Mimi, Senalda, and Jarena met at Jackson’s for lunch for their second meeting, on Valentine’s Day Eve. They each had reserved Valentine’s Day in the last-minute hope that a real date would come through. None of them really believed that would happen this late in the game, but they wanted to give their new project the far-fetched optimism it deserved. Plus, Valentine’s Day Eve was also convenient for their married-with-kids friend to meet them at the East Atlanta upscale soul food restaurant.
As Jarena entered the small restaurant, Senalda waved her hand, beckoning her toward their table.
She spotted a bottle of champagne on the table next to a nearly full flute. Senalda’s chintz lipstick was around the brim.
“Celebrating already, are we?” Jarena deduced.
“Yes dahling,” Senalda confirmed with a laugh. “Just because we’re ‘manless’ doesn’t mean we have to be gloomy!”
“Is ‘manless’ even a word?” Jarena said, her Afro shaking as if to punctuate the incredulity.
Whitney, wearing oversized black shades with black leggings and a large, baggy pewter sweater exposing one shoulder, her hair twisted in a messy yet stylish chignon, approached, directed by the hostess.
“Hey, Whitney!” Jarena said. “Girl, how have you been? It’s been so long since we’ve seen you.”
“I know, I know,” Whitney replied in a breath, carefully settling herself into a chair. “And I’ve missed y’all too. Alright, Senalda, pour a glass for me. I’ve got about two hours before I have to get back to the twins. Richie is alone with them, and I don’t want him to drop them or anything. Gwenaëlle is off today.”
“Drop them?” Senalda said, filling a flute.
“Yes, Bossy,” Whitney said. “One baby is an adjustment but two, I mean, are a balancing act.”
“Richie will be alright for two hours,” Senalda stated, handing her the flute.
Whitney sipped for a minute, quietly.
“Dang lady, you alright?” Jarena said with a laugh. “You’re guzzling over there. And can you even drink if you’re breastfeeding?”
“I’m not,” Whitney said in between sips. She drank again until the champagne was gone. “I tried, but they won’t drink my milk. But enough about babies. Bring me back into the adult world. What’s going on with y’all?”
“Have you heard of La Leche?” Jarena offered. “One of my sorority sisters had the same issue, and she said the group helped her to find a solution.”
Whitney took off her shades, laying them on the table before replying.
“Is there nothing that you don’t know something about?” Whitney asked. “Sweetie, I was trying to change the subject, but I guess that went over your sweet head. For your information, the time frame for breastfeeding has already lapsed. So let’s try this again. What are y’all doing for Valentine’s Day?”
Totally unfazed, Jarena quickly replied. “Absolutely nothing. This makes three years in a row that I haven’t had a date for Valentine’s Day.”
“You work around all of those artists and you haven’t met some hot and rich music executive yet? He doesn’t even have to be hot if he’s rich!” Whitney said, loose tendrils of hair moving about her face.
“I don’t want to date anyone in the business.”
“See, you need to get out of your own way!” Whitney said. “Lesson #1: If you meet a man who is rich and is hot, what else do you need? Why wouldn’t you date the men that you work with? I mean, how are you going to meet men outside of the music business if you are always working anyway?”
“I tried dating a man in the business ten years ago, and as they say, you don’t need to defecate where you eat,” Jarena said.
“Really? I think the phrase is ‘Don’t shit where you eat,’” Senalda chimed in. “Damn, you were already a know-it-all. Don’t tell me you’re a no-drinking and no-cursing know-it-all now? If that’s the case, you’re in the wrong business.”
“One man! Honey chile, please! You may think you want a man, but you’re not acting like it. Senalda, what’s going on with you, honey bun? Tell me more about this Destination Wedding project.”
Before Senalda was able to respond, they spotted Mimi. Tall and slender with ebony locs nearly to her waist, Mimi was always noticed in any room. And today, she was wearing a black scarf that covered the roots of her locs, black leather pants, and a cutoff black turtleneck sweater that exposed the sliver of her white-chocolate skin between the top of her abdominal muscles and the start of her breasts.
“Have you committed a black-on-black crime?” Whitney quipped with a laugh. “Who are you hiding from?”
“Hey bitches to y’all too,” Mimi said. She moved her locs to one shoulder and sat down.
They all cackled with the resplendent joy of being in the company of all of your best friends at once: a precious rarity as an adult. Mimi and Jarena were friends since their Banneker High School days, Senalda and Whitney since Spelman College, and the four since their early twenties. They’d clicked on their first meeting and hung together as a foursome ever since.
“Well, this is our second Destination Wedding meeting but the first with the old married lady here,” Senalda said to Jarena and Mimi. “I’m just kidding. You know you can crash our meetings whenever you want to, Whitney.”
