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“Cyndi, let’s go over the articles I need to assign,” I said. I was in my office with my executive assistant, Cyndi Jones. I met her when I gave a speech at the Howard University School of Communications, and I hired her immediately after she graduated because she was ambitious and aggressive. It seemed like every other week I was getting an update on articles Cyndi had written for the Howard University newspaper. She’s been with me for more than three years now.
“The Halle Berry and Yancey B. stories have been given to Kirsten Dawson. I’ll make sure we have the signed contracts. The only one that hasn’t been assigned is ‘Divas return to the Great White Way,’” Cyndi said.
“Refresh my memory. Who are we featuring?”
“Vanessa L. Williams and Sheryl Lee Ralph,” Cyndi said.
“Are they in the same show?”
“No. Sheryl is in a new musical, Millie sumthin’, and Vanessa is in a revival of the musical Into the Woods.”
“Now, Cyndi, I know the show isn’t called Millie sumthin’—make sure you have the correct title before we talk to writers about a story,” I said. “You know I hate stuff like that.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll be sure to do that. Do you have any writers in mind?”
“Maybe we should go with a guy. See who’s available. By the way, how are things coming with the Sexiest Brothaman Alive contest?”
“The contest is coming along great. We’ve gotten some fantasticsubmissions. I’ll investigate and get back with you. Don’t forget your breakfast meeting in the morning,” Cyndi said as she stood up. She was wearing a black semitransparent silk blouse that truly wasn’t appropriate for the office. I started to say something, but the last time I spoke to Cyndi about her wardrobe she got a little sensitive. I realized she was young and she didn’t know quite how to dress in a corporate environment. I had even taken her on a couple shopping trips, but she always seemed to be drawn to the tight and the transparent. Every Wednesday, Cyndi would use her lunch break to go to Century 21 and somehow always managed to find the tacky items left from the previous week. I was just praying that Davis didn’t come down to the office today, because he wouldn’t be able to bite his tongue. He’d tell me to send Cyndi home to change posthaste.
“Cyndi, who am I eating with tomorrow morning?”
“Eunice, the ad manager, and the guy who handles all the national advertising for Wal-Mart,” Cyndi said.
“Oh yes. Eunice has been trying to land that account for months. I need to make a mental note to wear my red power suit,” I said.
“You look fierce in that suit,” Cyndi said as she walked out.
* * *
I was looking over the agenda for the weekly staff meeting when Cyndi walked back into the office carrying a vase of white orchids and said my mother was on the phone.
“Thanks, Cyndi,” I said as I picked up. I smiled to myself, thinking that after three years Davis still remembered to send me a token of his affection once a week. I loved flowers almost as much as the aqua-colored boxes from Tiffany’s.
“Zola, did I catch you at a bad time?”
“No, Mother. You know I always make time for you. What’s going on?”
“I hate to bother you, but I just didn’t know who to call,” Mother said.
I knew from the sound of her voice that she was calling with bad news and had a feeling that it involved my older and troubled sister, Pamela. Everybody in my family always said Pamela had a few drama problems. I called her what she was, an emotional vampire sucking the life out of everyone she came in contact with. She caused chaos whenever she pleased.
“What did she do now?” I asked.
“Pamela has been missing for about a week. Nobody’s seen her, and I went over to her apartment and there was an eviction notice on her door,” Mother said.
“I’m sure she’ll turn up soon, Mother. Don’t worry about it,” I said as I looked out the huge picture windows of my office and observed wisps of high clouds against a May blue sky.
“Zola, I’m just wondering if I should file a missing persons report with the police.”
“I don’t think so. She’s probably met some new junkie and will show up any minute and act like nothing has happened,” I said.
While my mother talked about all the bad things that could have happened to Pamela, I was having swirling recollections of some of my sister’s previous antics, like being arrested at one of Mother’s Links meetings for writing hot checks. To make matters worse, she had a vial of cocaine in her purse when she was searched at the police station.
