“Ugh, I can’t stand her,” I mumble to myself. I stare down at my phone, eyes fixed on a photo of Pryce Williams – the man who I thought would be mine – and the woman he chose over me.
The picture annoying me is of him and his wife, Leelah, photoed at an event. They dressed cute in their color coordinated all-black outfits, her a bodycon black mini-dress and him a black button up with slacks and shiny black loafers.
Photos of them have been circulating around a lot lately since they married secretly on some exotic island last month. I roll my eyes at the thought and click out of my safari app to venture somewhere else on my phone.
My text app.
I scroll down once and stop on the name Lucas, a guy I met at a Chinatown restaurant close to a month ago. A Wall Street type, he talked fast and climaxed even faster. Not a minute man. The minute man. He wasn’t one of my best but I needed a confidence boost after seeing what I just saw on my phone’s screen.
Me: Hey you, what’s up?
Lucas: Who’s this?
I twist my lips to one side.
Me: We met at Mr. Won Ton in July.
Still no response.
I roll my eyes and walk up in line.
Me: And hooked up two nights later in the back of your Bentley.
Lucas: Mykal, hey! Yeah, you were great.
Lucas: How have you been?
Lucas: I hope well
Lucas: I miss you
Lucas: Got any plans tonight?
My phone chimes in my hand with each message he sends within the minute.
Lucas promised he would buy me the new Yves Saint Laurent pumps as I rode him in the back seat of his car. I should’ve known better than to fall for that bullshit. He didn’t even have the decency to save my phone number to know when I reached out to him again.
I shouldn’t be bothered.
So much for that confidence boost.
I click out of the text window and inhale the air sharply through my nose.
The scent of ground coffee beans engulfs me when I do. I stand in line at Groundhouse, waiting to place my order for a large hot cup of caffeine close to the middle of August. I usually bought coffee an hour before I stepped into work. During my broke days, I always dreamed of sipping coffee at the window of a luxurious coffeehouse, resembling a doll in the window while I watch the bold and the beautiful specimens of New York City go about their fabulous days like I would do after sipping on my espresso. I imagined I too would have somewhere important to go. A casting call, on the set of my newest movie, or a table read in a studio office somewhere.
I scoff at myself as I walk up in line, getting closer to the register.
I’m kind of happy I didn’t get what I wanted. I’m sure my father would have been proud had I become a starlet but the movie industry wasn’t for me, I learned.
So, no, the life of glitz and glamor didn’t really find me. Instead of table reads, I pitched ideas at the start of every day at the magazine I worked. My cousin, Amir Jones, started For The Culture with a business friend and I begged him to green-light me interning there. I’ve had to beg to have many things in my life, so it was familiar territory for me. Anyway, beg I did and an offer I finally got and now with our current editor pregnant and choosing the family life over her career, I now anticipated stepping comfortably into her former role at the magazine.
The line inches up a little more, and I follow in tow as the last person in line, at least for now. Entrepreneurs and their laptops pack Groundhouse. They always flock to this place by the pound. The boutique coffeehouse is one of the cutest 24-hour coffeehouses in New York City. Two heiresses who wanted a place they could escape to, to get caffeinated after clubbing every night, owned Groundhouse. Plus, they needed at least one place to put their money to watch that money grow, and Groundhouse became that place.
“Two shots of espresso,” the barista shouts up ahead. “Extra hot.”
For some people, life is just that easy, and I will know what that feels like, even if it’s just a slight glimpse. Because with that editor position open, I can secure that spot and elevate my lifestyle. Once I step into my role as editor, I can get closer to the people I adore and rub shoulders with the rich and famous a little more. As a former intern and current staff writer, there’s very little respect in my title. I’m seen as disposable and replaceable. So being around the people I want to be around requires some leverage.
Writing is a career I happened upon while trying to find my way around the existence God gave me. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the wrong life.
My cousin Amir, now he’s living the life that’s supposed to be mine, through and through, at least now he is. As an internationally known R&B singer, his life was once upon a time somewhat appealing. But now, as a blockbuster golden boy in Hollywood, I would do anything to trade with him.
