Okay, that’s not completely true. I was wrong once when I told my friend, Milan, it was all right for her to go to the beach on a first date, sans underwear, on a very breezy spring evening. You can imagine what happened. Now that I think about it, there was also the time I told an elderly gentleman to turn right at the next corner when he really should’ve made a left. I’ve always wondered if he made it to the emergency room before his chest pain got any worse. Either way, in both cases I had good intentions so it can’t be held against me.
It has also been said I could stand a bit of humility. I don’t necessarily agree, but Milan has told me this on numerous occasions. As one of my nearest and dearest, I entertain her criticism since I know it comes from a good place. But let it be known, I don’t take kindly to being critiqued by just anyone.
Milan and I met at Minority Spring Weekend at Syracuse University. You know those special recruitment programs when universities bus in potential minority freshmen, show them all of the positive things their institutions have to offer, and then they arrive in the fall greeted by all the negative things that were carefully hidden during their visits? Well, if you don’t know, now you know. It was during that visit that we hit it off immediately. Milan has been on my Diva Squad ever since. Born and raised in Philly, my girl was a trip. She was down to earth and could have you laughing for days with her crazy antics.
We registered for biology during our sophomore year, which neither one of us wanted to take but it was a requirement for graduation. Milan was adamant that there were certain things she wasn’t willing to do in the name of science, dissection being one of them. She came up with the idea to pretend she was legally blind for an entire semester so she didn’t have to splice, slice or dice frogs, pigs, or any other creature. The professor, convinced that her vision was impaired due to the coke bottle glasses she’d found at a thrift shop, actually went out of his way to describe each part of the specimen so she wouldn’t feel excluded from the experience. Needless to say, she did exceptionally well in the course, much better than me and my 20/20 vision.
Milan reminded me a lot of myself. That’s why we got along so well and still do.
NINE A.M. AND I WAS RUNNING LATE for our Saturday morning workout at the gym. I looked forward to our weekly stress-release-bitchfest to shake off all of the nonsense from the week. Since we’d started a year ago, Milan had lost about twenty pounds. At five-ten, she was never a big girl, but now she was a lean, mean brick house that turned so many heads when she passed, you would’ve thought men were auditioning for a remake of The Exorcist.
Men loved her Halle Berry short hair and cocoa butter brown skin. Milan was an unintentional flirt; it came across naturally. Her flirtatious nature usually resulted in some brother getting the wrong message and hurt feelings to go along with it.
By the time I arrived at the gym, fifteen minutes late, Milan was already on the elliptical trainer working up a sweat.
I tried to put on my best I was rushing to get here face. “Hey, Lan, sorry I’m late.”
“Don’t apologize to me,” she panted. “You’d better say sorry to those flabby thighs of yours.” She laughed at her own joke, lost her balance, then tried to get back into the zone before her rhythm was totally thrown off.
I climbed on the machine next to her and put my water bottle in the holder. “You wish your thighs looked half as good as mine do. There isn’t one ounce of fat on my body. Don’t forget you need to be here. I only come to keep you company, Porky.”
We both laughed at that one. It never failed; as soon as we get together, the jokes started flowing. A petite, white woman on the elliptical on the other side of Milan laughed at our barbs as if she was a part of the discussion. I rolled my eyes upward at the intrusion and set my machine for thirty minutes. We’d grown accustomed to strangers butting into our conversations. It seemed like we were having such a good time that they wanted to join in the fun.
“So, what’s the reason for today’s hold-up?”
I hesitated. “I got a last-minute phone call.”
“Jade, you know you heard me.”
I increased the speed of my machine. “It was Nolan.”
I braced myself for the pending storm; that grunt couldn’t possibly be Milan’s only response. We ran in silence for what seemed like the longest minute ever.
I eventually gave in. “We were only on the phone for about five minutes and I told him I had to meet you.”
“Why are you still speaking to him?”
“Lan, if he calls me, I’m not going to be rude and you shouldn’t expect me to.”
“Well, I do.”
“We were all friends at one time,” I replied, trying to keep the conversation from taking a turn for the worse.
She blinked the sweat from her eyes. “Right. We were. That’s past tense.”
“Listen, you two chose to take things to the next level. It didn’t work. However, Nolan and I are still friends. We’ve been friends since college and it’s not right for you to expect me to cut him off because you did.”
