Thick lips twisted into a disgusted pucker, Chakah Dubois grabbed a disposable shower cap from under her sink and used it like a glove to pick up the jockstrap dangling from the toilet's handle. She stepped out of the bathroom and pitched the offending item toward her roommate's bedroom. It slid to stop right at the threshold of his door.
She hoped he tripped on it.
The unkind thought matched her mood that Wednesday morning. A physical therapist and former athlete, she wasn't squeamish about things like jockstraps; but, seeing evidence that her best friend, Briggs, had an overnight guest made her suck her teeth in jealousy. Chakah, unfortunately, still didn't have a date for a string of December holiday parties that were only a week away. She hoped her chatty boss, Jiao, would not ask who Chakah was bringing to the office party, after Jiao gave Chakah her first home care assignment, a long sought honor that should have kicked her optimistic, early bird disposition into gear.
Instead, she squinted at her reflection in the medicine cabinet's mirror, and scratched the two-week-old twists under her satin sleeping cap. The hairdresser had said they could last up to a month, but she planned to get them redone because her hair itched like hell.
Over lunch the previous day, her sometime-lover Denise had declared scratching "not cute" and then had turned down an invitation to be Chakah's party date with a judgmental comment about how living in the closet also was not cute at all. Chakah had retorted that being pressured to come out was not fair at all.
Indignation had made her toss and turn all night.
She wanted a relationship, not a team affiliation; and trying to identify what kind of queer she was certainly hadn't helped her relationship with ex-boyfriend Khalil. The resultant breakup had knocked down her confidence to discuss her sexuality with her family. They all had liked Khalil and didn't understand why Chakah avoided him at church functions. She only attended when visiting at her parents' house, and never had cared for the traditional tone of the insular neighborhood where she'd grown up on the other side of the Bay. Moving to San Francisco had been a lifelong dream, but doing so had made her miss her father; and it was fear of Norman DuBois' opinion that kept Chakah's mouth shut.
Whether she ended up with a man or a woman, she wanted her father to give her away with a smile on his face.
Shaking her head from such maudlin musings, Chakah pulled off the sleeping cap and tied back her shoulder-length twists, studying her face in a mirror more closely. As expected, she had bags under her eyes, which already were too plain brown and too small for her broad face. Even less appealing was a blemish forming near the slight cleft in her chin.
She opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out a tube of invigorating face scrub, hoping to cleanse her pores and perk up her expression at the same time. Grimacing, she slathered green goop all over her cinnamon complexion. Beauty treatments weren't really her thing, but thankfully her younger sister Minnie kept her supplied for emergencies.
Bad mood notwithstanding, Chakah needed to make a good impression that morning. She was still the new kid on the block at the rehab center where she worked, and Jiao didn't refer home care clients to just anybody. Such choice assignments were the only way Chakah would be able to afford a place of her own. Though she loved Briggs and their straight roommate Remy, she looked forward to a life free of jockstraps and thongs in her personal spaces.
Unless, of course, the thong were hers.
The thought of her body in lingerie brought a small smile to Chakah's face while she turned on the shower. Waiting for the water to heat, she sat on the toilet lid and stretched her long legs, flexing her toes against the cold floor tiles while harmonizing with the bathroom vent's hum. That morning, she had neglected to limber up after rolling her big, tall body out of bed, too preoccupied to take care of an old shot put injury that now had her stretching in earnest. A weak knee would not make a good impression on such an important day.
At the thought of her client being of one of the Giants or the Niners, a jolt of excitement finally brought Chakah's natural optimism to life.
After she showered and dressed in black scrubs, leopard-print Danskos, and a chunky gray sweater, Chakah grabbed a banana from the kitchen and set out on her morning walk. In place of an expensive membership at the fancy gym in her South of Market neighborhood, she walked a mile every day from her apartment complex to downtown San Francisco, for a cup of Blue Bottle coffee. The varied terrain tuned up her body, with the added bonus of not having to hunker down in the back of a gym class full of petite Pilates enthusiasts.
Hers was a pleasant walk down Folsom, where she enjoyed the yearly kinky street fair, and then on to Mint Plaza by way of Yerba Buena Gardens. Having grown up in suburban Freemont, Chakah enjoyed a daily reminder that she'd made it to her dream neighborhood. She loved her parents and her little sister, but life in their tight knit community of tract houses always had made her feel claustrophobic.
