“Don’t forget we have cake orders to fulfill! You can’t be bullshitting today bro,” my homeboy and business partner, Felix, advised as I sat behind my desk looking over the quarterly report. My bakery 8th and a Cake was my baby and my largest stream of income. I worked hard to get my feet back on solid ground once the Feds did their last sweep. All of my boys decided it was time to call it quits and go legit before we ended up in a cell hating life. There was no telling what my life would look like right now if I hadn’t followed my gut and stepped away for good. A bakery wasn’t my ideal exit plan but it worked, and after we saw the numbers, we decided to stick with it. I always had a love of sweets, so it made sense for me to go into the baking business, with a twist, once it was presented. What you received depended on what you needed. We did edibles of all sorts but also offered the basics for those who didn’t indulge. The shit wasn’t legal, but when you had an uncle with friends in high places, you could do what you wanted as long as you practiced discretion. Things were working out for the business, and it demanded most of my attention.
“Felix, don’t start that shit fam, I’m working on the numbers. That’s why we hired Ashlyn,” Ashlyn was my cousin on my father's side, and she had a gift for baking and making the shit taste like cake and not an ashtray. Felix and I ran the business side, while we let her creativity run wild. It was my money up for grabs and his reputation, so we went hard holding events, catering and advocating for the legal use of marijuana. Felix was my homeboy from back in the day. We went to high school together. Felix was different but in a good way. He had a street mentality but wasn’t in the streets. It was only right that I brought him on when I decided to open the bakery. He managed and owned several businesses, so he knew the ends and outs of this side of things. His hands were clean, and he had immaculate credit which is something I didn’t have after dealing in only cash for so long.
“Bro, you be procrastinating to set the deliveries up. How many Yelp reviews do you need to get it?”
“Fuck them damn people. Just because Korte don’t let you run shit at home don’t mean you can run me,” now that he was married he seemed to be on my nerves more than usual. I was a grown ass man who knew what I was doing. Just last week I hired and bought our own driver so we didn’t have to fork over more money than needed. I needed him to chill or catch a nut. Either way, I needed him out my face, so I could make the count before I dipped. Running a business was not much of a change for me. Besides the grit and grime of the streets, it was the same hustle that made this a successful investment for me. My hands were clean for the most part, but the grind was still cranked up to the max. The competition wasn’t a factor like it was on the corner. The police weren’t running up in this bitch seizing and serving warrants. I slept peacefully at night without a phone call from one of my men hanging over my head. Shit was gravy, and I wanted to enjoy it until I was able to pass it down. Hopefully, that would soon because I was ready to retire from working altogether.
“Oh, that’s how we doing it? At least I got something wet and warm to go home to at night. When you gon take that step?” he asked as I said fuck the count. Raising my gaze from the stack of papers, I watched his mouth turn into a smirk. His questions were throwing me off, we rarely talked about women. He was married, and I was single until I was married. I spent most of my time alone or with my family. They didn’t give me problems like most women did. My sanity was intact, and that’s how I liked it.
“When she needs me I’ll find her,” I responded. When I decided to find a woman or take one seriously everyone in the world would know. She would be on my arm everywhere I went and on the tip of my tongue. Her accomplishments would be shared with everyone I came in contact with. I needed a woman I could brag on. Not one that would just show up and look good. Until I came across that special one that made me want to put the armor of love on, it was back to the money. I was all about the money, everything else was a bunch of noise and currently null and void.
“Captain save a thot,” he responded with a laugh. I laughed because he knew me well. I didn’t save women, but I was that guy that wore my heart like tattoos - on my sleeve. Thuggin’ didn’t
make me forget that love was around or available. I approached love with an expectant heart and if it knocked I would let it in. Nothing was knocking at my heart at the moment so that door was closed and dead bolted. Now that I wasn’t in the game women didn’t look for me like they used to.
Back then, I was blessed with plenty of beautiful options. It was the money, my clothes and my product that had the women flocking and heading south for the summer. Now women saw me as boring, lacking thrill and appeal. Occasionally I had some sliding in my DMs, but it was all superficial. They wanted a good time, not anything long term. Anyone I dealt with had to see past that and appreciate a man with a legit hustle. When I found that woman, it would be over for me and the dating game. The next person I gave my attention to would be long term. I wasn’t trying to date for years and have a long drawn out engagement. From the jump, she would know I was serious and ready to ground myself in love. My hope was that when I found her, she was also ready.
