Victoria Paige is a dazzling, intelligent, African-American woman with an impeccable sense of style and elegance. Since adolescence, Vicki has managed her life via successive five-year plans, and she has never wavered once her plans have been set in motion. During her character-building years, she cultivated a true love for fine art and sculpture, intriguing books, and old movies, all of which allowed her imagination to take her places most people never dreamed.
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Bitterness inundated Vicki's thoughts as she examined her face in the bathroom mirror. It had not occurred to her that she might return from a two-week vacation in Jamaica with a black eye. She raised herself up on her toes and leaned over the large porcelain sink to get a closer look. Her entire body shook at the memory of her husband's blow just days earlier.
I can't go to the office looking like this. If I had kept my ass home, I wouldn't be in this predicament, she thought as she searched the vanity for her concealer. With manicured fingers, she unsteadily dabbed a small amount beneath her right eye and covered it with a darker foundation. She reached back into the drawer, retrieved a makeup brush, and tried to blend the two creams around her tender eye.
Appalled at her reflection, Vicki thought, this is not going to get it.
She was grateful that the rest of her brown, oval-shaped face remained unscathed from the Jamaican brawl.
Struggling to ward off defeat, Vicki crossed the cold tiled floor and paused in front of the full-length mirror affixed to the solid oak door. She let her cream silk robe descend to the floor as the morning sun streamed through the skylight to warm her tall, lean, curved, forty-five-year-old body. As she turned slightly to the right, she was delighted to find the bruises on her arms and legs had all but vanished. Still, the dreadful eye was enough to darken her mood that Monday morning.
To all who knew her, Victoria Paige was a dazzling, intelligent, no-nonsense kind of woman with an impeccable sense of style and elegance. Since adolescence, she had managed her life via successive five-year plans, and she didn't waver once her plans were set in motion. During those character-building years, she had cultivated a true love for fine art and sculpture, intriguing books, and old movies that allowed her imagination to take her places most people never dreamed of.
Vicki and her only daughter, Pamela Ann, owned and operated the Victoria Paige Advertising Agency. The women had developed their small business into a flourishing marketing and advertising agency in the Washington, DC, area — one of the few agencies owned by African American women in the metropolitan region. Vicki and Pamela Paige were respected in the industry and had received numerous awards for their marketing designs and business innovations.
"I need to let the office know I'll be out for another week," Vicki grumbled. She slid back into her robe while continuing toward the bedroom and reached for the phone on the nightstand.
How did I ever get into such a mess?
Louise, the office manager, cleared her throat and adjusted her ear and mouthpiece before announcing, "Thank you for calling Victoria Paige. How may Ii direct your call?"
Vicki and Pam had acquired Louise Anthony through an ad in the Washington Post soon after they opened the agency. They had fruitlessly interviewed at least ten applicants when in walked Louise — thirty-five and holding a degree in marketing administration. She was what the duo had been searching for during the development stage of the business.
"Good morning, Louise."
Louise was somewhat taken aback to hear Vicki's voice on the phone, as Vicki was usually in the office long before Louise.
"Well, good morning to you too, lady! How was Jamaica?" Louise replied eagerly.
"Nice, Louise. That's why I am calling. It was sooo nice that I'll be extending my vacation for another week. Now, I need you to do me a favor this morning: review my appointments and reschedule them for early next week."
Louise was stunned a second time. "Would you like me to check with Pam and have her handle the appointments for you?"
"No, I'll ask her myself. Please — just ... put me through to her?"
"She's not in, Vicki. She left for the Pink photo shoot about twenty minutes ago. She won't be back in the office until late this afternoon."
Good. She didn't want to speak to her daughter just then anyway. "Just connect me to her voice mail," Vicki said, relieved.
"Sure, Vicki, and enjoy the additional week off. I'll talk to you later."
Louise suspected something was wrong. She had learned long ago how to read these two women. She made the transfer, and Vicki heard the familiar voice.
"This is Pamela Paige. Today is Monday, April 25. I will be out on location until four thirty this afternoon, but I will be checking voice mail throughout the day. Leave a message, and I'll return your call."
"Hey, Pam, this is your mother. I've decided to extend my vacation for an extra week. I am sure you and Louise have everything under control. I'll call you later tonight. Talk to you later, baby."
She hung up the phone and sat down on the bed.
Now I have at least a week for this black eye to fade. Actually, I should fly down to Florida and visit Helena. Forget what Doug says or thinks. I need to lay some distance between that asshole and me. I haven't seen my sister in years.
