Motherhood

Young-Moms-Conference-NYCI love writing ‘stories of love’.  And the primary love in the story is usually that between a man and a woman, or a woman and herself. But a theme I revisit, time and again is motherhood. The most complex portrait of this bond that I’ve ever attempted was the relationship between Riley and Lorna in my latest book, ‘The Fall’.

The main character, Lorna is nothing if not imperfect as a mother. But despite all that, her daughter loves and even understands her. Their relationship for me embodies the mystery of motherhood. That we love them, sometimes despite who they are, rather than because of it. That the way we love, ever after, is marked by that very first bond–or lack thereof–we form with another human being.

From ‘THE FALL’:

“What the heck is that on your fingers?”

Lorna extended a hand and laughed. “Oh. Chipped nail polish.”

Riley leaned in as though she’d heard incorrectly. “Nail polish?”

They were in Lorna’s backyard, sitting on the ground while Cassidy picked up and studied the crimson and yellow leaves that had fallen and blanketed the grass beneath the large red maple. Before long, it would be way too cold to do this, but it had been an unseasonably warm November, and since Riley was up for the night, it seemed only right to take advantage of it by spending some time outside.

Nearby, Cullen was making piles of leaves, all in a row, and then kicking at and dispersing them once again. He had done so three or four times so far by Lorna’s count, and had yet to lose interest in the activity. He looked remarkably like Shawn, but had Riley’s disposition. A natural charmer, without even trying.

“Malcolm’s girls did it a couple weeks ago. And I don’t have the stuff that takes it off, so it’s been slowly chipping away. Unsightly, isn’t it?” Lorna looked at her nails and smiled.

Riley rolled her eyes. “The ‘stuff that takes if off’ is called nail polish remover, by the way. We can get some at CVS. I don’t think I can stand to look at that all day.”

Lorna laughed again. “They had fun putting it on, that’s the important thing.”

Riley looked down, and idly smoothed Cassidy’s hair, a strange look playing about the corners of her mouth.

“Well … I’m glad you’re enjoying them.”

Lorna leaned in a little. “Why’d you say it like that?”

“How’d I say it?” Riley shrugged. “I am. I’m glad you’re enjoying them. If you didn’t I’m sure you’d use it as an excuse to bump Malcolm to the curb or something.”

“Riley,” Lorna said tiredly. “I think we’re well past that, Malcolm and I.”

Shaking her head, Riley sighed. “I know you are. Sorry. I … I just …”

“Just what?”

Sighing again, Riley looked at her. “It’s just … strange, that’s all.”

“What’s strange? Talk to me.”

Cullen wandered over, dropping a few leaves on his sister’s head, to her delight. She laughed and he dropped more leaves, crouching next to her and beginning to cover her legs with them as well.

“You talk about his kids a lot. Especially Piper. I can tell you’re bonding with them.”

“And …?”

“You never had that much time for me, that’s all,” Riley said, speaking so quickly that her words tumbled one into the other.

“Riley, that’s …” Lorna stopped herself. Was that true?

“We never did nails, for instance,” Riley said almost accusingly.

“Because I’m not the doing nails type.”

“Well evidently you are, because …” Riley indicated her hands. “I mean, all I remember is times like you reading me something from Willa Cather and telling me how important her work was to ‘the development of notions about how women could undermine gender conventions.’ Jesus … I think that’s even a quote, word for word of what you said. That’s the kind of thing we did together. We never did nails.”

Lorna looked at her daughter and felt a surge of love, and of compassion. She was so used to feeling proud of their relationship, and of how close they were—and they were—but there were enormous fissures there as well. Things she hadn’t permitted herself to see because she was too busy being proud, in her heart of hearts taking credit for all her own accomplishments and for Riley’s as well—as though she’d ‘made’ Riley, crafted her with her own hands. When the truth of it was, much of what Riley had become was not at all because of her.

“Did you want to do nails?” Lorna asked softly, only half joking.

Riley looked at her. She was smiling but there were tears in her eyes as well. “I wanted to please you. That’s what I wanted.”

