XI. Kaphiri, Part 1
Thursday of that same week, Shantreyl woke up with a spontaneous idea: to surprise Malcolm for lunch. He had told her on Tuesday that he usually ate lunch at the Vermilion at three p.m. She was in a good mood and hopefully, would be able to have lunch with him.
She dressed in a pair of dark blue jeans, cute white sandals and a flowy white top with bell sleeves. She pinned the sides of her hair up with combs, applied a little bit of makeup and was out the door after checking her appearance.
The drive to the Vermilion took a little longer than she expected, due to an accident. While stuck at a red light, she texted Malcolm and asked what he was doing. Two minutes later, he wrote back:
In a meeting with some members of the gaming commission. Hopefully it will end soon so I can have lunch. Didn’t eat breakfast this morning.
Shantreyl smiled at the text and smiled even harder when his next text came through.
I’d rather be somewhere with you.
She crossed her fingers and said a quick prayer, hoping that he would indeed be available for lunch.
Fifteen minutes later, she pulled up at the hotel and parked in the parking deck. When she entered the hotel, she went to the concierge’s desk and asked to speak to Malcolm.
The concierge stared at her as if she’d just slapped him. “Mr. Sullivan is unavailable, madam.”
“Would you tell him that I’m here? My name is Shantreyl Troy.”
The concierge said, “Miss Troy, Mr. Sullivan is unavailable.”
Shantreyl sighed. Maybe it was a bit presumptuous to think that she could simply walk into a place like the Vermilion, ask to see the boss and expect for it to actually happen. So she thanked the concierge, walked over to a large potted plant and texted Malcolm once more.
Babe, I’m downstairs in the lobby.
She took a selfie and sent it to him. A few moments later, he wrote back.
What are you doing here, baby?
I wanted to surprise you and hopefully have lunch with you.
I want to see you, Malcolm. Are you still in that meeting?
Yes, but wait a few moments. I’m going to come down to you.
Shantreyl pulled out her compact, checked her hair and makeup and touched up her lip gloss. About five minutes passed and she found herself looking at the confines of the hotel. It was absolutely majestic. She was staring at one of the chandeliers when she felt Malcolm behind her. He slid an arm around her waist and kissed the back of her neck.
“Good afternoon, gorgeous,” he said in a low voice.
Shantreyl turned around and smiled, putting her arms around him. She kissed his lips. “Hello, handsome.”
He held her hand. “You look very pretty today.”
“Thank you. I woke up this morning and all I could think about was you. I wanted to see you and thought it was worth the risk to drive down here in hopes of having lunch with you. You said you normally eat around three.”
Malcolm kissed her hand gently. “I normally do, but this isn’t a customary week. I’ve been tied up with the gaming commission. I won’t be able to have lunch with you today. I’m sorry.”
Shantreyl’s face fell, in spite of knowing that the chances of him being available to eat with her were very low.
Malcolm cupped her cheeks and kissed her forehead. “I wish I’d known you wanted to come down to have lunch with me.”
“It was supposed to be a surprise. I miss you. I wanted to see you.”
“Did you eat anything?”
“Would you mind it if Kaphiri had lunch with you in my stead?”
Shantreyl looked at Malcolm. “Is he not in the meeting with you?”
“He is, but he just listens. I do all the talking, all the negotiating, all of the wheeling and dealing. He can take you out if you want to eat out for lunch. I’d hate to see you all prettied up and nowhere to go.”
Shantreyl nodded. “I’m okay with it but when will I see you again?”
Malcolm kissed her hand again. “Sunday. The cookout is on Sunday. I’m coming to pick up you and your friends.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with having lunch with Kaphiri?”
Shantreyl nodded again. “You told me that he is your stand-in when you can’t be with me. And I like him. He’s interesting. I’m okay having lunch with him.”
“Good. Get to know him better.” Malcolm lifted her chin and kissed her lips. “I trust him with you. He’ll treat you the way I do.”
Shantreyl smiled. “All right. One more thing.”
“What is it?”
“I stupidly walked into this hotel and asked the concierge if I could see you. He said you were unavailable. I gave him my name and it didn’t matter. Then I realized how foolish I must have looked, being that arrogant. What do I do if you invite me here and I can’t get past the front desk?”
