Authors: Candice Dow
Caught in the Mix
Ain’t No Sunshine
Tappin’ on Thirty
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
This book is dedicated to my niece and namesake, Candice Taliah Dow, born March 2, 2006. I made a commitment to myself to finish this book before you were born. Thanks for arriving two weeks late and granting me an extension on my self-imposed deadline.
I would like to thank God for the abundance of blessings in my life. I am ever so grateful for His goodness and mercy.
All good things come in threes, and I can’t believe how time flies. Just a year and a half ago, I was a first-time author, biting my nails, anxiously awaiting feedback on my first book, and how I prayed that at least one person would like it. For some reason I thought those jitters would go away with subsequent books. Guess what? They’re still here, but I believe it is what makes me humble and drives me to write stories that you will enjoy. To my lovely readers: It is your love and support that keep me afloat. Your words pull me through and you make this journey worth the ride. To all the African-American book clubs, thank you. You are our backbone, and I appreciate you keeping it tight for us. So much love and gratitude goes out to you.
To my wonderful literary agent and friend, Audra Barrett: When you proposed the idea for this story, I remember you thought you’d have to sell it to me. Before you could even finish your pitch, I knew it was something that I’d be honored to write. Thanks for trusting me enough to be the surrogate mother to your baby! You are brilliant and I couldn’t ask for better representation.
To my mother and father, thanks for over-nurturing me and making me believe that anything in this world is attainable. To my sister, Lisa, where would I be without you? Auntie’s Angels: Morgan and Macey, keep making me proud. You are everything and everything is you! Thanks to all my family for being there and loving me despite my frequent absences from the family meetings. We are bound together with cords that cannot be broken! Special thanks to the family promo-team, especially Danece “Down for the Ride” Sykes, Tara “Just Tell Me What I Gotta Do” Collier, Nia and Little Kevin, Sonia Harrison, Malik and The Twins.
Anika, you always know exactly when to push and when to pull. I am so blessed to have you to share my triumphs and successes, as well as my failures and mistakes. To the “Sex and the City” crew turned “ANS Street Team.” Just when I thought you girls were too commercial for the grind, you stepped up the game in a major way. Nicole Dehlitsch, every writer needs to have you in her life, and I’m so glad you’re in mine. Julian Brown, my lifelong friend, thanks for actually listening.
To my fellow authors and friends: Darren Coleman, thank you so much for your guidance and assurance as I try to figure this literary industry out. I wish you continued success. Daaimah “Everyday I’m Hustlin’” Poole, you are my girl! I am intrigued by your drive and determination. You deserve the best, and I wish you all the success in the world. Lissa Woodson aka Naleighna Kai, I can always trust that you are promoting me even when I’m not promoting myself and I thank you.
To the other authors who have blessed me on this journey with a smile, an encouraging word, a laugh, or a listening ear, I just want to tell you that I appreciate you: Janine A. Morris, Brenda L. Thomas, Victoria Christopher-Murray, Mary B. Morrison, Kendra Norman-Bellamy, Karen Quinones-Miller, Carl Weber, RM Johnson, La Jill Hunt, T. Styles, Nikki Turner, Joel McIver, Yasmin Shiraz, Yolanda Buick, and so many others—much success.
To the TriCom Publicity team, thank you for all of your hard work. Many thanks to Robilyn Heath, Heather Covington, Shunda Leigh, and Nakea Murray.
Thanks to the entire Kensington staff, especially Latoya Smith for holding down the fort. Jessica McLean, you are the best and I’m so blessed to have you.
If I forgot anyone, blame it on my mind and not my heart. Until next time, I’ma keep rhymin’ and keep writin’ and you will always be my reason…
ounds of makeup-soiled tissue sat on the pew separating my sister and me. My mother was on the other side with her Southern church hat cocked to the side. Spit bubbles lined my lips as I asked, “Why?”
With her left arm wrapped around my shoulders to settle the jitters, my mother wiped my face with the ball of her right thumb. My sniffles stuttered as I fought to catch my breath.
When we fell in love, I thought to myself, this is too good to be true. As the pastor did the eulogy, our life flashed through the lenses of my Chanel sunshades. He was the man of my dreams. Why couldn’t this be a dream?
With my arm stretched to the picture that sat atop the casket, I rocked back and forth wishing that I could touch him just one last time. It was a blow-up of the
magazine cover when he was featured:
Hip-hop pays off for young entrepreneur/writer.
He began the first magazine geared toward financial independence for young artists in the game, profiling rappers who’d gone bankrupt, along with those who made their money work for them. His life was dedicated to changing the minds and pockets of those who were pimped by the industry.