“Oh, darling …” Lorna leaned in and hugged her tight. “You did. You do.”

Riley was grasping her about the waist, holding on so tight, Lorna could barely take a breath.

“Riley, you are the most amazing unexpected gift of my life. The happiest happenstance … My first and deepest love. You know that.”

“It hasn’t felt like that lately,” Riley said against her shoulder.

Lorna pulled back and looked at her daughter’s face. It was tear-stained, crumpled and poised to produce more tears.

“What do you mean?”

“You have all this other stuff going on. None of which has anything to do with me. And I don’t even know what you’re up to these days. Are you writing a book? Planning a trip to China? I have no idea anymore. And it’s … just … strange. We never used to be like this.”

“I’ve felt a little bit the same way. You did Thanksgiving with Ryan and his family, and …”

“Mom, you hate Thanksgiving.”

“And so did you at one time.”

“I went because they invited us and I knew you wouldn’t care about Thanksgiving, so …”

“I don’t.” Lorna shook her head. “And I’m glad you went to Ryan’s, but I … Anyway, let’s not make this about me. The point I’m making is that both our lives are different and changing. But they’re good changes. And we’re still connected Riley, in ways that no one and nothing could ever compromise. What we’re doing is enlarging our circle, that’s all. And it’s bound to be uncomfortable at first, because we’ve been so used to it just being us. And then we let in Shawn … and these babies came along …”

Lorna looked at Cullen, who by now had all but covered his sister with leaves, like he wanted to disappear her altogether.

“Then it’s not that you like Malcolm’s daughters more than you liked me at that age?” Riley asked. And Lorna knew she was only pretending to be joking.

“I don’t like anyone more than I like you. At any age.”

Riley sighed, and looking over, finally realized what Cullen was up to. Laughing, she brushed leaves away from Cassidy and pointed Cullen back in the direction of his original piles-of-leaves project.

“Looks like I’m not the only one struggling with enlarging their circle,” she said dryly.

**********

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SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘LIFTED’ COMING SEPT. 15

LIfted cover final

 

“Have you ever … been with a guy?”

Anzu’s gaze lifted from her nails to Tessa’s face. “Lots. Why?”

“Lots? Is that what you just said? Lots?

Anzu shrugged. “Yeah. But that was a long time ago.”

“You never told me …”

“It’s not the kind of thing that comes up in casual conversation, if you know what I mean,” Anzu said her eyes dropping once again to her nails. “I have a long and storied past as a high school floozy.”

Tessa sat back so she could look Anzu directly in the eyes. And before she could stop it, her mouth fell open.

“You mean with …”

“With guys, yeah,” Anzu said. She shrugged again. “Look, I was a Japanese girl from a very traditional family, growing up in conservative Orange County. How the hell was I going to tell my first generation Japanese-American parents that I was having dirty thoughts about blonde cheerleaders?”

Not too much rendered Tessa speechless, but for some reason this did. Of course, she knew that the path to self-acceptance was rocky for far too many lesbians and gay men, but very few of her friends had ever shared their coming-out stories. Coming-out stories were more of interest to straight people. If you were gay, it was the same ol’-same ol’.

“So you had sex with them? These guys?”

Anzu looked her directly in the eye. “Yup.”

“But …” Tessa replaced the cap on the nail varnish and watched as Anzu began blowing on her fingernails to dry them.

“Why?” Anzu finished for her. “Is that what you’re about to ask? Because I was determined to be straight, that’s why. It was like my little secret afterschool project. Screw as many guys as I could until I started to really like it. Why d’you think LGBT youth have some of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies?”

“Well did you ever? Start to like it I mean.”

Trying to make eye contact with her friend, Tessa realized after a few failed attempts that Anzu didn’t want to. Finally, she got up and went into the bathroom and after a moment, there was the sound of running water. Anzu was running cold water over her fingers to help speed the process of setting the color.

“Why’re you so curious about hetero sex all of a sudden?” she asked without answering Tessa’s question. “Are you …?”

