SAMPLE SUNDAY: ‘Rhyme & REASON’

“What?”

Deuce leaned in close, straining to hear over the din. Unless he was mistaken, Lloyd just said …

Zora. She’s supposed to be here, too. I thought you’d know.”

Lifting his glass to his lips, Deuce took a long sip, giving him just enough time to compose himself.

“Nah,” he said, swallowing. “I didn’t know.”

Lloyd squinted. “For real? So you …”

“This is so cool, you guys!”

Before Lloyd could finish his thought, Summer had thrown her arms around them both, having to reach up a little because she was so short. Summer Harris, the official organizer of the alumni mixer, had reached out a bunch of folks from Penn State, primarily on Facebook and Twitter and suggested the get-together in a Midtown bar. She had only given a couple of weeks’ notice, and Deuce stopped in only because he it was close to his apartment and he was slightly curious to see who else was in the city.

The turnout was surprisingly good. So far there were about twenty people there, most of them familiar, though none of them people Deuce had been particularly tight with. New York was a post-graduation mecca for lots of people, but most Penn State alums wound up in Philly. So, he stopped in just to see who else from the Black Caucus might be around.He already knew that most of his crew were spread far and wide, including his best friend, Kaleem who was back out west in an MBA program and training for the Summer Olympics.

“I never thought so many people would make it!”Summer sounded like she had to have been drinking well before anyone else showed up, because the mixer had only been underway for about an hour.

Early in, early out, that had been Deuce’s plan.

“Especially just one year after graduation,”Lloyd said, peeling Summer’s arm from around his neck. “I guess the real world ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and we’re just pining for the old days.”

“I know am,” Summer said, raising her voice a little more than was necessary to be heard. “My gig at HarperCollins is not what I thought it would be. I’m like a glorified … file clerk.”

“Bet you don’t have them kinda problems, huh?” Lloyd said, nudging Deuce in the ribs. “Workin’ with your Dad and all.”

“I don’t work with my Dad,” Deuce said.

He was looking at the entrance to Le Bar now, scanning the clusters of folks who walked in. The moment Lloyd said her name, his heartbeat had sped up. Just at the sound of her fucking name.

“You don’t?” Lloyd looked confused. “But I thought you were at …”

“Yeah, but my father isn’t there anymore. I work for the new CEO.”

Lloyd shrugged, and looked like he didn’t understand the distinction. Most people didn’t. They tended to think that because his last name was Scaife, he could walk up in that joint and start running shit. Knocking back the remains of his vodka tonic, Deuce extricated himself from Summer as well.

“Lemme go get another one of these,” he said. “Anybody want anything while I’m over …”

Thereshe is!” Summer shrieked. Shoving her way past Deuce and Lloyd, she plowed her way out of the reserved section and toward the front of the bar.

And yeah. There she was.

Zora looked a little disoriented when she first walked in, her eyes narrowing a little as they adjusted to the relative darkness of the bar. She stood still for a moment and pulled the strap of her purse higher on her shoulder, surveying the room before Summer accosted her with a hug.

Zora’s face lit up in a smile when she saw who it was and held Summer back at arms’ length to look her over. While she did, Deuce looked Zora over. She was wearing a canary-yellow blouse with long sleeves and a ruffled neck with skinny black pants. And her hair … damn, he’d always loved her hair … It was in neat, sleek, cornrows, and in her ears were medium-sized gold hoops. She wore vivid lipstick in a shade of purple that was like a bruise, but somehow made her lips look even fuller, even sexier. Sunglasses were pushed up atop her head, giving her an air of mature sophistication that was at odds with how Deuce was accustomed to seeing her.

He thought of Zora and the picture that came to mind was her in one of his sweatshirts, nothing underneath. Her hair messy as hell, her lips swollen from being kissed, curled in a smile her eyes sleepy,cloudy, and looking at him in the way only she did.

Deuce had not seen her in eight months, and they hadn’t spoken in six. And yet, he could already feel his body orienting itself in her direction, pulling him toward her.

She stood at the entrance for a few moments more,talking to Summer and Deuce stood watching her, not realizing he was staring until Lloyd spoke.

“So, I’m guessing y’all split up or somethin’, huh?”

Deuce looked at him.

“Yeah,” he said, his voice hoarse. “Anyway. I’ma grab this drink. You want …?”

Zora was looking over at him now, as Summer pointed him out. The expression on her face robbed him of every coherent thought. Her lips trembled, like someone trying not to smile, or not to cry. And her eyes …

The moment their eyes met, she touched Summer on the shoulder, wordlessly excusing herself from their conversation and coming toward him. Deuce felt Lloyd take his glass.

“I’ll get this one,” he said, from what sounded like far away.

Fighting the urge to meet her halfway, Deuce stood still until Zora reached him. And when she did, he bit into his lower lip and looked down at her. She looked up at him, her long neck curving. Her lips finally parted in a smile, and her shoulders lifted and fell in an inaudible sigh.

Deuce.”

Out of nowhere there was a lump in the back of his throat, hard and immovable.

Zora’s shoulders sagged even further, and she shook her head.

“Deuce,” she said again.

And then she hugged him. Not like you hug a friend, putting your arms around their waist. But the way you hug a lover, her arms up and around his neck, pulling him down to her, so that her cheek was momentarily pressed against his.

