Keisha Jones is torn between a desire for two men, while trying to prove her innocence in the murder of her boss.
Lisa was on the warpath. Keisha headed to the file room in the east corner of the 7th floor, to avoid her tyrannical employer. She was in no mood to hear a lecture about doing work for Desiree. Besides, she'd heard it all before. "Desiree gets what she wants. Desiree's position doesn't require an admin, so she doesn't need your help so often. Desiree oversteps her place." If Keisha heard those words one more time, she'd scream!
Mr. Copeman, the VP of Marketing, had asked Lisa to allow Desiree the use of her admin "here and there, as the situation requires." Desiree thought that meant any time she wanted. Lisa figured on—never. And most of the time, Keisha didn't care either way. Desiree was funny and generous. She was outgoing. Keisha had always thrived around people like that, gravitating toward them and absorbing some of that free spiritedness. It was no wonder that in the month after she started working for Baltimore Charity International, nearly two years ago, that Keisha and Desiree had become very good friends.
Desiree was an enigma. She was a tall, leggy model type, with a keenly intelligent mind. To hear her tell it, she could sell a blind man reading glasses and get a homeless guy to buy her lunch. Desiree had a reputation in the nonprofit industry. She was highly sought after and Copeman knew he was lucky to have her. As for her private life, she'd confessed to Keisha that though she liked to switch partners often, she didn't do it at work. No, she sated that appetite in the clubs, sometimes hopping three or four in one night—bars, not men.
Keisha wondered how she did it. Being a single mother of ten-year old, Kayla, with a deadbeat ex-husband, Keisha didn't have the energy or the resources to keep up with such a lifestyle. Not that she wanted to. Keisha's hope was to meet up with a sexy man who treated her right, one who wouldn't cheat ever other day. Sometimes, she wondered if he existed.
Two years ago when Desiree started with the company, Keisha had been beat down and miserable. Too many times her husband had informed her that her butt was too big and her breasts too small. If only she could lose a bit of weight, then he'd be intimate with her, instead of cruising around every other girl in town. How stupid could she be to listen to that crap for five years?
Then in swept the glorious, hyper-confident Desiree, advising Keisha that she could do better. She had to do better. Holding Keisha's hand through the bitter divorce and helping her put the pieces of her life together again, Desiree was like an answer to prayer, a guardian angel.
Keisha smiled, remembering as she pushed open the heavy glass door leading into the file room, closing after her with a whoosh. She liked this room. It was quiet and sunny. The walls were thicker here. She could actually yell her head off and no one would hear outside. She considered. It might be a good idea to let off a bit of steam now and then.
She smacked down her thick manila folder on the long table under the windows. Glancing back over her shoulder toward the door, she nodded satisfied. Where she stood wasn't visible from the hall. Two tall rows of file cabinets blocked the view. Good, maybe Lisa wouldn't think to look for her here since her normal day for filing was Friday.
She sighed as she yanked open the nearest drawer, marked "Hepplewhite." Her fingers nimbly flicked through the folders inside until she found the proper one. Poking an index finger into the folder, while resting her other fingers on top, she twisted left to grab a few sheets off her To Be Filed stack.
With a startled squeak, her arm jerked spasmodically and she released the papers wildly into the air. She stood stock still watching the papers settle quietly all around her on the beige carpeted floor. She found me.
Pivoting slowly on her heel, she turned to face her supervisor, "Yes, Lisa?" Keisha didn’t wait to hear the answer and avoided looking Lisa in the eye. She stooped to shuffle up the papers, disgusted to find her hands trembling. Why does she intimidate me?
Lisa, barely reached five feet. Her dirty blond hair was cut in a short feathered style with little bits sticking out haphazardly from constantly raking through it. She sneered at Keisha, "I have had it!" and slammed the book she had been holding against the table top. "Do you hear me, Keisha? I've had it."
"I..." Keisha started.
Lisa held up a hand, "No, I don't want to hear your excuses."
"But, Lisa if you'll just let me…"
"NO!" Her voice boomed, rattling the ceiling to floor windows. "If you don't talk to your friend, Ms. Prissy-Pants, and let her know I'm not going to put up with her monopolizing my admin, then I will have no choice but to go to Geoff."