There was a long pause, and then Anzu was sticking her head out of the bathroom, her eyes as wide as saucers.

“Oh my god! Did you and the pretty boy …”

“No!” Tessa said quickly. “Why does everyone think that Ty and I..?”

Anzu leaned against the doorjamb and stared at her. “You serious right now?”

“Yes, I’m serious right now! I want to know precisely why everyone thinks that Ty and I could be screwing. Particularly since I’m the gayest person you know.”

Anzu laughed. “Let’s not go overboard on the ‘gayest person’ stuff. Just because you sleep with a lot of girls doesn’t mean …”

“Stop.” Tessa held up a hand. “I think I’ve heard this speech. From Lisa, remember?”

Anzu came back to the futon and sat cross-legged directly in front of her, shaking her head. “I’m not about to say anything as vile as that bitch said to you. I’m just sayin’, it’s not about what’s here …” Anzu indicated her crotch. “It’s mostly about what’s here …” pointing at her head, “…and here.” Her heart.

“What does that have to do with me and Ty?”

Anzu smiled. “Seriously?”

 

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Mother’

 

Mother cover mistress FINAL

From ‘MOTHER’ coming Summer 2014

No.”

The word was out before Keisha could stop it. Before she’d even completely thought it. And from the look on Jayson’s face, it surprised him, too.

“No?”

“I mean …”

“You don’t want to?”

“I meant not now,” Keisha amended. “Just not now, that’s all.”

Ignoring the hints had been simple enough, especially since she was sure he couldn’t possibly be serious. They’d been married less than a year, and things were still up in the air, with his new business, her new career.

“I don’t mean now either,” Jay said. “I meant maybe in a year or so. But you’re taking those shots and that’s for like, three months, right? What if we decide to do it sooner?”

And so there it was.

He might say he didn’t want babies now. He might think he didn’t want babies now. But once she wasn’t taking her Depo shots, all bets would be off.

Keisha lifted her eyes from her plate and focused instead on her husband. Standing in front of the fridge, reaching in for orange juice turning to pour them both glasses, he had no clue that he’d just dropped an atom bomb.

Having babies was not something Keisha was willing to contemplate. They were something she hadn’t been forced to discuss before they were married and she’d been operating under the vain and foolish hope that somehow, she could avoid the subject for, say, the next thirty or more years ‘til she was too old to have them. But that wasn’t true either, because even before the ‘I do’s’ Jay had mentioned wanting sons and she’d easily avoided talking about it because neither of them had been confident about taking care of themselves let alone children.

“Tea or a cappuccino?”

Jay had moved on to making the hot breakfast beverages. Following their Saturday morning routine of eating early at their kitchen table and talking about their week, Keisha was going with him to the store.

Almost a year ago, Jay had acquired a small photo business in town, a modest place that was barely enough for him to eke out a living at. But now it was taking off, because he’d turned it into a photo studio where he took family portraits and vanity shots, booked events and did natural light photography of engaged couples and women seeking glamorous headshots for dating sites.

“Cappuccino.”

It was the only way Keisha was able to have caffeine—with frothy, warm milk that almost masked the taste. Jay had gotten her a machine for her twenty-sixth birthday, his attempt at a joke about her past as a barista in a Brooklyn coffee shop. The real gift had been four days in South Beach, a belated honeymoon in a resort where all their needs were taken care of from sun up to sundown. Hands down, those days had been the happiest of Keisha’s life—just her and her man, thinking about no one and nothing else, wrapped up in the newness of being married, and in each other. The way it was supposed to be.

After eleven months of marriage, Jayson Holmes was still the most incredible stroke of luck to have happened to her in her entire life. Every day began with her staring at him, and wondering at the cosmic mistake had led to her finding him, and having him fall in love with her, of all the women in the world who might have had him.

“So what d’you think?” Jay asked looking over his shoulder. “You stop taking the shots and then take the Pill instead so that if we want to get pregnant sooner, it’ll only be a month before we can try for real.”

