I’m working on a major revision of THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A NEIGHBOR, but it’s coming soon. NEIGHBOR was inspired by the 1908 erotic novel “The Way of a Man with a Maid” but now the title is where the similarity ends.
You can drop NEIGHBOR into many genre categories and subcategories, to include Romance and Mystery, but let’s be straight here: It is first and foremost Erotica, and not for the faint of heart.
Here’s an excerpt:
Sam tightened the first bolt on the swimming pool pump and moved to the next. “Funny funny, or funny odd?”
“Okay, so you and Camilla got these houses that look like they were built by the same contractor. They’re just alike, except they’re mirror images…”
“Okay, so how long has she been here?”
“Since last fall.”
“So both houses were already built when she bought hers, right?”
Technically Camilla didn’t buy her house; she won it in her divorce settlement. But Sam figured that fact was irrelevant to whatever Cutter was talking about. “Right. Both houses were built two years ago.”
“So your house has this nice sunroom and deck and pool and all Camilla’s got is a back stoop. Seems to me if she had first crack at these two houses and everything inside is the same, she’d go for this one.”
From the pool deck Ricky said, “Maybe she didn’t want to spend the extra money.”
“Nah, she’s got money,” Cutter said. “People who’ve got money and are used to having it have a vibe about them. She’s got that rich chick vibe. I just wonder why she didn’t buy this house, since she had a choice.” Cutter had the same look and tone he’d used a couple of months ago when he’d described that cheating husband case he’d been working on. He was in private investigator mode again now, working his way verbally through his thoughts.
Sam tried to recall what Camilla told him about how she got her house. He remembered she said her divorce was a two-year battle between her and her ex-husband’s lawyers. She got the new construction house next door and the seaside residence in Atlantic Beach as part of the settlement.
“I think her house was one of her ex-husband’s properties,” Sam said. “That’s why she got it.”
Cutter said, “And yours wasn’t, even though they look like they were built at the same time by the same contractor? This isn’t some development. It’s just two houses on a country road in the middle of nowhere.”
Sam shrugged. “Beats me. Maybe once they were built they went to different realtors to sell.” As Sam said that he remembered Camilla telling him that her ex’s family once owned all the land on their road. Had they owned his house too?
Ricky said, “Maybe she’s just fucking you so she can use your pool.”
That broke the serious moment. Cutter grinned, “I know, right? She’s just using Sam to get her swim on.”
“Then it’s a nice tradeoff,” Sam said. “Especially since bathing suits won’t be part of her world.”
Simultaneously Ricky and Cutter said, “Say what?”
Sam tightened the last bolt on the pool pump. He kept his eyes down on his wrench. Okay, here we go, he thought. “Ever heard of CMNF?” he asked.
“Uh-uh,” Cutter said.
“What’s that?” Ricky asked.
“It’s a thing: Clothed male, nude female.”
Cutter struggled up from the ground with a grunt and brushed dirt and grass off his knees. When he had his breath back he said, “Okay, and?”
“That’s us,” Sam said. “That’s how we are together. How we live.”
Ricky said, “So she gets naked and you keep your clothes on; like that?”
“Yeah, but it’s deeper than that,” Sam said. “A lot of women get naked around their men. But it’s like, only when they feel like it or when they’re about to get busy; whatever. For us it’s our normal thing.”
Cutter frowned toward the back of Sam’s house as if he could see Camilla inside through the wall. “Hold up, so that’s like some BDSM thing? Like somebody is the submissive and the other person is in charge of them?”
Ricky was coming down the pool deck steps, frowning too. “So ya’ll are into all that rubber suits and gags thing, like on Real Sex?”
“Not like that,” Sam said. “None of that. Just the no clothes thing.” Though Sam was revealing something about his and Camilla’s lifestyle to his cousins he didn’t feel like he was telling the complete truth. So far it was just the nudity thing, but the door was open to much more.
Cutter said, “So you’re saying Camilla stays naked all the time?”
Sam nodded. “If you dudes and Mackey weren’t here that’s how she’d be right now. That’s the rule.”
“Your rule?” Ricky asked.
“And she’s down for this?”
“Actually, it’s more her than me. She’s into it. I mean, I am too—who wouldn’t be into their woman being naked all the time?—but some of the stuff we do, I’m the one who’s apprehensive about it. She never is.”
“What kind of stuff?” Cutter asked.
Sam told them about the ride home after Aunt Helen’s birthday party with Sol following them, and he told them about Camilla going from his house to hers wearing nothing to get her robe while Sol was there, and how though she didn’t know it at the time, his brother saw her.
Cutter said, “And that didn’t bother her, that Sol saw her naked?”
“Nope. I told her after he left, and she was more about apologizing to me for going to get her robe without my permission. She wanted me to punish her for it; spank her or use my belt.”
“Damn, cuz,” Ricky muttered. But he was grinning.
“She got down on the kitchen floor, kind of bowed her forehead to the floor. I looked it up later. It was some kind of BDSM slave position.”
“So did you?” Cutter asked. “He was frowning a different kind of frown now—a serious frown.
“Did I what?”
“Lay hands on her,” Cutter said.
“I’m not into that shit.”
Cutter smacked his meaty thigh with the wrench. “Good. Be as freaky as you want but be careful, man. You don’t want to be putting your hands on a woman, especially a white woman, even if it’s a consensual sex thing. That shit could go wrong for you in so many ways. One minute it’s like—here Cutter raised his voice to a mock feminine timbre—‘Ooh, spank me harder, Daddy’—and the next you’re in cuffs, and not the fuzzy pink kind. I’m talking law enforcement steel.”
“Trust me, that’s not how she is,” Sam said. “Nothing like that is going to happen. We’re not going to do anything that would get the cops involved.”
As it turned out, Sam was wrong about that.
The Man lifted his face from between Angelina’s thighs, away from her most intimate place.
The tidal wave of bliss that for delicious minutes had washed away her embarrassment receded, leaving her shame laid bare. She had never before felt so exposed, so vulnerable. Adding to her embarrassment was that she’d never been made to feel what The Man just made her feel with his boldly deviant act. With his mouth and tongue he had transformed her. He had made her become someone else; a woman she didn’t recognize.
The Man crawled up and over her until he perched above her, bracing himself on his lean-muscled arms. He stared down at her. Under his knowing examination her face burned. She could not meet his gaze because her eyes could not deny what he had done to her—what he’d made her become: that woman she didn’t recognize.
He spoke her name gently. Angelina closed her eyes. She couldn’t look at him, couldn’t let him see her shame and her truth.
With her face turned away and her eyes closed she said, “What is it?”
She felt his masculine desire brush along the inside of her thigh. The contact made her shudder—or was it the memory of that weekend last month that made her body respond to him?
“I want you,” he said, confirming his body’s demonstration.
Curiously, The Man’s tone sounded like a request. Angelina wondered why this time he would bother to ask. When he’d taken her before—when her husband offered her as payment for their debt—The Man had not asked her permission. He’d taken her from their apartment to his home and told her what he wanted and what he required her to do. Because she and Charlie owed The Man so much money there was no question that she would comply. So why would he ask her now, as if they were courting and he required her permission for intimacy?
Angelina opened her eyes but kept her face averted. She didn’t need to see The Man. The memories of his handsome face and his varied expressions were etched in her memory.
The first time—on the Friday evening last month that began the weekend of her taking—she had prayed to God for deliverance from her burden. By that Saturday morning she had thanked God that at least The Man was handsome. On Sunday, during the hours when she would normally have been in church, she’d known she was going to Hell if she didn’t repent for becoming what The Man had made her become. He had used her, yes. But while complying with his demands she had become someone else. That guilt, that sin, was hers.
And now, this second time, because she and Charlie still could not pay what they owed, The Man seemed to be asking her for what he’d simply taken before. Angelina wondered if that was why he’d done this new decadent thing to her, using his mouth and tongue to make her become someone entirely new again. Was that his way of making an apology?
Without looking up at him she asked, “What am I to you?”
“You’re the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night. I can’t even guess how many times you cross my mind throughout every day.”
