Lovers & Liars

Teri Denine

St. Martin's Griffin

 
ONE
GET UP!” a male voice yelled. It was pitch black in the room, so Journey couldn’t see anything. She felt a hand pulling her hair and another squeezing her throat at the same time. He pulled her from the bed and down to the floor. A crack over the head with something dull almost made her black out. She fought with everything in her to stay conscious. “Chris …” Journey tried to call out for her husband, Christopher, who had been lying right next to her, but her voice wasn’t strong enough. Fear had her in its grip, and it wasn’t letting go. She tried again: “Chris …”
Where was Chris? she wondered. Who were these men, and what had they done with her husband? What were they going to do with her? She was paralyzed with fear.
“Help … ,” she said again, weakly, as another set of strong arms grabbed her legs and pulled them apart. They were going to rape her! Journey was frantic now. Her breathing was erratic. Her eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness, and she could almost make out the face of the bigger man who held her legs. She tried hard to commit what she saw to her memory. She would need to describe him later.
“Don’t look at me, bitch! Close your eyes!” he said, crashing his fist into her mouth.
She could feel the blood trickle into her mouth and to the back of her throat. It gagged her. She began to cough. “Christopher!” she finally blurted out.
“What!” he answered, annoyed. “There you go with that shit again. You know we have to get up early in the morning! Go back to sleep!”
Journey welcomed Christopher’s yelling this time. She was happy just to know they were both okay. And he was right: Her bad dreams were becoming a pattern. That was what the stress did. Journey laid her head down. She tucked her pillow back tightly underneath her head and dozed off. The telephone rang almost immediately after she fell asleep. Journey thought she was dreaming again, except the phone kept ringing urgently. She reached over to answer it. “Hello?” she said in a groggy voice.
“I just wanted to tell you that the car is coming around in thirty minutes,” said Jada, her best friend.
“What time is it?” Journey asked.
“It’s five thirty. We have to be at the studio at six thirty. Are you still in bed?”
Journey didn’t answer her. She just hung up the phone. Journey had been on automatic pilot for weeks. Thinking back, she couldn’t remember when she had ever been so tired. It wasn’t just physical fatigue; it was mental, too. For the past three months, she had been living by a grueling schedule, which she had no control over.
Journey was an R & B superstar. She was a beautiful woman by anybody’s standards, with a coffee-brown complexion, wide doelike eyes, and silky jet-black hair that was layered down to her shoulders. She had been grinding her way up for years, working cheap local clubs and lounges just to be seen and heard by anybody who cared to listen, in the hopes of making a connection. It wasn’t an easy climb. She had kissed a whole lot of frogs and suffered many broken promises before she finally found her prince. When Journey first met Christopher, he was the most handsome and sexiest man she had ever seen. They hadn’t gotten off to a good start when they were kids in high school, but now he looked right and he talked right, telling her all the things she wanted to hear. The throb that happened between her legs every time he spoke let her know there was no need to second-guess him. And she never did.
That felt like a lifetime ago, and now here she was at the top of the charts, the newly crowned princess of soul, with music videos to be shot and contracts to fulfill and a whole world to please. The long dance lessons and recording sessions, the gym workouts to keep her slender toned figure in check, and the diet regimens were all taking their toll on her. At twenty-nine years old, Journey already felt she was getting too old for the entertainment business. There was a time when all the appointments, engagements, and all-night parties had come easy.
Now, she could swear that if she stood still long enough, she could hear her biological clock ticking. She didn’t even want to think about that right now, because she knew she would only get herself upset and more stressed out. Christopher had promised her that they would start a family immediately after they got married, in spite of her career, since she wanted that so badly. He said that the two of them would work extra hard to make the family and the career work. But that didn’t happen, because whenever they made love, Christopher insisted on using condoms. And even at those rare times when she was able to convince him not to use a condom, he still pulled out of her right before he ejaculated.
But Journey had learned to keep her mouth shut about that. It was a sensitive topic for Christopher. He let her know as much the last time she cried about wanting a baby. They had just finished making love and Journey went into the bathroom to freshen up. Christopher had disappointed her again, and she needed to confront him about it once and for all. She had been monitoring her temperature every day so that she would know exactly when she was ovulating, and this was more than likely the night she would have conceived. She was angry and she was sick and tired of waiting for him to come around.
