My Blue Suede Shoes Excerpts

BREAKIN’ IT DOWN
By Desiree Cooper

“Fantastic show, CC!”

Smiling expectantly, the producer handed the tall, stylish Cornelia Christine Smart a bottle of Evian. The popular host of the TV gossip show, “Breakin’ It Down,” CC opened the bottle and took a swig before extending a handshake to her guest.

“Thank you, Mr. Combs. I’m sure your new line of clothing will do well in this town. Especially now that you’ve been seen on my show.”

Mega-rap star and designer, Sean Combs, raised his eyebrows. “Yes, they would have never heard about me if it weren’t for you!” he laughed good-naturedly. “Thanks for the publicity.”

Stepping off the set, he walked into the gaggle of screaming women who had lingered for an autograph. CC Smart frowned as she watched him whip out a pen and begin to sign.

“Can someone get those people out of the hallway? It’s a fire hazard!” She yelled as she yanked the lavaliere mic from the lapel of her sapphire, St. John’s knit. Taking her bottled water, she breezed by her wiry, freckle-faced producer. “Out of my way, Josh,” she said. “You didn’t go into my dressing room while I was on the set, did you?”
“No, ma’am. Just like you ordered. No one’s been in there. And there hasn’t been a peep from your daughter, either.”

“Good,” said CC, breathing easy. “She’s probably sleeping off the cold medicine I gave her.” Then, changing the subject, she added: “Who we got tomorrow?”

Josh Clark consulted his clipboard. “We still got a call in to the mayor about his impending divorce. Oh, and a call in to Aisha Robinson. But she’s been ducking us since that shoplifting rap.”

“Forget the mayor. He’s been creepin’ for years. That’s not news. I want Aisha to come on the show. She needs to explain why the wife of an NFL player caught a case in Tiffany’s.” CC turned and wagged her French tipped finger in her producer’s face. “I want her fat ass on my set tomorrow morning. No excuses. Everybody in this town answers CC’s calls. Everybody.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ve got to take Alizé to the doctor. Let Sidney handle the rundown meeting.”

Josh nodded. “Yes, of course. Your daughter looked pretty sick when you brought her in this morning. You don’t need to come back in today, we can handle it.”

“Of course I’ll be back. She’s just got a cold.” At her dressing room door, CC paused. Josh looked at her, expecting more orders.

“What are you waiting for? Get that thieving bitch on the line,” she said, dismissing him impatiently. Patting her meticulous weave, CC waited for Josh to turn the corner. Looking around surreptitiously, she opened her dressing room door.

It was just as she’d left it. On her dressing table, a tube of Mocha Promises foundation still sat open after she’d hurriedly applied it that morning. She always did her own make-up, hair and dress—she didn’t trust the employees at the station to keep her secrets. Beneath her flawless complexion were dark, ugly blotches. Her ebony, straight hair once belonged to a poor woman in India. Her ample breasts had cost her a small fortune.

She quickly straightened the table. She hated for her workstation to be a mess, and that included her dressing room. She was known in the station to throw a fit when the staff left lipstick-rimmed coffee mugs on their own desks too long.

It took no time to organize her dressing table, but still her stomach felt antsy. She tried not to think about her daughter, Alizé, whose sniffling and whining had almost made CC miss the interview of a lifetime.

She’d worked for a month to land that morning’s story. “Soul Killa” was the latest designer drug flooding the port city of Norfolk, Virginia, and she had the first, ground-breaking interview about its devastating affects. It was with a woman whose thirteen-year-old son had just died from an overdose. The interview went perfectly. The woman melted into tears on the set. CC made a point to hug the woman maternally, and let her own eyes well up in sympathy. And then, out of nowhere, the woman had fingered the pusher. Live. On air. It had “Emmy” written all over it.

The moment almost hadn’t happened. This was the morning that her seven-year-old brat, Alizé, had decided to pull another one of her stunts. Faking a cough just to get out of going to school, she’d dragged her ass so slow, she’d missed the school bus.

