Read an Excerpt
"Hey, girl! It's good to see you."
Chloe was in midstride to shake hands with the gregarious petite young woman who greeted her but was never given the chance. Kyra Dixon ignored her outstretched hand and, instead, reached out her arms. She was expecting a hug that Chloe found herself obliged to give.
"Oh okay. Hi," Chloe managed awkwardly, as she hugged Kyra back and found herself engulfed in the whiff of floral perfume.
Kyra laughed. "You forgot the Hollington Hello? What's this shaking hands stuff? I want some sugar, girl."
Chloe tried to glance around the other guests having lunch in the faculty dining room and was relieved to see that no one was paying attention to this dramatic greeting. Not at all used to this from someone she hadn't seen in ten years, Chloe nonetheless gave in and followed Kyra's lead. Even as she would have withdrawn after they touched cheek to cheek and air-kissed, Chloe found Kyra's hello more suited to a favorite girlfriend or a beloved relative. They had not really been friends as undergraduates and certainly hadn't moved in the same circles.
With a gentle push Kyra directed Chloe to the empty chair opposite her at the large square table. Chloe settled herself in the comfortable high-back chair and, in the thirty seconds it took Kyra to take her own seat again, she closely observed the other woman.
Kyra was dressed in an eye-catching broad floral-print black-and-red silk blouse, worn with a black skirt. She wore black two-inch heels, probably in the hope that they would add height to her petite frame. She managed to look professional, feminine and cheerful. Her hair was worn straight to chin level and was parted off center so that it curved gently to frame her pretty face. As if on cue Kyra was making her own observations of Chloe.
"Your hair used to be short."
Chloe sat back and spread her napkin over her lap.
"Actually, I wore it mostly cornrowed. It was easier to take care of and cost less than going to the beauty parlor every two weeks. I stopped wearing the cornrows when I got my first job. I wanted to look"
"More mainstream." Kyra nodded, knowingly. She eyed Chloe thoughtfully. "Is it all yours or a weave?"
"Mine," Chloe said with a small, satisfied smile. "Every strand."
"I know what you're thinking." Kyra sighed, settling back in her chair that seemed to swallow her small frame. She crossed her legs. "We're still putting ourselves through hoops to be taken seriously in business. I can tell you I would not be PR director if I appeared Afrocentric. Hollington has a different message to send out about its students."
"So did I. For myself," Chloe said.
"I hear you. So when I was told that the Alumni Association had asked you to organize the homecoming this fall, I said Chloe who?" Kyra remarked, chuckling at her own humor. "It took a while before I could recall you. Then I remembered you and I were tortured together in that African dance class with that professor who was eighty if she was a day!"
Kyra broke out in a merry giggle, making it impossible for Chloe to take offense. To her Kyra's observation was proof that she'd done a good job of staying under the radar as an undergraduate. Chloe knew she had good reasons to be cautious, but Kyra didn't need to know what they were.
Anyway, she remembered Kyra from the aforementioned dance class but only because Kyra had been terrible at the ritual movements that called for a looseness of limbs and gyration of hips and butt. Instead, Kyra treated the class lightly, becoming the loveable uncoordinated participant who broke into laughter at her own mistakes and was accused of not having any natural rhythm. Crossing her legs and straightening the hem of her summer linen dress, Chloe also recalled that at first she'd thought Kyra was silly. But she'd come to admire that, rather than take a two-point elective class too seriously, Kyra had set about simply having fun and probably enjoying herself more than anyone. And she passed the class.
"It was either that dance class or the history of textiles," Chloe contributed to the memory.
"Right!" Kyra nodded, rolling her eyes. "I figured with the dancing maybe I'd get into my African roots. Forget that!" she said with a dismissive wave of her hand, giggling again.
Having been presented with the single-paged menu for the day, both Chloe and Kyra selected the grilled salmon with julienne carrots and saffron rice.
Chloe's assumption of a straightforward business meeting with Kyra had to be revisited as her former Hol-lington College classmate proceeded to treat her like a long-lost friend, gossiping about other classmates, school scandals and changes in college policies.
"I was also surprised to hear from you," Chloe said. "I didn't know you'd been hired by Hollington. How long have you been here?"
