Although I have two degrees, including an MBA from Georgia State University, I haven't worked a nine-to-five since I met Dray. When we first moved to Atlanta, I was kept busy furnishing his new condo and my town house, which were about ten minutes apart. Even though we spent a lot of time together, Dray thought it best that we have separate living quarters. I understood that. I even picked up a few clients for interior design work and then pursued my MBA at night but didn't tell Dray about it, because he made it clear he wanted me to be able to travel at a moment's notice to attend his road games.
Being Dray's love at times was like having a full-time job. I was responsible for purchasing most of his NBA wardrobe, which meant his suits, shirts, underwear, and ties. He bought his own jeans and sneakers. I set up his computer and iPod and made sure he had the latest electronic gadget. Life was easy and good. I had season tickets to the Hawks: I didn't miss one home game and attended as many road games as I could get to. I wouldn't call myself a huge basketball fan, but I loved going to the games to see what the wives, girlfriends, and groupies were wearing. At first I was envious that they got to show their love and support publicly, but later I felt sorry for many of them when Dray reminded me how much their husbands and boyfriends cheated on them when away on road games.
The first three years in Atlanta were like heaven.
Then she came along and everything changed.
The straight club scene in Atlanta bored me and the gay one didn't do much for me either. So I didn't mind when Dray went to the clubs and strip bars with his teammates. To me it was part of his job. But when one of his teammates suggested that I might be more than his interior designer/stylist, Dray went on a tear to find women. And trust me, the ladies were waiting.
At first he dated a couple of ghetto-fabulous sisters and some plain ghetto girls but got tired of them easily. I knew there was something different when he told me he'd met this young lady at a club in Miami after a road game there. He talked about how smart and beautiful she was and how much she knew about sports. Judi Ledbetter gave Dray the appearance of a socialite but sounded to me like a shrewd gold digger who gave good head, for a female, that is. I guess everybody is good at something.
I imagined her being like the ladies I sometimes saw in tony restaurants enjoying liquid lunches, and having flings with their trainers. I had no proof this was the case with Judi, but it was my secret wish.
Before I knew it, she was doing some of the things Dray had depended on me to do for him, like buying his clothes, planning his vacations, and advising him on what products he should endorse. The difference between her advice and mine was that she did it with a feminine flair, whereas I always presented my advice as one of his bois telling him what was cool. I hadn't grown up in the lifestyle Dray and I were now living, but I'd done my homework to keep my head above water. I pored over style magazines like GQ and Esquire. I watched the Fine Living channel daily. I was constantly reading InStyle and Architectural Digest. My design background came in handy when I talked with the builders of Dray's condo about crown molding, marble, and bbuilt-in ookshelves. When he built his first house it was I who suggested the indoor pool and the basketball and tennis courts.
As far as I was concerned, nothing seemed to change between Dray and me after he met Judi. I still saw him four to five times a week. But, unbeknownst to me, Dray had other plans that would cause things to change a bit. I showed no reaction when he announced that he was marrying Judi in what was to be one of the biggest weddings Miami's Star Island had ever seen. I'd seen it coming and told myself that I'd hold it together when he broke the news. I wanted to show him I could take care of myself. Needless to say, I didn't attend. Instead I spent the entire month of June touring Europe on Dray's dime so I didn't have to endure all the press attention their nuptials captured.
When he bought a mansion in Country Club Hills, my design input went unsolicited. Dray had to know my feelings were hurt, so he moved me out of my town house into a bigger house with a pool in Brookhaven and bought me a new Porsche. This didn't make me feel much better but I took his gifts anyway. If buying me a house and car made Dray happy, then that made me happy. Judi was none the wiser. I understood that Dray needed to be married or have a steady girlfriend to enhance his career with the Hawks and endorsers like Nike, Sean John, and Gatorade. I didn't like it but I understood. During his third year in the league, Dray was right behind Shaq, Kobe, and LeBron when it came to product endorsements. In his fourth year he was still a popular pitch man.
There was also the matter of his family, who had been pressuring him to marry. Dray came from a big family with three brothers and three sisters, who were now living in a slew of mansions Dray had built between Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi. His father, Henry, had quit his job as a construction worker and came to almost as many games as I attended, but I was never introduced to him or any of Dray's family. From what Dray told me, they were a_close-_knit bunch, but very country and conservative when it came to certain things. I translated that to mean that they wouldn't be too happy about our relationship.
My family, on the other hand, was a lot different. I'd been raised by a single mom in the small town of Burlington, North Carolina. My biological father left when I was six years old and I don't remember that much about him. Mama eventually started dating a guy who I called "Mr. Danny." I liked him, but he made Mama cry a lot and disappeared when he got Mama pregnant, and she found out he hadn't divorced his first wife. I loved Mama and would do anything in the world for her, because she made sure we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads.
As Dray made life more and more comfortable for me, I could take care of Mama and my fifteen-year-old sister, the beautiful Bella Lynn. With Dray's money I bought them a house in a nice neighborhood right outside Raleigh and paid the tuition for Bella, who was a budding ballet dancer at the North Carolina School of Ballet. I was already planning a _sweet-_sixteen party for her, which I hoped would rival some of the parties Bella and I watched on MTV.
My mother didn't know about Dray or where all the money came from, and just figured I was doing well with my career. I _assumed she knew I was gay because Mama never asked me about girls or who I was dating, only stating one day very casually, "I just want you to be happy, baby. With whomever you choose."