Milan clenched her teeth and the handrail on the elliptical simultaneously. I increased the speed on my machine again. Side by side we were running hard now, the humming of the machine magnifying the volume of our silence.
“Do you really think you’re being fair right now?” I asked.
She stopped her machine and sighed. “No, I guess not. What happened between me and Nolan has nothing to do with you. You’re right…as usual. Meet me downstairs at the pool when you’re done here. I’m going to do a few laps to cool off.”
“I’ll be down in a minute.”
The “as usual” was her attempt at a jab since I pushed her buttons, but I let it slide. I didn’t want to ruin our day over a simple phone call.
AS SOON AS WE FINISHED OUR WORKOUT, we drove back to my house. After a hot shower, I was invigorated. I put my shoulder-length hair up casually in a clip, leaving a playful tendril to fall on my neck. I searched my closet until I found what I was looking for—my strapless cream linen dress that stopped mid-thigh and hugged me in all the right places. The caramel accents down the sides of the dress matched my skin tone to perfection. Since you can’t wear a short dress without some high-ass heels, my three-inch strappy brown sandals completed my outfit.
Just as I was spraying on my Ecstasy perfume, a favorite of mine from Carol’s Daughter, Milan emerged from the bathroom; skin glowing.
“You have the best shower. The perfect amount of water pressure.”
“I installed that showerhead this week.”
She chuckled. “I might’ve enjoyed that shower more than I did our workout.”
“Gross. You’d better not have been getting freaky in my shower.”
“Stop trippin’. Nobody was violating your sacred bathroom. You’re the only freak getting freaked up in here.”
“And don’t you forget it or else I’m going to start making you go home to get dressed after the gym.”
“Girl, please. We’d never get to lunch if I had to go to Suffolk to get ready.”
Milan lived further out on Long Island in Deer Park; forty minutes from my house in Baldwin Harbor if there was no traffic to contend with. It was easier for us to get ready at my place for our day of fitness, food, and fun since we did most of our hanging in Nassau County.
With the fitness portion taken care of, we typically had lunch at Rituals, the restaurant I co-owned with my childhood friend, Bria. Rituals was the realization of a shared dream that Bria and I had had since we were teens.
In high school, Bria and I had started a gourmet lunch business where we would charge our classmates to make their daily lunches. In place of awful cafeteria food, we offered specialty soups and sandwiches like grilled chicken with roasted red pepper and mozzarella on a baguette with basil mayonnaise. Unfortunately, most kids weren’t willing to shell out six dollars for a sandwich when they could get a ham and cheese on rye for two bucks. The business was a flop, but considering we were high school students, it was the entrepreneurial spirit that counted.
I loved to cook—birthdays, showers, holidays, you name it; I created appetizing dishes for family and friends. My mother had the wisdom to start me in the kitchen at an early age and the desire to create culinary masterpieces blossomed. Back then, I’d put a new spin on regular dishes that would have my family reminiscing about it for days.
After high school, Bria attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. C.I.A. was one of the best culinary schools in the country. After C.I.A., she spent six years as head chef at some of the trendiest spots in Manhattan.
I received my degree in business administration from Syracuse, then followed in Bria’s footsteps by going to C.I.A. Upon completing my culinary training, I delighted the clientele at Noir in Long Island with my specialties for two years before deciding it was time to turn my dreams into reality.
Despite our individual successes, Bria and I were obsessed with having our own restaurant. Four years ago, we’d opened Rituals.
Rituals served Southern cuisine with a neo-soul flair. We were known for making the most delectable seafood; one taste of our pan-seared salmon would make you forget that you’d had it any other way. We received stellar reviews in Bon Appétit magazine and in the New York Times, which helped to put us on the map. We stayed busy. As a result, we were currently in the process of expanding the restaurant.
“I don’t think I want to eat at Rituals today,” I said.
“Why not?” Milan asked. “I’m dying for some Grand Marnier pancakes or a crab omelet.”
“I don’t like going into the restaurant dressed so casually. I do have an image to maintain.”
“Tell me, how is it that you don’t fall off that high-horse you’re riding?”
“Would you strut into Stowe, Black and Helms with those tight-ass pants you just painted on? I’m sure Wallace Black would love his attorneys looking like they’re going to a party in the courtroom.”
Milan was wearing a pair of dark blue, boot-cut, low-rise jeans that left nothing to the imagination, with a light-blue halter top with strings that crisscrossed her back and tied around her waist.
