Khalfani had asked me to meet him at his favorite gourmet bakery in Hell’s Kitchen. I arrived shortly after our scheduled meet-up time—two o’clock—but he wasn’t there. I even decided to sit at a petite table by a window, so he could easily see me as he escaped the streets. I set my black leather tote bag on the table and impatiently tapped my patent leather stilettos against the beige tiles before glancing around for him. C’mon Khal. . . where are you?
To keep myself occupied, I bought an apple-cinnamon scone and an iced mocha. Twenty minutes passed and Khalfani hadn’t shown up. My best friend Erin had her bridal fitting and shower in a private room at a gorgeous boutique in Midtown at three and I couldn’t miss that; I was her maid of honor. If her fiancé really wanted to talk, he knew where to find me. . . I was pissed he even had the audacity to disrespect my time, especially, knowing I had to attend Erin’s fitting as part of my bridal party duties.
I arose from my seat, retrieved my purse, and headed for the door as I slipped my oversized black cat-eye sunglasses over my face. Right before my stilettos could touch the concrete sidewalk, my cellphone rang, and I fished through my purse as it hung in the crease of my elbow. I found my phone, swiped to answer the unsaved number that I remembered too well, and held the phone up to my ear before continuing out the bakery.
“Hello?” I asked as calmly as I could, attempting to quell my anger.
“Layla . . .” he said cautiously.
“Khalfani! Where are you? What happened to our meeting? You just left me stranded. . .” I took a deep breath. “You know I hate looking like a fool,” I reminded him through clenched teeth. I began my journey down the blocks, so my taxi ride wasn’t that expensive. As much as heels hurt after a while, I’d rather endure the pain than be caught without an incomplete ensemble.
I heard him sigh, “Yeah, I know. About that . . .” he trailed off. I’ve known him since high school, so I know when he was stalling.
My eyes narrowed, awaiting his response. “About what?”
“I really love Erin,” he claimed in a hurried, single breath, as if he had been holding it in.
I rolled my eyes before responding, “Well, you weren’t sayin’ that when you—,”
“I know, I know. . . That’s why I didn’t show up at the bakery—I mean I did but . . . I left. I got there twenty minutes early and then I started thinkin’ rationally and—,”
It was my turn to interrupt him and his nonsense. “Hold up! . . . rationally?” Khalfani sighed exhaustively, but I continued to speak my mind. “What about us is irrational?” I was offended and quite frankly, fed up with his bullshit.
Sure, Erin was my best friend. We met nine years ago. She accompanied her father, Mr. Harry Ross III, heir and CEO of Ross Development Inc., at a leadership conference at my university in Pennsylvania. He was the keynote speaker on entrepreneurship and I heavily participated in the Q&A portion of his session. After it was over, Erin approached me and told me that she admired my passion to learn. She said she needed motivation to learn as she took “unnecessary classes”—as she called them—for her jewelry-making major at a design school in Greenwich Village. The bubbly blonde and I linked up and since then we became best friends. But, Khalfani and I have an extensive history. He was my first love. My first everything. But Erin didn’t know that.
Khalfani growled in exasperation over the phone, “Ugh no, that’s not what I mean! We were together in high school and on-and-off in college, but we’re over now. We’re twenty-nine years old! We’ve both changed.”
Angrily, I pushed my way through the huge crowd as I crossed onto another block. Two more blocks before you can call for a taxi. If my feet could talk, they would be praising at that realization.
I took a deep breath, preparing to try another approach. “I know you still love me, Khal,” I challenged, purposely calling him by his nickname.
He released a sigh, sounding annoyed. “Layla, you know I have and will always have love for you. But . . . I love Erin.”
No matter how many times he said it, he could never convince me that he loves her the way that he loves me. I don’t even think he loves her as much as he says he does. He could even be trying to convince himself. I know him, and something is up.
“You know I don’t believe you, right?” Over the phone, he mumbled oppositions, but I continued, “Look, I’m tryna do you a favor. If you really go through with this marriage, you’re going to be miserable.” Before he could say something, I spoke up again, “You and I both know that.”
“And what makes you think that?” His rich voice deepened.
I caught my breath as I surveyed the street for cars. “She’s not me,” I boldly proclaimed the truth with a smirk pulling at my face. I crossed onto another block.
He groaned, indicating his frustration and anger. “Really? Are you serious right now?—,”
“Yes. I am.”
“Oh my God— but isn’t that your best friend? Don’t you want her to be happy? I make her happy,” he said definitively and with anybody else, he would’ve convinced them, but not me.
“Sure, she’s happy,” I bubbly responded. “You made me happy—granted you broke up with me the last time—but I know exactly how she’s feeling.” Once again, he groaned into the phone. I knew he was fed up with me, but he needed to understand something, “You and I both,” I said sharply, “know that you’re not happy in this relationship . . . otherwise you wouldn’t be crawling over to my place all hours of the night.”
Khalfani sighed heavily, “Layla, I’m done playin’ games witchu.”
“And I’m done playin’ games witchu! Khalfani, you confuse me. You want me in private, but you’re with Erin in public? That doesn’t make sense! I don’t even think you know what you’re doing!” I could feel my blood boiling and my heartbeat quickening, so I took a breather to simmer down. “I’m not going to continue to be your little safe haven that you escape to when you want something in your comfort zone. That’s not fair to me or to her. Because how I see it, whether you like it or not . . . you’re not nervous, you’re just still in love with me.” I knew I sounded a little insane, but it was the truth: Khalfani Bishop was still in love with me, Layla Kirkland.
I crossed the last block, waved down a yellow taxi cab, and shortly, one stopped alongside the curb.
