I barely paid attention during my morning meeting with my small staff of five, trying to determine my next step. Luckily, I didn’t have to do much talking and I let my manager, Travis lead. Every time I thought of that damn photo, my stomach roiled. I had no idea what Leela wanted from me or her plans for the picture and if she had others that may have been worse. I replayed that night over and over trying to think if there was another moment she might have taken other pictures without my knowledge. I’d only dozed off for an hour or so before leaving. At least in this pic, only my bare chest, Leela’s gloating face, and Kiki’s naked back were shown. Once the meeting ended, I instructed my staff to field all calls for the rest of the day and returned to my office. I needed space and time to think.
Needing to talk to someone, I leaned back in my desk chair and picked up my cell.
“Jamal. Can you get away for lunch? I need you to stop by my office.”
His voice thick with concern, he responded, “What’s wrong? You sound like somebody died.”
“Because there’s a high probability someone will.”
“Shit, that serious?”
“I wouldn’t ask you to come here as soon as you can on a busy Monday if it wasn’t.”
“Just get here when you can.”
Almost three hours later, my receptionist led Jamal into my office. We both watched her quietly leave and close the door before speaking. I moved around my desk to clasp my cousin’s hand. “My nerves are shot to shit waiting for you to get here. I started to get in my car and come to you.”
Jamal frowned. “Aaron, what the fuck? I got here as soon as I could. Mondays are always a bitch. Mothafuckers don’t want to be going to work, saying they need scripts for everything.”
I gestured for him to sit and I returned to my chair and pushed the envelope to him. “See what your bright idea got me into?”
He pulled out the photo and grinned. “That was a wild night. Wanted proof?”
I shook my head wrily. “I know you a pharmacist and all but sometimes I wonder where you get your common sense from. Do you think I called you here in the middle of a workday to show you some damn pictures? Fuck no, I didn’t want or need proof. That came from Leela.”
“Yes. I think she’s trying to blackmail me or some bullshit with this. She somehow sneaked into my secure condo and pushed this envelope under my door. Raquel found it.”
He put the envelope down. “Damn. You just got with Raquel. She leave you yet?”
“She didn’t see what was inside, but if she does, she might. Our relationship may be too new for her to be okay with me if I share this pic with her. She isn’t the woman, who will look at this as my past. She’ll think this is what I do, that I like this kinky shit.”
He glanced at the photo again and snickered. “Well, it is kind of what you do. You definitely look satisfied.”
“Man, fuck you.” I stood up and stared out my office window looking at the busy streets. “I wasn’t thinking about Leela until you called them over.”
“You asked me to drop everything to come here so you can blame me for your actions? I didn’t tell you to have sex with your brother’s ex.”
I whipped around. “Do you have selective memory? That’s exactly what you did. You called her over when I told you not to, and then you left hoping I got some.”
Jamal retorted, “Which apparently you did.” At my angry glare, he conceded. “Okay, okay I did encourage bad behavior. What did you do to Leela for her to come after you like this? Make promises you didn’t keep?”
“Nothing…I mean I guess she thinks I ghosted her. But we didn’t exchange numbers. It’s not like she asked for mine and I gave her a fake number. I did leave without saying goodbye and maybe she thought we would wake up exchange pleasantries, have breakfast, fuck some more. I don’t really have a fucking clue why the bitch then went all psycho on me after one night of lust. Tisha told me she tried to kill Kari and herself when he broke off their engagement to be with Kam. I thought she’d only done that because she had been so hurt and devastated and I could relate because I wanted to kill Kari myself when I found out. I thought Leela had a momentary lapse in judgment and not this is just who she is.”
Jamal bellowed, “What the fuck, Aaron? Why didn’t you tell me she was crazy?’
“Shh! Why you so fucking loud?” I strode back to my mahogany desk and perched on the edge. “I don’t want the whole office to know my business. Besides, I didn’t know that until after that night. Tisha told me that because Leela posted a pic of me on Instagram that she took of me from across the bar.”
“Seriously? Posted a pic before she even came over? She must have already been feeling you.”
I folded my arms and quirked a brow. “You think? She has over sixty thousand followers and I don’t need my sex life out in the street like this. I got my business connections to think of and I’m thinking about getting custody of Dominick. I don’t have time for this shit.”
“Custody of Dominick?”
