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It’s 2:06 A.M. My stomach has been uneasy for the past two hours and a rash of goose bumps have taken residence on my caramel skin. I’ve been up since midnight wondering where my man is and when he’s coming home. There’s no acceptable excuse that he could possibly proffer for being out this late on a work night and not calling. I’ve already taken the initiative of contacting his mother in the event that there was a family emergency and she confirmed that everything is copasetic. Calling his friends is pointless, since I know they’ll cover for him. As much as I hate to admit it, I know he’s with another woman.
Rich and I have been together for nine years and have been engaged for three of those years. I’m the one wearing the two-carat, princess-cut diamond and platinum engagement ring on my finger. Rich and I go back many, many years and he was my man first and will always be my man. My friends always say, “Valentine, cut Rich off. He ain’t nuthin’ but a dog.” But they’ll never understand our relationship and our commitment to one another. Those other girls that he used to kick it with on the side weren’t nothing serious. I understand that men cheat and those women out there who think their men don’t cheat, are only fooling themselves. If the notion that your man ain’t sticking his dick in some other chick helps you sleep better at night, then good for you. I like to keep it real!
Richard Washington and I met when I was seventeen years old and he was eighteen. I was messing with this drug dealer named Colombo, who had Lafayette Gardens and Marcy Projects on lock. I was Colombo’s number one chick and life was real good with us, but whenever things went wrong with his game I got the short end of the stick or the thick end of the belt, literally. Colombo was known for his quick temper and being violent. Nevertheless, my options were limited.
My father pulled a Houdini and disappeared when I was ten years old. Three years later, my mother was robbed and stabbed to death on her way home from work, leaving me with her younger sister, my aunt Zenobia.
Aunt Zenobia spent much of her time trying to tackle baby daddy number three. It didn’t seem to matter that baby daddies number one and two pissed on her and left. Aunt Zenobia hunted men for sport and was determined to find her big payday. She barely raised her own two children, CJ and Shaquetta, and definitely didn’t want to be bothered with another mouth to feed. I figured adding me to the picture made it difficult for her to pin down another man. Especially since the majority of the men who visited Aunt Zenobia flirted with me behind her back. Yeah, I had barely entered my teens, but my body was very shapely, which made me look mature for my age. Aunt Zenobia was wise on these men, and though she never raised the issue with me, I knew it annoyed her. Either way, I didn’t stick around very long, and by fifteen I was living the life with Colombo.
Rich was one of Colombo’s many runners. Colombo operated out of an apartment in LG projects, but we didn’t live there. Colombo was a follower of Biggie Smalls’s “Ten Crack Commandments” rule number five: never sell no crack where you rest at. I don’t care if they want a ounce, tell ’em bounce.
I had seen Rich at the headquarters, and we would make small talk, but Colombo didn’t like me associating with the hired help. Although I handled the bookkeeping, I knew more than anything I was his dime piece. However, if he ever caught someone admiring me for too long that could’ve caused trouble. Therefore, I kept communication to a minimum. Rich was different though, whenever he came around, he carried himself with respect. His territory and money were always on point and when his business was complete he left. Rich wasn’t like the other runners who sucked up to Colombo, hung around idly, and made excuses for coming up shortchanged. He’s the kind of brother that you can carry to the club one night and a black-tie affair the next. At six feet, two inches, with burnt caramel skin, sensuous lips, silky eyebrows, and lustrous hair to match, Rich put male models to shame. So even though I didn’t say much, my eyes must have said a million words. Whenever Rich came by my heart would flutter and it didn’t help that he was always so nice. All of Colombo’s workers were polite to me because I was his girl. Most of them even had the nerve to proposition me on the low, but I knew better than to ever mess with any of his men. If Colombo ever found out they were disrespecting him he would have popped their dumb asses, but I kept my mouth shut. I could handle myself.
Colombo and I had a bittersweet relationship. The sweet side was he wined and dined me and bought me anything my heart desired. He spared no expense, because he loved to show me off. After all, I was young, sexy, and hot and Colombo knew that if we split the next big-time hustler would be on standby. He paraded me around like a queen. However, he also had a dark side. He was very controlling and abusive to me and his employees. You never knew what or who was going to set him off. He could be in a room with fifty people and even if he never spoke a word to you, he could recollect the outfit you wore, your hair and eye color, amongst other details that the average person may overlook. His memory was remarkable—he could recall numbers, dates, places, and incidents that at the time may have seemed insignificant, but down the line may have had a major impact on his decision to do business with someone. Colombo didn’t take unnecessary chances with his operation and trusted his team to have similar values and common sense. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case.
