Chapter 1 – Continued
Ensconced in the back seat Malone deposited headphones on her ears and grooved to the euphonic sounds of Deep Forest. As the car made the voyage downtown, the colors and classes of New York flashed by and everyone, regardless of pigment seemed to morph into each other like a small wave gathering momentum until it was a huge crashing crest of humanity. Before she knew it, the car pulled to a stop on Greenwich Street in front of The Muffin Spot.
A Sistah the color of cashew nuts with ground paprika undertones, sporting starter locks, sat at a table by the window waving at Malone as she gathered her stuff and strutted out to the car. Malone’s assistant, Cree was a lethal cocktail of Sistah chic: a shot of Essence, two drops of Elle, a pinch of Bazaar and a squirt of Vogue stirred not shaken. She sported a pair of faded ultra flared jeans that had splits up the back and undoubtedly, the jeans hung down below her belly button because that was Cree’s style. She gave the term low-rider new meaning. The only reason you couldn’t see her belly because she had on a chocolate brown chunky turtleneck sweater under a Pam Grierish, circa 1972 brown leather trench coat and on her feet, a pair of brown stiletto faux ostrich ankle boots. She handed a wheeled duffel bag to the driver, keeping an oversized latest-designer-of-the-moment black tote.
“What’s up queen in cream?” Cree gushed as she slid onto the backseat.
“Everything is fine.”
“I can see that with your new Birkin bag.”
“Imitation Birkin bag.”
“You can afford a real one.”
“For the cost of a real one I could buy a small economy car with no extras. Which makes no sense the way I tear up a bag up.”
“Well that is true.”
“I forget to tell you that I was only able to get you a deluxe studio. That’s all they had available, but the manager said we could ask about a one bedroom when we check in.”
“You act like I’m staying at Big Bubba’s Hour Motel in West Hell and not The Armstrong in South Beach. A deluxe studio will do just fine. And besides you have other things on your mind lately.”
“So everyone is telling me.”
“We just care.”
Cree searched through her tote before finally retrieving her MP3 player and a book.
“What are you reading?”
“The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman.”
“I read that.”
“Remember you recommended it to me.”
“I just mentioned it to you.”
“I became very interested in it after I saw your reaction to it.”
“Yeah. I wanted to see what in this book got a rise out of you.”
“You know I don’t play that intra-racial color thing. It just infuriates me that it still happens today.”
“I’m looking forward to Thurman’s take on the matter.”
“We’ll talk when you are done.”
“I know we will.”
Cree, notorious for eardrum-popping-level music, put her super bass headphones on with the precision of a pilot preparing to test the speed of sound and stabbed the on button. Bob Marley singing War poured from her headphones. Malone shook her head in amazement and sought sanctuary in her own headphones. Lost in their respective music worlds they traveled to the airport.
Malone and Cree exited the car while the driver popped the trunk and placed the bags on the pavement. Cree seductively signaled the too-cute syrup colored skycap over to help with the bags. As he loaded the luggage onto a baggage cart Cree reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She extracted one of the skinny coffin nails and lit it with all the verve of a 1930’s film star before taking an exacting drag.
“I’m sorry but I have to smoke a cigarette. If you want to help someone else I will be right here when you get back,” Cree flirted.
“I can wait.”
“I’m going to check in at the kiosk, I’ll see you at the gate.” Malone turned to the skycap. “Do you mind taking that bag off the cart?”
“Not a problem.”
“Thanks,” Malone smiled as she handed him a five.
“I’ll be in as soon as I finish.”
“With the cigarette or the man?”
“No you didn’t?”
“But I did,” Malone said over her shoulder as she strutted into the terminal like a Super Model on a Paris runway.
Sitting at the gate Malone glanced through one magazine after another before dropping them into the empty seat between her and Cree. After the third magazine thudded onto the pile, Cree put her book down.
“How you feeling today?”
“Didn’t we already have this conversation?” Malone flipped through the next magazine absentmindedly.
“We did but you gave me the obligatory, everything is fine.”
“So are you saying that you don’t believe me?”
“I am saying just that.” Malone closed the magazine and laid it in her lap.
“Everything is maybe not so fine.”
“Malone it’s normal to be worried. We are talking about a biopsy.”
“I know. But what’s confusing me is besides the fear thing I also have that something-good-is-coming sensation whirling around in my stomach.”
“What’s so confusing about that?”
“I don’t usually have both” her voice trailed off.
“Conflicting emotions is normal and you don’t need to choose one over the other. Although if given the choice I know you would choose the something-good-is-coming sensation.”
“Hell yeah I would.” They shared a laugh.
Malone and Cree exited the bathroom at Miami International Airport looking like new women. The Up North tops and coats had been relegated to a large mesh bag. Cree’s chunky sweater was gone and she stood in front of the conveyer belt waiting for her luggage in a teeny-tiny white tee shirt, which hovered above her, well toned, pierced belly button and low-riders. On her feet were a pair of a three and half-inch chunky mules. Malone had changed into a cream tee shirt, to match her cream-colored leather pants and put on the cream driving shoes with nubby bottoms, which she impatiently tapped against the baggage cart as if that action alone would make the conveyer belt churn out her luggage faster.
