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LIVE and LEARN
By NIOBIA BRYANT
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Niobia Bryant
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Whassup y'all? I'm Alizé."
I'm anything but a morning person, especially this particular morning. Rah's king-sized water bed felt too damn good, and my body felt hella bad. A late night of drinking, partying, and then having sex until three in the morning will do that to you.
Last night my girls and I all met up at Lex's apartment-that's Dom's boyfriend-to celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday. Whoo! We got so tore up off Henny-ahem, Hennessey-that I didn't want to see any more liquor for a minute. I could feel the effects of it all up and through my body. Trust.
There was no way I was ready to face the world yet, but I had a ten o'clock class.
Trying like hell not to wake my man up, I eased up the arm he had over my waist. I couldn't do nothing but roll my eyes when he stirred in his sleep and tried to hold me tighter. Rah and I were cool. We were basically happy with each other, but when I wasn't in the mood to fuck, I just wasn't-in-the-mood-to-fuck. Too bad I couldn't get his ass to understand that.
"Rah, I gotta get up. Move."
He shifted closer to me and pressed what I hoped was a piss hard against my bare ass. "Where you goin'?" he asked, his voice full of sleep and his morning breath reaching me like a slap in the face. His hand rose to tease my nipple as he started kissing my shoulder.
Now I was wishing like hell that I'd gone home to my mom's and not spent the night at his apartment. My own mother wasn't this aggravating, and she was Mrs. Persistence with an extra large, extra tall, big and bold-ass capital P. My daddy swears it's one of the main reasons they got divorced. I couldn't front on my father; my mother could be hell to reckon with.
But let me repeat, when I wasn't in the mood to fuck, there wasn't shit anybody could do to get me in the mood.
I shifted his hand from my breast, but he just moved it down to lift my leg up to play in my moistness. "Rah, I gotta go to class. Let me up."
I was a senior at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ, majoring in business finance. I loved money and all of the nice things it bought, so my major was an easy choice for me. Oh, trust, I'm a sistah with a plan when it comes to my career. I will graduate this May and then take full benefit of my two-month summer internship at one of the top investment firms in the country. Then in the fall it will be back to the grind at ole SHU to work on the all-important MBA-Master of Business Administration to some and More Banking of Assets to me.
I'm headed to the top of the corporate ladder with my MBA in one hand and my Gucci briefcase in the other as I take no prisoners and accept no shorts. I'm going to be part of the next wave of African-American women bursting through the glass ceiling. My name will be on Fortune magazine's Fifty Most Powerful Black Executives. Black Enterprise magazine will do a spotlight on me and my rise to the top. I ain't playing.
One thing I know about myself: if I set a goal I will reach it. Anyone not with my program can either ride with me or get run the fuck over. Period.
See, that ain't a part of my program.
"Roll over, baby," he moaned against my neck as his hand rose again to claim my breast. Neither my body, mind, nor spirit was in the mood.
See, money is power, and right now Rah was thinking-whether he said it or not-that he was the money man in the relationship, so he could get this pussy whenever he wanted.
He thought wrong.
I turned on my back and looked up into his fine face with "the look"-a mix of faked sadness and regret that gets 'em every time. Trust. "Baby, I wish I had time, but I'm running late and I have a big test today that I can't miss," I lied with ease. "You know I get sleepy after sex."
Rah pulled me atop him and slapped my ass with a quick kiss to my cheek. "Get goin' 'fore I change my mind."
I felt like a prisoner who got a "get out of jail free" card. I didn't hesitate to roll out of bed and dash into the bathroom.
I literally jumped back at my reflection in the mirror. I looked like a cross between Don King and a raccoon with my thick shoulder-length hair all tangled and sticking up over my head. There were telling circles under my red-rimmed eyes that didn't look good at all against my bronzed cinnamon complexion. Drool was dried on my face.
Too much partying. Too much drinking. Too much damn fun. And it showed big-time.
After a long hot shower, a facial, a few eye drops, and getting rid of the tangles in my hair with a ventilated brush, I felt a better. I could only shake my head at the condition of my hair. Even though I'd just been for my weekly appointment to the hairdresser yesterday, I would be on my cell at nine sharp making an appointment for later today. There's no way I'm sporting a dang-on ponytail all weekend.
Looking and dressing my best was important to me. See, my girls and I always made sure we stepped out of the house with our shit together from our hairdos to our Jimmy Choo shoes. This was a must.
All through high school and our entrance into early adulthood we were the popular ones. Other girls either hated us or wanted to be one of us. We kept our hair in the latest styles, and our gear was always the trend. We wore nothing but designer fashions: from the stonewashed Guess jeans and Timberlands of the nineties to Prada and Manolos in the new millennium.
Ever since our freshman year at University High there were always just the four of us. We looked out for one another. We had each other's back. There's an unbreakable trust between us built on ten years of friendship and sisterhood.
