GOURMET: CHAPTER ONE
Poor week. Green smoothie diet.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I tell Nate while he’s playing Nintendo 64 with his back to me. At first, he ignores me. So I move from his king-size bed over to his thirty-six-inch Trinitron TV and turn it off. Nate’s not the type to yell—unless it involves his video games.
“Amillion, why the hell did you do that? Turn on my TV and move out the way!”
“I can’t do this anymore,” I say again as I stand in the space between the edge of his bed that he’s sitting on and his TV that’s centered on his dresser.
He’s strangling both ends of his M-shaped game controller. “Do what?” His protruding eyes are cold and distant as they stare up at me. “Do…what?” he repeats, only much slower and louder as he bounces his behind up and down twice on his mattress.
“This,” I say, talking with my hands with my shoulders hunched. “I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore, Nate. I’ve given too much of my life to you already, almost ten years.”
“Yes, to you, Nate.”
“No, to us. It’s a relationship, remember?”
“I do need to be reminded. It sure doesn’t feel like one. At least, not my idea of a good one. I’m going to be forty in a couple weeks, Nate. You still have two more years before you reach that milestone. I’m going to be forty and unmarried. Forty and childless. I’ve wasted ten years with you. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and I refuse to waste another day.”
“So, you’re breaking up with me on my birthday?”
“It’s your birthday, but it’s just another day.”
“So, my birthday is just another day, but yours is a national holiday?”
“A national holiday? Why do you say that?”
“That’s how you treat it. But mine’s just another day.” He frowns and shakes his head slowly. “You want to end it, Amillion. Fine, you have. It’s ended. Now, will you please turn on my TV and leave? If it’s ended, you don’t need to be here.” I stand completely still, debating whether or not to say one last thing. “Why are you still here? You said you’ve wasted ten years with me and refuse to waste another day. The day’s not over yet, so don’t waste any more of it. Leave.
“Would it be possible for you to loan me twenty dollars, just until payday?” I hesitate. Ten years, and I still stumble over my words when I ask for his help.“My gas tank is almost on empty.”
His eyes squint up at me. “I know you’re not serious.”
I shrug shamelessly. “It’s my poor week.”
He leers at me the same way he does panhandlers—as if I’m worthless. “Why can’t they just get a job like the rest of us? I wouldn’t be caught dead lugging around a sign and begging,” he says whenever he sees any of them. I knew after our first date when he shoved a homeless man to the side who’d approached us for change that I could never tell him the truth about my mother, and I never have. After ten years, he doesn’t really know who I am, and he hasn’t made a genuine effort to get to know me, either.
“You should have asked to borrow money from me before you broke up with me. Then maybe I would have loaned it to you. Leave!”
“No, you wouldn’t have. You rarely do, which is why I have to borrow money from Leslie when I’m low on cash. And I’m sure she’s wondering why, if I have a man, I have to borrow from her, at all, and I’m wondering that too.”
“Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore because you no longer have a man.” He trails behind me to his front door. “And I’m wondering why, if you have a job, do you have to borrow money from me, at all? Why do you?”
“You don’t have to wonder anymore, because you’re no longer my man.” I leave and listen to his door slam, not once, not twice, but three times.
It’s finally Friday. No, wait it’s Saturday. Are you kidding me, it’s Sunday, which may as well be Monday, and now it is, already. Just that quickly, my weekend is over, and that’s how every weekend is. One day of freedom—Saturday. Even though I work on Fridays, I have to include it as part of my weekend in order to trick my mind into believing that I have more time, especially since I lose Sunday, because once that day starts I’m already thinking about going back to work the next day.
This is a bad week all the way around because, on top of it being Monday, it’s my poor week, which means I have to figure out a way to survive for four whole days. I need gas and food: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Scratch lunch; I’m in Harris County, and with my caseload I usually don’t have time for any. I also need parking fees for the visits I make to the jail. Luckily, my office is close enough to the courthouse that I can walk to it, if need be, and I need it to be. I do a lot of walking, so I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight, even though I’m not trying to, I still should since I get plenty of exercise. Nate used to always say that if I didn’t walk as much as I do, I’d be even bigger. Thanks, Nate. That’s another reason why I left you. You used to lift me up. Now, you can’t lift me, period, and I need a man who can—both figuratively and literally.I know I’m not a lightweight, but so? There’s still a man out there in this big world of ours who can handle me—all of me.