“I don’t know,” Keisha said, shoveling a piece of toast in her mouth to avoid giving a full answer.

“Or,” Jay said, “we could just … roll the dice.”

At that, Keisha almost choked on her bread. She swallowed hard, now eager to get some words out, because that ridiculous suggestion could not go unanswered.

“We’re nowhere near ready for something like that. Your business just got off the ground, I’m going to …”

“But you’re assuming it would happen right away. Sometimes it takes a while. And I read that when you’ve been on the shots, it sometimes takes longer.”

“Where have you been reading stuff like that?”

“The internet. I looked it up.”

He’d been looking up stuff about going off birth control and conception times? Holy shit.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Lifted’

Tyson

From ‘Lifted’:

In the dim sum restaurant, there was a table full of women. Ty thought they might be gay too. All of a sudden, he seemed to be noticing gay people more. Maybe it was because he was in San Francisco, the Gay Mecca of the United States; or maybe it was because he was with Tessa, the first gay person he’d ever wished wasn’t.

One of the women at the table couldn’t keep her eyes off Tessa. She was trying to make eye contact.

“You like Asian women?” Ty asked, thinking about Anzu and Tessa making out at the nightclub.

“They seem to like me,” Tessa said, so he knew she’d noticed the woman staring as well, though she hadn’t acknowledged her.

“Why do you think that is?”

She shrugged. “Some people like chocolate adventures.”

Ty spluttered. “Chocolate adventures?”

“You know. Testing out the rumored insatiable sexual appetite that we Black folks seem to have.”

He nodded. “Oh.”

“So?” Tessa asked, looking about the restaurant for the next passing server with a steaming tray.

“So … what?”

“Have you had any? Chocolate adventures? D’you like Black chicks?”

“Only been with one. She was a little crazy.”

Tessa laughed. “Oh that is so wrong of you.”

“Why is it wrong of me? I’ve been with plenty of crazy White chicks. It just so happens the one Black one I was with was also crazy.”

“How was she crazy?”

“She liked to … you sure you want the details?”

“Oh, please give me the details,” Tessa said. She almost looked gleeful.

Before Ty could begin his story, another tray went by and they paused to take some of the soft, pork-filled rolls, then another of rib tips in a bright red sauce that looked hot and spicy, but was really sweet.

“Okay, spill it,” Tessa spoke with her mouth full.

“Her name was Charmaine. She was a sophomore at my school. And she came onto me at a party. And I liked it because she wasn’t shy about it, she didn’t pretend she would hold out. She let me know she wanted me, and that made me want her too.”

Ty didn’t know why he was telling Tessa all this, except that she was different from other women, and wouldn’t care if he said he’d wanted another woman, because she wasn’t looking to compete in the same arena.

“So did you hook up the same night?” Tessa rested both elbows on the table and leaned in, rapt.

“Yeah. She liked the lights on, which was different from other chicks. Her body wasn’t perfect but she didn’t care. And that made her way hotter as far as I was concerned.”

“And that turned you on?”

“I feel like you’re psychoanalyzing me.”

“I kind of am. I like that too—when women aren’t all, ‘don’t look at my stomach’ or ‘dim the lights a little’. I like when they let it all hang out.”

Under the table, Ty was getting some wood. Hearing Tessa talk about what she liked was a turn-on, even though part of him wished … well, it didn’t matter what he wished.

“So tell me more about Charmaine. Wanting the lights on didn’t make her crazy, so what did?”

“She had a boyfriend,” Ty said, beginning to wish he hadn’t brought Charmaine up at all. “And she liked …”

“C’mon, spill it! What did she ..?”

“She liked to call him while we were doing it. She liked to watch me sliding in and out of her while she talked to her boyfriend on the phone and pretended she wasn’t being …”

Tessa put a hand over her mouth and muffled a laugh. “Freak. How many times did she do that?”

“Every single time we had sex except for the first time.”

“And you had to like it too, or you wouldn’t keep doing it,” Tessa accused.

Ty shrugged. “Once we were in the act, I didn’t give a shit what she did, just as long as we kept … you know.”