Keisha bit down hard on her lip.
Lisa paced a few steps away and then turned back to face her, "Just because she has Copeman lapping at her heels, doesn't mean I won't go over him to get some fair treatment around here."
You're just jealous! Keisha turned away and stared out the window at the people coming and going on the street below. "Lisa, I don't control what Desiree does. She's a supervisor. I'm just following orders."
"Really?" Lisa marched forward, stopping inches away from Keisha's side. "Well follow this order very closely," she whispered. Keisha stepped away and Lisa spoke louder. "You talk to your friend. You tell her to back off, because you are a hair's breath away from kissing your job goodbye."
Keisha gasped. She stumbled backward against the cabinets, Lisa's words a slap in the face. "But Lisa, you can't do that. I don't have anything to do with it."
"That's all I have to say on the matter."
When Lisa turned away to retrieve her book from table, Keisha heard the telltale whoosh of the glass door as it closed. Someone had been listening. She stifled a sob and Lisa stomped out of the room.
Losing her job was not an option. She couldn't afford it. Settlement on her house was just a month ago. The first mortgage payment hadn't even been made yet. Employees' tuition assistance was helping her to pay for a return to college, and Kayla came with her own expenses. What was she going to do? Keisha stood staring sightlessly through the window, sobs wracking her body. She struggled to pull herself together.
Someone entered the room and she hurriedly wiped her running nose and tears from her face. She cleared her throat, trying to dislodge the lump of despair caught in it. Turning her back on the intruder, she busied herself shuffling papers around.
"Hey, girl." Desiree bellowed.
Keisha didn't turn around, "Hey."
Desiree sauntered over to the table and hoisted her slender hips onto the table. She crossed shapely legs and swung them slowly back and forth, "So what's up? I hear all this whispering from every corner. And Lisa just flounced into her office and slammed the door."
Keisha shoved away her papers, unable to concentrate, "She just left here. She said I'm going to lose my job if I don't stop working for you." Her voice broke and another tear escaped one eye. She swiped it away impatiently, "And I'm to tell you to back off or she'll go to Geoff."
Desiree guffawed, still swinging her legs. "That's rich."
Keisha stared. "Aren't you angry? Or at least worried?
She grinned, "Nope, why should I be? I can handle that big German teddy bear." She reached out and patted Keisha's head as she would a child's. "Don't you worry, kiddo."
Keisha pulled away. "How can I not? Desiree, I can't afford to lose my job."
"And you won't." Desiree hopped down. "Just like I wrapped Copeman around my finger, I'll wrap up Geoff nice and tight." She started to walk away.
Des stopped and turned back. "Don't you trust me?" she whispered.
"Of course, Desiree, you're my friend. My only friend. I don't know what to do."
Desiree smiled revealing her dentist's gifted handiwork, "Keisha, you know you're my girl. I’ll take care of it."
Keisha was not convinced, "But…Geoff's…"
Desiree roared. "He's a man. And all men, no matter who they are, are led around by their—“
She patted Keisha's cheek, "You're such a prude, Keisha."
Keisha yanked her face away angrily, "I am not a prude." She snatched her papers up in an untidy pile and marched toward the door.
Desiree grabbed her arm, "Whoa. I'm sorry, ok? Just know this."
"What?" she snapped.
Desiree held up one hand, her gold nail polish reflecting the sunlight coming in the window. She counted off on her fingers, "Don't worry about Lisa. Don't worry about Copeman. And don't worry about Geoff. I'll take care of it."
Keisha sighed. "Fine, but if I lose my house, Kayla and I are moving over to your place!"
A few days later, with the sun shining delicious warmth hinting of spring soon to come, Keisha joyously took her place in the mad dash to Kei's Café. It wasn't anticipating coffee that added that extra pep in her step. It was the fact that the scale had shown an extra two pounds dropped. A small squeal of delight escaped her lips when she paused to examine her reflection in the glass windows outside the Wyndham Hotel. She nodded. Yes, a little less bubblage. At least that's what Eddie Murphy called it in his zany movie, Pluto Nash. "Why did black girls always have too much back there when they were overweight? Oh well, she thought, such is life. At least I'm finally doing something about it.