“That’s another story for another day, but yeah, I might have to fight Vonni and I can’t have pictures like this floating around.”
“What do you think Leela wants?”
“How the fuck I know? I just saw the pic this morning. She left her number asking me to call her. I haven’t yet because I’m so pissed, I may fuck up and threaten her or some shit. That’s why I asked you here to keep me calm while I’m on the phone to see what she wants.”
Jamal’s large brow furrowed. “So I grab the phone from you if you get too upset? What do you want me to do?”
I said impatiently, “Give me hand signals, something if I’m going too far. I don’t know. Just be here. I need a witness.”
“Just see what she wants and let her know you’ll get back to her if you don’t know how to answer her yet.” He leaned forward in his chair. “Go ahead and call. Now, I want to know what the fuck she wants.”
I picked up my cell.
Jamal chuckled when he saw her smiley face on the pink note. “Bruh, this bitch crazy.”
“Hello.” Leela had picked up after three rings and answered so sweetly, I swear I wanted to throw my cell against the wall.
Trying to keep my own crazy on lock, I calmly announced, “It’s Aaron.”
“Oh, so you do know how to use a phone?”
“Leela, I don’t have time for games. What do you want?”
She hissed. “To not be ignored.”
I started pacing. “I didn’t ignore you. It was supposed to be a one-night stand. I already apologized for leaving without saying goodbye at the airport. I told you politely we couldn’t hang out and you walked away angry.”
Leela responded, “Meet me at my hotel.”
I laughed sarcastically. “Fuck no, so you can trick me into more photos.”
“Then meet me in the lobby bar of my hotel. I’m not playing, Aaron. I post this and I’ll gain even more followers. But I’m guessing by your phone call that you can’t afford to have this pic out. I’ll text you my hotel. See you in an hour.” She clicked off the cell.
I threw my phone down and held on to my desk to calm myself. “Glad Kari didn’t marry that psycho bitch.”
Jamal rose from his chair and squeezed my shoulder. “Aaron, just let her post whatever she wants. No one we know follows her anyway. You think she would send it to Kari?”
“I doubt she has Kari’s new cell and even if she did, I don’t really want him to know. He already judges me on every other fucking thing, like he has the right. He doesn’t give a fuck about Leela, but he’ll see it as one more fuck up on my part. And Tisha does follow her.”
“Which means it will get back to Kari.”
I shook my head. “Naw, she wouldn’t tell. She just might be pissed with me.”
“Who cares if Tisha is pissed? Let Leela post whatever she wants then.”
“We did some wild shit that night and I was drunk. I don’t know what other photos she might have. And I do care about Tisha and what she thinks of me.”
“Why? She’s just Kam’s friend.”
I looked at Jamal wondering if I should trust him. He loved family gossip, but he was my closest cousin and like a brother. “I usually don’t tell you shit because you run at the mouth.”
His thick eyebrows almost met. “Aaron, I know I tell family shit, but never yours. Even when everything first hit the fan about Kari and Kam, once my mother told me, I didn’t say anything to anyone else. Not even my wife knew at the time. If you haven’t shared with me all these years because you think I would spread it, then that’s fucked up. You’re more my brother than my own older brother.”
I quietly assessed my cousin who was my age and we’d grown up together. I held my hand out to him and he received it and we dapped and snapped our fingers as we used to when we were kids. Then we both sat on the edge of my desk. “I really care about Tisha. We spent the night together, the night Kari came back from overseas. She comforted me and I haven’t been able to get her out of my mind and heart ever since. We’ve been talking almost every day, but only as friends because she already has a man.”
His eyes widened. “So you messing with Kam’s best friend?”
Tugging on my beard, I said, “When you say it like that, it sounds like I’m playing around with her and I’m not.”
“Chill. You just caught me off guard. That bass you just got in your voice, tells me you’re feeling her. So what if she has a man if you like her? He’s not her husband.”
“They probably headed that way.”
“I’m looking at your face right now and you all sad and shit. You love her?”
I nodded and walked back to my window.
“Then be with her.”
“Oh, if it were that simple.” I looked back at my cousin. “So much, keeps happening you know. For the longest time, I had all of this anger and hurt inside, and she was the only one who made me forget my pain, even if temporary. But when I met Raquel, it felt like a fresh start. Tisha is still Kam’s best friend and she’s dating Kari’s friend. Our relationship would be too enmeshed, complicated.”
