“Do you have any ideas in mind about the kind of boutique you would like to have?”
It was the right question to ask my fashionista acquaintance, as it would get Sharon to monologuing about her preferred subjects: clothing and herself, and not necessarily in that order, which was what I wanted. If she busied her constricted memory banks with what I considered mindless chatter—if you’ll pardon the pun—then she would not notice exactly where we were headed. Fortunately, the topography was even and I did not need to concern myself with an incline causing a disruption in Sharon’s sloshed stylistic soliloquy. I kept her focused with pointed queries about possible inventory and clientele, and of course, placated her with my offers of pecuniary and managerial support.
About twenty minutes later, when the cold air aided in her sobriety somewhat, we were standing on the corner of Brighton Boulevard and Sherwood Ave, in front of 5101 Sherwood. The six-floor—three up, three down—unoccupied edifice towered over us and one furtive glance to my left confirmed that, along with the glassy eyes brought on by the potent Querciabella, there were dollar signs in Sharon’s eyes. She was inebriated still, and in more ways than one.
“Octaaaviaaah…we’re oooover a miiiiiile away from Donato Casbaaaah! I thought yooooooou said fiffffteeeen minutes.”
She was drunker than I anticipated. I was for certain that the cold air would sober her up. “It has been almost twenty minutes, Sharon. How are your feet?”
“I’m okaaaay,” she slurred, bundling the chinchilla around her body. “Is this the building?”
“Indeed it is.”
She did. “It’s biiiig! Bigger than I thought!”
I put a hand on her arm and walked her towards the boarded doors. “Imagine what you can do with it, dear cousin. You with your flamboyant style, your ostentatious flair! There are many who would appreciate your fashion sense, and how could you not share it with the world?”
“Ahhgree totally, but it feels like…like you’re makin’ fun of me, ‘Tavia.”
I produced a ring of keys and found the one that opened the heavy front door. I’d been here many times over the past few weeks. I ignored her statement. “You should have a floor for accessories, one for clothing, and one for intimate apparel. You can meet with an architect and interior designers, especially in regards to the potential apartment on the top floor. But I must warn you; it is not safe for us to journey upstairs as of yet. However, the main floor and the bottom floors are secure.”
“I’m ready…to go in, ‘Tavia. My feet are hurting.”
“Do you wish to go home, Sharon? My car is right across the street.”
She turned and saw my blood-red Aston Martin Vanquish luminous in the lamp light. Jealousy ate up her face and she looked at me, then at the building, then back at me as I opened the door.
“No, Octavia. I’m…oookay. Just a bit tipsy, but I can handle my liquor.”
“Stand there for a moment,” I said as I stepped inside the foyer and rummaged around for the generator. I located the switch and turned it on. Naked lightbulbs popped on, illuminating the room in 100-watt streams. “I need to turn on the lights so we can see.”
“You got lights in here?”
“Well, I have been coming here with workers to examine the structure. Some of them work at night. I wanted to be assured the property was sound before I brought you here. It will not be sensible to do more work until you have seen 5101 and determined its full potential for yourself.”
Sharon stepped in carefully, holding the collar of the chinchilla closed. I closed the door behind us. She did not move forward and when I turned, I bumped into her and she turned on me. That glazed expression was still in her eyes, but there was also that look, that nasty little gleam that I recognized. I steeled myself because I knew it was coming. I did not know when, but I knew to be on guard.
“Excuse me, Sharon,” I said and moved towards the center of the room. It was very large and my voice echoed. “Go on, walk around. See for yourself.”
She looked at me, at the smile firmly in place. “Are you sure, ‘Tavia?”
“Of course I’m sure. We would not be here otherwise.”
She walked around, looking at the boarded-up windows, the dusty countertops, the dirty but obviously expensive hardwood floors, and even in the dim light, I could see the greed and the gleam. I pocketed the keys and turned around. “This is the opening showroom. Windows should go there,” I pointed—
“If it’s gonna be my building, then I pick where the windows goooo!”
I put my hand down. “All right. If you’re serious about this, then you can design it as you wish.”
“Good.” She stumbled before regaining her footsteps. “Cause I know what I’m doing. And I c’n…can redo this how I want?”
“As we just clarified, but within your budget; absolutely.”
“What’s my budget?”
“Well, I do not know just yet, Sharon. Let’s see the next floor down. There are shelves, but what they can be used for escapes me.”
“I’m shhure it does,” she said as she headed towards the stairwell after I pointed it out. “With your clear lack of fashion sense, it’s a wonder you’re eeeven able to match up anythin’ at all.”
