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Excerpts

And This Too Shall Pass

 

The Cheesecake Factory was crowded, which wasn't unusual. All the customers outside the entrance waiting for their little black beepers to beep seemed to be all coupled up, which wasn't unusual either. I hopped on the escalator that led up to the Border's Book store. I figured that had to be a good place to hang out for a bit.

Riding up I watched two young girls who were already dressed for mid-June talking on their cell phones. I smiled when they laughed. The way these teens are now-a-days they were probably talking to each other. At the top of the landing I stepped off the escalator, walked halfway around the store to reach the other up escalator and wondered why you had to walk that far just to get to a set of moving stairs. Seconds later I smiled when 'Retail Psychology 101' dawned on me. The longer you're in a store, the more likely you are to spend.

I finally reached the third level, which was actually the bookstore's second level. That was where the African American Fiction section was. I wanted to see if Patty Rice's new novel was out yet. Back at the house Linda had all seven of her books. Five of them personally autographed. She'd have a fit if she knew I came through here and didn't at least look. I'm a big Eric Jerome Dickey fan myself but hadn't had a chance to do a lot of reading lately. Rotating shifts on the job seemed to just take your entire life and do whatever it wanted to do with it. I can't even remember the last book I started, let alone finished.

 I walked past what looked like a cashier's station and made my way over to the small section of fiction by authors who looked a lot like me. I picked up a few mass market paperbacks first and read their synopsizes on the back.

Prosperity; Power; and Passion. Laverne Chavous has it all. But is having it all enough?

Nah. Sounds like it won't even live up to its billing.

Kendrell Davis lived a life that others only dreamed about.

Huh! Another one. Uh-oh! What's this?

Lorena Daniels has just broken up with her live-in boyfriend. Days later while having lunch...

"Excuse me. But can you tell me where I can find Patty Rice's new book?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Patty Rice. I'm trying to find her new book."

Standing there with my senses on pause I was absolutely speechless. Speechless and rapidly approaching the point of embarrassing myself and the beautiful sister standing right next to me. "I'm sorry. Did I startle you," she asked. Thank goodness for small miracles.
"Well, uh...actually you did." That was my escape from a mild case of lockjaw. The drop-dead gorgeous sister with the mild, peach fuzz mustache blushed behind a growing smile. My silence must've told her something that my lips couldn't. I smiled.
"I am so sorry. It's just that you--"
"--It's okay," she said before I could finish my excuse. "So, uh, do you know where I can find it?" I shuffled through my cluttered mind for an answer.
"Find what?" That wasn't the answer I was looking for. Her smile was even wider this time.
"Uh...the book?"
"Oh! That!" She tried not to laugh, but laughed anyway while I tried to figure out why she had me so off-balanced. I mean, it's not like I've never been around a good-looking woman before. After ten years of dating some of the most beautiful Black women on earth, it came as no big surprise that I married one. But there I was in that aisle, acting like I was on a blind date.
"Hi. I'm Trudy." She even had the nerve to have fine hands.
"Hey Trudy. I'm Chance." As we shook hands I started feeling a little strange because, so far, my wedding ring hadn't exactly done what it was supposed to do.
"I see you work down at the University. Facilities, right?" Had to be the uniform.
"Yeah."
"I'll be taking night classes there this coming semester." She said that like she wanted me to know.
"What a coincidence. I'll be there this coming semester too." She laughed.
"Ah! There it is."
She reached past me and found what we both were looking for. The soft, sweet aroma of her perfume sent me into another wordless moment as voices all around told me that this section was more popular than I remembered. The synopsis of the book saved me from myself as she read in silence.

