Authors: E. Lynn Harris
Table of Contents
THE AUTHOR THANKS...
DECEMBER 26, 1999 - 11:19 A.M.
About the Author
ALSO BY E. LYNN HARRIS
DEDICATED IN LOVING MEMORY TO TIMOTHY BERNARD DOUGLAS 8/31/67–3/13/2000
Thank you, my sweet prince, for the
friendship, the love, and for giving my life
meaning, memories, and magic. It’s over,
Tim, enjoy your rewards. Enjoy your rest.
We love you. We will miss you. But God
needed another magnificent spirit. And God
A. C. Crater, Jr.
Hugh P. Watson, Sr.
Dr. Walter Shervington
Acclaim for E. Lynn Harris and
NOT A DAY GOES BY
Not a Day Goes By
offers sweet, guilty thrills that leave you longing for more.” —Salon
“Harris scores again. . . . His patented knack for a wry, uproarious resolution is in full flower in this sexual
War of the Roses.
“What’s got audiences hooked? Harris’s unique spin on the ever-fascinating topics of identity, class, intimacy, sexuality, and friendship.” —Vibe
“Harris is a wonderful writer. His romantic scenes, whether between men and women or men and men, are always touching.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“A great deal of zany mayhem, soul searching, and theatrical standoffs. . . . A rich comic parable full of laughter and insights.” —Bookpage
“Harris’s books are hot, in more ways than one.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer
THE AUTHOR THANKS...
THIS AUTHOR is grateful for my personal savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, for his daily blessing and the knowledge that I could not do this alone.
This author thanks his family, all of them, but most especially my mother, Etta W. Harris, my aunt, Jessie L. Phillips, and Rodrick L. Smith for being my rock and source of inspiration.
This author thanks his friends, both old and new . . . Lencola Sullivan, Vanessa Gilmore, Robin Walters, Cindy Barnes, Debra Martin Chase, Troy Danato, Dyanna Williams, Anthony Bell, Bruce Fuller, Carlton Brown, Kevin Edwards, Martha K. Levin, Yolanda Starks, Sybil Wilkes, Brent Zachery, Anderson Phillips, Tavis Smiley, Regina Daniels, Rose Crater Hamilton, Tracey and David Huntley, Christopher Martin, Derrick Thompson, Deborah Crable, and Brian Chandler.
This author thanks Doubleday (which has the best suits in the business) for being a company that not only publishes great books but also cares about the people who write them . . . Steve Rubin, Michael Palgon, Jackie Everly, Mario Pulice, Roberta Spivak, Suzanne Herz, Alison Rich, and Bill Thomas. Special thanks to Eleanor Branch and Jenny Frost at Random House Audio.
This author thanks his support team (manager, agents, lawyers, and accountant) . . . Laura Gilmore, John Haw-kins, Moses Cardona, Irv Schwartz, Amy Goldsend, and Bob Braunschweig.
This author thanks his editors, who all happen to be talented writers and great friends as well . . . Charles Flowers, Dellanor Young, and Rosalind Oliphant.
This author thanks all the booksellers and the ones who are wonderful friends as well . . . Blanche Richardson, Desiree Sanders, Garbo Hearne, Emma Rodgers, Clara Villarosa, Michelle Lewis, Antoine and Theresa Coffer, and Sherry McGee.
This author thanks some special people and organizations that make him always look good . . . Jen Marshall, Shannon Jones, Tarus Sorrells, Janis Murray, Sherri Steinfield, Matthew Jordan Smith, Lloyd Boston,
Essence Magazine, The Tom Joyner Morning Show,
The Doug Banks Show, The Mod Squad,
Frank Ski and his morning team, Ryan Cameron and his team, the NAACP, Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, The Links,
The Donnie Simpson Show,
This author thanks the staff of Trump International Hotel for making it a dream place to write. Thanks also to the colleges and universities which extended kind invitations followed by very warm receptions.
This author thanks Robert Bass, former football great from the University of Miami, for friendship and inside information on agents and football, which helped this novel greatly.
This author thanks the University of Arkansas football team for winning the 2000 Cotton Bowl (with apologies to all the Texas Longhorn fans), the track team for winning the National Championship . . . again, and the
aka the Razorback Basketball team for winning the SEC tournament.
I can’t wait till next year, Mr. Nolan Richardson!
This author thanks all his writer friends who make me proud to be a writer and those who have offered wonderful advice and friendship . . . Iyanla Vanzant, Terry McMillan, R. M. Johnson, Yolanda Joe, Eric Jerome Dickey, Bebe Moore Campbell, Nathan McCall, LaJoyce Warlick, Tina McElroy Ansa, Tananarive Due, Brian Keith Jackson, and Walter Mosley.