“I told you why I did that—I was—,”
“Doesn’t matter. You showed up more than once.” I opened the door, set my purse in the opposite seat, closed the door, and secured the seat belt across my body. After shaking my wavy bob out of my face and taking a much-needed deep breath, I recited the address of the bridal boutique to the driver before he pulled off into the crowded street.
“Okay so look, I’m on my way to Erin’s bridal fitting, so Imma lay it out for you: I love you and as confusing as you are, I know you love me, too.” Khal started protesting unclearly, but I kept going. “You may say you love her, but I know you.” I took another deep breath as a smile crept its way across my face. “If you love her like you say you do, then don’t come over tonight. But if you don’t, you know where to find me. I’ll have dinner ready by seven.” And with that, I hung up. Knowing Mr. Khalfani Bishop, I was certain that he’d come over. The nosy taxi driver chortled while eying me in the rearview mirror and shook his head, causing me to scoff at his childishness.
To clear my head, I began to scroll through my Twitter feed, reading the positive reviews about my last podcast episode.
Around 6:52, I was shuffling around my modern kitchen, clad in sexy black lace lingerie under a matching robe that complimented my cinnamon-brown skin. I began garnishing my dinner for two: seared salmon, roasted potatoes, broccolini, and of course wine.
A knock echoed from the door. Hmmm, I’m surprised Khal knocked, considering he has a key. “Come in!” The locks shifted and I heard the door swing open. When I turned around, I saw Khal standing there, wearing a burgundy dress shirt with the first two buttons undone, black pants, and polished brown Brogues. Even though he was staring at me with a blank expression, he looked so good. My eyes drank Khalfani in, admiring his slender fit body under his business attire. He proudly displayed his stereotypical black features: his sponge-curled fade as well as his broad nose and full lips. But my ogling came to a halt when Erin rounded the corner. She wore her outfit from earlier: a turquoise blouse under a white denim jacket, striped culottes, tan chunky block heels, and silver jewelry from her line.
I quickly tried to wrap myself in my robe as much as I could. With wide eyes and a bright smile, I greeted, “Oh hi! I wasn’t expecting you guys. I was—I was uh f-f-finishing up dinner. I have, uh, someone coming over—,”
“Stop it, Layla! Just stop it!” Erin cried with pity, impatience, and disappointment in her voice. Her cerulean blue eyes pleaded with me as if to say, How could you? “Khalfani told me everything . . . so, you can stop,” she croaked, signifying oncoming tears.
My eyes darted between her and Khalfani as I swallowed a thick mass that decided to grow in my throat. “Wh-what? I-I don’t kn—,”
“Really, Layla? You don’t know? Yes, you do.” She took a deep breath then continued, “I came over here tonight with Khal to show you that I’m not going anywhere.” She crossed her arms and shifted all of her weight to one leg, assuming the powerful air of her father.
I’ve known Erin for a long time, and this was the first time I’d ever seen that side of her. It was actually quite scary, considering how she’d always been such a sweet and bubbly person. I guess it took this situation to happen for me to see her in that way.
“We love each other, and you need to move on. Back off! Stop trying to seduce him!”
Neither of us tried to do anything—we just did it. He lied to her. He started it! This shit wasn’t fair! But I let her continue.
“We’re getting married in a month—like it or not. Whatever you and Khal had years ago, is over—looonng over. He’s with me now and he’s happy.” She glanced over at him and he offered her a reassuring smirk.
No, he’s not. He’s lying. I don’t believe him.
“Now, you know I don’t like drama, so you’re still going to be my maid of honor, but . . .” She fanned her face, calming herself down for what she was about to say. “After that, we’re done.” Her voice trembled as a tear made its debut and streamed down her tan face.
I stood there with a weight on my chest, still clutching that goddamn bottle of wine. I sat it down on the glass table as if that would lighten the burden, but in fact, it just made it heavier. Now, I was sinking in guilt and an escape looked less and less promising.
Erin cleared her throat, demanding my attention. “Oh, and another thing . . . when we get back from our honeymoon, I don’t want you here. I want you gone. Out of the city.”
My eyes widened at her ridiculous demand. “Out of the city? You can’t do tha—,” The weight ascended my esophagus and blocked my protests from ejecting out of my mouth. Now, I was pissed. I stole a glimpse of Khalfani to see if he agreed with her, but before my eyes could connect with his, I felt the sting of a hand against my face.
“Yes, I can, Layla!” Erin commenced into a tiny fit: her little fists beating the air beside her as she stomped and groaned in rage. I clutched my face, the sting settling like a retreating wave on a beach.
“You’re supposed to be my best friend!” What seemed like an everlasting spring of tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. “You’re not supposed to hurt me and—dammit Layla—this shit hurts!” She wiped away her tears as Khalfani went to rub her arms, which seemed to calm her down. The image of him comforting her made my stomach churn.
“Khal and I are starting a new life together . . . as a married couple,” she pronounced married very slowly as if I didn’t understand what that meant. “You have six weeks to pack, find a job, and leave. Get the hell outta here!” She couldn’t be serious . . . could she? My whole life was here in New York: my successful career, my growing podcast, my connections, my friends—it’s unfair! She can’t make me move anywhere.
“So I’m just supposed to do as you say—,”
Erin interrupted me by roughly rummaging through her purse and once she found what she was looking for, she threw it in the plate I made for myself. It was a check. “That’s $20,000. Take the money and use it to get the fuck out of here, Layla!” And with that, she stormed out of my kitchen and towards the door.
Khalfani just stood there, looking at me. We held eye contact, but I couldn’t decipher what could possibly be going on in that confusing head of his. His face maintained an unreadable expression . . . as if he was empathizing for me.
“C’mon, Khal!” Erin’s command broke him out of his heavy gaze and he left hastily, softly closing the door behind him as if that would ease the situation.
I stood there, alone in my kitchen. Cold in my sexy get-up.
I guess he really doesn’t love me.