Monica’s fear of poverty fueled her ambition. Her parents were invisible, nobody’s. Her father was an elementary school janitor who took odd jobs from time-to-time and her mother broke her back cleaning hotel rooms she’d never been able to afford. She regarded her parents as addicts: addicted to under education and expectation. They never wanted more for themselves or her. She’d spent most of her childhood under the threat of eviction and often went without electricity while her parents scrapped together their merger funds. Still they refused to better themselves or leave the projects where she’d spent most of her life.

She was entering high school and needed cash. And if her parents couldn’t give it to her then she’d grab it for herself. She wasn’t like the thin petite light complexioned girls the guys drooled over, but it didn’t stop her from turning heads…and turn they did. Through her connections, she secured a position as a shampoo girl at a local beauty shop on the weekends. The pay wasn’t much but the free styling helped her popularity in school and her position placed her in the center of all the gossip. She had something on everyone, but she knew how to keep a secret, until needed.

Being around the older ladies in the salon taught Monica how to hustle but they also taught her how to carry herself. “Straighten your back. Even when you’re afraid, keep your back straight,” they’d say. “Keep whatever clothes you have clean and pressed. Don’t give anyone a reason to judge you. And use proper English. If you don’t what a word means, look it up—ignorance isn’t attractive.”

Even on her days off, she hung around the shop; doing homework, running errands, or simply listening to the ladies talk. She wished her mother was like them. Between them, they didn’t have much but what they had, they shared. They’d slip her a few dollars or just sit and listen when they knew things at home had gotten rough. They made sure she had school clothes and swatted the knucklehead boys away. They gave her style and grace but most importantly, they gave her stability.

By her sophomore year in high school, her parents had become an embarrassment and Monica moved out. She lived with Sharon’s family who economically faired only slightly better given her dad’s position at UPS. Uneven still, Sharon and Monica both itched to leave the projects—so they began scheming. Monica’s boyfriend was an assistant manager at Blockbuster and gave Sharon a job while Monica continued working at the shop and weaseled a job a Saks Fifth Avenue.

Saks tried to push her into Women’s Wear but she charmed her way into Men’s Clothing. Chubby or not, men found it difficult to say no to a friendly female. She knew how to dress men and soon earned a hand full of loyal customers who would soon become her clients. She became their personal shopper. They didn’t have to think, she thought for them. They didn’t even have to come into the store, the store went to them. She knew their taste and would piece together entire wardrobes right down to their socks. As her cultish following grew, so did her reputation.

To think, a poor seventeen year old girl from the project was dressing some of Atlanta’s elites. It would’ve been laughable if she hadn’t planned it herself.

By the time graduation came around, she and Sharon had saved a small fortune, received scholarships, gotten the hell out of the project and were off to Mercer University. Both entered the school of Business and Economics. Sharon majored in marketing and Monica studied international economics. Both retained their jobs because, let’s face it, Monica had designers eating out of her hand and the swag they threw her way did much to further her and Sharon’s image…although Sharon was always a little backwater for Monica’s taste. To each his own.

Why it’d taken five years to graduate from the school of business was anyone’s guess. But it seemed to be the standard. Like their colleagues, they completed internships but upon graduation they took jobs well below their new standards. Again the scheming began and Cara was born. Out of the rotten carcass of her childhood, Monica rose and pulled Sharon along with her. She’d never allow them to be poor or invisible again.

Cody swirled Mrs. Fitz around in his chair. He leaned back as though he was admiring an ancient artifact; one hand on his hip, the other holding a pair of shears under his chin. His lips puckered in a tight ‘o’ shape, his forehead wrinkled; his squinty eyes studied her.

Mrs. Fitz gazed over to Monica flipping casually threw a magazine in a chair across from her, and then to Cody’s assistant who eagerly awaited his direction.

“Cody’s gonna have to try something less….” Cody said clipping the shears on his assistants’ direction. “What’s the word I’m looking for?”

“Something a little less busy.” His assistant offered diplomatically, knowing Cody was about to dish up his brash assessment.

“I was thinking something less severe! Mrs. Fitz, what have they done to you? What's with your hair color? And wear your hair pulled back is doing nothing for those hard lines in your face, girl! And speaking of which, who chose your makeup? Cody gonna need some Dermablend up in here!

“Be nice, Cody.” Monica warned barely looking up. She hated the annoying way he referred to himself in the third person but it was his ‘thing’.

“You be nice! Cody’s gonna keep it real!” He rolled his eyes and turned his attention to his victim. “Mrs. Fitz, don’t you let no one else touch your hair and makeup. Cody’s gonna do his best to fix you up but he’s got years of damage and misused to correct! I remember the way you used to look. I used to worship the ground you walked on and I still do,” He twirled her around towards the mirror and placed his creamy dark cheek beside hers. They couldn’t have been more opposite. Then uncharacteristically, Cody’s tone showed a hint of sympathy. “Those people have been lying to you. You’re not young anymore—you’re old and nothing is gonna change that. But you’re regal and underneath all this tired makeup, you’re as pretty as the day is long.” They smiled at one another in the mirror. “Cody won’t ever lie to you, but he’ll make it right.”

“Thank you, Cody.” She mouthed.

“No problem, girl.” He stood and called out as he marched away. “Somebody get me a bowl ready!”

Mrs. Fitz chuckled to Monica. “I like him.”

“He means well.”

She dropped her head slightly. “You’re very fortunate to have straight forward people in your life. Most people speak in code around me.” She stammered correcting herself. “Well, apart from your circle.”