This author thanks and is grateful daily for my senior editor at Doubleday, the amazing Janet Hill.
And finally, this author thanks you, the reader, for all your continued love and support.
Until next time . . . e. lynn harris . . . Chicago, Illinois
DECEMBER 26, 1999
BASIL WAS certain. After a couple of sleepless nights, he was more certain than he had been about anything in his life. There was nothing more for him to do but to inform the person most affected by his decision, his bride to be, Broadway star Yancey Harrington Braxton.
It was the last Sunday of the century. A perfect day for a winter wedding. New York City was bone-chillingly cold, with a new coat of snow. The fierceness of winter had arrived and the city looked white and felt gray.
John Basil Henderson gazed at the phone on the massive, leather-topped desk in his midtown hotel suite and then at the gold monogrammed cuff links Yancey had presented to him after their engagement party. His eyes glanced at the large gold ring on his right hand, a treasured token from his football days. He was only half dressed, wearing black pants, socks, and an eggshell-white silk T-shirt.
Basil moved a few steps, heaved a deep sigh and picked up the phone, pressed the button labeled operator, and when the chirpy young female voice said, “How can I help you, Mr. Henderson?” Basil paused for a moment and responded, “Can you ring 2619, Ms. Braxton’s suite?”
“I’ll be happy to,” she replied. Before she put the call through she added, “Congratulations, Mr. Henderson.”
Basil was startled for a moment. “Congratulations? For what?”
“You are the Mr. Henderson who’s getting married today, right? I saw your name on the ballroom schedule. The room looks beautiful. Decorated like a winter wonderland.”
“Yeah. Thank you.”
After a few computerized beeps, Yancey answered the phone with a voice filled with joy.
“Yancey,” Basil said.
“Baby! I thought it would be Oscar. You know, the guy who’s going to do my hair, or maybe Sam, who’s doing my makeup. Are you ready? Can you believe we’ll be married before the evening is over? I’ve waited so long for this day,” Yancey rambled as she played with her hair in front of a full-length mirror in her flower-filled suite.
A few seconds of silence passed before Basil said, “I can’t do it.”
“Can’t do what? Basil, baby . . . what are you talking about? What can’t you do?”
“I can’t marry you,” he said calmly. His voice was cool and controlled.
“What!” she screamed. This was not happening, Yancey told herself as she pressed her hand to her forehead. Wearing an off-white satin slip, she sat down on the bed in a state of shock, her mind closing down, refusing to comprehend Basil’s words.
“Yancey, calm down,” Basil advised.
“ ‘Calm down,’ mutherfucker, have you lost your mind? Well, of course you have. What other kind of fool would do this to somebody?” Yancey said without taking a breath.
“Yancey, this kind of talk isn’t going to solve anything. I’ve made up my mind and that’s that.”
“ ‘That’s that?’ That’s all you got to say to me? All my guests are getting ready to come to
wedding, the wedding my mother has been planning since the time you asked me to marry you, and you give me some ‘that’s that’ bullshit? I don’t think so!” Yancey said as she lifted her body from the bed. Her sable-brown eyes flooded instantly with tears of rage and humiliation.
“What about all the press that’s going to be here? I’ll be the laughingstock of New York,” she added.
“Yancey, I’m going to say this for the last time and then I’m going to hang up. I can’t marry you.”
“But why?” Yancey asked faintly. The tone of her voice had changed in seconds from forceful to pleading.
“Yancey, you know why,” Basil said firmly.
While dabbing away her tears, somewhere in Yancey’s heart she knew exactly why her dream wedding could never take place.
MY LADY, Yancey, changed my life. Sometimes I think she saved my life. My name is John Basil Henderson and I guess I’m what you call a former bad boy. I was the kind of dude who was getting so much play, I needed to buy condoms by the barrel. About two years ago, all that changed when I met Yancey Harrington Braxton the day before Christmas at Rockefeller Center while skating with my five-year-old nephew, Cade. Yancey walked right up and started a conversation while flirting with both Cade and myself. I loved her confidence. We were both smitten at her first hello. Yancey is, as the young dudes would say, a “dime piece” . . . a perfect ten.
When I met Yancey I was in the midst of a pre-midlife crisis. I had just turned thirty-three and my childhood dream of playing pro football was already over. Wasn’t shit going right for me. I was actually seeing a shrink, trying to figure out why I had such disdain for both men and women while, at times, being sexually attracted to both. I was spending too much time trying to get even with this mofo, Raymond Tyler, who didn’t even know how strongly I felt about him. For me, Raymond stood on that thin line between love and hate. There were so many things I liked—no,
—about him, but I also hated feeling that way toward any man. It just wasn’t right.