My check will be directly deposited into my account on Friday while I’m still asleep. I won’t wake up rich, but I will be able to make it until my next poor week. It would be one thing if I wasn’t a salaried employee and got paid for overtime. Then maybe I’d feel rich every other Friday, especially with all the extra hours I put in when I have a trial to prepare for and I’m at the office late during the week and even work on some weekends.
On this poor week, I’ll be surviving with rolls of quarters. Sixty dollars’ worth. And I dare someone to say something. Change is a form a currency, so I shouldn’t be ashamed to use it, and I’m not. I took a roll of quarters into the gas station and slapped it down on the counter like it was a fifty-dollar bill.
As I’m standing between my car and the gas pump filling up, I’m thinking about my thighs, my student loans, my job, my new man (whoever he is), and my mom, in that particular order. My mom used to be at the top of my list when I was a child and didn’t know better. I carried around a picture of her wearing a dress with ruffles at the bottom and spiked heels, sitting with her slender arms spread across a park bench and her toned legs crossed. She looked ready to conquer the world. She was two things to me: beautiful and beloved. As I got older, I realized there was something wrong with that picture. She wasn’t in my life. She was over a thousand miles away in Hollywood, trying to become someone when she already was someone—my mom. Only she didn’t want to be that person; she wanted to be famous. So, over time, her position on my list shifted from first to last, where it has remained for years. Now I don’t hold out hope. I don’t expect to one day see her in person. That dream died years ago, but I do still carry around her picture. My dream may have died, but my love for her never will. I wonder if she loves me.
As for my job, I need to get back to being the attorney I used to be—the one who enjoyed helping people. I need that same zest I once felt each time I took on a new case to return, but I don’t know if it ever will.
It’s about to be the beginning of the new millennium—the year 2000, I think, or would the new millennium actually start with 2001? Regardless, it’s about to be a change over from the nineteen hundreds to two thousand, and for that reason alone I need to make several New Year’s resolutions. It’s been decades since I have, but now I need to become focused and creating a list is one way to do so. I’m going to turn my life around. I have to. I just have to.
I’m going to figure out a way to fall back in love with my job. I went to law school for a reason. I’m not paying back tens of thousands of dollars in student loans for nothing. It’s my day job, and I want to love what I do since I spend so much time doing it. With my free time, what little I have, I want to start a blog about food, since that’s something I definitely love. I need to figure out the name. I also want to have a child in the next couple of years, which means I need a man. I definitely want to fall in love again, only this time with someone who can not only accept my love but also give it back to me. Next time, the feelings have to be mutual. I’m not wasting any more time. I have a long list of things I want, and I can feel my internal clock ticking. I’ll be forty soon, so I can’t help but hear tick…tock…tick…tock.
“Be sure to buy kale. It has a bitter taste to it, but it’s better than spinach. It’s healthier. If you just have to, use half and half, and to get more sweetness add a Medjool date. That’s the secret ingredient right there.”
I’m on the phone with Jill, one of my best friends—and I do use the term best friend very loosely. She’s telling me about a new diet that she went on and lost ten pounds, which was all she wanted to lose. Jill’s not big, by any means, but by her standards, she was heading that way. By mine, she needed the ten pounds she lost and about five more. I’m not sure what her dress size is. I don’t ask people about their size or weight because I don’t want anyone asking me. Besides, no two sizes are equal. For example, at my weight, if I were around five inches taller, either five eight or five nine, I’d probably be skinny. If. Maybe not skinny, more like a little plump.
“Are you saying that I’m supposed to only drink smoothies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a whole month?” I roll my eyes in an exaggerated fashion. I’ll lose more than weight on that diet. I’ll starve to death. “Who can survive on only smoothies for an entire month?”
“That’s for the first month of the diet. You’ll also need to make some permanent changes going forward, too. No more oxtails or cheesecake. Ever.”
She already lost me when she said no food for a month, only smoothies. I guess I’m supposed to slurp my way to slim. But now she’s saying no oxtails or cheesecake. Ever? Yeah, right.
“Now that you’re single, it’s time for you to do a one-eighty,” Jill says. “You finally dumped Nate, and I’m proud of you for that, but it can’t stop there. You need to get a gym membership and a personal trainer and change your diet completely. Drink more water. You’re always complaining about your matronly wardrobe. Well, until you lose weight, there will be nothing you can do about that.”
