Read an Excerpt
Hut, hut, hut.” The quarterback seized the snap and stretched his arm backward, winding up for a throw. He fired the ball right into the arms of Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver, Tony T. Hatcher. Tony cradled the ball and mustered all the speed and power in his six-foot-five, muscular physique to sprint across the goal line. When Tony stopped running, the head coach blew his whistle. All the players broke their positions, allowing waves of sweat to run down their sculpted chests and defined biceps.
The coach hurled his roll of papers to the ground.
“What are y’all doing? If we practice like this, we’ll play like this during the season. Now, pick it up!” the coach shouted. The players trudged back to their line of scrimmage to practice the drive again.
Unlike the spectators perched on the bleachers, Monica Hatcher stood on the sidelines trying to play the supportive wife, but the sweat threatening to escape from her pores made it difficult to concentrate. As she watched her husband practice, she kept lapsing into daydreams of relaxing near the pool with a glass of iced tea at her side. That’s where she preferred to spend the day.
Instead, she stood tall, hastily pulling her long, black ponytail behind her shoulders. Tony loved her manufactured mane but she yearned for her cropped haircut. She vowed to return to her signature tresses, at least while the heat index topped out at 102 degrees. In the meantime, she obliged her husband with her hair and her presence at the field. Monica figured this would stop him from complaining. Lately, he had harsh words for her absence at his practices. Tony claimed she was acting like a fair-weather fan because his team had a rough season last year.
While she would admit she wasn’t attending like she did when he had first entered the NFL, it had nothing to do with the team’s record. It was that practice, home games, and away games got old after eight years. She’d grown tired of feigning fulfillment in the NFL life. She was also tired of moving, tired of politicking and tired of smiling big for the cameras. She wanted to focus on activities more important to her, like planning the dinner for The Hatcher Scholarship Foundation.
The coach blew his whistle for the last time. The players broke their positions as if they’d been carrying a ton of bricks they were waiting to drop. Tony jogged over to Monica, wiping the sweat off his tanned forehead. “Hey. Where the kids at?” Tony asked, out of breath.
“They’re with Marianna. I would never bring them out here. Too much open space for them to run or disappear, and I’m not running them down in this heat. Do you want your son running beside you on the field?” Monica asked.
Tony jerked his head back and frowned. “No.”
Between the look on Tony’s face and the looks from nearby players, Monica guessed she was a little too forceful in her response.
One player walked by, appearing to scowl at her. Self-conscious, Monica glanced around, while smoothing out the wrinkles in her sleeveless dress. She thought about how another passerby might view her as a bourgeois witch, but she really wasn’t that way. She didn’t consider herself a shallow, irresponsible woman—the type who let her “help” raise her children because she was too busy shopping and partying. She did, however, believe in using nannies and cooks to help her out. But even with the extra help, her family was still priority number one for her; the children knew they could count on mommy.
A tiny bit embarrassed at her own behavior, Monica dropped her head and sighed. “I’m sorry. It’s so hot out here. I think my brain is sweating.”
“Well, it is spring and we are in Florida,” Tony said sarcastically. “If you got a problem with the heat, why did you come here?”
“I came out here to support you.”
“And you’re doing that by standing on the sidelines mean mugging?”
“I wasn’t aware I was supposed to be cheesing from ear to ear. You say I never come out. So, I’m out here.” Monica placed her hands on her hips.
Tony threw his head back and pushed his thumbs inside of his sleeveless shirt. “All I’m saying is don’t do me any favors.”
Monica squinted at him. She’d sacrificed not only her comfort, but her time to make him happy. He could have at least acted like he appreciated it. If she’d known he’d react this way, she would have stretched out at her pool, or better yet, she could have used the day to check out a couple of venues for the scholarship dinner in August.
Now that Monica thought about it, she didn’t know why she thought giving him what he wanted would make any difference. Nothing seemed to please him these days, especially since the season started. She knew the reasons behind his sour behavior—his smaller contract and unfocused teammates—but it was most disturbing that his attitude was rubbing off on her. Before she could address their growing discord, Tony turned toward the stadium exit.
“Where are you going?” Monica asked.
