Beginning of A New World
Behind these iron gates sits a lush neighborhood just outside the Austin city limits; adorned by hilly terrain and plush broccoli topped trees. On an acre corner lot rests a light stone, two-story house with maroon shingles covering every arch of its roof. Red and white daisies line the sidewalk leading up to the pristine, streak-free glass front door. There were no secrets here. No one had to guess if an investment banker, case-winning lawyer, or congressman owned this coveted estate. They all knew because they all complained after the owner’s Range Rover drove up blasting 2Chains followed by a U-Haul truck and a burnt orange Jeep Wrangler that serenaded the street with Beyoncé’s Love On Top. The lucky soul whose feet walked on the Brazilian wood floors of the contemporary, three thousand square foot, four bed, five bathroom house was no one other than Trevor Voss.
Trevor Voss, the six foot four, dark blond haired, turquoise-blue eyed son of Dresden Voss, owner of Voss Production and Blair Quincy. He’s an esteemed graduate of the exemplary Dawson Toliver Academy and a holder of a stacked trust fund. He’s the guy all the girls want to date and all the guys want to imitate. He’s a cool dude, likable, but this story isn’t about him. It’s about Lela Emery. The espresso tinted beauty laying on his arm underneath the green silk sheets of his California King bed.
Lela lay peacefully asleep as Trevor’s arm drapes over her hip with their hands gently interlocked. Streams of light shone through the white blinds bouncing off the taupe walls as their chest rose, breathing in unison.
Fire truck sirens squealed in the air loud and violently. Lela popped up like a rocket ready for lift off. She flipped back the covers and dived to her purse at the edge of the bed. She dug deep in the brown satchel until her hand reached the vibrating device. Her eardrums quake as she tapped in her passcode, tapped the clock icon, and switched the alarm clock off.
“I can’t believe I fell asleep.” Lela yanked her hot red skinny jeans off the floor. “I wasn’t supposed to fall asleep. I told you not to let me fall asleep.”
Trevor sat up. “You did a little more than sleep.” He watched her scavenge through his minimalistic room picking up every article of clothing she stripped off last night.
“It’s 6:30!” She buttoned her yellow, frill blouse, “ I’m going to be late. I have to go home, shower, get dressed, and get to work all before 7:45” Lela tucked the shirt in her jeans showing off her wickedly small waist and sinfully curved hips.
“You should’ve just brought your clothes.” Trevor got out the bed. “You already have an armoire.” He shook the top sheet casting it up removing every wrinkle and crease as it floated down to the bed.
Lela looked at the stained and varnished dresser with scowling eyes, then dropped them looking at the tan rug in the drably decorated room that would greatly benefit from her much needed feminine touch.
“I can’t bring my clothes over here.” She looked at him fluffing a pillow wearing only his black boxers.
Who would say no to a face so ruggedly handsome? He was the perfect amalgamation of a lumberjack and a GQ model with his scruffy stubble and abs that could break bricks. Trevor dropped the pillow on the bed as he grabbed the other pillow; half lumpy, half flat.
Lela pulled up her long Senegalese twist into a ponytail, “That would mean we’re in a relationship and I can’t be in a relationship with you.” She wrapped a yellow hair tie around the thick mass of clean, tight, nicely twisted coils of hair.
He threw the pillow on the other side of the bed. The side he designated for her. The pillow smacked the headboard rattling the thick, bolted down slab of furniture. He huffed like a dog stuck in the yard watching the mailman drive up its street.
She witnessed his sullen demeanor as she pushed a gaggle of jingling gold bangles over her hand. “I can’t be in a relationship with my friend slash roommate’s ex-boyfriend.”
“We’ve been playing this little game since July. Cairo and Harmony already know.” He collapsed at the foot of the bed. “Anyways, Alyssa and I were freshmen. It was a week of fighting and hooking up. I wouldn’t call it a relationship. Its forgotten history, old news.”
“Forgotten history to you, old news to me but Alyssa’s bitchy, dramatic and a stickler for the rules. She’ll care and she’ll make us pay, all of us.” Lela slipped into her black pumps elevating her five foot four frame to five foot eight. “I’ll find the right time but, now ain’t it.”
