“I'm not crazy or a racist,” I declared vehemently as I briefly took my eyes off of the wet road leading away from the downtown metropolitan area.
A light dusting of snow melted as it hit the black asphalt and splashed against the speeding tires of a small sports car. The snowstorm was beginning. The skies were darkening with a pre-winterstorm fog that hid every star from sight.
It was going to be a nasty blizzard just as the weather channel had predicted.
I searched the center divide of my car looking for the cell phone which I had propped up in the coin tray moments before pulling out of the parking lot at work.
It was glowing from the tray and lighting the dim interior of the roadster. The device was on speaker and blasting our heated conversation about the vehicle.
I located the wide screen and stared at it in disbelief.
How could my brother accuse me of being prejudice? I wasn't. I tried very hard to treat all people fairly. I'd never discriminate against a person for being black— Spanish— or whatever— In fact, I went out of my way to find qualified minority applicants.
I quickly redirected my eyes to the highway. I didn't want to cause an accident simply because I was arguing with my brother while driving. I could not let me temper distract me from the road or the vehicles around me. Fortunately the expanse of highway I traveled was deserted.
It was another sign of the impending storm. Most places of business had closed hours ago. Many weren't waiting for a state of emergency to be declared.
“Eric, you know me—” I tried to explain, but my youngest sibling wouldn't even let me finish my statement. He was on the attack again.
“That's exactly why I'm telling you this before you make another big mistake.”
“What mistake? What are you talking about?” I questioned while noticing that the light flurries of snow were changing in size and shape as they hit the windshield. The wipers swept them away, but I had to increase the speed in which they did it.
“I was at this week's financial meeting. I saw the reports. I know we didn't make a lot of sales during the summer which should have been our busiest time of the year—”
“And your point is?” I probed. “How does that equate with me being a crazy racist bitc—”
“Hey sis, I didn't use those words.”
“You might as well have. It feels like you said them to me. I'm reacting as though you did.”
“Well I didn't. I do not like cursing. I can express myself without that inflammatory, derogatory term. However, what you are planning to do is very wrong. You cannot close an entire factory simply because its employees are black. It's unthinkable.”
“Ohhhhh, so that's what this is all about? The Quaker Bicycle Factory. You think my decision to close its doors in a few days is based on race?”
“I know it is. Only blacks works there–”
I was slowly beginning to realize what this discussion was really about. My baby brother was not championing the rights of a factory to stay open, but instead arguing to keep his girlfriend's job. I knew that he was seeing a woman at the factory, but I didn't know it was serious. Not serious enough for Eric to question my business making decisions.
“This is about Tariqua, isn't it?” I ask suddenly feeling a bit of relief. For one actual moment, I truly believed that my brother thought I was prejudice.
“She is not the issue—”
I immediately cut him off, “If you want to save your friend from unemployment, then do so. Hire her. Give her a job in your office. Introduce her to all of your business colleagues,” I said sarcastically. “But don't use me or racism as a means to do it. This is a business decision. Since the city has started the bikes for rent program our sales have plummeted. We cannot afford to keep the Quaker Bicycle Factory open. It's not cost effective.”
“Tariqua is only one person. What about the other people working for you. They have families. It's the holiday's. You aren't closing our other factory. There is a bike rental program going on in that city as well, but all of those employees are white. This isn't how we do business.”
“Look, I'm sorry Eric, but you chose that location. You were the one who hired the people for that factory and unfortunately now you are going to be the one who shuts it down. But, it's not all bad news. They'll still get unemployment—”
“I want more time, Alexandria,” I heard my brother's voice change to a plea. “Let me try to figure something out. The factory can still make money— give me time to come up with a few proposals.”
“Eric the Quaker Bicycle Factory is not going to suddenly make us money simply because you want it to. We are going to close it, sell the property and invest in the other location. That's how business is done.”
“It's not how I do business,” he concluded. “Please think about what I'm asking. I went to business school for a reason. I can turn this situation around. You can still come out not looking like a racist—”
“If you call me that again, I am going to turn this car around and drive straight to your house. I swear I will—”
“You do that. Then we can have this conversation face to face,” he challenged.
