Authors: Nina G. Jones
Nina G. Jones
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The distribution of this book via the internet or via other means without the permission of the author is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, establishment, organizations, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictiously to give a sense of authenticity. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For those who have been with me since Strapped, here is a love letter for you all.
I've been traded to Houston," Brock confessed as I prepared his breakfast. The egg I was breaking into the glass bowl cracked awkwardly and some shell fragments fell into mix.
"Damn it. I hate it when this happens!" Brock knew I didn't really follow sports and so even though it was likely plastered all over the news, this would be a surprise to me. I continued cooking, silently searching for the proper way to respond to his announcement.
I was upset, but I didn't want to show it. For one thing, Brock and I had grown really close over the two years I had been his personal chef. On top of that, he paid me so well that I had gotten far too comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that I centered my life around serving him. Sure, there were other clients, but not enough to maintain the lifestyle I had come to enjoy. Not only did he pay me well, but my schedule was so flexible that while I was at his beck and call, I still had to time to take care of my own business. Most importantly, he let me take all the time I needed to visit with my grandmother, who lived alone. In time I could find more clients, but Brock and I had such a good thing going. And even if he invited me to follow him, I couldn't go to Houston. I am a New Yorker for life, and my grandmother needed me here. I was all she had left.
I never imagined he would be traded. He was one of the stars of the Knicks, but I should have known that no matter how valued you think you are, you are never immune from being traded.
"Are you mad at me?"
I told you Brock and I had a good relationship. I mean, normally what NBA star would even give a shit about what his chef thinks about his trade? In fact, I think there was a period of time where a more intimate relationship could have developed, but I was too busy being faithful to my ex-boyfriend -- who was too busy hitting any available piece of ass this side of the equator. Brock was there for me when the shit hit the fan with the cheating bastard, but that's when he was with some playboy model turned wannabe singer. Later, when we both were single, we were both scarred and in anti-relationship mode and I began to see him as something of a big brother. In all honesty, I liked that we were friends. It meant I could trust him, because he wouldn't be motivated to hide anything from me the way that people do when they are in a relationship. Isn't that strange, how people become closer, while at the same time growing further apart?
"No. I'm not mad, Brock. Why would I be mad? I am just shocked. I never thought you would leave New York."
"Trust me, neither did I. This new coach is a dick. He thinks I have a big ego. I miss Coach Broadus, he got me."
"God, that sucks. So when do you leave, next season?"
Brock laughed a little under his breath. "Two weeks."
"Yeah, this is how it works sometimes."
I slid his goat cheese and sun-dried tomato omelet onto a plate and he reached out for it. "Wait," I commanded.
"I am going to scarf this down in three minutes, Sade," he protested as I garnished the omelet. For the record, he pronounced it like "laid," not like the "Indecent Proposal" singer. It was his thing, no one else shortened my already short name but Brock.
I sat down across from Brock, waiting for what he would say next. There was nothing I could contribute, I was powerless.
"You could come with me. Become my live-in chef."
"You know I can't leave my Nonna here alone. And I don't know if I am ready to start over in Houston." This trade was making me begin to realize that I couldn't revolve my career around one person.
"I had a feeling you would say that. The offer will stand indefinitely. I am going to miss your food out there." I smiled. "You know, I credit you for getting me so lean these past couple of years."
"Ugh, why do you have to go!"
"It's part of the career I'm in. A lot of money, a lot of fame, but at the end of the day, we're shifted around like cattle."
He finished his omelet and brought his plate to the sink. Other clients would have left it for me to clean up, but he had been raised right.
"So, what's the plan? How much longer will you need me?"
"I start packing everything early next week, fly out next Friday. So, I was thinking you could prepare my meals for next week in advance and freeze them since all the pots and pans will be packed. I'll pay you for the rest of the month."
"Thanks Brock. Here, let me get that," I said, heading to the sink the clean his plate.
"You're the chef, not the maid."
What the fuck am I going to do? I have rent to pay, a car payment, bills, student loans.
"Okay, well, I'm going to grab ingredients for lunch and dinner. I'll be back later this afternoon."
"Sounds good. Think about it seriously though. Coming with me. I'll give you a raise," he pouted.
I nodded, but unless I became completely desperate Houston was out of the question.
In the lobby of the gleaming high rise I greeted Nando, the doorman. A short man with salt and pepper hair, Nando was always buzzing with positive energy.
"Need a cab, chef?"
"How'd you know?"
"Oh come on! You gotta give me more credit than that. It's Tuesday. Grandma's right? Wednesdays you go to the market and get Mr. Jameson's food." I was always impressed with his attention to detail and how he seemed to know the smallest details of the tenant's personal lives, like how someone's kid had been studying for a spelling bee, or another tenant was training for a triathlon. But I think he remembered me because whenever I had a late-night urge to bake, I always brought him a tin of cookies.
And no one forgets my cookies.
I always visited my grandma's little pillbox apartment on Tuesdays, using the time between breakfast and lunch to prep some of her meals for the week. My grandma raised me since I was seven, after my parents were murdered. Yeah, I know--that takes your breath away a little, doesn't it? It does that for everyone I tell. I usually skate around the subject because it makes people uncomfortable. What do you say to someone whose parents were murdered? It was so long ago; to offer your condolences seems a little late in the game. To pretend it is no big deal is equally awkward. Then there's that little glimmer in people's eyes. They want to know how it happened, but we all know asking is considered rude. Trust me, some people don't give a shit, they'll outright ask. But others, they ask with their eyes. People hate violence, they hate death, but they still want to know the details. The end result is not as important as how it happened.