“Sashaye, you closing tonight?” standing on my feet for three days straight had my feet on fire. It didn’t matter how good my shoes were when my feet were tired they were tired. Today was the first day in a week that I didn’t have to close the pharmacy. I just needed to rub it in my best friend’s face. It was evident that our boss, Mr. Jackson, liked her more than me. It was definitely because she was always flirting and smiling in his pudgy cratered face. She admitted to playing that card but made it clear that everyone did it. My hard work was constantly looked over because I refused to play his dirty game.
“Why you play so much?”
“We all selling pussy, what you selling yours for sis?” I asked holding in my laughter. I already knew the schedule had been updated as of yesterday. Mr. Jackson had me all types of fucked up if he thought I would be closing all week and not getting my weekend off. Him getting play from Sashaye was not about to come before my damn body aches and blistering feet. I was a lead pharmacist at CVS. His scheduling was some bullshit. I had to address it, and it shouldn’t have come to that. It was his job to equally provide everyone a weekend off. The minute I stepped into his office my scowl let him know what the deal was. I had to threaten him because sister girl had a whole man that wasn’t about to play with her or him. Sashaye would get him killed. If he wanted to sign his death certificate that was fine by me but my schedule needed to be changed immediately or I would burn this bitch down to the ground. If he didn’t want to acknowledge how bomb I was then I would quit and go down to the Rite Aid.
“Monday thru Friday and no closing shifts,” she joked. His scheduling was on some other shit. I didn’t have much of a life but what I did have left I wanted to enjoy without an aching back and swollen feet. She always had the dream schedule, and I was left working the closing shift until he hired somebody else.
“I knew it you little slut. All bullshit aside, Mr. Jackson been playing with my schedule for way too long. Just because your ass is fatter than mine doesn’t mean I don’t deserve some time off,” I joked.
“Bitch, don’t play. Put that work in, and you can get like me,” she winked making me want to throw up at the thought. The thought of Mr. Jackson breathing on me let alone touching me made me want to throw up my lunch. Behind this counter, I worked hard, and that was the only place I would be putting in any work. Right now, I was sick of seeing these pills, bottles, and customers. I needed a damn break before I lost my shit and had to become a customer.
“Keep playing, and I’m calling down to the county jail and letting Vershawn know you been hoeing and making that booty hopscotch again.” “Grown! Now go handle Mrs. Greer so you can catch some sunlight. You deserve it,” she answered tossing a paperclip at me. I ducked and headed to the front. I checked my phone and noticed that it was three thirty. I still had time to catch my baby brother’s baseball game, and I couldn’t wait. Weeks had gone by since I saw my family and I was overdue for some quality time with the people I loved the most. Approaching the window, I watched my customer roll her eyes. I wasn’t for her shit today, but I still smiled warmly and addressed her.
“Hey, Mrs. Greer, don’t forget to take this with water and food on your stomach. Sashaye told me you came back cussing her out. You know that was on you.” “I know baby, but I like giving that loud mouth wench a hard time,” she admitted to what I already knew. Sashaye was sweet to me, but she could be rude and unfiltered with the customers. Half of them deserved it; nevertheless, I wouldn’t tell her that. Sashaye reminded me of Joseline Hernandez with her looks, size, shape, and attitude. She said what she felt and didn’t sugar coat a damn thing. If she wanted you to know something you would know it. ‘Either you wanted to fight about or get fought about it’ was her motto. She’s been my spirit animal since college saying the things I thought but wouldn’t dare say unless I was pushed. Her crazy made an appearance at an early age and mine was slowly but surely rearing its unpleasant head.
“Bye woman, see you next week,” I said to Mrs. Greer, sliding the window closed. She was my last customer of the day and inside I was jumping for joy. I was off for the weekend and ready to catch up on my shows and family. Working at CVS was only a stepping stone for me. It wasn’t a part of my divine plan. My goal was to open the first black-owned pharmacy in Clarksville. I was stacking my chips, taking online business courses and waiting on the right location to become available. Once I found the perfect building, I would be my own boss and make my own moves. Being on my feet would be worth it. I planned to have this all complete before I turned thirty. I was three years away, and if it happened sooner, that would be great. However, I wouldn’t rush my destiny or run anyone else’s race, if it happened sooner than my expected time frame so be it.
I had a job that paid well and provided a comfortable living while I planned and saved. Right now, I was trusting the process and appreciating where I was. My mom always preached that I wouldn’t make it to the next level if I couldn’t appreciate my current one. I held on to that tightly and made sure I appreciated every milestone. “Shaye, call me when you get off, I’m out,” I removed my white lab coat, cleaned my pockets, kissed Sashaye on the cheek and grabbed my purse.