This was Charlie’s fault, she thought. If he hadn’t gambled away the rent money they wouldn’t owe The Man so much. If Charlie had been more responsible she wouldn’t be away from home in a strange city, naked in a hotel bed with a man she wasn’t married to.
“You use me,” Angelina said. “Why do you need to think about me at all?”
“I can’t honestly answer what I don’t know,” The Man said. “I only know what is. I know I want you.”
“We owe you money. That’s why I…we…you know…”
“Are you upset with me about before, about last month?”
Angelina’s face no longer burned, but hot moisture stung her eyes. “The things you made me do…”
“I was mad at Charlie for being a deadbeat. But you were angry at him too. I felt your anger in bed, Angelina. We were both punishing him.”
“What do you want? Why did you buy me that dress today and take me to that party tonight?” Angelina thought about what The Man had just done to her with his mouth and tongue, but couldn’t dare mention that. What he’d done was so obscene, and… “Was that your way of saying you’re sorry?”
“I did it because tonight I want you to kiss me.”
“Is that really necessary?” Angelina told herself that she had not just shuddered again.
“I’d like it if you did,” The Man said. “I’d like to think that this time you’re here with me—really with me. Do you understand?”
Angelina turned her face to look up at The Man. In the depths of his eyes she saw his truth.
She considered that she wouldn’t be here if Charlie had been less selfish and more responsible. She wouldn’t be here if her own husband hadn’t offered her as payment the way a farmer would offer a cow. This was not her doing. Whatever happened, the responsibility lay on Charlie’s shoulders.
Angelina lifted her face to The Man and offered him her kiss.
She became someone else—that woman she didn’t recognize. She decided she would get to know her.
COMING IN 2015
THE TAKING OF MRS. JONES
On the way to Alicia’s I stopped at Walgreens to pick up some condoms. As I scanned through the selections on the display rack I came across the Trojan Pleasure Pack. I got a flashback of the open box falling to the carpet from Phyllis’ tote bag, the evidence of her infidelity. If molten lava had suddenly rushed down the store aisle to wash over me that heat would have felt like ice as compared to the heat of anger flaring in my gut.
I hadn’t felt that mad when the event actually happened. But standing in front of the condom rack in Walgreens, it hit me hard. Our entire relationship had been a fraud and a waste of years of our lives.
Phyllis had wanted the big wedding. She got what she wanted and then some. She got her fairy tale. I wasn’t a part of her fantasy story, just a way for her to get there. After that she’d had no real use for me. Apparently that gave her justification to go out and fuck somebody else.
How did that happen? How did I ever allow myself to spend eight years with a woman I didn’t love and who didn’t love me?
I stood in front of the condom display, trying to remember loving Phyllis enough to want to marry her, trying to recapture the memory of how that felt. I remembered getting down on one knee before her and opening the velvet case that held the rock that cost me half a year’s salary. But emotionally, I came up with nothing. I couldn’t recall the feeling of the emotion that led me to that moment. That memory was dead.
What had it been like to love her?
I remembered the joy on Phyllis’ face when she saw the ring, a joy I would only see again as she walked up the aisle on her father’s arm. Her joy had been about that moment, not about merging her life with mine. I remembered feeling as she walked up the aisle that ours wasn’t a wedding—it was a show, a production. Phyllis was the star. I was an extra whose name wouldn’t even show up in the closing credits.
I didn’t care about that. I’m a man, and it was a wedding. I didn’t give a shit. But what bothered me was how we’d managed to sleepwalk through eight years of life together feeling nothing for each other. It was like our time together in each other’s space was just what we did while we waited to go live our real lives. My life was my work, making sure the bills got paid, going through the motions of being a responsible man and husband. Phyllis’ real life included riding a Trojan-clad dick while listening to Luther and Jill and other slow grooves on a CD titled For Lovers Only.
For lover’s only.
Only meant to the exclusion of something or many things.
From the moment after I’d proposed to Phyllis she’d excluded me. It hadn’t been about us anymore. I’d served my purpose. I’d gotten her there. That’s what made me stop loving her, those eight months of wedding preparation that warned me that I was only going to be a bit player in her life.
I should have called it off, walked the fuck away. Why did hell did I marry someone I didn’t love?
I wondered if Phyllis could sense it, that I didn’t love her. She never spoke on it. Was it because she didn’t care? Was I so insignificant to her that she couldn’t even bother to tell me she was unhappy? She hadn’t voiced any complaint about our life together. She just went out and fucked somebody else.
That’s what made me mad in Walgreens. Not that she’d cheated on me, but that she hadn’t cared enough to warn me. She never told me that she was unhappy, that she needed things from me to make her feel loved and of value. That hadn’t mattered to her, not coming from me.
She fucked me because we were married. And I fucked her. We did it to relieve pressure, to quiet our physical need. We didn’t play those love songs while we relieved our pressure. It hadn’t been about emotion. One of us needed to come and the other one was there, and we were legally authorized to do so. But it wasn’t about emotion or caring for each other. No, whatever dude wore the condoms from her Pleasure Pack received my wife’s emotions.
Phyllis was just like me. She hadn’t loved me, either. I couldn’t blame her for that. We can’t make ourselves be in love with someone. But what pissed me off was that I’d sucked it up and dealt with it and kept it within the confines of our marriage. Phyllis had to go out and fuck someone else.
She should have left me first. She should have told me she was unhappy or that she didn’t love me and ended our marriage so she could be with someone with whom she wanted to play love songs while they made love. She should have given me that respect. But she didn’t respect me enough to leave me first. She hadn’t respected me enough to bother.
That’s what pissed me off.
I could understand why some cheaters get murdered. Goddamn it, if you don’t want who you’re with and to be with someone else, just leave. Don’t add insult to the injury.
KNIGHTS OF PASSION: GRIFFIN
COMING DECEMBER 2015
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
He was almost nineteen, a legal adult in New Jersey but still a kid in the eyes of many, but Sharon’s mother had always called him Mr. Reynolds. It was kind of their thing, a private joke, though Troy didn’t know what the thing or joke was. For Mrs. Douglas to call him by his first name now meant the joke was over and she was being serious.
He’d been waiting in the Douglas’ living room for nearly an hour while Mrs. Douglas and her friends played cards in the kitchen. When he arrived Mrs. Douglas told him Sharon would be right back (though she didn’t say where she was) and told him to have a seat. Since Sharon was expecting him to come over he’d figured waiting almost an hour was long enough.
He got up from the sofa, and with some sixth sense that maybe only mothers had Mrs. Douglas knew he was leaving and came to stand in front of him at the front door. That’s when she’d called him Troy.
Yeah, something was wrong. Troy had no doubt it had something to do with that dude named Gary. Gary, as in Sharon’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her one-year old son. Gary, who two months before he’d met Sharon had broken up with her and moved to Brooklyn; Gary, who two months after he and Sharon had been together came back to town; Gary, who Sharon told him she would only see when he wanted to see his son Greggie, and whom she would never see alone.
He would have bet a paycheck that Gary was the reason Mrs. Douglas was blocking him from leaving her house and had called him by his first name for the first time.
As if to put an exclamation point on his thought, over Mrs. Douglas’ shoulder Troy saw headlights turn off the street into the Douglas driveway, stopping behind his Roadrunner. Mrs. Douglas stood aside, and they watched together as the front passenger door of the car opened. The car’s dome light brightened the inside of the vehicle and they saw Sharon, holding her baby son, slide out of the car.
The dude behind the wheel was looking their way. Troy had never seen him before but he would have bet another paycheck that that was Gary.
Gary was reversing out of the driveway almost before Sharon closed the passenger door. If he was scared and trying to get away Troy saw no reason for it. He didn’t have a problem with Gary. Dudes do what they do. Dudes were always trying to get the girl. It was up to the girl to stay straight with the dude she was with. A cat couldn’t get the girl unless she wanted him to get her. So the responsibility was on her.
Mrs. Douglas flipped on the porch light. If Sharon being out with Gary wasn’t already evidence enough, the guilty worry widening her eyes as she hurried up the walkway sealed the deal.
Mrs. Douglas squeezed his arm. Troy looked from Sharon to her in time to catch the plea for patience in her eyes just before she hurried back to the kitchen to let him deal with her daughter.
