Chapter 1: Chastity Jeffries 1 Chastity Jeffries
The music was bumpin’, the champagne was flowin’, and the men were barkin’ like they were out to chase the cat. This was the backdrop to the beat that pulsed through the speakers hanging in every corner and crevice of the club.
Men who were at least ten years out of college and wearing suits from the most exclusive stores, hopped up and stomped down on the dance floor, their hands raised, flashing their fraternity sign… as they barked like dogs.
My eyes scanned Club 40/40, one of the new spots on Fortieth Street, off Fifth Avenue. This place was jammed with the up-and-coming Who’s Who of Black Manhattan—a single woman’s paradise. But I was unmoved, unbothered, and still very much committed to the sanctity of staying single. Because of songs… and men like this.
All I wanted to do was tiptoe past the barking men and thirsty women clad in expensive sheaths with thousand-dollar purses slung over their shoulders. I was more than ready to bounce.
“Can I get you another one?”
I glanced up at the blond bartender, whose sleeveless shirt showed his hours in the gym. Lifting my glass, I downed the last of my pineapple Ciroc. “Close out my tab,” I shouted to make sure he heard me over the barking and the beat. “I’m out.”
“You’re leaving?” The accusatory tone mixed with the music and floated over my shoulder.
First, I nodded to the bartender, my signal for him to continue as I requested. Then I spun toward the voice.
Melanie stood a few feet away, with her right hand perched on her hip, her stance as indicting as her tone. The mighty munchkin. That had been her nickname all through school because for someone who was as vertically challenged as she was, her five-foot-one presence demanded attention always.
“You cannot be thinking about going home already, Chas-ti-ty.”
Uh-oh. She’d used my government name, and she only did that when she was annoyed, and Melanie Meadows never spent too much time without her lips spread into a smile.
“Did you know frowning uses one hundred more muscles than smiling and that gives you wrinkles?” Melanie had lectured our Girl Scout troop during one of our overnight trips to Fire Island when we were twelve. “So frown if you want, and then, give me a call; I’ll hook you up, ’cause I’m gonna be the baddest plastic surgeon in the city.”
She said, “You just got here.”
Her words interrupted my memory of her prophecy, and I nodded. “I’ve been here an hour.”
“A whole hour,” she said, trading her accusatory tone for a sarcastic one. She rolled her eyes. “All you’ve done for that whole hour is stand in this whole corner, acting like you’re in time-out.”
“I’ve enjoyed myself,” I said. “I had a couple of drinks, watched men bark, congratulated you, and now I’m ready to go.”
“Chaz, you can’t leave.”
My shoulders slumped because from her tone, I knew what would come next. A lecture about how she needed her best friend by her side for this twofold celebration: the opening of her private clinic and her being recognized in Medicine Today as one of the Forty Best Plastic Surgeons under Forty.
Trying to head her off at the guilt curve, I said, “You know how tired I am.”
“Everyone here is exhausted. We work hard; we’re making moves.” Her hand swept through the air as she gestured to the mass of gyrating bodies, which had slowed with the sounds of Anita Baker.
Melanie had told the DJ to go back to the decade of our birth—only music from the ’80s.
As Anita sang: Sweet love hear me callin’ out your name, I feel no shame; I’m in love… Melanie raised her hand above her head and swiveled her hips like she was balancing a Hula-Hoop. “What you’ve got to do is get out there and bust an old-school move.”
“Anita ain’t talking to me.”
She dropped her hands. “You sure know how to ruin a good party.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s been a long week. My apartment looks exactly the way it did when the movers dropped that last box on my floor on Saturday, and all I want to do is crawl into my bed, which is the only thing that has been put together in my place.”
“Okay, let’s make a deal. You stay and I’ll help you unpack tomorrow.” She paused and tapped her finger on her chin. “Or maybe Sunday or Monday. Or better yet, I’ll pay someone to unpack while we sit and sip wine. Just stay. Please.”
She pouted like a puppy just as the bartender slid the leather tab closing out my check across the counter.
With a sigh, I signed my bill, then pointed to my glass. To the bartender, I said, “Bring me two more and put it on her tab. I’m staying, and she’s paying.”
Melanie nodded at the bartender, then said to me, “Thanks for not bouncing.”
“Well, how often will I get to celebrate my girl opening up her own practice?” I paused because I wanted my next words to stand alone. “I’m really proud of you.”
“Awww, thanks, Chaz. I guess we did it, huh? A doctor and a lawyer. Just like we said.”
“Back in the fifth grade,” I added as the bartender slid our drinks onto the counter.
We clicked our glasses together, and then after a sip, Melanie said, “I’m sorry I haven’t spent time with you since you’ve been back.”
