The Ways Men Love: An Excerpt
Okay, so I was digging through files buried on assorted back up drives and flash drives, and I unearthed some stories I’d written ten to fifteen years ago. Carefully I brushed away the sand to reveal literary artifacts from years past. Many unfinished tales were so old I’d forgotten their plots. Others gave me, an “Oh yeah” moment. One of those unfinished works was titled The Ways Men Love.
I remembered that my original idea stemmed from thinking about how men and women deal differently with experiences that impact our emotions. I’d reflected on how generally women are better able to verbalize their feelings, while men bottle up much of what we feel deeply. I decided to write a piece about five men who were lifelong friends coming together to talk about their experiences with women in their lives, the good and the bad.
My idea was to present each man’s story in two versions: First, the way it happened, told in my narrative voice, and then have the character tell his story to his friends. I thought it might be interesting to examine how different types of male personalities relayed their stories to other men as compared to the facts; how they revealed (or didn’t reveal) their emotions.
Here’s a little background and preparation, because this section may read as harsh:
The friends are Eric, Jason, Frankie, Mitch and Curtis. Curtis has just told his story of how his ex-girlfriend Pam might or might not have cheated on him and thrown it in his face in a fit of anger. This excerpt begins as Frankie, a man bitter over his own experience, speaks his mind about Curtis’ experience.
The excerpt ends with Mitch’s story, told via author narrative. Mitch’s story will become an important element in my upcoming saga The Hitman Chronicles.
THE WAYS MEN LOVE
“He was trying to get back with her from the day he got back to Jersey,” Frankie said. “Shit, probably before that. Man, do you really believe that ‘We’re just friends now’ bullshit she told you? You said yourself they’d been talking on the phone and emailing each other and all that bullshit since he left. C’mon Curtis, in your life how many people do you know who break up and are still friends afterward? Most motherfuckers can’t stand each other. That shoulda’ been your first clue right there.”
“Yeah, and they really didn’t even break up,” Mitch added. “They just agreed to call it quits because he got stationed overseas.”
“Right, and he comes back and he’s trying to get with her again,” Frankie said. “Man, anytime a dude hits on a woman and he looks good to her, she likes that shit. And that’s any woman. In your case these motherfuckers had history together. Even if Pam wasn’t interested in him at the time and might have told him she’s had a new nigga, she still dug that attention. Believe that. And believe that that’s some dick she had on back up in case you fucked up.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t fuck up. Pam just thought I did,” Curtis said.
“Well, that’s all it takes,” Jason added.
Frankie nodded. “No shit. She probably wanted that military motherfucker again anyway. I bet she was creaming in her panties just waiting for you to give her a reason to go running back to that nigga. Think about it, Cuz. She told you herself that the only reason they broke up is because he got stationed overseas. Like Mitch said, that wasn’t even a real break up. That’s just them admitting that they don’t want to put in the work to stay faithful and keep their drawers on while they’re apart. That shows how untrustworthy their asses are. They didn’t trust themselves or each other. You’re lucky you got rid of her cheating ass before ya’ll got married or some shit, ‘cause you woulda’ spent the rest of your life with a woman who was fucking some other nigga every time she got pissed at you. You’d never know when you were sticking your dick in a hole that some other motherfucker just pulled out of.”
Mitch laughed. “Damn, check out Frankie getting deep.”
Frankie waved his hand dismissively at Mitch. “Nigga, that ain’t deep, that’s reality. But now her old nigga comes back to town, and you know he wants to get back in that pussy. And she was probably thinking about that dick, too. Even if she didn’t know for sure you were playing around, like I said, she was probably just looking for any excuse to get with that motherfucker anyway. The proof that she was thinking about boning him is that she didn’t tell you he was back and that she’d been talking to him behind your back. She didn’t tell you that shit until she got pissed off at you.”
“Frankie could be right,” Eric said. “And, do you think she would take a chance on blowing your relationship by telling you she slept with her old boyfriend if it wasn’t true? That’s a big risk to take just to hurt your feelings for some payback.”
“I don’t think it was like that,” Curtis said. “She was really pissed off. She might’ve just been trying to get back at me like she said by telling me she slept with him. I told you she said she really hadn’t even seen him since he got back and that they’d just talked on the phone.”
Frankie shook his head as if amazed that Curtis could be so naive. “Damn, nigga, she told you she fucked him. What more proof do you need? She just changed her story after she stopped being mad so you wouldn’t kick her ass to the curb. She knew she’d fucked up by telling on herself. Man, you shoulda’ seen this coming from way back. This was Pam’s ex dick, Cuz. If she wasn’t feeling him because of you, she would have told him to fuck off from the jump because she was with you. And I’m talking about when he was still overseas. There wouldn’t have been no phone calls and emails and shit because she would’ve been through with him as soon as you two got serious.”
“She never said he was coming on to her while he was gone,” Curtis said. “She said he respected that she was with me now.”
Frankie threw his hands in the air in exasperation. “Nigga please! Do you hear yourself? I didn’t raise you to be no fool. Do you really believe that nigga would still be talking to her if she’d told him no if and or buts that he didn’t ever have a chance to get the pussy again? If he knew he had no shot then he would have moved on. How many females do any of ya’ll know that you’re just friends with that you call to just talk on the phone and shit? I’ll tell you how many: None. Even if ya’ll knew the girl from birth, you just see her when you see her cause men don’t roll like that. You don’t call her just to talk unless you’re trying to get some. If that nigga was still calling Pam it’s because she didn’t cut him off for sure. He knew he still had a shot because she didn’t tell him he didn’t have one.”
“Frankie’s right,” Mitch said. “And something else, Curtis: You wanna talk about respect? How about you telling Pam you didn’t want her dealing with this nigga at all? She pretty much said fuck you and how you feel and kept communicating with him. That should have been your main clue that she wasn’t through with this dude. I mean come on, if she had had a problem with you dealing with some woman that you used to fuck would you have kept on doing it?”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Curtis said.