There's Latoya, Keesha, and Danielle, a.k.a. Moët, "Dom" Perignon, and Cristal. Dom came up with the nicknames one day back in 2000 while we were eating lunch in the caf. She got the idea from the late and great rapper Biggie Smalls' 1994 classic "Juicy." Those nicknames made us even more popular, and they've stuck ever since.
Six years later, although no one was really popping Dom as much, and Jay-Z had called for a boycott of Cristal because some bigwig had dissed hip-hop, we kept those names.
Oh, me? I'm Monica, but everyone except my parents calls me Alizé. No, I don't have a fancy champagne name like everyone else, but that's cool. Just like the drink, I'm the sweetest of the bunch anyway.
I didn't leave his bathroom until I wrapped a towel around my body because there was no need to tempt fate. I was too happy to open the door and find the bedroom empty. I heard him in the kitchen.
Good. He loved to catch me fresh from the shower or a bath and eat me out.
I grabbed my overnight bag and pulled out some fresh undergarments to hurry into. My cell phone rang. As I sprayed on the only perfume I wear-Happy, by Clinique-I picked my phone up and flipped it open, forgetting the mandatory check of my caller ID.
"Hey," I said in a little singsong fashion-my usual greeting.
"Whaddup, baby girl."
I felt my face wrinkle into a nasty frown as I recognized my ex's voice. I couldn't stand the sight, smell, or sound of Malik's sorry ass. This knucklehead tried to holler at Cristal behind my back.
That was a definite no-no.
Being the home girl Cristal was, she told me all about it ... after she slapped the hell out of him.
But that wasn't the first time Cris and I didn't let a boy cause drama between us.
It was 1999. Freshman year of high school. New school. New faces. New rules. New cliques.
And since I was the only one from my elementary school to get accepted into University High, that meant new friends, but I had no worries.
I was looking good in the latest Parasuco gear. My bob was laid out, and my gold jewelry was in place. My pocketbook and bookbag were Gucci. My parents were real good to me. Being the only child had its benefits.
All eyes were on me as soon as I walked into my homeroom. The various conversations buzzing around the room lulled. A few of the boys whistled or shot me their "let me holla at you" smile. I went right into spin control and threw on a smile like I had the world in the palm of my hand. A few people smiled in return. A couple of girls immediately bent together, and I felt like they were talking about me.
There was an empty seat next to a tall, slender girl with skin the color of shortbread cookies. She was busy flirting back with a slender dark-skinned kid with long, asymmetrical braids and a big Kool-Aid smile. I made my way past the rows of students in chairs with attached desks, speaking to every last person I made eye contact with.
"Whassup," I said to Shortbread and Braids as I set my things on the long bookshelf behind us.
Braids looked at me from the tip of my fresh white Nikes to my eyes, not missing anything in between. There was no denying the interested look in his deep-set hazel eyes as he turned in his chair to face me and turn his back to Shortbread. "Better yet, shorty, how you doin'?"
I saw the disappointment on Shortbread's face, and even though he was as fine as Tyrese, I wasn't looking for drama this early in the school year. "I'll be doin' even better when you go back in her face and out of mine."
His pretty-boy face fell, and I knew lover boy was shocked that all his deliciousness rolled off my back like water.
Shortbread laughed, holding her hand over her mouth. "No need him turning this way again," she said with attitude.
"Oh, so both y'all gone play me?" he asked, straight white and even teeth flashing.
We both looked at him like "Negro, please."
He sucked his teeth, waved his hand, and turned to a dark-skinned cutie sitting in front of him.
Shortbread and I looked at each other, gave each other some dap, and then laughed at how we shut down his wanna-be playa ass.
We've been inseparable ever since, and we've always been loyal to each other.
Too bad Malik's dumb ass didn't know that.
"What you want?" I snapped, my eyes flashing as I focused my attention back on him. "No! As a matter of fact, who gives a shit?"
I slammed the phone closed, immediately dismissing that clown. True, his money had been good and he had been free-giving with it, but bump that, I don't need a no-good Negro trying to play me with one of my girls. When it comes to shit like that, I'm like Aretha: give me my R-E-S-P-E-C-T, understand?
Besides, I've moved on to bigger and better things. Malik didn't have nothing on Rah.
Once a big-time drug dealer, Rah had pooled his money and bought businesses that let him get out of the game before the game got him.
Okay, Malik can throw down a thousand times better in bed, but R-E-S-P-E-C-T, remember?
It's not like I ever loved Malik or even Rah for that matter. Shit, I've never been in love and that's fine by me. Love's nothing but a bunch of bullshit. What I wanted from men, I got: money, nights out on the town, shopping sprees, and companionship when I wanted it.