“If you say.” Trevor lay flat on the bed staring up at the vaulted ceiling and slow oscillating fan.
Lela grabbed her purse off her empty armoire, strutted to the bed and leaned over him. She looked into his timid eyes searching into hers for validation; validation that she cared for him as intensely as he cared for her.
She caressed his high-boned cheek and touched her heavenly soft lips onto his. He could taste the remnants of her mango-pineapple lip-gloss as her lips merged with his. It lasted a few seconds but it was what he needed to fuel him as he played the role of just Lela’s friend all day in the sight of mixed company.
Lela rose up, pushed her hair over her shoulder. “Don’t you have class?”
“Not until ten.” Trevor reached for the remote on the nightstand.
She backed up to the door, “Meet me after.”
“You know it.” He pressed down the green button at the top of the remote sprawled across the bed.
He listened as her heels clicked down the hallway, down the stairs then out the door.
The junior political science lecture at Texas University was filled with a sprinkle of students on this Friday at 11:20. Keen, caffeinated students sat erectly at their manufactured oak desk with its plastic blue chair. They all stared straight ahead at the fortyish man, Carter Russell, with silver glasses, salt and pepper hair in a blue and white pinstriped dress shirt, black tie, camel cardigan and grey dress pants. He was an activist, author, father, and husband but the only thing that stroked his ego in just the right way was his title of tenure professor. He was an educator and a wielder of destinies. He stood behind his maple desk in front of the black board with the words Political Correct, scribbled on it with white chalk.
In a major dominated by males Russell’s classes had a knack for being filthy with girls. They yearned to attend his lecture, to stare into his hypnotizing grey eyes as they listened to his smooth, Barry White baritone spew speeches on US-China relations or public policy. Harmony Monroe, sat in the front row, biting down on her pencil, tapping her lilac nails on her laptop wasn’t one of those girls. She didn’t care that Russell was the equivalent of any man that adorned the cover of People’s Most Beautiful edition. She was enthused by his unlimited knowledge on all things political from the war in the Middle East to the conflict in Darfur. Despite her mother being a surgeon and a cardiologist father, her life’s passion was to save the world in a different way. She wanted to defend those that society shunned; she wanted to be a lawyer.
“Nigger is different from Nigga.” Harmony clarified twisted around in her chair facing her peers.
“If we’re going to have this discussion in class lets refrain from using the word.” Professor Russell quickly reacted leaning against the desk.
“Can I say the latter then?” Sean Templeton asked sitting behind Harmony. He came second to her as the student with the curliest hair. His rosy cheeks gleamed awaiting her answer.
“As a member of the race in discussion I affirm with a resounding hell no!” Will harked sitting in the chair closest to the door in a red Nike T-shirt and faded blue jeans.
“If I, as a white girl can’t say either then what makes them different?” Kirsten asked with her brunette bob hanging around her oblong face. The resident overachiever that always hit a wall when trying to surpass Harmony’s GPA crumpled her forehead.
“Saying nigger will get you killed and saying nigga will get you a beat down, enough said” Chris spoke leaning back in her seat with her arms tied behind her head as the sun that poured through one of the three windows beaming over her.
“What did I say” Professor Russell interjected.
“How is that fair, black people can say it but everyone else can’t” Lisa responded sitting in the back of the class with her messy ponytail and pug nose.
Harmony stood up from her desk between the narrow row with one hip out and one hand on her waist looking out at her well-versed comrades, “Look, let me make this simple. When a white person says either word it invokes visions of plantation life, beatings, working from sun up to sun down without pay, nonetheless; humans dangling from trees for amusement, raping and the sale of families on the auction block. It brings up anger and disgust; fear for some but for me it brings up my inner Nat Turner. My eyes see blood red. When I hear a black person say it I’m fine because that’s my family. But personally, I choose to say neither.”
“It’s reverse racism. It separates the races in this country.” Kirsten rebutted slamming her hand on the desk.
“I never understood that reverse racism thing. We forgave for slavery. Also how can you hate something that comes from you? Remember everyone descended from Africa. We didn’t enact segregation. What did we do that was racist? Refresh my memory.” Will lectured.
