Authors: Zuri Day
After ordering tea from a roving waitress, her potential employer got down to business. He spoke of his company and described in detail the type of work he’d require from an assistant.
“Do you think you can handle this type of position? I admit, it can get demanding at times.”
Cassandra shifted in her seat, deftly exposing cleavage as she leaned forward. “Listen, I’ve got three kids. There’s no job that gets more demanding than that.”
The man could not hide his surprise, nor the quick once over he gave Cassandra’s small, tight frame.
Cassandra’s laugh was throaty and real. “You can’t believe I’m a mother? Well I am. And I take very good care of…my babies.” She reached for her tea glass and teased the straw with her tongue. Halfway through the businessman’s explanation she decided she would put her cards on the table and leave no doubt just what types of duties she was willing to perform.
The businessman hardened as he watched Cassandra’s tongue dart around the straw. He struggled to keep focus.
“So what if your work runs into the evening? Is your, uh, husband okay with handling the children until you get home?”
“I’m very single,” Cassandra replied with the perfect mix of purr and professionalism. “But don’t worry; I have a reliable sitter and a network of helpers. My work will be my very first priority.”
“When can you start?”
“Would a week from tomorrow be okay? I want to take the time to make sure everything is in place with my family, so I can give you my undivided attention.”
In reality she knew it would probably take her that long to convince her cousin Jackie—who swore she wasn’t taking one more kid into her daycare center—to take not one more, but three.
“I was hoping you could start sooner, but I like your confidence and your drive. I think you’d be perfect for what I need.”
They talked several moments more, Cassandra getting the pertinent information she needed: address, work hours and of course salary and benefits. After that they stood. The interview was over.
“I’m looking forward to working with you, Cassandra.”
Cassandra shook the businessman’s outstretched hand. “Brad, I can’t wait to get started.”
By Monday afternoon, D’Andra had checked several items off her to do list. She’d picked up her apartment keys and made two trips to her new home: one with an SUV full of boxes and the second with her car full of clothes. Night made her promise to leave him the heavier boxes but she already felt guilty about taking a personal day. She wanted to get done as much as possible. Now she was once again in her car, headed to the store for cleaning supplies and a few groceries before returning to her new home in time for the one piece of furniture she was determined to get delivered ASAP…a king-sized bed.
As she navigated the mid-day traffic, she ruminated on the events of the past twenty-four hours. Night had been an invaluable help when he came over, and the children took to him right away, especially Antoine. After Night showed the little tyke a couple kick-boxing moves, Night was his hero. Cassandra had come home all excited about a new job, something D’Andra believed was the direct result of her prayers. While she’d refused to feel guilty about moving, and had even gone so far as to pay half the rent for the upcoming month, she only wished the best for her family and didn’t want them to suffer in any way. So when Cassandra came home with a job announcement it was like passing go and collecting two hundred dollars. Cassandra’s news had made D’Andra that much more excited about her new abode.
Her sister’s reaction to Night had been interesting. D’Andra was sure Cassandra was unaware—at least she hoped she was—of how her body language and demeanor had changed as soon as Night came out of the bathroom, where he’d been when she first walked through the door.
Night?” she’d asked, when D’Andra introduced him. She looked at him as if he were a chocolate bar with nuts.
“That’s right. Nice to meet you.”
“D’Andra said you were a personal trainer but, wow. You’re really…in great shape.”
Cassandra tossed her shoulder-length curls away from her face. “Maybe I need to start working out. Are you taking any new customers?”
Night walked over and put his arms around D’Andra, hugging her to him tightly. “No, I’ve got my hands f ull right now,” he said, planting a kiss on the top of D’Andra’s head for emphasis. “But I have a friend who works at Bally’s. He’s looking for clientele. If you’d like I can refer you.”
D’Andra could not have loved Night more than she did in that moment. The sister who’d never been considered a catch, the one dubbed least likely to get a man, much less keep one, had an obvious prize by her side. D’Andra was sure her sister was happy for her, even if she didn’t say it. Shortly after that conversation, Cassandra had scooped up her kids and within five minutes was back out the door.
