Read an Excerpt
By Patricia Haley
BET Publications, LLCCopyright © 2003 Patricia Haley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe phone was ringing but the apartment door wasn't cooperating. Courtney shifted the oversize duffel bag on her shoulder, trying to keep it in place as she wiggled the key in a lock that was as old as the turn-of-the century dwelling. One day she would demand that the landlord replace the antiquated lock with a modern one, but tonight it didn't matter. The fun she'd experienced over the weekend overshadowed any small inconveniences. So long as she could get inside and hop into bed, all would be well with the world. A few more jiggles and the door was finally open. When she entered her starter apartment, the caged heat lashed out at her. The humidity wasn't showing any mercy on August. Before she could get situated, the phone rang again. She dropped the bag in the middle of the floor and snatched the phone up from the table in the dining area. She wasn't shocked to hear Paul on the other end.
"Where have you been?" he blasted through the receiver.
Courtney pulled the phone back and rubbed the temple of her ear. "You knew that I wasn't getting back until today."
"Yeah, but you were supposed to come back this morning. You had me sitting around here waiting for you all day."
Her original flight was scheduled to get in around noon, but two of her college friends, Ashley and Larry, had talked Courtney into going standby on a later flight so she could stay until the very end of the weekend with everyone else. She could have left early Sunday morning, but there was more fun to be had in the afternoon. Being among peers that she related to on multiple levels made the decision an easy one. If only she had more friends like that at home, ones who looked like her, thought like her, and had the same idea of fun. "I'm sorry if you were waiting around for me, but I called and told you that I wasn't getting back until late."
"So, being with your friends is more important than coming home and being with me? I guess you don't care if we spend time together anymore."
"You could have gone if you wanted to, Paul." She stood with her feet planted, eyes rolling toward the ceiling, and lips pursed. "I asked you to come with me."
"I haven't lost anything in Chicago. This is where we live and you need to remember that, sweetheart. School days are over. Philly is home and this is where you and I live, not halfway across the country with your so-called friends that you keep trying to shove down my throat."
"I can't help it if my friends are important to me. Why do you make such an issue about them?"
"How am I supposed to feel if you put them ahead of me all the time? You messed up this weekend and I deserve an apology."
"This is crazy. I am not going to apologize for having a good time this weekend. If you didn't want to go, that's on you." Courtney waited for Paul to respond, but nothing came so she jumped back in. "Paul, it's after midnight. I need to go to bed so I can get up for work in the morning."
"What's more important, me or your job? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you have that job, but it's not all that. I should come first. Courtney, you really need to get your priorities straight."
"One of us needs a real job in this relationship," she blurted out.
"Ever since you came home this summer, we've had nothing but problems," he told her.
"Huh, you think it started this summer? Well, I can go back a lot further than that." She tilted the phone away from her mouth and let her eyes span the room with her teeth clenched so tightly that a nut would have cracked under the pressure. "I'm really tired. I'll have to talk with you later." She set the phone down and rested one arm on the back of the chair and the other on her hip, shaking her head in the process.
Absence over the weekend hadn't made her heart grow fonder. The relationship with Paul was still limping. Maybe she could find the spark they needed. Then again, it would take more like a bonfire. Whatever the problem was in the relationship, it would take more than a five-minute analysis to solve. At the moment sleep was her priority. She kicked off her shoes, shed her clothes along the short walk to the bedroom, threw on her gown, and jumped into bed. Sleep swooped in as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Chapter TwoCourtney wasn't as tired as she had anticipated when morning came. With a burst of energy, she wasted no time getting dressed. Paul was probably expecting a call, but why take a chance on ruining a perfectly good morning? She was already running a little late. It would be better to let the day get started and touch base with him later. She grabbed a piece of fruit from the counter and headed to work.
The office was already hopping when she arrived around nine, taking full advantage of the flex-time policy. She walked along the row of window offices that were reserved for management. One day she expected to be sitting in her own plush office. She jockeyed through the maze of cubicles and administrative stations, greeting the secretaries and the security officers as part of her normal routine. For now she had to be content with her walk-in-closet-sized cubicle.
