When my phone rings, I fairly leap for it without even looking at the number. "Hello?" I stammer.
"I'm trying to reach Sanniyah Jones?" The crisp, clipped voice of the woman on the other end is familiar, but I find that I don't even give a shit. She's tying up the line I need to use to find out if Carter is okay,
"This is Sanniyah," I bark, "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm going to have to call you back..."
"This is Felicia Doyle at the Tribune Styles desk," she interrupts, smooth as honey. "We spoke earlier?"
I feel the anger drain out of me, leaving me with nothing but confusion as I sag onto the bed. She finally calls me...now? "Yes, of course," I say, as quiet and meek as a mouse.
"I re-read your email, and did some preliminary background research and I would love to do a piece on you, if that's okay."
My heart should have leapt. This was what I had been doggedly pursuing for months now. Why wasn't I elated? "That sounds fine," I manage dully. Carter's stricken face is swimming in front of my vision and I can feel my hand reaching up like he is standing in front of me.
"Now, before we get started, I do need to confirm a few things."
"Can you please verify that you are involved with Carter Easton?"
Everything stops. "Excuse me?" I say as the hot blood begins to beat in my temple. "What did you just ask me?"
"We just received a tip about Carter Easton being sighted with a black woman who fits your description. This is a huge story. Mr. Easton has been MIA for two year now and...."
"I know," I interrupt, cheeks flaming. "But can you please clear something up for me? What does Carter Easton have to do with a story about my business?"
Felicia huffs into the phone. "Our readers are tired of the same sob stories about poor people," she says dismissively. "Shelters, deprivation, it's all depressing and boring." I see red as she breathlessly continues. "But an angle like this? A girl like you ending up with a billionaire like Carter Easton?"
"Excuse me?" I interject. Hot anger has been replaced with icy steel. "A girl like me?"
Felicia sniffs. "Let's not play the PC card, please, we're all grown-ups here. You know what I meant."
"I'm not actually sure that I do, " I say.
"You know, Carter is...."
"No! Rich! And you ending up with him? That's the kind of wish fulfillment I sell here at the Styles desk. That's the angle I want to use. If you want to use me to sell your brand, you'd be wise to play that up. Now," I can hear her tapping her pen impatiently, "we already have the photographs of the two of you."
"Excuse me?" I feel like a parrot, only able to repeat the same words over and over again.
"The photos, of you two on the sidewalk by McMahon Park. You were awfully cozy."
It feels like an unseen hand had closed itself around my throat. I make a strangled sound that Felicia's business-like prattle plows right over as she continues. "They were brought in only a few minutes ago. I can run those along side a glamor shot of you, maybe we could even get a personal candid you can supply yourself? Oh yes, that would be perfect." I can fairly hear the triumphant bloodlust in her voice. "I just need you to confirm that yes, you and Carter Easton are dating and we can get everything rolling."
I could do it. Just one little word and I would nab a huge pictorial in the Styles section. My name would be on the lips of every bride in the Tri-County area. All I had to do was confirm what was actually the truth; that Carter Easton and I, at least until a few hours ago, were indeed seeing each other.
All I had to do was make his very worst fears a reality,
"Yes, Sanniyah?" She is so eager it makes me nauseous.
"Ms. Jones will be fine."
She pauses a little. I can tell it is rankling her how much she needs to have me cooperate. "Of course, Ms. Jones. Go ahead."
"Ms. Doyle, I just want to make sure we're clear. You are offering me a full page spread in the Styles section, profiling my business for all of your readers...how big is your circulation again?"
"131,000 paid subscribers and that's not including newstand." she sighs, impatiently. "Ms. Jones, I really need..."
"Just moment, I'm not through. But you're not actually going to profile my business at all, are you? It's not really going to be my story at all...it's going to be a puff piece about Carter Easton, who has made it quite clear, time and again, that he values his private life above all other things?"
"Er, no not exactly...."
"If I did, indeed, have a personal relationship with Mr. Easton, don't you think I would be aware of his desire for privacy, and don't you think I would know better than to exploit him for my own personal gain?"
"Ms. Jones, let me just be clear here, our readers..."
"No, you are quite clear. Your readers need a hook, and he is the hook."
"Exactly," she sighs with relief. "Now if I can just get the confirmation...."
"I can confirm one thing," I say, watching myself in the mirror.
"You need to go fuck yourself, Ms. Doyle."
I throw my phone onto the bed and sink into the covers, feeling the remnants of my professional life fall in tatters around me. "Fuck it. While I'm at it," I mutter to myself, and pick the phone back up again.
It goes straight to voicemail, but I expected that.
"Hi Cammy, it's Sanniyah. I have realized that I am no longer the right fit to be your wedding planner. You deserve a true professional who will not let her personal life get wrapped him in her business, and I'm afraid that person is not me. I truly do wish you the best. "The tears are falling harder and faster now, but I manage to choke out the one last thing I have to say. "Please take care of Carter, and please tell him that I just gave up the chance of a lifetime by refusing to talk to the press about him. It's not enough to make up for today, but it's the least I can do, because...because...I love him."
My opponent is bigger than I am. Faster too. But I am angrier.
"Again!" he shouts.
I can feel the trickle of sweat as I focus on the pads. A jab, cross then knee and this time I make solid contact with the pad each time. But not before my instructor knocks me sideways with his other hand.
"Too slow!" he shouts as I my ears ring.
I back up, bouncing on my feet. Three solid weeks of training, four to five hours a day, pushing myself to the breaking point every time, but I am still too slow. I'm starting to get pissed.
I take a breath and try to find my center. For a moment, Sanniyah's topaz eyes are all I see, calming me. Then Instructor Gray shouts at me in his former drill sergeant bark and I snap back into the room.