She continued down Baltimore Street, and turned right on Paca. The café was just a few short steps now. Glancing at her new gold watch, a treat for sticking to her diet, she noted an extra ten minutes before she was due to clock in. No line, no line, no line. Please, no line.
The line stretched from the counter to the door. Worse, there were only two cashiers who rushed back and forth, taking orders nonstop. Every table along the walls was occupied with executive types in their expensive suits, conversing on cell phones and using the café as an extension of their company conference rooms. Gosh, they're dedicated.
Keisha wanted her latte. It was to be another of her special treats for doing so well. She'd budgeted calories for it. As she stood in the doorway, trying to judge whether she should risk being late, she heard her name called.
"Hey, Keisha!" a disembodied hand in the back waved to her. "Keisha, girl, come here."
She recognized the voice. Only Desiree could yell over this din. Keisha squeezed her way through the crowd, tossing "excuse me" over her shoulder as she progressed. A size four Barbie with flashing green eyes, took exception to Keisha's bump, "Excuse you!"
"I said excuse me," Keisha told her.
"Whatever!" A flip of long blond curls.
Not to be outdone, Keisha flipped her own newly permed locks, rolled her eyes and continued on to her friend's table.
Desiree, dressed as usual in the height of style and sporting a grey double-breasted Austin Reed pantsuit, was laughing. Keisha didn't have to look down to know her friend was also wearing matching slingbacks as high-heeled as she could find them. she patted the stool beside her, "Girl, you are a trip. Sit down before you get yourself in trouble."
Keisha grinned as she took a seat, "What? She was acting like she didn't know it's crowded in here. I was just trying to get by. She better recognize."
Desiree shook her head, "Don't worry about it. Drink your latte."
"My latte? What in the world?" She accepted the drink Desiree was sliding toward her. "How did you know?"
"What? That you were going to be late and that you were going to get a latte today?"
Leave it to Desiree to get her coffee and snag a table in this overfull business social club. From the day Keisha met Desiree, she'd envied her her stylish clothes, her slender figure and her supervisory position. Probably the only thing Keisha didn't covet was her friend's short-cropped curls and her tendency to be a little on the loud side. With her aggressive nature to boot, Keisha wondered if there was anything off limits to Des. Desiree constantly regaled her with stories of how she picked up and dropped men regularly at the clubs she frequented. Probably wowed them with her caramel skin and hazel eyes, Keisha thought jealously.
"Thanks for the latte, Des, but I've got to go." Keisha checked her watch, "I've got two minutes til time to be in."
Desiree waved a dismissing hand, "Don't worry about it. I've got you out on errands."
She tapped her phone, "Lisa thinks you're getting some last minute things together for my meeting later."
"Oh." Keisha was still worried, "But we're so close to the office. Someone might…"
"Stop worrying." She slapped a few papers on the table. "We're just going over a couple things here."
Keisha rolled her eyes, "Yeah, where it's quiet."
A loud guffaw, "Yeah, right."
It was then that Keisha noticed the man perched on the third stool at their table. Oh, boy. How could I miss that?! He was slightly turned away from them, his cell pressed against one ear and a finger stuck in the other. His tailored black suit did nothing to hide his broad shoulders and powerful chest. He was tall—Keisha loved tall men—at least six foot three or four. She peaked beneath the table. Expensive dress shoes to match. Nice. On a sigh her eyes drank in the rich mocha skin, the thick sooty lashes that made his brown eyes look almost girly, and his wavy black hair.
Desiree leaned close, "His name is Rayford. And I think I'm going to have him."
Keisha's heart sank. If Des had set her sights on this perfect male specimen, Keisha had no hope. He'd fall like all the others and be cast aside just as quickly.
Unexpectedly, he turned and met Keisha's longing gaze with a smile, "Hello."