Fifty percent drunk and thirty-five percent sleepy, dirty blonde Richard opened his slender, wide mouth, “Designating one word for a race is not going to upset the balances of society. The real issue we should focus our attention to is the listlessness of congress.”
Chris shot up with a slow clap, “That’s what I’m saying.”
Professor Russell’s cell phone timer abruptly rung, the heated discussion came to a sudden halt. The students hustled shutting down laptops and closing books.
“Remember to read chapters seven through twelve by Monday.” Professor Russell blurted.
Harmony loaded her sliver laptop and book into her worn, brown leather messenger bag. Her mother bought it when she graduated from high school. It was going to last her until the last day of law school, maybe further.
Kirsten pranced from her chair down the row she shared with Harmony. “Are you going to Pulse tonight?”
“Of course. Are ya‘ll?” Harmony asked the stragglers still in the bright, frigidly cold classroom.
“Hell Yeah!” Jason excitingly answered finally opening his shut mouth.
“It’s the weekend, so you know it.” Chris affirmed while checking her text on her phone.
“We have reading due for Monday.” Kristen reminded them.
“How long does it take you to read a page, an hour?” Will asked.
“Kirsten, College is not just about reading, papers and exams. It’s learning how to master the art of balancing academia and a social life. Tonight is nineties night, its going to be thrown off. So if you miss it, sucks for you. But you know Cairo can spin and his group, Bliss, is performing and you know they’re good.” Harmony said pulling a black pen from her tresses.
“What? Are you his publicist now?” Richard stated.
“No, he’s my homeboy.” Harmony assured them.
“Really! I thought he was your boyfriend.” Kirsten uttered the conclusion she came up with from always seeing them together.
“No, I date Wes Durante.” Harmony slid the leather bag strap on her shoulder.
“Who is Wes Durante?” Kirsten asked even more confused.
“The running back. Damn girl you need to get out more.” Will suggest.
“Don’t feel bad Kirsten. Everybody thinks her and Cairo are hooking up,” Sean said.
Harmony playfully pushed Sean. “They do not. We’re friends, good friends. If it weren’t for Lela, Safiya and Alyssa, Cairo and I would be best friends. We’re just friends, just friends. Do I need to paint it in the sky or get a billboard.”
“Don’t try to convince us, convince your mouth because Cairo comes out of it more than Wes.” Chris stated twisting her anchor earring upright.
Harmony waved them off, “Whatever. I have to go met Cai…” She stopped. “My friends at Jolt”
Walking out the door Harmony knew they were right. It was a fact she grappled with. Being the running back’s girlfriend in a state that had an unnatural love affair with college football was a feat in itself. Being best friends with a guy that could easily pass for Shemar Moore’s younger brother since freshmen year brought an extra amount of limitless drama to many aspects of her life.
Memorial Hospital’s sterile exam room with its white hygienic walls wasn’t anyone’s ideal place to spend Friday morning; unfortunately, that was where Safiya Mendoza was. The Belizean-Dominican beauty sat on top of the examine bed reading a poster on the symptoms of Diabetes dangling her legs over the edge. Unlike her three girlfriends she was the only one not from Texas. The mass communication major hailed from sunny, beach encrusted California. Why did she come to Texas? Like any other eighteen year old; to get as far from her parents as she could and Texas University was the only school that gave her a partial scholarship, which helped her convince her penny-counting father.
Her stomach surged tottering like a boat floating in the Pacific. She was nauseated. She’s been nauseated. It was her stomach, her biggest villain, always setting traps to keep her down. Okay, maybe it was her fault, eating that pepperoni, four-cheese pizza that she washed down with a root beer float. But her stomach should be able to hold the fat saturated, greasy deliciousness, breaking it down like a work crew in a coal mine. Her stomach swayed harder every minute longer the doctor didn’t appear. All she need was a refill.
“How long does it take someone to write a prescription?” She thought holding the nape of her neck, swallowing the acid that rose up her throat.
After five minutes a petite doctor waltzed in the room holding a vanilla folder with her lab coat flying behind her. “Hello, Ms. Mendoza! Sorry for the wait.”
Safiya hopped off the bed clicking her green jelly sandals on the tile floor, “Did you write the prescription or did you just forward it to my pharmacy. It’s the one on Yellow Nest Road remember.” She held her hand out.