I had gone to the doctor to face my past—a past that included my sexual molestation by a much beloved uncle. I wrote that no good mofo a letter telling him how he had screwed up my life with his sick ass, but the mofo died before I could mail it. I was surprised at how writing shit down and talking out loud about how I was feeling helped me. But the good doctor wasn’t excited about my relationship with Yancey, and when I disagreed, we parted ways. It wasn’t as if he said, “If you continue in the relationship I can no longer see you, Mr. Henderson.” I just stopped going and he never called to see if I was okay. I guess he didn’t need the money.
There have been times in my life that were so painful that I didn’t think I could share them with another living soul, but then that person walks into your life, and you don’t know whether to be afraid or feel relief. You don’t know whether to run or stand still. That was the way I felt about meeting Yancey. When I told her how my father had raised me to believe that my mother was dead, which I later found out was a total lie, Yancey held me tight and I felt her tears on my naked shoulder. At times I feel as though I could tell her anything, and then I remember she is a woman and wouldn’t understand some of the things I have been through and done. So, despite my bone-deep love for Yancey, I’ve kept some secrets about myself she just wouldn’t understand.
My love for Yancey hit me hard. I guess that’s the way real love works. I love the way she makes me feel like I’m the only man in a roomful of thousands. I love the way other men and women look at us when we walk hand in hand into some of New York’s finest restaurants and nightclubs, or during our simple walks through Central Park. I love watching her perform on the Broadway stage and in cabarets, where Yancey charms both owners and patrons. I love the sound of her singing, not only on stage but in the bathroom, while she sits at her vanity and brushes her hair.
But one of the things I love the most about Yancey is she reminds me of myself. I guess both of us have taken so much shit from our families that we don’t take too kindly to outsiders. We are each other’s best friend. To the outside world we’re the diva and the dawg, but not with each other. Once I took her to Athens, Georgia, for a college football game. After the game we went to a sports bar for beer and chicken wings. The redheaded waitress with colossal breasts was diggin’ me. When she served us, ole girl bent down so low I could smell her deodorant. Yancey definitely took note. So when the waitress did one more dip and looked me directly in the eyes and asked, “Can I git anything else for y’all?” Yancey stood up and said, “Yes, you can git them fake titties out of my man’s face.” That’s my Yancey. Another time, shortly after we first started dating and I was still keeping a few freaks on the side, Yancey came over to spend the night. I came out of the shower expecting to see her lying in my bed wearing something sexy, but she was fully dressed. When I asked her what was up, she told me, “I don’t sleep in no bed where I can smell another woman’s perfume or pussy.” I got the message.
I had a gig doing sportscasting for a network, and when I became fed up with the way they were treating me, Yancey convinced me that I could do better. As we talked one evening while enjoying a late supper, I realized I wanted a business that combined my love for sports and making money. A couple of weeks later a former teammate called me looking for additional capital to expand his small sports management agency. I hadn’t heard from Brison Tucker since the night the two of us went out and got messed up big time after we were both chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. Brison was injured after four years in the league, and had spent several years working in Canada as a scout. A couple of long dinners and months later, I was no longer a talking head at ESPN doing second-rate college games but a partner of XJI (X Jocks Inc.), one of the fastest-growing sports agencies in the country, with offices in New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, with over thirty employees. The agency is looking to add another partner and open offices in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Joining the XJI was the right move at the right time. I had made some decent money with Internet stocks and was looking for another investment. Instead of just handing over money, I joined the firm as a partner. This year alone, XJI has six potential number-one picks in the upcoming NFL draft as well as four NBA lottery picks. I personally signed three of the players. The agency also has a couple of NBA superstars who left their white agents and signed with us, as well as a couple of WNBA players and some track and field hardheads. I love what I do, and I’ve rekindled some old friendships with my partners and made new friends with some of the players I represent. I feel a certain power when I make big-money deals for my clients, especially since the money is coming from wealthy owners who view the players as possessions. If these rich mofos want to play with my players, then I make sure they pay major benjamins.
As for me, myself, and I? We’re rollin’ like a bowling ball! I recently purchased a penthouse loft on Lafayette Street with twenty-six-foot-high ceilings and wood-burning fireplaces in both the living room and the master bedroom. I got a closetful of finely tailored suits and I could go months without wearing the same pair of draws or socks. Yancey and I take vacations in places like Jamaica, Fisher Island, and Paris whenever New York becomes too much of a grind. I’m doing better than I ever did when I was playing professional football.