“Old married lady?” Whitney repeated. “I’m a certified MILF. Y’all want to get where I am. Married with twins and sneaking out to drink with my girls! Seriously though, what’s going on with you, Senalda?”
“Well, I did run into Dexter Bailey a couple of weeks ago,” Senalda
revealed. “Dexter Bailey from Morehouse, the Alpha?” Whitney said. “What’s going on with him? I haven’t seen him since we graduated with his cute self.”
“He was living in Miami, but his company transferred him to Atlanta last month. He’s a VP with UPS.”
“All of those initials I like! So is he married? Divorced? Does he have any kids?” Whitney said, in a flurry as she picked up a menu. “And let’s order too.”
“He almost got married a couple of years or so ago, but he’s very single now with no kids as far as I know,” Senalda said, “so we exchanged numbers. I called him, and he texted me the next day, but he hasn’t called me back yet.”
“And he probably won’t call you back now until after Valentine’s Day,” Whitney concluded with a laugh. “You know how men are. Valentine’s Day is too serious of a day for a first date. He will probably call you in a week or so.”
“I hope so,” Senalda said. “He looked good too. Just like I like a man. His suit was still crisp although it was after work. His hairline was still intact AND I noticed that he got into a BMW as everyone was leaving.”
Senalda and Whitney clapped their hands together in a resolute high five over the table.
“Y’all are too much,” Jarena said with a laugh. “I’m not gon lie. I don’t want a broke man, but he doesn’t have to be rich to get my attention.”
A pan crashed on the floor in the kitchen behind them and they all whipped around. The door was ajar, revealing two chefs bickering. Another chef jumped between them.
“What’s going on there?” Jarena called to their waiter who rushed over to them.
“I apologize for the commotion,” he said.
“Are those guys about to fight?” Senalda said.
“They argue all of the time,” he said in sigh. “They’re brothers and very temperamental. If you like, we can move you to another table so you won’t be nearby the kitchen.”
“No, that’s okay,” Senalda said to the waiter before turning back to her friends. “They must be good at what they do because their asses would have been fired a long time ago if they worked for me.”
The waiter walked back toward the kitchen as the chef who had separated the feuding chefs came over to them.
“Scuse me ladies, my name is Chef Wendell Robinson,” the rounded burly man said. “I want to apologize for what y’all just witnessed. I would be happy to provide free desserts for y’all to make up for interrupting you purrrty ladies. After y’all eat your meal, of course.”
“Awww, that’s so sweet,” Whitney said with a smile. “Do y’all have bread pudding? That’s my favorite dessert!”
“Unfortunately, we don’t ma’am, but there are many other delicious desserts to choose from.” He handed a dessert menu to each of them. “My favorite is our fried fruit pie. Just tell the waiter what you want when you’re ready, and I will make sure he doesn’t charge you. I wish you were on the menu, purrrty,” he said, ogling Senalda without apology. “How can I get some of you?”
The three women raised their eyebrows and smiled at Senalda without uttering a word.
“Well, aren’t you the aggressive one?” Senalda said with unflappable poise.
“I didn’t mean to make you squirm,” Wendell said.
“I just wanted to tell you that you are the purrrtiest lady here, and I hope you have someone in your life that knows that.”
“Thank you—Chef Wendell, isn’t it?” Senalda said. “I appreciate the compliment, but I would like to get back to lunch with my friends.”
“Got it purrrty,” he said, with a smile and a salute. “Have a good lunch, ladies. My apologies again for the ruckus.”
“I don even like big ole men, but dude got me squirming over here, gurl,” Mimi said to Senalda. “Bossy, you betta get his number!”
“Hold up, Mimi,” Jarena said, raising her hand in the hair. “He’s a chef. He doesn’t meet her criteria.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Senalda said firmly, signaling that she was done discussing the flirtatious chef.
“Okay, there is something I’ve been wanting to tell y’all, but I wanted to wait until I had a good buzz going first,” Whitney said, as she polished off her second flute.
“Are you pregnant again?” Senalda said. “Is that even possible so soon after giving birth?”
“Uh no,” Whitney said. “I mean… we are done having children.” She hesitated before continuing. “Well, there is no way to really say it without just saying it.”
She filled in her girls on what she had observed in her basement. When she finished, the table was silent.
“Is that all?” Senalda finally said. “What man doesn’t watch porn from time to time?”
“He has watched pornography every night this week. And we haven’t made love in two months.”
“I stand corrected,” Senalda said. “I haven’t had a steady man in years, but I have to admit this sounds like a problem. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Whitney said. “We’ve been married for six years, and I don’t think he has ever cheated on me, but I wonder if that is next. Or what if he already has?”
Jarena opened her mouth to say something, anything that could reassure her friend, but Senalda quickly shook her head and mouthed, “No.”
Although the restaurant din had disturbed the women just a few minutes earlier, they now were grateful for the noise. None of them knew what to say next.