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By Kim Shaw
BET BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Kim Shaw
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKimara paused momentarily at the bottom step of the landing. She looked behind her at the two steep flights of stairs which she'd already climbed, then leaned over the railing to look up ahead at the dimly lit remaining two flights. She shook her head, letting her long dark hair snap from side to side as she cursed Jimmy Choo for not having considered that she might have a best girlfriend who lived in a fourth-floor walkup. He obviously couldn't relate to her struggle.
"You've got to be joking," Kimara spewed as she stood in front of Jasmine's open apartment door.
Jasmine lived in a quiet Queens neighborhood not far from where they'd grown up together. Queens Village was a small, tight-knit community comprised of working-class, single, and two-parent families. Everyone seemed to know everyone else and it was not uncommon for a child to be chastised by an elder from the community who was unrelated to them.
The tawny-skinned woman standing before her had been her best girlfriend for the past two decades. Jasmine, clad in a yellow terry cloth bathrobe and matching Tweety Bird slippers, shrugged her shoulders. She stepped aside to allow a perturbed Kimara to enter.
"Why aren't you dressed yet, Jasmine?" Kimara demanded, craning her neck upwards, her chestnut colored eyes narrowed. At five-feet-eight Jasmine towered above the petite Kimara, despite the three-inch heels the latter wore.
"Well, uh, see ..." Jasmine stammered. She offered a weak smile which was met by a drawn-out sucking of teeth by Kimara.
"Come on Kimara. I really was planning to go-"
"No. No, no, no," Kimara bellowed. "I am not even trying to hear this." She let her Prada bag slide from her shoulder, barely catching the straps in her hand before it hit the floor.
"Kimara, please don't be like that. You know Rick's been working a lot of overtime lately and, when he called a few minutes ago to say that he was getting off early, I ... well," Jasmine hesitated.
"So you're gonna kick me to the curb to stay home with old what's his face? Unbelievable!" Kimara spat.
She stomped across the living room's hardwood floors, plopped down on the brushed-cotton sectional and tossed her handbag onto the cushion next to her. She threw her head back against the fluffy sofa and closed her eyes.
"Don't act like such a baby Kimara," Jasmine ordered.
Kimara inhaled a deep cleansing breath, for the first time becoming aware of the scented candles which were placed strategically around the tiny living room. She opened her eyes and took in the scene of seduction set out before her-wine chilling in a bucket of ice, candlelight which bathed the room in softness and a bowl of fresh strawberries, bright red and still wet from washing. She rolled her eyes and dropped her head back onto the sofa as Jasmine switched the compact disc player to the OFF position, silencing Meli'sa Morgan's "Do Me Baby."
Kimara greedily sucked in another lungful of air, the combined scents of eucalyptus and sweet cyclamen penetrating her senses. She willed her lips to stay shut before she said something that would cause irreparable damage to her relationship with Jasmine. Although it wouldn't be the first time she'd unleashed a vicious tongue, it could very well be the final straw.
The past year had been a turbulent roller-coaster ride for them. Ever since Jasmine married Frederick Wright, Kimara seemed unable to say or do the correct thing. It was no secret that she didn't like Rick. Everybody on the East coast knew that. But Rick was the man Jasmine had chosen and in her heart, Kimara knew that she had no choice but to accept it. However, try as she might, she couldn't stop the derogatory digs aimed at him from rolling off her wicked tongue every now and again. Especially on the increasingly frequent occasions when his big head seemed to be wedging its way between her and her best girlfriend. Tonight was yet another unwelcome intrusion.
"I'm not acting like a baby," Kimara retorted. "You're a flat-leaver," she added, glaring at Jasmine.
"Oh yeah, real mature Kimara. Look, I'm sorry to do this at the last minute. I tried to reach you, but you'd already left home and, as usual, your cell phone is off."
"My money was a little funny this month, that's all," Kimara defended. She took mental notice of the chiding tone in Jasmine's remark, letting her know once again that Jasmine disapproved of something she had done or failed to do.
"Whatever," Jasmine dismissed with a wave of her hand. "Point is, I'm sorry that you got all dressed up and came over here. But I'm not sorry about wanting to spend some time with my husband," Jasmine said as she struck a match and lit a purple candle which she'd missed.
"Come on Jazz, this party is going to be off the hook. Everybody's going to be there," Kimara pleaded.
"Everybody 'cept me," Jasmine answered.
Kimara gave Jasmine a final beseeching look, but realized from the determined set of her chin that the conversation was useless. If there was one thing Kimara had learned about Jasmine, it was that once this girl made a decision, nothing would change her mind.
