The invite in fancy gold script read, Lindsay Bradley you are cordially invited to Vogue magazine's after party for the VH1 Fashion Awards at Lotus. Lotus was one of the hottest clubs in New York City, and reason enough to flex my VP status and slip out of the office by seven. For me, that was like working a half day.
I zipped my candy-apple-red BMW 325I out of the parking garage onto Forty-fourth and Broadway. I called her my "baby," because I'd sacrificed and gone on a serious spending diet to come up with the down payment. Even though I almost died eating frozen dinners for all those months, Baby was my first new car. It felt good to work hard and have something to show for it.
Driving in Manhattan I'd become a master behind the wheel, using quick reflexes to switch in and out of lanes with exact precision and obnoxiously blowing my horn to make the car in front of me get the hell out of the way. This was New York style!
I hit the West Side Highway headed Uptown, pressed power on the radio, and popped the sunroof open, catching a whiff of the Hudson River. Midtown's flashing lights and skyscraping buildings faded into the distance. In no time, I was pulling into the garage across from my building on 122nd.
I lived in a refurbished three-story prewar walk-up. Harlem was the happening place to live. I was a lucky girl! The apartment listing had been hidden in the back of the Village Voice so well it almost blended in with the rest of the tiny print, proving you had to be both diligent and desperate to find a great apartment for a decent price in this city.
I heard a loud voice coming toward me. It was Maria, my super Tito's wife. That woman knows she can run her mouth.
"Callate la boca!" Maria screamed down the hallway to Tito, who was still in their apartment.
Too late. "Ay dios mios!" she muttered, heading right in my direction. I double-timed it up the steps. I had exactly one hour to transform myself into "fly Lindsay" and be ready to roll with my girls Tara and Judy.
"Hey, mami?" Maria said from the bottom of the steps with her hands on her hips.
"Hey Maria!" I called out, narrowly escaping her evening drama.
She was wearing fuzzy flip-flops and a velour two-piece, but had a little too much baby fat for her Baby Phat, if you know what I mean. Her hair was pulled up in a big blond ponytail, perched on top of her head like a bright bird ready to take flight.
" 'Bye Maria!" I called, cutting her off nicely as I closed the door to my apartment.
Once inside, the scent of Illume vanilla and pomegranate candles fragranced the air. I inhaled, exhaled, and pressed play on the stereo. Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up" jump-started the night. My home was like sacred ground to me. My apartment's shabby-chic flair made it both comfortable and practical. On weekends I took full advantage, lounging on the two large down-filled couches in my living room. A small wrought-iron table, surrounded by four chairs draped in ivory slipcovers, sat off to the side. It was obvious, by the thin layer of dust on the glass top, that I rarely dined there. I was especially proud of the black-and-white stills of my grandparents and great-grandparents that adorned the walls.
I checked my answering machine. Lindsay, you were in my thoughts, be prayerful, be positive, relax, and may God's light of protection surround you. Mama left another one of her signature inspirational messages--it was just her subtle reminder for me to find a church home. I'd promised myself I'd find one as soon as work eased up. In the meantime, I compromised and purchased a book of daily affirmations.
I undressed and jetted into the hallway, opening the closet that housed my party digs. I pulled out a black Michael Kors dress with a plunging neckline. Yeah, this was the one!
Doing my makeup was always a quick job, applying a good moisturizer, lip gloss, and brow powder. Simple was safe, same with the hair--long hair was my trademark and I kept a low-maintenance blunt cut. Finally, I was ready to complete my transformation into "fly Lindsay." I quickly abandoned the small diamond studs and classic stainless steel Rolex that marked my "professional" look, and pulled out a pair of large rhinestone hoops and a matching choker.
Tara and Judy pulled up right on time.
"Lin Lin!" Tara exclaimed in a high-pitched nasally voice. I hated the nickname she started using out of the blue. But I loved her too much to tell her to stop.
"I like! I like!" I said, checking out her new XJ5. It still smelled fresh off the assembly line.
Tara was wearing her usual midriff. I'd kill for her abs! When she hit thirty, two years ago, she became a fitness fanatic, and now she never misses an opportunity to show some skin.
"On time for a change!" Judy started blabbering away as usual. If you looked up drama in the dictionary a picture of Judy would be there. Judy truly believed that a person had no excuse to be unattractive. Hair extensions, breast implants, and tummy tucks weren't just for the famous, and she had experimented with them all. The one thing she left unchanged was her face. Judy was a natural cutie.
Tara is an ad exec at a big firm, and Judy's a publicist for many of the popular hip-hop artists. They're both East Coast born and bred and I'm a Midwesterner, but living in New York for the past five years, I've almost earned my honorary New Yorker status.
The line in front of Lotus was halfway down the block, but the doorman knew us and ushered us quickly past the infamous velvet rope. Inside, A-list celebrities paraded before us: Pink, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, and Robert De Niro. We went straight to the bar that ran the length of the narrow club and ordered a round of Cosmopolitans.
