I waddle into the restaurant as fast as my swollen belly will allow, heading for our regular table, where I can see Claudia is already waiting. Though we don't have a standing reservation, the staff at Liaisons know us and keep our favorite booth available for us every week. No matter what is going on in our lives, Lishelle, Claudia and I get together every Sunday for brunch here. It's our chance to get caught up on what's happened with each other during the week, and to bitch without guiltwhich we do a lot.
Lishelle is not here yet, for which I am glad. I want to talk to Claudia about the latest development first, in case Lishelle hasn't heard.
That might be too much to hope for, though, given the fact that Lishelle is a local news anchor. The news is her business, and when it's about a famous Atlanta hip–hop artist
well, she probably already knows.
All the more reason for us to be together today, so Claudia and I can support Lishelle as she deals with this shocking development.
Judging by the expression on Claudia's faceand the fact that she's staring at a newspaper on the table in front of her I am certain that she is up–to–date on the bombshell.
"Hey," I say cheerfully as I reach the table. My hand is on my belly, which I'm amazed has changed so much in a few weeks. I am five months pregnant, and have recently begun to show in a truly visible way. Three weeks ago, I had a small bump that you could only see if you were looking at me from the side.
Now, that belly has grown exponentially, and while it's not huge, it's big enough to make it clear to the world that I am definitely with child. Before I was pregnant, I would see women with tiny bellies waddling and holding their stomachs, and think they were simply doing it for effect. Now, I understand. The belly holding is more of a protective gesture, one that begins shortly after you know you're with child. The waddling, I've learned, is what happens when you're carrying around extra weight in your pelvic area that your body isn't used to.
"Annelise," Claudia says and rises. She wraps her arms around me, pulling me into a warm hug. Then she eases back, her gaze going to my belly. "You're bigger than you were just last week."
"I felt the baby for the first time," I tell her, an ear–to–ear smile breaking out on my face. "On Friday night."
Unless you've been pregnant, it's difficult to understand how amazing it is to feel a tiny life flutter inside you, and the first time I experienced it, it was the biggest thrill. I was thankful that Dom, my boyfriend, was with me when it happened. It was just a small fluttering sensation, as though a butterfly were trapped inside me. But just like the moment when I saw the ultrasound and the proof of the life growing in my belly, feeling my baby move made my pregnancy very real.
In four months, I am going to become a mother.
"You felt the baby move?" Claudia asks, her eyes lighting up.
Claudia squeals in delight then places her hand gently on my ever–growing stomach, as if hoping to catch the baby in action. "I can't believe it. Before we know it, you're going to have a baby."
"I know. Amazing how things can change in a year."
Last year, I was in the dumps when my marriage ended. My husband, Charles, was having an affair. But worse than that, I found out he was embezzling money from the Wishes Come True charity, where he'd been a member of the board. Dom was an auditor investigating the embezzlement and, long story short, we fell hard for each other. One minute, my life had been at its lowest point being married to a man who didn't love me, and who had become the subject of a huge public scandal. The next, I was on cloud nine, never imagining that I could be this happy.
The happiness of the moment dissipates as my eyes land on the newspaper Claudia has spread on the table. "You think she knows?" I ask.
Claudia shrugs. "Maybe. Probably. She works in the news. She must have heard something at the station."
"Then again, maybe not," I say. "It's not like she does the entertainment beat. And she doesn't work weekends. So
" I let my statement trail off as I take a seat across from Claudia, figuring my words are wishful thinking at best.
I look at the picture in the Atlanta Journal Constitution she's been reading, upside–down from my vantage point. But I can still make out the photo and the headline: One of Atlanta's Most Eligible Bachelors Is Off the Market.
"Then again," Claudia begins, "even if she's heard, it's not like it's a big deal. She's over Rugged."
I meet Claudia's eyes and stare at her for a long moment, wondering if she believes her own words. Sure, Lishelle has told us over and over again that she doesn't want a relationship with Rugged. She has stressed that he was simply a fling. And granted, she's the one who broke up with him. But still, I have never quite believed that she wasn't really into him.