Tessa laughed again. “She put that ol’ Black Magic on you, huh?”

“She was pretty wild in bed,” Ty admitted.

“So what ended it?”

“The beginning of the end was when I saw her boyfriend one day when they were walking across campus together. He looked like the Incredible Hulk. I mean, this dude was a beast. After that I started avoiding Charmaine’s booty calls.”

Leaning back in her seat, Tessa nodded and folded her arms. “Now that’s what I call a good story.”

“Oh, but it’s not done. After a couple weeks thinking I made it out with my life, she corners me at a party. Told me we weren’t done till she said we were done.”

“Now you’re just making stuff up.”

“Scout’s honor.” Ty raised a hand, then reached for one of the rib tips, enjoying the expression on Tessa’s face.

“Okay, so then what?”

“I had to keep doing her until she was done.”

At that, Tessa laughed out loud–loud enough for other patrons to look over at them–and clapped her hands.

“You had to, huh?”

Her eyes were bright and she was looking at him differently, like he’d been inducted into some Cool Kids Club or something. Ty could see how it might be that Tessa seduced people—with her looking at him that way, he thought there were probably very few things he wouldn’t do just to remain in her favor.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: Meet Jeanette from ‘AFTERBURN’

Jeanette promo flat

 

“That’s a crock of … shit.”

Jeanette pronounced the word ‘sh-EEE-it’ which made Robyn smile.

“But Etienne said that …”

“Don’t listen to him,” Jeanette said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You must insist that they speak English when in your presence. You are in charge!”

Robyn gave a firm nod.

It was true. Why should she suffer through entire days of listening to her staff chattering along while only absorbing a fraction of what they said? They worked for her, not the other way around. And while it was true she wanted to improve her French it wasn’t unreasonable—and wasn’t it just good manners—to insist that they speak so she understood?

Jeanette had been working for her for only two weeks now, and already Robyn could tell that she would be more than an assistant, but a friend. They had the same instincts, the same sensibilities about most things, and Robyn admired Jeanette’s edgy, in-your-face style. She looked like a punk rocker, with her spiky hair and sharp features. Thin as a rail, and slightly bowlegged, she had the kind of physique that looked best in fitted jeans that accentuated her hips, such as they were.

Etienne had ‘loaned’ her to Robyn as her assistant/translator because when Jamal arrived—as he was slated to do that day—Jeanette was going to be his right-hand woman as well. She was Pouvoir Noir’s best scout and Jamal’s French counterpart; she had ferreted out some of Etienne’s best artists. Her days were short, and her nights long as she traipsed through the labyrinth of Paris’ nightlife—underground clubs, small venues and parties in Oberkampf, finding a new young sensation who would burn up the charts. But since Chris’ acquisition of an interest in the company had put a moratorium on signing new artists, Jeanette was underutilized, and so had been sitting largely idle until Jamal came to help her develop the artists they already had.

“Maybe you can come home with me and lay down the law for my nanny as well,” Robyn joked. “I like the idea that Caity will understand French as well, but I think my au pair secretly never speaks to her in English when I’m gone.”

Jeanette laughed, reaching for her espresso and taking a gulp. “Well, your fiancée is rather forceful. Perhaps he can … lay down the law when he arrives.”

“Do you know Chris?” Robyn asked.

“We have met,” Jeanette said nodding.

Robyn smiled, thinking of Chris and almost unconsciously reaching for her ring, twisting it back and forth on her finger. Jeanette’s eyes fell to the stone and she looked back up at Robyn.

“Do you love him?” she asked, her green eyes meeting Robyn’s in frank curiosity.

Robyn pulled back, surprised. “Of course.”

Her new friend shrugged. “People marry for many reasons. Love is not always among them.”

This kind of comment was typical of the French, Robyn was learning. People thought of them as romantic—and maybe they were—but they were also among the most pragmatic and unsentimental people Robyn had ever encountered. What outsiders interpreted as frivolous and starry-eyed was really, joie de vivre. A zest for life, and all its many complications, but no rose-colored glasses.