Troy opened the storm door and held it for Sharon. With her worried eyes on him she stepped in with her little boy in her arms. Her eyes widened more when rather than close the door after her he stepped out onto the porch.
“Where are you going?” Sharon asked. Her voice trembled, as if she might cry. Troy was too mad to care.
“You knew I was coming over, and what time,” he said. “Guess you had better things to do.”
“I didn’t do anything, I swear,” Sharon said. “You know I don’t do anything in front of Greggie.”
Troy knew from experience that Sharon didn’t have sex around her son. At least she didn’t with him. Would she feel different about doing it with the kid’s father? And even if she didn’t do it in front of her son, that still left a lot on the table. All they’d needed was a blanket to hide wandering hands.
“I’ll see you,” Troy said, and immediately regretted saying it. The way he was feeling, this was going to be the first and last time he got played by a girl, even a girl a year older than him.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Sharon said. “Just let me leave Greggie with Mom and we can go, okay? Do you have money for a room? If you don’t I do.”
Sharon had never before been so up front about wanting to get down. Either she was desperate to get his mind off being mad, or she thought sex would turn him dumb and make everything all right—as if her giving him some pussy would make him forget she’d just been out with her ex-boyfriend.
The idea that she thought he could be calmed so easily made him madder. He turned away from her before he could say something that reflected his boiling temper. He was mad, but she was still a girl. He couldn’t get really nasty with her.
As he reached the porch steps Sharon said to his back, “Are you still coming to the cookout?”
Nice try, Troy thought.
Sharon’s mom was hosting a cookout on Memorial Day weekend. She’d invited him. She’d told him he was a part of the family—that he was like her son. Too bad her daughter was on the fence about how close they were and what he meant to her.
“I doubt it,” Troy said. He hopped off the porch and headed for his car.
By the time he reached his car the pain of his pending loss had punched its way into his chest, wrapped heavy fingers around his heart and begun a slow squeeze. The fingers tightened as he backed out of Sharon’s driveway and saw her silhouetted in her doorway, watching him.
He could stop. He could go back right now and the fist would let go of his heart before it squeezed too tight and killed him.
But going back meant giving up a part of himself. His pride. His dignity. Going back meant he was okay being the dog she kicked. It meant he was okay crawling back on his belly, hoping next time she would pet him instead of kicking him again.
By the time Troy reached the end of Sharon’s block he’d decided that not only wouldn’t he be her punk and crawl back to her, but he was going to make sure she never saw him again.
He had a plan, one that had been in the back of his mind almost since he’d graduated high school last year. What put his plan on hold was Sharon, though she didn’t know about his plan or how she’d altered it because he liked her, a lot.
Now she’d never know.
Troy liked to think about his future. He liked to envision how he wanted it to be, and how he would make it happen. Because of a girl he’d put his plan on hold. But now his plan was back in action.
He liked to envision his future. He didn’t have a clear picture of it, but he knew that a year from now his world would be different than anything he’d ever known.
It was early May.
Mapleton, North Carolina July 1975 Friday Night Sprouts Drive-In
“Girl, what you keep looking at the door for?” Lola asked.
“You know why she’s looking” Michele said. “She’s looking for her city boy, ain’t cha Mina?”
Mina looked away, trying to hide her smile. “Both a ya’ll need to shut up,” she said, knowing what her cousins were saying was true. She was so anxious to see Troy she felt like she was going to bust wide open.
She kept looking toward the door that opened onto the small lobby of Sprouts. The lobby served double duty as a take-out order station for fried chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried fish and chuck wagon sandwiches and assorted sides and beverages, to include beer and wine coolers. Beyond that space was the front door entrance.
“You gonna give him some?” Michele asked.
“I bet she already did,” Lola said.
Mina laughed to cover her embarrassment and her guilty thoughts. “Will ya’ll go dance or something and leave me alone? I ain’t fast like you heifers.”
Mina figured she spoke the truth. She knew Lola was doing it every chance she got with her boyfriend Wiley. They’d been going together for three years, every since their junior year in high school. And Michele, who was twenty-two, got an abortion over in Ahoskie last summer. Best everybody figured Otis Hanks would have been the daddy if she’d kept it.
Mina figured she wasn’t as bad as either of her cousins. She did it for the first time last year, with Ricky Hill, the night of her junior prom. But if she’d known he was messing with some girl up in Suffolk she never would have gave him nothing. She’d learned her lesson, though. She hadn’t done it since, not even on the night of her senior prom. She didn’t trust none of these lying fools any more.
But that was before Troy.
Troy came down from the city the first time last summer, and she didn’t think she’d ever seen a cuter boy in her life. All the girls were trying to talk to him. He seemed so shy though, which made him even cuter.
Troy was a year older than she was, so he was already out of school when he came down last summer. She’d seen him a couple of times, but before she got a chance to meet him he was gone back up north to New Jersey. So she was surprised and happy to see him back this past May, hanging out at the Tastee-Freeze with his cousin Lonnie.
This time she made sure she went up to him and said “Hi,” even though her mama always told her to let a man make the first move. But she couldn’t take a chance on waiting. If she didn’t get to him first some other girl would, that was for sure.
“So did you give him some yet?” Lola asked.
Mina figured it wouldn’t hurt to tell the truth about that. “Almost,” she said.
“Whatcha mean ‘almost’?” Michele asked. “Did you or didn’t you?”
Mina leaned over the table in the booth so nobody else would hear her. She cut her eyes around to see who might be looking their way. “He came to see me at the house last Tuesday,” she said as low as she could. “We were on the sofa, and he was kissing me with those soft lips of his. We was about to do it when Mama came home early from work ‘cause she had the cramps real bad.”
“Girl, whatcha mean, ‘almost’?” Michele asked again.
“Well, when we heard Mama pull up in the yard we had to move quick. By the time she got in the house Troy was sitting on the sofa watching TV, and I was standing at the sink washing dishes. But my panties was under the sofa cushion.”
“So ya’ll was doing it?” Lola asked, not keeping her voice down.
Mina shot a guilty glance around, hoping nobody heard big-mouthed Lola over the music. “Girl, don’t be so loud,” she snapped at her cousin. “No, we hadn’t got to it yet.”
“But he saw your pussy?” Lola asked.
“Well, if I said I had to put my drawers under the sofa pillow, what do you think?”
“Ooh, you little skank!” Michele laughed.
“Did you see his thing?” Lola asked.
Mina felt her face flush warm. She was glad it was dark in Sprouts. She tried her best not to grin, which made it impossible not to.
When she grinned both of her cousins leaned over the booth table. “Aw shit now! Was it big?” Lola demanded.
Unable not to smile Mina said, “Well…let me just say, if ya’ll ever see me walking on crutches, then you’ll know.”
“Damn it, I knew I shoulda jumped on his ass before you got to him,” Michele pouted.
“I thought you didn’t mess with niggas younger than you,” Lola said to Michele. Troy was nineteen, three years younger than Michele.
“Shit, there’s a first time for everything,” Michele said. “Especially if he’s swingin’ low.”
“Well, don’t even think about it,” Mina said. She took a sip of Strawberry Hill from a paper cup and told herself not to get mad—that Michele was just playing.
Lola laughed at her. “Girl, that boy got your nose open like a bull and you ain’t even got none yet. Look at you, sitting here staring at the door with your pussy just a jumpin’. I bet if Troy stood outside and whistled your pussy would holler back. Little eighteen year-old hussy.”
Mina didn’t say anything, mainly because what Lola said felt kind of true. She sure did like Troy.
Somebody played Cut The Cake by the Average White Band on the jukebox. June Bug Holloway sauntered over, trying to look cool as he approached their booth. “Come on give me this here dance Mina,” he said.
“I don’t feel like it,” Mina said. She liked to dance, and liked this song for sure, but she didn’t want to be dancing with somebody else when Troy came.
“Hell, I’ll dance with you,” Lola said to June Bug.
Mina watched Lola and June Bug doing the Bump while she kept one eye on the entrance. She imagined how jealous all the other girls here would be when Troy got here and they did that new dance from up north he’d taught her called the Hustle. She liked that dance because it was a kind of like a swing dance, but not like they did down here. She liked the way he held her hands when they did the Hustle.
