Monica a.k.a. AlizÃ©
Five Years Earlier
hat happened to the good old days when a married man kept his dirty mistress a fucking secret?”
Monica Winters didn't know whether it was the sarcastic words or just the very presence of Serena Lockhart-Steele that made her back go stiff like it was filled with a dozen shots of Viagra just as she was kissed and held tightly by her man, Cameron SteeleâSerena's husband. Serena and Cameron were very separatedâseparate homes, separate livesâbut it was clear that just like the many times before when he asked Serena for a divorce that she wasn't willing to accept the end of their marriage. Monica shared a brief look with Cameron that was filled with all kinds of unspoken words before they stepped back from one another and looked over at his wife standing in the open doorway of his office.
Serena shook her head like a chastising parent as she stepped inside and then slammed the door.
Cameron released a heavy breath.
This particular threesome spelled nothing but trouble and the fact that it was going down in the New York corporate offices of Braun, Weber made the whole situation even more precarious. Possibly embarrassing. Just dead damn wrong.
Serena was very aware that Monica and Cameron were in a relationship; just as Monica was painfully aware that Cameron was still legally married. The tension in the room was as palpable as the racing pulses. It was clear no one wanted to be in the presence of the other. A fucking monkey could figure that shit out.
Notching her chin high, Monica smoothed her hands over her hips in the fitted linen dress she wore before leaning back against the edge of Cameron's oversized, neatly arranged desk. Eyeing the other woman unflinchingly, she crossed her legs at the ankle. She hated to admit to herself that she looked beautiful. Tall and slender with fine features and even finer designer garb that fit her body like a second skin.
In that moment, Monica had never felt more like a grad student/intern. Serena Steele was established. Monica was months from graduating with her masters of business administration and determined to get there.
“Hello, Serena. I wasn't expecting you,” Cameron stressed politely as he straightened his double-knotted silk tie and made his way around his desk to claim the leather executive chair behind it.
Serena gave him a tight smile as she continued to walk over to his desk. “Since when does a
need an appointment to see
husband, Cam?” she asked with a meaningful arch of her brow as she eyed Monica.
Monica glanced away from the slightly older, sophisticated woman as she fought hard not to grab Serena by the throat and slow-walk her ass out of both the building and Cameron's life. She hated the insecurities that claimed her. And regardless of Monica spending every night in his arms, this woman had more right to him than her. She was his wife. Plain and simple. Like it or not.
Monica wanted those fucking divorce papers signed, sealed, and delivered to the courts as quickly as possible.
“Cam, I need to speak with you . . . in private,” she insisted, folding her tall and slender frame into one of the leather chairs before his desk.
Monica's heart pounded as she bit the inside of her mouth to keep from snapping at Serena as she eyed the way the hem of the pencil skirt she wore raised up her thigh. Rolling her eyes, she looked over her shoulder at Cameron.
His eyes met hers for a few moments that seemed like forever.
The message in Monica's eyes was clear:
Don't fuck with it
“Hammering out the details of our marriage in front of your mistress is asking a bit too much, Cam, don't you think?”
The tension levels in the room shot up a thousand notches as he glanced away from Monica and cleared his throat.
No, this motherfucker ain't . . .
“Monica, will you excuse us for just a moment?”
Yes, this motherfucker did.
A sharp and intense pain radiated across her chest. A pain that was fed by disappointment, anger, and jealousy. And those emotions were fed by the smug look of satisfaction on Serena's face.
Monica's shoulders were squared up and as stiff as a linebacker's as she rose up on her five-inch heels and turned to look for the keys she had dropped just moments before when Cameron's kisses had distracted her.
If I knew I was going to run into this bullshit I would have taken my black ass straight home
, she thought, fighting the urge to pull a clichÃ© “mistress” move and kiss him in front of Serena.
Cameron rose from his seat and came around his desk to walk her to the door. “Just give me a few minutes with Serena and then we'll go to Cipriani for dinner before we head home,” he said in a low tone, his hand lightly touching the small of her back.
Monica was too deep into her emotions to give a fuck about his words, his emphasis on the word “home,” his apologetic tone, his presence, or the warm and spicy scent of his cologne. Without a glance up at him, Monica opened the office door and stepped out onto the tiled hallway, closing it securely behind her and in his face. “Fuck you, Negro,” she muttered, avoiding the awkward glances of his executive assistant, Georgia.
Monica felt the heat of shame warm her cheeks as she imagined Georgia's thoughts on the girlfriend exiting right after the wife entered. It made her feel like she was sneaking around with Cameron. And they weren't.
They damn near lived together. They attended events together. They introduced each other as a significant other. They were together.
But she is legally still his wife.
Taking a deep breath, Monica headed straight for the elevator. She held her keys tightly in her hand as she waited for the doors to open and tried not to imagine just what was going on behind the door of his office.
Cameron and Monica met during her first year of interning at Braun, Weber. He was the Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions for the investment firm. She had been deep in a world mixed with what she wantedâher desire to earn her MBA and take over corporate Americaâand what she had, which was shitty relationships with thugs from her Newark neighborhood. The two definitely didn't mixâespecially when her ex Rah had beat her ass and broken her leg while he was high off dope and angry from news that she had cheated on him in the past. The craziest part of that drama was his anger over her betrayal topping that she just walked in on him deep between the thighs of one of her closest friends. She had been more than happy to get him out of her life and into a prison facility for aggravated assault charges.
To her, men like Cameron were the real threat to her career and her heart because she knew a thug wasn't good for shit but his money and dick. And when Cameron revealed he wanted to take their relationship further, she hadn't gone for it, choosing his friendship instead.
