Chapter One one
My life was a lie. One of those whoppers that should’ve been a special at Burger King.
But my best friend/producer was once again reminding me that I was being paid extremely well for this lie. Nicole Dunbar had been the producer of our hit radio show, Love with the Lovejoys, since my husband, Jay, and I had started it two years ago. That, coupled with the fact that we’d been best friends since our days at Howard University, gave her a front-row seat to the problems in my marriage. In fact, it was Nicole who had told me from the very beginning that the charming personality I found so endearing back when Jay and I first met would one day aggravate me to no end.
Truer words have never been uttered.
“I bet it was one of those women he was always flirting with,” I muttered as I paced back and forth in the holding room. We were in the conference room at the newly remodeled Buccaneer Hotel, preparing for a weeklong retreat that I had no desire to be a part of. Granted, I’d been gung-ho when the organizers first pitched this retreat to us, billed as a one-of-a-kind event at which attendees could reconnect and rediscover love. Jay and I were set to be keynote speakers and lead several workshops in intimate settings. I’d been excited about it. But that was before I knew that my husband was a cheating bastard.
Before I knew my marriage was a whopper of a lie.
“Come on, don’t go down that road. You’re going to work yourself up into a tizzy,” Nicole said. She was sitting at a table, reviewing some of the logistical paperwork for the conference.
“I just don’t want to see him,” I finally admitted, walking over to the window to gaze out at the beautiful scenery.
“It’s not that hard,” Nicole replied.
That was easy for her to say. Her “for better” wasn’t at its worst.
I turned to face my friend. “Seven years, Nicole,” I said. “Jay threw away seven years and a lucrative career over some woman, but I’m supposed to just smile like everything is okay.” I grabbed a small bottled water from the ice bucket before resuming my pacing.
She put her pen down and gave me her undivided attention. “Yes. When you’re getting paid a half-million dollars, yes, you smile like you guys are…” She paused, like she was thinking. “Um…”
I flicked my hand in exasperation. “Exactly. You can’t name one married couple as an example of amazing love.”
She snapped her fingers. “Like Barack and Michelle.”
I rolled my eyes. “Girl, Jay can’t carry Barack’s water.”
“Tell that to someone who doesn’t know how in love with him you are,” she said.
“Were. Past tense.” I gulped the water and tossed the empty bottle. I didn’t know if it was my nerves that had me feeling dehydrated or if I was just that thirsty.
Nicole waved me off. “Look, we do not have time to rehash the infidelity of Jay Lovejoy. You agreed to do this conference, more than three thousand people are registered, and we have a contract to uphold. Now, they want a happy couple: we need to deliver a happy couple to them.”
I watched as a large truck backed up to the loading dock. They were no doubt bringing items for the retreat.
“Shan, you can do this,” Nicole said.
I knew my best friend was right. It had been five weeks since I’d discovered my husband was having an affair. It had been the most difficult thing I’d ever endured. Everyone around us was concerned about the Lovejoy franchise—the syndicated radio show, the bestselling books, the hundreds of thousands of social media followers—everything that made us what Essence magazine called “The Couple of the Century.” We’d built our Lovejoy brand on how in love we were. How we’d managed to have it all and keep the love and the joy alive in our relationship. And it was all a lie. In this moment, in this space, in this heartache, I didn’t care about any of that. I only wanted to repair the hole that was now in my heart.
I’d made Jay move out the day that I’d discovered the affair, and the plan had been to cut him out of my life. But that was proving much harder than I’d ever imagined.
Nicole eased up behind me and rubbed my back. “Shannon, you have been kicking butt and taking names since I met you our freshman year of college. This is just another obstacle that you will overcome.”
That brought a slight smile to my face. “Yeah, Howard wasn’t ready for me.” I was one of those overachieving students who was a student leader and a straight-A student my first semester on campus.
“Exactly,” Nicole said. “So I need you to summon up that same strength, put on your game face, and do this.”
My shoulders slumped as I stared outside. This really was a beautiful place.
When I didn’t move, Nicole came around in front of me. Her eyes bore into mine, like she was trying to use X-ray vision to see into my soul—and the real reason I didn’t want to be here.
