Hi everyone and happy Wednesday! Good to be here, good to see you!
We are SIX! days away from the major release of Brunch at Ruby’s. I’m starting to get really excited and I’m getting my ducks in a row. I’ve ordered some stamps, envelopes and a lovely Sharpie to sign my bookplates (if you want one for your paperback copy, simply fill out this here form) and I’ve begun making very preliminary plans for how I’ll celebrate the launch of my debut novel. Lots going on behind the scenes, all of it exciting and frightening and goose bump inducing!
Since we are close to the release, I am coming to you with another excerpt from the book. This is from a Debra chapter and the only background you need is that the story begins the day after Debra has told her husband she’s having an affair. This could mean losing her job as Principal of Morningside Middle School as well as the respect of her daughter, a student there. And if the scandal hits the wires (and there’s a good chance of that since the PTA President hates Debra) it could mean embarrassment for her husband a prominent CPA. The stakes are high and Debra is… just swimming in it.
Drama. LOVE IT. Enjoy!
The room is teeming with people in tuxes, dark suits, floor length gowns and smart little party dresses, each coddling a glass of wine or champagne or a plastic cup of juice. Elevator music wafts through the air above us, just loud enough to dim the sounds of boring conversation. Maxine claims this house isn’t a mansion, but I swear it spans a city block. If your bathroom is the size of my bedroom, I call that a mansion.
A few people try to talk to me, but I literally only know Maxine and Renee at this party. Throw me in a room full of teachers and administrators and I’m the belle of the ball. I’ve attended Willard’s CPA firm Christmas Gala each year and we’re the life of the party. Tonight, I can’t focus on anything anyone is saying. I’m selfishly, obsessively thinking about my own situation.
I moved out last weekend. I didn’t take a lot of things, just a few bags since didn’t plan on being gone for long. I needed a few days, a little space between Willard and me. Then, I thought, he’d come to his senses and tell me to come home. It’s been ten days of sleeping in Maxine’s guest room, which might be worse than living with an angry Willard, because had it not been for me staying with Maxine, I would not have been dragged to this party.
At least I look nice. I’ve lost a lot of weight in the last month, so Max and I are the same size. I borrowed a dress from her closet, a metallic lace mesh dress that she had never even worn. I glanced at the tag before I snipped it off−$450 from Neiman Marcus. It had to have been one of those items she bought on a whim and decided wasn’t really her style and never bothered to take it back. She’d never let me wear one of her “regulars”. The mid-thigh length hugs my body but doesn’t make me feel like I’m naked. I actually like it, and I’m not really one for designer fashion.
I thought Maxine’s eyebrows would lift clear off of her face when I stepped out of her closet with it on. She swiveled around, wand in one hand, tube of mascara in the other.
“What do you think? Is it too short?”
She was moved enough to recap the mascara and stand up. “It’s perfect. See now, this is why that young pup was running after you.” She circled me, smoothed the fabric over my hips and tapped my behind. I snickered, but appreciated the compliment. “What I don’t understand is what crawled up your husband’s ass. The nerve of asking you to move out of your own house.”
I stepped to the full length mirror and turned to one side, then the other. Despite my mood, I smiled. “I told you, it’s just a phase. He’s mad. He’s trying to punish me. I bet I’ll be home again by the end of the week.”
She frowned and let out a light humph. “You realize you’ve been saying that since day three?” She bypassed me and walked into the closet. “Let’s find you some shoes to go with that dress. And I’ll do your makeup.” She came out of the room sized closet holding a pair of tan, four inch high pumps. “And is there anything you can do about your hair on such short notice? I should have predicted this mess and made you an appointment.”
She tried to hand me the shoes but I frowned at them, running my fingers through my puffy twists. She was right. My hair needed attention. “I can’t walk around the living room in those. Don’t you have any sensible shoes?”
She groaned, rolling her eyes and stalked back into the closet. ”What are sensible shoes? Those Nine West you wear? They make your feet look like boats. I don’t get how you and Renee are so plain.” She poked her head out of the closet so she could emphasize the word plain and ducked back inside. She re-emerged with a pair of nude peep-toe pumps that were an inch lower. She handed them to me with one hand while pushing me out of her bedroom with the other.