She remembered vividly the day they'd met. They were in the second grade in Mrs. Berger's colorfully decorated classroom located on the third floor of P.S. 188. The teacher was introducing Kimara to the roomful of snot-nosed seven-year-olds. She had been beyond excited about beginning at a new school and the chance to make new friends. She'd worn her black Lee jeans with the permanent creases down the legs and a bright yellow sweatshirt. The kids giggled and pointed at her, openly ridiculing her. Who knew that Lees were no longer in style?
The image of standing there that day had remained one of Kimara's worst childhood memories. She'd squeezed her eyes shut tightly, wishing that either the ground would open up and swallow her or that the monster in her bedroom closet would eat the entire class. Her eyes grew watery and her cheeks burned with embarrassment. She hung her head low, two long twisted ponytails with yellow barrettes on the ends dangling in her face as the teacher tried to regain control over the unruly class. All of a sudden she felt cool, slender fingers covering her own. She looked up to find a tall, brown-skinned girl smiling down at her.
"Don't worry about these dummies," the girl said. She pulled Kimara by the hand toward the desks lining the room's windows. "You can sit next to me."
As Kimara followed her, the girl rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at the few students who continued to snicker, silencing them. Kimara was too shocked by this girl's brazen act to speak. But she later learned that the girl's name was Jasmine Mitchell and, as the tallest student in the class, even taller than the boys, nobody messed with her. She also learned that Jasmine was the most determined person in the world. She set her mind on being Kimara's friend and no matter what anybody else had to say about it, she remained dedicated.
"Well, I guess that's it, huh?" Kimara asked.
"Yeah girl. But maybe we can do something tomorrow. There's an independent movie opening up at the Angelika," Jasmine offered.
"I don't know ..." Kimara hesitated, not wanting to give in or up so easily.
"Come on. You know you love those indies. What do you say? I'll buy the popcorn," Jasmine enticed.
"Yeah sure, whatever," Kimara answered softly. She didn't feel like trying to hide her disappointment. Jasmine was her best friend. They had been through everything together-from training bras to unplanned pregnancy scares. They had come of age when Run DMC and LL Cool J were burning up the microphones at local house parties that they were too young to frequent, but did anyway. They had taught one another all the latest dances like the Whop and the Pee Wee Herman. They'd experimented with boys, learned about life and evolved into womanhood together.
Now it was beginning to seem to Kimara as if their season had passed. The demanding roles of wife and school teacher had changed Jasmine, made her very critical and even more uptight. Sometimes it was as if Kimara didn't know her anymore. They didn't talk as much as they used to and when they did, the conversations almost always ended with Jasmine chastising Kimara for one thing or another.
Although their lives had traversed into different directions, the space Jasmine occupied in Kimara's heart was unchanged. She had, however, grown considerably weary of the put-downs. When Jasmine had agreed to attend tonight's label-launch party, Kimara was excited, even more than she was about the party itself. It would be an opportunity to spend time with the old Jasmine. The one with whom she used to juice guys and close down clubs for the night.
"I'm really sorry Kimara," Jasmine said, softening suddenly as if she were reading Kimara's mind.
Jasmine could not love Kimara more if they were blood sisters. She hated to disappoint her, and although she loved a good party just as much as the next person, she also loved her husband. Rick had brought a certain calm to her life and quiet nights alone with him had become more enticing than smoke-filled rooms, gyrating bodies and rainbow colored cocktails with little umbrellas in them. She knew that Kimara didn't like Rick and she hoped that one day that would change. If only Kimara could see Rick the way she saw him-as a warm, supportive, caring man who loved her more than life itself. Jasmine knew this would be a stretch, to say the least, because until Kimara was ready to move into the responsible adult world, she would not be able to understand that Rick was precisely the type of man Jasmine wanted and needed.
A key turned in the lock, drawing both women's attention to the door.
"There'd better be a sexy, naked woman waiting for me behind this-" Rick's voice preceded him into the apartment. He stopped midsentence when he saw Kimara standing next to his wife.
"Oh, Kimara. I wasn't expecting to see you," Rick said.
"Rick," Kimara responded dryly.
"Hi sweetie. Wow, you made good time getting here," Jasmine said as she moved toward him. She kissed him lightly on the lips, taking his work bag and stashing it in the coat closet.
Kimara watched them, the sensation of being a fifth wheel descending instantaneously upon her as usual. In spite of all of her misgivings about Rick, she had to admit that so far, he'd treated Jasmine well. At six-feet-three-inches, he was a lean, athletic looking man. Surely, many women would agree that his sleepy eyes and wide, toothy smile were attractive. Personally, Kimara thought that his head full of locks and full grown beard and mustache made him look even older than his thirty-six years. Add to that the fact that she found his mannerisms even more dated than his look.