“Right. But you let her do it to you.”
“Look, I trusted her. She’d always been up front with me about everything in her life.”
Frankie stood up and began pacing as he spoke. “Oh my God,” he muttered. He pointed his finger at Curtis. “See, that’s the problem. Niggas always wanna think women are fucking angels, like if they’re with you they’re not going to want some new dick from somebody else every now and then. That’s how ho’s get away with so much shit. We get played and we never even know it because we’re ignorant by choice. And while we’re being fucking ignorant, she’s getting her pussy banged every which way but loose. You think she’s only spreading her legs for you, but she’s probably getting fucked on his desk at work, in his car and in his crib and in motel rooms all over five states, and shit, if she’s a real low-life ho, she might have fucked somebody else in your own bed—the bed your ass paid for.”
“Damn Frankie, that’s cold,” Mitch said.
“Cold as ice, my brother, but true. Hell, some ho’s get off on that shit. They already think they’re smarter than us. Getting some dick on the side and not getting caught turns them on as much as the sex they’re getting from that other nigga. I’m telling you fellas, never think that your woman’s pussy is all yours. That’s just asking to get your feelings hurt in the long run. Hell, they think the same shit about us, because they know how it really goes down. That’s why they’re always suspecting us of fucking around—because they know how sorry their asses are. Men get caught because women expect us to cheat. Women don’t get caught because men are fucking blind and stupid. We don’t see the truth because we don’t want to.”
“Yeah, somebody said one time that people who cheat are always the most jealous people,” Eric said. “You can be faithful, but they’ll never believe it because they know what they’ll do or maybe already did behind your back. They know they can’t be trusted so they can’t trust you. And the person who’s the faithful one is the one who always gets accused and always suffers. Curtis, I don’t think Pam’s insecurity has anything to do with her past. Frankie might be on point this time. Pam’s old boyfriend was back, so she might’ve been looking for any excuse to get with him. You gave her the excuse she needed by giving that girl a ride home from work.”
“Man, I hear ya’ll,” Curtis said. “But you don’t know how it was before. I mean Pam was it—the one for me. I loved her like I’ve never loved anybody in my life. I mean, the way I felt about her, there’s no way I would have cheated on her no matter how mad I got. I didn’t want anybody else but her, and I’ve never felt that way about any female. Hell, ya’ll know how I was back in the day. I got laid everywhere and didn’t give a damn. But I wouldn’t violate my relationship with Pam like that. I felt like if I fucked around on her, then I’d be ruining what we had even if she never found out about it. She might not know, but I’d know. And I know she felt the same way about me. That’s the only reason I’m not sure if she really did sleep with this guy.”
Frankie shook his head again. “Man, somebody please help this pussy-whipped nigga.”
Curtis sighed. “Look, I know this was the real thing with Pam. We both felt that way, like God put us together.”
“Well then God split you up, too,” Mitch said.
“Yeah I guess,” Curtis said. “You know, sometimes I wonder if I did something in my life, something wrong to hurt somebody else, you know? I wonder if this is God’s way of making me pay for something I did.”
“Damn Bro, you really loved Pam, didn’t you?” Eric asked.
Curtis looked at Eric. His old friend’s face was filled with concern and compassion. Curtis thought about how he’d felt about Pam, about how much his love for her had consumed him and his life. For a year she’d been his entire world, his future. Everything he’d wanted and wanted to do until the day he died revolved around her. He thought about the love he’d had for her, and the pain of his loss returned. He felt the hurt welling in his chest; felt his throat thicken. He tried to answer Eric. He tried to say ‘Yes,’ but all that came out of his mouth was a strangled sob. He lowered his head and hid his face in his hands. These four men were his best friends in life, but still he was ashamed to let them see this side of him—his weakness.
For a minute the only sound in Jason’s living room was Curtis’ muted gasps as he tried to contain his anguish. No one spoke. The four men waited in uncomfortable silence as their friend sobbed into his hands.
When he’d regained control Curtis wiped his face with the back of his hands. “Sorry, ya’ll. Didn’t mean to break up like that,” he said. “It’s just one of those things I have to deal with.”
Frankie said, “Shit man, you ain’t got to apologize to us. You got a heart like anybody else, and it got stepped on real bad. Besides, you cried worse than that when you fell off the jungle gym and bust your head in the third grade. Now that was some funny shit.”
Curtis smiled through glistening eyes and said, “Fuck you, faggot” and everyone relaxed, relieved to be past the moment of uncomfortable emotion.
Jason said, “You know, my grandmother used to say that it’s the people who are truly good at heart who pay for their sins here on earth.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Frankie asked. “Nigga, speak English.”
Jason leaned forward in his chair with his elbows on his knees. He clasped his hands in front of him as if he were about to pray. “Well, it’s like what Curtis was just saying, about wondering what he’d done wrong in his life to deserve to get stomped on by Pam like he did. Instead of hating her ass, he’s sitting here wondering what sin he committed to warrant being hurt by her like that. See, good people have a conscience. They believe they have to pay for the wrong things they do.”
“Yeah well, that’s for God to decide,” Frankie said. “The Man upstairs will sort it all out in the end. I ain’t worried about it while I’m breathing.”
“No, you’re not hearing me,” Jason said. “See, good people suffer here on earth because they have a sense of right and wrong and have compassion for others. What my grandmother was saying is that they suffer because they have a heart. Even if God isn’t making them pay for something they did, they suffer because they believe there are consequences for everything we do. When something bad happens they look within themselves for answers. They suffer because they have a conscience.”
“So you’re saying that evil people get a free pass in life?” Mitch asked.