Still, the biggest change in my life is the way I feel about women. With the love of Yancey and my sister, Campbell, I have come to view women differently for the very first time. I didn’t know I had a sister until two years ago, just before I met Yancey. Turns out my mom had remarried and on her deathbed told Campbell she had a brother. She tracked me down, and suddenly I had two new women in my life. Before, I’d never have let women get that close to me.
In Campbell I see a woman determined to give her son, Cade, and husband, Hewitt, the best she has to offer. Sometimes I just like to watch her with Cade, feeding him french fries or making sure his coat is buttoned up before he goes out into the cold. I love the way she smiles and hugs him whenever he comes into a room, even when he’s only been gone for a short time.
There was a time in my life when I had a lot of anger toward women. I put them in two categories: whores and sluts. The only difference is, a whore gives up the sex because she wants something material, whereas a slut just loves the sex. I have been with both, but I didn’t like the power pussy had over me. Maybe my anger toward women happened because I grew up without a mother, or because I simply hadn’t met the right woman. Now, thanks to Yancey and Campbell, I no longer view them as a resting place for my manhood but a place where I can rest my heart. Now don’t get me wrong, I ain’t
and I’m not ready for the choir robe and halo. I still got my tough-guy swagger (when needed). The only difference between two years ago and today is I realize that a tough-guy swagger looks just as dumb as a robe and halo.
Harrington Braxton was as complicated as she was beautiful. A woman from Jackson, Tennessee, who never felt she belonged in a small town, Yancey came to New York when she was twenty-two years old. In less than two years, she had made a name for herself with her triple threat skills of being able to act, sing, and dance with the best of Broadway’s veteran divas. But Yancey wasn’t satisfied with leading roles in several Broadway shows. She perfected her skills by taking private lessons in acting, dance, and voice from the best New York had to offer. When Yancey wasn’t in class, she was in the gym making sure her body remained flawless. It was only a matter of time, Yancey thought, before she would take these talents and body to Hollywood and exceed even her wildest childhood dreams.
A statuesque five feet eight, 115 pounds, with a twenty-two-inch waist, Yancey walked with the grace of a haughty runway model. Actually she didn’t just walk into a room, she sauntered. Shoulders back, chest out, Miss America smile. And always, as if preparing to take a bow, she would carefully pan a room, sizing up her audience’s impression of her.
Yancey imagined herself a beige princess, but through the eyes of others, she was a brilliant bronze. A century ago, she would have been considered just brown enough for the big house, but much too brown to pass. You could tell she was black. No cream in the coffee going on there.
Yancey was one of those women who still believed women with long tresses had an advantage, so she kept her hair long and had extensions added. Her lush, chemically treated and colored hair was a dusky auburn that fell just below her shoulders. She loved the versatility of her hair—ponytails (which she loved), french rolls (when she wanted to look regal), upsweeps, and ringlets. Yancey loved to experiment with the styles in fashion magazines. One of her most striking features was her thick eyebrows, which were always seductively and precisely arched.
In high school, she was the kind of person who wrote long, elaborate passages in the yearbooks of her classmates, but wouldn’t remember their names a week later when she would bump into them in the mall or class. Instead of attending her ten-year class reunion, Yancey had sent press packets with her full-color head shots and “Best wishes” scribbled under her signature, a well-studied signature she had practiced since the moment she learned to write her name at age six.
Yancey lived on the Upper East Side in an exclusive 2700-square-foot townhouse, which included a studio/library and servant’s quarters. She had bought the plush home with funds inherited from her grandmother’s life insurance policy and from the sale of her Jackson, Tennessee, home and some land her grandmother owned in Mississippi. There were times between jobs when Yancey had a tough time paying the mortgage, yet somehow she always managed. Just when things were getting tight with the pocketbook, Yancey would land a national commercial or get a gig singing backup for major pop acts. She liked the recording jobs, since she was not only making a little extra cash but also picking up tips for the day someone would be singing backup for her.
Even though her financial situation sometimes became very dire, Yancey was a diva’s diva and refused to waitress or do temp work like many of her Broadway peers. And above all, she could not bring herself to file for unemployment when a show or job ended.
