley laughed. “Ever the cynic. I had lots of college flings. I can’t imagine being even slightly interested in any of them now.”

“Remember how you never wanted me to meet them?” Lorna asked gathering her bag and keys. “Now that you’re older I can ask: what the hell was up with that?

“I don’t know.” Riley shrugged. “I was probably afraid of them falling in love with you or something.”

“Riley!”

“No, seriously. You always seemed to attract younger men in droves …”

Lorna thought of the grad student, whose name she now knew well—Todd Williamson. And she thought of Malcolm, who lately had begun to seem less and less young.

“That’s not true. Is it?”

“Yes, Mom. Seriously? You don’t remember?”

“No, I don’t. Like … who are you talking about?”

“Like I could remember their names.” Riley scoffed.

Though Lorna knew she didn’t mean it to be cruel or judgmental, the comment stung. There had been men, for sure, but when Riley entered Gilchrist, Lorna hadn’t yet turned forty. She was in her prime, so of course there were men.

“Did I …” She paused while locking her office door. “Did I introduce you to them all?”

“If you could call it that. I ran into some in our kitchen when I stopped by the house, or in the bathroom, or …”

“How is it we never talked about this?”

“What was there to talk about? You had lovers. You never hid that, and you always taught me it was nothing to be ashamed of. So I didn’t …” Riley shrugged again. “It was mostly no big deal. I can’t believe you’re saying you now don’t remember any of this.”

“No,” Lorna said. “I’m not saying I don’t remember any of it. I guess I just remember it differently, that’s all. There were men who were around for longer. There was Earl, there was …”

Riley seemed to detect her consternation and touched her on the forearm. “Lorna, like I said, it was no big deal.”

“You said it was mostly no big deal, actually. That’s not the same thing.”

“Well I meant ‘no big deal’. So anyway, let’s go find someplace to eat. I feel like Italian. How ‘bout you?”

They ate at Andiamo! which was a favorite of the Gilchrist community because of its enormous antipasti selection and could-stuff-a-horse entrée portion sizes. Riley ordered like someone who was still eating for two, but Lorna didn’t bother remarking on it since her daughter never seemed to gain an ounce anyway, and wouldn’t have cared if she did. Lorna herself had only recently begun to care about things like pant sizes and the number on the scale.

“So I want to talk more about me being a bad mother,” Lorna said once they’d placed their orders.

Riley looked at her, freezing just as she was about to dip a piece of bread into the plate of olive oil and cracked pepper between them.

“Who said anything about ..? See this is why we never have these kinds of conversations. When it’s about you, you get incredibly sensitive. And yet you insist on doling out brutal truths to everyone else when it’s about them.”

“What you described earlier, men coming and going, is a pretty shitty mother, that’s all.”

“That’s your judgment of yourself. I never said anything like that.”

“I don’t know how else to …”

“Look, I came here because I wanted to ask you some questions about my father. And suddenly it’s about you. It’s always about you, Lorna.”

“Ah. And now we get the truth.”

“I always tell you the truth. And the truth is this: I never said you were a bad mother. Did I sometimes wish you made it to more PTA meetings? Sure. Did I wish my house didn’t reek of pot when my friends came over when I was in middle school? Of course. Did I occasionally want you to bake some fucking brownies? Yes! But I never said you were a shitty mother!”

Riley raising her voice was so unusual that Lorna was for a few minutes, literally without words.

“I don’t know what narrative you have in your head about yourself that you’re hoping I’ll confirm for you,” Riley continued in a calmer tone. “But I had a pretty good childhood. Some of it not so good, but on balance, good. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”

“I’m … sorry.”

Riley looked up. She seemed surprised. Lorna knew it was because those two words were ones she didn’t often say in sequence. The second one she didn’t often say, period.

“You’re right. This isn’t about me. But I think some of what you said may have triggered me. Made me think of my own mother.”

“What about her?” Riley asked slowly. “We never … You’ve never told me much about your family. I don’t even know if there’s anyone left.”

“I don’t know either,” Lorna said ruefully.

“Mom. Look. If today you don’t feel up to …”

“No. You came up here, so let’s talk.” She nodded. “Let me tell you about your father.”

Riley bit into the crusty bit of bread in her hand, brushing away the crumbs that fell onto her shirt. “Okay, so …”

“It’s hard to talk about him,” Lorna acknowledged.

“Why? Was he like, I don’t know, an asshole to you or something?”

Lorna laughed. “No. Quite the opposite, actually.”

She leaned back and took a deep breath before beginning to speak.

 

 

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.

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.

Get to know Riley . . .