“It sure seems that way sometimes. How many people do you know who fuck over other people or hurt them physically or emotionally or are always doing something wrong and never seem to pay for it? If something does go wrong in their lives, they don’t ask themselves ‘What did I do to bring this on myself?’ No, they never find fault with themselves. They always look to blame somebody else when things don’t go their way. Then they go looking for revenge to make themselves feel better.”
“Yeah, like Pam,” Eric said. “She blamed Curtis for giving a woman a ride home in a storm. Just because she’s insecure because of her past issues, she can’t accept that all the brother was doing was being a decent man and helping a woman out. So since she’s feeling bad, she has to make Curtis suffer to pay him back. So she goes and fucks her old boyfriend and then throws it in Curtis’ face. And Curtis is just supposed to accept it like, ‘Okay Pam, you taught me a lesson. I’m sorry.’ It’s like the only way she can get over her feelings and feel better is to hurt him worse.”
“Shit, fuck that,” Mitch said. “I don’t think it’s all that deep. I think she just wanted to get back with this guy James for a minute. I mean, they didn’t break up on bad terms. They just thought they might not see each other again. But they’re still hanging on to hope because they’re still communicating even though he’s way the hell in Korea. But then he comes back. And I’m gonna tell it like it is: If he used to rock her world, then you know she’s remembering how that felt. Curtis, Pam told you he called her once he got back from Korea, like she didn’t know he was coming back, like it was a surprise. But since they’d never stopped talking while he was gone you know she had to know he was coming back to Jersey.”
“Damn, that’s right,” Frankie said.
“That’s right,” Eric added. “When I was in the Air Force they almost always gave you at least a few months notice about your next assignment. And if you’re stationed overseas you know exactly how long you’re going to be there, down to the month. He must have told her at some point. Yeah Curtis, Pam knew when he was coming back. She just didn’t tell you.”
“Man, put yourself in this dude’s shoes,” Mitch said. “If you still had a thing for Pam even though she was with somebody else, would you be playing like you ‘respected’ her relationship while you’re away and then wait until you get back to spring the news that you want to hook up again? Or would you be trying to set it up before you came back? Hell, maybe the only reason he came back to Jersey was for her. Maybe they both had this all planned. Maybe she did love you, Bro. But maybe her love wasn’t as strong as yours. But maybe she wanted to keep her conscience clear by finding a way to blame you for her fucking her ex—if she hadn’t already fucked him as soon as he got back. And don’t forget she didn’t tell you he was back to stay until you almost got back together again. Maybe that whole being mad at you thing was a set up. Yeah, I think she was playing you, Bro. Like I said, fuck that.”
Eric laughed, “Damn Mitch, you sound madder about it than Curtis.”
“That’s because I’ve been through the same shit.”
Her answering machine message said that she’d be working late again and to not wait on her for dinner. Her tinny digital voice told him that she’d catch a bite on the way home.
Damn. Mitch wanted to go out tonight. He was in a serious mood for some cheese ravioli, and the only place that made it the way he liked was a little Italian restaurant across the street from the beach in Long Branch, his hometown.
This was the second night this week that Margaret worked late. She did this more often lately, but he didn’t want to complain because she really loved her new career as an accountant. But damn it, he missed spending the time with her. And she worked on salary. She wasn’t making any more money for the extra time. As far as he was concerned, there wasn’t that much love in the world for a job where you worked for somebody else. So he was missing taking her out to dinner because she was giving her boss free labor.
And he really wanted some cheese ravioli.
He walked naked from the master bath’s shower into their bedroom and stood under the ceiling fan, letting the cool downdraft dry the moisture from his walnut-brown skin. He caught a glimpse of himself in the dresser mirror. He was thirty-four years old and his stomach was still flat and hard. Crunches every morning before work saw to that. Push-ups and dumbbell curls kept his arms and upper body in shape. He needed to get to the gym more often to work on his legs, though.
He turned to the face the mirror, studying himself a little closer. If it weren’t for the thinning hair on the top of his head he could have passed for someone ten years younger, because he kept himself in excellent physical condition. He had to stay in shape to keep up with Margaret.
They met twelve years ago when he was twenty-two and she was eighteen. He’d worked in the Housekeeping department at the hospital in Long Branch since he’d graduated from high school. Through hard work, he’d made shift supervisor in four years, even though he was the youngest guy on his crew.
Margaret had been a new hire on his shift. He’d thought she was gorgeous; a slender dark chocolate beauty with black eyes that could look right into your soul and a smile that could melt your heart if she chose to grace you with it. She melted his the first day he laid eyes on her.
They hit it off right away, and in less than a month they were a couple. Two years later they were married.
They had a lot in common back then, not the least of which was their appetite for sex. He’d never met a woman who wanted to give and get it as much as Margaret. She insisted on having at least one dick-induced orgasm a day, preferably in the morning. Otherwise, in her own words, she’d be a grumpy bitch all day. Nighttime sex was her way to close out the day, her sleeping pill.
In addition to wanting to satisfy her own needs, she believed that the only way to make sure he didn’t fool around was to see to it that when she was done with him, he had nothing left to fool around with. She’d told him a thousand times that if he was going to get off at all, it was going to be with her, his wife. To her way of thinking, even masturbation was an insult to her womanhood, unless of course, she was the one doing it for him. The result was that for every day of their marriage, unless one of them was sick or very tired, they fucked. If it was her time of the month, she did other things to get him off. Even when they argued and weren’t even talking to each another they fucked. They just did it in silence.
So he had to keep himself in top shape to keep up with his wife, but he had absolutely no complaints about their love life. Mitch knew plenty of guys who practically had to crawl and beg their wives for a little pussy every now and then, so he knew he had it good.