Selfish bitch, CC thought. After all I do for her.

She threw her Blackberry into her saddle-colored Coach purse, and began to gather up her notes for the next day’s show. Suddenly, CC heard a tiny whimper. Her temper flaring, she got up and stomped to her coat closet, throwing open the door.

There at the bottom of the closet, beneath the coats, the seven-year-old sat holding her knees to her chest. She flinched as the door opened, raising her hands instinctively to protect herself.

“Didn’t I tell you to shut the hell up?” CC whispered angrily.

“I was being quiet, Mommy,” said the child. “No one heard me in here, I promise.”

CC could see that Alizé had been crying. Good for her, she thought. She won’t miss that bus again!

The child’s forehead was blotted with sweat and her dark, brown eyes were sunken with fever. Her thick braids were fuzzy and unkempt. It had been days since CC had time to re-braid them.

“Just get up,” CC said. “I’m taking you home, and then I’ve got to get back to work. If I hear another peep out of you, I’ll slap you to the middle of next year.”

Suddenly, there was a knock as Josh entered excitedly.

“Great news, CC! Aisha just called back and said she could show up. She said no one else is letting her tell her side of the story. I still have to talk to her attorney, but…”

Josh’s voice trailed off as he looked from CC to the closet. What was the little girl doing in there? Instinctively, he took a step back, realizing he may have just crossed CC Smart—something no one ever got away with.

Caught off guard, CC quickly recouped. Seeing that her lap-dog producer was already intimidated, she surprised him with graciousness.

“That’s fantastic,” she smiled plastically. Then, bending down, she helped Alizé to her feet. “When I came back in here, she was sound asleep on the floor. Poor thing! Must have nodded off after hanging up her coat. Feeling better sweetie?”

Alizé nodded without making eye contact with Josh. She stood like a wooden, toy soldier as CC bent and hugged her tightly.

“Alright, Josh,” said CC. “I have to get some food in her stomach. I’ll be back in no time.”

“That’s OK, CC,” Josh said. “She looks pretty sick. Maybe we should plan to run a rerun tomorrow. Call me if you end up at the doctor’s office.”

CC spun around. “She’s fine. I’ll be right back—count on it.”


BROTHERLY LOVE
By Tracy Price-Thompson

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Zana gripped the edge of the sink and moaned. The bathroom was hot. Humid. Darkness descended, and she held fast to the ticking of her watch. Footsteps sounded. Heavy. The door creaked open and the light switch was flipped. She squeezed her closed eyes as brilliance flooded the room.

“Hey, Z, what’s up?” He sounded mildly curious. “Why was you sitting in the dark?” He paused and then his voice took on a different tone. “And why you sitting in here butt-naked?”

He stepped deeper into the room and the dampness clutched him.

“Zana? Z-baby? What’s up, girl?”

There was concern in his voice now. Fear too. Zana heard it clearly, and even through the wet haze of her pain she hated to worry him.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

The second hand boomed its way around the face of her watch. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead to the cool sink, concentrating on the ticking sound and fighting to remain conscious.

“Oh shit,” he cursed, and stepped fully into the bathroom. The floor was slick and wet beneath his feet, the tub half-full of rose colored water. His eyes darted back to Zana who was perched naked on the closed toilet seat. Her head was slumped against the porcelain and her firm breasts stood free. He noted her smeared, gaped thighs and the assortment of items strewn across the floor.

An unbent wire hanger. Cotton balls. An open bottle of rubbing alcohol.

“Zana, no…” Realization slapped him hard, and he moaned as he reached for her. “No, baby girl, no! What in the hell did you do?”

She opened her eyes again and tried to catch her breath. Fire sliced through her midsection and she bit back a cry. Her naked booty was warm and wet on the toilet lid. Slick. Slippery. The sound coming from her watch grew louder. That bad boy was almost gonging now. She wanted to cover her ears, but her stomach cramped all the way down to her tailbone.

