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As she sped down the ramp like a track star, Chloe prayed she hadn’t missed it. On the way to the ferry, she’d felt like the bus driver was going extra slow on purpose. The bus had finally pulled into the St. George terminal at 7:39 a.m., giving her exactly one minute to catch it. Not even—because if the guy whose job it was to close the doors wanted to be an asshole that day, he’d close them faster on purpose. Then all anyone could do in their frustration was curse and stare at him through the glass partition. Chloe hated that guy, and had always wished that one day someone would wait until he opened the doors for the next ferry and then punch him dead in his face.
She ran as fast as she could this morning. If she missed this one, the next boat wouldn’t come for another twenty minutes, and she had no patience to wait around that long. Just as she entered the terminal, she could see the doors slowly closing. She ran faster and slipped between them just in the nick of time. She looked victoriously at the son of a bitch pressing the button. Bastard!
She boarded the Staten Island Ferry and swore for the thousandth time that she was going to start waking up earlier so that she wouldn’t have to run like a wide receiver anymore. Winded—and annoyed that her morning was off to such a bad start—Chloe plopped down in an empty seat and tried to catch her breath. She put her bag on the floor in front of her and sucked her teeth. As usual, she hadn’t had time to pick up a copy of the New York Daily News, and now there was nothing to read during her ride to Lower Manhattan.
It was Monday morning, and Chloe hated Mondays! She preferred to take her time, sleep late, and get her day started at her own pace. Mondays meant she had to get up on time, catch the bus on time, be at the ferry on time. She had never cared much about being on time for things. It wasn’t that she didn’t respect other people’s schedules. She just wasn’t a morning person. And the earlier she had to be someplace, the more likely it was that she’d be late.
Still struggling to regain her breath, she looked around. She noticed a guy sitting across from her, with a smirk on his face. Wondering what the hell he found so funny, for a brief moment she had an attitude. But then she noticed how handsome he was.
He was honey-hued with a neat mustache and goatee and a low-cut Caesar. He reminded her somewhat of the rapper T.I., with his laid-back style and neat, well- groomed appearance. He looked older than she was, and he was fine. But she still wondered what the hell was so funny.
“Tough morning?” he asked, still smirking.
She looked at him. Suddenly her week wasn’t off to such a bad start after all. She glanced down at his feet—since footwear mattered to her when meeting a guy for the first time. This one wore a pair of crisp black Nikes, blue jeans, and a Coogi polo shirt. Chloe liked what she saw, so she smiled back.
“Yeah,” she said. She shook her head and sighed. “I’m always late for this boat.”
“So you should be used to running by now, then,” he said. “You seem a little out of breath.”
She thought his lips were perfect. He had nice eyes. She noticed that he was using them to size her up as well. He looked her up and down.
“I just hate it when I don’t get the chance to pick up the newspaper before I get on,” she said. “This ride is not the same without my Daily News.” He had no cuts on his face, but he still looked as if he’d lived a lot. Like he’d seen a lot of things. Chloe was intrigued by the sexy stranger, and she absentmindedly toyed with her charm bracelet.
He nodded. “I got the Post if you want to read it.” He offered his newspaper to her, but Chloe shook her head, frowning.
“I hate the Post,” she said. “But thanks, anyway.”
They looked at each other for a few quiet seconds before Chloe glanced around to see if anyone had discarded a copy of the Daily News nearby.
Often passengers left their newspapers on empty seats after they’d finished reading them. Normally, Chloe turned her nose up even at the thought of touching a “used” paper. She’d seen many a passenger pick their nose as if digging for gold, then turn the pages of their newspapers, leaving booger residue behind. The idea of coming into contact with anyone else’s boogers repulsed Chloe to no end.
But sitting across from this cutie, she suddenly needed something to do with her hands. He made her feel a little shy, for some reason. And without something to distract her, she knew that the twenty-fi ve-minute ride to Manhattan would feel like an eternity. There were no discarded copies of her preferred paper, so she resigned herself to enduring an awkward boat ride.
The handsome stranger shrugged and set his newspaper down beside him. He extended his hand to her. “My name is Trey,” he said.
Chloe thought his voice was so sexy. “Chloe,” she said, shaking his hand. “I’ve never seen you on this boat before.” Trey had a face Chloe would have remembered seeing.