In the middle of the eulogy, his voice rippled through the church: “Fatty-Girl.” Chills ran through me. My head swung around. Again, he called for me: “Fatty-Girl.”
In the doorway of the church, he stood. The glare around him forced me to squint. Still, I could decipher the vision before me. I smiled as he strolled toward me. Dressed in what he wore into the office the day he was rushed to the Emergency Room: Black Prada shoes; Seven Jeans; Armani button-down. I bolted from the pew and into his arms. His cologne filled my nose. I didn’t care how he got here or about the mix up as to his death; I just wanted to hold him and forget about ever losing him.
People in the church gasped and some even snickered. I could give a damn about what they thought. All that mattered was that he was here with me. I kissed his cheek. It was cold and hard. I tried again. It was even colder. I rubbed his back and he evaporated in my embrace.
Everyone in the church pointed and laughed at me as I stood alone in the aisle hugging myself. Why didn’t they help me? I just lost my husband and they found my desperation a big joke.
When my alarm clock interrupted my recurring dream, I sighed slightly as the “Hot 97” morning show host giggled in my ear. Damn it. This is no
Deliver Us from Eva.
This is my life. I’m in my king-size bed without my king.
My legs kicked wildly. As if this day was different than any other, I huffed because I didn’t want to get up. Why can’t I just lay here forever? Piles of manuscripts were scattered on the floor beside my bed. Derrick would always straighten up after I fell asleep. The disarray forced me to cover my face.
I stretched and rubbed sleep from my eyes hoping for a miracle. When I looked around, the papers remained. I sucked my teeth.
I need help.
All editors need an assistant at work and at home.
When I heard Whitney Houston’s voice come through my speakers, I rose up.
“If tomorrow was judgment day…and I’m standing on the front line…and the Lord asked me what I did with my life; I’d say I spent it with you.”
A smile spread across my face as I sang the lyrics to Derrick’s favorite song. My head bobbed side to side. I felt his presence. The dream. The song.
He was my inspiration to peel out of bed. I two-stepped into the bathroom and mimicked his silly robot dance.
My love is your love and your love is my love.
When the song ended, my grouchy mood was gone. Derrick stopped by to cheer me up. He always did have perfect timing, if you don’t count that he croaked too soon.
scrounged around the house stuffing papers in my bag. When I reached the front door, I realized that I hadn’t had my caffeine. I rushed back into the kitchen and opened almost every cabinet. Where is it? I just bought some yesterday. After a five-minute search, I noticed the huge Pathmark bag on the kitchen table stuffed with bags of coffee. It was too late to even consider, so I rushed out and I peeked in the mirror over the dining room table. My wedding portrait on the opposite wall was reflected in it. Derrick smiled at me. Just as I do every morning, I took a deep breath and smiled back. His voice vibrated through the room: “Chill out, Fatty.”
I frowned at him through the mirror. He continued, “You can’t take on this world by yourself. You need help. It’s that time.”
With my hands propped on my hips, I rolled my neck. “Time for what?”
The silence left me wondering if I were hallucinating. Here I am speaking to myself and hearing him.
Maybe it was time.
It was time for me to get my butt to work.
After sprinting up 138
Street to Adam Clayton Powell, I stuck my arm out and hopped into a gypsy cab. I exhaled, “Fifth Avenue. Between Forty-eighth and Forty-ninth.”
This, of course, would be the day that someone would want to play me. I wiped the moistness forming on my nose. Then, I asked him to repeat the amount I thought he stated. “How much?”
With a strong West African accent, he said, “Twenty dollar.”
He demanded, “Twenty dollar.”
“I catch a taxi every day from here. It’s fifteen.”
He continued to drive. “Twenty.”
“Whatever. Fifteen—or I’ll get out first.”
This bastard called my bluff, as he had the audacity to pull over on 125
Street and pop the trunk. What could I say?
No, you’re going to take me to work for the right price?
Instead, I flung the door open and contemplated cursing him out, but I chilled. My mobile office was in his trunk. Five dollars wasn’t worth losing the possible bestseller that I was reading.
He said, “Six dollars.”
As I rushed to the back of the car, I spit obscenities. Why this morning of all mornings? When I looked up and saw Starbucks, I was thankful. It’s hard to cope without coffee. Derrick learned early in our relationship that I was addicted. He would have it ready for me by the time I got out of the shower. He’d always brag that that was the key to our happiness.
Derrick spoke to me again, “Fatty, you need a hug.”
I do not need a hug. I just need some coffee and I’m twenty steps away.
“You need someone to take care of you.”
I can take care of myself. The last person that offered to take care of me retired early, so I’m not interested.
“Yes, you are. Maybe you should start dating.”
Do I look like I have time to date?