Malcolm nodded. He took her hand and walked her to the concierge’s desk. The concierge snapped to attention as if he were in the military. He looked at Shantreyl standing next to Malcolm and his face went red.
“Mr. Sullivan, sir.”
“Hello, Jacob. I want to introduce you to Miss Shantreyl Troy. Miss Troy is a very special friend of mine. If she should come in and ask for me, you call my office at once. She is allowed on my private elevator with a security escort. Please make sure that day, night and swing shifts are familiar with her name and face.”
The concierge bowed his head. “Yes sir, Mr. Sullivan.” He looked at Shantreyl. “Apologies, Miss Troy.”
“No apology necessary,” she said. “You didn’t know me and I didn’t know the procedure.”
“Do we have an understanding, Jacob?” Malcolm said, giving him a look.
“Yes sir, Mr. Sullivan.”
“All right then. Shantreyl, if you will come with me over here…”
She followed him over to a lovely sofa and he asked her to sit down. “Wait here for Kaphiri. He can’t leave the meeting until I return. Again, I’m sorry baby. I’ll make it up to you next week.”
“There’s no need, Malcolm. I’m the one who decided to be spontaneous without thinking it through.”
“But you wanted to see me and spend time with me. I don’t ever want to deny you anything you want.” He leaned over her and kissed her once more. “You smell good,” he said.
She beamed at him. Malcolm ran the back of his fingers over her cheek. “I’ll talk to you soon. Kaphiri will be down shortly.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be here.”
* * *
About ten minutes later, Kaphiri walked up to Shantreyl while she was on the sofa fiddling with her phone. He removed his earbuds.
She looked up. “Kaphiri, hi! Guess you’ve got to babysit me again.”
Kaphiri helped her get up. “To be honest, I’d rather babysit you than spend another minute in that meeting.” He tucked one of her hands into his elbow. “I don’t do well in meetings, but my presence is usually required.” He started walking towards the back. “Malcolm said you wanted to surprise him for lunch.”
“True,” she said, adjusting her purse strap. “I woke up with him on my mind and I wanted to see him. I thought it might be nice and maybe a bit romantic to surprise him at work.” She took a deep breath, taking in his scent. He smelled extraordinarily good and it, along with the touch of his hand, made her tingle.
“Maybe any other day on any other week. This week we’ve been busy with the gaming commission.”
They stopped at an elevator. Kaphiri used a key card to get them in. Once inside, he punched a button, the doors closed and the elevator began to move down. Kaphiri continued. “Every six months or so, we check in with the commission to make sure everything’s everything. Malcolm hates it, as do I, but it’s a necessity if you run a casino. Do you know what you want to eat for lunch?”
“I was going to leave it up to Malcolm. He’s batting a thousand in regards to the places he takes me to.”
“Do you mind if I choose a place?”
“Not at all.”
They got off the elevator and Shantreyl found herself in a parking lot. Kaphiri continued to keep her hand tucked in his elbow as they walked towards a candy apple red 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS on beautiful 20” chrome rims. The license plate read “PARKER2.”
Shantreyl said, “Is this your car???”
“One of them.”
She whistled. “She’s gorgeous!”
“That she is,” he said as he opened the passenger side door for Shantreyl. “I like vintage muscle cars. Her name is Candy.”
Shantreyl got in and closed her eyes. The inside of the car was immaculate. Kaphiri got in, put on his seat belt, and started the engine. He removed his tie and tossed it in the back seat. She took a deep breath when he got in next to her.
“You smell so good, Kaphiri. What is that? Is it cologne, is it soap…what is it?”
He smiled at her and she stared at him. “You’re not going to tell me?”
“No,” he said. “I told you that you have to figure it out.”
“How in the world would I be able to do that?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But you will.”
Shantreyl threw up her hands as she listened to the hum of the engine. “Can you gun it one time for me?” she asked.
He did and she smiled. She said, “My father had a Mustang and he used to take me and my sister to an old race track and ride us around as fast as my mother would allow.”
“What year was the ‘Stang?”
“Not sure. It was an older model.”
“I have a 1968 Mustang.”
“Black and silver.”
Shantreyl smiled as Kaphiri pulled out of his parking space. As they left the hotel, she said, “Malcolm told me you weren’t good with people. Do you mind if I ask why?”