In the close-knit world of New York entertainment, Yancey was known as the replacement queen. She had stepped into many leading roles on Broadway when established actresses took vacation or suddenly fell ill. Yancey had performed in
The Lion King, Rent, Chicago,
Smokey Joe’s Café,
and was currently appearing in
These shows added not only to her bank account but also to her reputation as a talented performer who could play the virginal beauty and belt out a soul-stirring gospel tune as well. Still, Yancey was not satisfied. She hated the fact that the only time a call came was to replace an actress of color, and she was pressing not only her agent but producers as well to consider her for roles with nontraditional casting. If it happened for Vanessa L. Williams and Audra MacDonald, then it could happen for her.
Often she would scour the pages of
looking for roles that didn’t match any of her characteristics. Burdened with the fear of being labeled racist, flustered directors and producers had no choice but to allow the talented beauty to at least audition for the roles. Once, when she had the chance to replace a Hispanic actress on a soap opera in a recurring role, Yancey quit before she signed a contract because she thought the work was not only beneath her but too little for too much in terms of compensation. The only thing Yancey day-dreamed of constantly was a starring role either on Broadway or in a film, or a recording contract that she could put her mark on, and if a Tony, Grammy, Emmy, or Oscar followed, well, that would be just the way things were supposed to be.
And now Yancey figured she had hit the jackpot in the man department. When she met Basil, she thought at the very least he would be a good roll in the sheets, especially when she caught a glimpse of him bending over to help his nephew at the Rockefeller Center skating rink. Basil was a wall of muscle: a strong-shouldered man, with a barrel chest, a six-pack stomach, all spread like Italian silk over a six-foot-four frame. When he turned around and smiled in her direction, Yancey thought he was so achingly handsome with his catlike gray eyes, she couldn’t help but think of him completely naked with his huge arms wrapped around her. His was a body she wanted to see up close and personal. Yet she made him wait almost six months for that pleasure when she discovered there was more to Basil than an amazing body. Yancey found him to be a brother with expensive taste and a wallet to back up her desire for the finer things in life.
She found Basil a sensitive man who had survived a dysfunctional childhood somewhat similar to her own. Yancey had been raised by her grandmother, while her mother, Ava, traveled the world in search of a career as an entertainer. She had never laid eyes on her father. Yancey had followed in her mother’s footsteps and, after her grandmother died, mother and daughter had forged a tentative friendship that was more like a difficult sibling relationship than a mother-daughter bond. Ava had never been there for Yancey when she really needed her for emotional support, and it seemed that whenever Yancey had a little problem she needed to talk over with her mother, Ava had a bigger one. So Yancey had come to accept that all she could really expect from her mother was lively and entertaining conversation and occasional monetary support in the form of a check sent via overnight mail whenever Yancey was between jobs. When Basil asked Yancey if that bothered her, she replied, with a hint of Southern lushness in a voice that she had tried to rid herself of, “It’s all I’ve ever known.” She always felt the toughness developed in her childhood served her well in her show business aspirations, as well as her outlook on love and life. When it came to show business, Yancey often told herself she was looking for awards, not friends.
Years ago, after her first adult relationship with Derrick, her college sweetheart, had ended badly, she promised herself to never fall in love too deeply. So Yancey loved Basil in her own way. Whenever they kissed, she told Basil how much she loved him, but there was always a little voice whispering inside her head that it’s okay to love, but never too hard, or too much.
SO WHERE you headed this weekend?” I asked as I dried my hair with a plush white towel.
“I’m going to Gainesville for the Florida-Tennessee game. What about yourself?” Nico Benson asked as he wiped his tall and broad-shouldered body. As business partners, we often checked in with each other on who had the crazier schedule.
“I’m doing Arkansas-Alabama. Should be a great game,” I said. I reached into my gym locker and pulled out the new pair of black underwear I had bought on Fifth Avenue the day before.
“What players are you looking at?” Nico asked, putting on some light-blue cotton boxers.
“Lucus from Arkansas and Alexander from ’Bama,” I said.
It was the third Wednesday in September. Once a month, my partners and I would take the entire office for a free day to release the tensions in the competitive world of sports management. This month we had decided on a day at the Chelsea Piers Sports Center. We had started the morning with breakfast, played basketball, and then had individual spa treatments like facials and massages. Our senior partner and president, Brison Tucker, had already showered and headed to the office for work. There was no way for Brison, a chronic workaholic, to fully understand the meaning of what a free day meant. After lunch, Nico and I had played a couple of games of racquetball.
Nico, a peanut-brown brother who talked more smack than a gum-chewing truck stop waitress, was drying his body from his shower as I put on my sexy see-through underwear. Nico had played basketball at Duke and for a couple of years in the NBA in Vancouver and Houston. He was only twenty-seven and was a great asset to our firm because he was smart and could still relate on a personal basis to the young athletes we were pursuing. In a lot of ways Nico reminded me of my former self.