Muscle-memory dictated that the next move was for him to turn his head and kiss her. Deuce fought it, and instead reached up and took her by the wrists, gently removing her arms from around his neck.

“Hey, Zee,” he said, keeping his voice level.

“Hey,” she said.

Though she had said relatively few words, her throaty, slightly husky voice just kept hitting him right in the center of his chest. He hadn’t heard it in so long, another muscle of his remembered and clenched. His heart.

COMING 2019.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: ‘Young, Rich & Black’

Holding her phone between her shoulder and the side of her head, Zora stuffed her black one-piece swimsuit and a brown viscose skirt into her hobo along with an orange scarf and a long-sleeved beige t-shirt.

“You talk to Rashad since you’ve been home?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.

“Nope. He hit me up a couple of times, but I didn’t pick up. All we have right now to talk about at the moment is business, and I’m on Break, so …”

“Yeah, but you guys barely even broke up. After two years being together, that’s kind of cold to cut a brother off like that. And I can’t believe you’re going to hang out with Deuce Scaife again.”

“Mia,” Zora sighed. “It’s no big deal. I’m just …”

“Trying to get a little of that good-good,” her friend cackled on the other end of the line. “I don’t blame you, girl. Nothing like it to get you over the post-relationship hump. No pun intended. And if what I hear about him is true …”

the-optics-of-it-the-black-power-coupleOh, it was definitely true. But Mia didn’t need to know all that.

“Mia, I’ll call you back when I get home later. And please stop bringing up Rashad. He is definitely past tense.”

“If you say so. But dudes like Rashad don’t come a dime-a-dozen. You should …”

Zora held the phone away from her ear.

She had heard this sermon one time too many for her taste—about how Rashad was a “woke brother”, how he was on some “Barack Obama-type shit” and most of all how rare he was. That was the kind of talk that helped lead Zora into such an intense relationship with him so quickly in the first place; and it was probably also responsible for her staying in said relationship for at least one year too long.

It was just that the optics of her and Rashad were too powerful to ignore. People loved the idea of them. Together, they looked like the prototype of the ideal Black power couple—her with the dark skin and big natural, and Rashad, with his militant bearing and unrelenting scowl, staring down anyone who dared to look at him even halfway funny. And that they were co-chairs and co-founders of a Black Lives Matter chapter? That just made it even more of a modern Black American storybook romance.

When she was honest with herself, Zora admitted that it wasn’t just other people who loved the idea of her and Rashad. She had too. Until just a few months ago, she was as bought into the story as anyone else. Breaking it off had actually given her a few anxiety attacks. What if he was The One? What if she was being foolish by letting him go?

There was no question Rashad was going to be making some big moves in the next few years. He was the guy who would miss his five-year college reunion, but only because he was running for State Senate, or was a nationally-respected activist too busy to attend since he was on a speaking tour. But being in love with Rashad’s passion and drive; being enamored of his politics, and in sync with his worldview wasn’t the same as being in love, enamored with or in sync with Rashad himself. It had taken Zora a long time to acknowledge that, and now she was determined not to backslide by having anyone persuade her otherwise. She had been avoiding his calls mostly because of all the people who might attempt that persuasion, Rashad was the most persuasive of all.

Deuce Scaife was a convenient, albeit very pleasurable, antidote to that. No one could be more different from Rashad than he was. When they met up that night, completely by accident after his traffic stop, she had taken her shot, partly to see what would happen if she did; and partly because he had—much to her surprise—been just as magnetic as all the rumors suggested.

Glancing at the face of her phone, she checked the time. He would be pulling up at any minute. And since she preferred to head him off at the front door, or better yet at the curb, she needed to get downstairs fast. The last thing she wanted was for her brother, Ousmane, to spot the car outside and suggest that she invite her guest in. His, and her father’s more traditional sensibilities would be offended if she snuck out with some anonymous guy without at least introducing him for their inspection.

“Mia, let me catch up with you later,” she said, cutting her friend off mid-sentence. “I need to get out of here before Ousmane starts getting on my nerves.”

“Okay. But answer the brother’s call, Zora. Even if you’re not planning to get back with him, y’all can still do some good work together.”

In that, Mia had a point. BLM was facing a lot of negative media backlash, and along with about a dozen other college chapters, there had been talk about having a stakeholder call over the holidays to strategize on how to counter all that. The problem with decentralized movements like BLM was that a few knuckleheads; or as was the case in New York, a lone gunman with misguided motives and a history of mental illness, could blow the whole thing up in one news cycle. Just because nationally, the movement lacked the resources to coordinate a rapid-response strategy.

They had lost a lot of ground over the past few months and were in danger of losing control of the media narrative altogether. But luckily, Rashad was a master strategist. If they had a stakeholder call, Zora was confident he would have more than a few good ideas for how they might recapture their hard-earned public support.

On the handful of occasions when he had been in the media locally, Rashad had owned the interview, coming across as articulate, thoughtful and commanding of the facts. His credibility had no doubt given credibility to the movement itself. Zora still remembered the hundreds of emails and text messages he had gotten from chapters and individual supporters around the country. The buzz online about him after one particular radio interview that past spring had enabled them to raise over ten thousand dollars for their chapter in less than a week.

In a word, Rashad Dixon was impressive.

“Admiration is not love, Zora,” she whispered to herself.

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