While she read left to right, I read top to bottom and took in the silken locks of jet black hair that flowed from an almost perfect ponytail. Real or not, the sister was wearing it well. Her skin had a smooth, almond-colored complexion that made you almost want to touch it. Almond-colored. I read that in a book somewhere. A thin application of Passion pink lipstick matched well with the red poncho-styled shirt that hung just off of her left shoulder. And those eyes. Light brown eyes at that. Man, I tell you. Some women were just too fine. And unfortunately for this happily married brother, this sister was one of them.
She smiled as she read. And from where I stood, it looked like Patty was about to make another book sale.
"Only four left," I said, sounding like I owned the book store.
"Yeah. I guess we both got here just in time."
There was something warm and inviting about the way she said that. By then my high octane instincts had revved up and was getting ready to kick in. That was just what I didn't need. Past urges started creeping up on me like a pickpocket at Mardi Gras. A meek and mild gathering of mutual fiction lovers had suddenly turned into a stubborn test of wills. 'Will he; or will he not.' Standing there I realized that I needed to put some space between us fast before I ended up saying something that was gonna have that sister ringing my cell phone one of these days. I reminded myself of what, and more importantly, who I was in there for, then reached over and picked up one of the last copies of Speak No Evil. She must've sensed that I was struggling with my emotions. A smile, and a slight tug on the strap of her hand bag later, she motioned herself toward the checkout counter. I stayed behind like I was still browsing. In the distance she gave a mock search for additional literature as well, then turned all of that vicious womanhood back in my direction.
"Enjoy the book," she said, making me wish I'd never stepped foot in the place.
"Thanks. You too."
"See you at the University."
"See you there." That trillion-dollar smile was the last thing I saw as she turned the corner. 'See you at the University.' Man! I sure wish she hadn't said that.

 

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find

For such a large office building the main lobby of the Hightower Building was a bit on the small side but was still laid out pretty decent. Smoke gray granite floors with speckles of silver and white reflected almost like mirrors and met you as soon as you stepped from the elevator. Six matching pillars surrounded the oval-shaped lobby and reached up to its three-story atrium ceiling. Creme-colored lounge chairs lined the walls in a connecting order and stopped at either side of the building's main entrance doors. In the center of the lobby was an island security station where two heavy-set brothers were watching and pointing at a set of security
monitors. Approaching them I waited a bit before asking where conference room 'C' was.
"Yeah. That camera's been acting up for a while now. But anytime you see it doing that just let me or Captain Wilson know."
"Cool. Thanks, man." That was when the G. Garvin-looking brother paused then turned his attention to me.
"Good morning, sir. Can I help you?"
"Yeah. I'm Jordan Banks. I'm here for the Commerce and Finance Seminar in conference room 'C'."
"No problem. I'll just need you to sign right here and I'll need to see your driver's license, sir." Reaching back for my wallet I smiled and made a mental note to have big slim keep the sirs to a strict minimum. Hopefully the D.O.B. on my license would take care of that. As I handed him my ID my cell phone buzzed against my hip. The caller ID showed that it was Dale.
"Yeah. What's up, Dale?"
"Jordan, look. Do me a favor. I'm running a little behind this morning, so when you get to work can you call Mr. Jamison and let him know I still plan on making that interview?"
"Dude, don't you think you should be handling that yourself?"
"Yeah, but I can't find his number."
"Well, either way, you're still on your own. I'm in Rockville getting ready to head into a seminar that I'm running late for myself." By then Security was handing me back my license.
"Mr. Banks, you can either take this spiral staircase up to the second floor and follow the signs, or you can head this way, take the North wing elevator up and it'll put you right there." I gave what he said some thought.
"I'll take the stairs. Thanks."
"No problem. Just doing my job, sir." Okay, maybe I was wrong about the D.O.B. thing. I just smiled and headed for the stairs.
"Dale, the only thing I can tell you is to dial the front desk and leave a message with--"
"--I got it! I got it! It's right here." He said that like I was in the same room with him.
"Well handle your business then. And good luck with the interview. I'm out." "Later!" At the top of the stairs and to my right I could hear the chime of the elevators off in the distance. Coupling that with big boy's directions I knew I wasn't too far away.