His body was dry now, but he was going to have to wait until his rock-hard erection died down before he could get dressed. Even after twelve years, thinking about his wife always had this effect on him. If she’d been around right now to see his condition, she would have been on him like white on rice. But she was working late again.
He decided to go for the ravioli. The restaurant was on the shore, some thirty miles from their condo in Lakewood, but tonight nothing else was going to satisfy his craving. Since he’d planned to take Margaret to dinner, his clothes were already laid out on the bed: Charcoal gray cords, black cable knit turtleneck sweater and over the ankle Rockports. He got dressed and rushed downstairs, throwing on his black calf-length cashmere overcoat as he headed out to the parking lot to his Jeep.
He never used to eat alone. Early in their marriage, he and Margaret were inseparable. When he was a Housekeeping shift supervisor and she one of his crew they loved going out together to eat when they got off from work, before they went home. Margaret used to say that it was like foreplay; they knew they were going to get naked as soon as they got in the house, so stopping somewhere to eat served as a tease, prolonging the pleasure they were both dying for.
Two years after they married he was promoted again, to manager of the entire Housekeeping staff. Margaret was happy for his success, but she was pissed that he got to work a nine to five while she still worked the evening shift.
Even their conflicting schedules didn’t cut down on their lovemaking. Margaret wouldn’t allow that. No, he just got a whole lot less sleep. She’d get home at around midnight and attack him wherever he was in the house if he were awake. If he was asleep she’d shake or suck him awake, or he’d wake up gasping for air because her pussy was pressed against his face.
Sometimes he wondered what was going to happen when they reached middle age, when she was entering her sexual prime and he was on the downslide. Would he still have enough left to satisfy her? Then again, maybe things would change after they had kids. Maybe raising a couple of rug rats would leave them too tired to think about sex.
His next promotion came as a result of his love of computers. He started out working with the hospital’s system administrator in his spare time, helping him troubleshoot problems or set up new programs. Before Mitch knew it, the administrator had moved on and the job was offered to him. It was a better job paying better money doing something that he truly enjoyed, so of course he accepted.
Even though his chest was about to burst over his latest accomplishment he was careful not to crow too much about it to Margaret. It seemed to him that his continuing success was a reminder to her of what she hadn’t accomplished in life. He understood why she was upset. In a sense it was like he was moving up in the world and leaving her behind. Though his promotions benefited them both—after all his raise in salary was their raise—he knew it was only human nature to be a little envious when someone who’d been on an equal plane moved up. So he kept his pride to himself. In retrospect he should have known that something negative would happen. Like his mother always said, pride cometh before the fall.
He and Margaret agreed early on that at the five-year point in their marriage they would start making babies, and when he became the hospital’s Systems Administrator and Webmaster he earned enough to allow her to quit her job and start working on getting pregnant. But when that time came, Margaret threw a monkey wrench into what he thought was a rock solid plan. She told him she wanted to go to college and get a degree before she became a mother.
Of course he supported her, even though he was disappointed that they wouldn’t become parents according to their original schedule. He paid her way through college, and to Margaret’s credit, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting in three years.
And then things started to change. It was nothing drastic, just some little things…
Like all of a sudden their old friends—people from the Housekeeping staff that they’d hung out with for years—weren’t good enough for her anymore…
Like how she’d traded in the Camry he bought her for her birthday the very next day for a Lexus, without even telling him. She paid the extra cost, but damn. She told him that she had an image to maintain, that people expected a white-collar worker to drive a white-collar automobile…
Like that she didn’t want to play racquetball with him on Saturday mornings anymore. She’d taken up golf, and now she hung out on the links on Saturdays with the suits from her firm…
Like that they hadn’t gone out to dinner together at their favorite Italian restaurant in over a year. The only constant in the two years since she’d become an accountant was their sex life.
He parked his Jeep around the corner from the restaurant and walked up the street toward the entrance. He’d been so deep in thought that he almost walked right by the white Lexus parked four spaces up from his Jeep. He wouldn’t have noticed the car at all—after all there had to be dozens of white Lexus’ in this county alone—except for the black Raggedy Ann doll perched on the rear window deck.
Margaret’s Raggedy Ann doll.
Mitch stood on the curb for a minute with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his overcoat, staring at the car. There had to be a logical explanation. She said she’d be working late. It was a quarter to eight now. She got off at 5:30. She worked all the way up in Newark, at least an hour away in the best traffic. So if she’d just worked an hour over, she could be here by now. But they lived straight down Route 9 from Newark. This restaurant was thirty miles out of her way. Why would she drive all the way out here? Had she had a sudden taste for ravioli, too?
The hostess asked him if he’d be dining alone. He said that he wasn’t sure, that he thought someone he knew might be here. She led him into the dining area.
He spotted her sitting in a booth in a corner near the back of the room. Her back was to him. Some light-skinned pudgy-faced brother in a suit sat across from her, talking animatedly. Mitch couldn’t see Margaret’s face, but she was leaning forward and nodding her head as if she were hanging on this guy’s every word.
In spite of the fact that his heart rate had just tripled, Mitch forced himself to relax. There was no point in assuming something without knowing the facts. Maybe this dude was just a co-worker, or even her boss. She’d never introduced him to the people she worked with. Maybe there was a reason they were having dinner in an Italian restaurant on the shore rather than working in their office. There had to be some logical reason.
There had to be.
He told the waitress that he’d spotted his party. He took a deep breath and headed for their booth. His legs were shaking. His heartbeat thrummed in his ears like a bass drum.
Be cool man. This doesn’t mean anything. There has to be a reason…
Margaret was lifting something from her plate with her fork. She raised it and offered it to the suit. Mitch froze in his tracks. The suit stopped talking and smiled at his wife, then accepted the bite. A bit of the food remained on the corner of his mouth. Margaret—his wife—wiped it away with her bare finger. The suit kissed her fingertips.