“People lie, play games and start shit. I deal with them to the extent that I have to, but unlike Malcolm, I lack the ability to be gracious and diplomatic. I tend to be direct and I prefer to be alone most of the time. Even though the business started with my father, Malcolm is the reason we’re so prosperous. He knows how to handle people. My particular skill set is applicable in other areas of the business.”
“Oh,” Shantreyl said. “I get it. I like my solitude as well.”
“I’m going to take you to Indigo. It’s a bistro on Starlight Avenue that specializes in Mediterranean cuisine. It’s one of my favorite spots and it’s about five minutes away.”
“I haven’t had Mediterranean in a long time.”
“You’ll like it. Malcolm and I are good friends with the owners.”
Shantreyl touched up her lip gloss. Kaphiri watched her out of the corner of one eye. She said, “You guys are friends with a lot of people. Malcolm knows everybody, it seems.”
“We are and he does. It’s the nature of one aspect of our business. Malcolm and I believe in supporting our own in their endeavors, and he has the ability to see and convince them that they can be better and do better than they are.”
“That’s pretty awesome,” Shantreyl said.
“That’s Malcolm for you,” Kaphiri replied. “So, tell me something about you.”
“What do you already know?”
“That you’re a science teacher at a private school. I also know that Malcolm’s besotted with you, which means that you’re intelligent, sensible and grounded. You fill in his missing blanks. He doesn’t flip his lid for every woman like this.”
“Flip his lid? How many women has he dated?”
Kaphiri handled the Chevelle with ease. “A lot, but most of them were all cut from the same cloth. He used to date a lot of model types: slender, tall, beautiful, looked good on his arm. Some of them were career women, but most of them weren’t. I never babysat any of them. They thought that I was a weirdo.”
“You’re not a weirdo, Kaphiri.
“Depends on how you define the word. I know I do some weird things.”
“You’re not weird. You just know who you are.”
“Compared to Malcolm’s exes, you’re different in every way and you’re the only one he’s been this serious about. He told me that you guys talked about relationship objectives; that you know what he wants.”
“I do. It’s nice knowing everything up front; that he’s not playing any games.”
“Malcolm broke up with his most recent girlfriend maybe about five or six weeks before he met you. Donna wasn’t happy about it because Malcolm is a catch, but he was no longer satisfied with her or those like her.”
“What was the problem?”
“The way he explained it to me was that he woke up one morning, looked at her, and decided that she wasn’t wife or mother material—which was true—and basically ended their relationship then and there.”
“Really? That’s…callous. He ended it just like that?”
“Just like that. To be honest, I’d never heard Malcolm speak of marriage in serious terms until he met you. He used to say that he’d get married at some point, but that was all. But when he met you, he actually put parameters on the topic. You’re not going to be dating him for years on end. He’s not that kind of man. You may actually be engaged to him by the end of this year.”
Shantreyl smiled. “We’ll see.”
“Do you not want that?”
“I didn’t say that. I just learned after my last relationship not to trust the words of a man, but to put my faith in his actions.”
“Smart girl,” Kaphiri said as he turned into a parking lot. “We’re here.”
Shantreyl smiled and waited for him to open her car door. When he held out his hand to help her out of the car, she took it and felt a tiny electric charge in her fingertips. She stood up and took another deep breath.
Kaphiri looked at her. “You’re not subtle at all, are you?”
“I can’t help it. I told you that you smell good.”
“Better than Malcolm?”
“Different from Malcolm.”
Kaphiri took her hand and captured it in his elbow. Just being near him made Shantreyl’s head swim. Her hand, curved around his bicep, tingled. She closed her eyes, reminding herself that she was Malcolm’s girl and she had no business being attracted to his best friend. Never mind that said friend was hotter than a pyroclastic flow.
They entered the bistro, which was mostly empty. The sistah behind the counter smiled and said, “Hi Kap!”
“Who’s your friend?”
“Eleanor, this is Shantreyl. Shantreyl, this is Eleanor Fulton, one of the owners and manager of Indigo.”
“Hi,” Shantreyl said.
“Nice to meet you,” Eleanor replied. “Do you want your usual table?”
“Follow me,” Eleanor said.
Kaphiri secured Shantreyl’s hand in his elbow and they followed Eleanor to a table tucked into a bay of windows. They sat down and as Shantreyl adjusted in her seat, Eleanor said, “What are you in the mood for today?”
Kaphiri looked at Shantreyl. “Do you want a menu or do you mind if I order for both of us?”