Stepping down, I locked the door to keep the thieves out. The only perk of working at the local CVS was the discount. Other than that, it seemed to be a dead end, but I didn’t let that deter me from doing the best I could with what I had. Pulling my small grocery list from my pocket, I got my free weekend started.
“Aye, shorty,” I froze instantly recognizing the voice. The voice I tried hard to forget after we split two years ago. Well I can’t call it a split, he got locked up, and I decided to call it and him quits. Deon was slowly approaching me and making me nervous the closer he got. He was licking his lips and smiling at me like he was happy to see me. If I wasn’t so nervous, I would laugh at the fact that he was still sporting braids with beads hanging on the ends. Within seconds, he was standing in front of me licking his lips. Hand in my purse, I clutched my pepper spray, because I couldn’t return the sentiment.
“Damn Kali, it’s like that. You leave a nigga high and dry and then can’t speak. I thought we were better than that.” It was that same ‘aye shorty’ shit that got me tangled up with him way longer than I anticipated. Good sex will leave you dealing with a person way longer than needed. That was Deon Fisher. At one point you could call his tall light skin ass my kryptonite. Making all kinds of dumb decisions as if I didn’t have better sense, all in the name of the pipe. What made it so bad is that it was community pipe. Gutter pipe. Rusted pipe.
“I can speak Deon, I’ve chosen not to,” I replied. Looking at his light brown eyes brought back feelings that didn’t deserve acknowledgment. He made me feel alive and important at one point. All the while he was dangerous, sneaky, and selfish. He played like he wasn’t, and he had me fooled for a long time. Deon was attracted to my good girl persona and my ambition. The good girl shit was still in effect, but I wasn’t dumb for love now. I wasn’t that girl anymore.
“Don’t tell me you still fucked up about that high-speed chase?” I cringed at the mere memory of that event although I remembered it as if it happened yesterday. What was supposed to be a lunch date at Tropicana turned into blue lights flashing behind his Crown Victoria for what should’ve been a routine traffic stop over some fucking lights. I got furious as he tried to reminisce about the scariest day of my life. Me riding shotgun like my name was Bonnie Parker instead of Kali Kyng, directing him through a neighborhood with drugs in the car was by far the worst day of my life. I would never forget the danger he put me in.
“Go to hell, Deon,” granted I knew what he was into, but I made it clear that I didn’t want to be around that shit. Ever. I was set to graduate college, and that was only going to tarnish my squeaky-clean record. Undoubtedly, he preyed on that part of me. Deon made me feel like it was something to worship when in fact it was only something for him to defecate on, once the moment presented itself. My blinders kept that from my vision until it was too late, and I was watching my back to see if we managed to lose the police. Deon was an unadulterated liar. I met him one day while I was out with my mom at Rainbow and he told me he sold insurance. I should’ve known it was a lie when I saw him in his long john shirt, Yankees fitted cap to the back and sagging jeans. However, the issue with Deon was that he had a smile that made you want to throw all common sense out the window.
Originally, it was that smile that got me in his bed and him in my mind for over a year. They said the worst type of heartbreak was from a man you lowered your standards for, I agreed. “We didn’t get caught tho,” he smirked. It was never about getting caught, and I explained this to him multiple times when he tried calling me for weeks after that. The concern was him and his selfish soul. “You got a clean record. If we get caught you gotta take this charge, I promise I’ll get you out and a good lawyer” were the words that almost caused me a serious case of whiplash.
As we hit hills and corners on two wheels, those were the words he spoke to me as if my life, my future didn’t matter. They didn’t matter to him, but they did to me, and that was when I had to cut it. It took me a month to feel comfortable going outside. Too worried about being a wanted woman had me barricaded in my own home with the blinds closed, lights off and not making a sound. I spent that time reevaluating what I wanted in a man and what I wanted for myself, and it definitely wasn’t someone that would put me in danger. When Deon got locked up three months later, I changed my number, moved to a new apartment and set myself free.
“Deon, it was nice seeing you, but I must be going,” I breathed, attempting to move on. I just wanted to grab my melatonin and head home to relax before the game. Rehashing what happened wasn’t going to change that the ride or die phase of my life was over. I wasn’t built for it, and I could admit that. Only retired drug dealers or men with legitimate jobs appealed to me. He needed to find someone else he could shape and mold into his trap queen because it wasn’t me.
