Why did she go through the trouble re-labeling him in her contacts? The red flag ‘leave him alone’ was supposed to keep her from texting, calling, answering…having this conversation.
She’d tried to play him off; pretend that she’d forgotten all about him. Nothing bruises an ego like a ‘Who is this?’ text. She wished she’d done that the night they bumped into each other.
Shannon re-read the messages. Not just the words, but between it all.
The angry ones from nine months ago.
The new ones that made it seem like the drama of the past year never happened.
“New year, new you, I see,” she mumbled into her pillow.
His words added to the headache pounding against her temples. She covered her face with her palms, pressing away the pain.
Had he really changed? Why did he want to talk to her all of a sudden? What did he have to tell her? She looked down at the pile of red on the floor. Was the dress that fabulous? If that was the case, she should leave a five-star review online: “This dress will make your ex come running back.”
She typed a new message, her thumb hovering over Send. Agreeing to see him would give him permission to re-enter her life. If she opened that door, the good and bad could come through. The lies and the truth. Both the love and hate she still held for their relationship could squeeze themselves back into her life too.
She almost missed the light tap against her door. “You up?”
Shannon couldn’t get to the door quick enough. She tripped over the shoes beside her bed, the stiletto point stabbing her heel. “Shoot!”
She creaked the door open. Nina’s hair was half straightened, but she was fully dressed in skinny jeans, a cream sweater, and tan boots that added enough inches to make her stand at eye-level.
“What’s going on? You alright?”
Wincing from the sharp pain, Shannon nodded her head yes. She wrapped a red and black UGA throw around her t-shirt and hobbled out.
“I just need to drink some water. And eat something.”
“I heard the shower so I thought you would be almost ready.”
Shannon gulped down the glass of water, then poured more from the Brita pitcher. Remnants of their party remained. Dirty serving dishes piled in the sink, empty beer bottles and red cups littered tables, and the trashcan overflowed with paper plates. Two deflating silver balloons floated into each other in the living room.
“Oh, girl we can clean this up later.”
“You forgot about the brunch, huh?”
“No, I didn’t forget. I just thought I might relax today.”
Nina played with the curly strands of her hair. “I’ve been talking about this workshop for a while. And you promised.”
“I promised I wouldn’t drink that much last night too. And we see how that turned out. ”
“So I’m supposed to go to this thing by myself?”
Shannon patted her shoulder and smiled. “I wouldn’t be good company anyway.”
“It’s not a party. This life coach might be just what we need to make it happen this year. Maybe she can help pull you out of your funk.” Nina’s Yankee accent seeped out when she became impatient. Her words came together with an urgency and passion that most folks couldn’t ignore. She moved close, jabbing like a freestyle rapper focused more on wearing the competition down than simply knocking them out.
“And I already bought the tickets! You know I don’t have money lying around to waste. I’m trying to be a good friend and help you out.”
Shannon shrugged and headed back to her room. “Relax, I’ll give you the money back when I get paid tomorrow.”
As her door shut, the bathroom door opened. Steam and the vanilla scent of body wash followed Damon.
“I don’t know about you, but I could eat. Huddle House, Waffle House, Yo’ House…whatever.”
Shannon hushed him, pushing him back in the bathroom. She waited silently for Nina’s final plea.
The tap came again. She peeped her head out.
“Just because you weren’t sober when you said it, doesn’t make what you said not real. A better friend doesn’t cancel for no good reason.”
Shannon took a deep breath. She sightly remembered the resolution toast. She knew Nina remembered EVERYTHING and would hold her to every word.
“And did you borrow my Bath and Body works?” She dramatically sniffed the air and moved towards Shannon room.
“Okay, okay, okay. I’ll put my clothes on and go.”
Arms crossed, Nina eyed her suspiciously. “For real. Twenty minutes, we’re in the car.”
“Twenty minutes.” Shannon watched Nina slowly walk to her master bedroom, 2/3 of her golden brown hair straight, the rest poofy curls. She flipped the radio on, the sound of Beyoncé actually making her a little nauseous. “Being all night” doesn’t make for the best morning after but she turned it up anyway.
“I know I’m fine and everything, but you can’t keep handling me like that,” Damon laughed.
“D, I don’t have time to explain everything right now, but I really need you to chill here until me and Nina leave.”
She flipped through her color-coded closet, looking for something comfortable but nice. She settled on a charcoal gray sweater dress, tights, and boots.
“Is it really that serious, though?”
“I just…I don’t want her to think the wrong thing.”
“Aren’t we all grown?”
“It’s not that. We’ll be gone in a few minutes. You can eat whatever’s in the fridge. I think she had some meatballs leftover.”
“A’ight, cool.” Her computer chair squeaked when he sat down. He hadn’t scrolled halfway down his news feed before she peeked out the bathroom.
“Did you use my loofah?”
“I didn’t know where your towels were.”
“You could have asked!?”
“I didn’t want to wake you up. You actually look pretty cute when you’re sleeping.”
“I can’t with you.”
She slammed the door and tossed the loofah in the trash.
* * *
Nina lifted her plum-colored cheeks to the gray clouds gathering in the sky. “I can smell the rain.” She laughed at the Color Purple line they always quoted when rain was forecasted.
Once inside her car, the DJ warned that the bad weather had reached the airport and forced several cancellations.
Shannon looked up at the clouds hovering over them as they sped towards the jagged Atlanta skyline. “I wish it would rain already.”
“No ma’am. Not while I’m driving this fast.”
“The only thing worse than a storm is anticipating one. You see all the signs–the breeze feels different. It gets all humid and everything seems darker. People drive crazy before a drop hits the ground. A part of you hopes, maybe the weatherman got it wrong. They do sometimes. Maybe the rain won’t come. It always comes.”