When Mitch was younger he used to experience fits of rage. When truly angered, he’d sometimes strike out before he knew what he was doing. Many of the fights he’d been in during his youth happened because of that rage. Someone would say or do something that was an affront to himself or one of his friends, and he’d snap. As a young man he’d learned to control his anger. Right now it was taking every ounce of willpower he possessed to keep it caged.
Mitch hurried across the dining area carpet. His legs were no longer shaking. His heart still pounded, but no longer with anxiety. As he moved he didn’t realize that his fists were clenched so tight that the veins in the backs of his hands were bulging. He was standing over them in an instant.
Margaret looked up at him. Her expression of surprise and guilt answered every question he could have thought to ask. He asked anyway.
“Is this how you always work late, Margaret?”
He watched her struggle to find the words, to come up with some saving explanation. But there was no suitable excuse, not when you’re caught red-handed, and she knew it. She let out a heavy, resigned sigh and said, “Mitch, could we please talk about this at home…”
“What could we talk about Margaret? What the fuck could you possibly say?”
The suit cleared his throat. Mitch ignored him.
“Mitch, please,” she said. “Don’t make a scene.”
“I’m not making a fucking scene. I came here to get something to eat because my wife said she was working late. If I wanted to make a goddamned scene, I’d be tearing this place apart.”
Margaret scanned the dining area nervously. “Please keep your voice down, people are watching…”
Fuck her and her embarrassment. Mitch snatched her hand up, and before she could protest, pried her wedding band from her finger. To his disappointment, it came off easily. He’d hoped to peel some flesh off with it.
Margaret gasped and flinched. He’d hurt her hand. Good. The end was supposed to hurt.
The suit stood up. “Now see here, fella…” he began.
Mitch stabbed him in the middle of his expensive silk tie with the tip of his finger, cutting him off in mid-sentence. “Motherfucker, the smartest thing you will ever do in your life will be to sit your ass down and shut the fuck up, right now.”
The suit didn’t move. They stood eyeing each other like two pit bulls waiting to be let off their chains so that they could get at each other’s throats. The dining area was as quiet as a tomb. Everyone was watching them.
Mitch shifted his feet on the carpet, left foot forward, right foot back and perpendicular to the left, bending his knees a little to set his balance; a boxer’s stance. He kept his hands low, but if this cocksucker so much as flinched…
Margaret knew him well. She grabbed his wrist and spoke in a voice laced with panic. “Mitch, don’t…please.” She looked at the suit. “Sit down, Thomas.”
That’s right bitch, save your boy’s life.
The suit named Thomas looked at her, considering, then said, “All right dear.” He took his seat.
Margaret breathed a sigh of relief and let go of his wrist. “Let’s talk at home, all right?”
Mitch looked down at the woman who for twelve years had meant more to him than his own life. He said, “Fuck you,” and left the restaurant.
He’d almost finished packing when he heard the front door open downstairs. Shit. He’d hoped to be out of here before she returned. He wanted to leave her while he was still angry. He knew the pain would come soon enough.
From the corner of his eye he spotted her standing in the bedroom doorway, watching him as he packed. Don’t say anything to me. Just let me go.
“Mitch, you don’t have to leave.”
He tried not to look at her as he spoke. “One of us has to go, and I never liked this place anyway. You picked it out, remember?”
“I picked it for us, Mitch. This is our home.”
“Not anymore. You blew that shit out of the water.”
She didn’t respond. Her silence further confirmed her guilt. If she hadn’t been up to no good she’d be protesting her innocence right now. But she wasn’t even trying to deny that she was seeing another man.
His chest felt heavy. His face was hot, as if he were suffering a fever. His brain felt numb, stunned as if he were experiencing the aftermath of a blow to the head without the physical pain. He watched his hand zip the suitcase closed. He couldn’t feel the zipper tab in his fingers. It was if the hand belonged to someone else. He gripped the suitcase handle, squeezing it hard to force himself to feel something, to fight off the numbness that threatened to overcome his entire body.
He had to get out of here. If he didn’t get out soon something bad was going to happen.
“Where will you go?” she asked.
“I don’t know. As long as it’s away from you.”
“Mitch, I’m so sorry. This is not how I wanted it to happen.”
He looked at her now. “Yeah, cheaters never plan to get caught.” He lifted his suitcase and stepped to the door. She didn’t move aside. “Excuse me…”
Her eyes shone with tears. In all the years he’d know her, he’d never seen her cry. She always fancied herself as the epitome of the strong black woman.
“I really need to go, Margaret.”
She touched him, her fingers tracing lightly over his sweater. A single fat tear slid down her dark chocolate cheek. “Can’t we at least say goodbye to each other? Just this one last time?”
He couldn’t believe it. She actually wanted to go to bed after what happened tonight. She stepped closer to him, her face nuzzling against his neck, her hand sliding against the front of his pants.
He thought about their life, their relationship.How it had always been.
Even when they argued and weren’t even talking to each another they fucked… They just did it in silence.
He thought about how she looked naked, about her dark slender body, always wanting, always needing, and always giving. She was an incredible lover, the best he’d ever had, and they’d grown and learned together. Nothing had ever interfered with their sex life. Even now, as much as he hated to admit it to himself, he wanted her. He could feel himself growing under her coaxing touch.
He wondered if she’d touched that motherfucker in the suit like this. At that thought his desire for her started to die. He looked at her, deep into the depths of her black eyes. “Just tell me one thing…”
“Did you fuck him?”
She lifted her face from his shoulder. Her eyes widened in surprise, as if this were the most outrageous question he could possibly ask. “Oh Mitch, I couldn’t…I wouldn’t do that to you. I swear it.”
He stared at her, considering. She looked back at him with glistening eyes, her gaze unwavering.