“You’re forgiven, Dr. Meadows. It’s not like you haven’t been busy being great, and what would I look like, being upset with my new landlord?”
She grinned. “Believe me, you’re helping me and Kelvin out. Not to have to worry about collecting that rent, whew! So everything’s good at the condo?”
I nodded. “I’m living my best life there.”
“And your job?”
“I’m living my rich life there.” We laughed. “It’s been cool. You know how it is; always exhausting getting up to speed at a new place, but the best thing—I’m back in New York.”
“There’s no place like home and nothing like landing as a partner at the Divorce Concierge. I fully expect to see you on the front page of some tabloid soon, just like all of their other star attorneys.” She shook her head. “Who would have thought this would’ve been your specialty. Divorce?”
I took a small sip of my Ciroc to stop my words, but Melanie knew when my fascination with divorce had started. After a couple of moments, I shrugged. “People on the other side of love need good lawyers, too.”
“And since you don’t believe in love, you’re on the right side.”
Leaning away from her, I said, “Who told you that lie?”
She raised her eyebrows and mimicked my lean. “Maybe I got that impression because your name is not a proper noun, it’s a verb.”
This woman was about to owe me some free Botox because of how deeply she made me frown. “Do you have to be so crass?”
“Crass is my middle name.” When I didn’t smile, she added, “Come on, I’m telling the truth. You’ve been so closed off to men for so long that it’s unnatural.”
“I get my needs met, and I’m happy. That’s all that matters.”
She shook her head. “You’re such a dude.”
“Which is it, Dr. Meadows? Am I a chaste female or such a dude?”
“You’re my best friend who’s home, and I’m hoping this will be a new start with a new man.”
“Not going to happen. Work calls.”
“That’s been your excuse for the last decade.”
“I rest my case.” I opened my arms as if I were presenting myself to an audience. “The prodigal friend has made a triumphant return as a partner in one of the nation’s top law firms. Imagine if I’d spent all of that time dating seriously?” I winked, then laughed as she rolled her eyes again. “Don’t act like you didn’t get something out of this, too. I can afford your Central Park West condo. You needed me to be chaste—at least emotionally.”
“Well, even if you are the love Scrooge”—she grabbed my arm and leaned her head on my shoulder—“I’m glad to have my best friend home.”
Since Melanie was the yin to my yang in all ways, but especially our height, I had to lean over to rest my head on top of hers and return her hug. “Thanks.”
She stepped back. “Now all we have to do is change your mind about a man…” When I plugged my fingers into my ears, she added, “I just want you to have the kind of life Kelvin and I have.”
That made me smile. Because Melanie and Kelvin were the poster kids of true love. From undergrad at NYU, through medical school and beyond, they’d stayed strong together, navigating through long residencies, and then they’d doubled down as they studied their specialties: plastic surgery and emergency room surgery. Through all of that, they dated, became engaged and married, and were now making their medical names. Theirs was a great love; they made me believe in what I’d never seen.
In the middle of that nostalgia, Melanie groaned. “Oh, lawd.”
My eyes followed my friend’s glance. To a man approaching. My brows edged upward. He was impressive. But it was beyond the high thread count of his navy suit and his white shirt, which remained crisp even after the long hours of this day. And it was more than his features—his light brown eyes, his square jaw, and just a shadow of a beard. All of that was imposing, but was not what stood out the most. What was most impressive… was his swag. He strutted like he was slow-walking with a crew, and I pegged him as a music executive. Or maybe he was an entertainer I didn’t recognize. One thing I knew: he was a New Yorker with all of that sway. He’d been born, bred, and built in this city.
Melanie interrupted my inspection with, “This guy has been following me.”
“Hello again, pretty lady,” he said in a deep voice that matched his aura.
Then I watched Melanie do something she’d never done before. My overly polite, always respectful friend, turned her back on the man.
My glance darted between the two.
The guy said, “All I want to do is talk, get to know you better.”
Melanie did a slow spin toward him. “My husband has this thing about the two of us remaining faithful.”
“You really are married?”
Melanie pushed her ring in his face, though with her attitude, she could have been raising another finger. “My husband, who will be here any minute, will not appreciate you stalking me.”
He raised his hands as if he were surrendering to the police. “My bad. You should’ve mentioned your husband before.”
“You should have respected this ring.” A kaleidoscope of colors bounced off her diamond from the lights above.
“A woman wearing a ring in a club?” He chuckled. “That’s the oldest trick.”
