Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Enticing Mr. Wrong - Ch. 2.2

Thirty minutes into Aisha and Fredrico’s impromptu meeting, Berry entered the office with a pleasant smile on his lips, curiosity dancing in his eyes, and a silver tray containing herbal tea in his hands.

Fredrico suppressed a grimace at the appearance of the salon’s nosiest employee. Berry always wanted to know everything that was going on around him. Unfortunately, he always talked about everything that was going on around him, too.

If Fredrico had had his way he would have fired Berry a long time ago. But Dominic had refused to give any of the senior stylists that kind of authority. He also wouldn’t listen to any talk of firing Berry, which frustrated Fredrico even further.

Brown noser. Little errand boy, Fredrico thought with disdain as he watched Berry suck up to the new owner the same way he’d done with the old one. Feeling his acid displeasure sour the milk in his belly, Fredrico turned to look out the window least he throw up his entire breakfast.

“I thought you two might like some of our delicious tea,” Berry said, talking to them both but looking at Aisha.

“Why thank you, Berry,” Aisha said, giving him a warm smile as she received one of the silver and blue cups he handed her.

Fredrico just shook his head at Berry’s offer, not even bothering to turn around.

“You’re welcome, Ms. Burgess.” Berry smiled wider at the woman sitting at the cherry-wood desk in the northeast corner of the room. His body relaxed a bit in hopes that maybe there wasn’t anything to worry about after all. As for Fredrico, Berry could take or leave the man that couldn’t even accept a cup of tea offered in kindness. Much less turn around to face him when he declined.

“Actually, it’s Ms. Norwood. Dominic and I had different fathers.” Aisha took a sip of tea. It tasted delicious…and expensive, which was yet another reason to look at the books.

The salon had to be doing pretty good to afford specialty tea from overseas. Not to forget the large, custom-made aquarium, chic entertainment set, and fully-loaded computer equipment nestled in Dominic’s office.

“Different fathers, huh?” Berry took a tiny sip from the cup Fredrico had refused. “No wonder you look so different from each other. However, those dimples are pretty much the same. Deep and delightful.” Berry chuckled softly at his own wit.

Aisha laughed, too. She needed that laugh after the rough couple of weeks she’d had. And also after the tense meeting she’d just had with Fredrico. It had been like talking to an automated recording – Press 1, if you want to know how many suppliers we have. Press 2 for a list of vendors. Just cold and unfeeling with no personality at all.

“No need to suck up, Berry. I already like you,” Aisha said. Actually she’d liked the outspoken man from the moment she saw him out front. Berry’s energetic spirit reminded her of Dominic when he was younger. Perhaps that was one of the reasons he’d been hired and kept on.

“You do? What a relief.” Berry pretended to wipe imaginary sweat off his forehead with his free hand. “I guess I can save my compliment about how much you look like the beautiful LisaRaye McCoy, huh?”

Aisha laughed again. She imagined it was hard for anyone to dislike Berry. “Actually, I like that compliment, so I’ll take it along with my delicious tea. Since you’re already in here, Berry, how about I let you be the very next employee I meet with today.”

“That suits me just fine, Ms. Norwood,” Berry said, settling beside Fredrico on the dark blue visitor’s couch, prompting the other man to finally look at him.

“Great.” Then Aisha turned to address Fredrico. “I have no more questions for you at this time. You may leave now, Fredrico. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to continue to use my brother’s office for the rest of the day. I want to meet privately with everyone before we have our first staff meeting tomorrow morning.”

Aware that he was being dismissed, Fredrico rose to his feet with a stiff nod. He did his best to hide his anger and disappointment. He was angry about being told to leave the office he’d occupied over the last two weeks. The office he’d basically claimed as his own. He was disappointed at not being able to talk to Aisha longer.

Fredrico would have liked to pick her brain about a few things since the last half hour had consisted of her asking all the questions. He particularly wanted to know why Aisha was named owner over him when she knew next to nothing about running a salon. Surely Dominic hadn’t put that much stock in his sister’s business degree, which by her own admission, she hadn’t used in years.

“I’ll have those records you requested by lunchtime,” Fredrico replied through a tight mouth before leaving the room. Then he walked out just as stiffly as he’d spoken.

“Is he always so easily offended?” Aisha asked when she and Berry were finally alone.

Berry waved his co-worker’s behavior off with a dismissive flip of the hand. “Yes. Frustrated Freddy is always uptight about something or the other. Just ask his wife and kids.” He chuckled. “But he is a fierce hairstylist. One of the best the salon has ever had. Besides Faith and myself, of course,” he added, pointing confidently to himself.

“Of course,” Aisha agreed with a grin. She liked Berry more and more with each passing second. Especially since his confidence didn’t have a touch of arrogance in it. “So tell me, Berry, what else do I need to know about the people here at the salon?”

Always ready to gossip, Berry’s eyes lit up. When he opened his mouth again, it remained opened for quite some time. Over time the conversation eventually turned to the subject of Dominic. That’s when Berry solemnly admitted that every employee in the salon knew about her brother’s ‘secret’ drug addiction.