I was pulling my slacks out of my locker when suddenly Nico’s dark brown eyes swept sideways. “Dude,” he whispered, “do you know that guy? He’s sweatin’ you big time.”
I turned in the direction of Nico’s eyes and ended up looking dead in the face of a squash-yellow, overweight dude with his tongue hanging out, his eyes bulging in disbelief. This was no big shock to me. I was used to people staring at me longer than what was socially acceptable. Especially when I was naked. My ass was perfect and my jimmie was both long and thick. It had been known to make both women and grown men weep. I’m not arrogant, just honest. Even when I was only semi-hard, my jimmie hung perfectly still. Sometimes I enjoyed the attention, but not in locker rooms and not when I was with a Mister Macho-Macho like Nico. So with a stern face I looked at the dumpy-looking brother and asked, “Do I know you?”
A blank expression covered his face before he mumbled, “No.” He looked like he was frozen with fear.
“Then why in the fuck are you all in my grill, or should I say in my draws?” I demanded. I felt my anger rising. Why couldn’t these gay mofos leave me alone? Didn’t they know I wasn’t playing on
After a few uncomfortable seconds he asked awkwardly, “I was wondering where you got that underwear from.” I looked down at the tight-fitting black silk underwear that felt like a breath caressing my ass and then at my admirer. “Don’t worry about it. They don’t make them in your size, you faggot mutherfucker.” I turned around and looked at Nico, who smiled, and we gave each other a tap with our hands balled.
“Man, a straight brother ain’t safe nowhere with all these faggots around,” Nico said.
“True . . . true. But I let ’em know right up front I’m the wrong one to fuck with,” I said as I grabbed my gym bag and shut my locker.
LATER that evening, I was killing time reviewing tapes of some of the players I was hoping to sign with the firm. I was going to meet Yancey at a restaurant in the theater district after her show. This was the last week for Yancey in
and I felt she needed me there for moral support. But after about ten times I was
out, so meeting her right after her performance was the next best thing.
I went to the kitchen to get a beer when the incident at the gym popped into my head. I try not to act uptight around gay guys, but they seemed to be getting more forward than I can
remember. Now some of them will just come up and ask for the beef. With Yancey being in the theater, where she is surrounded by gay men, I always have my guard up.
One time I came close to getting busted about my past. The producers of
threw a party for Yancey when she joined the cast. Yancey and I were front and center enjoying the attention, when who walks in but this dude I used to pump, Monty Johnson. He was a has-been R&B singer who was now doing background vocals and trying to break into Broadway. We made eye contact and while Yancey was accepting praise from her new castmates, I went over to shake Monty’s hand and say whassup to ole boy. I knew I needed to get to him before he bounced over to speak to me in front of Yancey. I didn’t need any
how do you know him
questions from Yancey. She wasn’t like a lot of sistahs who never thought of dudes kickin’ it with each other. She knew threats could come in both the male and female form.
After saying hello, I realized Monty was acting real cool, too cool, like I was just somebody he spoke to at the gym or walking down the street. I guess he had forgotten how good the dick used to be. He quickly introduced me to his buddy, a tall and lean guy sporting a pierced tongue and his hair styled in jailhouse cornrows. They were giggling with each other like two teenage girls at the stage door of their favorite boy group. When ole boy left to get Monty a drink, Monty told me he was in love and was sorry about any misunderstanding our last visit had caused me. When I told him I was in love, and who the lucky lady was, he smiled and whispered, “You always did like the ladies more. But from what I’ve heard about Miss Diva Deluxe Yancey, you might have met your match.” Before I could ask him what he meant, I caught a glimpse of Yancey looking in my direction, so I hauled ass over toward her.
Monty was the culprit who had ended my last serious relationship with a woman. I was dating a sister named Yolanda, who walked in on us while I had Monty ass up across my sofa. After that fiasco and a few other missteps, I came up with my own little list of rules to keep me from courting temptation.