“You have to make time. I’m dying watching you battle this world alone.”
Ah! I think you already died. It’s a great thing that everyone in New York is crazy, because no one questioned my conversation with the sky. I rushed into Starbucks and ordered my medication. As I stood there waiting for it, Derrick made sense.
When the caffeine circulated through my blood, I woke up. Why am I acting like I’m dead, too? I am young and vibrant. How long am I expected to be the mourning widow?
You’re right, Derrick. It is time.
It was as if all I ever wanted was his permission, because I was suddenly eager to get on the dating scene. I rushed out and hailed a taxi. Again, I told him where I was going. He nodded. I asked, “How much?”
I nodded and rested my head on the cracked leather seat. I called my home girl, Mya. As the phone rang, I giggled about how Derrick used to call us C1 and C2. That stood for Country One and Two. She grew up in Mississippi and I’m an Alabama girl and we met first day of freshman year at NYU. We took pride in our country nicknames. Guess that’s the Southern happy side of us, but over the years we’ve become more Northern than Southern. She answered, “Hey, Tima. What’s up, lady?”
“Haven’t heard that one in awhile. What’s going on? I tried calling you last night.”
“I was reading.”
“The story of your life.”
“Pretty much. Anyway, girl, I had that dream that Derrick is still alive. You know the one where he comes to the funeral…”
Although I don’t believe it was intentional, she sighed impatiently and confirmed that she recalled which one. Her familiar snicker told me her thoughts. She thought I was insane. Considering the circumstances, I do damn good. Imagine marrying the man of your dreams at the age of twenty-two and he ups and kicks the bucket by the time you’re twenty-five.
“Well, why did my alarm clock come on and his favorite song was playing? I mean I just felt his presence.”
“I feel like he wanted to tell me that I’m free to date again.”
She laughed. “
dated. He is the only person you ever dated.”
“I did date.”
“Remember freshman year, I went out with…” I paused. “Um…”
“No! I remember you interning at
magazine freshman year and becoming Derrick Mayo’s assistant.” She chuckled again. “And he scooped your young, tender, country butt up.”
“I didn’t get that internship until May. What was I doing before then?”
“Being a nerd.”
“All right. Whatever. I think I want to start dating.”
“Tima, are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Apprehension rumbled in her sigh. “Tima?”
Time had ticked away so rapidly. It took almost two years to get over the shock. He drove me to work. I kissed him good-bye. He said, “Kiss me again, Fatty.” I kissed him again and he asked, “Do you love me?”
Though he should have always been stressed, it was never evident in his face. But that morning, his forehead was wrinkled. Dark rings formed shadows under his eyes. There was a cloud over him as I voluntarily leaned in for another kiss. “Of course I love you, honey.”
“See you at seven.”
“Where are we eating?” I laughed. He’d worried me all night about going to get ice cream. I said, “Ben and Jerry’s?”
He chuckled. “We’ll hit BJs after dinner. I’ll call you after lunch.”
I hopped out of the car and that was our last exchange, our last words. The phone call that came wasn’t from him, but his secretary. He was rushed to the hospital and pronounced DOA. For two years, I waited for the punchline. This last year, I’ve just been trying to stay afloat. It wasn’t until he mentioned it this morning that I internalized my loneliness. I swore if Derrick wasn’t reincarnated, I would be single forever. Hey, some things are easier said than done.
As my mind reminisced on our last encounter, the phone sat glued to my ear and the taxi driver asked, “Left side or right?”
I sputtered, “Right.”
Mya was still on the other end, explaining why she thought I wasn’t prepared for the dating game. “Mya, maybe you’re not ready for me to date?”
“I guess. It’s just a dog-eat-dog world out here. I don’t want you to have to deal with that. See, I know what’s out here. I think you’ll be shell-shocked.”
“Whatever. Maybe we can go for a drink later and discuss the pros and cons. I have to go. I’m at work now. What’s your day like?”
“I have a casting at one. Depending on how many good actors come out will determine how long my day will be. I’ll call you and let you know.”
I sighed. “Oh the life of a casting director.”
“Tell me about it.”
Shortly before one, Mya called. Surprisingly, her first question was, “Are you sure about this dating thing?”
“Okay, if you’re really serious. I guess I should do my part to help you out.”
She suggested I use a dating service. My lips curled. “Girl, please. Only desperate people use services like that.”
She laughed. “See what I mean? You don’t know anything about dating. Remember, that romance stuff you edit is fiction. Real people are on the Internet, using services, and anything that works.”
“Whatever? I know
people use those services, but not me.”
As she rushed off the phone, she did her best to convince me why I needed to go to an upscale dating service. “Although it’s just a date, he needs to be handpicked.” She snickered. “Okay, so I made you an appointment with the Black Love Agency.”
