Coffee: Gabrielle Chapter 1

I could hear her screaming before I got close to her dressing room. I made it down the hall just as her make-up artist and personal assistant, Jeremy, moved quickly out of the door. A loud crash followed.

“What’s wrong now?” I asked, the irritation in my voice barely masked.

The large studded women’s sun glasses, hot pink hair, and flawless make-up application he was sporting let the world know that he was a gay man and proud long before his mouth ever got the chance to. Jeremy stood with his oversized make-up bag dangling from his left arm. The annoyance written on his face. He pulled his cellphone from his back-pocket with one perfectly manicured hand the other holding an iced coffee as he spoke distractedly in my direction. “I don’t know what happened,” he said. ” I was working on her make-up when she looked down at her phone and started cussin’ and yellin’. I tried to calm her down but I had to get up out of there when she started throwing stuff chile’.” He replied, never breaking his concentration on his phone.

“I don’t have time for this today. You guys are already late, she was supposed to be on set half an hour ago and she’s in there throwing a damn tantrum.” I said as I stepped around him and continued to her dressing room. “Please tell me she’s dressed and ready to go on air at least.” I asked trying to calm myself down to be able to deal with whatever was waiting for me on the other side of the door.

As the lead of The Tea, the new talk show we have been working on for almost a year, Lola had been making all of our lives harder than they needed to be since the day we brought her on. In the beginning things weren’t too bad. She’d attempt to make outlandish demands that were promptly squelched by the network. She didn’t really reach this level of practically being unbearable to be around until we began airing the promos of the show and people began recognizing her on the street for more than her 15 minutes of fame on the reality show Love Lives.  Lately, Brenda and I had been taking turns stroking her ego because we are finally ready to begin shooting our first episode. Everything we had done so far was to get her to this day and despite our best efforts I still find myself preparing to deal with yet another one of her drama filled episodes.

“Yeah Gabby, she’s dressed and her make-up is done, I don’t know what she looks like now though.  If you want I can hang around for a few more minutes in case she needs a touch up.”

“Thanks Jeremy but I’m telling you, you need to talk to your girl because this shit is not going to keep being tolerated around here. If she wants to act like a child instead of the 52-year-old woman that she is we can do without her.”

Jeremy has been with Lola since we brought her onto the network a few years ago and the two of them seemed to have been cast from the same petty pot in the beginning. He would sit at her side like an accessory or one of those small dog’s celebrities liked to carry around in their purses and he seemed happy to do it, but as of late it started to look like he was about done with her theatrics same as I was or at least that’s the story the rumor mill had been filtering through the office.

I knocked on her door as I walked into the room and just missed getting hit in the head by a vase of red roses. “Woah!” I shouted, hands up in surrender. “What is going on in here Lola? First you miss rehearsal now you’re in here throwing a fit. You may be the star of this show but don’t think you’re the only option we have. We will begin taping the show today with or without you.” I said, bending to pick up the salon chair from the floor, no doubt the source of the loud crash from earlier. The contents of her dressing room were scattered everywhere as if a tornado had run through the place. Lola, with a puffy, tear stained face, and a wild look in her eyes, made me pause with concern.

Worried something serious may have happened, I tried again with a gentler approach. “Lola,” I said softly “Lola, what’s happening? Is everyone okay?” I walked across the room, dodging the strewn about contents of her dressing room and the shards of glass from the broken vase to try and grab her hands when she jerked away from me. Wiping tears from her face, she straightened her posture and looked at me with a storm brewing in her eyes and said “Don’t stand here in my face and pretend you don’t know what’s going on. I’ll be out of here when I’m done and you can tell Randall he can kiss my ass for being too chicken shit to come down here and do this face to face like a man.”

“What the hell are you talking about Lola? You’re late and need to get on set before he comes down to tell you that you’re going to be standing on the unemployed line.” I replied, guessing that she had found out about the auditions for her replacement. We wouldn’t be holding auditions if she wasn’t doing things like this at every turn. She’d come to be known around town as an aging party girl, frequently in the tabloids for getting too drunk or too high at parties. We have been blowing through our budget for the show replacing things she’d broken during her tantrums and paying off reporters to keep as many of her indiscretions out of the tabloids as possible and she never tried to make that job any easier for us. The producers were getting quite tired of her over the top behavior and so was I.

She spun her head around so fast her bob haircut slapped the sides of her face. She stared as if it were her first time seeing me then began to laugh, the crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes betraying the expertly applied make-up meant to take off 10 years from her weathered face.