“Maybe he didn’t get back from Raleigh,” Michele said.
“He said the bus would be here this afternoon,” Mina replied. “He’ll be here.”
“You like him for sure, huh?” Michele asked.
Now that that fool Lola wasn’t here Michele was more serious.
“Yeah, I do,” Mina said.
“So whatcha gonna do when he’s leaves for the service?”
Mina shrugged. She didn’t know what she was going to do. And she didn’t like thinking about it. Troy said that his recruiter told him it would probably be a few months before he had to go to basic training. Until then all she wanted to do was not think about him leaving, spend as much time with him as she could until then and let God take care of everything else.
But all that was down the road. Right now she couldn’t stand sitting still anymore. She got up and said to Michele, “I’m gonna go outside for a minute and get some fresh air.”
Michele smiled up at her. “Girl, standing out there looking ain’t gonna make him come no faster.”
Mina didn’t care. If she didn’t move she was going to scream or bust wide open.
As she walked past the dance floor June Bug yelled at her, “Damn girl, how you squeeze all them hind pots in them dungarees?”
Her face got warm again as other eyes turned her way. She’d squeezed into her new tight jeans on purpose. But not for these fools in here.
Before she knew Lucas (The Professional), Olivia Belle Bettencourt was still the definition of a hot mess. This excerpt, from A Southern Belle: Forbidden, introduces Olivia as a sixteen year-old girl in high school.
Riley pulled up in front of the school just as it was letting out for the day. He scanned the kids pouring out of the big brick building. As on the previous two days, he was amazed that up here in New Jersey, colored kids and white kids went to the same school. Some were even walking together. Then he saw the girl.
As pretty as she was she wasn’t hard to spot, walking with her books in her arms with a couple of colored girls. Riley waited until they were turned off the school walkway onto the main sidewalk, and then rolled his car up the street behind them, slow enough to keep pace with their stroll.
When they were a block away from the school he pulled up beside them at the curb. As he leaned across the seat the girls looked his way.
No matter where they were from, high school girls were always curious about a cat that had a car. Riley was in his late twenties, but he knew he could pass for about twenty. Plus, he had his hair freshly processed. Besides the Temptations, he thought it made him look like a younger version of Sugar Ray Robinson. For extra effect he gave the girls a broad smile, wide enough to show off the gold tooth he’d got last year.
“Hey, hey sugar, how you doing?” he said to the pretty, light-skinned one. They all looked but kept walking. Okay, it was time to take his shot. “Hey, can one a ya’ll tell me if you know Onson and Jenny May James?”
The girls stopped. The two darker girls looked at the light-skinned one. Oh yeah, she’s the one.
The pretty girl took a step toward his car and leaned to get a better look at him. Riley took a long, greedy gaze at her titties stretching out the front of her sweater.
“Who are you?” she asked.
He pulled his eyes back up to her face. Lord Jesus she’s pretty!
“I’m a friend from down home—North Carolina,” he smiled. “I was in town so I was trying to look ‘em up.”
“What’s your name?” the girl asked.
She didn’t seem nervous at all. He liked that. “My name’s Riley, sugar. Riley Parker. What’s your name?”
“My name is Olivia, and I don’t remember them mentioning your name, Mr. Parker.”
“Oh, so you know ‘em?”
“Of course I know them. They’re my parents.”
“So where do ya’ll live? I’ve been driving ‘round this here town all day trying to find ‘em.”
The girl gave him the address, and then directions.
“Well hell sugar, I can give you a ride home if you want, save me from having to find it on my own.”
The girl named Olivia took a step toward his car, but one of the other girls grabbed her by her arm. The three girls put their heads together and whispered furiously for a moment. Then Olivia turned back to him.
“Well actually, I’m going to my friend’s house, so I’m not going straight home,” she said. “But you shouldn’t have any trouble finding my house.”
The girls started to walk on, but Riley called out to the pretty girl again. Something was bothering him; something that didn’t make sense.
“Excuse me again, sugar, but did you say Onson and Jenny May are your mama and daddy?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she said, still walking.
“Do you know a lady named Clarisse…Clarisse Maxwell?” he asked.
The girl named Olivia stopped. “I don’t know her,” she said. “She was a friend of my parents, but she died a long time ago, when I was a baby.”
As the strange, country-talking guy’s car pulled away Doris said, “I can’t believe you were actually gonna ride with him. Your parents would kill you if they found out!”
“He said he knew them,” Olivia said. “Besides, he was kind of cute.”
“Girl, he was old!” Gwen said.
Olivia smiled. “Well, I like older men. They’re so much more sophisticated than school boys. And they have money.”
“What do you know about older men?” Doris asked.
“You’d be surprised what I know.”
“Well I wouldn’t be surprised at your dad whipping your butt if he heard you talking like that,” Gwen said.
“That’s why I can’t wait till I graduate next year,” Olivia said,” so I can do what I want. I’m going to meet a rich older man and move to New York and live the high life, like Leslie Uggams or Barbara McNair. Either that or I’m going be a hippie—go to San Francisco or join a commune, and have free love all day long. And when I get tired of that, then I’ll find that rich man. My life is going to be so groovy.”
Doris shook her head. “Girl, you are crazy. I don’t know anyone who talks as crazy as you.”
The slap of running footsteps coming up behind them caught their attention. They looked back.
“Ohh girl, here comes your fine brother,” Gwen said to Olivia.
Olivia watched and waited as her brother Kevin caught up to them, breathing hard. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” he gasped.
Olivia glared back at him. “What?”
“Somebody told me you were talking to some strange cat in a car. Don’t you know better than that?”
“Kevin, you’re my brother, not my father,” Olivia said. “Stop being so square.”
“Hi Kevin,” Gwen cooed, batting her lashes.
Ignoring Gwen, Kevin said, “Well, you ought to know better than to be talking to some grown dude and you’re only sixteen.”
“I’ll talk to whoever I want, whenever I want,” Olivia shot back. “You can’t tell me what to do.”
“She’s going to join a commune and be a hippie,” Doris laughed.
“Well you act like you’re on dope already,” Kevin said. “I gotta go back to football practice. Do not get in any car with strange men, do you hear me? Act like you’ve got some sense!”
As he jogged back to the school Gwen said, “I swear to you Olivia, one day I’m gonna marry your brother.”
A SOUTHERN BELLE: FORBIDDEN
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.”
“It takes a strong woman to have the courage to submit to a man strong enough to cherish her submission.”
“What is it Eddie?” she snapped.
“Carl Wilderman. He’s here, and pissed off as usual. I just don’t know what to tell this dude.”
“Eddie, he’s your client.”
“I know, I know. But he just won’t listen to reason – not from me, anyway.”
Gabrielle glared at Eddie, making no attempt to hide her disgust. She blew out an exasperated sigh and said, “Bring me his file, and give me two minutes.”
Wilderman stormed into her office with Eddie in tow. Eddie looked like a whipped puppy following his master. Gabrielle wanted to kick his punk ass.
Instead, she leaned back against the soft leather of her high backed executive chair, crossed her legs and folded her hands in her lap. She didn’t offer the men a seat. “What can I do for you, Carl?” she asked.
Wilderman stepped to her desk and leaned over it, placing the palms of his fat hands on the polished cherry surface. Gabrielle met his stare and moved her hands to clench the armrests of her chair. She wasn’t intimidated by Carl Wilderman. She just didn’t trust herself not to leap over her desk and claw the bastard’s eyes out. She’d have to leave a note for the cleaning crew to be sure to use something anti-bacterial on her desk when they cleaned her office tonight.
“You can sell my damned property, that’s what you can do,” Wilderman spat. “I’m tired of waiting on you people, and I’m tired of hearing excuses.”
Gabrielle held up one finger. “First of all Carl, my agency doesn’t make excuses,” she said. “The reason your property hasn’t sold is because you’re a greedy bastard who won’t listen to professionals who know better than you.”
Wilderman straightened up and said, “You can’t speak to me like that –”
“You hear me talking, don’t you?” Gabrielle shot back. She leaned forward now, and glanced at the folder opened on her desk. “You came to us in January ‘01, and on our recommendation purchased that house as an investment property for one hundred ninety-six thousand. In March of ‘04 that property was appraised at three hundred sixty-two thousand.”