Mary was a different story. D’Andra had knocked on her door as soon as Night arrived and told her mother there was someone she wanted her to meet.
“Who?” Mary asked, after a long pause.
“My friend Night.”
“I’ll be out there in a minute; I’m asleep.”
She never came out of her room.
D’Andra’s thoughts were interrupted as her cell phone rang again. She tried to read the caller ID but traffic was thick and she decided to just answer it.
“This is Orlando, Orlando Dobbs.”
For an inexplicable reason, D’Andra’s heartbeat quickened. Even with the DNA results, there was a small part of her that wanted him to be her father, if for no other reason than to know who that man was.
“Hey, how are you doing?”
“We’re fine, fine. But me and Sylvia have been thinking about you and wondering how you’re doing. It was a brave thing for you to come all this way and then to get disappointed like that…it’s a lot.”
“I’m okay, good actually.”
“Did you talk to Mary when you got back home?”
“Yes, but she still won’t tell me anything. She even accused you of lying to me until I told her about the test results.” D’Andra thought about her mother’s odd behavior the day before when she refused to come out of her room and meet Night. “I think she’s angry with me for contacting you.”
There was a brief silence on the other end. “Don’t judge your mother too harshly,” Orlando said when he spoke once again. “Your mama went through some things back in the day, some things that are hard to talk about.”
Another pause. “It’s not my place for me to share your mother’s business. In time, she may feel strong enough to tell you herself. But know this. Your mother loves you. I can tell you that from the few years I was with her.”
“Maybe I can ask you another question. Do you know who my father is?”
Another pause. “I know the people who Mary hung around with when you were conceived. For the first couple years, I thought you were my child. But then a few things happened and I began to question it. Your mama wouldn’t talk to me either and eventually…if you don’t have communication in a relationship you don’t have anything.”
“Well…I appreciate you calling. Tell Sylvia I said hello.”
D’Andra heard Orlando relaying her message. “She says hello back and wishes you the best.”
D’Andra tried to fill in the empty spaces left by Orlando’s conversation as she shopped for groceries. What could have happened to her mother that she didn’t want to talk about? she wondered. Was Orlando involved? Was her real father? Had her father done something illegally? Was he in jail? There were more questions than answers as she loaded up her food items and headed back to her apartment. At this point she saw little else she could do to find out about her father. The man she’d thought was him wouldn’t give her any hints, and the only person with all the answers wasn’t talking.
D’Andra decided to try a different route back to her new home. She headed north on Sepulveda Boulevard and turned on a street she thought would take her around to the back of her building and to the gate to the underground parking. Instead she found herself on a quaint side street with a mixture of shops. Upon quick glance she spotted a bookstore, a plant and fish shop and an Indian food restaurant on the corner. That’s when she realized that it was lunchtime and she hadn’t eaten yet. Not wanting to wait and prepare something herself, she decided to pick up lunch from the restaurant and take it home.
She quickly found a place to park and went inside. The atmosphere was colorful and cozy and the smell of deliciously spicy food greeted her as soon as she opened the door. The menu was filled with mouth-watering fare and as hungry as she was she had trouble making up her mind. She decided on a flat bread called Punjabi, lentil soup, vegetable curry and chicken masala. At the last minute she decided to double the order, in case Night was hungry when he came over later.
As the cashier helped bag up her order, the bell over the front door clanged. A customer came in and stood next to D’Andra, looking at the menu.
“Have you eaten here before?” D’Andra asked as she turned.
“Yes, the food’s…oh…you.”
The cashier placed D’Andra’s large bag on the counter. “I see you’ve lost a pound or two, all Night’s doing I’m sure. But you’re still eating like a fat person.”
D’Andra resisted the petty comeback that included the mention of her soon-to-be dining companion. “Fat girls do love food,” she said instead.
She picked up the bag and turned once more to Jazz. “Take care.”
She was almost to the door when Jazz asked in a pseudo silky voice. “How’s Night?”
“Fine,” D’Andra said, not turning around.