“You didn’t talk to him, did you?” she asked.
When I didn’t answer, she sighed. “I thought you guys met to talk so this wouldn’t be the first time you’d seen each other in the past month.”
“I didn’t go.”
“What?” Nicole exclaimed.
I looked down. When I looked up, my eyes were misty. Nicole was the only one I allowed to see my vulnerable side. With her, I didn’t need to pretend. With her, I could show how much Jay’s betrayal really hurt.
“I didn’t want to see him.” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I wasn’t ready to see him.” The day that I’d confronted Jay—and he’d confessed—I’d put him out. And although he’d tried multiple times to talk to me about it, I’d told him I had nothing to say. He’d admitted it. A “why” didn’t matter. And since he wouldn’t give me details, there was no need to talk.
I expected Nicole to put on her producer hat and chastise me, but she stayed in best-friend mode.
“Awww, sweetie, I get it.” She patted the tear that had managed to seep out. “But no more running. You have to face him now. Get through this retreat, finalize the divorce, and then pick up the pieces of your life.”
I sighed. Nicole was right. I needed to just release this fear and face my soon-to-be ex. “Fine, but don’t expect me to be nice,” I said.
“No, ma’am,” Nicole said. “You can’t walk around here all week acting all funky and wearing an attitude on your shoulder. Remember, Quincy said we have to give the people what they came for.”
I huffed. “I’m sorry. I’m not a skilled liar like Jay. It’s not easy for me to pretend like my soon-to-be ex-husband is the greatest thing since sliced bread, especially when I know that he’s not.”
The door to the greenroom opened and Tara, the conference coordinator, walked in.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Lovejoy. Welcome to the Virgin Islands. How was your flight?” Tara asked.
“Hi, Tara. It was fine.” I managed a smile.
Tara handed me an envelope. “Wonderful. I have both you and Mr. Lovejoy checked into the presidential suite. Your bags will be delivered up to your room when they arrive.”
“Tara, umm…” I weighed how to get my next statement out. Aside from Nicole and Quincy, no one knew anything about my problems with Jay, and separate rooms would only fuel speculation. But I couldn’t bear the thought of spending the whole week in the same room as him. “I was just wondering if… you thought… well, is there any way to get Jay a separate room? It’s just… we need…” I couldn’t even think of a good lie. I stopped as Nicole waved her hand.
“Tara, if you don’t mind, let me talk with Shannon, please?” Nicole said.
Tara looked confused. “Well, ummm, do you want me to try to get another room?” she asked me. “That might be difficult, but, um, I… I can see what I can do.”
Nicole shook her head, answering for me. “That won’t be necessary.” She chuckled. “Jay has a horrible snoring problem and Dr. Shannon was joking about wanting to get a good night’s sleep. If you can just make sure their bags get taken up, that would be great.”
Tara nodded before scurrying off. I groaned as I glared at my friend. Nicole glared right back. “I thought you were going to behave yourself,” she said.
“I am. But that doesn’t mean I have to stay in the room with him the whole week.” I knew I was acting like a pouty brat, but I was hurting, and the fact that I had to mask that pain only exacerbated the problem.
“Number one, the hotel is booked to capacity,” Nicole said. “Trying to find another room would be nearly impossible. Not to mention, it would raise a lot of eyebrows.” She held up two fingers. “Number two, the suite you’re in has two bedrooms. Just put him in one and you take the other. And number three, and most important, I thought we had this discussion before we left D.C. There is too much at stake here. You’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line here, and unless you’re prepared to write a check to pay the Family First Foundation, I suggest you get to faking it.”
I folded my arms across my chest as I stared out the window. Jay had arrived and had barely stepped out of the SUV when he was swarmed by women. My husband was a popular nineties R&B singer who had retained a loyal following. I watched the way they were swooning, jockeying for position near him. And as usual, Jay was being charismatic and had the women giggling like schoolgirls. I saw him laughing with a group of them by the front door. “It’s going to take a whole lot more than faking it,” I said, watching as some woman seductively touched Jay’s chest. “It’s going to take an Academy Award–winning performance to make it through this week.”
Nicole glanced out at Jay, then back at me. “Then I suggest you get to acting, Viola.”