My nose wrinkled. “That sounds like a porno agency.”
“See, you are so outdated.” She paused. “Now, would I send you to some sketchy place?”
“I guess not. When is the appointment?”
“This evening at six.”
“Yeah, I just sent the email with all the details.”
“I figured we should do it while you’re pumped. Tomorrow might be too late. Who knows? Derrick may drop by tonight and tell you he changed his mind and he doesn’t want you to date.”
“You are such a smart-ass.”
“Love me or leave me alone. I got to go. Hopefully, we’ll talk before you go. If not, we’ll hook up after your meeting.”
My mouth sat open and my heart pounded, as I held the phone. Kia, my editorial assistant, stood in the doorway and interrupted my thought process. Her timid smile greeted my confused look. My eyes shifted left and right. Hers returned the gesture. As I motioned for her to enter, I laughed.
Unaware of the joke, she laughed too. I asked, “Kia, would you use a dating service to find a date?”
“Uh, a dating service?”
I smirked. “You’re single, right?”
She nodded as I tried to recall my last question. “Yeah, you’re single or yeah, you’d use a dating service?”
She covered her smile with her right hand. “Both.”
She nodded, and I asked, “Really?”
“Yeah, if I could afford it.”
“So, is this what people do?”
“Yeah, some people. Most people will try anything at first.”
Her confidence surfaced as she became the expert and I, the rookie. She continued, “It’s just another way of meeting people. That’s how I look at it. You never know where you’ll find love.”
Technically, I’ve already had my shot at love, a love that would be impossible to replace, so I am just searching for a date. She giggled as my mind wandered off.
“I don’t know.” I lowered my chin and said, “I have an appointment at Black Love this evening.”
“That’s great, Fatima. I heard of people meeting nice guys through that agency.”
Her excitement settled the doubt blustering in me, I blushed. “Really? So you think I should go?”
“Yeah, tell me how it works out for you.”
“I certainly will.”
After I changed from my stilettos into my loafers, I dodged to the subway to make my appointment on time. While I sat on the train, I took note of all the people without rings. It would be interesting to take a survey of how many people would be willing to go through an agency. When the train approached my stop, I daydreamed. Derrick’s voice yanked me from my seat and before I could rationalize, I stood in front of the building.
Do I really have to stoop this low? As I debated the purpose of an agency, my cell phone rang. Mya shouted in my ear, “Go ahead, Fatima. Go in.”
“How do you know that I’m not already inside?”
“Because I know you.”
After looking around to make sure no one recognized me, I grabbed the door. “Whatever. I’m already inside.”
“No, you’re not. I can hear all the traffic on the street. You can’t fool me. I know you too well.”
“All right, all right. I’m going in now.”
“Okay. Call me as soon as you’re done.”
Just as a matter of accuracy, I checked the directory for the suite. When I noticed only the initials BLA on the plate, I thought that was suspect. Why didn’t they want to publicize that they were the Black Love Agency?
Before getting on the elevator, I took a deep breath. Inside the elevator, I took another deep breath. As the elevator went higher and higher, my reasons increased:
You can’t be single forever. An occasional date to accompany you to professional engagements. A nice guy to take you out to dinner. And after a three-year drought, an occasional lay probably wouldn’t hurt either.
I stood in front of the young receptionist and smiled. “Uh…”
“Good evening. Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes. My name is Fatima.” As I was about to state my last name, I felt like I was committing adultery. When I looked at the twenty-something black chick across from me, I wanted to beeline out of there. Most people who knew people knew Derrick Mayo. How could I use his last name at the damn Black Love Agency?
“Fatima Barnes?” she asked.
My eyes expanded and my smile stretched even wider, because Mya was clever enough to book the appointment using my maiden name. I felt pumped again.
The receptionist handed me a clipboard with a stack of papers. “If you could just fill these out and give me your thousand-dollar deposit, we can get started.”
Can’t I appraise the damn prospects before they want to take my money? I leaned onto her desk, “So, do you think it’s worth it?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “A lot of people say it is. Many of our clients have gotten married.”
“So, usually how many dates do most people go on before they find what they’re looking for?”
“Well, we charge a thousand per month and you get unlimited dates. So, it’s hard for me to say. I mean most people stay with us on average three or four months.” Trying to whisper, she added, “You know, depending on their personality, some are with us longer.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this.”
Her smirk assured me that she thought I was lying. “Yeah, I understand.”
“Do you have any tips?”
She chuckled. “Only pick men who are new to the service.”
“Thanks.” I checked out the nameplate on her desk. “Shakee-me-a. Did I pronounce it correctly?”