“You still thinking about last night, I see.”
“Why would you say that?”
“You get all emo and poetic when you’re thinking about him. You go off into your own little world.”
Shannon forced a laugh. “I guess you’re right.”
“I don’t know, maybe you should call him.”
She looked at her best friend as if she’d asked her to commit murder, even though what she’d premeditated surely was a crime.
“I was just joking. You would be crazy to talk to that dude ever again.”
“But what if–”
“There’s no reason, no excuse you could come up with. Even in your world.”
That settled that. Any advice she’d hoped to get on how to reply to his messages wasn’t coming from Nina Simone Kelley. The girl was so protective and unforgiving — equally good and bad traits of a best friend.
After pushing 70 mph all the way down the highway, they arrived on time and before the sky cracked open. The valet passed Nina a ticket and directed her to the event.
“The buffet is to your left,” said the hostess behind the long table. She pointed towards the smell of all types of goodness wafting their way. Shannon caught a whiff of bacon, eggs, grits, and coffee. “You can pick up the materials for your vision board once you find your seat. The number on your badge denotes your table and group.”
“We have assigned seats?” Nina asked.
“Dr. Michele feels that this process works best when you’re not influenced by close friends or family. Happy New Year ladies.”
They followed another small group heading towards the buffet. The attendees were mostly women, some overly dressed in what looked like New Year’s Eve fashions.
Shannon looked over the glossy agenda posted on the wall. Meditative Moment. Soul-searching Spotlight. Visually Envisioning the Future. Affirmation Building. What did all of this stuff really mean?
Alongside the text stood a life-size cut-out of Dr. Lourdes Michele dressed in a yellow dress almost as bright as her smile, her Michelle Obama-arms crossed. Even in cardboard, the big rock on her left finger glistened.
They filled their plates with a mix of fruit, waffles and grease: sausage, bacon, and potatoes. Ten round tables filled the room and Shannon looked for number 6.
“Separate tables. Interesting. You might as well have come by yourself,” Shannon said, smiling.
“I knew you had something smart to say.”
“And what’s she talking about vision board?”
“We’re supposed to clip images to create visual goals for the new year. It’s just a creative way to make resolutions.”
“Sounds like fun.” Arts and crafts weren’t Shannon’s strong point.
By the time they made it to “Visually Envisioning the Future,” she had a hard time focusing on anything outside of her phone messages. Dr. Michele’s energetic quips weren’t working anymore. No doubt, the woman was inspiring. She’d went from a life of poverty, survived abusive relationships, and somehow found her true purpose in life. She talked about the abundance she’d found in life and how she attracted the things she wanted through the activities they were doing. Shannon wondered if she could give some good advice on how to keep away certain things and people.
“Are you going to use that Ebony magazine?” one of the girls at her table asked, pasting a silver Lexus on her board.
“Go ahead, I got what I needed from it.”
“What’d you get?” she pried.
Shannon showed her the image of perfect blue waters, white sand beaches, and a bright sun.
“I could use a vacation too, girl.”
Shannon flipped through another magazine, listening to her group’s conversations. They were supposed to encourage each other to “clip with their guts.” Dr. Michele told them not to filter their dreams through their current states but to go for it.
According to the TMI tales, Miss Lexus shared with the group, she’d had some rough times.
Shannon shoved her phone in her pocket quickly before Miss Lexus saw it. She looked like a video vixen and it made her wonder what in the world landed her in prison. Funny, how people look so well put-together on the outside, but the life they really live is so messy.
The sky had grown darker by the time the valet pulled Nina’s car around.
“I don’t know about you but I feel motivated.”
“It was cool. Not $50 cool, but you know…”
“Well, I thought the book was worth it. I think once you begin reading her stuff you’ll feel the same way.”
“She made it all sound so simple. Like, all we have to do is see it, believe really hard and then everything will magically work out.” Shannon shook her head. She’d hoped really hard enough already with little to no results.
“The work happens in the book. And what you do with it.”
“Is it wrong that I’m hungry again?” Nina asked. She hopped on I-75N, the highway damp with showers that had moved East. Traffic was much lighter than it usually would be during this hour, especially on a rainy day.
“You want to stop and grab something?”
Shannon eyed her phone as it lit up with a new message.
“I’m good. I planned to go see my mom. You know she always does her black-eyed peas and collard greens tradition.”
“What’s that stand for again?”
“Black eyed peas equal good luck and collard greens, money for the year. But I’ve been eating it for so long, I don’t know if it really works or not.”
“Think Mrs.Katie would be okay with another mouth to feed?”
“Uhh.” Shannon stumbled, searching for a reason, believable words.
“You know she wouldn’t mind, but I figured it would be a good chance for me to just spend some quality time with her alone. She’s a little mad I didn’t go to watch-night service at her church last night.”
It hurt to say the words—the lie sliced right through her. She couldn’t even look at Nina, pretending to watch the city lights twinkling against the navy sky.
“Aw, that’s so sweet. As long as you bring me a plate, I’m cool.”
Is he worth all this?
The question lingered on her mind well after they arrived home. It crept in between her thoughts as she stressed over what to wear—something that played up her features but nothing too sexy that would make her look desperate.
No matter how loud her radio blasted, it stayed with her all the way to Peachtree St. She walked through the doors of Cafe Intermezzo at 8 on the dot.
As she sat at the table–on time and he 15 minutes late–the candlelight flickering, the question came back again.
Is he worth all this?
If she left now, she could stop by her mom’s before she went to bed. She could get a taste of good luck and take home a little for Nina.
Her cell phone buzzed against the table.