“Caramel Macchiato with two caramel chews?” the barista shouts next from her station.
I glance ahead to see how many more patrons are in front of me. Only three, finally. I’ve been in line for close to ten minutes and like every day, I’m getting annoyed being the last person to be served.
I wouldn’t need to deal with this as editor. I’ll send one of the interns down here to fetch my coffee tomorrow morning. Thankfully, I never had to do it for any of the higher-ups at For The Culture when I interned two years ago. Perks of my big cousin, I’m sure.
Since I still have some time before I can place my order, I return on my phone with a goal to check out For The Culture’s website.
Daily, it’s like a rush to see if I’ve made the homepage. Getting a feature on the glossy mag’s front cover is damn near impossible, although I achieved it last autumn, to my surprise. For me and all the other staff writers, getting on the magazine’s homepage is a more achievable goal.
For The Culture is a monthly lifestyle magazine that covers culture, entertainment, fashion, and beauty. My area of focus has always been entertainment. Attending red carpet events, interviewing celebrities, writing about the latest movie and song releases, while injecting just a small dose of gossip is where my byline appears. The most popular section in the magazine isn’t entertainment at all, to my horror. It’s the culture section and mostly lifestyle topics. And for the past few months, a writer, Dee Ellis, has been showing her ass by showing me up on the online site’s carousel.
I roll my eyes when I see her byline, yet again on the homepage. Never even met her. That’s because she doesn’t show up at the office. No one has met her as I discovered through my internal investigation. She’s this incognito do-gooder who prefers to remain faceless as not to steal attention from the stories she covers.
“Large black coffee with two sugars,” the barista shouts this time.
Technically, Dee didn’t even write her published pieces. I mean, she writes them, of course, but there isn’t any creativity to them. She speaks to random black women around the city, allows them to tell their stories which are usually of triumph or survival, and all Dee does is curate them. The articles are only 1000 words, and the photos of these Plain Jane women look like a grade schooler shot them with a cracked screen flip phone. But yet, her articles get the front page.
I take a deep breath and try not to scream.
Dee can literally sneeze on an article and the thing will go viral. I can slave over an interview, transcribe it word for word, perfectly, which takes me hours by the way, and all I get is a text ad-size appearance below the carousel. Not even a photo to accompany my shit.
But that was okay.
In an hour, all that would change.
The editor position belonged to me. I know as much since the last editor hinted at it before her departure from the magazine. And I would not get the job because my cousin co-owns For The Culture, although that helps a lot. I’d be getting it because I worked for it and earned that position.
So, Dee could have the front carousel. I’m moving on to bigger and better things.
“I might not allow your articles to be on the carousel when I’m editor-in-chief, anyway.” I whisper to myself, a sly smile accompanying my words.
I’m next in line, and smile at the barista. She knows what I’ll order because I’ve been ordering the same thing for the last three years. All I plan to do is greet her.
The moment I lift my foot to step forward, the scent of something more heavenly than coffee invades my space.
It’s cologne, a scent I’ve never smelled before and that smells expensive. The expensive you can’t just swing by the store to “pick up.” Appointments only, and they serve you champagne and chocolate truffles on arrival because they want you so comfortable, you’ll want to stay longer and spend more. Because not only the cologne is expensive, in fact, the cologne is the cheapest thing in the store. But none of that will matter if you’re too financially insecure to step a foot through the door even though the salespeople are beautiful with their welcoming smiles and—
“Excuse me,” the deep voice starts, putting a stop to my retail fantasy. “I apologize for doing this but…” He shifts his eyes off me and onto the cashier. “Can I get two large black coffees? I can add the milk and sweetener myself. I’m running late.”
I glance at him, then to the cashier, then back at him again.
He is gorgeous. Absolutely a work of fine art. Collector’s piece. All the facial makings of a black male soap opera icon to rival Shemar Moore and Kristoff St. John in their youths. Dark black curly hair faded on the sides; deep brown eyes so dark they appear black. Skin the shade of milk and coffee I like my cup of caffeine to resemble when I’m preparing it. He’s several inches taller and towers over all 5’3 of me. He is a walking and talking fine ass mannequin too. He wore a simple dress shirt and slacks, with his sleeves rolled up, of course, because how else would an Adonis dress?