The rule of the suburbs was to be like everyone else; yet, she'd always stood out as a chunky girl with mile-long legs, an ass as big as the moon, and not enough boobs to balance her figure. Her mother and sister were tiny, but she'd gotten her father's broad shoulders and stance, perfect for playing sports and supporting the healing bodies of her therapy clients. She was much less suited to the dresses and heels Minnie constantly tried to talk her into wearing, as though being 5'10" weren't already a liability in women who weren't model thin.
Chakah waited until she was in line at Blue Bottle to peel and eat her banana. There was always a line, sometimes stretching around the side of the Ferry Building in which the shop sat. At Blue Bottle, they individually dripped painstakingly sourced organic coffee. The taste was well worth the wait, as were the poached eggs on toast when she had time to splurge.
Despite a mouthful of banana, she vocalized the smooth strains of her favorite song, "Beacon to Forever" by The Gray Hats, a local band. As usual, the romantic ballad filled her with hopeful sentiments that Briggs would've called naïve nonsense, had he been there.
Instead, Chakah's crooning caught the attention of a man who'd been standing in front of her in line. He turned to her with a newspaper in hand. Just when she expected him to raise a brow at her garbled singing, he smiled. "What are you listening to? Must be a good song."
Chakah smiled in return, giving him two points for being tall and having an electric smile, then a third point for sweeping her body with a quick perusal that felt more flattering than objectifying. "The Gray Hats."
He didn't look impressed. "They used to be okay, but their last album kinda sucked."
Chakah deducted one point. Granted the Gray Hats' third album had fallen off significantly from their second, she was still a die hard fan and glad they'd become mainstream enough to have haters. However, she couldn't stay mad at her fine ass new acquaintance, and took his hand when he offered it.
"Chakah." She held on a little too long, enjoying a strong grip that hinted he was an athlete of some kind. She guessed basketball was his game, from the team T-shirt he wore. They continued chatting while the line moved forward, and Chakah began to think it might be her lucky day. Encouraged, she decided to suggest they meet for coffee again intentionally.
But as luck would have it, as soon as they neared a slender hipster chick working behind the counter, Ty transferred his attention to the barista. A little light flirtation while waiting in line didn't mean much; but, after Chakah was beckoned forward to place her order at another register, she was disappointed that Ty ignored the glances she cast his way.
Big as she was, it was funny how often people treated her as though she were invisible—and by funny, she didn't mean amusing. At twenty six, she was over being thought of as hot, but certainly craved the attention and courtesy that women half her size seemed to get, whether they wanted it or not. Even if Ty didn't want her number, it wouldn't kill him to acknowledge they'd had a moment. As Chakah departed with two containers of coffee, she glanced again and tossed a wave his way, but Ty ignored her.
"Hmph." Like the jockstrap in her bathroom, that was plain rude. Better acquainted with dismissal than she would have liked, Chakah pressed on to work. If the likes of Ty and Denise were her options, she was better off without a date for the holiday parties.
With The Gray Hats on full blast through her headphones, she walked a few extra blocks to Market Street, and then took the metro to Falcon Physical Therapy in Castro. Inside the office, Chakah exchanged cheerful waves with the receptionist, an older Indian woman, and then immediately went to Jiao's office as she had no other appointments scheduled for that day.
She knocked on her boss' door and then opened it. Jiao was forever on the phone and never talked loud enough for anyone to hear when she said to come in. Also they were friends, and might even become best friends after Jiao had her first taste of Blue Bottle.
Talking on the phone, Jiao held up one finger and motioned for Chakah to take a seat across from a cluttered desk. She slid a clipboard in Chakah's direction.
Chakah picked it up and was excited just at the sight of referral forms for a home care client. The address, in the Marina District, was even more thrilling. The neighborhood was known for million dollar homes, and anyone who lived on Marina Boulevard itself was probably rich and well established. So much for her dreams of a new money baseball player, but an eccentric old dowager with arthritis and a broken hip would do.
Suddenly she frowned, realizing she was being a bit bloodthirsty.
Jiao got off the phone and grinned at her. "How much do you love me, Cha-Cha?"
"This much." Chakah reached across the desk, holding out a brown paper container of freshly brewed Blue Bottle.