Kyra sighed as their moment of levity faded away. "Six years. I was just another assistant before they made me PR director. Let me tell you, it feels so strange to be back here and not have to worry about term papers and grades. As an administrator I have a whole 'nother perspective," she said wryly. "Remember how much we held the faculty and staff with suspicion? They were all, 'the other.' Now I'm one of them."
Chloe remembered no such thingonly how grateful she was to have been chosen to attend Hollington on a full scholarship. She hadn't treated any of those four years lightly.
"That's fine. You can see and appreciate both sides."
"That's true, but it's an interesting balancing act. I totally empathize with the students, having survived myself as one here at Hollington. But I also understand the responsibility from the college point of view. And there are other memories." Kyra shrugged.
Chloe watched Kyra, the girlish giggling replaced by an articulate but animated and attractive young woman.
"So, what is it you do, exactly?"
"I advocate for the college. I look for ways, and people, to keep up our reputation and profile as a contender in the higher academic community, especially for African-American students. I work to get us good press and try to find high schools with the caliber of student who'd be a good fit for Hollington."
Their lunch was served, and both women busied themselves with enjoying it. Finally, after more light conversation and as they were finishing, Kyra sat back in her chair. Her expression became thoughtful, her voice quiet.
"Remember Terrence Franklin?"
Chloe considered a moment. "I think so. Hot athlete, right? Very popular. I think he's a pro football player."
"Was," Kyra corrected. "He got cut after his last serious injury. Messed up his knee. The boy is out of the game," she ended flippantly.
"Oh," Chloe said. She wasn't a football fan, herself.
"Anyway, Hollington would like to have him come back to the college. We want to offer Terrence the position of head coach or even athletic director. It's my job to try and sign him up. It's not going to be easy," she said, frowning slightly.
"Oh lots of reasons. Money and title and benefits. Let's face it. Being a coach at a college is a huge step down from being watched by zillions of fans on Monday Night Football. Terrence and I we have a history."
"Oh," Chloe said again. She didn't know anything about that, either.
"Yeah " She paused. "We were engaged when we were students. So, it could get complicated."
"Maybe not. Who knows? Terrence may be looking for something stable and comfortable now that his pro career is over."
Kyra quickly revived herself and smiled brightly. "Not your problem. And that's not why I wanted to meet with you today. I wanted to talk about the homecoming. You do realize it's also the tenth anniversary of our graduation in 1999?"
"Yes, I know," Chloe said, absently watching their plates being removed. She declined the dessert menu. "That's one of the reasons why I agreed to take it on. You know, I own and manage an event planning business. I've been thinking a lot about October."
"Well, I hope you haven't just been thinking about it. It's already July, and homecoming is on the calendar for the second weekend of October. That's three months."
Chloe smiled confidently. "I'm on it. The weekend schedule is pretty much set. The invitations went out in June."
"I saw it. Fabulous! You used the school colors very well. The invitation looked classy but fun. I like that the Hollington Lion mascot is silhouetted on the front, with a crown tilted at an angle on his head. He looks large and in charge." She laughed and said, "The varsity guys will appreciate that."
"We're already starting to get registration RSVPs. I think it's up to about two hundred."
"Good. Now, what do you have in mind for Friday night?"
"Well, I thought there should be a private cocktail party for the elite alumni who are big contributors to the college. You know the president can tell themhow important and wonderful they are. I've invited the trustees."
"Make sure you have Lucius Gray on the list. He's an alumni and a very successful attorney in Atlanta. Also Beverly Clark. Her mother and a cousin graduated Hollington."
"I'm glad you mentioned Beverly. You know she was homecoming queen in 1998, the fall before we graduated, and I want her to ride in the parade float on Sunday again as homecoming queen. I'm having trouble reaching her. She hasn't returned any of my e-mails or phone calls."
Kyra pursed her lips. "Don't worry about it. I'll talk to Beverly. She and I were best friends in college. We were in the same sorority." Kyra glanced briefly at her. "What sorority were you in?"
Chloe was not about to admit to the embarrassment and rejection she'd experienced when she hadn't been asked to pledge by any of the sororities. With her limited resources, cheap clothes and troubled background, it was probably just as well. The less anyone knew about her the better.
