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The Next Best Thing
By Deidre Berry
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One What happened? Well, before I get to that, let me digress for a moment to say that besides the category-four wind/rainstorm that raged outside the church that day, everything on the inside really was beautiful and fairytale-like. Exactly one hour and thirty-three minutes after the ceremony was to begin, now, that is when things got ugly.
Upstairs in the bridal room overlooking the sanctuary, my bridesmaids and I were all dolled up and ready to go. Counting various relatives, there were almost a dozen people in the room, all of them with big mouths and big personalities to match, but it was so uncharacteristically quiet, that the silence shook me to my core.
No one knew what to say or do, given the circumstances.
"Call him again," I told Nadia, taking deep breaths in an effort to keep from hyperventilating.
"Okay, I'll give it another shot ..." Nadia sighed, simultaneously exchanging a worried look with Simone.
Nadia had been trying to reach Roland for me for hours, which was inexcusable. The man has two cell phones, and our calls kept going straight to voice mail on both of them.
Since there was nothing else to do but wait, I watched through the one-way glass overlooking the sanctuary, hoping that Roland would come dashing into the church at any minute, apologizing profusely, and anxious to get the show on the road.
Instead, what I saw happening down below were three hundred guests who were all starting to fidget, check their watches, and whisper among themselves.
Daddy paced back and forth in the vestibule with a pissed-off scowl on his face.
Roland's friends, and the rest of his family, were all in attendance, some of them looking just as confused as I felt.
Sophie, my boss, was there, as were a great number of my co-workers and business associates.
Seated on the front pew, my brother Junior kept repeatedly cracking his knuckles, looking as if he were seriously contemplating Roland's homicide. Seated right next to Junior, Aunt Rita was trying her best to comfort my mother while she cried and carried on as if she were at a funeral, instead of what was supposed to be a wedding.
Roland's mother, on the other hand, was obviously thrilled that things were turning out as they were. Mrs. Davis was smiling from ear to ear, looking like she was enjoying herself so much that the only thing missing was the popcorn.
Old, nappy-wig-wearing hussy.
Always up in the middle of our business, giving her opinion whether anyone asked for it or not. I knew going in that Roland was a mama's boy to the tenth power, but I didn't appreciate the fact that this woman knew intimate details about me that no man's mother should ever know. Like how often we had sex versus how many more times a week Roland would prefer to have sex.
You know, stuff he should be discussing with me instead of his mama.
At that point, I was starting to get a clear vision of what the society section in the Kansas City Tribune would say the following week:
You really should have been there. It was all so beautiful and fairytale-like ... Well, up until the runaway groom texted the anxious bride to say, "Oh, by the way, I won't be showing up for that little shindig you had planned for today. See ya when I see ya, peace!"
Those weren't Roland's exact words, but it was pretty much the gist of it. Actually, his text message read:
I love you, but I am in love with Veronica. The two of us have been involved off-and-on since long before you even entered the picture. You should also know that Imani is my daughter. Sorry to let you know this way. I'll come over to pack my things once we get back from Aruba. Good luck with everything ... And Tori, I really am sorry.
Yeah, you're a sorry sonofabitch, all right.
You see, the Veronica that Roland referred to in his text, is his so-called "platonic friend."
The one who was supposedly like a sister to him.
The very same Jiminy Cricket-looking heifer that has had her bony behind up in my home on many occasions. Always smiling in my face, eating my food, and taking full advantage of my kindness and hospitality.
Women who are secure within themselves and their relationship are not intimidated by their man having female friends.
That is the line of bullshit Roland spoon-fed me every time I voiced a concern about the undeniably strong bond he shared with Veronica.
Of course, I was skeptical at first. What woman wouldn't be? But over time, I bought into it. I drank the Kool-Aid. I eventually stopped asking questions and let the issue slide, because I wanted to impress my man by doing the evolved-grownup thing.
What a damned fool. Especially when I think of the numerous double dates and vacations all of us went on together over the years. And on top of all of that, Imani is Roland's daughter?
Wow. How far in the sand did I have my head buried, not to have realized on my own, that that cute little chocolate-drop had Roland's DNA stamped all over her? Same dark eyes, same complexion, and the same lopsided, mischievous smile.
Oh God ...
My cell phone slipped from my hand and clattered to the floor, as the room suddenly started spinning out of control. I got so nauseous, I just knew I was going to hurl right down the front of my wedding gown.