Making my way toward the conference room I could see black-and-white portraits of men and women on either side of the hall. My guess was that they were pictures of past or even present board members in their youth. That was when a mild but intriguing scent drew my attention. An invigorating scent. A moving scent. A woman's scent. The soft, floral fragrance didn't get any stronger as I made my way toward the conference room doors. Neither did it dissipate. That much alone told me that a pleasant surprise waited for me somewhere on the other side.

Stepping through the double doors a rectangular- shaped table sat off to the left. A sign-in sheet, a cupful of number two pencils, several notepads and name tags were all out in plain view. Quickly I signed my name, took one of everything else and grabbed the first vacant seat I saw.

Glancing around the conference room it was easy to see that I wasn't the only one running behind. Out of thirty attendees, twenty-seven were already present. I made twenty-eight. And as usual, hardly any of them were women. Only four from
what I could see.

Trying to get comfortable in a seat that was too hard to get comfortable in I slowly scanned the area for the source of that intoxicating fragrance. Together in the center of the room were two beautiful sisters who didn't seem to be too familiar with each other. At opposite corners of the front row were the other two, who were just as good-looking. All four of them were jotting down on their notepads like crazy. And judging from the way the brothers were sitting around them salivating, that had to be noticed by more than just me.
It didn't hit me until a few seconds later that a facilitator hadn't stepped in just yet. Then I remembered that I was one of a few who were several minutes late and that maybe the facilitator was waiting for people like me to show up before getting started. Never-the-less I made the most of the down time and continued to scope the potential of my surroundings. Two rows ahead of me one of the sisters sitting in the middle reached inside her purse to answer a phone that none of us heard ringing.
"What, Michael." Michael. A man's name. And possibly a man who was calling to speak to his woman. Seconds later I smiled because it was obvious that I wasn't the only one who was thinking that. No sooner than she said 'Michael' the brother with the shoulder-length braids who was all but sitting in the child's lap suddenly remembered that he was in a seminar and turned his attention back to his empty notepad. The other three guys who had similar interests chilled out as well. Sitting there partially disappointed myself I smiled because, had I been sitting where they were, I probably would've met a similar fate. Thank goodness for the Beltway Faithful. Seconds later I heard the sounds of hallway voices diminishing as the conference room double doors slowly squeaked closed. By then two more brothers had walked in and were headed to claim the last two empty seats. Hmmph. Just what I needed: More competition. Before I even had a chance to size up their strengths and weaknesses I saw, walking a few steps behind them, one of the most beautiful women that ever lived.
Walking confident and secure in her femininity was an absolutely striking, satin-skinned sister standing about five-five, maybe a hundred-and-thirty pounds with honey-brown legs like you wouldn't believe. A turquoise business suit with matching bangles and heels gave her outfit a nice tropical appeal. And the sexy little haircut she wore did all kinds of wonders for her so
ft, penetrating eyes. And with all of that going for her she even had the nerve to have a smile that could light up Las Vegas all by itself.
As she made her way past me I soon found out who the owner of that arousing fragrance was. Man, she smelled good. Taking a quick glance at all the occupied seats it wasn't hard to tell that Miss Beautiful was none other than our facilitator. And judging from the way the room fell silent as she moved and maneuvered I could tell she met the other guys' approval just as well. Even the four sisters in the class sat up and took notice.
"Good morning, everybody. My name is Shandra, and I'll be conducting this morning's seminar." For some reason she seemed to be giving me direct eye contact when she said that. I took quick notice of that and proceeded to give her my undivided.