“Prescription?” Dr. James sat on the black-wheeled stool. “Prescription for what? Safiya I thought we agreed you’d stay off WebMD.” She crossed her legs and sat the folder on top of them.
“I don’t need WebMD. I know my acid reflux flared up again. All I need are my pills. I need my pills so I can have my pizza and my ice cream, that’s all I want, that’s all.” Safiya grabbed her purse off the beige countertop.
“The pills aren’t a cure for your reflux, it’s an aid. You can’t go out and eat whatever your mouth waters for. Stick to the diet we made”
“That diet is boring and tasteless. I am not a rabbit. I am a human. I want fat and carbohydrates. And don’t forget gluten and dairy; dairy tastes so good.”
“Safiya, do you want to be in the hospital again?”
Safiya’s mind stroll through all the sizzling, creamy images her eyes absorbed on the Food Network, then an image of her in that awful one size fits all hospital gown popped up, “No.”
“Then stick to the diet.” Dr. James flipped open the folder. “But reflux didn’t bring you here.” Dr. James clenched her hands looking at Safiya with a tight mouth.
“Oh my God. Oh my God! I’m dying aren’t I! The gastric acid is eating away at my esophagus. I have cancer! Oh my God, that fried chicken that I ate” She held her heart “I told Lela don’t have tacos but she ordered them; she ordered guac, and tamales, and set them up in the living room like a Mexican feast on Cinco de Mayo and I feasted like the Greeks. Oh God I’m gonna die. I have to call my mom” Safiya fished in her purse.
“When you call her instead of telling her that you’re dying tell her that she’s going to be a grandmother in six months.”
Safiya kept digging, “To what?”
Safiya looked at Dr. James, “From where?”
Like a sack of rocks, Safiya hit the floor.
Alyssa Sasaki, rounding off right at five feet, was overstressed and overworked; tell her something she didn’t know. It was a given for the pre-med major, chemistry minor sitting in her last, crowded class jotting down the last bullet on human cells. She was going to be a doctor and nothing and no one was going to stop that. If you asked her what her only flaw was, she would respond, “My strive for perfection.”
“Your papers on infectious diseases are due on Monday.” Professor Jones in her tailored navy suit announced at her podium.
The students sigh in disapproval.
“I know you don’t like it but this is college. If I would give you a free weekend, I would be doing you all a great disservice and wasting your money. This is what you are here for. You know this. You are juniors. So have your papers on my desk by Monday or fail the class. Have a fantastic day!” Professor Jones closed the massive biology book, cradled it in her arms and left.
“Bitch” Alyssa said under her breath as she dotted the last period in her notebook.
“I know, how are we supposed to have a fantastic day if we have to write a paper; lunacy.” Quinn peeked over Alyssa’s shoulder copying her notes.
“I know right. I have work all this weekend.” Alyssa stood up stretching her lean limbs.
“You are going to Pulse tonight.” Quinn snatched her notebook and slapped it on his desk.
“I have to check on the growth of my multi-cellular parasites and catch up on some work, so I’ll be there for a while. Why?” Alyssa stripped off her navy cardigan revealing a orange and white striped top.
“I just want to know. I might bless you with a dance.” Quinn handed Alyssa back her notebook.
“Bless me? What happen to that little freshman you were chilling with?” Alyssa asked.
“Ida. We fell out last week. She wouldn’t let a brotha breathe.” Quinn followed her to the huddle of students waiting to pass through the doorway.
Alyssa laughed walking down the teeming hallway, “That’s what you get for hooking up with a freshman.”
Alyssa knew all to well about that situation. In sophomore year she dealt with baby-faced, Gerber breathed, freshman T.J. She told him it was just a one-night thing, getting their freak on but he didn’t understand. He didn’t get the hint when she changed her cell number. Then, she discovered he was Facebook stalking her, showing up at every engagement she had. She had to get a restraining order. The fear of jail woke him up or maybe it was the verbal lashing he received from his parents. Whichever caveat it was didn’t matter to Alyssa, being awarded her privacy was the only thing she cared about.
“That’s why I’m trying to get me a woman now.” Quinn held the door open for her.