Chief was one of Colombo’s front men. Chief met with this cat that was a regular, but on this particular day the guy was accompanied by two friends who were trying to leave the parking lot without paying for the merchandise. Chief panicked and ran into the building, returned with his Glock, and fired shots at the truck that they were riding in, killing two of the men instantly. The third guy managed to escape. Needless to say this messed up Colombo’s entire game because not only was it on his turf, but it was right in front of the building that he operated out of. Things were chaotic and I tried to calm Colombo down. He was moving around in circles like a windup toy without direction. I knew this was bad, and to make matters worse there was still one guy on the loose and Chief was so messed up over the ordeal he couldn’t even give a simple description. Colombo got so pissed with Chief that he beat him to the point where I had to intervene. One of Chief’s eyes was already swollen shut and if Colombo did the same thing to the other eye Chief definitely wouldn’t be able to identify the survivor. Colombo thought I was taking up for Chief and started beating me like a rag doll. By the time he was done, I knew he had broken my arm, a few ribs, and it felt like I was breathing under water. I didn’t even want to see a mirror. It was a madhouse and Colombo took Chief, his crew, and the rest of his mess and left me in it.
Rich heard about the mishap with Chief and the shooting in the parking lot. When he arrived at the apartment the only thing left of Colombo and his crew was me. I was much too weak to do anything other than remain still and wait for the police to find me, but that never happened. Instead, Rich came and rescued me. He picked me up and took me to his apartment, which was only two buildings over from where Colombo operated. When things cooled down and the cops left the scene, Rich drove me to the hospital. In the ER we learned I had a punctured lung, fractured ribs, and a broken arm and they admitted me.
Rich visited every day and when I was discharged, he carried me to his house and nursed me back to health. Rich doted on me day and night making sure that I was comfortable. He prepared my meals, fed me, and made sure I took my meds. It felt so good to finally have someone care for me the way Rich did that I hadn’t given Colombo a second thought. Then it dawned on me that if he found out who I was staying with he would certainly kill us. However, Rich allayed my fears when he informed me that Colombo, Chief, and six of his boys were killed the same night he nearly pummeled me to death. The entire exchange was a setup and those cats had been looking for a way to take Colombo and his crew out, though they hadn’t anticipated losing two of their soldiers. However, once they were able to take Colombo off his turf, it was on.
After that fiasco, I knew it was time to get out of the drug game. I barely escaped with my life and understood I had been given a second chance. At the time, Rich lived with his mother and younger sister. Almost immediately they became the family I had longed for and Rich the man of my dreams.
One night while Rich and I were up talking about getting out of the projects, I learned that he had aspirations that didn’t include being a drug dealer. And with each thought and word that he spoke, I was always somewhere at the beginning, middle, or end of each sentence. Rich had dreams of becoming the next big fashion designer and I, surprisingly, was his muse. Buried beneath his bed he had a big black sketchbook of urban clothing designs that he had drawn and to my amazement every female sketch was patterned after me. No one knew about his ambitions except me and I urged him to pursue his dreams. I pointed out that most of the biggest designers were men: Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Giorgio Armani. Rich deserved better, and so did I. And even though we only had our dreams and a little bit of money stashed away I knew together we could definitely have something strong.
At my encouragement, Rich enrolled in the Katharine Gibbs school of fashion design. While attending school, he was able to secure a job in the mailroom at Jorge Jacobs, which was one of the hottest up-and-coming fashion houses. I also returned to school, but I had to get my GED first. It didn’t take long, especially since Rich was my motivation. Since we didn’t know anything about financial aid, Rich paid my tuition and I earned my degree in office administration at Katharine Gibbs as well. Now I’m a highly paid office manager. A lot has changed since Rich and I first hooked up, for better and for worse.