“Why you trippin’?” he asked grabbing my arm firmly. I struggled to pull away, but he grabbed tighter and began to grit his teeth, “Stop fucking playin, you owe me. I got locked up, and you turned your back on a nigga. That’s not how I groomed you, KK.” Looking in his eyes, I came to terms that he was a certified maniac. Deon would have allowed me to go to jail and moved someone into my spot with a flash of his smile. I imagined him living life as a free man with a new bitch. There would be trips, dinners, and gifts with drug money that was legitimately owed to me for my commissary. Tuh, he had me bent then, and he had me bent now. No words could make me go back down that road.
“Deon get your hands off me before I scream, and you be back in a cell with your boyfriend Rofus. I’m not some dog you can groom,” I said in a hushed tone, averting my eyes. Customers were looking at us, and I didn’t feel like bringing unnecessary attention to myself or situation. His grip loosened but he still had me by the arm. Pulling me closer, I grabbed the pepper spray in my bag ready to spray his ass dead in those lying ass eyes.
“Babe, there you are. I been waiting on you,” I heard come from beside me. I shifted because I didn’t know this mysterious man that had come out of nowhere. And I do mean man. He loomed over my five-foot frame, easily coming in at six three. His height was sexy. I had to look up to drink all of him in. His bushy eyebrows, perfect line up, and styled dreads came into my sight. The moisturized skin and the rosary beads around his neck made me bite my lip. He tossed his perfectly built arm around my shoulder, and his full beard tickled my face. A nervous laugh escaped as he looked down at me and stepped back with me in tow.
“Deon, this is my boyfriend, uhm,” I paused not knowing his damn name. I was ill prepared, and that made me laugh again. “Pardison,” he answered. Whew, his raspy voice reminded me of Raz-B from B2K. I felt a lightness in my chest although the situation was heavy. Shit, his voice made me clear my throat and readjust my stance. With him around, I stood tall and confident. It was a huge change from how uncomfortable I was just moments ago. “Yes, Pardison,” I said slightly embarrassed, but still sporting a smile and stepping into his hold closer.
“We got a problem bae?” he asked slapping my ass and winking at me. A giggle escaped my lips causing me to cover my mouth. I continued to play along after the ass slap because I would blow up our charade if I didn’t. My acting skills weren’t that good when I was nervous and punctured with concern. The shit was seeping from my pores as the two men started in each other’s eyes. Both of them were the same height, and I wondered if my obsession with tall men was the problem. Pardison grimaced and cocked his head to one side. Deon looked more pissed off than he was before. I hoped this handsome knight knew what he was getting into.
Deon was dangerous, and I had watched him in action several times. When he got caught by the police, it took them three times to tase him and keep him down according to the news. My new friend Pardison didn’t seem to care as Deon extended his hand. Pardison looked down at me and pulled me closer into his desert sand colored body. We were so close my breast touched his chest. He never even acknowledged the attempted introduction as he looked down at me and kissed my forehead. He had me aroused and bothered from the simple gesture. It didn’t mean anything because I had never seen this man ever but the moment felt good. I was almost convinced that we were a real couple and that made me giggle again. Deon was visibly annoyed by the way his lips curled into a sneer, but Pardison’s body language said that he was past the point of recovery.
“Everything’s good, right Deon?” I asked as I snuggled into to Pardison a little more. The insult to injury was the smile on my face no longer felt forced. Pardison began walking me away, making sure to stay close and fill my nostrils with his heavenly cologne. On another aisle away from Deon I pulled away and looked into Pardison’s chocolate downturned eyes. I halfway considered asking if he wanted to be my boyfriend in real life after the way he just stood up for me. Not wanting to seem desperate I kept my mouth shut ready to say thank you and continue on with my day safely.
“You can thank me by letting me get your phone number, girlfriend?” I winked leaning back on a new aisle in CVS. My original reason for being in this bitch was for my sister, Niya. I personally hated this damn place; old people were always moving slowly, and they never had ethnic shit. Today was her birthday and being the busy man I was I forgot to get her a card, so I had to go to the closest location before I showed up to my mom’s. It was bike night at the Six, and I also needed some rubbers.
“Bloop, that’s going to be a no,” she answered, no longer laughing hysterically. I didn’t plan on intervening with what looked like a heated situation between lovers. However, as I rounded the corner, I could see the metal on the can of pepper spray. My intuition led me to her although she may not have needed me. My new friend was bout it bout it, and it looked to be in a bad situation.