"Oh, I didn't bother," Chloe said, trying to appear a little indifferent. "I didn't have time. I worked several part-time jobs. I was on scholarship so I had to keep up good grades." She chuckled lightly, to cover that encroaching reminder that she didn't fit in and never really belonged.
"Oh, but you were valedictorian at graduation, right? So it all paid off."
"Yes. It all paid off," Chloe reflected quietly.
Kyra signed for their lunch, and they left the small elegantly appointed room and headed back to her office. It was in one of the newer administration buildings along the south side of the college quad. On their walk back Kyra pointed out to Chloe other changes to the campus. Chloe admitted that since graduating she'd only been back on campus a few times. Kyra talked about the new stadium and science building with state-of-the-art labs and equipment. There was also restoration taking place on one of the original buildings, designed in the style of Stanford White.
As Kyra accepted messages from her assistant and walked into her office, she went back to the subject of the first night of homecoming weekend.
"Okay, so I know about the Friday reception with President Morrow. What about everybody else that night?"
"A meet and greet in the library gallery followed by Night Owl chats. I'm setting up rooms for many of the special interest clubs or groups so people can easily find classmates who had similar interests. Like, one for the sports jocks, one for the humanities. You know, art and creative writing students, music majors. And one for gays and lesbians"
"Whoa. I don't know about that last one. Just acknowledging them didn't fly with the trustees last year," Kyra warned.
"Well, I'll have to remind them and the president that a very well-known gay journalist who graduated from Hollington with top honors and has a flourishing career gives to the college. He's going to be at the Friday night party. We can't leave him out or make him invisible." Kyra continued to look skeptical and raised her brows. "Don't worry. It'll happen," Chloe said confidently.
"If you say so. Now," Kyra said, getting comfortable in her desk chair, scooting closer to the desk and staring at Chloe with an almost-childlike excitement, "what about the big dance on Saturday after the game? Have you found a place for that yet?"
"I'm considering several"
"Don't need to. Book Bollito."
Chloe felt an odd little flutter in her chest at the mention of one of the hottest clubs in Atlanta. Housed in what appeared to be an industrial box that was formerly a manufacturing warehouse, the club had opened to rave reviews just a few years earlier.
"I know you've been there. Everybody within a hundred miles of Atlanta has come in for dinner and dancing. It's a huge club space, but you don't get that feeling. There are five full floors and each floor has its own kind of decor and music. The concept is brilliant, but that's Kevin for you. He always comes up with the big ideas. You have to talk with him and get him to agree to use Bollito for the Saturday night dance. It's perfect."
Chloe was glad that Kyra had so much to say about Kevin Stayton's club in downtown Atlanta. It gave her enough time to gather her wits and come up with a response. Of course Bollito was a great choice of venues. She didn't object to that. She was having an adolescentlike moment at the thought of dealing with Kevin. And it wasn't like they'd known each other as students. But their few encounters together had been profound. Simple and as brief as the moments had been, Chloe realized that she had lived with the memories of those moments for ten years.
"Like I was about to say, it's on the list"
"No, no, no, no " Kyra said repeatedly, shaking her head and dismissing Chloe's explanations. "That was not a suggestion, Chloe. You have to book Bollito. Think about what it's going to be like to have it listed on the program. Think about the press. Bollito is way hot right now. It's impossible to book it for private functions, but Kevin is one of us. A ninety-niner!"
Chloe found herself laughing at Kyra's enthusiasm and logic. The truth of the matter was, Bollito would be perfect. But Bollito was not the problem.
"If it makes you feel better, I'm working on a proposal to send to Kevin."
"You need to talk to Kevin. I can't imagine him saying no. He better not." Kyra brightened suddenly. "You know what? I'm going to call him right now and set it up."
Despite Kyra's small size it was clear to Chloe that Hollington had chosen well in making her the director of PR. She had exactly what the job needed. Not taking no for an answer but with charm and good humor.
"Hi. This is Kyra Dixon. I'm PR director for Hollington College."
Chloe stared down at her hands, feigning indifference but listening to every word of the one-way conversation.
"Is Kevin available? Oh Will he be back soon? You're not sure."