The better was that we were partners and relied on each other to survive mentally and physically. We worked hard and together we managed to save our money and move out of the ’hood. Rich and I still live in Brooklyn, but we recently purchased a two-bedroom condo in Clinton Hill. The worse is Rich’s affinity for women. Unfortunately those same rugged good looks, charm, and magnetism that attracted me to Rich are the things that attract other women to him. And since Rich is a born hustler, women are just part of his hustle.
The thing is chicks think that because I’m petite and my name is Valentine, that I’m some sweet, dainty, docile person they can take advantage of. News flash: just because my name is associated with true love and romance does not mean I’m touchy-feely or sentimental. The dictionary defines Valentine’s Day as a day for the exchange of tokens of affection and if you rub this Valentine the wrong way, I will affectionately kick your ass. Those same chicks that mistake me for a pushover or think they’re putting one over on me—after I find out they’ve been pushing up on my man usually find my foot connected to their ass.
My mother—may she rest in peace—was very sentimental and decided to name me after the day on which I was born. The fact that our surname is Daye added to the appeal. However, growing up on the fast streets of Brooklyn, I learned that although my name fascinated people, the kids in my ’hood would often pick fights with me because of it. Therefore, from very early on I didn’t take any shots, maintained skin as thick as Kevlar, and could kick ass like the Karate Kid.
The first trick to enter the picture was Qwanisha. Rich and I were going through our first major crisis in the relationship: money. At the time, the jobs we had barely paid us any real dough. At least not the kind of money we were used to. Colombo had always kept my pockets padded and Rich managed to stack his cash, but that was dwindling to nothing and neither of us was used to living paycheck to paycheck. We argued about any- and everything, and started drifting apart.
Qwanisha was best described as a ’hood rat that I had to squash, because rodents deserved to be terminated. I heard from a friend of a friend that Rich was messing around with some girl. I approached him about it, but he craftily changed the subject and began caressing my breasts and nibbling on my ear. Rich knew I couldn’t resist his touch then or now. After a few more minutes of foreplay, we ended up screwing right on the kitchen countertop. Although I didn’t broach the subject again that night, Qwanisha never left my mind.
After about two months of nonsense and a few nights of Rich not coming home, I had to put that garbage to an end. The look of surprise on Qwanisha’s face when I knocked at her door and asked for my man was a Kodak moment. It wasn’t until I punched that trick square in her face that she snapped back to reality and Rich came to the door, looked at Qwanisha, and took me home. Rich obviously didn’t care enough about her to stick around and he never commented on my clocking her either, because I know without a doubt he’d do the same for me. We never discussed that night and things returned to normal for about two years. Then there was Chantal. She didn’t hang around for long and I made sure of that. The one thing I wasn’t going to tolerate was my man catching feelings for these tricks. That wasn’t going to happen and as far as his cheating goes, this is one habit that I’m going to make sure Rich breaks.
Now there’s some new chick named Vanessa. Her number has appeared on his cell phone on numerous occasions and whenever she calls he leaves the room. If it were purely business, there would be no reason for him to leave. Rich has conducted business calls from home in the past, and never has he felt the need to visit another room. Additionally, he’s been doing a lot of overtime, which probably comes from his new responsibilities. However, he seems distracted and distant and when he comes home the first thing he does is rush to take a shower. Now my man has always been into hygiene, but of late it’s been almost compulsive.
Rich never admitted when he was messing around in the past and he wasn’t going to start now, but I knew something was going on between them. Vanessa wasn’t on the same level as the hoochies from Rich’s past. She’s a bourgeois chick who works at Jorge Jacobs with Rich, so they deal with each other regularly. I can’t get a whole lot of information from anyone because she isn’t in my network of friends. So for once I feel handicapped because I can’t just go to his office and beat this ho down the way I want to. The majority of Rich’s coworkers know that we are an item, so I’m more than positive this home wrecker knows everything there is to know about me. Still she appears to be pursuing my man. For once, I actually feel threatened by this woman named Vanessa.
It’s now three o’clock and I’m still wide awake. Rich slipped in a half hour ago, which makes that the third time this month. Yeah, a sistah gotta keep track of her man and his habits. For the past few weeks I’ve been mulling over my present predicament in our relationship and as I look at Rich, now sleeping peacefully, I know that sacrifices must be made. Our relationship means everything to me and I will stop at nothing to allow no man or woman to pull asunder all that we’ve built.
Copyright © 2011 by Nancey Flowers and Courtney Parker