“Best I can do, I like my heels high. Don’t whine. Don’t put them on, yet. You don’t want your feet to swell. Try to do something to your hair. Renee will be here in a few minutes.”
The last sentence was yelled through the closing door. I eyed the shoes with a wary look, knowing my feet were going to be cold and my toes cramped. Giving up, I shuffled down the hall to my temporary home.
Renee showed up a few minutes later, toting a garment bag from one of Max’s favorite designer boutiques. When she unzipped the bag to reveal her dress, I had to do a double take. I wasn’t sure how it would look on her body, but Renee filled out the off-the- shoulder floor length sequined gown like it was made for her. The shade was slightly lighter than pewter and offset her caramel skin beautifully. Renee glowed, excited to have a nice dress to wear, with shoes and a clutch to match. If Donovan ever tanks, Maxine would make a killing shopping for other people.
Max turned on the TV and the surround sound speakers and tuned into VH-1 Soul. We swayed to the music of our childhood- Shai, Jodeci, KC & JoJo, all the slow jam hits. We talked and laughed while waiting for one of the others to get dressed or have her makeup done. Renee’s fingers worked her magic with my hair and Maxine crafted perfect faces for us, doing what she knew how to do best—make a great impression.
We hadn’t done this in so long; get ready for a party together. Hanging out with my best friends, listening to music, laughing and playfully critiquing each other took me back to Decatur High, the three of us crowded in Max’s bedroom with the bright bulb of a shadeless lamp burning spots into my vision while Max bent over me and swiped all kinds of crazy stuff all over my face. Renee would be in Max’s closet, trying things on, asking to keep things, stomping around in her heels. It was the best of times.
Having all of us together did seem to ease my pain, if only for a little while. But standing at this party in a room full of strangers, I’m not feeling the sister-like camaraderie.
I spot Maxine and Renee, coming at me from different ends of the room. Maxine, wearing a strapless black sequined Chanel gown, is dragging a tall, dark and handsome man by the hand. The grin that is plastered across her face tells me that this is the Malcolm that she can’t stop talking about. Renee sidles up next to me, holding a plate of assorted hors d’oeuvres and a glass of punch.
“Ladies,” Maxine gushes. “I’d like you to meet one of my VIP clients, Malcolm Brooks. Malcolm, these are my dearest friends, Debra and Renee.”
I nod at Malcolm and mumble something about it being nice to meet him. Renee does the same, after she swallows the bite of tea cake she’s just shoved into her mouth.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you ladies,” he says, in a baritone so deep, the floor seems to vibrate. He is broad shouldered, his even toned skin the hue of a walnut. His hands are mammoth sized, a detail I notice when my hand becomes lost in his for a brief moment. He’s also wearing a tuxedo, one that seems cut specifically for him. It fits him like a glove. An expensive glove. I see why Max is head over heels.
“Maxine is a force in real estate. I’ve enjoyed my experience with Donovan.”
“He’s been my easiest sale all year. We closed in four weeks!” Maxine is practically hanging off of Malcolm, standing close to him, her arm twisted around his.
“Oh, that’s right. You’re in Decatur, aren’t you? How do you like your new neighborhood?” Renee asks.
“Nice, just what I wanted. It’s walkable and quaint. Nothing like DC or Maryland, though those areas have their benefits.”
She nods like she’s ever been to DC or Maryland, agreeing in pleasant tones. “My bookstore is just a few blocks from you. Gladwell Books. You should stop in sometime.”
Somehow, Malcolm manages to unravel himself from Maxine and moves a few steps forward to stand next to Renee. The room is loud and it’s hard to hear, but I didn’t think it was really necessary to stand so closely. I glance at Max, who looks like she’s suddenly lost something.
“Maxine mentioned that. I had planned to come in to meet you. I’m an avid reader, in my spare time.”
“I could special order something for you, sort of as a welcome to the neighborhood.”
Malcolm grins widely, showing off sparkling white teeth. “Let’s refill our punch glasses and discuss. I have a few choices in mind.” He and Renee wander off to the food and drinks table in the next room, chattering away at each other about books and authors and nerdy things.
Maxine’s expression is sour. She stomps a well-heeled foot, one hand on her hip. “What the hell just happened? That’s not how that was supposed to go.”