Vicki was the older of Thomas and Betty Stanton's two children. She and her sister, Helena, had been raised in a comfortable middle-class home and educated in the Frederick County, Maryland, school system. Vicki was the levelheaded sister — focused, reliable, and directed. She dated only moderately in high school and college; she was unwilling to comprise her standards for a companion. Helena lived a more carefree existence. She was outgoing, obstinate, and self-absorbed, and she loved older men. Despite their differences, the girls were close and respected each other's life choices. After high school, Vicki upheld family tradition and continued her education at New York University, while Helena moved to Miami with her then boyfriend. Vicki often wished she had the audacity to do such a thing, but her upbringing and fear of disappointing her parents would never allow her to. The disappointed look was something that stayed with her during the years that followed.
I'll go to Helena's and get away from this mess, Vicki thought, her mood lifting for the first time in days. She picked up the phone to call her sister for the third time since Wednesday.
Helena, as usual, had made an interesting life for herself in Florida. She had never made the kind of commitments that led to marriage or children. She recently purchased a two-bedroom condominium in South Beach, however, and worked for a local radio station as the night disc jockey. Helena loved her sister but at times envied Vicki's pampered, prosperous, and thriving existence. Helena often wished she had made different choices in her life.
"Hey, girl. It's me," Vicki said when her sister answered the phone.
Helena was a little uneasy. She knew trouble was brewing. It was unlike Vicki to call unless there was trouble or some ghastly news, and last week her sister had called about a visit only to cancel the next day. What could this call be about?
"I was just thinking about you. How was Jamaica?"
"It was fantastic until Doug showed his ass," Vicki replied.
"Yeah?" Helena said with eyebrow raised. "What happened?"
"Girl, all I can say is Doug has lost his damned mind, but we can talk about it later. How is your schedule this week?"
"Why? Are you actually coming down, Vicki?"
"Yes, Helena, I'm actually coming this time. I need to get the hell out of Washington, DC, as soon as possible. I should have never canceled last week," Vicki said, running her fingers though her hair.
"That would be terrific, Vicki! I definitely could use some company," Helena exclaimed. "Are you positive ?"
"Yes, Helena, I am positive! I will be on the next flight and in Miami by late afternoon," Vicki responded.
"Then I'll pick you up at the airport," Helena said, making every effort to control her excitement. "Call me with the flight number and time. I can hardly wait to see you. We'll make a week of it!"
"All right, girl. I'll talk to you shortly," Vicki replied before hanging up.
She ran to the hall closet, pulled down her luggage, and packed once again.
I'll take the same clothing I wore in Jamaica. I'm glad I had them laundered before leaving the resort, she thought. Excited about her plans, Vicki grabbed her cell phone and day planner from her purse and located the numbers for the airlines and a local taxi company.
"Good morning. Thank you for calling Delta Airlines. How may I help you?" a male voice said.
"I need a flight this morning departing from Washington, DC, to Miami, Florida." Vicki spoke without hesitation.
"Okay, ma'am. Let's see what we have available."
Vicki waited patiently while the representative entered her request into the computer.
"We have a flight departing from BWI at noon today. Would you be able to make that flight?" he asked.
"Oh yes," Vicki responded, slipping into a pair of shapely, fitted jeans.
"Will you need a return flight?"
"No, I'll book it later in the week."
"It is cheaper to book the flights together," he warned.
"I realize it would be, but I'm not sure of the return date or time," she replied, annoyed.
"All right. I will need your name, address, and payment information."
Vicki thumbed through the planner and located her Delta ID card. She read the numbers to the representative.
"This should provide you with the information you need," she stated, waiting for his response.
"Mrs. Paige, are we booking for you and Mr. Paige today?"
"No, just me," she said, searching her walk-in closet for a pair of shoes.
"I have a seat reserved for you on Flight 145, departing BWI at noon, arriving in Miami, Florida, at two thirty this afternoon. You can pick up your ticket and boarding pass at the Delta counter."
"Fantastic. Thank you for your help."
Vicki slipped her feet into a pair of beige mules, fumbled through her closet, chose a beige V-neck top, and slid it over her head. While tossing a few more summer items into her suitcase, she called the taxi company and requested a pickup in forty-five minutes. She decided to pack light and shop in Florida if she needed additional clothing. She had reached the bottom of the stairs with the second suitcase when she heard a horn blow in front of the house. She peeked out the side window of the French doors, relieved that it was not Doug but the waiting taxi. Vicki placed her cell phone and day planner into her purse, placed her sunglasses over her eyes, and with assurance rolled her suitcases out the front door.
"Miami, here I come," she stated triumphantly, slamming the door behind her.
The driver loaded her bags in the trunk, helped her into the taxi, and then pulled out of the estate, headed toward the Beltway and midmorning traffic. He eyed her with curiosity in the rearview mirror as they drove in silence. Once they reached the Delta loading and unloading area, he helped her out of the car and retrieved her bags, placing them on the curb near the terminal entrance.
"Thanks," she said, fumbling though her purse for her wallet. She handed the driver three twenties.
The Delta curb attendant approached her, offering to assist with her bags.