“Shit! You was preg–? Why didn’t you tell me, Z?” He grabbed a hand towel from the wall rack and pushed it between her legs. He held her close. “Hang tight, baby girl. I’ma call an ambulance…”

“No…” she whispered. “Don’t…” Her breath was hot on his neck. Sour.

“Damn! You shoulda came to me, Zana. To me. Now people gonna be coming all up in here. Getting up in our business…”

Hot tears fell. One slid into her pleading mouth.

“I’m sorry. Please don’t call nobody…”

He looked down at his hand. The towel he’d pushed between her legs was soaked, and now he was crying too. “I gotta call the ambulance, Zana. I gotta get you to the hospital. Your shit is real bad. Oh man…look at all that…”
Zana raised her head from the sink and looked first at him, and then toward the mess on the floor that had his full attention.

Her watch persisted.

Tick! Tick! Tick!

Uh-uh, Zana realized as she stared at the trails of dark liquid rolling down her legs.

Not the tick-tick of her watch.

Pap! Pap! Pap!

The dripping of blood.

Don’t tell them nothing…

His whispered warning came from what seemed like eons away. But even the desperation in his words couldn’t obliterate the papping sound of blood. Her blood. Blood that seeped between her naked thighs, pooled on the toilet lid, then splattered down to widen the crimson tide that roared on the bathroom floor.


BREAKIN’ DISHES
By TaRessa Stovall

Blur

“Has the jury reached a verdict?”

“We have, Your Honor.”

“Will the defendant please rise for the verdict?”

My attorney, Victoria Anthony, lays a reassuring hand on my forearm and squeezes it once, somewhere between gentle and hard. Fighting the sensation of being stuck in concrete, I push back my chair, place both hands on the scarred wooden table for support, and force myself into what I believe is a standing position.

These ridiculously high blue suede stiletto shoes, which I am wearing in direct defiance of Victoria’s advice, make the trembling of my knees even worse. But these gorgeous, near-gaudy shoes are my good-luck charm, the only hope I have for recovering any semblance of my life.

Victoria lays a hand on mine. I am not breathing. She isn’t either. My eyes are locked on the jury foreman’s mouth, awaiting the pronouncement of my fate. Everything else is a blur.

His words seem to form in slow-motion, coming at me through a fog. I strain to quiet the screams inside my head so I can hear. “We, the jury, find the defendant, Monique Estelle Worthington…”

Red

I turn into the circular driveway, noting that a few lights are burning in our oversized, overpriced totally-worth-it dream house in glitzy (and formerly mostly-White) Buckhead. Each successful Black person who lives here is like a raised middle finger to those who feel we have no business infiltrating one of their enclaves. Another source of satisfaction in my life.

Speaking of satisfaction, Armstrong is waiting at the door with a drink for each of us. I take mine gratefully: it’s a mellow merlot wine, perfect for unwinding from our equally crazy days.

“You saw the newscast?” I ask, settling into my favorite chair.

Armstrong nods, still standing, his eyes on mine.

“Including Duke’s little dig?” I ask.

“Oh yes. Of course,” he replies in his soothing baritone voice, the one that hooked me the first time it flowed into my ears.

“So?” I inquire. “What is the inside scoop anyway, Councilman Worthington?”

We share a chuckle and I stifle a nervous twinge in my gut. Hate that feeling. It usually means I’m about to be hit with something I’d rather not deal with, rather not know.

I steel myself, then look more deeply into my beloved soulmate’s eyes. “You’re up in the polls. Your track record is the most impressive in the whole City Council’s. The civil rights icons seem to be in your corner. Not to mention some of the Big Money Whiteboys from the northside and outlying suburbs.” I take a sip of the merlot, willing it to sooth my nerves.