Shantreyl smiled at him and bit her lower lip. “Thrill me.”
Kaphiri smiled back. “All right then.” He turned his attention to Eleanor. “We’d like a Mezze platter, one bowl of lentil soup, a lamb kebab platter with pita bread, some hibiscus sangria, and your amazing almond baklava. And can you bring some hand wipes?”
Eleanor smiled. “Absolutely!”
Shantreyl looked at him. “All of that sounds delicious.”
“It is. I love Mediterranean food and Indigo has the best in the entire city.”
“I love food, period,” Shantreyl said. “So I’m sure I’ll be good.”
Eleanor brought them large glasses of water with lemon. Shantreyl put her arms on the table and looked Kaphiri in the eye. “Kaphiri, why are you single?”
He took a drink of water. “I could almost ask the same of you.”
“Malcolm told me that you aren’t married, that you don’t date and that you get what you need from the Zodiac’s pleasure house. You mean to tell me that a man as fine as you are can’t find an appropriate mate?”
“I’m sure I could if I actually tried,” he said. “But I can’t deal with all of the drama that goes along with it. Vetting people to be in one’s life can be exhausting. I don’t know how Malcolm does it. I don’t have the patience. The first time someone lies to me, I’m out.”
“You’re not even willing to have a fuck buddy?”
“I go to the Zodiac for that. I can get whatever kind of sex I want from anybody I want, no strings attached.”
“Do you want to have children?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not pressed about it. I’m fine with being an uncle to Malcolm’s children, whenever he has them.”
“You can’t sit up here and tell me that you haven’t been the object of desire to others. I don’t believe it. As fine as you are? You’re like, an ideal.”
“Thank you,” he said. “And you’re right; I have been, but I’m not good with the whole back-and-forth of getting to know someone well enough to be in my life in an intimate fashion. I expect for people to be honest with me and they’re often not. I don’t suffer liars lightly.”
“And you don’t get lonely?”
“No. I told you that I prefer solitude, and when I want sex, I go to the Zodiac.”
Shantreyl nodded as Eleanor brought the mezze appetizer plate and several packets of hand wipes. “I guess I understand. It’s just that…that you’re so fine. You can have anyone you wanted, if you wanted.”
Kaphiri removed his suit jacket and placed it on the back of his chair. Then he removed his cufflinks and rolled his sleeves halfway up his forearms. There was a winding tattoo snaking up his left arm. He opened a package of wipes and methodically cleaned his hands. Shantreyl did the same as she stared at the platter of food.
“It looks fantastic.”
“It will taste that same way,” Kaphiri said as he started tearing the pita bread into chunks. “Like you, I love food.”
They ate in silence for a few moments, where Shantreyl sampled everything on the mezze platter: hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, tahini, stuffed grape leaves and tabbouleh.
Eleanor brought a pitcher of pale pink sangria and two wine glasses. She filled both, making sure each glass got an adequate amount of fruit. “Your soup will be out momentarily.”
“Thank you,” Shantreyl said.
“Make sure there are two spoons, Eleanor. We’re going to share the bowl.”
When she left, Kaphiri wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin and said, “I suppose I could have whomever I wanted, but I’m not willing to put the work in. If it were plausible, I’d have Malcolm go through the entire vetting process for me and then present to me an appropriate mate.”
Shantreyl coughed in surprise while she was trying to rip a piece of bread. Kaphiri looked at her. “Are you all right?”
She nodded as she took a sip of water. “I’m fine. You just caught me by surprise with that last statement.”
“It’s true,” he said. “I would.”
Shantreyl shook her head as she dipped the bread into some baba ganoush and closed her eyes. “This is so good. What’s it made from?”
“Roasted eggplant and tahini paste.”
She licked one of her fingers. “Ummm.” Then she stared at Kaphiri. “You’re serious about that?”
“What? Having Malcolm vet a potential romantic interest? Absolutely. He knows me better than anyone and I trust him. I’ve seen him go through the rigmarole of dating multiple times and it was as if he was never truly happy for any number of reasons. I’m not about to waste my time.”
“But if Malcolm’s relationships never last, how would he be able to vet anyone for you using his criteria?”
“He would use my criteria, which are far more challenging than his own.”
“I’ve never met a man like you before in my life,” Shantreyl said, shaking her head.