Lishelle went through a bitch of a breakup with a guy she was crazy about before she met Ruggedalthough breakup isn't the right word, since Glenn wasn't hers to begin with. I know how hard it was for me to learn my husband was cheating on me, so I can only imagine that it was far more devastating for Lishelle to discover that her college flamethe one she still held a torch forlied about being married when he came back into her life years later. The prick had used her for her money, stringing her along real good until he was able to steal a ton of cash from her. Ever since that betrayaland considering she was also married before but divorced because her husband cheated on hershe's been understandably guarding her heart.
At least, that's my opinion. Because with Ruggeda local rap sensation and six years her juniorshe was a different person. Happier, more vibrant. And she hasn't quite been the same since she told him that their relationship could never go anywhere, and subsequently ended things with him.
Still, I say to Claudia, "I guess you're right. She's the one who broke up with him."
"Exactly," Claudia stresses, and then her eyes flit over my shoulder. Quickly, she grabs the newspaper, folds it and tosses it under the booth. Which tells me Lishelle has arrived.
And it also tells me that what Claudia just saidthat the news of Rugged's engagement will be no big deal to Lishelleis hogwash.
I turn to see our friend heading toward us with a purposeful stride. She has the kind of beauty that looks effortless, but with her black hair flat–ironed straight, big, black sunglasses covering her eyes and a formfitting black dress more appropriate for a Saturday night, she looks like a supermodel this morning.
"Hey, ladies," she all but sings as she reaches us. She bends over to kiss my cheek, then takes a seat beside Claudia. "Sorry I'm late. I was
My eyebrows shoot up. The dress. That big–ass smile.
Claudia obviously has gotten the same vibe I have. "And why are you late?" she asks, eyeing Lishelle skeptically.
Lishelle slips off her designer sunglasses, a playful smirk on her face. "You want to know his name?"
"Girl!" I exclaim. "You met someone?"
Lishelle beams. "You could say that."
"Nice," Claudia quips. "The walk of shame in a public place."
"No one here knows I had this dress on last night," Lishelle says. Then, "A round of mimosas? Of course, not for you," she adds, smiling sweetly at me.
"No, of course not," I say. On Sundays, restaurants in Atlanta start serving alcohol at twelve–thirty, which is why we show up right about then. "I'll stick with the ginger tea."
Lishelle flags down Sierra, the petite Asian woman who has waited on us every Sunday afternoon for as long as we can remember. Except for the three–month span where Sierra thought she was in love, and took off to Los Angeles to be with the man of her dreams. Sadly, the relationship that had started online fizzled when they began living in the real world. Though the truth is, for our own selfish reasons, we're happy to have Sierra back here. We never did bond with Apple, the woman who had waited on us in Sierra's absence. Sierra is a premed student, putting herself through school by waitressing.
"Afternoon, ladies," Sierra says sweetly. "How're y'all doing?"
"We're fantastic," Lishelle replies, and Claudia and I share a look across the table. Whoever this guy is, she must be really into him.
"Two mimosas and a ginger tea, right?" Sierra asks.
"You know us so well," Lishelle says.
Lishelle took particular pleasure in listening to Sierra tell us how her relationship with Braden had fallen apart at the seams, as she was the one who'd taken it the hardest when Sierra had suddenly been gone. Lishelle has been extra generous with her tips since her return, which she claims are to help Sierra with her premed expenses, but Claudia and I know it's more of an incentive not to run off again.
"You even sound different," Claudia says once Sierra has taken our order. "Who is he and how many hours did he rock your world?"
"And how on earth did you manage to get lucky at a retirement party?" I ask. That's where she was supposed to have been last night, at a retirement party for someone at the news station.
Lishelle's eyes brighten. "His name is Damon, and he's a friend of Maureen's, who does makeup. Remember I told you that she said she has a friend she wanted me to meet? How she thought we'd be great together? I've been busy, so has he, so we hadn't made it happen yet. But he shows up unexpectedly at the get–together last night, pretty much begging to take me out afterward. He offered me real foodnot that god–awful finger food the catering company provided, so how could I say no? Andget your minds out of the gutterwe had a really nice time."
"What do you mean get our minds out of the gutter?" Claudia asks. "And what exactly do you mean by nice?"