He thought she was pretty as well. Chloe was a coffee-complexioned girl with shoulder-length hair and big brown eyes. When she smiled, her deep dimples were clearly visible, and her lips were full and sexy. Her nails were well manicured, and her makeup was light. She was a stunner, and her skintight jeans didn’t hurt either. She had Trey’s undivided attention. He looked at the knapsack at her feet.
“You go to school?” he asked, hoping that she was a college student and not a high schooler.
She nodded. “Yeah. Medgar Evers College.”
He breathed a sigh of relief that she was indeed of age. “What are you taking?”
“Journalism.” She looked at his casual clothes and wondered how old this guy was. “How about you?” she asked.
Trey hesitated for a moment and said, “I’m a student like you.”
“Yeah, right. You look like you’re about twenty-fi ve. You’re still in college?”
He smiled. “First of all, thanks for the compliment, ’cause I’m about to turn twenty-eight. And, yeah, I’m in school. After high school, I made a detour, so it took me a minute to get back on track. Now I go to BMCC.”
Borough of Manhattan Community College, aka BMCC, was located in Downtown Manhattan. Chloe had considered going there when she graduated high school, but opted instead for Medgar Evers, in the heart of Brooklyn. “What’s your major?” she asked, even more intrigued than before.
Trey cleared his throat. “I’m taking up psychology.”
Now it was Chloe who smirked. “Wow. That sounds exciting,” she said sarcastically. “You want to spend your life analyzing a bunch of psychos?”
He shrugged, picked up his newspaper again. “I find it interesting getting inside people’s minds and trying to understand them.” He looked away for a moment, watching a bum nearby rummaging through a garbage can. Then he turned back to Chloe. “I work for transit, too,” he said. “I’m a track worker, but I work nights. I take my classes in the daytime.”
Chloe was impressed. Trey was pursuing a degree and had a good job. She couldn’t believe her luck! The guys her age weren’t this focused. They were either hustling—which Chloe found ridiculous in this day and age—or working some menial job, trying to make ends meet. This handsome stranger seemed like he was different from the lames she was accustomed to. Chloe herself still lived at home with her mother and younger sister. She didn’t want to work, didn’t want to pay bills. She fi gured it was easier to live at home while she took her time getting her life in order. She was twenty years old, and she loved having the freedom to come and go as she pleased. But she didn’t want all the responsibilities that went along with adulthood, and for that reason, she still lived in her mother’s house.
“You have any kids?” she asked. A guy this fi ne—with all that he had going on—must have a crazy baby mama, she assumed.
“Nah, no kids. No girlfriend. None of that.”
“You live out here?” she asked, wondering how a guy this perfect had evaded her for so long on Staten Island.
He nodded. “Yeah, I just moved here, though. I’m from the Bronx originally. I’ve only lived out here for like a year. I live over on St. Marks.”
She smiled. St. Marks was just a few blocks from her home. This was all too good to be true. “Really? So, we’re practically neighbors. I live on Jersey Street. But in the houses, not in the projects!” She crossed her legs.
Trey frowned a little at Chloe’s disdain when she’d clarifi ed that she didn’t live in the projects. “Well, I grew up in the projects in the Bronx all my life, sweetheart,” he said. “So it wouldn’t matter to me if you lived in the projects or not. I’m not like that.”
Damn! Chloe wished she could eat her words. She hadn’t meant for her statement to sound so demeaning.
“I wasn’t saying it like that,” Chloe backpedaled. “Not at all.”
It wasn’t that she was stuck up. Chloe and her sister, Willow, were the product of a single-parent household. Their mother had raised them on her own after their fathers—Chloe’s a deadbeat from the get-go, and Willow’s a guy who supported her fi nancially but was never around—took off. Rachel Webster constantly reminded her daughters that even though they lived in the hood, they didn’t have to act like hoodrats. She never wanted them to limit themselves. She taught her children that there was no goal outside their reach and that they should never settle for less than the best.
Rachel Webster worked hard at her clerical job at a Midtown Manhattan bank so that she could afford for her daughters the luxuries most girls their age could get only from their drug dealer boyfriends. It was no big thing when guys tried to lavish Chloe and Willow with designer clothes or expensive gifts. They had already been lavished with all of that. Monthly shopping sprees and biweekly hair and nail appointments were the norm for them. Rachel insisted that they look like classy young ladies whenever they went out, monitored their grades like a hawk, and never let them date thug niggas.