I closed my eyes for a moment and then looked at her. “You’ve seen enough, don’t you think? There’s no point in going lower, Sharon. It is very cold on the bottom floor and I know your feet hurt. We can come out this weekend—"
“An’ have one of ya little friends steal it? Naw, cousin…naw. You’re givin’ it to me and I mean to have it. What, you got a secret down there you don’t want your cuzzo to see?”
“Of course not. I believe it to be just storage space. It’s a smaller room, however. But it could have many uses as far as I could see. It could be living quarters, if one wanted to be ambitious.”
“Sharon, you know me well enough to know that I do not.”
“You scared? Then show me.”
“I’m not. It’s just cold and I’m worrying about your feet.”
“SHOW ME THE DAMN ROOM OCTAVIA! SHIT, YOU WERE ALWAYS A SCAREDY-LITTLE PANTY-WETTING FOUR-EYED CRYBABY!”
I stiffened as decades of tear-glazed memories assuaged my head at once. The name-calling, the insults, the pointy fingers, the messed-up clothes, the blood…and always, the raucous laughter…
“You bet not be crying now, ya selfish bitch. Ya brought me here, see it through. Jeez, why did I even bother…”
“Come on then.” I walked quickly, keeping my emotions cool as the air in the room. Sharon adjusted her chinchilla coat and walked seductively into as if some man—likely someone’s husband—was waiting for her. I knew enough to know that she was single and had been for some time. People grow exhausted of games.
She held on to the railing with one gloved hand and even with that, stumbled on the stairs. I walked behind her, allowing a memory to hold me until we reached the next level down.
“Let me get in front of you, Sharon,” I said. “I have to cut on the generator down here.”
As I walked around her in the narrow stairwell, I bumped against her and she flinched. I opened the door, found the generator nearby and then turned on the light.
“You couldn’t get meee an Aston Martiiin?”
I heard the petulance in her voice and steeled myself as I opened the stairwell door. It was coming, all right.
“Let’s be easy on your feet. Take a look at the room. I thought that it would make appropriate storage space for inventory and delivery. Come see for yourself.”
“You dinna answer my question, ‘Tavia,” she sneered.
“What question was that?”
“The Aston Martin. You coulda have bought ya cousin one of them nice cars, y’know. Ya got plenny o’ money; ya bought a ride for ya two friends and ya boo…but I’m the one that known ya since we was three. Ya coulda bought me a whip like yers.”
“It’s not my job to buy you those things, Sharon. You have plenty of boyfriends that buy you whatever you want.”
Sharon rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically, looking at the room but not actually seeing it. She closed her eyes and bobbed her head. “Not th’ same. Big room…I c’n use it as a shittin—sittin’ room. What's next?”
The space was not as large as the upper floors and I was not surprised that she could not tell the difference. “Sharon, are you sure you want to go down another flight of stairs? You did consume the entire bottle of Querciabella, and it is a very potent vintage.”
“I’m aiight,” she sneered. “I’m grown. I was always good with liquor, better n’ you, goody girl. Lesss go.”
We exited the room and entered the stairwell. I waited until we reached the landing before stepping in front of her. I pushed the door open and moved into the room. I found the generator and turned on the switch. There were several halogen lamps placed around the considerably smaller area. I adjusted my coat and walked into the room. The area was divided into large closets with shelves.
“Intimate items, perhaps? Maybe this room can be used for storage of your inventory. Deliveries can be made in the rear of the building, you know.”
“Yahhh,” she said. I looked at her. She was really drunk. Maybe she drank more than I realized. But my mind was made up; I was focused.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I think you better keep yo’ hands to yo’self, ‘Tavia.”
“You pushed up on me. I may be tipsy but I ain’t drunk. I know what you tryin’ to do and it ain’t gonna work…”
“Sharon, what are you talking about?”
“Is this the only way you can get laid, Octavia? Is this why you really brought me here?”
“Sharon, please. I do not deserve your insults, especially when I am trying to do you a favor.”
“To buy me off, you mean? You brought me here to seduce me and you think that bribing me with a building is gonna work? This the only way you can get you some? Dragging unsuspecting women ‘ere with the promise of money?”
I sighed. “Do you want this property, Sharon? I will not stand here and be insulted. Not anymore. That time has passed.”
I could see the indecision in her eyes. She knew I was wealthy and that I could indeed deliver on my promise to give her the property. However, that evil gleam was becoming prevalent. She was coming after me once more, but this time I was prepared.
“When was the last time you got some pussy?”
I closed my eyes and walked towards the door. “We will leave. You can decide if you want 5101, but I will not stand here and have you degrade me and insult my sexuality.” I turned and angrily walked towards the door.