“How long are we going to hang out? These shoes are killing my feet and I don’t feel much like partying.”
“Let’s find some seats. I want to stay just a little while longer, in case I can get a hold of Malcolm again.”
She leads me outside, through the patio that has been turned into a tented, heated reception area to the stone pit that is spitting sparks into the night sky. We take two seats on the couch nearest the heat and kick off our shoes. I sigh, sinking into the fabric, wiggling my numb toes.
“Have you even spoken to Kendra lately?”
“I see her every day at school, so that’s nice. Willard gives me one night a week and one weekend day to spend with her.” I roll my eyes at this. I helped create that child and I’m relegated to four hours on a week night. She spends two of those hours doing homework. “I would have been with her today, but there was a sleepover, so she went there instead. I’ll see her tomorrow.”
“So she knows…” I nod, once. “You never said how that went.”
The last thing I want to do right now is to go through my mistakes over the last year. Again. But not talking about it hasn’t made it go away. “She’d told me that she needed to talk to me. Kendra is so sensitive to my emotions. She’s such a good kid, you know? She came right to me and wanted to make sure I knew what was going around. She started talking about all these things she was hearing about me and one of the teachers.” I swig a sip of wine. “I had to break it down to her, tell her what was absolutely not true—”
“Like we were not having sex in my office. And I was not pregnant with his baby.” I huff a frustrated breath and roll my eyes hard. Max giggles. “I had to tell her what was true. I did mess around with that teacher and I might be in a lot of trouble and daddy is very angry. And…”
I heave a long, loud breath that feels like my lungs are emptying. “I tried to explain to her what might happen between me and her dad.”
“And how did she take all of that?”
“She said her heart was broken. She wanted to know how I could do that to…” I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth and roll my eyes upward in an effort to stop the swell that comes anyway. My eyes fill up, then overflow. “How I could do that to her dad,” I finish, warbling through a sob. “How do I even have tears left? I’m so tired of crying.”
Maxine scoots close to me and draws me to her. She is warm and soft and I can’t help it…I fall apart on her shoulder. She strokes my head with one hand, holding me tightly with the other, and whispers to me about how everything’s going to be alright.
I feel someone slide onto the cushion next to me and more arms around me. The flowery scent of Renee’s perfume is calming. I’m reduced to sniffles and hiccups and sit up, swiping my cheeks with the back of my hand.
“Stop that,” Max chides, flipping open her clutch and handing me a handkerchief. “You’ll smear makeup all over your face. Dab, dab, dab.” I take the dainty white cloth and follow her instructions, dabbing my face until it’s dry.
“Kendra?” Renee asks. I nod. I’d already broken down with her on the phone earlier that week. It’s my tender spot. I can’t stand that I’ve disappointed her. “Everything is going to work out. I just know it is.”
I shake my head, feeling for the first time that they might both be wrong. “I just don’t see how, right now.”
Sitting back, I tip my head so I can stare at the night sky. Maybe I’ll wish on a star. It has just as much of a chance of working as anything else. Max and Renee snuggle close and join me in my slouched position, staring upward.
“Deb, can I ask you something?” Renee asks.
“Was the gym teacher… good?”
I don’t think she meant for the question to be funny, but I can’t help the giggle that bubbles up. Maxine snorts, which makes my laughter bust forth like water through a crack in a dam.
“What?” Renee asks, laughing along, which makes me laugh even harder. My stomach hurts and I can’t breathe and we’re practically rolling around on a couch in front of the fire pit. We’re a sight, I’m sure, but I don’t care. I instantly feel better.
“Oh, Renee.” I tousle her hair, fighting back residual giggles. She smacks my hand away, like she always does. “He was alright. Different.”
“Younger, for one,” offers Max.
“And, you know, more sexually experienced,” adds Renee.
“And uh… probably…” Max hints, an evil grin on her lips. “Had… more to offer?”
“Oh, boy. Here we go.”
I sit up and grab the empty wine glass, then stand and straighten my dress, which had bunched up from our bout of laughter. I hesitate, looking down at my girls who are waiting with bated breath for me to offer some minute detail. I lean in, so I can lower my voice. “I still don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no little dick complex. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m a bit parched.”
I escape our little circle before more questions are hurled at me, a chorus of ‘oooooooh’s following me into the house.