Five months later she received an invitation to his wedding to Serenaâa woman he started dating after Monica turned him down. He did eventually marry Serena . . . even after Monica boldly went to the church just minutes before the ceremony to finally admit to him that she loved him. The happily ever after she wished for did not happen.
By then she had lost him and she left him alone to be happy with his wifeâhis
Serena's anger at her was misplaced but Monica had zero fucks to give about setting the woman straight. “Fuck her,” she muttered, releasing a heavy breath as she stepped onto the elevator.
Monica felt sweet relief when the doors closed behind her. Licking her lips, she pressed the button for the lobby before she used her other hand to squeeze the bridge of her nose. She remembered the night they were trapped on this very same elevator together and the words he said to her.
“I care for my wife. I do. But you can only love one person at a time and I try to deny it but deep down I knew you were the one I loved. I shouldn't have married her. I shouldn't have hurt her . . . or you.”
After weeks of him ignoring her at work. After kissing her with all of the passion and conflict he felt for still loving her even as he was married to another woman.
“I fucked up. I thought I was over you. I really thought I could make this marriage with Serena work. This drama. This bullshit. This triangle shit ain't me. I fucked up.”
Monica shook her head as she pressed away at the lobby button like it would make the trip down any faster.
If Cameron thought she was going to sit and wait like a duck while he huddled up in his office with his
cooperating in all of that drama and bullshit he claimed wasn't him, then his ass was certifiably crazy. “Never that,” she said aloud as the elevator slid to a stop and the doors opened to set her free. Love was hard enoughârisky enoughâwithout an extra person floating all through a relationship.
She couldn't get out of that building fast enough, but she couldn't run. She didn't want to attract any attentionâshe did have an image to maintain. The pounding of her heart and her heels against the pavement of the streets didn't stop until she finally slid behind the wheel of her used Toyota Camry that had seen better days when her mother used to drive it.
Monica reached inside her purse and pulled out her cell phone. She pressed number four on her speed dial. After her mother, her father, and her man, her three best friends filled the next spots. The six most important people in her life.
The phone rang twice before Danielle answered. “Hello, AlizÃ©,” she said, using Monica's nickname from high school. Danielle's nickname was Cristal, Latoya's was MoÃ«t, and Keesha's was “Dom” Perignon. The nineties and their fascination with The Notorious B.I.G. had them all the way fucked up.
“You off from work?” Monica asked, as she let her head fall back against the cloth headrest.
The line went quiet for a few ticks before she said, “Yes.”
Monica made a face. “What's wrong with you?” she asked, her Newark accent suddenly heavy and pronounced.
“Does it matter?” Danielle asked, almost sounding like she sighed. “Because I can tell something is wrong with you.”
Monica sat up straight in the driver's seat. “Yes. I just left Cameron upstairs in his office with his wife. And do you know he asked me to leave? I was so ashamed strolling out of there trying to pretend my ass was cute and confident.”
“What exactly do you think is going on in that office?” Danielle asked, crossing the t's and dotting the i's with her pronunciation as always.
Monica shrugged and hated how helpless she felt as she looked through the lightly tinted windshield at the summer skies above. She tasted her lip gloss as she bit her lips. “I don't think they're fucking or nothing,” she finally answered her friend.
“You sure?” Danielle asked.
Monica froze as she pressed her cell phone closer to her ear. She heard some inflection in her tone and she couldn't put her finger on what it was. Sarcasm? Doubt? Mocking?
“I am glad you called actually because I really would like my Yves Saint Laurent dress back that you borrowed,” Danielle slid in, her voice sounding slightly breathy.
Monica frowned again. “Did you just change the subject?” she snapped.
“Yes, I did because you are holding it hostage,” Danielle returned smoothly.
Monica didn't want to talk about a dress when she was in the midst of a personal mini-storm and needed Danielle to play her role in the friendship. Monica was clear that she was the friend to call to party. Keesha stayed ready to jump in and fight if called on. Latoya was all over prayers and church. And Danielle was the go-to girl for advice. Period. Point blank.
But this bitch tripping.
“Damn, you're acting up about a dress?”
“Same way you keep telling me about that money Dom owes you. That dress cost me way more than three hundred dollars, Ze.”
Monica arched a brow. “I'm in grad school. I need my money!” she retorted.
Danielle did sigh this time and it was loud and clear on the phone. “Ze, you need to talk to Cameron about what you expect from him. His obligation was to his wife and he decided to move on from that. Your obligation is to yourself and you can never move on from that. Fuck stressing about something you cannot change and focus on what you can . . . like moving on if it is not moving right.”
Monica felt relief at the return of the friend she was looking for in the first place. And she knew Danielle was right. She couldn't control Cameron or Serena and it was
had to end.
But I have total control over me and what the fuck I do about my role in this bullshit.
“Oh and put my dress in the cleaners and then in my closet. Seriously, AlizÃ©.”
“I will . . . as soon as I find it,” Monica mumbled, dropping her cell phone on the passenger seat before she slid her key in the ignition and started her car. The entire vehicle rumbled to life and shook for a few moments before it idled down.
Suddenly the sound of “Need U Bad” by Jazmine Sullivan filled the car. Monica didn't bother to pick up her cell because she knew it was Cameron. She fully intended to give him a night in his bed alone so he would regret escorting her out of his office; and she would take the time to mull over the advice of her friend.
“Fuck stressing about something you cannot change and focus on what you can . . . like moving on if it is not moving right.”