Not that she raised her daughters to be bourgeois. In fact, they lived in federally owned housing, so they couldn’t be stuck up even if they wanted to. Granted, they didn’t live in the projects. No pissy elevators or crackheads in the hallway.
Instead, they lived in the “McDonald’s houses” right up the block from Staten Island’s New Brighton projects. They were known as the McDonald’s houses because they resembled the color and shape of a McDonald’s restaurant on the outside. The patch of grass in the front and the two-family town house– style layout made them feel slightly more privileged than their counterparts in the apartment buildings. But it was still Jersey Street, and it was still the hood, no matter how superior they’d convinced themselves they were.
“You live alone?” Trey asked, changing the subject. “Or you got a man?”
“I live with my mother and my younger sister, Willow. She goes to Murry Bergtraum High School. And no, I don’t have a man.” Chloe knew she was telling only half the truth. She was a pretty girl with a nice body, so she had no shortage of male companionship. She was seeing a few different guys, but not any one exclusively. She was a free spirit. The kind of girl whose motto was Life is short, play hard! She was young, single, fl irtatious, and was living her life like it was golden.
He nodded. “So you think I can call you, take you out or something?” He licked his lips as he asked her, and Chloe had to fight the urge to pounce on him. All her nervousness faded.
“Sure,” she said, smiling.
Trey pulled out his BlackBerry and programmed her phone number; then Chloe entered his number into her Sidekick. The announcement came on that the boat was about to dock, and they stood to join the throngs of other passengers preparing to get off the ferry. Chloe adjusted her over-the-shoulder North Face book bag and stood beside Trey. Now that they were standing up, she could see he was maybe six feet tall and very well proportioned. His shoulders were broad, and his walk was strong and sexy. As they exited the boat, they made small talk until they reached the R train station.
Chloe turned to Trey and smiled again. “Don’t wait too long to call me,” she said.
Trey smiled back. “Don’t worry. I won’t,” he assured her.
Chloe skipped down the stairs and boarded her train—just in time. She caught her balance on the speeding train, holding on to the pole. Suddenly Mondays weren’t so bad after all.
Her school day held no surprises. It was business as usual, with Chloe eagerly devouring the knowledge her professors dispensed. She took notes, asked questions, and offered insight in each class and was almost pissed that class had ended just when Professor Burke was getting deep in his Sociology lec ture. Chloe loved being a college student and felt smarter with each credit she earned. She liked the luxuries she enjoyed, and she watched how hard her mother had to work in order to provide her children with those things.
Rachel Webster always reminded her daughters that a college degree was the difference between the meager wages she received as a bank teller and the six-figure salary her boss pulled down. She drilled it into her daughters’ heads that ignorance, men, babies, marriage—those were things that weighed a woman down. She told them that children were a blessing, but only after you’ve lived a little yourself.
Chloe didn’t care to be burdened with any kids or responsibilities at this point in her life. Instead she wanted to stay focused, get educated, and live a fulfilling life. She didn’t want to fall in love. She’d had one serious boyfriend when she was in high school. He broke her heart during her se nior year by cheating on her with one of her biggest haters.
Because of their doting mother, who stressed education and the dance classes Chloe and her sister took after school two days a week—while most of her peers came from homes where these things weren’t priorities—Chloe was hated on by most of the girls she knew. When she was in high school, many times girls from around the way had hissed that she was a “prissy bitch” as she walked by or picked fights with her purely out of jealousy.
Chloe was pretty, built like a brick house, smart, and she caught the attention of males wherever she went. She was also picky about which boys she gave her attention to, and most often ignored the advances of boys most girls were swooning over. Chloe was not interested in guys with no future, no potential. She could look at a boy and size him up after only a few seconds of conversation. If there didn’t appear to be potential, Chloe would move on. Her refusal to entertain the advances of most guys only made her more coveted by them. Every guy wanted to be the first to hit it. Most girls hated her for this popularity, and the slights only drove Chloe to be better than
Excerpted from Flirt by Tracy Brown.
Copyright © 2009 by Tracy Brown.
Published in December 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
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