He thought he believed her. Or maybe he just didn’t want to face the truth. Maybe he was weak enough to lie to himself for the sake of having sex with Margaret one last time. He wondered what it could hurt, to do it this one last time.
Margaret stepped out of her pumps and shrugged out of her business jacket. She pulled her blouse out of her skirt, unbuttoned it and slipped it off, letting it drop to the carpet at her feet. Her bra followed.
He looked at her. Such firm, dark breasts, and even darker nipples. What would it be like to never know them again?
She unzipped her skirt and let it drop around her feet.
She wore tiny black bikini panties and black thigh-highs as dark as her legs. She’d always hated pantyhose.
She peeled her panties down, watching him watching her. Fresh tears slipped down her face.
She moved forward and he stepped aside, turning to watch her tight black ass as she went to the bed. She climbed on top of the covers and waited for him.
He stood in his bedroom, his suitcase still clutched in one hand, staring down at the woman he’d desired most in the world, the woman who was about to become his ex-wife.
Nothing had ever come between them and sex before. Nothing had ever been greater than their desire for each other. But this…
Mitch looked down at Margaret as she waited for him on their bed—on her bed now. He couldn’t imagine that he’d ever sleep in it again. He thought about all that he’d invested—the love, the trust, and the years—in the belief that they would be together until one of them put the other in the ground.
He could have cheated. He’d certainly had his chances over the years. He couldn’t even remember how many opportunities had come his way, opportunities that he’d let pass because he loved Margaret above all others and didn’t want anyone else. How many women had he turned down because he’d wanted to do the right thing by his wife?
He wondered when things had changed for Margaret, when she’d stopped wanting to do the right thing by him and their marriage. What had made her lose so much feeling and respect for him that she could go to another man?
He pictured them again in the restaurant, the way she’d fed that guy from her plate, the way she’d wiped food from his mouth, the way he’d kissed her fingertips. Those weren’t the kinds of things you did when you were just thinking about fooling around with someone. And it wasn’t the kind of thing you did in a public place if you were worried about getting caught. Those were the kinds of acts committed by people in the midst of new love. They were the kind of things you did when the person you care most about is sitting across from the table from you. Someone with whom you’ve already been intimate.
She swore that she hadn’t slept with this guy, but could a cheater be trusted to tell the truth? He and Margaret made love almost every night. Had he been sleeping with her, fucking her after another man had been inside her, perhaps just a few hours before him?
He looked at her on the bed, naked and waiting for him to come to her. Would she have fucked the suit tonight first if he hadn’t caught her, and then come home to let him have what was left? Had she done it before, on one of those nights that she’d said she been working late? Had he already been getting sloppy seconds from his own wife?
He was glad now that he hadn’t eaten anything because suddenly he felt sick. His stomach was trying to churn up and expel the remnants of whatever remained from his lunch. He backed toward the bedroom door.
Margaret sat up, surprised. “Mitch?”
She was in danger. He’d never laid a hand on her before, but he wanted to hurt her now. He wanted to hurt her badly.
“Mitch, wait. I told you, nothing happened between Thomas and I.”
She’d spoken his name. From their bed, she’d spoken that motherfucker’s name. By speaking his name she’d brought him into their bedroom.
“Find a lawyer Margaret,” he said. His voice was tight with fury as that old rage rose in him like boiling lava, wanting to erupt in a frenzy of violence. He wanted to break something, to hurt something. “Find a lawyer and get me his name. I’ll have mine contact yours and tell you what I intend to keep.” His self-control neared the breaking point. He turned and left the room before it was too late.
As he reached the stairs he heard her call out, “It wasn’t anything about you. I still love you, Mitch.”
Yeah, right. Bitch.
Mitch stepped out of what used to be his home and closed the front door quietly behind him. He stood on the stoop of his condo for a moment, breathing in the crisp night air and wondering where he might go.
He had plenty of relatives in Long Branch, any one of whom would take him in without hesitation. But they would ask questions and feel sorry for him, and he couldn’t stand that right now. He wouldn’t be able to take the pity. Already he could feel the pain starting to spread, pumping from his heart like blood and coursing through his system.
He could go to his best friend Eric’s place, but that presented the same problem. He couldn’t take the sympathy, even from another man. Even thinking about it now made his eyes burn with pain. He hurried to his Jeep, blinking the hurt from his eyes as he moved.
He tried to conquer his sorrow with anger. He visualized Margaret laying with her lover, doing the things to him and for him that Mitch had thought were his gift alone, but that image brought a new bolt of agony to his heart so powerful it almost made him moan. He climbed into the Jeep with his suitcase and slammed the door.
God damn her.
Now that the image of Margaret with her lover was in his head he couldn’t push it out. He turned on the radio as he wheeled out of the parking lot, hoping to blot out the vision of his wife naked with another man with music.
WBLS out of New York was playing Otis Redding’s I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.
Son of a bitch.
Mitch braked at the corner of Prospect Street and put the Jeep in park. He let Otis’ plaintive vocals rip into his soul. This song was a killer for anyone with a broken heart, but he wasn’t going to let it get to him. He hadn’t cried since he was thirteen, when he’d decided that he was a man and above such things. Children cried. Females cried. He was a man, damn it, and he wasn’t going to break down.
The rookie cop waited as his partner returned from the side of the black Jeep Cherokee driven by a black male, approximately 30 years old. The Jeep was stopped at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Prospect Street with its blinkers on.
As his partner slid back under the wheel the rookie gave him a questioning look. “Well, what’s up, Sarge?” he asked.
“Forget about it,” the older cop said. “This guy just found out his wife is cheating on him, and he just walked out on her. He lives right back there in Wyndham Place. This is as far as he got before life punched him in the gut. The poor bastard is sitting there bawling his eyes out.”
“So what do you wanna do? He’s blocking traffic.”