Gabrielle rose from her chair and walked around her desk. She was glad that today she’d worn an all black ensemble – black belted wrap dress, black hose and black patent leather Mary Jane pumps. It gave her a dark, powerful look. Plus, black was her favorite color.
As she moved around her desk Wilderman backed up a step, surprised at her aggression. Gabrielle stopped and placed her hands on her hips. At five-foot seven and in three-inch heels she stared at Wilderman eye to eye.
“And what did we tell you to do back then Carl?”
Gabrielle stabbed him in the chest with the tip of a polished nail. “We told you to sell. We warned you that the market was saturated and that you needed to sell before it turned around. Do you remember that, Carl?”
“Well yes, but –”
“But you were greedy, Carl. You wanted to hang on and see how high prices would inflate. And now the real estate market is in the toilet, and you’re still trying to get over three hundred thousand for a house that’s now worth…“ She turned to Eddie “…how much?”
Eddie sprang to attention. “Um, right now we have an offer for two fifty-seven –”
Gabrielle whirled back to Wilderman. “You’re still making a nice profit, Carl, so what’s your problem? You had your chance to get over three hundred, but you got piggish. We had the deal for you but you didn’t listen. Now exactly how is that my problem?”
Wilderman was red-faced now. “Well, it’s um…it’s just that –”
“Carl, either take the deal offered now or don’t. I don’t care. Quite frankly, I’m sick of working on this property. So you can accept the buyer’s offer or go to Remax or Century 21 and see if you can do better.”
She went back around to her chair and sat down, folding her hands on her desktop. “Anything else I can help you with?”
“Um no,” Wilderman said. “I guess Eddie and I can work out the details. Thanks, Gabrielle.”
He turned and headed out, defeated. Eddie started to scamper after him.
“Stay here, Eddie,” Gabrielle ordered.
Eddie skidded to a stop on her plush carpet. She glared at him, swallowing back the bile of anger, shame and disappointment. How could a college-educated brother allow himself to be subverted like this?
“Hey, thanks Gabrielle,” Eddie said. “I really appreciate –”
Gabrielle cut him off. “Eddie, what the fuck do I pay you for if you can’t handle the clients I assign to you?”
Eddie jammed his hands in the pockets of his Dockers and pursed his lips like he wanted to cry. Damn, she wanted to bitch slap him!
“I know, I know Gabrielle,” Eddie muttered. “He was just being so unreasonable –”
“No, Wilderman is a fat, greedy bastard that you let bully you into letting a property sit unsold while its value dropped through the floor. That’s revenue lost for me and commission lost for you.”
Eddie hung his head like a child being scolded for not doing his homework and Gabrielle felt her anger heat from red to white hot. God, she couldn’t stand a weak-assed black man!
“Eddie, if this is the best you can do, then you can go to Remax or Century 21, too. I started this agency to buy and sell properties, not to let them sit and lose potential profit because a client is too stupid to know what’s good for him. I don’t need agents who don’t have the backbone to do what needs to be done.”
“Gabrielle, I’m really sorry –“
“Get out of my sight, Eddie.”
Eddie almost ran from her office.
Dealing with Eddie’s incompetence gave her a headache. Gabrielle popped three Tylenol and sat and waited for her anger to cool. She loved owning her own real estate agency, but some days she got so sick of this mess – of always having to be on and hard – that she wanted to scream. Some days she wanted to just not have to be in control, to not have to run every little aspect of everything in her life. But to make it in a man’s world she had to be as tough and ruthless as any male executive. That’s how you made it in this world.
But sometimes she got so tired of it – of being the boss.
At the end of the workday Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to go home and settle into her sofa with an Octavia Butler novel and a glass of something red and intoxicating. But she had a dinner engagement tonight. She would have called her girl Felicia and cancelled, but she’d cancelled the last two dinners with her best friend, and Felicia swore that if she stood her up this time she’d hunt her down, skin her alive and let her die a slow, painful death. So instead of heading to her home on the east end of Henrico County, Gabrielle gunned her Lexus convertible down Broad Street and into the heart of Richmond.
Phillip and Felicia Warren owned a three bedroom loft in Richmond’s historic Church Hill district. They also owned Motherland Books, an African-American bookstore with locations in Richmond and Petersburg. It was a point of pride for Gabrielle that via her real estate agency she’d helped her friends purchase their luxury condo as well as the retail properties that housed both stores. This was networking at its best – brothers and sisters helping each other get up and rise up.
As she parked on the street in the Warren’s quaint neighborhood Gabrielle decided that she was glad she’d come. She was tired, but it would be nice to spend an evening with Felicia and Phil. She spent way too many evenings alone.
Felicia greeted her at the door with a tight hug and a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon. “Hey Miss Thang, how’re you doing?” she beamed. “It’s about time you found your way over here.”
“You know my hours are crazy,” Gabrielle said as she stepped inside. “I have to keep my fingers on every button all the time. I swear, sometimes I feel like I work by myself –”
There was a guy sitting with Phillip in the Warren’s living room. He stood up as Gabrielle entered. He wore a black suit with muted cobalt pinstripes over an open collar dove gray shirt. His eyes bore into hers and he gave her a slight smile. Gabrielle clenched her muscles so she wouldn’t pee on herself, because the brother was so fine.
She looked at Felicia, who was grinning so wide now that she was about to get lipstick on her ears. Gabrielle tried to convey with her eyes that she was going to kill her for playing matchmaker again.
“Gabrielle, this is Simon Bishop,” Felicia said. “Simon, this is my best friend, Gabrielle Archer.”
“Pleased to meet you Gabrielle,” Simon smiled.
His goatee framed his smile and his perfect lips, lips that looked just right for kissing. Okay, she wasn’t looking to get hooked up with anyone, but Felicia sure could’ve done a lot worse in the looks department.
Felicia said, “Simon is a writer. He did a book signing yesterday at the Petersburg store, and today at the store here. We thought it would be nice to have him over for dinner.”
And on the same evening that you just happened to invite me over, Gabrielle thought.
“Dinner is just about ready,” Phillip said. “We’re having my world famous Chicken Parmesan. Have a seat while I finish up.”
“So what work have you published?” Gabrielle asked Simon over dinner.
Simon said, “I have a couple of books on the shelves right now. I’m about to send the third to my editor.”
“Simon is being modest,” Felicia said. “He’s about to get a movie deal for one of his books.”
“Oh really?” Gabrielle asked, trying not to look too impressed. “Would I know this book?”
“It’s called Memoirs of an Insatiable Man,” Phillip said. “It’s been on the bestseller list for over a year.”
“I’ve heard that title,” Gabrielle said. “I thought it was something pornographic.” She felt Felicia kick her under the table. She ignored her friend’s warning. This is what Felicia got for trying to set her up again.
“Well, it’s definitely erotic,” Simon said. “But that’s not the point of the story. It’s about a man searching for answers about himself after his marriage fails.”
“And is this story of yours autobiographical?” Gabrielle asked. Let’s see how this dude handles being put on the spot.
Simon smiled at her, unfazed. “Every writer puts something of himself into everything he writes.”
“And what about you, Simon – are you insatiable?”
“Gabrielle, you’ll have to know me on a much more personal level than a book to find that out.”
His locked his brown eyes on hers, still wearing that little smile that she was starting to view as a little smug and a lot irritating. She stared right back. Let him be the first one to blink.
Felicia jumped in before the verbal sparring became a real fight. “Hey, we’ve been trying to get Simon to sell from our stores exclusively, but he’s not having it,” she joked.
That broke the ice. Simon turned his smile to Felicia, “As much as I like you guys and want to support black business, I need to get paid.”
“In America today it’s not about black and white,” Gabrielle said. “It’s about green. That’s the only color that matters.”
“Actually Gabrielle, it’s always about skin color,” Simon responded. “The thing is, our blackness doesn’t matter in America, and it won’t matter until we start to use the color green correctly. As a people we need to stop being only consumers, spending our hard earned green to make somebody else rich. We need to save our money; invest our money. We need to use our money as a base of power instead of letting it slip through our fingers as soon as we touch it. When our green starts to matter in America, then our blackness will also start to matter.”