The slow smile that spread across Melanie’s face was a confession because she (we) had used that trick (though our rings had come from a corner store) back in the day. “Okay,” she said. “No foul, no worries.” Then, after a pause, she grabbed my hand and spun me in front of her. “But this is my best friend; she doesn’t have a ring. Talk to her.”
Before I could blink or breathe, she sashayed away. My plan was to chase her down and choke her, but before I could take a step, the dude stopped me from being breaking news on Channel 2.
“This must be my lucky night,” he said.
Now I studied him openly, taking in his height, which was something I always noticed, since I was five eleven myself. Even with my three-inch pumps, he had two or three inches on me. And then he smiled—well, it was a half smile. Only the left side of his lips twitched upward. It was a smile that matched his swag.
But even all of that didn’t stop me from saying, “Don’t even front. You wanted to talk to my best friend, not me.”
“That’s not true.”
I crossed my arms. “She said you’d been following her.”
“I was,” he admitted, “just so she could introduce me to you. You’re the one I’ve been looking for, and I’m so glad she helped me find you.”
Against every part of my will, the ends of my lips quivered, though I was able to stop a full-fledged laugh from seeping out. “That’s a good line.” I pointed my finger at him.
He laughed, a robust guffaw that I imagined would have come from Santa Claus. He held out his hand. “I’m Xavier King.”
For a moment, I let his hand dangle in the air, feeling, for some reason, that if we pressed flesh in this greeting, my night would change. And I didn’t want it to. Now that Melanie was gone, getting the heck out of this club was my number one priority.
But because Pastor and Mrs. Jeffries hadn’t raised a savage, I took his hand. “I’m Chastity Jeffries.”
His eyebrows raised. “Chastity?” His one-sided grin became wider.
Any cheer I’d felt was gone. I said, “Don’t say it,” as I held up my hand.
If I had a dime for every man who asked me if I was my name… Shaking my head, I said, “Nothing. Just call me Chaz. My friends call me Chaz.”
He no longer grinned; he gave me a soft smile. “I like that.”
“I wasn’t talking about your name, I like that you’re already calling me a friend.”
This guy had great lines, but still, I glanced at my drink on the bar’s counter. I’d only taken one sip, so I had two choices: to finish my drink or just allow this $12 to be the price paid for me to get away.
I chose the latter since it wasn’t my credit card being charged. “Well, Xavier, it was nice meeting you.”
“Was it something I said? I mean, you don’t even want to finish your drink?” Before I could go into my monologue of how tired I was, he said, “Come on, at least finish your drink. You’re the only person I know in this place.”
“You don’t know me,” I said.
“And isn’t that pitiful? I just happened to walk into this club, looking to have a drink, and there’s a whole party going on, and I don’t know a soul. So can’t you just help a brotha out so I don’t look so wretched?”
His words were so sorrowful, spoken with that sly smile. Without saying a word to Xavier, I sauntered back to the bar, grabbed my glass, and took a sip. But when I put the glass down, he took his own sip of my drink.
I leaned back as he smiled and said to the bartender, “I’ll have what the lady is having.” Then, turning to me, he said, “So, Chastity…”
To the bartender, I said, “Bring me a fresh drink, please. And put it on his tab.” Then, without letting a beat pass, I said to Xavier, “I told you, Chaz is just fine.”
He smirked when he said, “I’m a proper kind of guy. Love proper names. Plus… I really like your name.” My chuckle made him ask, “You don’t believe me?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to. I read body language.”
“Is that what you do for a living? Read bodies?”
He shrugged. “In a way.” He paused as if he was trying to decide if he should say more. In those quiet seconds, I wondered about this fine man who’d been so talkative, and now his silence was so sudden. What did he do for a living? Clearly, my earlier guesses had been wrong if he was this reluctant to say. And his hesitancy made me suspicious. Was he hiding from the police?
The bartender placed our glasses side by side, and Xavier took a sip (of his own this time), before he said, “I’m a lawyer,” and then returned the glass to his lips as if that would stop him from saying more.
I gave him a moment’s stare before I giggled. He frowned as he shifted from one spit-shined Ferragamo shoe to the other.
“I said I was an attorney, not a comedian.”
That turned my giggle into a laugh out loud. “I’m sorry,” I said as I pressed my hand against my chest, trying to gather myself. “If you knew what I’d been thinking…” Stretching my hand out to him, I said, “It’s always nice to chat with a fellow counselor.”
His eyes narrowed, his body stiffened as if he thought I was making some kind of joke. But when I nodded, his eyes widened with surprise, then amusement, and he laughed, once again filling the air with Santa Claus’s joy.
We laughed, even as those around us gave us long glances. It was crazy, we were laughing at nothing, but in the few minutes that we’d stood at the bar, I had a feeling of delight I hadn’t felt in years. So I grabbed my glass and let Xavier lead me away to the cushioned seats against the wall.