Alyssa pulled up her super straight, jet-black hair letting the sun hit her neck, “Okay, I’ll be there and if you get there in time I’ll save you a dance, we’ll see.”
“I’ll be there” Quinn shot her a smile before disappearing in the horde of students in the quad.
Alyssa wiped her hands along her apple round face basking in the brightness of the sun. Where was she going to find the time? Quinn was her study buddy, they both worked shifts at Memorial Hospital and had three classes together; she couldn’t just blow him off. If she could she would but she couldn’t. She told him she’d be there, so she’ll be there. She looked at the little white watch on her wrist, it was almost lunchtime; they’ll be waiting on her.
Lela stood behind the counter of Jolt in her yellow and brown apron smelling of French roast and Sencha. A low hum chattered in the atmosphere as she stared at the coffee cup shaped clock straight ahead slowly ticking like a sloth climbing up a Cecropia. Everyone in the cute, corner café littered with the under-thirty crowd had their brewed beverages. In her peripheral she viewed Harmony, Alyssa, and Safiya around a little black metal table in the corner talking, sipping lattes over their stack of daily mail. Time ticked slower. Trevor was lying out on a super, soft salmon-colored sofa reading Entertainment Weekly, while Cairo was sitting on an over plush chair playing on his new iPhone.
When the hour hand and minute hand crossed each other on the twelve Lela ripped off the little linen apron. She pranced to the back to the locker room. She spun in the combination 3-6-9; a combination that was hard to forget and easy to break. The locked clicked open; she yanked the door open and threw the apron in with a fling of her wrist. She pulled out her black Michael Kors duffle with a smile. She basked in her aptitude for hard work, which she had to do to collect all the funds to purchase this season’s purse, before Safiya.
“Lela cover Maureen’s shift. She can’t come in.” Larry barked standing in the doorway.
“No.” Lela slammed the locker close. “I can’t. I worked ten hours yesterday after class. I gave you my schedule. You know I have class at two” She pushed him out the doorway. “I’m not in grad school like you, Larry. I have an education to earn. I can’t pour coffee my whole life.”
Larry scratched the beard that was slowly taking over his face, “Then I guess I’ll call in Jeff.”
Lela walked behind the counter “That would be a good idea Larry! You should’ve did that before you did this.” She picked up a red mug hanging from the rack.
“One more thing, can you make me some more of those mini cinnamon rolls, chocolate chip sandwich cookies, two blueberry pies, and two sour cream pound cakes for the weekend rush.” Larry tipped up his fedora and rubbed his itchy forehead.
Lela stopped pouring soymilk in the steaming cup, “No! Hell no! I can’t, not with receiving just fifteen percent of the profits.”
“Okay I’ll give your five percent more and I need it by Saturday.” Larry pushed the hat back down glancing at an incoming customer.
Lela stirred the coffee and milk together doing the simple math in her head. “A whole twenty percent let me dropout and plan that vacation to Bahamas. I want fifty percent. I buy the ingredients. I bake it all to perfection with love and care. And you want eighty percent for allowing me to place them on your pristine, dollar store, lead-traced crystal plates. Hell No!”
“Thirty percent.” Larry bargained quickly before the man reached the counter.
“Thirty percent affords you chocolate chip sandwich cookies and either pies or cakes; not both. I’ll have it here Saturday morning.” Lela swiped the spoon across the rim of the mug and tossed it in the sink.
“Cake”. Larry shouted as Lela took a sip of coffee trotting over to her friends sitting in what has become the loudest corner in the café.
Lela collapsed in the empty chair next to Harmony sitting in front of the massive window while people bustled by on their everyday excursions. Alyssa was sitting next to Lela with a biology book open taking up half the table. Safiya stared in the distant pondering about what to do with the foreigner calling her body home.
“Lee, where were you this morning. I went to wake you for class and you weren’t there.” Alyssa asked as she cleaned the lens of her metal glasses with the sleeve of her cardigan.
Safiya pushed away her coffee, “She started panicking, with delusion of you being gagged and roped in the back of someone’s Jetta.” She took a breath, swallowed hard. “I had to stop her from calling 911 on her speed-dial.”
