Author's Note: Our story picks up with us coming face-to-face with the enigmatic Ricki.
No matter how fast you run, the past always catches you. Trying to ignore it is pointless. A day always comes when you wake up in the morning to an ugly reality. The past you tried to forget sneaks up on you and is staring you square in the face. I pull the collar of my winter coat up to protect my neck from the raging wind. As I close my eyes, in my mind, their faces appear. I see them like a flashback in a movie. GiGi is in a frenzy trying to figure out where the hell I am and what happened. But that’s the thing. If I’m honest, I’m not too sure where I am myself. I don't mean that literally, of course. Philly has become my hiding place, well, my second hiding place. What is uncertain is where I am within myself. I lost that long ago.
I know for a fact GiGi has called my folks. The mental vision of concern and worry on their faces causes me to sigh. There’s so much that I’ve been hiding, so much that I’ve failed to be honest about. Now I’m at a place where I have to face it, or its effect on me and everyone I love and cherish will be unmeasurable.
I guess it makes sense for me to start from the beginning. I’m Ricki Madison, or at least that’s what people know me as now. Originally I was born Tiffany Anderson, from Douglasville, GA. I had a typical childhood, nothing special. It was my mother, father, brother, sister, and my dream. Being that child with “a dream” seems like decades ago, but the feeling of that dream is still fresh. When I was little, staying in Georgia was not a good look for me. I was different and didn't see myself there. I had ambition and vision.
After going to school and graduating, I moved to New York City. One of the craziest things to do as a Southern girl who had not ever been on a plane, yet had the nerve to move to New York City. I went up there determined to become a singer. I’d sung all my life, and I just knew there would be a place for me on a Broadway stage. But what people don’t tell you before you move to New York is how grimy and hard it is to make it there, especially in entertainment. It didn’t take me long to figure it out. My dose of reality came to me with the fierceness of an open palmed slap across my face in 20° weather. It’s bad enough to get slapped, but to get slapped when it's the cold is just downright vicious. That’s what New York did to me. It slapped me all up in my face.
When I arrived in New York, I got a retail job at a makeup counter in a department store making some decent money, but it was never enough to keep me afloat. I felt like I was constantly robbing Peter, Paul, and Mary. That was until I met him. He stood six foot four, with steely gray eyes against pale yet oddly butter pecan skin. He appeared to be a black man. His features were ethnic, but I could tell he was something else. What I later found out was that he was Creole. His name was Constantine. That should have sent me running right then and there, but my stubbornness and curiosity made me stay. Constantine told me that one of his parents was from Greece, and the other was black from New Orleans. That’s all he ever told me about his family. As I think about it, he never went into detail about anything, for that matter. We were probably attracted to each other like moths to a flame because of the toxicity of our pasts. Mine shrouded in naivete, and his engulfed in pain.
We started off getting to know each other innocently. I was doing makeup at the counter and he found me. He stood there, leaned up against an adjacent fragrance counter, watching me. I felt it. See, that’s the thing about being stared at. You feel it even if you’re not facing the person whose gaze you’re under; you feel it. Boy, did I feel Constantine. It was as if he consumed me on every level possible. As I put the last swipe of eye shadow on my client and handed her the mirror, she looked at herself with adoration. I looked over and met the eyes that were piercing me. When I saw him, he took my breath away. He was gorgeous, unlike any man I’d ever seen before. He had this handsomeness that was so striking it made him beautiful.
But there is one thing about him that caught my attention then, and it holds my attention to this day. There was an undefinable emotion nestled in the flecks of his uniquely colored eyes. And then there's the intensity of his eyes—it seems as if they intoxicate you like a snake charmer's music to a rattlesnake. They’re thrilling. He waited patiently for my client to finish purchasing the items I put on her face. See, I had taught myself how to do makeup, and it just seemed like I could always get it just right. Whatever I did to their faces, my clients loved and purchased everything. It was always a good thing for me because my sales were consistently seven hundred dollars or more. The counter manager loved me, which allowed me some privileges my coworkers didn’t have. One privilege was when I made a big sale, allowing me to reach or surpass my goal for that day. I could have my lunch hour, an hour, not thirty minutes, but sixty of them. After my break, if I wanted to return to get extra sales, I could, or was free to go.
This privilege made me the envy of all of my colleagues and made me proud and happy with myself. I mention this because when Constantine came up to me; he asked me if we could go have a cup of coffee. That was it. He didn’t say, “Hey, I noticed your work. What’s your name?” Or “You’re beautiful.” Instead, he got right into it. And I, a naïve southern girl, none the wiser, I just nodded yes. That’s how I was with him—powerless. When I told my manager I was leaving, she looked behind me, scanned Constantine up and down, and then asked if I was going to be OK. I assured her yes and told her I would be back because I needed the hours. She smiled, pleased. As a sales-hungry manager, the assurance of more money made her happy. Once she was content knowing I was OK, she smiled and gave Constantine one more scan up and down. I grabbed my belongings, and we rode the escalator up to the fifth floor to have that now regrettable cup of coffee.
Without a word, I selected a table for us, and he went up to the counter and ordered. It was like we were getting coffee at our usual weekly time and favorite spot. The outing was a dance of familiarity. He didn’t ask what I wanted, he just innately knew.
As he ordered our hot beverages, I couldn’t help but admire every single inch of him. It seemed he had been chiseled from a piece of graphite made just for me. I watched as he grabbed our beverages and stood at the sugar station. Again, he didn’t ask me what I wanted in my beverage. I watched him put sugar in both hot steaming cups without protest. The biggest surprise was that I was cool with him choosing for me. I had no complaint. Whoever this man was and whatever he wanted, he could have it all for me.
He finished putting the last packet of granulated sugar into either his beverage or mine. Who knew? I watched him as he confidently turned around. He made his way towards me at the little table where I was sitting. Again, it was the eyes. They were locked in on me. More specifically, he was locked into my eyes. He crossed the room, placed down the two steaming cups, removed his Italian designer leather jacket, put it on the back of his seat, and sat down. What happened next is something I will never really forget. Constantine opened his mouth, and he said to me, “Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you.”