"No, thank you," Vicki responded with a wave of her hand.
She tossed her purse over her shoulder, grabbed the suitcases, and rolled them into the terminal. She reached the airline counter at 11:20 a.m., checked her bags, and picked up her ticket and boarding pass. Vicki walked to the boarding area and located a seat next to the counter. Exhausted, nervous, and excited, she pulled out her cell phone and called Helena.
Voice mail: "Hey, you've reached Helena. Leave a message, and I will get back to you soon."
"Hey, girl. It's me. I'm at the airport. Um, my flight will be landing at two thirty this afternoon. It's Delta flight number 145. Don't forget me, please. Call me on my cell when you get this message."
Vicki was uncomfortable that Helena did not answer, but knowing Helena, she was not too concerned. She sat quietly and thought about Doug, their marriage, and how they managed to get to this point. Her thoughts were interrupted by the intercom announcement: "Flight 145 to Miami, Florida, is now boarding."
Vicki stood, picked up her purse and carry-on, and strolled over to the gate.
Douglas Paige was a strikingly handsome black man. Standing over six feet tall, his looks were enhanced by his dark brown skin and strong facial features. His chiseled, athletic body was well preserved for its forty-five years, and he carried himself with confidence and arrogance.
Doug merged his black luxury SUV into the heavy afternoon Beltway traffic. He leaned back into the large, comfortable seat, extending his arms forward and wrapping his fingers tight around the steering wheel; he was pleased with his choice in a new vehicle.
Vicki's bruised face and the fight in Jamaica returned to engulf his thoughts.
What the hell is wrong with me? he thought.
At times, Doug could be hardheaded, self-absorbed, shrewd, and calculating, but he had never used physical violence against his wife in their twenty-five years of marriage. Doug wished his father were alive to advise him on his domestic situation and other matters he was facing. His father — like most men of his generation — had always been a strong male figure who controlled the household without violence against either Doug or his mother. Doug had promised himself he would use a similar approach in his own marriage. He promised he would make his father proud and be a success in life, one way or the other.
Doug remembered the day he first met Vicki — in the middle of her freshmen year at NYU. He fell for the tall, classy young woman he spotted walking across campus when he was a construction worker on a dorm renovation project. Intrigued by her beauty and confidence, he found the courage to ask the college student to dinner the following weekend. The romance flourished, and they began dating while Vicki continued her education and Doug worked and progressed in the construction industry.
After completing her junior year, Vicki discovered she was pregnant with Pam. Doug was elated at the news, and his unwavering proposal came without hesitation. He assured her that he would care for her and their daughter, and they would by no means want for anything. The couple relocated to Maryland to be near Vicki's parents and married in a small, private ceremony. Over the next twenty-five years they progressed in their careers, arriving at an upper-class lifestyle.
Their utmost achievement was the opening of Paige Construction. Vicki and Charles Marcus, Doug's longtime friend, were both eager to assist in the development of the company. Doug and Charles had lived in the same neighborhood in New York and attended the same schools. Their parents often socialized during those years, allowing the boys to spend time together after school and on the weekends. To no one's surprise, as young men they went into business together.
Charles was a reliable, trustworthy, and above-reproach friend, and he had one of the best engineering minds Doug had encountered in the business. He was shorter than Doug, with a similar skin tone and jet black eyes. He wore a groomed full beard and had a fit body that added to his polished appearance.
The trio turned the friendship into a successful partnership, each receiving equal shares in the company. They obtained a substantial contract with the District of Columbia, which put Paige Construction on the map. Doug remembered those early days as some of the best times of his existence, and he hoped to experience that once more.
The opening of Vicki's agency three years before had produced a noticeable strain on the Paige's marriage. Doug witnessed a transformation in his wife, and he soon realized it was going to cause trouble. It did. Doug had not anticipated Vicki's extended hours in the office, her travel schedule, or her other business obligations when he agreed to the creation of the agency. Their fights and disagreements became more frequent and longer lasting. He had hoped the vacation in Jamaica would rekindle feelings from happier times; however, the two weeks had ended in disaster, placing the marriage further in jeopardy.
Doug pushed the cell phone button on his dashboard and spoke the words "call home." He took a deep breath and waited to hear Vicki's voice.
"Hello, you have reached the Paiges. Leave a message, and we will return your call. Thanks," Vicki's voice said.
"Vicki, call me on my cell," he said, annoyed.
Although not surprised she did not answer, Doug was certain she was home and intentionally avoiding his calls.
Again he pushed a cell phone button, dialing Charles's direct line at the office. Paige Construction operated with four functional construction work crews at the time. With a net profit of over two million dollars, the company had grown into a thriving business in the metropolitan area.
Excerpted from "The Paiges of Life"
Copyright © 2017 Charlotte Willis.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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