“’Tavia, don’t leave me. I was just kiddin’! Come on, lighten up! I was just playin’ around! I don’t care that you’re gay!”
Greed is usually victorious in these circumstances.
“Then please, come on,” I said. “I will uphold my end of the deal, but then we will leave. I will call you a cab and see to it that you get home, but consider this the end of our…friendship. I do not have to put up with your homophobia.”
She caught up to me and embraced me from behind. I stepped away from her, turned around and walked back into the room. It was much smaller than the others, as it was fully underground.
“Lighten up, ‘Tavia,” she said, walking up behind me. “You’re so uptight, like you’ve got an ice cube or two shoved in your pussy. Get your girlfriend or whatever to break you off.”
Sharon giggled and slapped my behind. I turned and glared at her. “I suggest you take your advice and keep your hands to yourself.” My voice was chilly, just like my heart. “What about this space? Can it be a storage area for the larger items?”
“Yeah, storage,” she said. She went further into the room.
“For when you switch out your inventory.”
“Maybe,” she said.
“I want you to look at the arrangements of the closet units in back. You can get over on your suppliers if you make use of what’s here.”
I knew Sharon. She was a greedy thief to her core and those words got her attention. I walked all the way back to the farthest corner, where one of the storage areas had its doors open. There were two enormous halogen lamps situated to light the area. I also had a little surprise. There was a bottle of Chardonnay, two glasses, and a small ornate bench sitting just inside the area.
“Izzat another bottle of wine?”
“Of course. It's Pahlmeyer Jayson Chardonnay. I thought we’d celebrate our new partnership. But considering the fact that it is very cold and you are tipsy, maybe we should hold off until later.”
Sharon ran past me in those six-inch stilettos so fast she made my coat sway. In no time, she was sitting on the bench, bottle open and drinking straight out of it, like the uncouth, underhanded, jealous wretch she was. She did not even notice how much colder it was on this floor. Sharon drank like a professional, sucking down the $100 bottle of wine like it was water. Then she cackled and held it out. I held my wineglass, partially extended.
“Oh, did you want some?”
“I thought that was the point. We’re supposed to be celebrating. This is going to be your new home, your place of business. You’ll be a future millionaire. I’ll invest in your business and take care of you. When my investment group sees how well you are profiting, they will want in…and you can control how much of it they have.”
Her eyes lit up like diamonds under a light. “I can? You’d do that for me?”
“Of course. This is better than an Aston Martin, Sharon. This could be a million-dollar enterprise with upscale clientele and every designer will fight to be represented in here.” I waved my hands. “Sharon’s Showcase…what do you think?”
There were dollar signs in her eyes as well as that evil little gleam.
“Sharuunn’s Shoooow…caaaase! Cooool! And each floor could have my name in it and…and, I’m so sleepy now. Maybe it’s too much wine…I’ve been drinking all day…been one of those days…Daddy cut me off; he’s tired of me being so reckless…he keep sayin’ I shoulda been like you…college-educated, business-minded, sensible…and independently wealthy. I’m so tired of them wanting me to be like you, look like you, act like you, talk like you…you’re such a boring bitch; why would any woman worth her salt want to look like you? You’re dull, uninteresting, and you don’t do nothin’ but read books…I told Daddy that you weren’t nothing more than a crazy old lesbo, and that’s all you’ve ever been! You owe me this, Octavia!”
I stood, my back ramrod straight. These were not new insults; not at all. I’d heard those very words for many, many years; vituperative tirades attacking my sexuality, my appearance, my weight, my social awkwardness…no, no, no…nothing that spewed from Sharon’s overpainted lips tonight was innovative. Therefore the barbs had very little power.
“So am I to understand that you do not want this building and the five million dollar investment I was going to make in your business?”
“I’m so sleeeepy,” she said. She should have been; she was quite drunk and walking in those shoes for as long as she did had to be physically exhausting.
“Sharon, please focus. We can go home in a few minutes. I need to know if you want this property and my considerable financial assistance?”
“Occourse,” she said. “Ya can afford it, rich bitch like yourself. Your girlfriend’s rich too, ain’t she?”
“Sharon, please stop with the insults. Do you want this building, yes or no? I have the deed in my car and I will deposit five million dollars in a business account for you on Monday. My financial adviser and my accountant will meet with you and you will start building your empire. I will stay out of your way, but I will keep tabs on your spending. Do we have a deal?”
She stared at me, her eyes simultaneously glazed and mean. “Yahhh, I want the building and ya' money. Deal.”
As I said before, greed always wins in these situations.