She set her apple on the desk and retrieved her messages.
"Hey, Courtney ..."
The voice of the first message was familiar but she couldn't place it right off.
"I got your number from the alumni association. Looks like I will be in Philadelphia this week to check out Penn's law school. If you're in town, I'd like to take you up on the offer that you made at graduation. If you're free Friday, I'd love to have you show me the sights."
"Oh my goodness," she said, sifting out the New England accent in a few of the words spoken. "Sebastian!" she mumbled with her heart picking up tempo. "Law school, here?"
"I don't know any other Northwestern alums in Philadelphia. If you know of anybody else, maybe we can all hang out together. It'll be a blast. Give me a call." He rattled off his phone number. "Talk to you later, buddy."
She had made a courteous gesture at graduation, telling him that she would show him around Philadelphia if and when he came to town. She was stunned that he had gone through the trouble of getting her number and had actually called. She couldn't forget how his smooth skin wore a tan like drizzled molasses on a gingerbread cookie.
If she agreed to go with Sebastian, what would they do? She had pushed the envelope so many times with him over the four years at Northwestern. They often ran into one another at the fitness center, spent hours talking afterward, and had lunch together on a few occasions. Nothing serious ever transpired. It couldn't. She was black and he was white. Eating lunch together had been challenging enough. How many times had she been on pins and needles trying to avoid running into her friends with Sebastian and having to explain an innocent lunch? The impending grief from her close friends had been one of many deterrents keeping her from really getting to know him. Paul was another factor. Most of the time they were on shaky ground, but he had still been her boyfriend of record for the entire stay at Northwestern.
"You're back. It's about time," Brice teased when he found Courtney sitting in her office.
She turned toward the entry of her cubicle and couldn't speak past the bite of apple in her mouth. The average-height, medium-built coworker came in and took a seat.
"How was your little weekend? And don't even try to pretend that you had a real party."
She swallowed hard and wiped her mouth with a napkin.
"I had a good time, and what if it was a `real' party?"
"Oh, please! A school like Northwestern doesn't know anything about partying. What you had was a little reunion."
"Oh, so what are you saying, that your alma mater is the only place that can have a party?"
"No, I'm not saying that Howard is the only place. There are a bunch of black colleges that know how to do it too, like FAMU an Jackson State. Now, they know how to get down."
Courtney knew she was headed for a no-win Black Power session with Brice.
"Anyway, my reunion or whatever you want to call it, Mr. Militant, was fun."
Brice held up the closed-fist Black Power sign and tucked his heal with his eyes closed for a second.
"One of these days, you're going to get busted doing that in here," she told him.
"I'm not afraid of these people. I'm black and I'm proud."
"Keep it up. I'm going to see how proud you are standing in the unemployment line."
At times she found his perspective confusing given the complexion of his skin. He wasn't just "high yellow," as her aunt used to describe a lighter-skinned black person. His skin reminded Courtney of December, when color drained from the plants and didn't return until the sun came out in the spring. Add his tight, short curly locks of hair to the package and European blood sang from his veins.
He flopped his hand up and down. "Enough with all of that. Did you hang with the peeps or did you blend in?"
"Peeps, you know, the folks, the brothers and sisters. Come on now, you're from Philly. I know you can talk the talk, I don't care how many degrees you got. You know what's up."
"I'm sorry, but I can't keep up with your slang. I don't know how you can be an assistant manager and get away with so much slang. It's unbelievable how much street talk you do around here."
"I might be down with the black folks in here, but I know how to be straitlaced with the rest of the group."
"Oh, so you change up?" she asked.
"Noooo, don't say that." He waved his hand frantically. "I'm true to myself and my people," he said, slamming his closed fist into his chest, "but it's better for the cause if I keep this good job. Another unemployed brother on the street isn't my idea of a rebel."
"So you're fighting the revolution from your BMW."
"No doubt. Better a BMW than a Pinto, and I did see one of those on my way into work this morning."
