Millions of dollars in premier fashions and champagne diamonds were on display at Manhattan's 40/40 Club as four ultrarich and ubersuccessful women—America's newest addition to reality TV—strolled the red carpet and smiled at the flashing lights of the paparazzi. The clicking of their designer stilettos was like exquisite steel-pan beats as they crossed the club's threshold, and the sultry sounds of Maxwell's live performance filled the air. Despite their individual insecurities and doubts, at this moment as they sauntered into the sunrise of superstardom, what mattered most was that they'd gotten their own piece of the latest in rich bitch candy.
"Ladies, ladies," a reporter from E! News said, motioning for the four of them to come together and meet him across the room. "Can you all tell us a little about yourselves?" He looked at the woman to his left. "May we start with you?"
"I'm Milan Starks, wife of the great Yusef 'Da Truef' Starks, number twenty-three on the New York Knicks." A lovely mix of her cinnamon brown Dominican father and golden-skinned African American mother, Milan had an effortless beauty that didn't require makeup or facials to be perfect. She had a Marilyn Monroe mole on the corner of her top lip, hazel eyes, and her Beyoncé-like hips were a size ten, twelve at most, and she had a true apple bottom.
"Wasn't he suspended?" Evan Malik said and then quickly covered her mouth. "Oh, my apologies, I didn't mean to say that."
"He was suspended," the reporter said, following up on Evan's comment. "Do you want to tell us how you feel about that?" he asked Milan.
"My husband is a great man." Milan smiled. "Sure, he hit a rough patch, but he's on his way back and will be better than ever."
"Thank you, Mrs. Starks, now on to you, Mrs. Malik," he said to Evan. "Is it true that you were the first to be cast for the show?"
Milan shifted her weight from one Christian Louboutin python pump to the other, praying the nausea she felt as she sized up Evan would go away. Evan stood five eleven, fabulously slender, a figure eight shape, and skin the color of butterscotch. Her hair was cut in a short and spiky Halle Berry-inspired 'do with touches of honey blond that glimmered in the spotlights.
Milan hated that she and Evan had ended up in the same circle, because every time she saw Evan, heard Evan's voice, and was in her presence, Milan was forced to deal with the fact that Evan had won. Evan had ended up with the only man who made Milan feel true love was obtainable: Kendu. But since image was everything in this business, Milan planned to do her damnedest and pretend that they were all friends, even if the knife she had for Evan's back weighed down her Chloé clutch.
"Why of course, sweetie," Evan said. "Who wouldn't want to start with me?" She winked.
"It's been five minutes," Chaunci Morgan, Milan's neighbor and one of the four costars, whispered to Milan while maintaining a smile, "and already I'm sick of this bitch. Did she forget that she was a video ho?"
"Seems so," Milan whispered back.
"Excuse you." Jaise Williams, Evan's friend and their costar, turned toward Milan and then eyed Chaunci. "What did you just say?" she snapped.
"I said that she looks fabulous." Milan smiled at Evan. "She gives retired video hos, I mean vixens, a good name."
"Umm-hmm," Chaunci added, snapping her fingers in a Z motion. "A true fashionista. You better work it, girl."
"So, Mrs. Malik," the reporter said, "tell the world who you are and what it means to be on the show."
Evan paused. The microphone pointed toward her and the spotlights shining in her face caused her to draw a blank. There was no way she could say, "Millionaire Wives Club is a last-ditch
effort to save my life, something to keep me busy and silence the self-destructive thoughts running through my mind." And she definitely couldn't say, "I may be married to Kendu Malik, linebacker for the New York Giants, but it's an unending struggle holding on to the motherfucker."
"Mrs. Malik," the reporter interrupted her thoughts, "is everything okay? Do you want to fill us in?"
Evan blinked and shot him a Barbie-doll smile. "I am a beautiful wife"—she arched her eyebrows—"an outstanding mother, and I have the talent and the foresight to seize the moment. And being on the show will allow all women to see what it takes to be me."
"And what exactly does that mean?" the reporter probed.
"What she means," Chaunci mumbled to Milan, "is that she thinks us peons are pissed that we didn't hit the same groupies party that she did."
Milan tried not to laugh, but then couldn't hold it in any longer, and when she looked at Chaunci they both cracked up, neither one of them stopping until they noticed everyone standing around them was silent.