True, Cristal was always hounding me about my need for "thug love," but I liked me a roughneck. Timbs and "wifebeaters" turned me on more than suits and ties. A hard brotha with that swagger and an "I don't give a fuck" attitude made me wet while those whitewashed brothas (from the same corporate world I yearned to be a part of) made me laugh.
I can't explain it. I just liked what I liked.
Rah walked into the bedroom naked as the day he was born and smoking a blunt as thick as three fingers. I was glad my ass was already dressed.
A little shopping excursion would be good, but putting up with him and his minute-man sex wasn't on my agenda for the day.
He held the blunt between his straight and even teeth as he climbed back into bed. "What time you get out of class?"
"I have classes all day and my dance class tonight. Did you need something?"
"Naw, I'm straight. I'll be at the new store all day," he said, reaching for the remote to turn on the sixty-one-inch flat screen on the wall.
"Wish me luck on my test," I said, moving to the bedroom door.
"Good luck." He exhaled a thick silver cloud from his pursed lips. "Love you, baby girl."
"And I love you, too," I said without pause.
Another lie. Maybe the biggest of them all.
Chapter Two"Hello, how are you doing? I am Cristal."
"Good morning, Platinum Records, please hold."
I used a clear-coated half-inch fingernail to push down the small button marked HOLD on the multiline phone system. I slanted my hazel cat-shaped eyes up to the brotha who stood before my desk with a cocky "you know you want me" pose.
He was Bones. The label's newest rap artist whose self-titled debut album just went platinum. The fool actually looked like one of those guys in a prison photo still trying to be down like they were in a club and not in jail. Hands on hips, legs apart, chin tilted up like "What?"
Oh, he was nice-looking in a roughneck, corner thug sort of way, but unlike my less discriminating best friends, I do not go for the allure of a thug. Baggy blue jeans, untied Timbs, and a white T-shirt (which I refuse to call a wifebeater) do not make my panties moist. Now, do not get me wrong, I appreciate a man with an urban attitude, but I want it mixed with a little of the sophistication I read about in magazines and see in those old black-and-white movies I love so much. Tailored suits and ties. Culture-filled dates. Legal income. Stability.
So this man/child standing before me trying to look and dress like he was mad at the world was definitely not my type.
"Can I help you?" I asked in a friendly manner, forcing a smile to my round, pretty face.
"Damn, lovely, how you doin'?" he asked, his grave voice full of that unmistakable East Coast accent.
"Fine, and yourself?" I answered.
Working as the sole receptionist for one of the hottest Black-owned record companies-and looking as good as I do with redbone appeal-I was pushed up on by many of the male artists and members of their entourages. Thus, looking up at Bones as he gave me a toothy grin did not send my senses reeling like he obviously thought it would.
Back when I first started working here, I got a little star struck at times, but now ... humph, now I make them feel they should be just as honored to meet me as I am supposed to be about meeting them. Okay? All right.
I learned early and often in the game not to outright offend these thugs. They were quicker than a fly to shit to call you a bitch or a whore, and then turn around and tell you, "You ain't all that anyway."
Now, my girl Dom does not give a damn. If she does not want to speak, there is not a soul alive that can make her. Alizé is like me and just plays it nicely. And Moët? Well, she has the kind of innate sweet charm that can soothe a savage beast. Men want to care for her, when in fact she has the smarts and the strengths to take care of herself if she wants.
Yes, I loved my friends, but I was woman enough to admit that I envied them. They all had families. Even Dom had Diane, who was not much of a mother, but she beat a blank. And Alizé and Moët had futures ahead of them. Both were graduating college this year, and I could only wish I could have afforded to go.
I grew up an orphan. I had no family. I have never been in love. I could not afford college. I was barely making ends meet to pay the rent on my one-bedroom apartment in The Top, a luxury apartment complex just outside of the Livingston suburbs.
Struggle as I might, I was not downgrading. My next step out of The Top would be into even more luxurious surroundings.
I outgrew the ghetto. Newark was no longer my home. I did not even claim it. In my opinion, why should I? Sure the girls always gave me a hard time about my feelings, or rather lack of them, for my hometown. It had not been good to me, so why should I be good to it. Okay? All right.
"Go right on up. Mr. Linx is on his way into the office," I told Bones, finally directing my attention back to the man/child standing before me. I quickly but smoothly moved my hand as he reached for it.
Bones just smiled. "Later, shorty," he hollered over his shoulder as he walked toward the elevator with his entourage in tow.
I waved and ducked my head, not wanting to make any contact that suggested that I was eager for that later. I did not release the breath I was holding until he and his associates gathered noisily onto the elevator. The chrome doors closed, and they were gone from my view.
More of the phone lines lighted up. I put three on hold and answered the earlier call. "Platinum Rec-"
Excerpted from LIVE and LEARN by NIOBIA BRYANT Copyright © 2007 by Niobia Bryant. Excerpted by permission.
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