Her heart skipped a beat and she mumbled, "Hi." Keisha was no good with men. They made her feel like a schoolgirl, especially the deliciously handsome, obviously successful ones like Rayford. What would men like him want with a chubby size fourteen administrative assistant like her? As far as she could tell, as she examined her reflection in the mirror each morning, her best features were her big brown eyes and her long chestnut hair, reaching a few inches below her shoulder blades. She kept her dress casual, preferring a pair of slacks and a simple blouse to the suited look. Unlike, Desiree, Keisha never wore heels. Her ankles always cried out for mercy. Weak ankles, along with a big round butt, ran in her family. It wasn't fair.
Filling the gap, Desiree piped up, "Rayford this is my friend Keisha. Keisha, Rayford." Possessively, Desiree placed a well-manicured hand over Rayford's. "He was kind enough to share a table with me."
Keisha felt her stomach turn. Could Desiree be more obvious? A blind man could see the ravenous look in her eyes. She leaned back in her seat, unbuttoning her jacket to reveal a beautiful silk blouse, clinging to every curve. Another of Desiree's assets, Keisha thought glumly.
Rayford's gaze flicked to Desiree's cleavage and an eyebrow lifted. He seemed to consider what she was offering. Apparently he hadn't made up his mind. He offered her a half smile and glanced back toward Keisha. "So, Keisha?" His voice was deep and masculine just as a man's ought to be. It sent delightful chills down her spine.
"Yes?" she squeaked and cleared her throat. "Yes?"
"You work with Desiree at Baltimore Charity International. What do you do?"
Don't ask me that!
Didn't it always lead to "what do you do?" Keisha hated that question. It meant she had to admit to being an administrative assistant, low man on the totem pole at her company. She guessed she could always lie, but then that wasn't her style. You couldn't forget the truth. You couldn't get caught up in a web of truths.
Just once she'd like to forget all of that and just lie. She wanted to lie as well as Desiree and some of the other girls in the office. They lied about everything. Their lunch breaks always started ten minutes ago, no matter how long they’d been gone. Desiree's workday wasn't off to a good start, if she didn't indulge in her morning lie. She'd already lied to Lisa, Keisha's supervisor, about Keisha helping her with some last minute business-related errands. She got away with it, each and every time.
"Keisha?" Rayford leaned forward, probably wondering if she'd lost her mind staring at him like she was. He smelled incredible, something earthy and viral. Her mouth went dry and she fought to control her racing pulse. She didn't dare meet his eyes, instead staring at his full lips. What would it be like to kiss him?
"Keisha?" he said again.
Couldn't she delay a little longer? Did she have to answer? "I am…uh…an administrative assistant." She glanced up at him through her lashes. There it went. The light of interest was petering out.
He nodded indifferently, "Ah, that's nice."
Desiree claimed his attention like the ebony temptress she was. He bent his ear to her red mouth, capturing her teasing words. Keisha pouted and sighed loudly. She jostled the table and beat out a random tattoo on the marble tabletop. Was she invisible?
"I have to go now," she blurted and leapt to her feet.
Turning quickly from the table, her foot caught in the wrung on the bottom of her stool and propelled her forward. Rayford, who had stood when she did, reached out to grab her and dragged her body instinctively toward his own. Slamming her nose and breasts against the wall of his chest knocked the wind out of Keisha and a tiny whimper escaped her lips.
Rayford pulled her back, steadying her, "Are you ok?"
"It's as hard as I thought," she told him. She froze. Did I say that out loud?
A shout of laughter erupted from Desiree, confirming her fears. "Oh, girl. I can't believe you said that."
Embarrassment spread like a virus from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. Her creamy brown skin reddened. Keisha yanked herself away from Rayford. "I meant your chest," she whispered, and turned to flee, hobbling on a painful ankle through the thinning crowd. She heard them call to her, but she wasn't about to go back. Let them have each other.
A morning that'd started so well for her was shaping up to be a real disaster, and she was a half hour late for work.
Keisha scuttled down the long hallway leading to her cubicle, remembering Lisa’s earlier verbal abuse. Her lips compressed, her brow furrowed, she spared only a nod as she breezed by fellow coworkers. Turning into her unit, she spotted Copeman perched vicariously on the edge of the ottoman some creative soul had arranged just outside his office. That creative spirit must have been immediately crushed in this department, Keisha thought bitterly. The ottoman sat alone, with no adjoining table, no picture on the wall behind it to complete the look.