Monica smiled warmly. “You and Mr. Fitz are a part of the circle now. Thank you for welcoming us into your family.” she felt the urge to change the subject. “We have a brief meeting with the designer; you have to approve your gown.”

“I heard Evelyn Lambert was chosen to design it,” Cody added as he reappeared and waved for Mrs. Fitz to follow him. “Tell her to keep it classic and send a sketch. How’s Cody supposed to create the new Mrs. Fitz if he doesn’t know how the dress looks? It could be the wrong cut and throw off my lines!” He said and he and Mrs. Fitz gasped dramatically.

Monica threw up her hands in mock surrender. “Fine Cody, you’re coming with us.” It was going to be a long evening.


By comparison to Monica, Scott’s childhood was a cake walk. They were middle-class, his father was a civil engineer and his mother was a housewife. To those around, they were June and Ward Cleaver, however, underneath grew the seeds of his mother’s depression and opiate addiction. He never understood his parent’s relationship. They hardly spoke to one another and when they dared, it was only after all nonverbal means had been exhausted. It was forced, something to do but rarely warm and it made Scott yearned for silence.

For an expressive child, growing up in a house void of open dialogue was akin to Chinese water torture. Academia was his escape. In elementary school, he excelled to garner the attention of his teachers…anything to make up for the attention he lacked at home. In middle school, he surpassed most of his classmates but what he wanted was an out…out of his boring home life.

Mr. Thomas, his high school guidance counselor, gave him an out. Freshman year began as every school year had: Scott’s reputation as a gifted student preceded him. But Mr. Thomas saw beyond the studious façade—he saw straight through him. Scott was popular but he was lonely and rarely allowed anyone close…certainly no one visited his home.

None except Mr. Thomas. One brief visit was all it took. He hurried Scott into a four year long program which challenged him both mentally and physically: baseball, track and field, debate club and leadership. Scott’s confidence went through the roof. Thankfully, Mr. Thomas lived long enough to see Scott go on to Clark Atlanta with full academic scholarship. But not much longer, he was found dead…alone in his home. Maybe he was saving Scott from the isolated life he’d lead, one can’t be sure but Scott never forgot the only person who’d taken a real interest in him—the whole him, not just the scholar.

His parents were virtually out of his life by that point and only called when there was a death in the family. This, as you can imagine, wasn’t an earth shattering event, they’d hardly noticed his absence and were only jarred back to reality when they found out Clark Atlanta was a historically Black institution. Were they upset? A little, but what could they do? Scott neither depended on them mentally or financially. His scholarship paid most of his expense and a part-time job gave him extra spending cash.

Being one of the few white students at Clark immediately set him a part and drew him to Dr. Greene. Dr. Greene wasn’t one of the friendliest people, some would argue he was downright rude, but he met Scott head on and they got on fantastically once he realized Scott wasn’t simply there to chase Black girls. He took Scott under his wing (more like a headlock) for his four year stint. A month after graduation, Scott announced he was going to become a firefighter. Old tweedy Dr. Greene literally put him in a headlock and screamed he’d been betrayed. In the end, it was Scott’s decision and it’d paid off well. Now, it was back to the books and Dr. Greene’s good graces.

Whether it was the low expectation and regard their families or the generosity shown by others which helped mold them, Scott and Monica were kindred spirits. Neither asked for a chance, they earned it.

It was 3:17pm. Scott lay across his bed on the rare occasion he had absolutely nothing to do—nowhere to be—and no Monica pulling on him. She was away doing God knows what with God knows who and he was perfectly fine with not being involved. With only days until his first class, he savored what little rest he could squeeze between her functions and his job. But to her credit, she no longer asked him to attend every event, only the ones of importance and only if he were rested. Over the past two months they’d settled into a less murderous routine. Less murderous, but in no way norm and with classes beginning, things were about to become increasingly tiresome.

Monica was prepared, or so she declared. Scott knew better and readied himself for her fits. She coddled him. She gave him everything: her time, her energy, and her attention. She loved him wholeheartedly in words and actions which made telling her no difficult. Yes, at times she could be a brat but she was his brat.

He was still trying to live down being picked up from the station by a limo. The guys gave him hell until they met the woman behind the scenes. Monica greeted each one of them with confidence, grace and just the right amount of grittiness. All heckling ceased. No surprise Monica and Case got along; their shared interest in the English vernacular demanded it. She charmed him and after two helpings, he acknowledged her Spanakopita and Kolokythoanthoi as a best he’d ever eaten. He was putty in her pampered hands. And she adored him so much it almost made her feel a twinge of guilt for threatening his sisters’ life—almost but not much.

Who would’ve believed that a one night stand could’ve turned into a real relationship? Hell, their first night together still registered as Scott’s best sexual experience. But leave it to Monica to attempt beating her high score—they were wearing each other out. The madness would end…one day.

The phone rang and Scott immediately ran down Monica’s schedule in his head; no, he hadn’t forgotten anything. None of her plans involved him. He breathed a sigh of relief and answered.

“I forgot to mention we have dinner plans tonight. I’m sorry. I know you’re resting.”

“No, I’ll be there,” he rose and went to his closet. “Attire?”


“Could you be more explicit?”

“I’ll have something sent over. Just make sure you’re home,” she sounded winded. “I’ll email you the address. Be there by 8:30 please, it’s important.”

“I’ll be here,” He heard the stress in her voice. “Is there anything you need me to do?”

“No, just be there by 8:30. I have to run before Cody rips into Evelyn again. I love you.”

“I will. Calm down. I’ll see you soon. Love you, pretty girl.”

“Aw, swoon.” Monica giggled.

“Shut up. See you later.”