“Christopher, why did you lie to me?” she said, standing over him with one hand on her hip.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“You never wanted kids. I would have appreciated it if you had told me the truth from the beginning. I hate a liar,” Journey said. Her voice trembled as she fought back tears. She huffed and started to walk around to her side of the bed.
“What did you just call me?” Christopher yelled. He jumped out of bed and was right on her heels.
“I called you a liar!” Lightning filled her eye as Christopher slapped her across her face.
He grabbed her by the neck and backed her up against the wall with his fingers digging into her neck. “I’ll give you something to appreciate. Appreciate the fact that you have me next to you trying to help you achieve greatness. And I’m tellin’ you right now—don’t you ever, ever disrespect me in my house again. You got me?” Christopher let her loose with a shove against the wall.
They went to sleep that night with the understanding that having a baby was no longer a topic of discussion. The fact that Journey didn’t express her desire to have a family didn’t stop the fact that a hole was burning in her heart. She was empty. Lonely. But every day, when the camera lights shone in her face and fans demanded autographs, every time an interviewer interviewed her, Journey smiled big and bright. No one could ever know that it was a facade.
At 6:30 A.M. sharp, the studio was packed with people as usual. It was a big day. Journey’s hit song “Surprise Me” was about to be immortalized in a music video. Journey had done numerous music videos before, but for some reason this one made her particularly nervous. She had spent weeks working with one of the best choreographers in the game. Shane Sparks made her look like she could actually dance, but she wasn’t completely comfortable with the dance routine, and she knew she hadn’t been focused lately. Stress felt like it had settled in for good and was starting to wreak havoc in everything she attempted.
Journey was doing good so far with the routine. She was dancing center stage with a group of six well-toned women who all happened to look like Journey, with long flowing hair flying in all directions on the stage. She concentrated hard. She was determined not to screw up. She didn’t want to hear Christopher yelling at her today and embarrassing her in front of everybody. She couldn’t bear that. When Plash, the male dancer, made his way over to her and they began gyrating against one another, she knew she was halfway through it. A few minutes more, and she would be done. That’s how her thinking went lately. She would just “get through” everything.
“Cut! That’s a wrap!” Dave Meyers, the video director, yelled.
Journey hugged Plash and then walked off the stage. She spotted Christopher and went over to him. “How was that?” she asked him, convinced that he couldn’t find anything bad to say.
“You did good, you did good,” Christopher answered, almost absentmindedly. “Somebody get over here and wipe her down,” he demanded. “She’s all wet!” He rushed away, making a note in his clipboard.
Journey stood there, looking behind him. She was a little disheartened. She was hoping he had been just a little impressed and that he would say something nice about her performance. He had been on her case for so long for not doing anything right, she thought he would have been glad to see she was doing a lot better than before. As successful as Journey had become, somehow Christopher still always managed to make her feel like she wasn’t good enough.
Before Journey could think twice, two women were all over her, one wiping her down with a towel and the other patting her hair and dabbing at her makeup.
Jada came over to her. Her friend was a slender five-nine, with skin the color of dark smooth cocoa. Jada wore a neat, shiny cropped haircut like Anita Baker’s. “You’d better step it up a little bit. You have the MTV gig in about forty minutes, and we have that radio thing after that,” Jada said, speaking quickly, hoping that Journey would snap to it before Christopher got to her.
“What radio thing? And I didn’t know anything about a gig with MTV today. Am I performing?” Journey asked.
Christopher rushed over to them. “What are you doing? Why aren’t you getting dressed? Wardrobe!” he yelled over his shoulder. “Get yourself together, Journey. We got three minutes to be out of here.” Christopher stormed off again.
Journey took a deep breath and exhaled. “You know, it would be so much easier if he would just tell me what’s going on sometimes. He acts like I don’t matter. Like I’m just a part of the program.”
“You are the program, honey, and everybody—including Christopher—knows that,” Jada said.
“Then why can’t my program show me having at least a twentyminute nap?”
“Look, you know there ain’t no rest for the weary. Let’s rock, girl, before I have to come rescue your ass from Christopher’s wrath.”
Journey gave Jada a cynical smirk. She didn’t think that remark was very funny.
LOVERS & LIARS. Copyright © 2009 by Teri Denine. All rights reserved.