"Is this that hella expensive coffee you drink?" The middle aged Chinese woman sniffed at the container. "What's in it again? A drop from the fountain of youth, and two drops from the fountain of weight loss?"
"Funny," Chakah commented, though her tone suggested the opposite. She didn't tolerate cracks about her size. Being her boss was the only thing that saved Jiao from a harsher remark.
The older woman sipped the coffee and nodded her approval. "Wow. Okay, I'll take Blue Bottle once a week for the rest of this huge, amazing, unbelievable assignment I'm about to give you. Here's a hint. Drumroll." Jiao's fingers tapped the desk, and then her brown eyes widened with excitement and anticipation. "Gray."
Chakah blinked. The sky was gray over the Bay Area most days; that wasn't much of a hint. "Gray...?"
"Shut up!" She clapped a hand to her mouth. "Oh, my God. The Gray Hats? Like, the band?"
Jiao made a finger gun and clicked her teeth. "Bingo."
Heart beating wildly, Chakah reached into her pocket and held up her music player, showing that she'd been listening to the band on her trip to Castro. She'd been a fan since they were no-name locals making funk-infused rock, with a twist of soul, sound more exciting than anything on the top 40s chart. Since they'd acquired Griffin Gray, a Southern musician and songwriter whose lyrics were as sultry as the drawl that poured from his lush lips, the band had worked their way up from catchy hit singles to an album that had been nominated for a Grammy. They had hit a rut since then, but her devotion couldn't be swayed.
"Oh, my God," she repeated, wondering how news of an injured band member had escaped her. She stayed up to date on celebrity gossip. "What happened? Please tell me it's not Griffin." Chakah bit her lip with worry for the gorgeous brunette frontman. His blue-eyed soul had kept her company on more than one lonely night.
"No, his wife, Luz."
"Oh." She didn't even try to sound concerned. Luz Gray once had been more lust worthy than her husband, but had become a plastic beauty who was rumored to be planning a divorce. Chakah hadn't seen the couple in a picture together in almost a year, and couldn't understand how any woman in her right mind wouldn't want Griffin. "What happened to her?"
"She got hit by a car, in front of her own home, apparently. Broke both legs. Just a simple fracture of the lower right, but she had compound and comminuted fractures of the left leg. Ended up in traction."
"They still do that?" Chakah winced as her sympathy for Luz increased.
"I guess if your leg snaps into pieces like a pretzel, they do. She's been laid up at home for weeks. I can't imagine." Jiao scraped her shaggy chestnut hair into a top knot. "She's looking for at least eight weeks of intensive therapy, and may want you to live with them. Oh, and you'll have to sign a non-disclosure agreement."
"Live with them in the Marina?" Already vibrant with excitement, Chakah bounced in her chair as she imagined walking into a bathroom and seeing Griffin Gray, glistening and naked, instead of Briggs' guest's jockstrap.
"Is that a yes? To be honest, you're the only female staffer I have who's available to do a live-in. Leila was interested, but—"
"She's married." Being the only unattached woman on staff, Chakah was well acquainted with receiving last-minute appointments that others couldn't take. The inconvenience had been well worth it, if Griffin Gray was her payoff. "Lucky single me." She smirked. And to think she'd been bemoaning the single life mere hours before. "When do I start?"
"She'd like you to stop by today to discuss the paperwork and a therapy plan."
"I'll be there with bells on. What time?"
"Whenever you're ready. Mrs. Gray said to call when you're on the way." Jiao smiled.
Clutching the clipboard to her chest, Chakah stood and resisted an urge to pop her big booty in a happy dance. She beamed at her boss. "I really appreciate this opportunity," she said, knowing such a plum assignment could be the start of a roster of home care clients.
"Just remember that you represent Falcon Physical Therapy and don't flail too hard, okay?"
Chakah laughed that off, even though it wasn't a joke. Her excitable nature was no secret.
She fairly danced outside and to the metro, where she tried to think of someone to call with her good news, after she called and spoke with Luz Gray. Minnie wouldn't know who The Gray Hats were; Briggs wouldn't care; and Remy would probably ask to come along in the hopes of furthering his connections.