"Oh," the producer, Bridget, said to them, batting her eyes, "don't stop on the boom mic's accord. For ratings' sake, carry on."
Milan was embarrassed; the last thing she wanted was for her and Chaunci to be seen as the troublemaking pair. "I'ma ummm"—Milan pointed to the bar—"go and have a drink."
"I'll join you," Chaunci said, as Bridget motioned for the camera guy, Carl, to follow them.
Once they were at the bar and had ordered their drinks, Carl tapped Chaunci on the shoulder. Both she and Milan turned around. "When I cut the camera on, tell us what happened over there. Why'd you say those things?"
He turned the camera on and pointed it at them. "Evan works my nerves," Chaunci said, popping her lips. "I've known her for three days, since we met at the studio, and already she's been in my life too long." She shot Milan a high five. "And believe me, as editor in chief of Nubian Diva magazine everyone knows that I'm too classy to lose my cool, but trust me, I will not hesitate to tap dat ass." She pointed toward Evan.
"But since this is a nice place," Milan interrupted as she sipped her drink, "we're not gon' tear it up."
"So we're just going to sit here." Chaunci crossed her legs.
"And enjoy our evening," Milan added.
"Thanks, ladies." Carl smiled and turned away.
Jaise stared at the E! News reporter, wondering how she should introduce herself to the world. Should she tell people the made-for- TV parts of her life story or should she lower the boom, let 'em know the truth, and maybe, just maybe, some sanity-teetering superwoman somewhere would understand that this single-mother-doing-her-thing bullshit was overrated?
She stood next to Evan and her eyes shifted from the people mingling across the room to the reporter standing before them. Her open-toed pencil heels were aching her feet, and she wondered why she had committed to doing reality TV, especially when her postdivorce resolution was no drama. Yet here she was drowning in it. All because she and Evan had sworn that cable's Millionaire Wives Club was the new bling they needed to rock.
It was public knowledge that Jaise had married and divorced ex- heavyweight champion Lawrence Williams, but she wondered if anyone knew how much she had suffered in silence during their marriage. She'd been slapped, punched, kicked, and humiliated, almost daily, by her ex. And if people didn't know it, would revealing it make hers a story of empowerment or weakness?
Then again, maybe she would look like a shero if she revealed how she had walked out on Lawrence by placing a sedative in his nightly shot of Hennessey, wait for him to drift to sleep, grabbed her son, and then escaped to a battered woman's shelter.
But she had been married to him for seven years and never once publicly complained. There was no way she could now admit before the world that a man with money had clouded her judgment. And since some shit was better left unsaid, Jaise stood there, waited for Evan to finish, and when the reporter turned to her she had her intro down pat.
"Mrs. Williams," the reporter said, "can you tell us a little about yourself? We hear that you're superwoman. A single mom, the owner of the online Shabby Chic antique business—you seem to be doing it all."
"Superwoman," Jaise responded, laughing, "is a myth." She flung her emerald-and-rhodium-draped wrist. "But I am handling money and power quite well." She chuckled a bit. "I'm just so excited to be in the company of some remarkable women."
Once Jaise was done the reporter shook the ladies' hands and said, "Good interview, ladies. Now I need to go and speak to your costars."
As he turned away Jaise let out a sigh of relief. She sat down at one of the tables and lit a cigarette, and Evan sat across from her. As Jaise eased her feet from her four-inch heels, she said, "I hope I can survive this shit." She looked at Evan and took a pull. "I keep thinking and rethinking what to say and what not to say." She let out the smoke. "I swear somebody is going to think I'm crazy."
"Girl," Evan said, as she watched Milan and Chaunci laugh and converse at the bar, "just be yourself."
"Be myself?" Jaise smirked. "Yeah, right."
"No seriously, I mean, hell, I have no problems being me. I meant what I said to the reporter."
"Well, I'm not that put together. I'm stressed and sometimes I feel beat down. And you know that's too real for TV."
"It's reality TV," Evan insisted. "Speak to the camera as if you were talking to me."
Jaise laughed. "Okay, I'ma relax this bill collector's voice, put on my Brooklyn-mami twang, and say, 'I'm so goddamn tired of faking the funk. The truth is my sixteen-year-old son needs a man to call daddy and, hell, I do too.' "
Evan laughed, but her eyes were on Milan. She couldn't help but wonder what Milan had that she didn't. Why had Kendu chosen Milan for his best friend and why was Milan able to touch places and parts of Kendu that he wouldn't dare let Evan into? Kendu's rejection of her had steadily become Evan's obsession.