When Jasmine first introduced him, having met him one day at the Flushing Station on the number seven train, his speech was peppered with phrases like word up and that's the bomb. It was all Kimara could do not to burst out laughing in his face. The minute they were alone, she jumped on Jasmine.
"He is so corny! You can't be serious."
"He's not corny. Okay, maybe he's a little behind the times, but-"
"Behind the times? Girl please. My dad is cooler than him. If he said 'word up' one more time, I swear I was gonna scream," Kimara laughed, choking and gasping for air.
"You are mean. I don't care what you say," Jasmine cried. "I think he's cute and nice, and I'm going out with him again."
"Whatever Jasmine. At least he's got a decent job with Transit. Make sure he takes you someplace nicer than Red Lobster."
Kimara didn't think too much more about Mr. Rick Wright until Jasmine started canceling their plans together to be with him and slipping away for extended weekends in Virginia with his family. About five months after they'd met, it became obvious to Kimara that the pesky little fly wasn't going to buzz off. Things had become serious. She thought it was too much too soon and she told Jasmine so.
"Jazz, don't you think things are moving a little fast? I mean, what do you really know about this guy? With a name like Rick Wright, that's a hint and a half that something has to be wrong with him."
"Stop being so paranoid. I know all about him. I've even met his family, including his grandmother, Mabel. Let me tell you, she is a trip. One time-"
"Jasmine, spare me the details about Grandma Mabel. You've still only just gotten to know him."
"He's a great guy Kimara. He's stable, dependable-"
"Old," Kimara interjected.
"He's not old. He's only a few years older than us."
"Jasmine, a few is four or five. He's ten years older. That's a decade. That's a whole hell of a lot more than a few."
"Okay, so he's older. What's wrong with that? I mean think about it. We spend all of our time running behind these young guys who don't have anything going on and ain't trying to put down roots. I'm not like you Kimara. I don't want to be wined and dined, and I certainly don't want to keep having to fend off guys who think buying me a meal entitles them to hit it and quit it. I'm not going to spend my life playing games with little boys. I want to settle down. I want kids, a house ... damn, can I have the white picket fence and the happily ever after?"
"Nobody says you can't have all that Jasmine, but you don't have to settle," Kimara admonished.
"Why do you think I'm settling? Is it that far-fetched to believe that Rick is the guy for me?"
Kimara was stumped. She couldn't think of a logical argument for why Jasmine shouldn't see Rick other than his age, so she shut up and tried to see for herself what Jasmine saw in him. They went on a couple of double dates, hung out at Jasmine's place together, but the more time she spent around him, the more she grew to dislike and eventually despise him.
Rick always seemed to talk down to everyone, especially Jasmine, like he was Albert Einstein sent back from the grave to school the youngsters. He was an authority on every subject, or so he thought, and he had an annoying habit of correcting people when they spoke. Kimara took to making constant jokes about his age, in his presence and behind his back.
"Do you want to go to the movies tonight or do you and Father Time have plans?" she would ask.
Jasmine grew increasingly insulted, but Kimara didn't care. Almost a year to the day that Jasmine and Rick had met, they were gathered at Jasmine's place for her mother's birthday celebration. After having made googoo eyes at each other all night, they finally announced their engagement. Kimara bit her tongue and sulked quietly all evening until she had an opportunity to be alone with Jasmine.
"Are you crazy?" she shrieked.
"No, I'm not. I'm just in love," Jasmine giggled.
They were in the kitchen and Jasmine was refilling an ice bucket.
"Grab a bottle of grapefruit juice from the fridge. My Aunt Mary can't drink her vodka without it," Jasmine said.
Kimara didn't budge. "Jasmine really, you can't be serious. You cannot marry him."
"I can, and I am," Jasmine protested.
"Jazz, if you marry him, you are going to be bored shitless inside of a year. Mark my words."
"You know Kimara, you are the most selfish person I know. Instead of being happy that I've found a man who treats me well and who will take care of me and love me forever, no matter what, you want to throw stones. I thought you were my friend."
"And I thought you'd gotten over your daddy leaving you," Kimara said pointedly.
"What?" Jasmine asked, moving in close to Kimara, her chin jutting out just inches from Kimara's determined face.
"You heard me," Kimara added, refusing to back down as she looked up at Jasmine. "It's obvious you're looking for a father figure, but I hate to break it to you-old Daddy Daycare in there is a poor replacement."
Excerpted from Free Verse by Kim Shaw Copyright © 2005 by Kim Shaw. Excerpted by permission.
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