Felicia clapped and said, “Preach, Dr. King, preach!”
After dinner Felicia sent them to the living room while she and Phillip cleared the table and cleaned up in the kitchen. Gabrielle knew this was just a ruse to give her and Simon some time alone, to see if they could make some kind of connection. Gabrielle wasn’t even sure she liked this guy. He seemed just a tad arrogant.
Simon sat on the sofa, so Gabrielle sat in Phillip’s easy chair. He might be good-looking, but since he seemed so confident, he was going to have to work for every little thing. She didn’t even want to give him the satisfaction of thinking she might want to share sofa space with him.
She settled into the chair, crossed her legs and asked, “So when do you go back to wherever it is you came from?”
“I came from New Jersey,” he said. “I’m driving back tomorrow morning.”
He didn’t seem the least bit affected by her snide question. In fact, he looked at her as if he were amused. Oh, he thought she was funny? Gabrielle decided to push another button.
“So writing doesn’t pay you enough to afford a plane ticket?”
His smug little smile didn’t break. Instead he said, “I like driving. It gets my creative juices flowing. I come up with some of my best work behind the wheel. By the way Gabrielle, those shoes don’t work.”
“Well, you look really good in black. It suits you. I’ll bet it’s your favorite color, because you look so comfortable in it. You’re wearing that ensemble like skin. But the shoes…” He looked at her feet and shook his head.
“What’s wrong with my shoes?” Okay, why am I asking? Why do I care what he thinks?
“Well Gabrielle, it’s not the style of your shoes. You have very nice legs, and those heels – what are they – three inches? They really accentuate the length and shape of your legs. The problem is the material.”
“Yes, the patent leather. You see, you look really hot in black, but the rest of your ensemble – your dress and stockings – are they stockings or panty hose?”
“Um, panty hose.” Did I actually just answer that question?
Simon rubbed his chin and looked blatantly at her legs as if he were kicking her tires – checking her out like she was a car he was thinking about buying. With her legs crossed her dress rode up to just over her knee. Even though her legs were covered, his gaze made her feel naked and self-conscious.
“Well, the rest of your outfit is a subdued black, but your shoes are glossy,” Simon continued. “Your shoes are a distraction. Would you stand up for me please?”
“I want to make a point about your shoes.”
“This is silly,” Gabrielle said. “You can see my shoes perfectly fine from where you are.”
“It’s not about just your shoes, Gabrielle. It’s about how they affect your total look.”
He got up and walked around the coffee table toward her. Gabrielle felt her heart flip-flop as he neared. He stood over her and offered his hand.
“Come on,” he smiled. “I promise you this won’t hurt.”
To show that she wasn’t intimidated, Gabrielle took his offered hand. Simon’s grip was firm but his hands were soft – the hands of an artist. She stood up and looked at him, making direct eye contact to show that she wasn’t impressed by him and was in control, the way she did as a matter of course when handling her business. But her legs trembled, betraying her pretense. Then she caught a whiff of his cologne, and her knees turned to water.
He was still smiling at her. His gaze seemed to reach into her soul with warm fingers, all the way down to stir the butterflies in her stomach into action. Please don’t let me pass out.
Before she could, Simon released her hand and backed away. Now his warm brown eyes studied her from head to toe. She stood nervously as a man who two hours ago she didn’t even know existed looked her up and down, appraising her as if she were on an auction block. She knew she should be offended, even outraged. But he didn’t make you stand up, did he? You could have refused.
Simon said, “The thing is Gabrielle, when one views you in this outfit, their eyes are drawn down to your shoes, because they’re so shiny. Your shoes are the focus of the vision of you, when what should be the focus is your face. You are ridiculously beautiful, Gabrielle, and whatever you wear should enhance, not detract from your beauty.”
Okay, on top of her shaky legs, now her face felt as hot as a furnace. If her complexion was a shade lighter than café au lait she knew she’d be blushing fire engine red. She bit her bottom lip to stifle a silly school girl giggle.
“Um…thank you,” she said. God, she sounded like a little girl getting a lollipop from the doctor!
Simon went back to the sofa and sat down. Gabrielle smoothed her dress and turned to sit down too. But then Simon said, “One more thing…”
She stopped and looked back. “Yes?”
“You really should wear stockings rather than panty hose,” Simon said. “With your long, sexy legs, it would be a nice effect, and would feel so much more liberating for you.”
Before she could answer she caught movement from the corner of her eye. Gabrielle turned and saw Felicia and Phillip standing in the living room entry, staring at her with their mouths hanging open.
Helen stops backstroking out in the middle of the pool and watches me as I slide in. Even from that distance her gray eyes are striking. They enhance her beauty, and they also make her look dangerous, like a predatory cat. That she’s smiling at me doesn’t make her look less dangerous. I imagine that a leopard might be smiling as it rips out a gazelle’s throat.
When I’m standing chest deep in the water at the end of the pool Helen calls out, “Want to race?”
I’m not a great swimmer. I’m not going to drown trying to impress a woman, even if she is beautiful and naked. “I can’t hang,” I say, “but I can probably take you in a floating contest.” That’s probably true. Helen is carrying less body fat than a butterfly.
She flips upside down like a mermaid and arrows my way, cutting through the water just below the surface like a shark. I’m impressed.
I watch her until she reaches the edge of the pool and comes up smiling about ten feet away from me. “This is really nice, Jonathan,” she says. “Thanks for letting me come out.”
“That was Natalie. I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Oh. So is everything okay?”
“You two are pretty tight, huh?”
Natalie and I are friends too. We also sleep together. Since Natalie didn’t actually tell me anything I decide to ask her friend. “So Helen, are you bi or gay or what?”
“Are you curious about your chances, Jonathan?”
“Right now I’m curious about everything. I wasn’t expecting anyone but Natalie and I to be here this week. I definitely wasn’t expecting that the first time I lay eyes on one of her paralegals and she laid eyes on me that we’d be like this.” I wave my arm to indicate our nakedness. “So yeah, I’m curious.”
“I’m not anything, Jonathan. I don’t put a label on myself. I’m just me.”
“And what are you?”
“You’re not listening. People always want to label each other. For me I’m usually too tall, too skinny, too light, too something. Those are judgments other people make to define me based on their biases. I refuse to burn a brand into my own hide so that other people can feel comfortable.”
“And that includes your sexuality?”
“You won’t see me marching in any parades waving a rainbow flag. I couldn’t care less.”
“So you’re friends (I make air quotes with my fingers around friends) with Natalie because she just happens to appeal to you, but you’d be the same with a man?”
“She’s hot, isn’t she? So are you. You remind me of Lance Gross. You’ve got that handsome innocence thing working for you. Are you innocent, Jonathan?”
I don’t know who Lance Gross is. And Helen still hadn’t answered my question completely. I still don’t know if she’s into men. My gut says she’s messing with me, dangling the carrot to see how long I’ll chase it. I decide to quit chasing, at least for the moment.
“It depends on what I’m charged with,” I say, and then to get back on track, “Natalie’s definitely hot. She said that you came at her first.”
Helen looks amused. Am I funny to her?
Trying to find an edge, I say, “Yep. She said you used that One Question play on her.”
“Oh, that. Actually, that came later.”
“What came before?”
“I kissed her.”
“How’d that happen?”
“We went out for drinks after work. When we said goodnight in the parking lot afterward I just did it.”
“And she let you?”
“She pushed me away.”
“And yet now you’re friends…or something.”
Helen gives me her leopard-eating-the-gazelle smile again and says, “It took her about a minute to push me away. Maybe it was a couple of minutes. I don’t know; the passage of time gets muddled when you’re tasting lips as soft as hers. Doesn’t it Jonathan?”
I don’t even picture them kissing. Just Helen telling me they did it—just knowing that it happened somewhere on the planet on which I live—gets a reaction out of me. I can feel myself swelling in the tepid water. I’m glad that Helen is far enough away from me that she can’t tell, because I think she’s trying to fuck with me. “So you knew you had her,” I say.
“No one has anyone. She has free will.”
“So are you two involved, or are you just doing what she and I are doing?”
“You’re involved, Jonathan. If you’re having sex, unless you think of your body as a gutter, you’re involved.”