“Probably not, but that’s only because I’m trying to make partner. After that, it’s a free-for-all. I’m wearing what I want, when I want. I’ll step in there with a bikini on if I so choose.” Milan chuckled. “Now change your so-called casual clothes so I can eat.”
I sucked my teeth. “Yeah, okay.”
“I’m kidding.” Milan checked her appearance in the mirror. “What’s funny is that I probably could get away with this outfit. Wallace’s daughter, Chanel, is doing her externship at the firm while she completes law school and you should see the skimpy skirts she wears to work.”
“That’s a perk to being the boss’s daughter.”
Milan grabbed her purse. “So I can’t get brunch at Rituals today, huh?”
“Lan, it’s called Sunday brunch for a reason. Today is Saturday. We don’t serve brunch on Saturday. How come every week I tell you the same thing? Stop going into my restaurant asking my chefs to make you brunch on Saturday. Bring your ass down to Rituals on Sunday if you want Grand Marnier pancakes.”
Milan cracked up. “What the hell is the point of having a best friend that owns a restaurant if I can’t get any perks? And I didn’t only want to go for the pancakes; I was hoping to get a look at that fine-ass brother of yours. Didn’t you say he’s been spending more time over there lately?”
My brother, Terrence, was an architect and he was drawing up designs for our expansion. He ran the firm my father started thirty-five years ago. He’d been at Rituals so much lately, and always with a plate in hand, that I was starting to think he was a part of the wait staff.
“You can flirt with Terrence some other time.”
“Alright, we’ll go somewhere else this time, but make sure you tell Terrence I have something for his fine ass.”
I pushed Milan toward the door. “Take your hot-to-trot self downstairs so we can get out of here.”
I backed my silver Lexus SC430 out of the garage and put the convertible top down. The sun was shining bright; a warm breeze was blowing; and we were too cool for words. Always one for some classic R&B, I turned on D’Angelo’s first CD, pumped up the volume and started to groove to “Brown Sugar.” I slid on my sunglasses, hit the gas, and we were on our way to the Hills for some eats.
WE PULLED UP TO VALET PARKING AT EDEN, hoping it wasn’t too crowded inside for two hungry sistas to get their grub on. I liked to get there before all the people that partied on Friday night rolled out of the bed. Eden had a tendency to run out of dishes; especially the salmon croquettes that were a must-have with the garlic parmesan grits. I was always checking out the competition and I couldn’t deny Eden served good food, but the menu at Rituals was a step above the rest and we had Eden beat hands down.
Milan went inside to get a table while I waited for my ticket from the parking attendant. She was engaged in conversation with the owner, Cain, when I walked up.
Cain greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for making my day.”
“What are you talking about, Cain?” I noticed his slight grin and roving eyes. “Matter of fact, forget I asked.” I turned to Milan. “Do we have a long wait?”
“He can seat us right now.”
Cain cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah. I have a table out on the patio especially for you.”
“Cain, when are you going to stop running those corny lines?” I asked.
He laughed. “When they start working.”
I shook my head as he led us to the table. I could hear Milan giggling behind me. Cain and I went through this every time we came to Eden and she realized how much it irked me.
The table was accented with pink and pale yellow napkins atop a crisp white tablecloth. In the center of each table was a vase with an arrangement of pink and yellow tulips. I was admiring the ode to spring theme that Cain had going on. Things were always colorful at Eden. Cream walls with large murals reminiscent of enchanted gardens made you feel as if you were actually dining in the Garden of Eden. The table settings changed with the season, as did the lighting on the murals. In the fall, golden lights shine on the murals and pick up the copper and coral accents that aren’t visible under the pink and blue lights used in the spring. I came to Eden expecting to see something new and creative.
Cain pulled out my chair, waited for me to get situated, then laid the cloth napkin across my lap—his eyes never leaving me. I quickly picked up the menu and buried my face in it.
“I suppose I’m chopped liver over here,” Milan complained. “A sista can’t get her chair pulled out, too?”
“I apologize. I was distracted by this rare…” Cain paused. “My bad. No more corny lines. Jade, you look beautiful today. Let me get that chair for you, Milan.” He handed Milan a menu. “Enjoy your meal, ladies.” Cain lingered for a moment before going back inside.
Milan looked from Cain to me. “Now that’s a first.”