“And you won’t ever meet another man like me,” Kaphiri replied, staring at her.
Eleanor brought out a bowl of soup and placed it between them. “How’s everything so far?”
“Amazing,” Shantreyl said. “I’m going to have to bring my friends here.”
“Thank you so much!” Eleanor said, smiling as she walked away.
Kaphiri turned one of the spoons around in the bowl so that it was on her side. “Taste this. Have you ever had lentil soup before?”
“I could never get past the color,” she said, making a face. “Lentils are green.”
“Not all lentils are green,” he said. “Look at the soup. There are gold lentils as well. And remember, it’s good to try new things.”
Shantreyl leaned over and looked inside the bowl. The soup was a gold color and it smelled heavenly. She took the spoon and tasted it.
Kaphiri gave her a devastating smile. “Told you.”
Shantreyl smiled back, but chided herself not to stare at Kaphiri for too long. He was an absolute hottie. It was something she’d known since that night at Embers, but looking at him now, in the light of a glorious sunny day…he was incredibly good-looking and she was attracted to him.
Girl, you better be careful, she thought. He’s Malcolm’s bff…they’re practically brothers.
They shared the soup and finished it just as Eleanor brought the lamb kebabs over a bed of saffron rice, along with some tzajiki sauce and more pita bread. Shantreyl finished her first glass of sangria and poured more for both of them.
“Thank you,” Kaphiri said, as he liberated the lamb from its skewer and put it on his plate.
“Tell me something about you,” she asked as she did likewise.
“I love music,” he said.
“All kinds. I listen to everything. I have thousands of songs on my iPhone. I have thousands of CDs and actual vinyl records that I still play on an actual record player.”
“No way,” Shantreyl said. “Really?”
“I don’t lie,” Kaphiri said. “And I don’t argue. People can either believe me or not; I don’t give a shit. So if I’m telling you something, know that it is the truth.”
“Good to know,” Shantreyl replied.
Kaphiri wiggled the earbuds that encircled his neck. “I’m listening almost all day on most days. Prefer it to talking to most people.”
“What’s your favorite genre?”
“I don’t have one. I told you; I listen to everything.”
“Do you play any instruments?”
He smiled at her again and her heart skipped a beat. “Five: piano, guitar, violin, bass guitar and the cello.”
“Are you any good?”
“I can always be better.”
Shantreyl grinned at him as she ate a chunk of lamb and a bit of rice. “This is really good. You and Malcolm introducing me to awesome food…I’m going to be 500 pounds if I don’t stop letting you guys feed me.”
Kaphiri drank some sangria. “You’re the first woman Malcolm has dated who wasn’t supermodel-skinny.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“You tell me, Shantreyl. You’re still with him and to my understanding, he’s spoiling the hell out of you.”
She drank her sangria. “He most certainly is.”
“Personally, I think it’s an improvement. A woman with an appetite is sexy as hell as far as I’m concerned.”
“Good to know.”
A few minutes passed and Shantreyl, now full, put her napkin over her plate. “I’m stuffed.”
“Too stuffed for almond baklava?”
“Can I take it home?”
“Sure,” he said. “You have to try it and let me know if you like it.”
“I can do that,” she said, sitting back and watching Kaphiri finish his meal. When he was done, she said, “I’d love to see your music collection.”
“I love music too,” she said. “I don’t have the assortment that you have, and I’m not a fan of country music or death metal or anything like that, but I do listen to a lot of different genres.”
Kaphiri stared at her. “Do you want to see it today?”
“Don’t you have to go back to work?”
“Back to that meeting? No. Malcolm has it all under control. My job for today is to please you. Remember, Malcolm likes for a smile to be on your face.”
Shantreyl beamed at him and he pointed at her. “That one. That smile right there. That’s the one he’s fallen in love with.”
Shantreyl couldn’t help it; she smiled even harder and began to giggle. “Kaphiri, don’t…”
“Don’t what? Make you smile? I’m not going to be the one to incur Malcolm’s wrath, especially when it comes to you. Besides, it’s just after five. Don’t tell me you have something better to do.”
“I don’t,” she said. “I just don’t want to keep you from your work.”
“Believe me, Malcolm will fill me in later. Do you want to go to my house and see my music collection?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes I do.”
Kaphiri turned and motioned to Eleanor. “Check, please.”