He whistled. “Damn, you and Kari should have a reality show. Your last name alone will bring attention to your show. I know I would watch it every week.”
I chuckled in agreement. “We would be number one.”
“So, what’s going on with you and Tisha now that you have Raquel?”
“I told her last weekend, that we can’t even be friends.”
“Then why do you care if she sees any of Leela’s posts? It’s over, right?”
“Because I didn’t tell her the truth when she first asked about what happened when I saw Leela.”
He protested, “She’s not your woman. You don’t owe her any explanation.”
I placed my hand over my heart. “In here, she still is. And it’s the only time I lied to her. So, I’m going to meet with Leela and see what she really wants. I don’t know how much damage that photo can do to my business or to the people I care about, and I don’t want to find out if I can help it.”
Nodding, Jamal reached in his pocket and passed me a small device. “Take this recorder. I use it to transcribe my customers’ notes. Use it when you meet with Leela. Be careful.”
I took the device. “Keep your phone near in case I need to get bailed out of jail because I caught a case.”
“I got ya back always,” Jamal promised as we dapped and snapped again.
I strode into the Intercontinental hotel lobby, searching the bar and I spotted Leela before I entered. She wore her hair in a blonde ponytail that reached the bottom of her tailored pale pink pantsuits, flirting with some random white man. As soon as I walked up to her, I took her elbow. “You can have her once I finish,” I said to the surprised man.
Leela smiled, kissed the guy on his cheek. “I have to go before I make him more upset. He hates I flirt with other men.”
Wordlessly, I jerked her elbow even harder and pulled her almost behind me. I found a booth and let go of her arm. Rubbing her elbow, she eased down across from me.
She teased. “I actually like being man-handled such a turn on.”
Ignoring her attempt at flirting, I demanded. “I’m here. What do you want from me? I doubt it’s money.”
Her lips curved. “No. Glad you already know I don’t need your money.”
“What do you want?”
Leela met my angry glare defiantly. “You.”
I frowned. “So, you want me even if it’s by force? Why? You’re a beautiful woman, plenty of men would check for you. That white dude at the bar, mad I interrupted.”
“Then if I’m so beautiful, why don’t you want to date me?”
“Are you serious? Leela, come on. You were my brother’s fiancé.”
“And your ex-wife is with your brother.”
I shook my head, realizing that being nice wasn’t working. “You’re not my type. You were fun to fuck, but that’s it. And if I even considered dating you seriously, blackmailing me is some crazy bitch shit.”
She growled, “Don’t you ever fucking call me crazy.”
“Leela, you found out where I lived and left a photo of us under my door. I don’t know what else to call it.”
“Bakari was the crazy fuck, not me.”
Bristling, hit the table with my fist. “Shut the fuck up. Don’t ever mention his name around me or I swear you won’t work in this city ever again. In fact, if you even think of posting this photo or any other pic you may have, I will do my best to end whatever career you thought you were going to have.”
Her eyes teared, though she responded sharply, “I have a couple more pics, a very nice dick pic in fact. I have over sixty thousand followers and I can make sure your career and your bitch are over with a simple click. All I’m asking for is one date. A real one. You take me out on a real date, these pictures are destroyed.”
I tapped my knuckles against the table, contemplating what she was asking. “How do I know you won’t keep them to use them against me at another time?”
“Because I’m really not that crazy,” she said quietly.
“What do you gain from having a date with me?” I scowled. “I told you I have a woman and I’m not leaving her.”
“Fuck your woman. You can be nice to her, date her, claim her but leave me without a word. I want you to treat me like I fucking matter. You had your dick in every hole in my body, but like most men, the minute cum drains from you, I don’t exist.”
I gritted my teeth, pissed that I even let my dick and not common sense rule that night we saw each other again. “Fine. I’m out of town for the next week. When I return we can have a late lunch next Tuesday.”
Leela said firmly, “Dinner next Friday.”
“I have plans.”
“Cancel them.” She then stood. “Don’t come with this same stank attitude. You were all flirty, rock hard and shit the last time I saw you, bring that Aaron. I’ll text you a time and place.”
I watched her saunter away, her head held high, her hips catching the attention of other men as she passed. All she wanted was one date. I would give her that. I would be nice, treat her like I would any first date, and say goodbye the way I should have done after our night together. If Leela decides she wants more than a date or still tries to blackmail me, she would have hell to pay. For now, I would wait and see if Leela keeps her word.