Jeanette couldn’t be older than thirty, more likely twenty-eight, and here she was talking about marriages devoid of love. When she was twenty-eight, Robyn would have been loath to admit that anyone would consciously do such a thing. Her rose-colored glasses had been firmly in place, right up until the disintegration of her own marriage.

“It’s the only reason I would ever marry,” Robyn said.

She and Jeanette were about a block away from the office which was in La Défense, Paris’ most prestigious business district. Just about every major European corporation had offices in the area, and most were impressive architectural gems. The building Pouvoir Noir had refurbished to house SE’s European offices was much older, much less impressive, and apparently, the structure was Etienne’s personal property, inherited from a grandfather who had been a business titan of some considerable reputation. Etienne, it turned out, was not much different from a similar breed of music mogul in the States—he had fallen in love with “street-music” at a young age, rebelled against family expectations for a corporate career and instead made a name for himself in the entertainment world.

The small restaurant they’d chosen for its sushi was practically empty because they were eating during off-hours, having exhausted themselves with paperwork back at the office and then looked up to find that it was already three p.m.

“What kinds of men are you into?” she asked Jeanette, reaching for her chopsticks and picking up a piece of nigiri with lightly seared tuna.

Robyn had yet to find California rolls in Paris. Just real sushi, not the modified stuff that was made for people who didn’t actually like sushi, but liked to look sophisticated and so ate it only without raw fish.

“The kind who treat me poorly, who are usually unavailable for some reason or other. Hard men who cannot love me.”

Robyn’s eyes opened wide. There was that lack of sentimentality again.

“Well, why do you put yourself through that?”

Jeanette shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose I like to be tragic.”

 

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SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Wife’

KeishamorningKeisha loved snow.

It hadn’t stopped since late the previous afternoon, coming down in determined curtains, making it difficult to see even the buildings across the street. Around six p.m., the storm almost seemed to be losing strength, though the sky remained gray, and Jay had gone out to clean off his truck, preparing to get on the road so he wouldn’t have too bad a time of it later. Keisha remained inside, crossing her fingers and toes, hoping for more snowfall. Her wish was mercifully granted, and Jay returned only a half hour later when a new round made it impossible for him to remove snow as quickly as it took for the truck to become covered once again.

And so their evening had been spent watching television, eating take-out from one intrepid pizza place that was still doing deliveries, and playing cards. Keisha remained on alert, waiting for him to say he had to at least try to get home. But she knew he’d given up when around eight-thirty he took off his boots and shrugged his long-sleeved shirt over his head, leaving only his undershirt, and tormenting her with the view of his strong, tattooed arms and hard, broad chest.

Watching three movies one after the other, it was almost two in the morning when Jay finally helped her pull the sofa-bed back out, and Keisha showered and changed into a long tank, for sleep. Jay showered as well, emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped about his waist, apologizing for having to sleep naked, because he couldn’t put on what he called “stale drawers” after getting clean. He kept the towel on while he watched yet another movie, lying atop the covers while Keisha snuggled beneath them, trying to stay awake in case he decided he wanted to touch her.

She didn’t know what time it was when she finally fell asleep but it was very late, the snow was still falling and Jay still hadn’t touched her.

As the sun rose in the horizon now, casting a pale light into the room, Keisha was up with it.

Next to her under the covers, Jay slept on. All night he had remained carefully on one side of the bed, his back turned to her. Keisha knew because she woke intermittently, tired though she was, just to make sure he was still there. But now he was facing her. She liked this new haircut, the Mohawk that faded so his hair was low on both sides, but peaking in the center.

Wanting more than anything to lie there and stare at him, Keisha realized her bladder had other plans and slid out to go pee. She hoped he would remain asleep while she was gone, and stay asleep for many more hours. If he did, she wouldn’t wake him, and when he got up she would use as an excuse the fact that he had been up late, and she didn’t want him to be too tired to drive back upstate in bad weather.