“Really girl, you’re just as clueless as you look. They don’t tell you anything do they? ” she asked more to herself than to me. “Well, let me be the one to fill you in. Your boss was fired today and the bitch took me down with her raggedy ass.”

“Lola, I don’t know what all you’ve had to drink, snort, or shoot today but I need you to get your delusional ass out the clouds and start getting ready to shoot this segment. I know you’re used to dealing with Brenda but she can’t come and hold your hand right now. I’m going to need for you to get it together so we can get this show rolling.”

“Little girl, look around. Have you seen Brenda today? Have you heard from her? Didn’t you think it was strange that the producer of the highest anticipated new talk show on this rank ass network hasn’t shown up for work today or reached out to you. If anybody needs their hand held around here it appears to be you.” She said. “Here, let me help you out.” She took my cellphone from my hand and started scrolling through it for a moment before she handed it back to me. There it was in black and white an email announcing Brenda and Lola’s termination from Maxx Shaw. How in the world had I missed this email, and why has Brenda been fired?

“You know what’s real fucked up?” She asked rhetorically while shoving a framed picture of herself into a purse that definitely cost more than my entire outfit. “I could’ve still helped that bitch from the inside you know. If she had half a brain she could have taken this chance to branch out on her own, but no, she had to go and blow the whole shit up. Then these cowards send your little Kelly Rowland looking ass in here to do what? Report back on how distraught I must be. Ha! Well you tell ’em this won’t be the last they see of me.” She said with a scoff “I’ll be back on air before the week is out and this shitty little network will be scrambling trying to find someone with half my talent to run this show.” She said.

“Well Lola, I’m not sure what you have done to finally get yourself fired but I wish you the best.” I said. My cellphone buzzed in my hand and I looked down to see a text from the head of security asking me to meet him at Lola’s dressing room to collect her access badge and that he’d be up to escort her out in 10 minutes. “You’d better hurry up, security will be here any minute, and I will be taking the cost of cleaning this room out of your paycheck, you can leave your badge on the counter.” I said as I turned to leave. On the way out of the door I damn near ran over Jeremy who had obviously been eavesdropping, not that Lola had bothered being discrete. The sound of more glass crashed against the door I had just closed behind myself. I did a little happy dance in my head at the news. Even with the rush to find someone to replace the self-proclaimed diva and the nightmare I’m about to face reworking the budget, it’s all worth it to be done with the shit show that is Lola Monroe.

“I knew this old bitch was gon’ fuck this up for us.” Jeremy said as I walked out of the room. “I don’t suppose you would be looking to add another make-up artist or know of someone who is, would you?”

I had been sending rapid fire texts to Brenda and had even tried to call but she wasn’t picking up and her voicemail was full. I guess that’s to be expected. Everyone in the office will be calling trying to get the scoop on what had gone down today. I had to go find out what had gone down with Brenda and Lola and why I didn’t get a phone call before I walked into the eye of Hurricane Lola.

“I don’t know Jeremy,” I said “go ahead and head home and I’ll give you a call later.” As the words left my mouth I was impressed by how genuine I sounded knowing I had no intention of calling him back.

I liked Jeremy well enough. On more than one occasion he has stepped in at the last minute to help me with hair and make-up for guests of the show who showed up for tapping looking like a band of first graders had gotten a hold of them. It’s the gossip he keeps up we can live without, not to mention having his groupies constantly parading around the studio like he was running the show. Truth be told I’m happy to see both of them go.

“Okay, but I am still getting paid for today right? ” he shouted after me. “Get with your boss.” I responded over my shoulder. I could hear him smack his lips as he turned to walk away, I guess he knew he probably wasn’t going to see a penny from the fuming woman he had just witnessed getting canned.

Walking back up the hallway toward the elevators I gave up trying to call my boss and instead began checking my email for any more information on what the hell was going on around here. There’s a calendar invite for a mandatory meeting in 15 minutes on the executive level. Great. That gives me just enough time to go freshen up.

As the assistant to the producer of The Tea, I have to be at work at a time of the morning when most people are still counting sheep. For me, that means practically having coffee for blood, and leaving my house every morning looking half human. I’d normally take this time of the day to fix myself up but today has gone completely off the rails. Everyone, it seems, has gotten the message about the staff meeting. What would have normally been a 60 second ride up to the executive level has turned into a 5-minute test of patience as the elevator stops on every floor. There’s no way I will have time to go and get myself together before this meeting so using the reflective surface on the side of the elevator panel, I try to make do.