“I wasn’t the fruit loop panicking after coming from the bathroom wiping vomit from your mouth in need of a Tic-tac; word of wisdom Fiya no one likes a bulimic, they’re toothless with dead hair.” Alyssa pulled the plastic covering off the thin slab of cardboard getting to her new highlighters.
“I’m not a bulimic you controlling, neat-freak and if anyone at this table formed an addiction it would be you on your quest to Oz for perfection you wannabe Martha Stewart.”Safiya hit the half opened package in Alyssa’s hand.
“Ha! Oz!” Cairo laughed still on his phone composing a tweet.
“Stop it!” Harmony watched the staring eyes digging into her back. “We’re in public, your immaturity is showing.”
Alyssa slapped Safiya’s hand away and lowered her voice to a light whisper, “If I do I know you’ll write about it being the fake Anderson Cooper that you are.” Alyssa scooted her chair and shifted her body to Lela returning her speech to its normal volume. “Anyways Lee where were you? Did you do a walk of shame and I missed it.”
“I had to help Cairo prepare for his marketing exam and fell asleep.” Lela answered taking another sip of the tepid java.
“Yeah, that exam I took Wednesday was a beast.” Cairo broke off a corner piece of Harmony’s untouched brownie; tossed it in his mouth.
Lela kicked his foot, “The test I was helping you with last night! Thursday night!”
Harmony trifold the cable bill, “The test you had today.”
Cairo raised his eyebrow back at her, sucking the rich milk chocolate off his finger.
Harmony’s eyes shifted to Trevor burning a hole through Cairo’s shoulder then Lela biting on the rim of the mug.
Cairo followed her eyes along its trail. “Oh, that test.” He faked laughed .” The one I took this morning, as in Friday. Silly me. It wasn’t that bad because Lela helped me, all night.”
“Are ya’ll still drunk?” Alyssa pushed the frames over her nose.
“Whoo” Samuel fell onto the couch. His plain grey t-shirt stuck to each one of his six abs from the sweat that the towel left behind. The cool that blew up his baggy athletic shorts soothe his achy hamstrings restoring the energy the sun zapped out.
Trevor sat up closing the magazine, “What’s up little Monroe?”
“You could’ve hit the shower on your way out.” Alyssa said covering her nose.
“They worked me like a slave in the cotton field, they beat down on me like one too. I wanted to get out of their eyesight before they thought of something else they wanted me to do.” Samuel stretched his sore limbs out.
“You wanted to be quarterback. Seniors and juniors aren’t going to make it easy for a fresh-breathe sophomore. No matter how cute you are little brother” Harmony picked up the last unopened letter. Her eyes read over the name, Laurent O’ Connor, written in black ink so delicately as if a typewriter struck the envelope. She ripped the envelope open quickly like a squirrel peeling an acorn. As her eyes swiped over the first line she disappeared.
“Speaking of cute little brothers. I need to write an article about you for the Herald.” Safiya added breaking from her daze.
“You already know me and Harmony can feel in the blanks.” Samuel leaned his head back closing his weary eyes. “I have practice, an econ test to study for, and a British lit paper to write. I don’t have time for exposes.”
“You’re the quarterback of a division five team that went to the Rose bowl last year. Exposes go with the position.” Safiya picked up the little brown box in the middle of the table.
Lela flipped through the opened stack of white envelopes. “All bills; money hungry vampires.”
“You didn’t say that when you were watching their cable.” Cairo chirped.
Lela ignored him opening up the sales paper.
“Its for you.” Safiya said shaking the box in Harmony’s face.
Confusion dawned Harmony’s face. She felt like her lungs were empty and her heart stopped to a beat per minute. Her world crumbled and the sound stopped. Her copper eyes rushed over the single-spaced, twelve sized; Times New Roman font, two-paragraphed letter. A mist swelled over her eyes.
“What is it?” Safiya took Harmony’s hand.
“Sis! What’s wrong?” Samuel said sitting up forgetting about all the pain that plagued him.
Although everyone didn’t ask, their eyes were planted on the single sheet of printer paper trying to bore through it like a superhero. Even Alyssa who had returned to the table with a freshly filled cup and a slice of Lela’s sweet potatoes pie was staring.
“My father’s not my father.” Harmony proclaimed to dropped jaws and wide eyes.