So, I know you are wondering, and yes, I will tell you. Because I get it. When someone on Facebook writes R.I.P. to so and so, I Google the name, trying to find out who this person is and how they ended up as a tribute on someone's page. I won't force you to do that.
It's a lot like the story of Bruce Wayne, in fact as a child I was fascinated with Batman because I thought he was my kindred spirit. My parents were walking home from date night without me. No big deal. New York is pretty safe for a large city. But they came upon a twitchy crackhead with a gun who wouldn't take no for an answer. My dad tried to be a hero and they were both shot. Just like that, I was an orphan. My grandmother took me in and has raised me since. She's my Alfred. Then, when she reached her 80s and slowed down significantly, it became my turn to do the same for her.
Honestly, I'm not broke. Well, I sort of am. My dad created a trust for me before he died. He was always a planner; it was horribly ironic that the one time he acted spontaneously and tried to thwart the mugger, it cost him his life. Unfortunately, I can't touch the money until I'm 30. That's two years away from now, and even further from the day that Brock told me he was leaving for Houston. So I have always lived in this limbo, sort of wanting to advance my career and work really hard, but knowing that if I wait it out, I'll get a pretty decent windfall. I figured I should just play things safe career-wise until I came upon the financial security of my inheritance.
While I was sitting in the cab, I ran through my contact list trying to think of who I could reach out to and let know that my schedule had opened up for more clients. It was important that I didn't sound desperate – that I spun it as an opportunity for them, not me.
Getting the gig with Brock was purely a lucky break. A couple of years earlier I was dragged to a party by my friend, Mindy, who was dating an sports agent. He was way too old for her, but disturbingly wealthy as he worked with many of the top names in the sports world. It was New Years Eve, and she promised it was going to be the party of a lifetime. She was right. The agent had a penthouse on the Upper East Side, with the kind of views of New York City that most people only get to see on postcards. Even people like me, who lived in New York my entire life, rarely saw the skyline from these angles. Being up there, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows with views past Manhattan out over the rivers and on to the ocean on every side, the random yellow and white squares of light that peppered the buildings around us, the sweeping curves of glowing suspension bridges, the little dots of movement on the streets below of cars driving to their own celebrations like hundreds of little glowing bugs: this was the best way to celebrate New Years in New York City. Not in some crowd of drunks, freezing your ass off, so that you could get a glimpse of some giant lightbulb slowly collapsing while swatting away an inebriated tourist who is trying to fulfill some scene he saw in a movie by stealing a kiss.
You could tell by their attire that the guests were either important or at least trying to project that impression. Dozens of black and gray suits, exquisitely but discreetly tailored, drifted from small social group to small social group. Thin, beautiful women shimmering in sequined everything threw back champagne liberally, no doubt internally calculating the calories of every bubble. The typical high-society party wardrobe was broken up by the usual silliness of New Years Eve: beaded necklaces, giant glittery headpieces and glasses that were cleverly designed to display the numerals of the year without blocking one's eyeballs. The sounds of carefree laughter and the collective humming of voices was broken up by the occasional drunken tooting of a party horn.
As soon as we arrived, Mindy made a beeline for Mitchell, her agent-boyfriend who was talking to Brock. Like I said, I don't follow sports, so I knew very little about him. I just saw this six-foot-eight, muscular, caramel-skinned guy with a radiant smile. Normally, basketball players are not my type. I usually go for the square-jawed, sleek-haired, athletic and muscular (but not too bulky) type. Think Ralph Lauren model (
I know, setting the bar really high there, Sadie
). But Brock didn't have that privileged air about him like so many of the other party guests. You could tell he came from humble beginnings, and while he loved the scene, he also probably spent just as much time with some of the people he grew up with. That attitude instantly made me feel comfortable with him. It didn't hurt that his face was astonishingly attractive, I couldn't help but notice that he wasn't awkwardly long and lanky like most ballers; instead, his limbs were well-proportioned and muscular.
After Mindy made the introductions, she quickly (and slyly) found a way to mention to Brock that I had just graduated from culinary school and was really into nutrition. What do you know, Brock was looking for a chef! So I met up with him later that week and he hired me right there on the spot. That's how I found myself in this tough situation, having put nearly all of my eggs into the Brock Jameson basket (
and now picking the broken bits of shell from his breakfast
). I hit a big break early on in my career, and sure, I got some other clients based on referrals from him, but feeding him and being his quasi-personal assistant became a full time job. I became far too content with that, and dropped my guard.
I had no choice but to hesitantly call Mindy, who I hadn't spoken to in a couple of months. She is a lot to handle, so I can only take her in doses. But she was always down for whatever. I could call her out of the blue and she'd make time for me even though she has always been insanely busy and career-focused. She knows lots of people with money and she works at a top talent agency. There had to be someone on her roster she could hook me up with.
"Sadie? Oh my god, how are you? It's been so long!" I imagined her sitting in the back of a Town Car being driven around Manhattan.
"Yeah, I know. I've been super busy with work and my grandmother."
"How is she?"
"She's okay. She doesn't want to leave her home, so I am doing the best I can to make her comfortable for as long as we can keep her in her apartment."
"That's great to hear. So what's new with you?"
"Not much, I was wondering if you wanted to catch up since it's been so long and my schedule has died down a bit."
A.K.A. I don't have a job
"Of course! Let me check my schedule. Hey, I'm free next Thursday. Does that work?"
I paused so that I didn't sound too available. "Yeah, that should work."
"Okay, can't wait to see you!"
The cab arrived at my grandma's apartment building, and as I let myself into the lobby, I felt hopeful that my meeting with Mindy would lead to some new opportunities.