“We agreed to keep it at friendship and let things happen naturally.”
“So you don’t think feelings are necessary for a sexual relationship?”
“Not necessarily, no.”
“What if you have sex with someone that you don’t really know, but you’re attracted to them physically, and you later discover that you don’t like them as a person? I don’t mean you don’t like something they did. I mean you don’t like the person they are. Would you continue having sex with them?”
“What if she gave you the best sex of your life?”
“If I didn’t like her as a person then I wouldn’t be interested.”
“So if you had negative feelings toward a person that would affect your desire. If dislike is a feeling, then the opposite is true, too. You have to like someone on some level to want to have sex with them.”
“I thought you were talking about romantic affection or love.”
“Could you ever see yourself having sex with your ex-wife again?”
Helen might only be a paralegal but she’s firing questions at me like a lawyer at trial, and like she’s trying to trip me up. “No.”
“You answered that in a hurry. Are you sure?”
Warning: The below content is intended for adult readers only.
He shut down his work applications and logged out of his desktop. Before shutting down his personal laptop he read the email he’d received a half an hour ago one more time. It read:
I’ve been naked on my bed all afternoon, thinking about you. My nipples are so hard, and I’m so wet. I ache for you. I burn for you. I’ve been touching myself, but it’s not enough. I need you, Sweetest. Tonight at 10:30, if you’d like to join me.
He closed his email, shut down his laptop and slipped it into his backpack, and then stood up and stretched.
Time to roll.
Baron glanced to his right, to the cubicle next to his, and caught Charlene looking at him.
Actually she was looking at his crotch.
And he really hadn’t caught her, because she wasn’t even trying to be discreet.
“So what are your plans for tonight?” she cooed up at him. Her eyes never left his zipper.
“No plans. Just gonna chill, maybe watch some TV.”
“What are you gonna watch—Real Sex on HBO?” Now she looked up at him. “I’m off at ten. If you want I can come over later and we can have some real sex.”
Charlene was a fine sister. And she was pretty good in bed. They’d hooked up a few times last year when he’d first started working at STC Technologies—and before he found out that she was in a committed relationship.
Baron slung his backpack over his shoulder and said, “Won’t your girlfriend get pissed if she finds out you like dick on the side?”
Charlene smiled up at him and said, “On the side is not where I want you, baby. And Denise is out of town. And I’m sooo horny.”
Baron was horny, too. And Charlene was pretty good. But he didn’t want to get caught up in her mess again. Her girl Denise was only about five-two, but her little ass didn’t like anybody in messing with her pussy.
Besides, he had an appointment at 10:30 tonight, so Charlene couldn’t come over.
Baron got home at a quarter till nine. He tossed some leftover lasagna into the microwave and went upstairs to change into his sweats.
As he went up, a memory of Charlene’s dark nakedness flashed through his brain. The last time she’d been here, she’d been naked on her hands and knees on these very steps. He’d been hitting it from behind while she groaned out how good it was to her, and how she needed some good dick every now and then. He’d just thought she hadn’t gotten laid in a while. He didn’t know then that she’d been on a pussy only diet for the better part of a decade.
He found out a week later at work when this fine-ass sister caught him in the parking lot and cussed him out for trying to steal her woman. That was Denise. He’d been so stunned that he didn’t know how to respond. What the hell do you do in a situation like that?
He wouldn’t mind getting some of Charlene’s fine dark chocolate beauty again, but there was just too much drama involved.
After he changed into his sweats he went to his bedroom window and looked out. His neighbor’s house was just across the way. The upstairs lights were out. There were a couple of rooms lit up on the first floor.
He checked his nightstand clock. It was only five past nine. He had plenty of time.
As Baron ate he thought about her. She was so fine—one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. The first time he’d laid eyes on her, when she was out in her driveway next door washing her car while wearing a wife beater tee-shirt and cutoffs, he was done.
He’d been mowing his lawn that morning, getting it out of the way before going to work at noon. He’d looked over and there she was—his new neighbor—carrying a bucket of water out to wash her Camry. She’d smiled over at him, a warm sexy smile that said she knew, and that she understood.
He’d taken twice as long as necessary to finish mowing. He’d been too busy watching the way her wet tee-shirt clung to and highlighted her nipples, the way her shorts clung to her round booty, and the way the water made her long legs glisten like burnished copper.
He’d thought about her all day at work. When he got home that night he found a handwritten note in his mailbox. It read:
You looked so sexy mowing your lawn this morning. I got so wet watching you while I washed my car. If you’ll leave me your email address I’d love to chat.
Baron washed dishes, thinking about how good his neighbor looked naked. She had a perfect body. He often saw her out in the morning, going on her daily run. She apparently didn’t work outside the home so had plenty of time to work on her fitness.
He imagined her lying on her bed playing with herself today. Pangs of anxiety pulsed in his stomach at the anticipation of seeing her naked again tonight.
She was so fucking beautiful.
At 10:15 Baron positioned a straight-backed chair in front of his bedroom window, turned the lights off, sat down and waited.
The lights went off downstairs in the house next door. A minute later the bedroom light came on upstairs. Baron leaned forward. His stomach was quivering again.
At 10:30 the window blinds flipped open in the bedroom across the way. He could see her, standing there in all her loveliness, dressed in a baby doll nightie. She was looking out. He knew she was looking right at his window.
As she gazed over she started moving her body in a sensuous dance, a slow grind. She must have had some music playing over there because there was a definite rhythm to her movements.
She did a slow striptease for him. First her baby doll came off, then her thong. Then she stood naked in her window, fondling her firm breasts and playing with her sex.
After about ten minutes of her nude show she grasped the window frame. Then he came to the window, also naked save for a ridiculous looking fluorescent green condom.
He stood behind her, and as she gazed through her blinds over at him, the dude fucked her from behind.
The First Call Episode
After all these years Ozzie’s cousin Donna hadn’t changed. She still thought one of her missions in life was to play matchmaker for all her single family members and friends. But Oz couldn’t complain about her latest scheme. It was nice seeing Katherine again. How many people get to run into and hang out with their first love after almost forty years? It was only for lunch, but it was nice.
As he drove back to Harrisburg on Sunday evening Oz decided he’d give Kay a call on Tuesday or Wednesday. Monday felt too soon. Stalkerish or desperate maybe. He didn’t know her like that anymore, and he didn’t want to impose on her time or seem like he was making assumptions. She’d said she wanted to stay in touch, but wasn’t that what people usually said, even when they didn’t mean it?
But on Monday evening Kay called him.
“Am I terrifying you?” she asked.
“Calling so soon.”
“No, not at all. I’m glad you did.”
“Are you really?”
There she was with those direct questions again. Oz could just imagine how she’d be looking at him if they were face-to-face: Those dark eyes drilling into his, searching and examining his face as she waited for his answer. That mouth. Her lips slightly parted as if in anticipation of something.
She had the same mouth. Oz remembered thinking back in the day that her mouth was perfect. He’d liked kissing her perfect mouth.
“I’m really glad you called.”
“Okay, just checking. Your cousin Donna said you had a disease.”
“Yes. She said, and I quote: ‘He doesn’t know how to pick up a damn phone and call people, so if you ever want to hear his voice again you’d better call him.’”
“Donna’s on drugs,” Oz said.
“No she’s not!”
“Nah, but she acts like it.”
“Is this a good time to call? Are you busy?”
“Not busy at all. Just trying to convince myself that I want a steak bad enough to throw one on the grill.”
“Isn’t it cold there? It’s snowing here.”
“Here, too. But the deck is covered. Anyway, I’d just be out there long enough to throw it on and flip it over.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Hey, gotta go caveman sometimes. So what are you up to?”
“Talking to you while driving home from work.”
“Be careful talking on the phone driving in the snow.”
“I’m fine. You’re on speaker. Were you going to call me?”
“I was thinking tomorrow or Wednesday.”
“I wasn’t going to wait longer. You might forget who I was; be like, ‘Oz who?’”
“Oh, so I’m going to forget you in two days? Funny.”
Oz couldn’t think of a witty comeback for that, so after a pause he asked, “Where do you work?”
“In Freehold Township, at Sensual You.”
