Me: We’ll discuss it in the morning.
I glanced out of the large window, into the dark sky over the Atlantic Ocean. The waters were troubled, clashing tempestuous waves were violent. I wondered if it was a presage for what would happen tonight, inside the ring.
My vibrating phone brought my attention back down to my hand.
Maggie: That’s what you said last night.
My head bounced back, and eyes blinked.
Me: I did say that. And guess what? I’m saying it again. Goodnight.
Not wanting to continue that conversation, I tucked my phone into the pocket of my blazer and made my way over to the bar. My life consisted of constantly answering and catering to women. Tonight was technically supposed to be a night off from it.
It took no time for me to catch eyes with the bartender. I greeted him with a nod.
“Mauve, clean. And Corona in a glass, please.”
“Right away, sir.” He turned to prepare my order.
“Hey, you.” I glanced down to the beckoning feminine voice and found a pleasant surprise.
“Mrs. Jacobs,” I greeted while meeting her in a physical embrace. “Why do you seem so perturbed?”
“Oh, you can tell, huhn?” She motioned another bartender for service. “It’s because a particular seasoned woman is across the room flirting with my husband, and I can’t do anything about it.”
My attention brushed the cocktail room of forty people, or so. “What old ass woman got you running away from her instead of running in her mou—” When my eyes landed on my mother, grinning in Azmir’s face, my words halted. “That damn Ms. Wanda.” I pursed my lips playfully.
Rayna ordered a glass of water in a champagne glass before commenting, “Ahn-huhn. Now what were you saying about that seasoned Brick City woman?”
I cracked the fuck up. Rayna Jacobs was the wife of business tycoon, Azmir Jacobs. I met her when she was dating Azmir, a friend of my father’s, who I’d known since I was a kid. In fact, it was Jacobs who introduced me to my mentor. Rayna here was a New Jersey native and we’d always found common ground and conversation from that topic alone. “If it makes you feel any better, she dallies with StenRo, too.”
“Listen, my name is Rayna Brimm-Jacobs, not Zoey Barrett-Rogers.” She issued a pointed expression with her meticulously painted smoky eyes as I howled.
“Yo, I’m so out of the game now. Is that the thing? Hyphenating?”
Rayna shrugged. “Just some of us stubborn women. How have you been?” I could see the flicker of concern in her eyes and hear it in her inflection.
“I’m good.” My drinks were placed next to my arm. “Can’t complain.”
“I’m not used to seeing you at sporting events. You’re not working, are you?”
I cocked my head to the side as my face went taut with wonder. “That’s a very good question, Lady Jacobs. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. But I do know I’m with Ms. Wanda—” My regard skirted over to my mother, still beaming at Azmir. “—and there’s no way I can bring that cougar behavior to work.”
Rayna snickered in good nature. As she sipped on water with lime, a thought occurred.
“How’s this pregnancy coming along?”
“So different from the last. People, including my OB, think it’s supposed to be easier because it’s just one baby, but the five-year gap is making me feel like this one’s giving me the same energy as the one with the twins.”
“You look amazing either way.” I leaned to the side, trying to gain a view of her shoes. “Those must be what…? Four and a half inches?”
“Your shoe game sucks, Ashton. Try four point one.”
Rayna pushed out her foot, showing off. Snickering, I nodded while eyeing them now from a better view. “I don’t think I’m too bad. I do know those are Giuseppe’s Odile. Let me guess, Mr. Jacobs’ choice.”
Sipping her water, Rayna hummed while shrugging I was right. “Just don’t bring it up to him. He’s unnecessarily fixated on me in heels while pregnant.”
“Are you over here flirting with my bone, man?” I heard the strong New Yorker intonation in his tenor, something he couldn’t shake, no matter how long he’d been on the West Coast. “You got her leg hanging the fuck out and shit. I expect that from many, but not my people.”
Pretending to ignore him, I returned my gaze to Rayna’s black suede sandal with the chiffon bow at the heel. “Not at all, sir. Her majesty here is accusing me of having garbage ass shoe game, and instead, I’m wondering why not go with Saint Laurent’s Talitha Feather leather sandal.”
“Those are so…twenty eighteen’ish. I don’t think they’re available anymore.”
“They would be to Mrs. J here if they were purchased when available.” I gave him a duh expression using my head and hands. “It’s a sexier shoe with the same feather look, only the YSLs would have added ornaments to her incredible dancer-calf muscles. They’re about the same size in heels. So, if you’re okay with the GZs here, I’m sure you wouldn’t have objected to—”
“Is this Ms. Wanda’s?” Rayna asked over me while going for the glass of Corona. “I’m sure it is. It seems very…Newark’ish. I’ll take it to her while you two very wealthy, women’s shoe idée fixe, six-foot plus men continue to squabble in this discussion.”
As she strutted off, I taunted, “Idée fixe. Nice, but you’re back in Jersey now, expat.” I turned back to her husband. “Ms. Wanda got her fucked up, man.” Azmir’s head shot back as he laughed his ass off. “Like for real. You know Rayna loves me. Tonight, my moms killed that.”
“Yup.” He agreed, and I couldn’t help but laugh with him. “She’ll be fine. TB’s here. She was his biggest fan before Jade.”
“Yeah. And Jade doesn’t hyphenate.” I sipped my drink, watching his brows slowly furrow.
“Okay. And who does?”
“I’ve never met a Brimm-Jacobs in my life.”
This time, my face fell. I searched for Rayna until I found her with my mother, arm and arm, cracking the hell up. “Did she just play me?”