Then the chatter started. The usual salutations of Hello, What’s up, How you doing were being spoken in a million and one different tongues creating a concerto of disharmony that swirled and twirled inside her head. Malone was all for cultural pride and that included holding onto your native tongue if one was lucky that way but the ensuing multilingual Babel that permeated the air was having a torturous effect on her. At that moment, she had a better understanding of what a non-medicated schizophrenic felt like. It seemed like a million voices were competing in a holler contest inside her head.
Then it happened….a slow, soft murmur rose above the crash of voices. The conveyer belt creaked into action causing everyone to go silent before they all scrambled to be ringside when the first piece of luggage burst through the dingy plastic strips that separated the inside of the building from the outside. Malone tapped her foot. Another three minutes passed before her bag popped out. Four bags later, the carousel belched out Cree’s duffel bag. She hurled it into the cart and cut a sharp turn. Malone cut a path just short of destruction, determined to leave the maniacal milieu of Miami International Airport behind her, she let the blue skies of the Miami skyline beckon her forward. The sea of people parted in front of her as if they could sense her need to get away. Exiting the building, she gasped for air as if she had been underwater for 2 1/2 minutes and counting. Cree exited on her heels.
“Girl you need a drink.”
“Yes I do. So see if you can get us a cab.”
Cree stepped to the curb and before she could get her hand in the air, a cab zipped up. A nut-brown Brother called out to them, his English tinged with the French accent of Haiti.
“Need a cab my Nubian Sisters? Henri Toussaint at your service.”
“Yes,” responded Cree as she turned to Malone, “I hope we don’t have a chatterbox in this one, I am not in the mood for fluff talk.”
Henri hopped out of the cab and made a beeline for them, grabbing the cart and quickly depositing their bags in the trunk. Malone slid onto the back seat and Cree plopped down next to her. Jumping in, Henri turned around and smiled at them revealing a sparkly gold front tooth. Cree groaned as Malone tried to act as if she didn’t notice it. Henri gushed with the exuberance of a game show host.
“Where are my Nubian Sisters going in our fair city of Miami?”
Clueless in Miami popped into Malone’s head, as she stifled a laugh.
“South Beach, The Armstrong on Collins Avenue,” responded Cree dryly.
“The Armstrong, ooh, right in the middle of South Beach,” he cackled as sunlight hit the tooth. He turned around, put the car into gear and took off out of the airport. “I like to be in the middle of the action ladies. I could show you a good time while you are in town.”
Malone smiled and turned her head to stare at Cree who was already staring at Malone.
“Thanks but no thanks Henri.”
“Do you want to discuss the shoot?”
“No. Actually I want to get this job over with and go on my vacation.”
“It’ll be over before you know it.”
“Not soon enough because I am not in the mood for any drama, which we both know, is always on the menu when we are dealing with Lauren.”
“Why is she so, so whatever she is? She’s got one of the best jobs in the world as the Fashion Director for Sugar Hill.”
“She is persnickety and prickly. Being fussy gives her power, which just makes her plain old silly. But she keeps calling us for work so I can put up with her.”
“I know you can. I think she is scared of you.”
“She’s not but she knows how far to go with me.”
“Which isn’t too far.”
“Amen, she ain’t a fool now.” They shared a laugh. Malone laid her head back and closed her eyes.
“So you’re not in the mood for any surprises huh?”
She opened her eyes and turned to look at Cree.
“What kind of surprises?”
“I heard that Xavier might be in town while we are here.”
“Oh no.” Malone closed her eyes again.
“Sorry to be the one to tell you. Although that wouldn’t be my response if that piece of chocolate cake wanted to spend time with me.”
“He is yummy but—”
“We want different things.”
Malone exited the cab and walked up the stairs and onto the wide porch that led to the front door of The Armstrong. She opened the door and walked up to the front desk to check in when she heard a voice call out to her. “Malone Webster.”
She turned to see one of the finest men she knew. Jesse Madison, the only heterosexual makeup assistant that she knew. Quite the tasty sample of masculinity he was. Caramel colored skin, five o’clock shadow haircut, smooth moustache and a close-cropped slender goatee all atop a chiseled body and former spring-fling for Malone but now just her fallback-just-in-case- personal-booty-call.
“Mr. Madison.” He walked over and embraced her, kissing her cheek. “How’s life treating you?”
“Good. And it looks like you are doing okay.”
Cree stepped up onto the porch. “How are you Mr. Man?” Jesse turned to smile at her. “I’m just fine.”
“Well that’s not new,” she chuckled.
He turned back to Malone, “How’s life treating you?”
“Get a room you two,” Cree teased as she moved around them and entered the lobby.
“Shut up Cree,” Malone said before turning back to Jesse. “Yeah I am. Why?”
“You seem a little off.”
“I am. A little,” she said.
“Can we talk later?” Jesse asked.
“Sure,” Malone answered as she disentangled herself from his arms and deposited a kiss on his cheek.