Monday, May 19, 2008
EXCERPT: Release Me
The ball left his hand headed in a graceful arc towards the net.
Sinking the game-winning shot in the championship game was the only feeling that could compare to the rush that zipped through Tobias Holmes' veins as the crowd rose to its feet. The cacophony of applause, foot stomping, and catcalls played like a raucous melody in his brain, stoking the excitement already roaring through his body like an uncontrollable forest fire.
Toby joined in the ovation, placing his index and middle fingers in his mouth and releasing a high-pitched whistle.
Aria Jordan, the hidden talent he’d stumbled upon only a few months into his new career as a record producer, received the accolade with humility and grace, as she always did after performing. Toby still was not sure if the innocent, almost timid acceptance of her rising fame was an act or not, but he wanted her to stick with it. It was a nice touch. The crowd seemed to cheer even more every time that bashful blush rose to Aria’s cheeks.
Their applause continued, making him as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. Others on the club scene talked about how tough it was to win over the crowd at the popular nightclub, The Hot Spot, saying it should be called The Cold Spot instead, to reflect the supposedly frigid response the audience bestowed to newcomers. The atmosphere was not cold tonight. The place was practically on fire.
Toby ushered pass the horde of club-goers making their way to the bar and restrooms during the short intermission. He intercepted Aria as she descended the short staircase behind the stage.
“You kicked butt up there,” he greeted her.
A shy smile broke out on her face. “You really think they liked me?”
“Think? Didn’t you hear that a minute ago? They were shouting for more. If I were tonight’s headliner I’d be afraid to come out on stage.”
“Thank you, Toby.” Aria crushed herself to his chest, practically knocking the air from his lungs.
“Whoa,” Toby chuckled, bracing himself after nearly losing his balance from the force of her hug.
“Come on. I don’t want anyone to take my table,” he said, unfolding Aria’s arms from around his waist.
Ever since his older brother, Eli, had questioned his relationship with Aria, Toby had been cautious of rumors concerning him and his client. He was determined that people see him as a professional, and knew better than to start something with one of the performers he managed. Besides, Aria wasn’t really his type.
He was still trying to figure out what exactly was his type. None of the women he’d dated over the past couple years appealed to him enough to consider developing anything serious. Then again, he wasn't looking to start a serious relationship. He needed to focus on his new career.
He guided Aria back to the prime table he’d secured.
“I’ll get you a drink,” Toby said, after settling her at the table. He headed toward the chrome-lined bar that spanned the entire right side of the club. “Can I get a Bud Light and a Strawberry Daiquiri?” he asked the bartender.
Toby turned. An older man, almost equal to his own impressive 6’ 9” height, stood not even a foot behind him. It was hard to keep much of a distance in the packed club.
“Do I know you?” Toby asked.
“Not yet.” The man extended his hand. “Marshall Kellerman.”
Where had he heard that name before?
“I represent Over the Edge Productions,” the man continued.
Ah, that was it. The television production company.
Toby’s antennae perked up like a foraging ant’s. He clasped the man’s outstretched hand. “Hello, Mr. Kellerman. What can I do for you?”
“Actually, I want to talk about what I can do for you. And call me Marshall.”
The bartender delivered his drinks. Toby paid for them and picked both up from the bar. He turned back around and said, “Okay, Marshall, what can you do for me?”
“I hear you represent that amazing talent that just captivated everyone in this club a minute ago.”
“I'm her manager." And producer. And songwriter. And the only person she knows in the city.
The smile that drew across Kellerman's face was wide enough to park an Oldsmobile inside of it. That feeling of excited anticipation that used to come over Toby before the start of a basketball game skirted down his spine. It had been a long time since he'd felt the sensation. And, man, did it feel good.
Marshall Kellerman wrapped his arm around Toby’s shoulder. “Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We definitely need to talk.”
Toby returned his smile. “Call me Toby.”
“Mom, where are the silk scarves you ordered last week?” Sienna Culpepper asked as she straightened a faux pearl necklace in the glass étagère filled with expensive costume jewelry.
“I’m still waiting on the order.”
"Do you want me to call the company? The Southern Christian Women Leadership Convention starts next week. You'll need to stock items that are going to appeal to them,” she reminded her mother.
"I know how to run my own store, Sienna," came her mother's reply. "I've been doing it successfully for the past twenty years."
Sienna willed the impending headache to take a backseat. It was far too early in the morning to start popping ibuprofen. "I was only offering to help, Mother."
"Since when have I needed your help?" Sylvia Culpepper asked as she rounded the étagère, a collection of earrings hanging from a mahogany and cream velvet display shelf in hand.
Why did she even bother? Sienna asked herself for the four hundred thousandth time. This sadomasochistic ritual of helping out at her mother's French Quarter antique and high-end gift shop had occupied practically every Saturday morning since she was eight-years-old, and she had never receive as much as a simple thank you. She felt more like a bother than the asset she knew she was to her mother's business, yet Sienna found herself coming back every weekend. Even negative attention was better than none at all.
Preparing for an argument, Sienna broached the subject she had been thinking about all morning. “Mom, have you given anymore thought to the advertising ideas I mentioned?”
"Mother, did you hear me?"
"You're standing right next to me. I'm not deaf."
The headache was coming on despite her best intentions to curb it. She sprayed glass cleaner on the inside of the étagère's glass door and wiped it off with a lent-free towel.