Later that afternoon, Raquel and I drove into the parking garage at the same time. The minute we parked side by side, I jumped out of my car to open her door, greeting her with a kiss. “Hello, beautiful.”
She smiled. “Glad you’re home early.” I took her workbag and together we walked into our building. “You want pasta? I want to cook you dinner before you leave tomorrow.”
“As long as it’s alfredo and not tomato. Romano and not parmesan. And make sure you use Fettuccini noodles.”
Raquel patted my cheek. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a man who’s such a picky eater.
I slung my arm around her neck. “I’m just honest about what I like. Most men lie and pretend so they won’t hurt their women’s feelings. I like to eat too much to lie about my tastes.”
“That’s why you need to work on your culinary skills. Then you can make whatever you want, exactly like you want.”
I protested, “Let’s keep it at the cooking level. Culinary sounds too advanced. Up to me, we’re eating turkey burgers and fries every night.”
As we passed the front desk, the security officer stopped us. “Mr. Youngblood, you have a package?” He then lifted a bouquet of flowers and a teddy bear from behind the desk.
Raquel squealed and picked up the huge brown bear. “Aaron. I love it.”
I stared in confusion and before she could read the card, I grabbed it and quickly read.
Can’t wait until our date.
Before I could react, Raquel took the card out of my hand. “You’re supposed to let me read my own card.”
I sent a quick prayer to God above that Leela didn’t leave her name anywhere as Raquel read it.
She looked up at me, her smile pleased. “Date?”
I cleared my throat. “Yeah…um when I get back, I have a special date planned for us.”
Raquel sniffed her flowers. “I never pictured you would be this sweet. Thank you.”
“Yeah, I try,” I answered, my palms now sweaty. “Hey, I’ll meet you upstairs, I left my phone in my car.”
“You want me to wait for you?”
“No, that vase looks heavy anyway. Go ahead.” I stood by the security desk and watched Raquel until the elevator door closed.
I looked at the security guard. “Pete? Do you know who dropped this off?”
“A delivery man. No one in particular, why?”
“The other day, an envelope was pushed under my door. Can anyone just do that?”
The older white gentleman frowned. “Mr. Youngblood, we do our best to keep this building secure, but residents allow guests at all times. Someone could have slipped something under your door. Do you need me to keep a closer eye on your place?”
I reached in my pocket and pulled out three twenty-dollar bills and tipped him. “Yes. And Ms. Scott’s place too, especially because I’ll be out of town for a few days.”
“Will do and I’ll tell the others to keep an eye on your apartment. Do we need to call the police?”
I waved my hand. “No. Just make sure all deliveries and mail come to this desk for me to pick up when I return.”
I walked to the elevator, pulled my cell out of my suit jacket, and quickly texted Leela.
Stop. Don’t send me any more shit or the date is off, and you can do whatever the fuck you want to do with the photos. I told you I would see you when I get back.
I hated that I was flying out to Sacramento for a conference for a few days when I wanted to handle this bullshit with Leela once and forever. I leaned against the back of the elevator, aggravated. Even if I told Raquel about the photos and she was cool, those photos could still be used against me. A lot of my business contacts were stuffy, conservative men with even more conservative wives who might judge me harshly and take their business elsewhere. My parents and family would be mortified. Best case scenario, Leela posts, and only her followers know. I would have to call Tisha and tell her the truth, so she’s not blindsided. Kari wouldn’t give a fuck, but I didn’t want our first words after not talking to be I fucked your ex and now she’s blackmailing me. When the elevator opened, I went into my home and flopped on my sofa. Think, Aaron, think. What does Leela really want? She can’t possibly think that after we met up for dinner, I would want to have another date. What does she really want? I closed my eyes, hoping for an answer that came almost immediately.
I picked up my cell and reluctantly dialed.
I responded, “I need you to get your ass up here. And nothing’s wrong with the parents. I need your help.”
Without hesitation, he asked, “When?”
“Next Friday, but get here during the day. I’ll rather wait until you’re here and explain.”
“Bet.” Kari hung up.
I ended my call. Surprised at the overwhelming relief and not anger, I felt at just the thought that Kari would be here and help me deal with Leela’s bullshit. My gut told me, she still needed closure with him and I was the next best thing. I just hoped my gut wasn’t wrong.