He didn’t know what else to do except say, “You look great.” Of course, she looks great, stupid. Could you be anymore lame? He forced himself not to look around in anticipation of that man who’d answered her phone stepping up next to Lesli, sliding an arm around that slender waist, settling a palm on that shapely hip.
Keith didn’t know what to do or what not to do. And he knew she knew it. Feeling like a peeled grape, he pulled himself together enough to offer to stand her to a round in return.
She raised a full-to-the-brim rum-and-coke. “No, thanks.”
He sat, trying not to look stupid as he felt. She sat too, clearly enjoying his discomfort. He’d squirmed long enough and went to shove off.
“So,” she said, “you with a date?” Keith realized she knew damned good and well he didn’t have a date. And was just being mean. Before he could answer, she slid down from stool, business-length skirt riding up her thigh. “Come on in the back room. Got a bunch down from the office for a send-off. Half of them won’t believe I know a real live, big-shot musician if you don’t come in and at least sit for minute.”
She gave him a saucy wink. That, he rued, just ain’t fair. But followed her to the VIP dining room. Staring at her shoulders, waist, how magnificently she filled out the back of that skirt.
“Lesli, I’m gonna have to get back to work.” But followed her anyway through the doorway, taking in the luxury surroundings, nervously waiting for whoever had replaced him in her heart to materialize, to come strolling up and give her a kiss, inspiring that breathtaking smile. He might just grab a barstool and give it to the scumbag for a necktie.
She whisked Keith in, pulled a chair out at the central table and summoned a waiter. He sat. “Believe it or not,” she said, “I forgot how well you play that thing. You’re pretty damned good.” He looked at her eyes. They had a glaze. The chick was lit. And, he knew, liable to say or do anything. An aspect to her personality he’d always found, for some reason, absolutely endearing.
He didn’t know how he was going to make it through this and still hold onto his sanity. Faces brightened all around as she beckoned a strapping, blue-eyed blond hunk decked out in a charcoal-grey, expertly tailored suit, smoke-colored tie and black shirt. “Hear hear!” she fairly bellowed to get everyone’s attention.
She went about an enthusiastic, if not altogether articulate, laundry list of accolades extolling Troy Somebody-Or-Other’s contributions to the museum and how much their loss was the Smithsonian Institution’s gain. Turned out he’d taken the job she’d turned down when Lesli moved East.
“Thank you,” he began, and Keith was ready to leave. That was the voice he’d heard on Lesli’s phone. He behaved himself, drummed his fingers on the table and wished to hell the waiter would bring his drink.
By the time the honoree eventually got done humbly thanking everyone for being part of his step up the ladder of success, he made Stevie Wonder at the Soul Train Awards sound succinct. Keith was surprised at how well he was doing, how much patience he’d mustered. But knew that he and she had that same thing in common — give either one enough to drink and volatile wasn’t the word for it. All absolute hell was liable to break loose.
He was furious at this White man, even more furious at Lesli. And humiliated to realize just how badly he still wanted her back. She sipped at her drink. “So, handsome.” He wished she wouldn’t call him that. “You have a date floating around here somewhere? Leave her in the dressing room?”
He looked at her like she had two heads, an impatient expression she immediately recognized. And soothed him: “Just asking.” The waiter brought his drink. At just about the time he remembered there was another one sitting out in the main room, on the bar, watering down, going to waste.
“Yeah, Beyonce brought me. She’s in the ladies room, freshening her makeup, straightening her girdle.” He felt himself losing some of that patience he was so glad he had. “No, Lesli, I ain’t got no date. And if I did, so what? Why you wonderin’ whether I’m with someone when you going home with this beach boy?”
She looked at Keith like he’d farted. “Hunh? What’re you talking about?”
“That’s the same voice I heard on your phone the other day. The same man you had answering your line.”
Next week: The joke’s on Keith.
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