“You know I can't,” I said finally feeling the strain from arguing with my little brother. “I'm house sitting. I promised my girlfriend, Rachel that I'd do it. She had to cancel at the last minute and asked me to fill in for her. I'm looking forward to hiding away in the mountains for a weekend. I just hope I don't get snowbound,” I laugh trying to lighten the mood between my brother and myself. We hardly ever argued. Our conversations usually stayed away from explosive topics. We never discussed religion, politics or race, but obviously today was going to be one of those exceptions.
“Are you almost there?” asked Eric. “I hear the roads are going worse.”
“Don't pretend to care,” I said playfully still slightly offended by his earlier remarks.
“Seriously Sis, get off the roads. I do not want you to get into an accident or stuck on an abandoned highway.”
“Maybe that would solve your problem. You said you wanted more time?”
“I do, but not under those circumstances. You may be the CEO, but you are also my sister. Call me when you get to the mountains,” said Eric. “And think about the other stuff too.”
Eric didn't give me a chance to respond to his request. He hung up and my phone when silent. I reached blindly for it and disconnected the call...
My eyes had adjusted to the inclement weather by the time I pulled the sport car onto the graveled driveway of a winter wonderland.
The bricked house looked Christmas-card-perfect. All of the windows displayed lit candles that glowed with holiday cheer. A festive wreath hung from the front door and appeared to been handcrafted. It was beautiful and one couldn't resist staring at it.
I gazed from the car in awe.
The front of the house was marked by huge barren trees that cradled layers of snow within the folds of their branches.
Who owned such a magnificent piece of land? And, how could they bare to leave it for any reason?
I recalled my girlfriend saying that the people who owned the place were out of the country visiting relatives. She didn't elaborate much further than that, but I assumed it was a husband, wife and children.
Who else would buy a luxuriant place like this? It had family stamped all over the house.
The serenity and peace emphasized the holiday season. This was a house built for love. It was made for a large family. I could imagine chasing children along the snow covered grounds and tossing snowballs in all directions— aiming at the children closest to me.
I smiled wishfully. I wanted such a family. I loved humongous families. I came from one with lots of aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, nieces, nephews, grandparents...
The holidays were always elaborate and spiced with love and tradition.
I couldn't wait to celebrate this Christmas with everyone. I was secretly counting down the days— just as enthusiastically as when I was a child.
I began to hum, 'It's a Marshmallow World.' The song always came to mind when I saw landscapes of snow. And, trees dripping with icicles.
I unlocked the driver's door, stepped out and into inches of snow. My boots sank softly. I also loved walking in the snow. Slamming the door harder than I'd intended, I lifted the trunk containing an overnight bag.
I searched my handbag for the keys to the house before I headed toward its inviting entrance. I expected to hear husky dogs barking from the windows. I imagined sugar cookies baking in the oven— yes, I have a very active imagination when it comes to this time of the year.
As I made my way up the heavily covered steps, I wondered where I'd find a shovel. I was definitely going to have to dig my way out of this place once the blizzard really arrived.
Unlocking the front door took some doing. There were several keys on the ring that I was given. Two opened the main door, but I had no idea what the others were used for. I tossed them back in my bag and pushed the door aside.
The house was as beautiful as it promised to be. I saw a living room some distance from the foyer, that was dimly lit by more electric candles. The furniture was wood, antique and polished. The artwork on the wall was scenic and tasteful.
I allowed my eyes to travel a little further and I noted a dining hall with impressive chairs situated around a long table. Above its center huge a crystal chandelier.
The wife definitely had taste.
I shook the snowflakes from my hair, deposited my bags on the marble floor and locked the door.
I was hungry.
I assumed the kitchen was situated behind the dinning room and I began walking in that direction. I hoped I'd find something that I could prepare within minutes. I hadn't eaten since noon. That was hours ago.
I thought again about my brother Eric and our bizarre argument. He was not a man to idly throw accusations around, but he was dead wrong. I took no pleasure in closing the factory. I had nothing against minorities.
I then reluctantly thought of the staff members at the financial meeting.
