Fay Gordon has four problems.
Her architectural firm is floundering; her sister has delusions of pop star grandeur; the music agent who says he’s going to take Zahra “to the top” once took Fay to dinner and a movie – and a lookout point – and she just wants to forget he ever existed; and fresh from a successful career in New York, family friend Christian Quintero is back in Trinidad, enjoying hometown popularity and feeding her this crazy story that he’s always been in love with her and wants to give a relationship a shot.
The man has lost his mind.
But as a hot year winds down, either Chris gets more persuasive or Fay grows more susceptible. Everyone calls Fay a tough go-getter but Chris seems to know all her soft spots. That makes him the biggest problem of all!
Christian remembered Zahra telling him she was moving out in a couple of weeks, to a place where she didn’t have to clock back in at ten each night. It was half past the hour now and the townhouse at the end of the street was fully lit and the occupants, noisy. He thought her present set-up of free room and board and a sister who was more doormat than domineering was a cushy one, but Zahra liked playing damsel in distress so he’d never bothered to mention it.
Rolling his truck past a long line of parked cars, he decided thirty to forty-five minutes was enough time to show his face before heading back home. In the year he’d been back, his house had never won the battle between a hectic night out and a comfortable night in, so it looked like he’d officially lost his social vibe now that he had two acres of land in his name and a frantic agent hyperventilating down his neck.
Up ahead, Fay Gordon made a theatrical production out of shielding her eyes from the glare of his headlights. Christian slowed the truck to a crawl, and took the opportunity to appreciate how well she filled out a cotton t-shirt and an old pair of jeans. She lowered her hands and they found comfortable resting places on hips he’d wanted to get to know better since 1995.
He inched closer and passed a pink Volkswagen buggy parked just before Fay’s driveway. From her vantage point on the sidewalk she gave him her evil eye but before she could truly ramp up on the nasty looks, he swung into the space left between the buggy and a silver Benz Roadster, put the truck into park and searched for Fay so he could beat at his chest and preen his feathers.
She’d snuck up on him during his Master and Commander of Parallel Parking exhibition and now stood right outside his cab door. Instead of looking appropriately impressed, she made a tight gesture with her right forefinger and he obeyed, lowering his window. Cool night air and loud soca music whipped into the cab but the scent of cocoa butter and jasmine took its time wafting over from his best-kept secret. When it arrived at its destination, it wasted no time wrapping itself around his balls and holding on tight. She spoke to him like he had a dunce cap shoved on his head.
“Quintero, you’re blocking my driveway.”
Chris contrived to look apologetic. “I know, but be nice. I’m late and I don’t come bearing any gifts for Her Highness.” As he replied, he opened the door and stepped down in an attempt to cut short any argument.
Fay, in her boots, came up to his shoulder. Tonight she stood close enough for him to fantasise about touching the trio of beauty moles resting high on her right cheek. They seemed to dance as she talked and usually when the talking involved him, they boogied to the rhythm of a set-down.
“How long do you plan to be a fire hazard?” She eyed his truck with the distrust he felt sure she reserved for American-made left-hand-drives. It was a look he recognised from experience.
“An hour, tops. Did I miss anything?”
Fay barked out a short laugh and turned towards the house. “Other than the video?” she asked over her shoulder, pushing the words through lips curled in distaste.
“Yeah, other than that.”
She waited for him halfway up the pathway, an event in itself. Fay wasn’t normally given to such charity but tonight he had her all to himself, his personalised welcome wagon of cheer.
“About ten minutes ago,” she began as he drew closer, “they finished the Mrs. Christian Quintero competition. I can’t remember who won but the talent segment went by pretty quickly.”
He made a face. “I thought I said be nice.”
“Contestant Number Two, that’s who it was. Don’t worry; the judges made sure she could spell both your name and her own. That round was a killer.”
She pushed open the front door and stepped aside for him to enter. Inside was chaos and he got a tardy kick of adrenaline as heavy bass thumped its way up his body. Fay’s townhouse was small, but they’d set aside most of the furniture in her living room to create space and lots of guests had taken their drinks outside to the postage stamp backyard.
He’d been here twice before but had never gone past the living room and the airplane-sized toilet on the ground floor. Both times Fay had been home but out of sight upstairs and he wondered why she was here tonight, weaving in and out of the dancing crowds when, as Zahra told it, they were, at best, on cool terms. However, Zahra, if not the Queen, was a loyal disciple of melodrama and he noted the relationship was warm enough for the younger Gordon to have her way with the house.
The woman of the hour was holding court on the far side of the room for a crowd six men strong and her trademark laugh, a raucous belly-deep number, was in working order. He started towards her but she caught his eye midway there and swirled over in a blur of blue denim and sunshine yellow.
“Finally the party can start!” She shouted it across the room so her captive audience could hear. To most men her voice sounded like honey-coated gravel and reminded them of straight sex, but he still heard the toothless lisp of a six-year-old tag-along every time she opened her mouth.
Like her sister, she came up only to his shoulder in heels but her smile was seductive, the deep dimples on both cheeks deceptively innocent and the heavy lashes she batted up at him, unrepentantly flirtatious. He kissed her forehead and she stepped back so he could admire the barely-there top and where-is-it skirt that was her outfit. After he made mildly appreciative noises, she shoved a red Solo cup into his hands and dragged him over to a massive flat screen that appeared to have been wheeled in for the night’s premiere.
“You lucky you’re good-looking enough to get away with being late, mister! It’s time to watch what your money paid for.” She threw her head back and laughed again, loud enough to attract more looks, as planned. A little quieter, she leaned into him and said, “People loved it. I’m in love with it myself.”
He took a sip from the cup and the rum went down well with the Coke. “I saw it already remember?”
“But not with an audience.” She fiddled with the remote for a while. The video was on loop but the sound was muted. After giving the machine a thwack, she looked to someone behind them.
“Warren, come help me here.”
Glad to have avoided I Man, I Fix Everything duty, Chris turned to watch Zahra’s new personal manager approach. He’d spoken to Warren on too few occasions to form a decided view on him but the first impression had been favourable. Greedy, materialistic shit-talkers did well as agents. He had one himself. This one, Zahra had brought home for a family dinner three months ago and introduced as the man who was going to make her bigger than Beyoncé. He’d been in Boston at a comic convention and missed the surprise announcement but her cousin and his best friend Johannes said it had gone down well enough with everyone but Fay.
So it surprised him to see her standing in the archway leading to her kitchen with Warren’s hands on the hips he’d decided, armed with serious determination and probably some unavoidable begging, could be his. The agent whispered something in her ear before swaggering over to the screen and Chris took a tense moment to decode Fay’s crossed arms. She hadn’t recoiled from Warren in disgust but she didn’t look loved-up either. It meant he still had a chance to beg.
He met her gaze and raised his plastic cup in appreciation of the night’s true host. Fay tapped her watch in response and looked meaningfully towards the front door, before disappearing into the kitchen, leaving him to grin at an empty archway. When he turned back, the sound still hadn’t come back on but now the screen was filled with a slo-mo shot of Zahra’s ass in the middle of a twerk. Everybody in viewing distance paused to admire the sight but the agent looked to be deriving some extra-special enjoyment.
The jury was out on Warren Miller.