“I’m gonna shower, pick up the kids and take them to the park,” Tony said.
“Fine. I’m going to meet Dee and Stephanie for an early dinner,” Monica said.
Tony rolled his eyes.
“Don’t start, okay?” Monica asked. Tony didn’t care for Monica’s friends. They didn’t like him much either. She wasn’t sure how it started but she was getting real sick of playing referee.
Tony placed his hand on his chest, faking innocence. “I didn’t say anything. I’ll see you when you get home.”
Tony jogged off the field toward the locker room. When he passed two women sitting in the stands, he winked at them. They batted their eyes back and burst into giggles. The shorter one whispered to her friend, who howled in amusement.
The acid in Monica’s stomach bubbled over like a boiling pot of water. She didn’t attend Tony’s practice to see him flirt with other women. Before the end of the day, she planned to read him about his behavior. Annoyed, Monicawalked toward the exit, eyeing the two ogling women.
During the drive to meet her friends, Monica was still pretty hot with Tony. So much so she had to imagine the layout of the scholarship dinner to calm down. She envisioned an ice sculpture at the front entrance of the venue. Elegant crystal chandeliers in the dining area. Twenty-five tables with champagne tablecloths and floral centerpieces placed at the center. She’d present a plaque along with a $25,000 check for college to two eager high school students.
Thinking about the dinner instantly put Monica at ease. By the time she reached Henrietta’s Bistro, she caught herself smiling. When she entered the quaint restaurant, her friends, Deidre Wright and Stephanie Robinson, were already sitting at a booth. With the Tony incident twenty miles away, she decided to avoid bringing it up to her friends because she didn’t want to ruin the positive vibe. Besides, if given the chance, they’d only use the incident as ammunition against Tony’s character, which she did not feel like defending.
“Hello, ladies,” Monica said.
“Hey. What’s up?” Dee said, glancing up from her pocket mirror.
“Same ole, same ole. What’s up with you guys? Have you ordered yet?” Monica asked.
“Yeah, but here’s a menu,” Stephanie said, handing it to Monica.
Monica took the menu and glanced down at the choices, which included a special with collard greens, ham hocks and sweet potatoes. She shuddered to think she considered asking Henrietta to cater her dinner. Henrietta’s food was savory in a soul food sort of way but she couldn’t imagine serving collard greens and ham hocks to the bigwigs in August. She was going to ask these CEOs and politicians for hundreds of thousands of dollars. They had to take her seriously, and to do that, she needed to produce a high class event all the way—from the venue to the food. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll keep Henrietta in mind for future events, like a small birthday party. Once the waiter returned to their table, Monica ordered the four-vegetable special and a tea. The waiter took her menu and she shifted her attention back to her friends.
“So, which one of you broads is gonna help me plan my dinner?” Monica asked the two women sitting across from her.
Dee looked up from her mirror with her trademark “no, you didn’t” expression. She turned around to glance at people sitting at the tables behind her. “You must be talking to someone else because I know you ain’t talking to me like that.”
Deidre, or Dee to her friends, shifted her eyes back to her pocket mirror, while fixing her wavy weave with French-manicured
fingers. As a fashion stylist, Dee was so appearance obsessed that she wore pricey hair, refused to leave the house without MAC makeup and shopped every week. She even liked donning hazel contact lenses and fake eyelashes. They complemented her face, she said. Today, she was minus the lashes but she maintained her diva mode with the contacts.
“Since you’re so style-conscious, I thought you might be able to help me with the decoration,” Monica said with a wide smile.
“I do fashion. I don’t do confetti.”
“You’re still styling a room. When you think about it, there really isn’t any difference.”
“There is a difference and you know it. Now, I’m not gonna sit here and debate back and forward with you about decorations and fashions ’cuz I know nothing about the former. So, I sure hope you have something else to talk about.”
Sometimes she is so impossible, Monica thought. She turned to her other friend. “What about you?”
“I would, but I’m not really fashion conscious. I don’t even like those kinds of events. I mean, everybody gets all dressed up and acts like they’re better than you. It gets on my nerves,” Stephanie said, scrunching her round, baby face. The last rays of the setting sun shimmered over her cinnamon brown skin and long, curly hair, hinting to her Afro-Cuban lineage.