“What’s he going to do now that his dream to be the next Billy Blanks has hit a wall?”
That comment stopped D’Andra. She stopped and turned. “What are you talking about?”
Jazz seemed unsure, but only for a moment. “It’s a small town,” she said once she’d regained her poise. “I hear things. And Brad Gilman is a dear friend of mine.”
With those words she turned back to the menu, a pointed sign that the conversation was over. D’Andra opened her mouth to speak and then thought better of it. Her time and energy would be put to better use talking to Night instead.
She saw his GMC Acadia as soon as she turned the corner.
“Hey, baby. Go to the front and I’ll let you in as soon as I park. Hope you’re hungry!” she added as she sped away to the back and the garage gate.
The apartment building door hadn’t completely closed before D’Andra spilled her news. “I think I know what happened with your gym space, why it hit a snag.”
“You do?” Night easily kept up with a fast-moving D’Andra as she headed back to her car.
Night stopped. “Jazz?”
“I just saw her at the restaurant where I got the food that’s in the car.”
“What did she say?” Night reached into the back of D’Andra’s SUV and easily carried two bags of groceries, a bag of cleaning products and a box containing a four-piece dish set.
D’Andra took the bag of food from the front seat and locked her car. She recapped the brief conversation as she and Night headed toward the elevator.
“How would she know that your deal fell through if she wasn’t involved?”
“She and Brad are good friends. That’s how I met him.”
“Do you think he would purposely do something to prevent your deal from closing; I mean, can he do that?”
“Anything can happen,” Night answered.
They entered the apartment. Night put the groceries on one counter while D’Andra unpacked food containers on the opposite counter by the stove.
“I hope you’re hungry.”
“I wasn’t until I smelled that food.” He peered over her shoulder into one of the containers. “Is this from Mayura’s?”
“You’ve eaten there?”
“Yes,” Night said, and then answered the unasked question. “With Jazz.”
D’Andra quelled her feelings of jealousy and sudden inadequacy and quipped, “Trust me when I tell you the food will taste better eaten with me.”
She fixed their plates and handed one to Night. “Have a seat,” she said dryly.
They sat with their backs against the dining room wall and ate in silence before D’Andra continued.
“You thinking about Jazz, wondering how she blocked your getting the gym?”
“Knowing Jazz, I know how. But it’s all good though. I know a few people in L.A. as well. This is far from over. I’ve already got another possibility, but the price is twice as high.”
Night told D’Andra about his meeting with Frank’s associate, and the space opening up in another prime location not far from Ladera Heights, the location of his first space. D’Andra thought of Jazz and realized her attempted punch at hurting Night hadn’t landed as hard as she’d hoped. Night was just as excited, if not more, about the possibilities of opening up in the space he’d just seen. The bottom line is her baby had his smile back. That was all D’Andra wanted.
Jazz sat in a corner booth of Mayura’s restaurant. What little appetite she’d had left when she ran into D’Andra. She pushed aside her partially eaten samosas, a crispy vegetable-filled crust that any other time would have been scarfed down in minutes, and idly sipped ginger beer.
Why isn’t Brad answering?
she wondered. She picked up her phone and dialed him again.
Brad rolled over, exhausted yet thoroughly satiated. He’d just experienced, without a doubt, the best sex he’d ever had. And having so recently been with Jazz, he didn’t think that was possible.
“Damn, you are incredible, absolutely incredible.”
Cassandra accepted the compliment without responding. Rather she took Brad’s hand and placed it in her wetness. She’d employed every trick in her erotica playbook and knew the trap was set to catch her latest prey. Now it was time to begin the subtle shift in power. Cassandra knew only one way to play the male/female game—on top.
She kissed Brad quickly, rolled out of the bed and headed to the shower. She was well aware of the picture she painted as she walked naked across the room. She stopped and turned just before going into the bathroom. Brad was staring at her, as she’d imagined.
“What?” she asked coyly, as if she didn’t know.
“You haven’t even started working for me yet and I already don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Well if you play your cards right, Mr. Brad Gilman, you’ll never have to find that out.”