The shit buddy was on didn’t sit well with me. I had two sisters, and I would be on CNN for the lengths I would go to protect them. There wasn’t one man in the city good enough for my sisters. Niggas knew not to even approach them with no fuck shit. It would be shut down the same way I shut down the lost member of Pretty Ricky. From the look on his face, I knew he was a fuck boy. I was no hater, but I didn’t like touchy niggas. The only reason a woman should be touched was out of love, not to instill fear. He had me fucked up. It didn’t help that she caught my attention the minute she stepped down from behind the counter. I watched her and watched the situation unfold until she looked uncomfortable. Against my rule of minding the business that paid me, I intervened hoping to get her out of sticky situation.
“Damn, surely you meant yes. I forgive you, babe. My number i-”
“Thank you for your help. That’s all I got for you magnum man,” she answered cutting me off and looking down at my hands that held the box of condoms. That was a rookie move but shit I was single. I could do as I pleased so I didn’t think to hide them.
“I know what it looks like but I’m single so it’s precautionary,” I explained licking my lips and taking in the full set of lips that graced her salted caramel skin. She was gorgeous with her jeans, crocs, and off shoulder t-shirt.
“You don’t owe me an explanation. I’m Kali, thanks and have a good day.” “It’s like that? That your ex or some shit?” I asked, still holding her up. I wasn’t done being in her space, she smelled like that old school Victoria’s Secret spray, Love Spell l. I knew that smell anywhere. My mom still wore it, but I must say, it smelled different on her. “Pardison, again thank you, but I just got off work. So, if you aren’t offering a foot massage, this conversation is over.”
It was cute the way she was trying to play me off like I hadn’t heard the giggles escaping her lips moments ago. I wouldn’t push, but now that I knew where she worked I would be back with the shit at a later time. Pulling out my wallet, I grabbed the pen from her lanyard and scribbled my name and number on a crisp hundred-dollar bill, “Treat them dogs on me and call me when you ready to stop playing ya’self,” I said leaving her with her mouth hanging open.
In the parking lot, I felt and smelled her behind me. I smirked as I turned to face her.. I knew she would come around at the sight of the money. With the summer sun hitting her face I could see the light brown tint to her eyes. Her hair was curly and pinned to the side of her heart-shaped face. I slipped my bottom lip between my teeth as I eyed her beautiful womanly body. She had an ass that needed its own zip code and hips perfect for cuddling in the winter time.
“First, let’s make something clear, you can’t buy my attention. I can pay for my own damn pedicure. That was very rude,” she fussed, attempting to block the sun from shining in her gentle eyes. Kali was short and built up like an ice cream sundae; perfect for licking and making a mess. I moved to help and get a good look at the odd dimple in her face. I was taller than her, so I stood over her and hid the sun. The closer I came, the more she stepped back, “Here.” I ignored her and didn’t take the money back. I meant what I said she needed to call me. The money wasn’t a concern of mine and I meant no disrespect, but what I wanted, I wanted. Her fussing and huffing wasn’t going to change that fact.
“Who let you down baby? I can fix it.” “I said what I said, now how you take it is your business. You don’t know Deon, you could have gotten hurt.”
“Do I look like a nigga that cares about Pretty Ricky hurting me? That nigga didn’t want no smoke,” I replied, looking at her. She clearly didn’t know much about me, and that made me want to pursue her even more. Deon would have gotten his block knocked off in two seconds flat.
“Yep, it’s official you are nuts, and I really must go.”
“Have a good day, Kali,” I said unlocking my car and sliding in. She stood there for a minute with her mouth ajar. Rolling down the window, I tossed the box of condoms out at her feet and let her know the truth, “I don’t care about the money, I want the call. Condoms in your court. You gon’ ball or jack ball?” I watched her walk to her car and slide in. She was still simmering. I laughed and pulled off, leaving her to deal with the remnants of our encounter.
Turning my music up I drove the ten minutes to my parents with her on my mind. She was a firecracker, and I liked it. She had some shit with her. She had pepper spray in her purse, niggas hunting her down at work and me looking to know more about her even with all that. Eventually, she would come around. I would be on her mind just like she was on mine until she came around.
“Niya,” I screamed walking into my peoples' house. I heard running on the stairs, and both of my sisters greeted me with a hug, “Happy Birthday kid, now be responsible with it,” she laughed and so did I because I knew that wouldn’t happen. Aniya and Reyniza were at the age that money burned their pockets. The minute it hit their hands it was already spent.
“Pardi, where’s mine?” Rey asked holding her hand out.