“You don’t have to be fashion conscious. You can just help me make some calls. Besides, this is a dinner for a nonprofit organization. Nobody’s supposed to be acting like they’re better than anybody.”
“You know those people aren’t gonna act right,” Dee said, peeking up from her mirror.
Monica shot Dee the evil eye for interrupting her volunteer campaign.
“I don’t know,” Stephanie said.
“You might meet some nice, rich men.”
“When do you need help?” Stephanie asked.
“Well, I could use some help tomorrow afternoon.”
“Oh, no. I have to get ready for the show. Natalie’s gonna get me back stage at the Jam Fest. I already told her I would go. I need to network for more video gigs. I’m gonna spend the whole day getting ready. Sorry.” Stephanie shrugged.
The waiter returned to the table with Dee’s pepper steak and Stephanie’s chicken fettuccine alfredo. Monica watched Stephanie divvy up the chicken chunks and sprinkle extra cheese over the pasta. It was amazing how much effort Stephanie put into the food on her plate, considering she didn’t like putting effort into anything else. Whenever Monica or Dee asked her to do something—if there was any real work involved—they could forget about her. It was like she was allergic to any type of exertion. She knew Stephanie wasn’t that sorry for ditching her on the dinner preparation but decided not to press the issue right then. These chicks are going to help me whether they know it or not.
“Sure. I’ll let you know when I need help with something else.” Monica tried her best to look dejected.
“How is the dinner going? Are you gonna use a deejay or an actual recording artist?” Dee asked, biting into a tender piece of steak.
“Well, since you don’t intend to help, you’re gonna have to wait and see like everybody else,” Monica said, smirking.
“That’s okay. It ain’t that important.” Dee rolled her eyes.
Monica shook her head. “Don’t you want to be a part of something meaningful?”
“I’m a part of many things that are meaningful. I just think it’s time for me to focus on me right now,” Dee said, reaching for the barbecue sauce.
“Dang, that sounds kinda selfish,” Stephanie said.
“Doesn’t it?” Monica asked.
“I don’t think so,” Dee said. “When I said I wanted to start a fashion magazine, did any of you heifers say, ‘Wow! Great, Dee! How can we help you out?’”
“We don’t know anything about creating a magazine,” Monica said.
“Monica, your degree is in mass communications. Even if you didn’t know, I could have used your media knowledge. I could have shown you what to do, just like you were willing to show us what you needed to plan your scholarship dinner but oh, no. Instead, I was greeted with cynicism.” Dee dropped her fork on her plate and crossed her arms.
“I wasn’t trying to be cynical. I thought you should know magazines are losing advertising money these days,” Stephanie explained.
“What did that have to do with me and my dreams?” Dee asked.
Monica raised her eyebrows and looked at Stephanie, who had a similar expression on her face. Within the past two years that they’d known each other, Dee had tried to “come up” so many times. There was the time she bought a lot of stock but ended up losing money because the companies closed or underperformed. Then, she bought real estate from a bank but lost that because she forgot to pay property taxes on it. Actually, she forgot about the property altogether. As expected, they had a hard time taking her next big thing seriously, but Dee’s passion for the fashion magazine surprised Monica.
The waiter walked up to the table with Monica’s special and laid it down gently in front of her. “Is there anything else I can get for you ladies?” he asked.
“No,” the women said in unison.
Monica returned her attention to Dee. “Look. I’m just concerned about your abrupt change in direction,” Monica said. “But I like seeing you serious about something. So, I guess that’s why I need to be more supportive of your magazine. It’s a good match for you, Dee. You’re right. I apologize,” Monica conceded. Dee smiled and pushed her chin up.
“I am too, Dee. From now on, I promise I’ll be more supportive of your dreams,” Stephanie added.
“Thank you, ladies. I really appreciate it,” Dee said, reaching out to touch her friends’ hands.
“Now, will you help me with my dinner?” Monica asked.
Looking up at the ceiling, Dee sighed. “I’ll think about it.”
© 2012 Jaye CherÍe