"So, have you thought about it?" Sienna asked. "You could do so much more business if you put a little more effort into getting the name out. A few ads on the St. Charles Streetcar Line and you can double the foot traffic in here.”
“My business is still open, isn’t it? You girls never went hungry. And you? You didn’t have to pay a single penny for that fancy education that you're wasting. I’ve never had to advertise before, and I don’t have to do it now, especially not on a gaudy streetcar sign."
"It is not gaudy, it's smart business. Some of the top restaurants in this city advertise that way."
"Do not stand in my establishment and tell me how to run it, Sienna Elaine! What do you know about any of this anyway?”
"Oh, I’ve only spent the last six years studying this very thing while getting my fancy education".
Sienna couldn’t help rolling her eyes. Most parents would be overwhelmed with pride if their child attained a graduate degree--with honors, at that--and landed a good job by the age of twenty-eight. Not her mother. It had taken her too long to finish school, even though she'd held a fulltime job while attending one of the most prestigious historically Black colleges in the country. Being picked out of a pool of over two hundred candidates for the only junior associate position offered with the leading marketing firm in New Orleans was only mediocre in her mother's eyes, as well. Accomplishing her careers goals meant nothing if she were still unmarried and not producing grandchildren her mother could brag about to her friends.
Sienna had resigned herself to the fact that she would never be good enough. No matter how hard she worked, or what she accomplished, her mother would always find her lacking.
And just how long will the pity-party last today?
God knows she could stand here berating herself well into next week if she didn’t get a handle on it. Sienna retrieved a pink and white feather duster from the janitorial closet and went over to the shelf that held an array of African sculptures.
“Are you going to the Holmes’ today?” her mother asked after several long, uncomfortable minutes. “Margo invited us to a little get-together they’re having for Alex’s baby. She graduated from kindergarten.”
Little get-together? Sienna knew the Holmes family well enough to know nothing they did was ever little, especially where the only grandchild, Jasmine, was concerned. Sienna expected nothing short of a full-blown carnival, complete with dancing bears and a fire-eating lion tamer.
“I guess I can stop by," she answered her mother.
“Good," Sylvia said. "Somebody needs to represent the family. I don’t even know where Ivana is these days, and Tosha’s busy packing up for her move back to Atlanta. Besides, she doesn’t need that anyway.”
Sienna agreed. Tosha should stay far away from the Holmes family, especially the middle son, Elijah. Seeing your ex-fiancé madly in love with another woman could not be an easy thing to witness. Even though what they had shared had been over for more than fifteen years, Sienna knew her sister, and Tosha had a big heart. It was easily broken. They were definitely alike in that regard.
Let it go. The pity-party ended five minutes ago.
“After I finish up here I’ll go home and change, then I can head Uptown to the Holmes’s."
"What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?" her mother asked.
"I plan on just relaxing a bit if I can get the work I brought home with me this weekend completed after I get back from Margo's."
Her mother turned, her eyes holding the stare that dared its recipient to refuse whatever she was about to ask. "Millicent Perkins has Sunday Tea at her home. I want you to come along."
Sienna paused, the feather duster hovering over a carved father and son statuette. A chill traveled down her spine at the thought of Millicent Perkins and the world she represented. The pomp and circumstance of New Orleans' high society, with its teas and debutant balls, had been a part of her life she'd vowed never to return to for reasons she could never bring herself to voice out loud. Sienna's eyes shut tight as she attempted to bite back the memories that begged to surface, memories she had buried in her subconscious. She clamped down on the bile that threatened to rise at the thought of that horrible night nearly eleven years ago.
"You know," her mother's voice propelled Sienna to the present. "Millicent's youngest daughter, Danielle, is expecting her second baby," her mother said.
"I'm surprised her husband stopped beating her long enough for her to even get pregnant," Sienna muttered under her breath. "Really?" she said loud enough for her mother to hear.
"That's three babies in just over three years, isn't it?"
"Um hmm. I also heard Aldonia Lewis' daughter did such a good job planning her wedding that she decided to start her own wedding consulting business. She isn't anyone's assistant."
"I'm not an assistant, mother," Sienna ground between clenched teeth. "I'm a junior executive. If you cared enough to pay attention to anything I told you, you'd know there is a difference."
"Well, Aldonia's daughter owns her business.”
"Ivana’s business is very successful, or have you forgotten that you have a daughter with her own business only steps away from this store."
Her mother pierced her with another of her infamous looks, turning her nose high enough in the air to smell the exhaust fumes of the airplane flying overhead.
"You need to get over to the Holmes's," Sylvia said with cold finality, grabbing the duster from Sienna's hand.
Sienna stepped away from the display, questioning yet again why she put herself through this torture on a regular basis. She never asked, nor expected, monetary compensation, but a little appreciation wouldn’t hurt.
She looked over at her mother, who kept her back rigid.
Appreciation? Right. She was not holding her breath.
But she wasn't giving up, either. Her grandmother had always told her family was the most important thing. Her mother and sisters were all the family she had and Sienna still held out hope that she and her mother would eventually have the mother and daughter relationship she had always dreamed of. There had to be something she could do to finally make her mother proud.
She knew one way she could start.
Sienna brought her hand up and kneaded the spot between her eyes; her hand shaking as the implications of what she was about to agree to began to sink in.
Her hand on the faux crystal door handle, she said," I'll see you tomorrow at Mrs. Perkin's tea."
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