His only flaw?
His ass skipped the line.
“‘Excuse me’ nothing,” I bark.
He turns to me, and we lock eyes.
“I’m sure everyone who stood in front of me was running late before they ordered.” I lower my shades down the bridge of my nose and look him up then down. “What makes you the damn exception?”
For a moment, he says nothing. Crushed ice and coffee are blending. Fresh ground coffee beans are brewing as silence settles between us.
“Two large black coffees,” the cashier says, breaking my focus.
When I point my eyes in her direction, she’s holding out two paper cups with lids on them in each hand, waiting for this guy to take them.
My jaw drops at the sight of her disloyalty.
She’s not even taking note of my shock. How can she? Her focus is entirely on him, and she practically has hearts in her eyes.
“Eboni!” I stage whisper. It’s like I said, I come here all the time and she’s usually the one who takes my order.
“Thank you so much,” the gentleman says to her. He accepts the cups from her hands and places them down on the counter below him. “I’ll pay for her order too,” he adds, using his thumb to gesture at me over his shoulder. “How much is everything?”
“You will not pay for my order, thank you,” I grit out. The audacity of him to be this fine and rude. “You can’t buy me. Like you can’t buy the class you clearly lack.”
He glances at me over his shoulder before turning to face me again. The gentleman dips his hand into his slacks’ back pocket, retrieves his slim leather wallet, slides out a gold Amex card, and hands the stainless-steel credit card to the cashier while still maintaining eye contact with me.
And then he does the one thing that forces me to take an extra breath to remain upright on my feet. He smiles, and the brother has a smile like Rome Flynn. Dare I say even better than Rome Flynn’s?
“I meant no disrespect,” he says, studying my expression. “I’m running late to an important meeting. I only needed two plain coffees.” His eyes abandon mine and are now coasting. Moving over my breasts, hips, and thighs in the most respectful but lustful way, and it is heating me up instead of pissing me off.
“I’d be more than happy to buy you whatever you want.”
And he’s speaking my love language?
I’d orgasm if I wasn’t in a room full of people, I’m sure.
I shut my eyes tight to refocus. He’s disrupting my frame of thought.
I can’t even find the words to respond.
I can’t even think straight!
His face, his smile, what he’s just said – honestly, his entire being is throwing me off in a way I’m not used to.
His card is back in hand, and he slides it into his wallet, dropping the wallet back in his pocket while turning to pick up the cups of coffee. He says to me, “I really have to go. I apologize.”
And with that, he’s off. Swaggering toward the area of Groundhouse that has the various options of milk and sweeteners to choose from.
Even his walk is attractive.
Okay, who the hell is this guy? And what the hell did he just do to me?
I peel my eyes off him and focus on Eboni.
“Hey, Mykal.” She smiles, pecking at the keys with her fingertips on the touchscreen that operates the cash register. “A medium cocoa and espresso with a dollop of chocolate whipped cream on top, right?”
“Well, yes, that’s right, but you’re wrong.” I place a hand on my hip. “How could you let that man skip me like that?!”
“Girl, did you see him?!”
Yes, I did. He was…
“Gorgeous,” she adds. “He was ab-so-lute-ly gorgeous. Now that right there? Is a man.”
“Eboni, please.” I run my fingers through my short tresses. “There wasn’t a thing special about him.”
“Ha! Yeah right. That man was unreal, and you know it,” she insists.
And I can’t argue with that.
“You should have let him buy your coffee,” she continued. “He clearly has it. The credit card he gave me is not like the plastic ones you hand over. It’s metal and heavy and…”
I tune her out as she moves about, making my order. Since I’m the last person in line, she ventures from the register to handle it herself like she usually does.
As I wait, I play back what just happened, trying to figure out why I’m intrigued instead of pissed off at that very fine gentleman who seems to have materialized out of nowhere.
Damn. I can’t wait to see him again.
End of Preview.
ENVY, the fourth book in the Love is Cure, Vol. 1 – Vices & Virtues series is scheduled for release January 21, 2022. Click here to to download.