JAbout three months ago Dray said casually, after an evening of food, wine, and great sex, that I was moving to New Orleans. Just like that. He told me he'd found me a gorgeous two-story town house with a wrought-iron fence and a luscious garden and I was closing on it soon. When I asked why, he told me he asked the Atlanta Hawks for a trade because Judi didn't think pretty white girls were appreciated in Atlanta. She wanted to go to Denver or Los Angeles, but the Hawks got the last laugh by trading him to the New Orleans Hornets. Now Dray was on a team that, after Hurricane Katrina, didn't have a place to call home and spent two seasons in Oklahoma City.
So without further discussion I moved to New Orleans. A couple of days after Dray was traded, two burly Mexican guys showed up at my home to pack my belongings. Things were happening so fast, I almost let the movers pack my personal journals, which I protected like the Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe.
After a week in the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton, I moved into a refurbished town house in the middle of the famed French Quarter, now a resident of the rebuilding Crescent City.
I was getting ready to go out and explore my new neighborhood when the cell phone beeped, indicating I had a text message. It was the phone that only Dray called me on. "Got some free time. C u in 30."
I took off the jeans and polo shirt I was wearing and jumped in the shower for the second time that day. There were a few things I knew Dray liked without his ever telling me. He was a neat freak and personal hygiene was paramount. Dray always smelled good and kept his nails clipped and manicured. I knew he expected the same from me.
When I wore something he liked seeing me in, Dray would say, "You look nice in those jeans, AJ." I would make a mental note and buy several more.
After I got out of the shower, I covered my body with cocoa butter, then applied capsules of pure vitamin E to the few blemishes on my face. I looked at my abs and realized that they weren't as tight as they had been when I lived in Atlanta and worked out with a trainer four times a week. The one thing that I loved about New Orleans-the food-was already showing up on my lean but muscular five-foot-eight, 162-pound body with a booty like two soccer balls tied together. When I hired an assistant, the first task would be to have him find me a trainer so I could get back to the size I was when I competed in college gymnastics. I really didn't need a _full-_time assistant, but I'd heard a lot of young black men and kids in general were left unemployed in New Orleans after Katrina, so I made up my mind to hire someone who could help me adjust to the city and run errands for me. This would allow me to volunteer for one of the several organizations trying to bring the city back to its former self. I was really interested in Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation, which was building _low-_cost housing in the historic Ninth Ward.
Instead of putting my jeans back on, I threw on a pair of gray _warm-_ups that I knew Dray liked (without underwear) and a pink T-shirt. Now, it wasn't like Dray and I made love every time we saw each other; it had been two weeks since we'd put it down. I'd missed his smell and big hands caressing my head and ass.
I was still upstairs in my bedroom looking for a pair of sneakers when I heard the security bell. I looked at the alarm panel in the bedroom, which told me the back door had been opened. Dray had arrived. And not a moment too soon, I thought, as I quickly removed the greasy vitamin E from my face and replaced it with moisturizer.
"I needed that." Dray sighed as he playfully pushed me off him.
I caught my breath and said, "You? I needed it more."
For a few moments, we lay in the bed in silence. I always loved these moments when the two of us would lie in bed in absolute solitude.
"What are you going to do with the rest of your day?" Dray asked.
"I'm going to meet a lady who heads up Brad Pitt's foundation here. I think they might be able to use some of my skills with the houses they are building."
"That's cool. AJ, you're a smart man. You'd be a big help to them."
"I hope so."
"So you like this place?" he asked, looking around my master suite.
"It's okay. There are still a few things I need to do."
"I don't know if I like the color in this room. The yellow might be too pale," I said.
"It's calming," Dray said, snuggling closer to me, his arms tightening around my waist.
I quickly tried to pull back, hoping he hadn't noticed I'd picked up a few pounds.
"Don't do that," I said.
"What? Hold you? Or don't you think I noticed you put on a little weight?" He laughed. "AJ, I notice everything. But it's going to all the right places. And that's real talk, _ba-_bee."
"I'm going to hire a trainer," I said decisively. Even though we never talked about it, I knew Dray wanted me in top shape. I wanted to be in top shape too. It was one of those funny things about our relationship; we seldom said, "I need you to look good" or even "I love you," which I was sure he told Judi every day. Girls needed to hear that, but I told myself I didn't. All that mattered was that I knew Dray loved me, whether he actually told me or not. I just wish he kissed me more often.
"That's what's up," Dray continued. "I got a cousin who lives down here that used to train me. Mainly we just shot hoops. If you want I'll ask around and find you someone good."
"Don't worry about it, I'll find somebody. I know you're busy getting settled in your new house." Judi sprang to mind and I was hit by a wave of jealousy, but I didn't let Dray know. "How is it coming?"
"It's fine. Judi's like you, she's great at all that shit. When she's finished and goes back to Atlanta to close up the old house, I'll take you out to see the new one," he said. Dray's phone rang and he looked at it, then answered. I was lying so close to him that I knew from the look on his face that it was most likely his wife.
"What's up, babe? You miss me? Of course I miss you, J-Love." He smiled at me and winked, and then I heard him say, "If that's what you want, Judi, then get it. You know I'm not worried about how much it costs. Love you too, J-Love." J-Love? So that's what he called her. Dray may have thought it was cute, but it made me want to throw up.
He clicked off his phone and then looked at me and asked what we were saying before his phone interrupted our conversation.
I felt slighted but didn't want Dray to know, so I replied offhandedly, "I was just saying, you know, I'm here if you need me."
"I know you're here for me always. I 'preciate that, Aldridge Richardson," Dray said.
"I know," I answered softly, suddenly wishing I could hold back my tears and hear that every day of my life.
From the Hardcover edition.