"What are you thinking about?" Jaise asked Evan once she realized she'd lost her attention. Jaise followed Evan's gaze to Chaunci and Milan. "Fuck them."
"That's it!" Bridget unexpectedly walked over to their table and said, "That's the spirit. Fuck them, and just so you know, they just finished calling you two a buncha rats' asses."
"What?" Jaise said, slipping her shoes back on. "They don't even know me."
"And from the sound of it," Bridget said, "they don't want to."
"Let's go and straighten this out." Jaise looked at Evan as she rose from her chair.
"Sit down," Evan warned Jaise. "I wouldn't give those low-budget bitches the satisfaction."
"Low-budget"—Bridget grabbed a napkin and a pen and scribbled down what Evan had just said—"bitch-es."
"I thought most producers didn't get involved with the cast," Evan snapped.
Bridget, who resembled a redheaded Heidi Klum, smiled and tossed her red hair over her shoulders. "Meet the new and improved way to produce."
"Anyway," Evan said, looking back at Jaise, "we have more going for us than to argue with a pair of half-dollar hos."
"So what makes you different from all the other women?" the E! News reporter asked Chaunci.
Chaunci did her best to hold a steady smile and act sober considering she and Milan had had one too many shots of Patrón and glasses of white wine. Milan smiled sweetly, knowing that if her friend said even one word it was sure to be slurred.
"Well," Chaunci attempted to speak in a steady tone, although her being tipsy was evident, "what makes me different is that I have my own, and all the rest of these women are uppity skeezers on the stroll." She turned to Milan: "No offense." Turning back toward the reporter she continued, "I'm not upset with them, though, not one bit. What woman wouldn't want to marry well?"
"But then they'd have to worry about groupies," Milan managed to add without slurring.
"Any advice about that?" the reporter asked.
Chaunci laughed. "Certainly, I have some advice. As soon as some groupie comes shakin' it around your man, bust a cap in her ass and then put one in him. Shit, I can't say he won't cheat, but make sure he's a handicap motherfucker doin' it. Alright." She and Milan exchanged high fives again.
"So what do you think people will learn from the show?" the reporter asked Chaunci.
"That when these Jones come down"—she sipped her drink with one hand and pointed her index finger with the other—"it's gon' be a motherfucker."
"And there you have it." The E! News reporter turned to face the camera. "I present to you the ladies of Millionaire Wives Club. Stay tuned!"
One Truism in Life
Evan's French-manicured nails tapped nervously on the lava vanity in her guests' bathroom as she looked in the mirror and wondered if all the luxuries she had were worth the burning feeling lining her stomach.
Never had Evan begged a man—any man—let alone her husband, to make love to her—at least not until last night. Kendu had told her that they needed to talk. But she couldn't bear to listen. She didn't want to face what his actions had already said. He didn't love her, didn't want her, and she wasn't good enough to change his mind. So instead of listening she had kneeled before him, slid down his chest, and filled her mouth.
To fight off the anxiety heightened by the mixed emotions she felt, Evan took a bottle of Vicodin from her purse and popped two in her mouth.
The Vicodin always calmed her, but the fact that she needed a pill to do that made her feel as if she was less than perfect and more like a beautiful freak. Three years ago after a failed suicide attempt, where Evan slit her wrist and was prescribed Vicodin for the physical pain and lithium, which she took, off and on, for the mental, she quickly became addicted to the cocktail high.
Evan continued to stare in the mirror. Her heart raced, and instead of seeing her own reflection she saw her mother's face. Instantly her mother's voice filled her head: "I hate you! You and your young pussy wanna take my husband away from me!"
"He makes me do it," Evan responded to her mother's voice, while pressing her fingers deeply into her temples.
"You're lying!" her mother's voice responded. "You wanted it, because you think you're better than me! But you ain't shit! And you'll never be more than a whore!"
"Stop it!" Evan shook her head feverishly and wiped the sweat from her face with the back of her hand. She looked around the bathroom, and made sure the voice was only in her head, especially since her mother had long been dead.
Excerpted from Millionaire Wives Club by Tu-Shonda Whitaker. Copyright © 2009 by Tu-Shonda L. Whitaker. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.