"You remind me so much of somebody that I know from Northwestern. Neither one of you has any sense."
"You like us and what does that say about you?" He gave her a wink.
"Anyway, what did I miss on Friday?"
"Nothing, not a single thing. Oh yeah, that's right, except for Joe Bob checking out your cubicle every couple of hours. He was crying because you didn't come in Friday," Brice said, sniffling and pretending to wipe tears from his eyes.
"You know who I'm talking about, the guy with the four-inch-thick glasses."
"Who, Wally, the new co-op student?"
"Wally! You have got to be joking. Now you know he's not black. No self-respecting brother is going to use a name like that. That would get changed with a quickness. He'd get called something like Big Wal or B.W. or anything but Wally. Please."
"If that's what his mama named him, that's what he gets called."
"Nah, nah. Brothers have enough troubles. Can you imagine being in the hood with a name like that!" Brice stated.
"He's a nice guy. You should leave him alone," she said, unable to hold a straight face.
"Nice! Forget that, he just better find someone around here that's more up his alley. You're off-limits."
"Who says so?"
"I say so. You don't have any brothers, so I'm looking out for you the same way they would to keep you out of trouble."
The phone rang, displaying an outside number. Courtney answered it.
"Hey, Paul," she said loud enough to be heard in her cubicle but not to spill over into the aisles.
Brice got the hint and waved good-bye before departing.
"I'm still waiting on my apology," Paul stated over the phone.
"For what? I'm glad that I went to Chicago. You should have come with me." She twirled her pen and pressed the receiver tight to her ear, letting no words escape.
"I keep telling you that I don't need to hang around uppity people who think they're better than I am."
"My friends are not like that. They are simple, down-to-earth people who like having fun."
"What, do you think I'm stupid? I know they talk about me behind my back just because I didn't go to college."
"Why would they spend time talking about you?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out, but they can say whatever they want to about me. It doesn't even matter. I'm happy with who I am."
She was quiet briefly before attempting to move to another subject. "One of my college friends is coming to visit Penn's law school. They want us to show them around the city Friday. I know Thursdays and Fridays are our nights, so maybe we can take them Saturday." She gave Paul time to respond while squinting her eyes nearly shut.
"That's fine. I'll go by myself."
"I knew that you would," he fired back.
She should have told him the friend she was talking about was a guy. Maybe it would have made a difference. After all, Sebastian was at most a friend. There was no reason to keep him a secret from Paul, but she felt the need to be evasive and didn't know why.
"Have fun with your little college friends."
"I am so sick of your attitude about Northwestern and the people I went to school with. None of them have done a single thing to you." She spoke with a heavy voice, drilling the words into the mouthpiece. "Look, I have work to do. I'll talk to you later."
She dropped the phone into the cradle, rested her forehead in her hand, and sighed. So much stress for so little contentment in return. No sense praying for wisdom. God had already answered that request. Eventually she'd get around to doing what needed to be done. The presence of someone nearby shocked her back into the confines of the office.
"Oh," she said, turning, "Cara, I didn't hear you come in."
A vanilla-candle-colored woman with bright red lipstick accenting her round lips stood in the cubicle, fumbling with the hair clip that held her tightly drawn kinky blond hair in place.
"I'm sorry. You were so deep in thought that I didn't want to say anything. I should have announced myself."
"It's okay, come on in."
"You sure? Because I can come back later. I didn't want anything really. Just wanted to chat for a minute before my meeting." Cara took a seat and crossed her legs. "I looked for you this morning but you were nowhere to be found."
"I got in a little late this morning. You know that I met a bunch of my friends back at Northwestern over the weekend."
Cara tapped Courtney on the knee and raised her voice level. "That's right. Oh, that should have been so cool. What did you do?"
"I spent most of the time running around with a couple of my close friends. You name it and we squeezed it into the weekend."
Courtney didn't think Cara could relate to her kind of entertainment.
Excerpted from BLIND FAITH by Patricia Haley Copyright © 2003 by Patricia Haley
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.