“But there are things designers can do—”
“Amillion, please don’t start with that same argument, not today, not with the mood I’m in. If there’s something you want that’s not out there, create it. I’m a business owner, and I know firsthand about expenses. Material isn’t free, you know. It bugs me when people who don’t own a business are always so quick to complain about people who do. If designers prefer to use their money more wisely by catering to women with smaller frames, then guess what, it’s their business. If you don’t like it, and you don’t want to lose weight, start your own label and see how profitable you become. I don’t mean to snap at you, but you struck a nerve. Being a business owner isn’t easy—”
“Neither is being a public defender, but I chose to become one, the same way you chose to become a wedding planner.”
“Why do you always cut me off, Amillion? You need to add that to your list of things to change, too. Men don’t like women to talk over them. You can’t expect to ever get married doing that. Remember, I’m a wedding expert.”
A wedding expert who’s never been married or even come close? That’s the difference between Jill and me. I can have mean thoughts, but I try my best not to say them if I know it’ll hurt the person’s feelings. Jill seems to scour her mind for just the right words to say to someone that will make them feel like they’ve been kicked in their gut.
What I love most about Jill is her mother—the other Jill, who is a lot more down to earth and pleasant than her daughter and who has struggled with her weight for decades, even before I knew Jill. I can envision her telling her mom about the smoothie diet and the importance of working out, too. And I can picture her mom rolling her eyes the same way I am. She’s my friend simply due to how long we’ve known each other, not due to her adding anything meaningful to my life. I’m always available to lend my ear and my heart to her when she’s dealing with something, as I am with any of my friends in need. But Jill is always so quick to share her negative opinions.
I miss Nate. I didn't think I would. This is my second weekend without him and my second weekend in the house not doing much of anything. I opened up to Jill about my feelings of loneliness. How Nate was my movie and pizza buddy. When I wasn’t at his apartment, he was at mine. Was he perfect? Obviously not, but he was consistent, which is something I need. I never felt that he’d leave me, but I also never felt he’d marry me, either. The thought of starting over from scratch makes my stomach knot. I have a rush of emotions right now that I’m trying to express to Jill, and all she can do is give me a pep talk about weight loss, as if I called her for that.
“I called to talk about Nate.”
“I don’t want to talk about him,” Jill says in between doing other things. I can hear her keystrokes. She’s the queen of sending emails. “Don’t revisit your past. Think ahead to the future. You’ll be forty real soon, and you still want marriage and children, and time isn’t exactly on your side.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“I have to. If I don’t, who will?”
“Do you want to be married, Jill? Do you want children?” We've had this conversation countless times before, and she's always told me no, but people can change their minds. So, maybe she has.
“No. It took one man to break my heart, and that was enough. All I want to do now is plan fabulous weddings. I know how to make that day special for others, but I don’t need to have a special day like that for myself. The only thing I care about is making money.”
“I get it. Money makes the world go round, and I’m definitely tired of having poor weeks—”
“Then, don’t have anymore. Change that, too.”
Aww, she cut me off. Should I say something? Should I tell her that she won’t get a man that way? Oh, that’s right. She doesn’t want one. Never mind.
“Well, Jill, I think I’ve talked your head off long enough. I’m going to turn on the news and see what these fools in Houston are up to. Who knows, I may be looking at my next case.”
“Check your email. I’m going to send you a few smoothie recipes before I go out of town.”
“Where to this time?”
“Ooh, that should be fun.”
“It’ll be all business for me, but at least I’ll have a pretty backdrop.”
While I’m watching the eleven o’clock news with a tall glass of Dr Pepper and a family-size bag of Cheetos, I’m trying to figure out what would make me happy, now that I’ve fallen out of love with my job and can no longer stand the sight of criminals.
Amillion, you’re not at a black women lawyers convention. You’re not trying to impress anyone right now. Just be honest. You want to be married and you want to have children. Don’t you? You don’t want to go at this world alone. Am I going to need to lose weight to meet a man? I can’t remember the last time a man flirted with me. It’s definitely been a few years. How marketable am I? Is it my weight, or is it the fact that I’m getting older and don’t look as fresh-faced, or is it both?My under-eye area is getting puffier. If I could afford more than a drugstore eye cream, I sure would splurge. I’m lonely, but even more than that I’m disappointed with how my life has turned out. I used to love everything about my life. Well, not really. There are a few things I've always hated about my life. Now, I hate almost everything, even my brand-new car that always has something going wrong—everything about my life spells L-E-M-O-N. How did I let myself get like this? I’m not the type of woman to wait for a man to come to my rescue, but at this point, I wouldn’t mind it. I’m just in need of a major transformation.
Gourmet will be released on December 8, 2018. If you would like to preorder through Amazon, please click here.