I call them “Basil’s Rules to Keep the Knuckleheads Away from the Family Jewels.” Some of the do’s and don’ts are obvious, like not going to gay bars, cruising parks, or smiling at male flight attendants, but those don’t apply to me since I never did any of those things. The rules are: Avoid men who try to make eye contact with you or men who can’t because they’re looking at your crotch. Don’t go to the gym during rush hour, which could mean early morning or right after work. This is hard to follow since gay men are at the gym when the door opens and when it closes. I don’t know where they come from. Sometimes it seems as though they are dropping from the ceiling butt-ass naked, shaving, pissing, and trying to strike up a conversation. Don’t let anybody spot you while lifting weights unless you’re paying them. Keep away from men who have complete sets of designer luggage. Avoid mofos with colored contacts, especially yellow boys with green contacts and dark guys with sky-blue contacts. Stay out of churches with large choirs. Avoid dudes who wear shirts that look more like maternity dresses or men with extended music (usually Diana Ross or Patti LaBelle) on their answering machines; mofos who wear their sweaters or jackets around the waist; men who, in their conversations, use the word “lover” when discussing their significant other; men with cats or small dogs, especially any type of fluffy Asian dog; men who frown at the suggestion of two hunnies making love and letting you watch; and finally, any woman, no matter how beautiful, who has hands bigger than yours.
FOR YANCEY, the prestige of things took precedence over her own preference. The address of her Upper East Side brownstone was really false advertising that she was an entertainer well paid for her talents. The furnishings and appointments she chose for her “diva domain” (as she liked to call her spacious living quarters) were more than a step above the budget of a Broadway actress. They were a kangaroo leap.
The first things visitors would notice were the foyer’s marble floor, the glittering chandelier hanging above, and the antique coffee table with a tarnished silver top accented with an expensive-looking Chinese vase. But on guided tours, Yancey would first take her guests to the dance studio, her absolute favorite place to show. The studio and her bedroom were the only two rooms where she banished her decorator and let her soul dictate the design rather than her desire to impress.
In the studio, the overhead track lighting bounced off two mirrored walls, making the room appear much larger than it was. The shining maple wood floors and ballet barre enhanced a room that Yancey had always dreamed of since she took her first dance class back in Jackson. Hours seemed like minutes when she was in the room singing and dancing to music generated by her state-of-the-art sound system.
It is simply magical,
The room had been a library for the previous owner. When the contractor came to make a bid for the renovation, he convinced Yancey to keep at least one of the walls’ splendidly built bookshelves. She agreed only after considering that one day there would be books written about her to fill the shelves. Until then, her collection of coffee table books on music and the theater filled the shelves. Yancey added a little texture to the shelves with memorabilia like dried flowers from her opening nights, and scented candles. In the corner of the room was a StairMaster and a pair of ten-pound free weights for those rainy days when Yancey didn’t leave the house, not even for her gym time.
The living room was beautifully decorated with matching plum sofas and a coffee table covered with
and her favorite,
. She had limited the amount of furniture in the room in order to create a warm and inviting space.
As far as Yancey was concerned, her bedroom was off limits to everyone but Basil. She was proud of its elegance and reveled in seeing the faces of the rare visitors she allowed to partake of its beauty. Once she had invited some young girls she had met at the Broadway Dance Center over for tea. Besides asking for her autograph and photos, they had impressed Yancey by telling her they had seen every show she had appeared in. One of the young ladies, a talented ballet dancer from the Bronx, had broken into tears when she wandered into Yancey’s bedroom. She placed her hand over her mouth and whispered to Yancey, “This is the bedroom I see in my dreams.” The rich cherrywood antiques may have been too formal for some, but for Yancey it was an opportunity to live out one of her
I am a princess
The queenly bed boasted four regal high posts. The armoire, vanity, and chest of drawers were carefully arranged, adding to the splendor of the room. Because the furniture’s color and bulk were so heavy, Yancey chose soft pastel fabrics to give the room balance. Her duvet, bed ruffle, and drapes were ivory damask. Filling her linen closet were 350-thread-count cotton sheets in beautiful colors of lavender, peach, mint green, and sky blue. Four big lace-edged pillows were propped in front of the two small pillows dressed in the colored linen of the day.
A nightstand graced each side of the bed. Fragrant candles, fabric-covered boxes, and crystal bowls of potpourri sat atop each table. The table on the side where she slept held a telephone and a silver-framed photograph of Basil, looking handsome as usual. On the wall that greeted her each morning was an ode to Yancey. She had carefully arranged photos of herself in various shows and framed magazine covers from
In Theater, Playbill, The Paper,
when Yancey had adorned each magazine as cover girl. There were spaces anxiously awaiting the covers from
and of course,
The room itself was painted in a soft gold. There was a corn-yellow leather chaise lounge covered with several dolls and stuffed animals. The hallway between the master bedroom, living room, and servant’s quarters was a sea of chocolate walls covered with
from Broadway shows and beautiful paintings by Deborah Roberts and Paul Goodnight. Yancey’s penchant for tidiness, as well as the maid’s biweekly visits, ensured her domain sparkled brighter than any star in the heavens.