“Yes,” Armstrong says, a smile playing at the corners of his full lips. “You seem to have all of the facts straight so far, Mrs. Worthington. I can’t argue with any of them.”

I arch an eyebrow and await his response, the gut-twinge intensifying.

“What I want to know is, how you would feel about being Atlanta’s First Lady?” he asks.

“For real?”

“Yes, Monique. For real.”

I set my wineglass down on the table next to my favorite chair, take a moment to survey my flawlessly furnished home and my beloved husband. “I’d have to step down from my job, obviously.”

“And how big of a problem would that be?”

I sigh. “It might not be a problem at all, Armstrong. I’m sure there are a hundred things I could do besides the evening news.”

Our eyes dance a tense tango. “How badly do you want it, darling?” I ask. “Because if this is truly your heart’s desire, you know I’ll be behind you all the way. Whatever that means for me.”

Armstrong sets down his glass and smiles slowly, then nods. “Thank you, baby,” he says. “Now come over here and gimme some of that sweet, spicy sugar.”

I smile at his corny old joke, loving the familiarity of it, and move into his embrace. As I tilt my head to press my lips to his, I find myself bracing for a sneeze.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-shit!” I say, covering my nose and mouth with my left arm. “I’m sorry.”

“Bless you, baby,” Armstrong says. “Are you coming down with something?”

Before I can answer, I’m hit with a wave of sneezes, one right after the other, with no time to speak in between. I sneeze at least 10 times, moving further back from Armstrong with each one.

His eyes are downcast now. Mine are blazing. All I can see is red. Because what Armstrong and I both know is that my allergy to cheap cologne is a dead giveaway that he’s been cheating. Again.

I snatch up my half-filled wineglass and hurl it directly at Armstrong’s head. He ducks, and it shatters against the marble mantelpiece, raining onto the matching marble hearth in front of one of our home’s half-dozen fireplaces. The wine pools around the shards of crystal like blood around the bones of a corpse.

Neither of us moved to clean up the mess. The latest in a long line of cleaning women will get it tomorrow, I reason. After all, that’s what we’re paying whatever-her-name-is for.

“Monique, you’re mistaken,” Armstrong says softly. “You’re getting all worked up over nothing. There’s no reason for you to worry. Just calm down.”

My response is to rush forward and slap him in the face, knee him in the groin and stomp on his foot. He gasps, bends at the middle, and groans just a little, almost silently. I freeze, waiting for him to recover. Finally, after a long minute or two, he straightens, wincing with the effort of movement, and speaks again.

“You know I’d never cheat on you, Monique. I love you too much to damage what we have, what we’ve built, together.”

“Liar!” The rage is boiling inside me. I am blinded by another flare of crimson red. And like a crazed bull, I charge him again. I punch him in the jaw, rake my flawless (and 100 percent real) fingernails across his neck. I draw blood.


THE WRONG SIDE OF MR. RIGHT
By Elizabeth Atkins

This was the kind of moment that Charmaigne Carson lived for. She was on the deck of a yacht…surrounded by friends and acquaintances…nibbling brie and sipping wine…and standing beside her future husband.

She savored every second, never wanting this to end. Because it would. And within hours, even minutes or seconds, this euphoria could shift into something ugly.

“Show us the ring,” commanded the grand dame of Detroit’s black bourgeoisie. Mrs. Renee Jacobs squeezed her pampered fingers around Charmaigne’s trembling left hand. “My, my, Marcus, very impressive!”

Mrs. Jacobs twisted Charmaigne’s hand to make the emerald-cut diamond — from Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue in New York — sparkle in the soft evening sunlight. Charmaigne beamed, loving this attention. Loving the affectionate gaze that Marcus was casting down at her.

“This lady stole my heart like none other,” Marcus said, his deep voice booming with pride. “Humble, beautiful, intelligent,” he gushed, “a little too sassy sometimes—” he chuckled, arousing playful laughter amongst the circle of a dozen business associates “—but most of the time, she’s a good girl. My princess for life.”