After a trip downtown, she traded the metro for a bus to the Marina. Broad shoulders jammed into a seat by a window, Chakah hunkered over her phone, scouring the Internet for gossip about the Grays. She did find a small mention of Luz's accident; but, far more prevalent were stories about the couple's rumored divorce that Chakah already had read. Most sources called the demise of their relationship a tragedy because it had been such a fairytale at the beginning.
Almost ten years ago, Luz had been a wealthy young socialite starting college. Griffin had been a poor Southern boy who'd chased his dreams of singing in big, bright Hollywood arenas all the way to dim gas stations and late-night diners. It'd been love at first sight over the roof of Luz's sports car after Griffin had offered to pump her gas, a love about which he'd written The Gray Hats' first single.
Their relationship hadn't fared as well as their hit song. Luz's father had forbidden the romance with a threat of disowning her; yet, the headstrong young woman had eloped with Griffin regardless. They'd risen to fame and fortune since then, inspiring the romantic fantasies of millions of women along the way.
Fangirl bias had made Chakah jealous of Luz in the past. However, flipping through a folder that contained the details of her client's injuries, she was more sympathetic and wondered if the incident would cause a change of heart. The possible demise of a love as strong as the Grays' disenchanted Chakah, especially since, by all accounts, the couple had everything.
If money, beauty, and a house in the Marina couldn't buy happiness, the cheap one-bedroom apartment in SoMa that she longed for might not even buy a good night's sleep.
Once in the Marina district, Chakah stepped down from the bus near Broderick and Jefferson then walked the rest of the way to Marina Boulevard. She faced a stunning view of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Tightly packed Victorian houses painted in warm colors lined the street as she walked toward the Palace of Fine Arts. The closer she got, the newer and more impressive the houses became. Still, the Marina was less imposing and affluent than Pacific Heights. She hoped that meant the difference between the Grays simply being rich and being snobs.
Steps away from the Palace of Fine Arts, Chakah found their three-story house. Sitting on a corner lot with modern architecture and tons of large, rectangular windows, it stood out from the older homes on the street; yet, the design seemed minimalist and not intended to show off. From the sidewalk, she could see into a downstairs sitting room that was sparsely furnished with white leather furniture. A lonely cactus in a planter was the only decoration out front of a simple black wood door.
Chakah walked down a short path made of slate stones, past the glass-encased sitting room on her right, to the front door. She rang the bell. No one answered. As big as the house was, she supposed she would have to wait a few minutes and tried to be patient; but, enthusiasm soon made her ring again.
The door opened, and a skinny young man with frizzy red hair glared at her. He wore beige scrubs, much like hers. "Yes?"
"Hi, I'm Chakah DuBois. Falcon Physical Therapy sent me."
"Right. Come in."
Just inside the front door, natural light poured through as many windows as the architect apparently had been able to fit in the walls. The light made the place cozy, overwhelmed as it was with white paint, natural wood accents, and minimalist interior design. It reminded her of an IKEA catalogue.
The man, who rudely hadn't introduced himself, led them through a black and white kitchen, and then through a sunny hallway to the rear side of the house. There was a lot more to it than had been obvious from the street, including an extensively landscaped backyard with a pool. They stopped in a bedroom full of white lacquer furniture with crisp edges that seemed simple but probably had cost a fortune.
"Wait here," he said.
Chakah only nodded, consumed as she was with the fact she was probably standing in Griffin Gray's bedroom. Rumpled red sheets on the sunken bed suggested two people had slept in it, and a pair of men's slippers peeked out from under the slick white casing that enclosed the mattress.
The man had disappeared around a corner, so Chakah bit her lip and inched closer to the bed, closer still, and ultimately then lunged forward and pressed her hand into the mattress.
The sheets felt soft as a cloud, but of course Griffin's bed would be heaven.
All too soon, the man came back and extended his scrawny arm toward where he'd disappeared. "She's in the bath. She wants to see you."
Smile on her face, Chakah stepped forward and stuck out her hand. "Thanks. It was nice to meet you...?"
"Peter. I'm her nurse." His limp hand briefly touched Chakah's, then fell away.
"Okay then. See you later," she murmured as he walked past. His attitude wasn't exactly a dismissal; still, she didn't appreciate it. Chakah told herself the guy probably needed a coffee break and carried on, determined not to lose the good mood she'd worked so hard to maintain that day.