"We'll have three Cosmos, and please, no house vodka. Absolut Citron, light on the cranberry and lime juice," I said, giving a friendly wink to the female bartender, who looked fresh off a Paris runway.
"You'll have to excuse her, she thinks she's some kind of Cosmo connoisseur," Judy shouted over the music.
"I like the sound of that! See, I just know the difference between a so-so Cosmopolitan and a great one, and I only drink great ones."
The bartender shook the cocktail shaker to the beat of an infectious bass line, then gingerly poured a frothy pink liquid into three chilled martini glasses.
"See if this suits your palate," the bartender said, winking back at me.
"Perfecto!" I said, giving her my approval. "You got skills, and I will be back."
I gave the bartender a high-five as Judy, Tara, and I grabbed our drinks and moved past partygoers dressed in the latest haute couture. Some people just stood bobbing their heads, others posed on low ottomans like they were in a Vogue layout.
We pushed our way into the narrow, overcrowded VIP area, behind yet another velvet rope. I immediately noticed a pair of eyes I'd seen once before. They were greenish-gray and hypnotic.
"Lindsay? Whassup? It's Troy. We met a while ago through my boy Randy Lanier," he said, helping me into a booth, trying his best to talk over the bass.
"Oh right! I think I remember. It's good to see you again."
Despite my reply, I knew exactly who he was and remembered every detail of the night I met him: Randy's birthday dinner at Jezebel and we flirted with each other all night. I even remember what he had on: a black turtleneck, black slacks, and a Cartier Tank watch. Just what I liked, simple, stylish, classy, and chivalrous--he even helped me with my coat at the end of the night. I was sure I'd never see him again since he lived in the Bay Area. What was Troy doing in New York now?
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Judy burst in between us grabbing me by the arm.
I was out of breath when we finally stopped in front of the ladies' room. "Forget that man. I'm trying to get us to the powder room. Tara and I have a surprise!" Judy said. I was pissed, this better be good. "What hot actress have you been talking about starring in your new series?" she asked. There was only one person she could be talking about. Alix Alexander. Latest Bond chick, and soon-to-be costar in Will Smith's new movie. I was dying to work with her.
We walked into the cramped bathroom. The ladies' room was a subculture in and of itself. Even though we go there to "freshen up," we made sure we did a once-over adjustment to look good before going in. It's all about making an entrance.
The room was buzzing with women searching for everything from hairbrushes to breath mints. Tara was already inside at the mirror putting on lipstick. Another woman, standing next to her, turned around. It was Alix. She was giving me major attitude, looking me up and down.
"Alix, this is our girl Lindsay," Tara said, signaling I was cool.
"Hey, Lindsay. It's really good to meet you." Alix's look quickly went from cold to warm. I had to give her her props. She could dress her ass off and her hair was always slammin'. I joined them at the mirror, opened my purse, and began rummaging through it, looking for my Mac lip glass. The other women were hanging around and checking us out. I could hear the whispers and feel the catty looks.
As I applied my lip liner and lip glass, from the corner of my eye I noticed we were the topic of a trio's conversation.
"Isn't that Alix Alexander?" the short one asked, popping her gum.
"Yep, but she ain't that pretty in person," her friend added, in a nasally voice.
"I heard she's sleeping with Vin Diesel and 50 Cent!" the tallest one said, out the side of her mouth.
I turned toward them. The tallest one knew I had heard their entire conversation. "Ooh, girl, you are working those shoes." She pointed to my feet, giving me a phony smile.
"Thanks," I returned, equally artificial, as the women quickly walked out the door.
In the mirror's reflection I saw a woman trying to calm down her girlfriend who was crying hysterically. Her eye makeup had smeared like melted licorice all over her face, and her hair looked like a powder puff.
"Oh my God, can you believe he came with her? I'm gonna fuck both of them up! How does my hair look?"
"It looks great!" her friend said, patting the woman's hair unsuccessfully before giving up and walking over to the sink.
"Excuse me," she said, stepping between Alix and me, taking a paper towel and wetting it, and returning to the weeping friend. "You can't let him see you like this," she said, giving her a pep talk as they exited.
A tipsy woman, doing a nail-biting balancing act in three-inch heels, was near the door arguing with the West Indian bathroom attendant after trying to skip out on a tip.
"All I got was a paper towel and a spritz of perfume."
"You got four sticks of gum, too."
"Urgh!" she said, tossing two dollars into the tip basket and teetering out the door.
Suddenly, everyone's attention shifted to a woman whose weak stomach was proof she'd had too much to drink. She rushed into a nearby stall and spent the next several minutes communing with the porcelain god.
Just then another woman who I didn't recognize entered and joined us. She and Alix hugged.
"This is my girl Camille, everybody," Alix said. Camille looked like a waif model without the height. Before we could get the cordials out, Alix called, "That's the jam!" Hearing the funky beat from the next room, Camille headed for the door, reaching for Alix's hand. Alix grabbed my hand, and without saying a word, we all stepped out of the ladies' room, dancing and bobbing our heads to the music.