“You’re not married, are you kid?”
“Well, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna sit here for a while and make sure nobody rear ends him. Let’s call it a public service; helping a citizen in need. Call the desk and tell them to disregard.”
After his encounter at the intersection with the police, Mitch wasn’t sure where he was going. He let his Jeep lead him where it would, first north on Route 9 out of Lakewood, and then east on I-195. By the time he reached the exit for Route 18, he knew he was headed back to Long Branch. He was going back home.
He didn’t plan to go to his family or friends. They’d smother him with their well-meaning understanding and sympathy. He couldn’t stand that right now. Right now his emotions were raw and bleeding. Their compassion would only make it worse.
From Route 18 he took Route 36 East through Eatontown toward Long Branch. He still wasn’t sure where he’d end up until he saw the sign for The McIntosh Inn Motel on Route 36, just outside the Long Branch city line. He wheeled into the parking lot.
This was perfect. He needed the reassurance of being near home and near his roots right now, but he still needed to be alone.
He paid for a room for a night but advised the clerk that he might stay longer, maybe a few days. He had no idea how long it would take him to find a place to live.
As soon as he sat on the bed his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since lunch. The motel didn’t have a restaurant so he was going to have to go back out to get something. Cheese ravioli was out of the question. He didn’t think he’d ever eat that shit again.
He left his room and drove back out onto Route 36 and into Long Branch. He wanted something quick and delicious now. A couple of hot dogs with mustard and red relish from The Windmill would fit the bill perfectly.
In town, Route 36 became Joline Avenue, which continued east toward the shore and terminated on Ocean Boulevard at the beach. He turned south onto Ocean.
The light from the Ocean Plaza Hotel and Convention Center glowed in the black sky over the Atlantic. It was a grim reminder of what might have been for his hometown. Since before the turn of the last century, Long Branch had been a popular summer tourist attraction. But the boardwalk, pier amusement center and concession stands burned to the sand in the early nineteen-eighties as a result of an electrical fire. Twenty years later the city had yet to recover.
Good things never seemed to last.
He remembered those warm summer days when he was a kid. He used to hang out on the boardwalk with Eric and their other friends. They played skee-ball and air hockey from early afternoon until it was time for them to get home to beat their nine o’clock curfews.
As teenagers, when they thought they were too cool to play kiddie games or splash in the foamy surf, they cruised Ocean Avenue in Eric’s mom’s gigantic Chrysler Newport. They’d try to meet girls from out of town who were impressed with guys who lived close enough to the shore to go to the beach year round. They’d treat the finest girls to steaming Italian sausage subs or pizza by the slice, or sometimes they’d go to The Windmill for their famous hotdogs. Back then girls were just playthings. He never imagined that one would steal and possess his heart, and that he would allow himself to become so vulnerable that she could destroy it.
Mitch parked in The Windmill’s small parking lot and entered the facility, stepping past two young brothers who were hanging around outside the entrance. They caught the door before it closed and came in behind him.
Mitch noted that no one else was in the place but him and the two young brothers, and two teenagers working behind the counter. He stepped to the counter and ordered.
The bigger of the two guys slid up beside him, pretending to read the menu on the wall beyond the grill. He stood just over six feet, was built like a linebacker and had skin the shade of wet tree bark.
Mitch paid for his food, and caught the kid glancing into his wallet as he pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. He couldn’t hide the fifty that slipped up when he removed the twenty. He knew the big guy saw it, and saw him cut his eyes over at his buddy. This could be trouble.
Balancing his hotdogs and soda on his palms, he headed for the exit. The smaller dude stood in front of the door. He acted like he didn’t want to get the fuck out of the way. Looking as unchallenging as he could, Mitch said, “Excuse me,” and squeezed past him.
He had to use his back to push the door open, and as he turned to face the grill he saw that everyone was staring at him…the two thugs and the two kids behind the counter. The kids looked at him the way he imagined onlookers stared at a man on his way to the electric chair.
Mitch sat behind the wheel of his Jeep eating his hotdogs, listening to the radio and watching the two thugs. They were outside again, standing against the exterior wall of The Windmill watching him. When he finished eating, he struggled out of his overcoat and tossed it into the back seat. He retrieved his gloves and put them on and exited the Jeep with his trash.
He could have driven away, back to the hotel. There wouldn’t be a problem then. But the rage that had become hurt had become rage again. The rage needed to be fed.
There was a garbage can a few paces from his vehicle. He could dump his trash and be back in the Jeep before they got to him if that was their intention. He spotted another can farther away, against the fence that bordered the rear of the parking lot. That trashcan was almost hidden in the night shadows. He headed for that one. He wanted as much privacy as possible for what he thought was about to happen.
When he was halfway to the trashcan he heard their quick footsteps coming up behind him. He played dumb and didn’t look back, judging their distance by the volume of their footfalls.
He deposited his trash and turned around. They were almost on him, about a dozen feet away. Mitch moved away from the trashcan, keeping his back to the fence. The big dude stepped close to him to block his escape if he tried to run. Mitch had no intention of running.
“What happened to your coat, Old School?” The smaller guy asked. “I was digging that coat.”
Mitch ignored him. The bigger one was closer and the greater threat.
“Gimme five dollars,” the big one demanded.
Mitch looked up into his hard eyes. “You know I would,” he answered, “but I spent my last dollar bill paying your mother for that blowjob. Tell her I said thanks, and to keep the change.”
For a moment there was silence. Maybe it took a while for this stupid motherfucker to grasp the meaning of his words. When they finally sank in the dude said, “Nigga, I’m a fuck you up.”
The big bastard was going to throw a punch. He actually drew back his right arm in preparation.
Mitch shot his right arm forward, driving it straight from his shoulder with his palm out. The gloved heel of his hand smashed into the punk’s face. Mitch felt the bone in his nose crunch.