My normally green eyes have turned hazel a sure sign that I’m stressed but, to my surprise, I don’t notice any signs of an incoming pimple that would plague my toffee colored skin. That’s something to be thankful for in its own right. Since I reached puberty the slightest sign of stress and a zit the size of a dime would appear in the middle of my forehead, which is why I refuse to let my bangs grow out. I managed to make the bags under my eyes less noticeable with a dab of concealer from my back pocket and I used the rubber-band around my wrist to haphazardly throw my brown shoulder length hair into a ponytail that I could best describe as hobo sheik. I do a quick breath check, which seemed to put a scowl on the face of the man who had been watching me with judgement since he stepped on the elevator. I pop a mint in mouth to disguise the smell of stale coffee on my breath, and I take one last look in the blurry surface as I step off the elevator with the rest of the crowd onto the 12th floor.

One of the perks of my office being on the 2nd floor with the rest of the production team is that I don’t have to socialize with my co-workers, probably why the man in the elevator was looking at me like I don’t belong. The only exception to my self-imposed no fraternizing at work rule is with the executive assistant, my best friend Amanda, who’s desk I walked past while scanning her face for any sign of what was to come once I made it inside the meeting room.  The tension in the air is thick as we all file in and take our seats. By the way people seem to be making forced conversations it’s obvious that everyone is on edge. After my run in with Lola this morning I could just about guess what was coming even if the email was vague, I just hope I’m not about to find myself in the same unemployment line as Lola and Brenda, my parents would have a field day with that.

I have been working for Maxx Shaw Communications for 5 years. I started immediately after graduating from University of Houston as the assistant to the producer. I have worked directly under Brenda for the past 3 years, a job that I have had warm feelings for primarily because of her. A few months back she seemed to be struggling coming up with fresh ideas to pitch to the team because of distractions from some family issues, but that had all worked itself out and she had been doing phenomenal work as far as I was concerned. I can’t even begin to think of what she must have gotten herself into that would warrant her getting fired and alongside Lola at that. I check my phone again to see if she has responded to any of my messages or phone calls, she hasn’t. I don’t know what is going on around here but I am sure I’m about to find out. I take out my cell again to send a text to Amanda in an attempt to get information from her. If anyone knows what is going on it would be her. Before she could respond Randall Davis the Senior Vice President of Maxx Shaw entered the room.

Randall, is built like a pro athlete and has the finesse of one too. His bald head, chocolate skin, and demanding presence makes just about every person in the room take notice out of either admiration or lust. He placed his Armani suit jacket across the back of his chair before he sat down, the sleeves of his navy-blue dress shirt rolled up to his elbows, showing off a gold Rolex on his left wrist. Seated at the head of the table he poured himself a glass of water. The room fell to a hush almost the same time as he sat the glass pitcher back on the table. He looked like he had already had the longest day of his career and it was only about to get longer. Randall scanned the room until his eyes landed on me. Determined not to appear rattled I willed myself to remain still in the chair and held his gaze for what felt like an eternity but in reality, was more like 3 seconds. He averted his eyes and began to speak to no one in particular and barely above a whisper. Suddenly his voice raised and in an irritated tone he welcomed everyone “I apologize for the sudden call for this meeting but we have had a few personnel changes and I wanted to be the one to bring you all in on what has been going on.” Everyone looked around the room uneasily waiting on what was next to come.

He continued, ” We have concluded an investigation, the purpose of which was to weed out whomever has been leaking all of our major stories to our competitors. It has been no secret that our ratings have been down for the past two quarters and we hadn’t been able to figure out how our best stories kept getting leaked before they made it to production.” A few eyes in the room shifted their gaze to me and I pretended to ignore them. “Well, thanks to an anonymous source within our ranks, we were able to find the problem and shut it down before it could cause any more damage to the network’s bottom line.” He said, his eyes crossing to mine again while he continued. “For those of you who haven’t heard the news yet, we have relieved Brenda Davis for her participation in the leak as well as Lola Monroe who was slotted to be our lead on The Tea. Shocked gasps filled the air and all eyes felt trained on me. With what Randall had just shared with the team it was no wonder everyone was looking at me, no doubt assuming that I had something to do with all of this. They could all keep looking as far as I was concerned. I turned my head from them flippantly and trained my focus on Randall who was now addressing the room again. He wrapped up the meeting by announcing to us that he would be choosing who would be taking Lola’s place on The Tea since the show was scheduled to be aired in 6 months and that he projected us to be able to start shooting within the next few days, he then dismissed everyone. I was standing to leave when I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Gabrielle, may I speak with you for a moment?” Randall asked.