The last time I was home—to attend the funeral of my Aunt Sophie Lou—Pamela showed up at the funeral sloppy drunk, threw herself into the casket, and started screaming and crying like a madwoman. The sad thing was that Pamela was not crying because Aunt Sophie Lou died, she was crying because the well had run dry: She could always count on Aunt Sophie for money for her bad habits. I remember pulling Pamela out of the coffin and taking her into one of the back rooms of the church and telling her, “When this is over I’m going to kick your ass for embarrassing the family once again, and I want you to take it like a man.”
When my mother had finally finished listing the places where Pamela might be, I asked her what Daddy thought she should do.
“I didn’t want to bother him. You know he’s worked so hard all his life and I just want him to enjoy his retirement,” Mother said.
“Mother, that’s what I think you should do too. Enjoy your retirement. You’ve raised us and you did a great job with me. Pamela is a grown woman and she’s responsible for her own actions,” I said.
“I’ve got to do something. She’s my daughter,” Mother said. Her voice sounded flat and lifeless and not like the Nashville educator and socialite many of her friends thought she was.
“Mother, I’m trying to understand how you feel. But I am not a mother. I’m a sister who has been wronged by Pamela time and time again, just like everyone else in this family. I don’t mean to sound cold, but we can’t live her life for her,” I said.
“Zola, I love you, baby, but I just wish you could be more forgiving.”
“I am,” I said quickly.
“Then please forgive Pamela. She never means any harm.”
“Mother, let’s face it. Pamela wakes up every morning thinking about what kind of mayhem she can create.”
“I just hope nothing bad’s happened.”
“If it had, you would have heard something by now. Why don’t you plan a trip up here to New York? It’ll take your mind off things. We could go see some shows, do some shopping, and there are lots of new restaurants that the owners are dying to have me visit. If I keep taking Hayden when I go out to eat, he’s going to be so fat, he won’t be able to get a job,” I said, laughing.
“Visiting you would be fun. But I need to find out what’s happened to Pamela first.”
“Just let me know when you want to come, Mother. I’d love to see you.”
“Well, I’m always here in Nashville, and I know your daddy and I would love to see you too,” Mother said.
“Let’s both think about what will be best as long as it involves me getting a hug soon from the woman I love the most,” I said as I walked back to my desk and sat down.
“I love you, Zola,” Mother said.
“I love you, too, Mother. Promise me you’re going to stop worrying.”
“I promise,” Mother said, and we both hung up the phone, drained by an ungrateful Pamela.
* * *
Later that evening, around seven-thirty, I was reviewing the details of a cover-shoot schedule for pop star Yancey B., who was making her movie debut and getting ready to release her second CD. Yancey B. was at the top of her game, but I was beginning to wish I’d selected someone else for the December cover. A couple of designers had mentioned that they would love seeing Yancey B. wearing their clothes, so I acquiesced.
Yancey B. and her manager were carrying on like she was a diva with a capital D. They had a list of requirements two pages long. I wanted to assign the story to Veronica Chambers, one of the best writers in the country, but I knew she’d never agree to Yancey B.’s demands. We had to use the photographer of her choice as well as her stylist and her hair-and-makeup guy. But it didn’t stop there. The list of food we were required to have on the set included caviar, green seedless grapes, Fiji bottled water, Grich Hills Chardonnay, DeLoach Merlot, and Sunkist orange soda in addition to cold shrimp, which each needed to measure at least two inches.
Normally I would have told Yancey B. and her people where to go, but they had chosen Bling Bling to do an exclusive promotion with our readers that involved screening her new movie at Yancey B.’s South Beach penthouse. We had beat out several of our competitors, including Sister 2 Sister, Essence, Honey, and O and we’d never been in a position to compete with them before. I saw this as a tremendously positive sign that we were a few issues away from increasing circulation.
Just as I was making sure I had my two-way pager in my bag, Cyndi came in with a look on her face I didn’t like.
“There’s a phone call for you,” she said dryly. I knew this wasn’t a good sign, because she usually just buzzed me. When she came into the office, I always knew something was wrong.
“Who is it?”
“You’re not going to like this.”
“Cyndi, tell me who it is.”