Marcus kissed her cheek. It burned with excitement, with passion, with anxiety. Because that playful chuckle he shared with the crowd could turn sinister in a heartbeat, but a playful sinister that, when called out, he would say she’s being too sensitive. So she wouldn’t mention it later. She wouldn’t let her eyes glint with anything but bliss right now.

“Princess for life,” his business partner said, “and in two weeks, your wife.” Anthony Jacobs patted Marcus on the back, his hand making a deep thump on the broad shoulders of Marcus’s custom-made navy blue pinstriped suit. At the same time, Anthony clasped Mrs. Jacobs’s hand. “Welcome to the best club in the world, my brotha.”
Charmaigne’s head spun. She had to catch and record all the nuances of the moment to file away and analyze later. These moments were to fleeting. So delicious. And such potent fuel to propel her through the excruciating moments when they were alone.

Right now, she loved the powerful beam in Mrs. Jacobs’s eyes…

The pride on Anthony’s face…

The glimmers of happiness…then mischief… then genuine delight… that danced over Marcus’s face.

The knowing stares of the women and men around them, many of whom had been married for decades, some of whom were newlyweds or new parents.

What did it all mean?

That she and Marcus would live happily ever after?

That they were doomed to the secret misery of marriage, even though they’d been taught from birth that it was what they had to do to legitimize themselves as individuals, as a couple, as successful business people, as citizens of a civilized world?

Marcus took Charmaigne’s hand and raised her five-carat diamond into the evening sunshine. “See this rock?” he asked Denise. “Every glimmer in there represents a reason that I love this woman to death.”

“Girl, you got a good catch with this Romeo,” Denise said, grinning. “Remember tonight, and all the good times in the beginning. You’ll need them someday, to remind you why you said ‘I do’ in the first place.”

Charmaigne’s freshly waxed brows furled. She exhaled with a bit of frustration and said, “With all the stress of planning this wedding, I’ve been feeling that way already. The florist, the caterer, the alterations on my dress. Honey, this is more than a notion.”

“That’s the fun part, sweetheart,” Denise said, biting into the chicken wing and holding it over the pink china plate. “I’m talkin’ about when the honeymoon is over. Oh-verr! And you wake up next to this joker and say, ‘Romeo who? What the hell did I just do?’”

The bitter twinge in Denise’s voice as she laughed a not-funny-laugh made Charmaigne stiffen.

Denise shrugged. “I don’t mean to sound harsh. But marriage definitely has its moments.”

Marcus let out a fake laugh and said, “Spoken like a veteran of this thing called marriage.” He put his arm around Charmaigne. His fingertips tenderly grasped her bare shoulder. “I guarantee, my girl will never have a moment of regret, remorse or doubt. Happily ever after is the name of my game, baby girl.”

Marcus’s eyes sparkled down at her. Charmaigne’s heart fluttered. But her gut cramped.

Even though, based on the stories that Charmaigne could tell about every couple on this boat, being celebrated and valued were hardly what happened behind the closed doors of these prominent people.

Affairs, alcoholism, abuse, depression, addictions… she’d heard it all.

And each story was far from happily ever after. Those words, riding on Marcus’s deep voice and jovial tone, echoed in her head. Was she supposed to look forward to happily ever after when they left the brunch, and his eyes fumed with disapproval during the tense silence he drove her home? He said nothing verbally. But his eyes—
“Baby girl,” he said now, “dance with me. Let me show you off to everybody here tonight.”

He pulled her onto the parquet square in front of the band. Then he whispered to the lead singer, and they began One in a Million by LTD. Their theme song.

Denise took their champagne flutes. And Charmaigne loved every minute of being held close to the man of her dreams, on a yacht, under the setting sun.

Because soon it would be night. And she knew she’d be seeing the wrong side of Mr. Right.

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