"We went to Sambucca lounge, had a decent and lovely dinner and talked," Lishelle explains. "He's gorgeous, and the conversation between us flowed really well. He's the kind of guy you could talk to all night long. So, when they were about to shut down the club and he suggested we go to his place, I thought why not?"
"The first night," I say, and then tsk.
"Like I said, get your minds out of the gutter. He suggested we continue talking. He was telling me all about his college–football career, and it was quite fascinating. I wanted to hear more."
"I'm sure that's all you wanted," Claudia says, and rolls her eyes.
Sierra arrives with our drinks, and gives a little smirk as she places them on the table. Over the years, I'm sure she has gotten an earful of juicy conversation from usbut she's always had the grace not to say.
"Sierra," I begin, "if you don't mind, can I also get a tall glass of orange juice?"
"Sure thing," she says.
"Believe it or not," Lishelle continues when Sierra has disappeared, "I am capable of staying the night at a guy's place and not fucking him."
Claudia pretends to cough because of her drink. I stifle a laugh.
"It's like that, is it?" Lishelle asks, feigning a hurt tone.
"Oh, go on," I tell her. "Tell us what happened next."
"Now, I'm not saying I wasn't tempted. Trust me, it's been a long time, and Damon is as hot as they come. The fact that I didn't jump him is a testament to my self–restraint, because damn, you should have seen the man's thighs. He used to play college football. I told you that, right?"
"You sure did," Claudia says.
"Part of me didn't believe his let's continue talking line," Lishelle continues. "I figured at some point he'd try to get me into bed. But Damon was very sweet and kept his promise. We chatted, drank a bit of wineand yes, we shared one hot kissbut then he put on a movie, and we snuggled on the sofa. I fell asleep in his arms. So, yeah, a very nice time."
"Sounds like you want to see him again," Claudia says.
"Definitely," Lishelle says, nodding.
As Lishelle goes on about how she's finally ready to start dating seriously, I can't help thinking that she hasn't heard the news about Rugged. She seems a bit too chipper to know that her ex is about to get married.
"Do you like him?" I ask. "I mean like him like him?" This is good. If she's got someone else to occupy her thoughts, maybe she won't be that upset about Rugged.
"Sure," Lishelle says, shrugging nonchalantly. "He's gorgeous, has a great body. And the way he was flirting with me and eyeing me up like I was a juicy piece of steak, there's no worry about him being one of those down–low brothers."
"So why don't you call him?" I suggest. "Today. Take the initiative and suggest a second date."
Lishelle eyes me warily. "You want me to call him and suggest a second date?"
"Why not? There's no law to say you can't, and people often spend so much time playing dating games, not wanting to call too soon. Pretending that they're not really interested. All that nonsense. What's the point?"
Even Claudia is looking at me strangely. Her eyes widen slightly, and it's clear to me that she is trying to warn me that I should quit while I'm ahead.
Lishelle must pick up on the fact that something is going on, because she glances at Claudia, who promptly lifts the menua dead giveaway that something is wrong. We never look at the menu, as we always have the buffet.
To deflect attention from Claudia, I chuckle and say, "Listen to me ramble on like Cupid on crack. My pregnancy hormones are making me play matchmaker."
Lishelle's eyes bore into me with the intensity of the skilled reporter she is. "What's going on?"
I don't answer right away. And damn, it's clear that Lishelle has sensed there is some secret between me and Claudia, because she looks at Claudia again.
"Oh, look," Claudia says, throwing a glance beyond Lishelle. "Sierra is coming with your drink."
Sierra sets the orange juice in front of me. I immediately take a liberal sip, avoiding Lishelle's eyes.
"Are you having the buffet?" Sierra asks. She asks more out of formality, because we always have the buffet. But perhaps we're taking too long to get up and fill our plates today, so she's wondering if we're going to order off the menu for a change.
"The buffet," Lishelle tells Sierra.
"Flag me down if you need coffee or anything," Sierra tells us before heading off to another table.
"And speaking of the buffet," Claudia begins, "I'm famished. Let's get some food."
"Not so fast." Lishelle stays seated, blocking Claudia's path of escape from the booth. "What's going on?"
I stare at Claudia, and she looks uncomfortably back at me.