He stepped to his left, putting the big guy between him and the other kid to block an attack if the smaller guy was coming. The big one was clutching at his face. Blood gushed from his broken nose between his thick fingers, hitting the asphalt with rapid splatters.
Mitch grabbed the back of his head and yanked it down hard while driving his right leg up. His knee caught the attacker on the chin, and he went down.
He turned to the smaller dude, who was standing with his mouth hanging open, shocked that his partner had been taken out so easily. He clutched a blade in one hand.
Mitch stepped away from his fallen attacker to give himself more space. “Come on bitch,” he growled at the kid. “Bring it.”
He wanted the punk to come. He wanted to hurt somebody. He needed to hurt somebody bad. It should have been Margaret. It should have been her and the motherfucker she was sleeping with behind his back. He wanted to crush their flesh in his hands, to break their bones, to make them suffer and pay for the pain they’d caused him. He needed to get rid of his hurt and anger with violence, and these two motherfuckers just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Come on, what the fuck are you waiting for?”
Maybe the kid saw the madness in his eyes, or maybe he was just a coward by nature. Whatever the reason, he turned and bolted out of the parking lot and down a side street.
The big dude was groaning and trying to get up. Mitch didn’t see him. In his mind’s eye he saw Margaret. He saw the suit from the restaurant. He saw them together, naked and fucking, stealing the love that was supposed to be his. He wanted to hurt them. He wanted to destroy them.
He grabbed the fallen wanna-be thug by his collar and started punching.
“Damn, what happened to that motherfucker?” Frankie asked. “You didn’t kill his ass, did you?”
“No. I only got a few in when the girl who worked in The Windmill came out and started screaming at them to leave me alone. She said she’d called the police. I guess she figured I was getting my ass kicked. So I left. Didn’t need any shit from the cops.”
“Good thing for that dude,” Eric said. “I thought you’d left that violent crap behind a long time ago, Bro.”
Mitch stared at the carpet. “I did. But that night I could have killed that bitch. I really wanted to fuck her up. The idea of her still breathing after she cheated on me…oh man…” He smacked his fist into his palm. “I was just taking out my hate on that punk. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“No woman is worth that,” Curtis said. “You jack her up, you go to jail.”
“Yeah, you ought to know,” Frankie said with an evil grin.
Curtis glared at Frankie. “Like I said before, fuck you.”
“Man, I didn’t know all that went down between you and Margaret,” Jason said to Mitch. “I mean, I heard you two split, but damn. How long has it been?”
“About a year and a half,” Mitch said.
“See what happens when we don’t stay in touch? We don’t even know what’s going on anymore in each other’s lives,” Curtis said.
“Sounds like a lot of fucked up relationships is what’s been going on,” Frankie said. “What’s she doing now? Is she still with that nigga?”
“Yeah,” Mitch answered. “They got married. I think she finally got the kind of dude she really wanted.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Frankie asked.
“The kind with deep pockets,” Mitch said. “The dude she was fucking is a lawyer. I heard he’s rich as hell. Old money and shit.”
“Come on, Mitch,” Jason said. “Don’t tell me you’ve been checking up on her. Margaret doesn’t still have your nose open like that, does she?”
“No, I’m the one who found that out,” Eric said. “What’s the point in being a private investigator if I can’t help out one of my best friends in life? After he left Margaret Mitch didn’t give a damn what she did. I just wanted to make sure she didn’t try to pull any shit with his finances. I guess she didn’t need to after marrying that dude, though. I hope the sucker has a prenup.”
“I don’t” Mitch said. “Fuck both of them. I hope he has a two-inch dick and blows his load in ten seconds flat every time. That’s the best way to make her nympho ass suffer. All the money in the world can’t cure her not getting stroked like she likes it.”
Frankie laughed. “Nigga, you just hoping that’s the case. A motherfucker having more money than us is one thing. We can deal with that shit. But if she ran to another nigga ‘cause he puts it to her proper, shit, that’ll fuck with any brother’s mind.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Eric said. “One woman’s problem in bed is another woman’s treasure.”
“Yeah, you’ve just got to find a woman you’re compatible with in the sack,” Jason said. “Then it’s all good. You add love to it and it’s the best sex in the world.”
“Yeah, you keep believing that shit,” Frankie said. “Every woman—and I mean every woman—wants to get it good every now and then. Ain’t a one in the world at one time or another hasn’t screamed ‘Fuck me!’ She damn sure ain’t asking you for candlelight and roses. Nah, she wants you to pump that pussy good, to hurt it. That romantic stuff has its place. Just not all the time.”
“I’m not worried about it,” Mitch said. A smile played at the corners of his mouth.
“Oh yeah? Why not?” Jason asked.
“Cause she’s still calling me,” Mitch said. “Margaret’s been bugging me for a few months now to give her some. You know what that means.”
“Oh, shit!” Frankie exclaimed. “You mean she ran off to old boy and he can’t hit like she likes it? Did you tap that ass? Mitch, don’t tell me you been taping that ass…”
“Hell no. I’d rather drink dog piss than touch that…you know…”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Frankie said. “There’s too many ho’s out there to get all hung up on just one. Especially when she won’t do right. Don’t make excuses for their asses. A ho is gonna be a ho and ain’t nothing a brother can do to change that. All you can do is enjoy the pussy while you got it and move on when it’s time to go, cause when she makes up her mind that she wants some new dick, ain’t a damn thing you can do to stop her. If you fool yourself into thinking otherwise all you gonna do is get your feelings hurt.”
Curtis said, “Man, I think you’ve got some serious issues when it comes to women. Every female isn’t a whore, just like every man isn’t a dog.”
“Yeah, nigga,” Frankie sneered. “Thinking like that is why you got your heart broke.”