ImageFrom COMMITMENT:

Starbucks was almost deserted. Apart from a couple of sleepy baristas and a man with an old newspaper he was pretending to read, they were alone. While Shawn went to order, Riley glanced at her watch. It was almost one a.m. If she wanted to maintain even a shred of her professional distance, she would leave after a couple sips of coffee. 
Shawn returned with fruit juice for himself and a coffee for her. Riley meticulously ripped open one of the yellow packets of no-cal sweetener and emptied it into her cup, stirring it slowly with the wooden stick, pretending not to notice that Shawn was staring at her.
Who was she kidding? Her professional distance had fallen to pieces at his feet hours earlier. He popped the top off the bottle and sipped from it, leaning back, his eyes still fixed on her face.
“Come back to my hotel with me,” he said.
Riley sat very still, not blinking. Not breathing.
“You look surprised,” he said when after a moment she still hadn’t spoken.
“I am.”
Shawn shook his head slowly. “No you’re not.”

Get to know Keisha . . .

Get to know Keisha . . .

From COMMITMENT:
“What’s your name?” he asked her.
“Keisha. I’m Mike’s cousin.”
He held out a hand and she took it, holding it a little longer than was necessary, letting go one finger at a time.
“So I heard you was filming a video next week,” she said. “In the Bronx?”
So that’s what this was about.
“Yeah. You a dancer?”
“Trying to be.” She looked suddenly shy again. “You think maybe I could get a part or something?”
Shawn shrugged. “I don’t do casting for the videos.”
“C’mon now,” she said, sitting next to him. “You know you could put me in the video if you wanted to.”
“Yeah but I don’t even know if you can dance,” he pointed out.
“You’ll be at Sans Souci tonight with Mike and them, right?”
He said nothing.
“So look for me on the dance floor. If you like what I can do, can I be in the video?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“What else could I do for you to put me in the video?” Keisha asked, looking him right in the eye. She held his gaze for a moment until Shawn smiled and shook his head.
“If you can dance, I’ll put in a word for you,” he said, ignoring her question.
It was funny how she had that shy, innocent act down pat and then the next minute she was issuing invitations for him get into her drawers. The rap game could show you some crazy shit.

 

Get to know Shawn . . .

Get to know Shawn . . .

From COMMITMENT:

“What is this all about?” she finally asked now, her voice quiet.

She set aside her knife and fork and rested her hands on the table as though preparing for a negotiation.

“What is this ab . . ? Riley I just think we should get married, that’s all.”

She swallowed. “That’s all?” she demanded. “Do you even know my middle name?  What elementary school I went to?”

“No.”

“Then why?”

Because she couldn’t care less that he was K Smooth.

Because minutes after she left, he was already thinking about when he’d see her again.

Because her mind excited him as much as her body.

Because he couldn’t stand the thought of her smiling at someone else the way she smiled at him, or holding their hand the way she did his.

Because with her, he was that guy who didn’t want his girl dancing with anyone else. Little things. Big things. Everything about her.

“I can’t lose you,” he said simply.

She looked up at him, and her eyes were brimming over.

“Think about it,” he said putting down his fork. “I’ll be away for awhile. Take that time and think about it.”

“Is this because of last night? Because of Brian?” she asked, sounding desperate. “We never talked about being together exclusively and I never thought that that’s what you wanted, but if it is, maybe . . .”

“No,” he cut her off.

He finally identified the look on her face and what it meant. Panic. Hell, he should be the one in a panic. He had never thought in his wildest imagination of marriage as an option for him. Never believed there was a woman out there that would make him sign up for that particular brand of madness. And, in the abstract at least, it still sounded like madness but this wasn’t about marriage, it was about Riley. With her, he knew that boyfriend-girlfriend shit wasn’t going to be enough. He had to have her locked down.

‘Unsuitable Men’ is Free on Amazon Today!

Today only, on Amazon.com, I’m offering ‘Unsuitable Men’ free.

This book I love for lots of reasons. First, because it’s the result of a reader’s challenge to me to go against my aversion to writing sequels or serials that revisit the same characters over and over again. She so liked ‘Commitment’ that she asked whether I would be writing more about Shawn and Riley. I told her I could not, but would give a stab at exploring more about Tracy and Brendan, secondary characters in ‘Commitment’ who played prominent roles. The result was this book which now has me thoroughly convinced that sometimes, revisiting characters, but with a light touch, can yield interesting new material. So if you liked ‘Commitment’, try ‘Unsuitable Men’. And even if you didn’t read ‘Commitment’ this book tells it’s own story that is not at all dependent on the previous book.

The second reason I love ‘Unsuitable Men’ is the utter, and sometimes maddening imperfection of the main character who somehow  manages to make you love her anyway. That was my favorite element of this writing story, making Brendan fall in love with Tracy, warts and all.

Read it and write me a review. Tell me what about it (if anything) spoke to you!

Happy Reading!

-Nia-