It didn't help that Yvette had practically taken a bath in Sand & Sable perfume, and with her hovering over me the way she was, the sickeningly sweet smell hit me right in the stomach.
That's when my body went numb; like all the blood was draining right out of me.
I have never fainted before in my life, but I'm here to tell you, there's a first time for everything. When I came to, my head was in Mama's lap, and she was patting my face with a cold, damp handkerchief.
"You okay, baby?" my mother asked softly, concern etched into her usually wrinkle-free face.
My mouth was so dry all I could do was nod dumbly like some kind of shell-shocked mute. Still a little groggy, I managed to stand up, make it over to that little one-way window, and I swear, I almost passed out again when I saw all the destruction down in the sanctuary.
Apparently, there had been the equivalent of a full-blown riot while I was unconscious, because the canopy of red roses and sweet-pea blossoms had been knocked over, and was in complete ruins. Ripped clothing, wigs, torn gardenias, earrings, weave tracks, and even broken musical instruments were scattered all over the place. I was to find out later what that was all about, but in the meantime, Aunt Vera offered me a sip of Crown Royal from her flask, and said, "It's alright, sugar. Better to happen now, than to have to drag his monkey-ass into divorce court later on."
Chapter Two By the time I left the church, the storm had passed, and the sun had the nerve to be shining as if a high-voltage storm had never even occurred that day.
The parking lot outside of Mount Zion looked like a ghost town. The only person left was the limo driver, who looked genuinely sympathetic, and nodded solemnly when I told him to take me back to my condo, alone.
"Being alone is the last thing you need right now," Simone, Nadia, Yvette, and my parents insisted all at once.
"Just give me a couple of hours to think, okay?" I said. "After that, I'll be fine, and you guys can come over and whatever-But for right now, I need solitude."
I climbed into the back of the Maybach, which was decorated with gold streamers and had Just Married written across the back window. Everyone stepped back and watched the limo take me in the opposite direction of where we all should have been going, which was to the Roseville Country Club Mansion.
"I should have known ... I should have known ... I should have fucking known!" I screamed aloud in frustration, not giving a damn that the limo driver was staring at me via the rearview mirror.
The truth is, I did know. Not all the sordid details of who, what, when, and where, but I knew for sure that something, somewhere, was not one-hundred-percent right. I knew, because my woman's intuition pointed out months ago that the closer the wedding date drew near, the more distant Roland became. At the time, I confided in Simone, who suggested that Roland and I attend couples counseling with her life coach, Fatima.
I decided against it. Instead, I chalked Roland's behavior up to pre-wedding jitters, and reminded myself that the wedding express had left the station a long time ago. Honest, open discussions at that point might have led down a road I didn't want to travel.
No. We were fine. Everything was already in place. Dozens of guests were flying in from all over the country, and vast sums of money had already been spent.
Of course, now I realize that it would have saved me a whole lot of time, money, and embarrassment if I had had the courage to dig deeper, ask questions, and call the damn wedding off if I didn't like the answers I was getting.
In retrospect, there were dozens of red flags begging me to notice them, but there were four in particular I really should have paid attention to.
Red Flag #1
Roland took no interest whatsoever in planning the wedding. Whenever I would ask his opinion on anything, his response was always the same: You're used to making those types of decisions, so you make the call. Or, I don't care, baby. Whatever you want. It's your day. Just tell me when and where.
Red Flag #2
It seemed like Roland was always on-call for Veronica. He would drop everything to rush over and comfort her whenever she was going through some personal crisis. That happened a lot.
Red Flag #3
Marriage is a lifetime commitment, are you sure you're ready? Is this what you really want? That was Veronica. Every time I turned around she was all up in my face trying to talk me out of marrying Roland. Plus, I had asked her to be one of my bridesmaids but she declined, giving me flimsy excuses about her finances, and work schedule, and a bunch of other bullshit.
Red Flag #4
Under the impression that Roland and I were meeting with his attorney in order to create wills and living trusts, I was instead presented by Mr. Mahoney with a meticulously detailed prenuptial agreement that was eighteen pages long. At least.
I was completely baffled. Here we were, less than a month before the big day, and instead of focusing on our wedding Roland was more interested in planning our divorce.
This is not being done to hurt you, Ms. Carter, Mahoney had said, reading my expression and sensing my hesitation. Mr. Davis only wants to protect his assets.
My blood was boiling, and the devil kept urging me to step out of my snakeskin Sergio Rossi pumps and kick Roland's assets all over the offices of Jackson, Mahoney, and Brown.