Azmir chuckled silently. “Indeed.” He sipped his drink. “There are many things I’ve relented to when making her mine, nonetheless I’ve branded and marked her.”
I shrugged with my mouth. “Talk that shit, player.” Then I moved in for a dab. There weren’t many I’d believe so easily as I did Azmir Jacobs. I also knew his claim wasn’t limited to his last name. “I also like your new spot.” To gesture the posh resort, I swept the room with my eyes and head.
If I didn’t know Azmir as well as I did, I would’ve missed his truth before his poker face settled in. “I’m not sure what you’re speaking of.”
After gulping back golden water, I replied, “And that’s because you forget with whom you’re speaking.” As he always did when calculating, Azmir read my body language under the guise of allowing me the opportunity to share more. I took the bait. “An associate of mine out of the Midwest is doing a piece on the gaming industry in the U.S. and is touching on the revival of Atlantic City. He sent me the paperwork with ADJ Enterprise billed as the diversified conglomerate holding company for KAHRI Resort and Casino. He thought it was strange that the Cotton family—a white ass Puritan family—would change their name at the time of your bailout. Did I mention the name Kahri means kingly in Swahili and, to some, is considered Arabic. Either way, the name has a Black man backing it all over it. Only kings do king shit like that.” I raised my near-empty glass in the air.
After a long, decided stare down, Azmir met my tumbler with a clink. “Indeed.”
“Whaddup, Divine,” someone called out from behind Azmir.
When Azmir turned, he gave me view of Ragee. “Aye, what up, Raj.” I watched as they dapped it up. Then Ragee’s attention landed on me, but his smile dwindled. Azmir turned fully toward the woman hand in hand with Ragee. “Mrs. McKinnon, what a pleasure.”
As I swallowed back the last of my drink, Ragee took a couple of steps toward me, breaking hands with who I now assumed was his wife.
“Does she know you’re here?”
I didn’t like his tone or audacity, and almost went the asshole route of asking who she was. Quickly, I decided against it. I’d never formally met Ragee when Tori and I were friends at BSU. I’d heard some things about him from her and vaguely recalled him coming to Brick’s funeral with her, but this was as close as I’d been with him in a room.
“I’m not sure.” I placed my empty tumbler on the bar.
“Are you here for work?”
“I’m not sure about that either, but I’m sure I’ll gain inspiration to add to what I’m working on.”
“Did you tell her you were coming?”
“No.” I shook my head, exasperated with all the questions already. “I was sent tickets and decided to use them.”
“Do you two know each other?” Azmir rejoined the conversation.
Ragee’s eyes bounced between the two of us. “I see you two know each other.”
Azmir chuckled, scratching just above his mouth while readjusting his stance and widening his legs. “Yes. For a very long time.” And he waited.
And I understood that wait.
Diffusing whatever the fuck the energy was misting between us, I extended my hand. “I wouldn’t insult you with a lie by saying I don’t know who you are. But I am Ashton Spencer. And while I’m many things, what brings me here tonight is solely the article I’m writing up on your friend for Sports Illustrated.”
It didn’t take Ragee long to reciprocate the shake. “I’ve heard about your work. Good to officially meet you.”
This shit was instantly weird. Now, dude was acting like he didn’t want anyone around to know the strange ass bravado he let off my way. And Ragee was a big nigga. Although my height, he had to have been at least thirty pounds heavier. Throwing around an authoritative energy could give off antagonizing vibes, and I was not the type to cower to it.
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite three men,” my mother purred, gliding to my side with the slip of her arm beneath mine. “Ashton, I was just coming to tell you I met Ragee, and here he is!” I caught when the muscles around Ragee’s eyes loosened. She asked him, “Do you know my son? He’s the CEO of B-Way Burger, you know?” Her attention returned to me. “He said he’s not singing as Tori’s doing her walkout tonight.”
I couldn’t return my mother’s innocent banter. The realization of Ragee’s sonnin’ me had begun burgeoning in my mind. It didn’t matter that he’d moved on and, now, appeared shocked about my mother being at my side.
That was until it dawned on me. Unless my mother was flirting with him, too, Ragee could have been processing whatever Tori may have mentioned to him about my mother. She wasn’t so kind to Tori back then. Neither did she ride her like she had other women I dated. Tori and I didn’t last very long for my mother to see her enough. Also, my mother didn’t know much about Tori and me.
Suddenly, the room was disrupted in energy. After listening, it was clear the time had come for us to finally take our seats if we wanted to see the main event.
“Come on, baby,” Rayna was at Jacobs’ side. “I know Ashton doesn’t care about missing the undercards. Ms. Wanda told me he doesn’t like sports.”
Azmir tossed me a glance with humor dancing in his eyes. Rayna was clowning me again. This time, my wit was tied around my neck choking me, thanks to Tori’s aggressive ass peoples. Ragee, still looking tight, took his wife at the hand and ambled off.
“Touché, Mrs. Jacobs in high heels.”
Rayna stumbled a bit when swinging her head back to look at me with her mouth agape. I tossed her a wink. Smoothly, Azmir leaned down and whispered something to her as they sauntered toward the door.
“What you messing with that woman for?” my mother scolded lowly.
I glanced down at her glass of beer. It was almost empty. “Are you done with that?”
“No!” Her head bobbled. Chuckling, I pinched my brows as her arm tightened around mine. “I’m grown tonight. Shit, I’m kidless and single, Ashton! Now, let’s go.” She nudged me on our way to the door.
Release date to be announced soon.