“Sensual You Footwear. It’s a boutique shoe store. I’m assistant manager.”
“So you sell sexy shoes?”
“All shoes are sexy for women who like shoes. But yes.”
At their Sunday lunch Kay wore flat-soled over-the-calf boots. Nothing sexy about those, especially since they hid her legs. Kay’s big, shapely legs were the second thing that attracted him to her when he was eighteen, after her eyes. He couldn’t recall what she’d worn on Saturday. He’d been too busy getting over the shock of seeing her after Donna sprung their surprise reunion on him.
“So you’re into sexy shoes?” he asked.
“Who gets to wear anything sexy when you’re busy juggling six grandkids?”
“Your kids have got you babysitting, huh?”
“Every chance they get. They’re grown, but they still think my life revolves around their needs. Times have changed. When I had Jimmy my mother told me in no uncertain terms that if I wanted to hang out and have fun I needed to get an after school job so I could pay somebody to babysit, because she wasn’t going to do it.”
“You know, I remember that. When we went out one of your friends babysat.”
“Which is why a lot of our dates were on my mom’s living room sofa.”
His first time having sex was on Kay’s mother’s sofa. He’d been nervous because her mother was upstairs, but he had to do it because on their previous time together, as he was leaving Kay asked him why he hadn’t made a move; she’d asked if he was scared. She wasn’t teasing him. She’d explained her question by saying that some guys think they can’t satisfy a woman who’s had a baby. She wondered if that was why after two dates he hadn’t tried to do more than kiss her.
He hadn’t tried to do more because her mother was right upstairs. But by asking if he was scared she’d challenged his idiot male ego. He’d made up his mind that the next time he saw Kay, no matter where they were it was going to happen. It had.
Kay said, “The first time we did it was on the sofa. Remember?”
“Yep. I was scared as shit.”
“You didn’t seem like it. Why were you scared?”
“Because it was my first time and your mother was upstairs.”
“That was your first time?”
“You actually remember it?”
“Of course I do. I thought you didn’t like me or something.”
“You went slow.”
“I didn’t know what I was doing. And your mother was right upstairs.”
“She wouldn’t have come down without warning us. She liked you.”
“I liked her too. I was sorry to know she passed.”
“Thanks Oz. I had no idea I was your first. You never told me that.”
“It never came up.”
“Anyway, you could’ve fooled me.”
Oz doubted that. He hadn’t known how much experience Kay had had before him, but she had a baby that was almost a year old. He’d figured that where sex was concerned not only wasn’t he in her league, he didn’t know how to play the game. He remembered thinking that because she’d had a baby Kay had probably been with dudes who had John Shaft and Billy Dee Williams sexual suavity, while all he’d ever done was dry hump and stick his hand down a girl’s panties and get his fingers wet.
He’d been so nervous the first time they did it that he didn’t get anywhere close to coming, and he’d had no idea whether or not Kay had. In the fuck books he’d read, when women came their orgasms were accompanied by uncontrollable screams and wild thrashing. Kay hadn’t done more than shudder and sigh. He’d stopped and eased out when he figured she was tired of him being on top of her.
He remembered thinking afterward that thanks to his ineptness she’d probably never want to see him again. But on his next visit a few nights later she’d dragged him down to the carpet. That time he came. Then he’d wondered if she was grossed out by him coming inside her. He was still hard, but starting to lose it because of that worry. But instead of shoving him off her in disgust, Kay wrapped her strong legs around his waist and started grinding, resuscitating his desire for her. So she must have been cool with it. He must have done something right. Whatever the hell that something was.
Kay said, “I thought you might’ve had another girlfriend and was saving it for her. Some of the kids at work who knew you said you knew a lot of girls.” They’d met at work—him fulltime and her after school at the furniture factory.
“Knowing girls and having something going on are different things,” Oz said. “You know Donna. She knows damn near everybody in Monmouth County, or knows somebody who knows them. She was the same way back then. Probably most of the girls I knew growing up were because they were her friends. When you and I were dating, you were it for me. I never wanted anybody else.”
“You never said that.”
“The way I was back then, I probably didn’t say anything about anything.”
“Believe me, I remember. Do you remember when I thought I might be pregnant?”
“Yep. You said your period didn’t come.”
“And you didn’t say anything, Oz. When you came over I sat across from you so I could see you when I told you, and all you said was ‘Oh.’ And you didn’t have much else to say the rest of the night. I figured that was it—that you were going to break up with me then because you wouldn’t even talk to me.”
“That must’ve looked bad. But I wasn’t talking because I was thinking.”
“About things like how my job at the furniture factory had just gotten serious. I couldn’t quit just because I got bored or somebody there pissed me off. If you were pregnant then that job wasn’t an option anymore. I remember thinking that I really needed a better job making more money, especially if you’d want to get married.”
“You would have married me if I was having your baby?”
“If you wanted to.”
“Then I’m glad I wasn’t. I wouldn’t want to marry you because you felt obligated.”
Oz had felt obligated then. A couple of months later he’d considered marrying her out of desperation. That was after Gary had moved back from Georgia and it looked like Kay was getting back with him. He’d been desperate because by then he was in love with Kay. He just hadn’t known it.
Though she was his first love, he didn’t regret breaking up with Kay. He’d had to break up with her for himself—for his youthful male pride and to prove to himself that he would never allow himself to be used, no matter what he might lose as a result. Though he’d been too young to fully understand why he’d needed to move on, a part of him knew that he could not lose part of himself so that he might have someone else. He had suffered for his loss, but he’d survived, with some regret.
Oz had never regretted losing the girl. That was what it was. What he’d regretted was not having the wisdom to know he was in love with Kay while they were together. He’d missed the experience of being in first love while it was happening. That was a chance you only get once in life.
First love was pure and beautiful because it was unmarked by the scar tissue of past disappointment and heartbreak. Any love that came after could be good, even better in some ways. But after a first love, you slipped a subsequent love on carefully. When trying it on and wearing it you are always conscious of rubbing it against old scars. Oz regretted that he’d missed the chance to experience scar-free love because he hadn’t recognized it when he had it.
“I had to test you that night,” Kay said. “I couldn’t let you just walk out. I had to know if we were still together.”
Oz smiled to himself. “I remember.”
“No you don’t.”
“Red body shirt and white painter jeans.”
“That’s what you were wearing. I was parked in your driveway, so when I was leaving you walked me through the kitchen. I kissed you goodnight at the door, but you wouldn’t stop kissing me.”
“You do remember,” Kay laughed. “Even what I was wearing?”
“Impossible to forget. You started unbuckling my belt and pulling me back into the kitchen to the table while we were kissing.”
“And you pushed me down into a chair…”
“And you pulled one leg out of your white jeans and straddled me. Your red body shirt snapped in the crotch…”
“I’m driving on 537 right now and I’m grinning like an idiot.”
“Trust me; I’ve grinned through many fond memories of that night. Because of you I have a fetish for kitchen chairs.”
“And I remember the next time I came over you said I must’ve knocked something loose because you got your period. And you said that if I hadn’t done it before I left you would’ve told me not to come back.”
“You wouldn’t talk to me, Oz. I figured if you didn’t want me because I was pregnant then I wasn’t going to try to hold you.”
“That never crossed my mind.”
“You proved that in the kitchen. Too bad we didn’t talk like this back then.”
“We were kids. We didn’t know jack about life.”
“Do you ever wonder ‘what if?’?”
“Sure. It’s human nature to wonder.”
“So, change of subject…”
“I checked the Amtrak schedules from here to you…”
“You did, huh?”
“If I take a train without a transfer I can be there in about an hour.”
“’Cool’ as in it’s okay for me to visit?”
“No ladies to watch out for?”
“So when can I come?”
“If you wear jeans and a body shirt, whenever you want.”
“There’s a train on Friday that’ll get me there just after 9:00 p.m.”
“That works. I’ll be there to pick you up.”
“And just so you know Oz, a body shirt isn’t going to happen. I’m not one hundred-fifteen pounds anymore.”
“You still look good Kay.”
“You’re a liar, but thank you. So you’re still going to call me tomorrow?”
“Definitely. And I’m looking forward to seeing you Friday night.”