But I remained calm, reminding myself once again that too much had been invested and it was too late to back out now. I swallowed my pride, signed by all the Xs, then headed off for an appointment with the florist.
Knowing what I know now, it clearly was all a ploy. Roland was relying on me being so upset about the prenup that I would call everything off, giving him the out that he wanted. When that didn't happen, he took the coward's way out, and just failed to show up. Either way, he never intended to marry me.
Back at home, the first thing I did was remove my veil and tiara. I took off my wedding dress, placed it back into its garment bag, and hung it in the back of my bedroom closet.
Jackie, my stylist, had put in a lot of time and effort to make sure my wedding hair was beautiful, and that it would last all day, but I went into the bathroom and snatched out every one of those damn bobby pins that had been digging mercilessly into my scalp. I brushed my hair into a neat chignon and changed into a comfortable pair of yellow Baby Phat sweats.
I was removing the pearls from around my neck, when I caught a glimpse of myself in the dresser mirror.
Inwardly I was devastated, but on the outside, it was still the same old Tori. Same dark brown skin as my daddy, same light brown, almond shaped eyes as my mama. Still a size twelve with shoulder-length sandy-brown hair.
However, the smile. Now that was different. Some might even call it peculiar, considering the circumstances.
What the mirror reflected back to me was a huge, showing-all-thirty-two-teeth smile that I didn't even realize I was wearing. Try as I might, I could not wipe that thing off to save my life.
Probably because I knew subconsciously that the smile was the coat of armor I needed in order to keep everyone from knowing what I was really feeling.
Company was on its way-lots of it. So even though it felt like my heart had been ripped out and stomped on with cleats, the smile stayed put.
It had to.
I dialed Roland's cell-phone number, and when the call went straight to voice mail yet again, I went ahead and left a message using my most cheerful, upbeat voice.
"Roland, this is Tori. I sincerely hope you and that cockeyed heifer die in a plane crash and roast in hell, which is where you both belong. There is no need for you to ever come back to the condo, because UPS will be delivering all of your shit to your mother's house, just as soon as I can get them over here to pick it up. Good-bye."
I hung up the phone, rolled my sleeves up and went out into the living room, where I opened up the towering cherry-oak entertainment cabinet filled with all the state-of-the-art electronics that Roland just had to have.
His ass may be getting up out of here, but this bad-boy is definitely staying. Hell, it's the least that I deserve.
I loaded up the fifty-disc CD player with all of the usual suspects, including Aretha, Chaka, India, Anita, Luther, Sade, Maxwell, Mary J., Floetry, and Jill.
Leela James came on first, singing "My Joy," and my smile automatically got even wider because that song suited the situation so perfectly.
"Sing, girl!" I shouted at Leela, feeling a sense of empowerment.
Never again will I blindly put all of my faith and trust in another individual. I believed in everything that man said, and everything he stood for. So much so, that I often found myself deferring to him on even the smallest of decisions. What to eat, what to wear, and how I should feel about myself on any given day. That part is not Roland's fault. I take full responsibility for my stupidity in that area, but from here on out, no man will ever have that much power and input.
Not only that, but there is no man on earth who will ever be able to convince me that his friendship with another female is strictly platonic. Nope. Never again will a man have that much control over "My Joy."
I called Colin, my caterer, and instructed him to shuttle all the food from the reception site, over to my home.
There might not have been a marriage to celebrate, but damn it, nothing could stop me from having a good, old-fashioned packing party! I called my mother and told her to put the word out for everyone to come on over, then I started in the bedroom. It was surprisingly cathartic to rake my arm across the dresser, sending all of Roland's cologne, jewelry, and other miscellaneous bullshit crashing into a cardboard box. What I did not expect to find among the miscellaneous items was the bridal ring set that Roland had bought me. It was still encased in its little black velvet box. And seeing that he had left them here, spoke volumes.
It was all so crystal clear now. The only part I had no answer for was why Roland even asked me to marry him in the first place. After all, he had been doing a good job of having his cake and eating it too for all these years.
I placed the ring box with the rest of my jewelry, and then got down to the business of exorcising Roland's personal belongings out of my condo. Socks, drawers, designer suits, sketches, blueprints, awards, college diplomas-everything had to go.
It was a monumental task, but three hours after leaving the church my place was crammed with family, who had come to help me with the packing; and none of us was being careful with the items that were just as fragile as they were valuable.
Excerpted from The Next Best Thing by Deidre Berry Copyright © 2009 by Deidre Berry. Excerpted by permission.
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