Aisha instantly frowned at this admission. “Why didn’t anybody say something? Or rather do something about it? Were you all that scared of losing your jobs?” she asked, quite aware of the full benefit package the salon had.

Berry looked remorseful. “I can’t answer for everybody else, but I know why I kept quiet.” He took a deep breath and blew it out before continuing. “First of all, Dominic was my boss. He gave me a job when no one else would in this town on account of how many times I failed my boards. I felt that I would be betraying him by snitching to his family.” He took another deep breath, as if he needed it to hold himself together.

Aisha nodded in understanding. She remained silent while Berry collected himself enough to continue.

“The second reason I kept my mouth shut is because Dominic seemed like he had a good handle on things,” Berry continued. “His addiction never affected his ability to manage the salon and not once did he miss payroll.”

“Dominic didn’t miss payroll, Berry, because he constantly borrowed money from me and no doubt a few other sources,” Aisha disclosed, though she had yet to prove the latter. However, one quick look in the company books would definitely confirm her suspicions.

Berry’s eyes watered. “I’m so sorry, Ms. Norwood. I now see that I should have said something. Maybe if I had, Dominic would still be alive today.” Unable to meet her eyes, he looked towards the window.

Aisha patted him on the hand in comfort. “Don’t beat yourself up too bad, Berry. We all have our regrets about Dominic, me included.”

Berry turned to face her again. “You have regrets? But Dominic thought you were the most perfect sister in the world. He always bragged on you. Always made sure we had multiple copies of any magazine you appeared in.”

Aisha smiled. “I’m far from perfect, but it’s nice to know that he thought I was.” Her brows creased briefly in grief. “If I had been perfect, I would have picked up on his problem without having to be told, considering how close we were.”

“To be honest, Ms. Norwood, I don’t think we would have picked up on Dominic’s addiction either, if he hadn’t been so accommodating to the women of a known drug dealer in the area.” Berry’s nose wrinkled in distaste. “Those witches never paid for anything, were poor tippers, and always wanted the works. We all hated servicing them, except for Fredrico. He didn’t seem to mind too much.”

“Who is this drug dealer?” Aisha asked, feeling her temper rise hotter than the tea she consumed a few minutes ago.

“Some guy named Bonz,” Berry replied. “I saw him at Dominic’s house once or twice when I was dropping off your brother’s dry cleaning. Since Bonz is far from gay, I figured he was dropping off a little something of his own.”

“When was the last time you saw this Bonz guy?” Aisha asked, trying to maintain her calm. Her hands clenched and unclenched on the desk.

Remembering the exact date, Berry swallowed hard before answering. “The same night Dominic died. Faith says he came into the shop a few days later with one of his women, but I was off that day.”

“I see,” Aisha replied quietly, allowing her anger to fester in a pool of bitterness. “That’ll be all for now, Berry. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate you telling me all this.”

“You’re welcome, Ms. Norwood.” Berry stood to his feet.

Pushing her bitterness aside for the moment, Aisha smiled up at him. “Enough of that Ms. Norwood stuff. Call me Aisha,” she said. “Besides the fact that I like you, Berry, it’s obvious that Dominic operated on a first-name basis around here. I see no need to change that.”

“All right, Aisha.” Berry smiled, waving goodbye to her. Then he sashayed towards the door with that unique walk of his.

Aisha’s smile only lasted for a few seconds after Berry left. Her mind was too busy churning with the fact that she’d just found a reason to stay in Georgia indefinitely. Or at least until she found a certain drug dealer named Bonz and made him pay for contributing to her brother’s demise.

At this moment, Aisha could care less about building a successful film career via commercials and modeling. At this moment, she knew exactly what it felt like to want to kill someone in cold blood.

© 2005 by Suprina Frazier


Anonymous said...

Great post Suprina. It seems as though Dominim was a good person. He has so many people that care about him...Aisha especially. And I have friends who have dealt with loved ones addicted to drugs. It really affects everyone involved. She's left with so many unanswered questions...and the main person who can answer those questions is dead. Good grief! Marlene

Suprina said...

Marlene: Dominic was a very good person. Unfortunately, good people sometimes become addicted to drugs, too. And yes, drugs not only affect the person doing them, but also all of his/her loved ones.

Thanks for posting!

tonia said...

I understand Berry's dilemma. A first cousin who is an alcoholic and his family is just now finding out. I knew when we were preteens. What do you do with that information? Are you enabling when you know but stay quiet? Drugs and alcohol usage effects us all.

Suprina said...

Tonia: Telling or not telling is a major dilemma for people in the know. On one hand, it is a form of enabling. On the other, you stand to lose the friendship if you do tell.

*sighing and shaking my head in indecision*

All in all, I think I would probably end up telling. I think I would risk losing the friendship over losing the friend to death (overdose).

What does everybody say?


PS. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Tonia.