When the conference room doors opened after my meeting with Randall it felt like it was my first time breathing in the hour we spent discussing my possible future with the company. I shook his hand and assured him I would get back to him as soon as possible and then looked over to the reception desk to see Amanda trying not to stare, her green eyes darting back and forth from me to Randall as we said our goodbyes. As soon as he was out of sight I walked over to her desk, which was covered in all things girl. Glossy magazines, bright nail polishes, and a vanity mirror, amongst other things. Her workspace is a full on female supply chest. Amanda stood from her chair as I approached.

“Don’t say a word.” She said as she grabbed her purse and locked her computer, her long blonde hair swayed over her sun-tanned shoulder. “I waited on you to get out of there so we can leave at the same time and you can spill it honey, cause from the look on your face through the conference room windows and the one you’re wearing right now, something ain’t clean in the water. Now, where do you wanna go ’cause I need to eat too.”

Amanda was right, some things had definitely been said during the meeting that had me on edge. Mainly, that Randall wants me to replace Brenda and I have a week to make my decision. I came to work at Maxx Shaw as the assistant to the producer because it served two purposes. The main one: Keeping my parents off my back, while I worked on my art. The second: Keeping a roof over my head. Now here I am being offered the position my mentor was just booted from and I’m freaking out. I barely wanted to be working here when I was working under Brenda and now I am being presented with a promotion.

“Let’s go grab coffee since I’m gonna need the energy boost for my date with your mystery woman tonight. You know, with the way this day has gone maybe I should cancel.” I said trying to wiggle my way out of my previous commitment to meet up with Amanda’s latest attempt to usher me back into the dating scene.

“Nice try, you’re going tonight.” She said “Want to try that new place up on the corner?” She asked as we stepped onto the elevator.

“Just get me out of here.” I replied as I leaned against the back of the car, distracted with my thoughts.

There is no question that I’m good at my job, and most days I actually like doing what I do but it’s not exactly what I want to be doing. I envy those people who are allowed to be who they are but things aren’t so easy for me. Both of my parents are lawyers and although their house is filled with paintings and sculptures they don’t believe that art is a viable career path for a black woman. I have been a painter for as long as I remember and while my father is the one who has encouraged my talent and appreciation for the arts, my mother has never seen it as an option as a career choice.

“Only people who can afford to be artists in this world are the filthy rich and the overprivileged.” My mother would say. The first time she said this to me was during my junior year in high school. I had been doing research on colleges I planned to apply to when I shared my interest in pursuing art as a major while my mother put away my clothes.

My mother is very supportive about a lot of things, she didn’t protest when I decided in Freshman year that I wanted to dye my hair purple, or when I came home with a tattoo of a butterfly the size of deck of cards on my leg. She’d even gone out and got a matching one half the size of mine the next day as a show of support but when I shared with her my interest in pursuing art as my career I thought for sure she was going to put hands on me for the first time in my life. She stopped putting away my laundry and turned around to face me.

“Your father and I did not work our whole lives for you to throw away our money on art projects. If you want to be a bum there’s cheaper ways to go about it, don’t drag us and our money into this.” She’d said angrily.

“Why do you assume I’ll be a bum if I decide to be an artist. I don’t see how you feel that me studying art is a waste of money. I love painting, and you’ve said you love my work, so what’s wrong with me going to school to hone my craft?” I’d asked, taken by surprise at my mother’s aversion to my choice.  Anytime one of her clients expressed an interest in the arts she’d bring me in as a way to make herself seem more in tune with the needs of her clientele, I didn’t complain and actually welcomed the inclusion. But now here she was scoffing at the idea that I become an artist myself.

My mother sighed and folded her hands in her lap wringing them so tightly her knuckles were white as she came and sat next to me on my bed. “Baby, I understand a passion and a love for something but how is that going to support you? Last I checked, love doesn’t pay bills. I like your work and your interest in the subject has helped me pick up clients but that doesn’t mean I want to or am going to spend my money on it.

“My painting isn’t about me making money. It’s about creating beauty for people to enjoy and yeah if I make some money off of it that will be great too.

“If you want to make painting your career then you need to find a way to pay for it since the only thing that matters to you is creating beauty.” she said “Matter of fact take some beauty to UC Berkley and see if they will accept it as a form of payment.”

That was the first and last time my mother and I discussed my interest in a career in art. Since then I have been doing my paintings in my spare time, something I had decent amounts of as Brenda’s assistant. Taking the promotion would definitely put an end to that and I’m sure that thought had not alluded my parents.

“Earth to Gabby, come in Gabs.” Amanda said nudging me out of my trance.

We exited the elevator into the lobby and headed for the garage. I waited at the main doors while Amanda pulled her white Audi Q7 around. I climbed in the passenger side and we took off.

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