“It’s Lena Ford, Yancey B.’s publicist. When I asked if I could help, thinking it had something to do with the shoot, she said she had to speak to you. I told her I was handling all of the arrangements, including that tacky white limo they requested. She said she needed to speak to you no matter where you were.” Lena Ford was a powerhouse publicist who was known in the industry as being more difficult than many of her high-profile clients.
“Thanks, Cyndi. You’re right, this doesn’t sound good,” I said, and picked up the phone. Cyndi gave me a sour look as she left the office.
“Hi, Lena,” I said cheerfully.
“Zola, I’ve got some bad news,” she said quickly.
“What?” I asked as I sank to my seat.
“There’s a problem with the shoot.”
“What problem? Is something wrong with Yancey B.?”
“No, we’ll be there bright and early,” Lena said.
“Then everything’s fine. What’s the problem?”
“Is there any way we can delay the cover?”
“What do you mean?”
“We can still do the shoot tomorrow, but I was wondering if we could move the publication back a couple of months.”
“A couple of months?” I asked, raising my voice.
“Yeah, just a couple of months. Since magazines are always on the stands a month early, it shouldn’t matter anyway. Some scheduling issues have come up.”
“Has the movie been moved back?” I asked.
“No,” Lena said quickly.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I wish I could talk to you in person, but here goes: Yancey B. just got a wonderful opportunity,” Lena said.
“A wonderful opportunity? What are you talking about?”
“Vanity Fair wants to put her on the cover. She’d be the first African American woman to grace the cover solo. Also, Donatella Versace is designing several gowns just for Yancey B. Isn’t that just fab?”
“What does that have to do with our shoot?”
“They want to do it for September and to have an exclusive for thirty days after the issue hits the stand.”
“An exclusive?” I said, laughing in my best diva voice. “We already have an exclusive, remember?”
“Yeah, but I was hoping you’d reconsider and let us move forward with Vanity Fair,” Lena said.
I started to feel warm as I looked around my office for something to focus on. I had to get myself together quickly before I lost my temper.
I knew this woman wasn’t calling me at the last minute to tell me she’d already secured another deal for her client.
“Lena, why would I want to move my cover back? It doesn’t make sense. I thought you turned those other magazines down before you chose Bling. We have a deal,” I said.
“I know, Zola, but this is big and I have to look out for what’s best for my client, and being on the cover of Vanity Fair is something Yancey B. has dreamed of all her life. I’m sorry, Zola. We can still do the shoot, but publication will have to wait until at least thirty days after the Vanity Fair cover is off the stands.”
“Woman, have you lost your mind? Do you know how much work we’ve put in to pull off this shoot? How dare you call me at this late date and ask me to do this. The answer is no. Hell no. We will move ahead according to plan,” I said firmly. I was willing to bet that Lena wasn’t telling the entire story. I was certain there were a few little trinkets lined up for both Yancey B. and Lena. Probably a few Donatella Versace originals, and other perks, had made them change their minds about doing the Bling shoot.
“So you’re going to play hardball, Zola?”
“Call it what you want, but I’ll see you in the morning.”
“I don’t think you should expect us.”
“If you don’t agree to my terms, Yancey won’t be there. You’ll have to find someone else for your cover,” she said.
“I tell you what . . . don’t show up. I’m sure we can find a nice stock photo of your client. I bet there are lots of not-so-flattering pictures out there of her, and I’ll run one on the cover. So, Lena, don’t play with me. I’m the wrong one,” I said.
“You wouldn’t do that.”
“Wouldn’t I? Try me. Matter of fact, rather than the glowing story we were going to run, I’m going to take another angle.”
“Oh, yeah. I know a little more than you think about your client. We’ve done our homework, and there’s lots of interesting information floating around about Yancey B. Maybe I’ll have LaVonya the gossip columnist write the story instead of Kirsten Dawson. You can’t stop us from running the cover, nor do you have a say on what writer we assign if you break the original agreement.”
“Can’t we work something out?”
“We’ve already worked something out. Deal with it,” I said, and slammed down the phone.