For over a year, Yancey had had a roommate to help with the cost of her townhouse and expensive tastes. She had run an ad in
but the applicants were beautiful up-and-coming divas and a couple of gay men. Yancey wasn’t having any part of that, so she was happy when someone she vaguely knew came back into her life.
Windsor Louisa Adams was a broadly built woman, about five seven and 165 pounds, with reddish-brown medium dreads framing her plain nut-brown face. Windsor had met her when Yancey transferred from Vanderbilt University to Howard University and moved onto the same dorm floor. The two weren’t close friends, because Yancey didn’t let other women get too close, but they had been in a couple of university theater productions and had once organized a Christmas party for an old folks’ home near the campus. But the only thing it seemed they had in common was that each had legally changed their middle names. Yancey changed her middle name from Elizabeth to Harrington after her favorite character from the movie
All About Eve
. Windsor just made a small alteration to her birth middle name of Louise, changing it to Louisa.
Windsor was not considered beautiful by most standards, but she ruled Howard University with her mesmerizing personality. She was president of the dorm, the number-one tennis player, and Homecoming Queen her junior year. The last time Yancey had seen Windsor was at a Greek show after she had pledged Delta Sigma Theta. She had even tried to get Yancey to pledge, but Yancey said she wasn’t interested in joining a sorority because she thought sisterhood would go right out the window the first time some soror’s boyfriend looked at Yancey longer than a minute. Windsor didn’t know Yancey had been turned down for membership in another sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Yancey was so crushed that she moved off campus with her boyfriend, Derrick.
When Windsor greeted her at the stage door when she was performing in
Yancey assumed she was just another fan. She startled Yancey when she raced up and gave her a big hug and said, “Honey, you worked that stage! You were the best one and this is a long way from some of our HU productions.”
Windsor had put on a little weight since college, and she no longer sported the long, layered hairstyle with hazel contacts. She realized Yancey didn’t remember her, so Windsor reminded Yancey of the night they had sung a duet at the annual spring talent show. “Remember? We sang ‘Enough Is Enough’ and wore them out!”
“You’re from Detroit, right?” Yancey asked, finally remembering the overly friendly dorm mate.
“Yeah, that’s right. Remember, my mother used to send me fried chicken and coconut cakes in the mail and I used to share them with the floor?”
“Oh yeah,” Yancey said as she looked Windsor up and down, thinking her mother must still be sending her food through the mail.
After a few minutes, Windsor suggested they go for a cup of coffee and talk about their days at Howard. When Yancey resisted, saying she needed her rest, Windsor simply locked her arms in Yancey’s, gave her a big smile, and said, “I won’t keep you out that long.”
Over coffee and deli sandwiches, she told Yancey how she had moved to New York about a year earlier from Wilmington, Delaware, where she had taught school after graduation.
“What made you move to New York?” Yancey asked. She remembered Windsor had a set of lungs on her and used to lead most of the songs for the gospel choir. Yancey figured she had come to New York to pursue music and sought out Yancey for advice. Yancey was prepared to tell her to get rid of her dreads and about forty pounds when Windsor announced she had moved to New York to get married, but quickly realized she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life.
“So you’re not getting married?”
“Not now and probably not ever,” Windsor said.
“So, do you still sing?” Yancey asked.
“Oh sometimes, but mostly I just sing for the Lord in my church choir.”
“What are you doing to make ends meet? New York is an expensive city.”
“I teach at a wonderful alternative school in the Village, the Harvey Milk School, and I do some volunteer work.”
“What part of town do you live in?”
“I live in the Bronx, in Riverdale, but I’m looking for something a little closer to my job. My ex-boyfriend was nice enough to let me keep the place we had picked out, but I can’t afford it without working two or three jobs.”
While Windsor asked Yancey questions about how exciting it was to be on Broadway and television, Yancey was thinking how harmless Windsor might be for a roommate, and how the rent could help with making ends meet when she was unemployed.
“I think I might be able to help you out,” Yancey said.
“I have servant’s quarters in my house. You come by and see it,” Yancey said as she pulled the check from the black leather binder and reached in her wallet for a credit card. She looked at the bill and saw it was under twenty dollars, so she put the card back and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill.
“Oh, I would love to see it,” Windsor said.
“How much are you paying for rent right now?” Yancey asked.
“Well, if you like it, I could let you have it for a thousand,” Yancey said.
“That sounds great. When can I come by?”
“Tomorrow. But in the afternoon. I’m a late sleeper,” Yancey said. She wrote her address on the back of the bill.
“I’ll come by after work.”
Windsor moved in a week later.