Copeman looked lost and needy, but Keisha was in no mood to assist him. She backpedaled quickly around the bend, her back resting against the wall as she clutched her pile of papers to her chest. She took a few steadying breaths, paced a bit and counted to ten. "Well, here we go."
She smiled as she approached him, "Mr. Copeman, how are you? May I assist you in some way?" Keisha's eyes darted from his shoes, to the wall, to the ottoman, to the top of Copeman's balding head, anywhere but directly into his face. She swallowed hard, willing her stomach to settle.
George Copeman was at least four inches shorter than Keisha, at five foot two, and painfully thin. Wiry salt and pepper hair wrapped around the sides of his small shiny head. His leathery skin was as black as a panther's coat. It stretched across a wide bulbous nose covered with deep reddened craters. Myopic grape-sized eyes protruded from their sockets behind thick wire-rimmed glasses. After two years of working in this office, Keisha still found it difficult to allow her gaze to rest on Copeman's face. It was safer for her stomach to keep them moving.
Copeman scratched the back of his head, "Oh yes, Keisha, there you are. I couldn't find an admin. I need you to take these specs down to Creative Services so they can get started on the new manual for the homeless project."
You couldn't do it yourself? "Of course, Mr. Copeman, I'll take it immediately. Just let me put this folder down." She ducked into her cube and plopped down the file folder, before crossing the hall to the stairs.
Creative Services was on the sixth floor, one level down from Keisha's department. She loved this floor with its bright colors along the cubicle walls. Employees had hung tapestries from foreign soils, pictures of the native people of african countries. She soon stopped outside the cubicle of the senior graphic artist and tapped quietly to get his attention.
"Hi, Jay. I have some specs--"
He didn't look up, "Sorry, if it's something we haven't seen already, the new boss wants to see them first."
He waved a hand in the general direction and ignored her. Keisha rolled her eyes. Issues!
What new boss? She wandered aimlessly around a bit, before she remembered "bosses" were against the walls, where the light shown in, with offices. She tripped along the last aisle peaking at name plates, hoping to spot an unfamiliar one.
What? It couldn't be a coincidence. Her heart beat quickened and she stood some minutes transfixed by the closed door.
"You know it won't open just looking at it," someone said.
She ignored the voice.
"It's ok. Knock." A hand reached around her and knocked briefly. "He won't bite." A call "come in" and she was propelled inside, the door closing firmly behind her.
Keisha stared down at the floor. She scrutinized her grey pin-striped slacks, her black mules and the carpet. She took in peripherally on her left the small round meeting table with the two guest chairs pulled up to it and the four drawer file cabinet on the right with a cactus plant on top. She didn't need to look at him to know it was him, the same man from the café. She knew his scent.
"Keisha!" He stood and came around the desk. "Come in. Have a seat."
"I…" Her lips parted and she released the breath she'd been holding. "I just wanted to give you these." She held out the papers, still not looking up.
"Come and sit down a minute," he encouraged.
She had no choice. Taking a step forward, her foot snagged on the carpet and she toppled against him. Klutz! His strong hands encircled Keisha as he steadied her against him. She blushed, realizing one of his hands had landed flat against her round bottom. Her eyes flew to his and she gasped, recognizing what she saw there. Desire? He blinked and released her, nearly toppling her again when he stepped hastily away.
Keisha shoved the papers in his hand, whirled on her heels and tore out of the office, slamming the door behind her.
"Ok," he agreed happily. "But I think it's important for us to be honest with each other. About the case—" "I should have known," she growled. "Wait. I hate fighting. Let's not fight over this," he begged. She crossed her arms and tapped a sandaled foot on the ground, "Fine. But what kind of relationship will we have without trust. You don't trust me," she accused. "And you trust me?" "Well…" "Ok, look." Orlando was not about to let her off, trust or not. "We see each other and build the trust as we go along. Deal?" Her look softened and his heart stuttered. "Ok, deal." "One more thing." "Yes?" "No other men. No Rayford." She laughed, "Fine. No other women. No Desiree." He nodded, "Agreed." And she tumbled into his arms, planting a groin-tightening kiss on his lips.