We were still laughing as we found a space away from all of the barking that was roomy enough for two.
FOR THE LAST hour, I’d laughed with Xavier, trading all kinds of self-deprecating jokes about lawyers, something we all did as attorneys.
“How does a lawyer sleep?” Xavier had asked me.
“Well, first she lies on one side and then she lies on the other,” I said.
We laughed as if we hadn’t heard that joke fifteen million times.
“My turn,” I said. “How many lawyer jokes are there?”
He flicked invisible lint from his shoulder as if he were about to win a competition. “Only three; the rest are true stories.”
Again, we buckled over, before we tossed more barbs back and forth. Xavier raised his hand, in a pause, as he motioned toward one of the waitstaff. As he asked the young woman to refresh our drinks, my eyes wandered to the dance floor, where bodies still gyrated.
Woke up today, looked at your picture just to get me started…
“So, do you have another joke?”
Turning back to him, I shook my head. “Nope, now I have another question.”
“Shoot!” Then he held up his hand. “No, wait. I shouldn’t say that. I’m a lawyer.”
I chuckled. “So, what do you like best about being an attorney?” I asked, though I was careful not to ask where he worked. Not only did I not care but that kind of question led to questions about me.
He paused, thoughtful, then said, “I’m finally settled. I’ve been at the same firm coming up on seven years now.”
“You’ve moved around a lot?”
That question didn’t seem deep to me, but his eyes lost a bit of their shine. “I guess it depends on your definition of a lot. I wanted to experience a couple of places before I settled down. What about you? Why’d you become an attorney?”
I’d thought my question had been safe, had never expected him to turn it around. Now I was the one who darkened a bit. “Someone I love went through some pretty deep things. I thought by becoming an attorney, I’d be able to help.”
“Ah… so, did you help?”
I shook my head. “Not in the way I wanted to, but I ended up with a career I love.”
“Well, that’s always a great thing.” When I tilted my head in question, he leaned a bit closer. “It’s always wonderful when you’re in love.”
His words, and then that sexy smile, made me set my glass on the table. “It’s time for me to get up and get out.”
“Was it something I said?”
“Nope, just ready to go.”
“Well, if I can’t talk you into staying, can I get your number?”
Without thinking about how my next words would sound or what they would mean, I asked, “Are you seeing anyone?”
His response came just as fast. “Would I ask for your number if I were?”
I shook my head for a couple of reasons. Truly, I’d enjoyed our hour together, but I needed to dismiss any consideration of giving this man my number. For what purpose?
“So,” he interrupted my thoughts, “your number?”
“Why don’t you give me yours?” My usual line always worked for men and always worked for me when I ended the night tossing their business cards into my trash can.
“I can respect that.” But then Xavier did his own tossing. Threw me a curveball I hadn’t expected. “Pull out your phone.”
“What?” I asked as if I no longer understood English.
“If I give you my business card, there’s a chance it could accidentally fall into the discarded dudes file.”
He smiled, but I didn’t. Had he just read my mind?
Gesturing toward my purse, he said, “So pull out your phone and lock me in.”
It was a new approach, one that showed me he was serious about seeing me again. And the DELETE button would indicate my seriousness—when I was out of his sight, of course.
Taking out my phone, I awakened the screen. There was no chance of me pretending anything with the way Xavier looked over my shoulder.
He watched as I typed in what he told me was his cell, and it wasn’t until I pressed SAVE that he smiled and scooted back on the sofa.
“Are you satisfied?” I held up the phone for him to see his number and his name.
“I will be when you call. When will that be?”
“Thirsty, aren’t you?”
“Not really,” he began with a shrug. “I’m just a successful man who knows what I want, and I want to talk to you some more.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” I said and wished I could cross my fingers behind my back, a move that, even at the age of thirty-four, was something I believed in.
“Set a reminder,” he said.
“What?” Again, I’d lost my comprehension of my native tongue, because this dude was speaking words in a combination I’d never heard before.
“Set a reminder so you won’t forget,” he explained as if his request were a natural thing to say to a woman he’d just met.
Right then, he was too bizarre for me, but I set a reminder because I just wanted to go. I’d delete it all when I got home. “Satisfied?”
“Very.” He gave me that half smile that brightened his whole face, and just like that, the thoughts I’d had about him softened. “It was nice to meet you, Ms. Chastity.” Before I could protest, he said, “I know, Chaz. I love your full name.”
My answer: I stood, smiled, and sashayed away just as Marvin Gaye crooned: Let’s make love tonight…