But no such luck. As she was brushing her teeth, she heard the television come on in the other room, and the sound of changing channels.

“You up?” she called, trying to sound less disappointed than she felt.

“Yup,” Jay’s voice was hoarse. “Hurry up in there unless you want me to wet your bed, or piss in your kitchen sink.”

“God, Jay that’s disgusting.” Keisha emerged from the bathroom and almost swallowed her tongue.

Overnight, Jay appeared to have abandoned his modesty and was standing in the middle of her studio apartment stark naked, the indisputable evidence of his manhood straining to point due north, but bowing under its own weight.

“Sorry,” he said, putting down the TV remote and pushing past her. “Gotta go.”

Keisha stood stock still for a moment, trying to regain some semblance of composure.

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SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Wife’

MarcuspromoAThe building was quiet. As she made her way down to the ground floor, the chill seemed to enter Keisha’s very bones. Supposedly, it got slightly warmer once it snowed, but it sure didn’t feel like it.

“Hey, Miss Crawford, what you doin’ up so early?”

Keisha stiffened at the sound of the familiar voice, and the sardonic way in which, ‘Miss Crawford’ had been pronounced.

Marcus lived on the third floor. Tall, and brown-skinned with a trim, slender physique and a suave manner, he’d moved in a few months after Keisha had. All the women in the building, most of them married Moms, had gossiped about how much he looked like Blair Underwood. He looked nothing like Blair Underwood, but Keisha understood the comparison—he had the same kind of cool, that same quiet charm. And he exercised that charm very liberally, though usually not on her. With her, he was sarcastic.

Right now, he was standing at the mailboxes, wearing a suit, jacket in hand, shirt unbuttoned at the neck, tie hanging open. He’d clearly spent the night elsewhere and was just making it back. Smiling at Keisha, he looked her over from head to toe, the way he always did when he saw her, like he could see through her clothes, like he could see through her.

“Good morning,” she said. Glancing at him, she paused at the door to pull on her knit hat.

“Better pull that zipper all the way up to the neck as well,” he cautioned. “That Hudson Hawk is whipping up out there like nobody’s business.”

Keisha looked at him. Her father, Rey, called it that as well—the Hudson Hawk—the wind that came off the Hudson River during the cold months and made New York feel like Little Antarctica on the worst days.

“I’m just going across the street,” she said. “I think I’ll make it.”

“I’m sure you will,” Marcus said. “I got a feeling about you. That you’ve survived a lot worse.”

Marcus said things like this all the time. Like he knew her or something. It was among the many reasons Keisha didn’t like him. He looked at her, talked to her like he knew. Occasionally she wondered whether he’d heard something. But in New York, girls with pasts like hers were a dime a dozen, so she was probably being paranoid. Most of the time, she ignored Marcus’ tone if she couldn’t avoid him altogether.

Janine, who lived on the top floor, told her Marcus was a promoter or something like that. Wasn’t everybody? New York was positively overflowing with people who wanted to sing, dance, act, promote or manage celebrity clients. That was a world Keisha had tasted, and her memories of it were quite bitter.

“I didn’t see your man’s truck out there,” Marcus continued. “Snow kept him away? Wouldn’t keep me away.”

A few times—a few times too many for Keisha’s taste—she’d run into Marcus as she was entering or leaving her building with Jay and the two men had exchanged greetings the way men do. During those exchanges Marcus never looked at her the way he did when he ran into her alone. Probably because he worried that if he did, Jay would kick his ass.

“He’s not my man,” Keisha said.

As much as she didn’t like him, she always allowed herself to be dragged into these little verbal sparring matches with dude for some reason. And the minute she said it, she regretted telling him that she and Jay weren’t involved like that. Her new habit of telling the truth was often inconvenient.

“Is he gay?”

“No,” Keisha almost laughed. “He’s not gay. But he’s just not my …”

“Yeah? Good to know,” Marcus started up the stairs toward his floor. “Y’all look like a couple in a Macy’s ad, so naturally I thought … Anyway, good to know, Miss Crawford.”