None where black, but what did that prove? If a qualified minority applicant had applied for one of those positioned, I'd have considered him.
I brushed the feelings of doubt aside as I entered the kitchen. It was immaculate, very white and accessorized with silver appliances. The stove was stainless steel so was the refrigerator.
Looking around the place, I was enticed to take advantage of such a kitchen. I had a desire to cook a meal for myself— something I hadn't done in months. I was usually too busy traveling, arranging meets, or strategizing the next move for my company.
“Well it's the weekend,” I announced walking over to the refrigerator. I opened it not sure of what to expect. The fully stocked shelves surprised me for either Rachel or the family living there had left provisions— plenty of them.
I glanced at the paper-wrapped packages lining the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. I reached for one and read a butcher's label. Sirloin Steak. I returned it to the shelf and picked up another package. Chicken breasts.
I smiled. That was going to be my choice. I loved chicken tenders— especially when prepared from scratch.
“What else do we have?” I questioned as I shed my coat and placed it on a wall hook. I didn't belief that it had been placed there for my purpose, but I decided upon entering this house to make myself comfortable for the next few days. Of course, I'd tidy up before leaving, but for now this was home.
And, a beautiful one at that.
I washed my hands and then began moving about the kitchen with ease. I placed my cell phone on the counter after logging onto YouTube and searching for Christmas songs. I selected a play list of old classics.
I needed to set the mood. I thought briefly of Eric, but refused to call my brother. Let him worry.
I searched the freezer for microwaveable vegetables and perhaps a starch. Broccoli seemed to be a family favorite. I chose the one with the zesty white cheddar sauce.
In no time, I had the table set for one in the dinning hall. I even selected a bottle of expensive wine. I should not have opened it, but I did.
Blame it on the Holidays, I consoled myself, before pouring another glass of post-dinner drinks. Soon that drink lead to another and another until the bottle was empty.
Encouraged by the music and nostalgic memories of the past, I returned to the large bar stationed in one corner of the dinning hall.
This time I chose a whiskey to drink. Whiskey Sours were my mother's favorite. I'd watch her sip them at every family function. She always drank with such sophistication.
I tried to mimic her as I held my glass and picked up the heavy bottle of alcohol. I retrieved my coat from the kitchen and strolled through the house.
I was its new mistress. And at that precise moment, I was going to sit on the front porch. I was going to enjoy the blizzard first hand.
I grabbed my handbag just before exiting the foyer. It wouldn't due to get locked outside. Especially since I hadn't seen another house for miles...
“Are you trying to die from hypothermia?” a warm cheerful voice whispered into my ear. “You may get a euphoric thrill in the beginning, but I assure you; it won't last.”
My emerald eyes flickered as I tried to makes sense out of what I was hearing. I moved my head and struggled with my eyelashes. They were concealing my vision.
“I'm celebrating,” I admitted in a slurred voice.
“I can see that,” he said towering over me.
I opened my eyes fully and stared at a man dressed in a thick black fur coat. He was huge in size and dwarfed my tiny frame.
But he was magnificent to look at. I lost my breath while staring.
“Who are you?” I asked pulling myself upright and into a sitting position. I gradually acknowledged where I was and that perhaps I'd had a bit too much to drink. Judging by my empty glass, I was correct.
The man stooped to my eye level and flicked windblown flakes from my black lashes.
He was African American. I widened my eyes in surprise. His skin was a medium brown— a shade very similar to caramel. His eyes were a toffee brown.
He was an attractive man. Practically gorgeous. Almost perfect. Were most black men this good looking? I leaned in closer and continued to stare. I inspected every feature of his face.
He was something to behold. I quickly glanced away. Those thoughts were new to me, foreign and quite disturbing.
Black men were predators. They stole from society. They ended up in jail. They were repeat offenders.
“You have to go,” I said realizing as I spoke how much panic I allowed my words to reveal.
He looked at me. He seemed to be a bit confused.
“You have to get out of here,” my voice rose in volume.
He spoke suddenly realizing that I was afraid of him, “The roads are too dangerous to drive on. No one can make it down that mountain. Besides there is a state of emergency in affect.”
“You cannot stay here,” I repeated.