“Cain trying to be sincere. He may really have a thing for you. At first I thought he was just being a flirt but now I don’t know.”
I glued my eyes to the menu, fumbled with it, then used it to fan myself. I sensed Milan observing my every move. I took a quick sip of my water. “Lan, please. That man probably drools over every halfway decent woman that comes through those doors.”
Laying her menu on the table, Milan sat back in her chair. “Let me find out that you’re attracted to Cain.”
Cain was six feet three inches, weighing in with at least 240 pounds of muscle. A dark chocolate brother with perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth, he sported a bald head and a well-manicured goatee. Nice eyes and full, kissable lips…who wouldn’t have found him attractive? Cain was dripping with sex appeal.
She started giggling again when I didn’t immediately answer. “That’s what I thought,” she said.
“You thought wrong. I’m not thinking about Cain. Besides, I have a man, or did you forget?”
“No, but maybe you forgot. Didn’t you two break up three weeks ago? Oh, let me guess, you got back together yesterday, right?”
“Nobody likes a smartass.” I chuckled. “No, we didn’t get back together and we probably won’t this time. It’s going to take a minute before I get used to the idea that I’m single.”
“And the idea that you aren’t getting any.”
I snatched my menu from the table. “Whatever, Lan.”
“Don’t get sensitive on me.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice, as if letting me in on a secret. “Seriously, you don’t have to be single. You’re a beautiful, young woman with a hell of a lot to offer. Any man would be lucky to have you. Maybe you should give Cain a chance. Nobody said you have to marry the man; just go out on a date with him.”
“This sounds a bit familiar. Didn’t I give you this same speech a couple of months ago?” I said, laughing.
She smirked at me. “Okay, so you give good advice. I figured that I’d return the favor.”
The waitress arrived to take our orders, giving me a break from Ms. Love Connection. I ordered my usual, grits and croquettes, but decided to splurge and added the scrambled eggs with caramelized shallots. Milan had to satisfy her pancake-jones with the peach pancakes with vanilla syrup and homemade turkey sausage patties.
As soon as the waitress was out of earshot, Milan started going on about Cain again. “How could you not want to go out with a good-looking man like him?”
“It takes more than a nice body and a perfect smile.”
“Oh, so you do notice him?”
“Of course I notice him, Milan. There’s no way I could ignore all of that.”
“Then give him a chance. Find out what he’s all about.”
“Lan, drop it.”
“I will, but you need to get used to being single…quick.” Although we had begun to discuss what we wanted to get into after brunch, I was thinking about what Milan had said to me. She was right. I was single and I needed to act like it.
Plates of partially eaten food were all over the table. I had done as much damage as I could on my meal and was so full that I didn’t want to taste another bite of croquette for at least a year.
“Eating that much food should be illegal,” I complained.
“What was the purpose of going to the gym this morning?” Milan rubbed her stomach. “I think I just gained ten pounds.”
“Let’s get out of here and get to shopping. I need to walk this off ASAP.”
We left the money for our meals, including a generous tip for the waitress, in the guest check holder on the table. I know, firsthand, how important tips are to the wait staff. As we made our way to the exit, I spotted Cain at the hostess station. I discreetly reached in my bag and pulled out my business card. Milan waved as she passed Cain; I looked at him, smiled, then pressed my card in his hand. Surprise washed over his face and he smiled back. I felt a flutter in my stomach. I continued to saunter toward the door, but turned my head and mouthed, “Call me.”
He replied with a subtle nod. That simple gesture made my day.
© 2011 Shamara Ray
Recipe for Love
Wouldn’t love be easy if it could be followed like a recipe? Jade, a sassy restaurateur, has mastered her share of recipes except for one: she can’t figure out the essential ingredients when it comes to love. There is one too many men in the mix. Jade is struggling to come to terms with being dumped by Bryce after four years. She surprises herself by agreeing to a date with Cain a mere three weeks after their painful break-up. But right as she moves on, Bryce decides that he wants her back. Jade can only hope that his obsessive pursuit of reconciliation doesn’t ruin her own pursuit of happiness.
Jade loves her new relationship with Cain, but her friends aren’t always supportive and she resorts to lies and deception. But just as Jade settles into life with Cain, her lies come back to haunt her and she has no one to blame but herself. She discovers that she must face the error of her own ways before it’s too late to salvage what matters to her most.