                                                           * * *

12:44pm. Although we were scheduled to wrap up at 1:00pm, pretty Miss Shandra decided to let us go early since there weren't a lot of questions being asked. Initially, I planned on grabbing a sandwich and heading back to the job after the seminar, but changed my mind after almost four hours of watching Shandra, well...facilitate. And after seeing the guys chase the other four sisters clear into the hallway I took that as fate working heavily in my favor. Slowly I made my way to the front of the conference room were Shandra was working on her laptop at a makeshift workstation.
"Shandra..."
"Yes?" She said that without looking up.
"I, uh...just wanted to say I like the way you ran this morning's session." That little ice breaker managed to lift her pretty face toward me, complete with a smile and those hypnotic chocolate-brown eyes. It also might've come off a little lame, but hey, a brother had to keep his approach work-related.
"Thank you." I smiled. "What part did you like the most?" Why did she have to ask me that? I mean, it was hard enough trying to keep my mind on the seminar, with her smiling and laughing and facilitating all lustful and seductive. Instantly my mind started flashing images of her toned legs, silken hair, gleaming teeth, endless curves. Basically, everything about her. And the source of those images was sitting right there in front of me.
"What do you mean?"
"Uh...you were talking about the seminar. I was asking what part did you like." Right then I started to wonder if I looked anywhere near as embarrassed as I felt. Her smile pretty much said that I did. All I could do was laugh.
"I am so sorry." That got a nice little smirk out her as well. "Look. I might as well be honest with you. I was just sitting back there wondering--"
"--Happy Birthday!" Now, whoever it was that was sending me birthday greetings while I was jump-starting my 'mack' were either ten months early or two months late, depending on how they felt about me. In either case I thought their timing couldn't possibly have been worse. That was until I saw Shandra stand up, look around me, then burst into a chorus of thank-yous as some six-foot-five, Wesley Snipes-looking brother walked in with a friggin' rose garden in one arm and a silver gift-wrapped box in the other.
"Hey, baby!" That was Shandra making a swift beeline past my failed attempt at asking her out, right into his full but open arms. I glanced at my watch to keep from seeing them kiss. Hearing it was even worse. After wiping her lipstick off of his lips they both headed my way.
"Jonathan..."
"Jordan."
"I'm sorry. Jordan, this is my fiancé, Calvin. Calvin, Jordan." I pretended like I was glad to meet him.
"Hey, Calvin."
"Hey, Jordan." I made sure to shake his hand harder than he shook mine. "Jordan...you wouldn't by chance be in here pushin' up on my woman, now would you?" What was he talking about? I mean, other than standing less than two feet from her, and then looking totally stunned when I turned and saw him, what could've given him that impression?
"Calvin!" He laughed. "Jordan, don't mind him. He's always playing like that."
"Oh. For a minute I thought he was serious."
"See what you did, Calvin?"
For the next few seconds the three of us just made small talk with Calvin saying how he would've been there sooner had it not been for traffic on the beltway and Rockville Pike. Hmmm. All the comforts of being me, except he had the woman. That was when Shandra broke our stride with a question I really wished she hadn't asked.
"So, Jordan, before Calvin came in, you were getting ready to say something. What was it?" Looking at nearly a million roses, a gift box that was certain to have old Calvin sleeping tonight with a smile on his face, and the glitz and glitter of an engagement ring I obviously was too caught up to notice, I smiled through my disappointment yet again and gave the only answer I could.
"Uh...Happy Birthday."

 

 

When Seasons Change

I'd just taken my key out of the apartment door when I saw Nathan's keys, pager, and cell phone sitting on the coffee table. And just like that, for the first time in almost two months, I wasn't glad to be home. You would've thought, with almost a foot of snow on the ground, and close to that much more on the way, I would've been happy to see the place I called home. But the things I had on my mind and heart the past few days were enough to send the average sister somewhere she had no business being. Good thing I didn't consider myself the average sister because, from where I stood, I could see that 'somewhere' place in plain view.
Intuition had been telling me for weeks that Nathan had been out 'hopping the fence' again. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not big on using terms like that. But hey, if he was going to act like one, I had no problems treating him like one. So when I decided to do a little Crime Scene Investigating of my own and started checking him out, I felt like twice the fool for ignoring my instincts and putting my trust in a man who obviously couldn't be trusted.
In the living room I closed the door hard enough to let him know I was home, but not too hard because I didn't want him to know that I was as mad as a hornet. The light on the cradle for the cordless was lit. That meant that he was using the phone in the bedroom. Temptation was telling me to pick up the phone and listen, but I was determined to be bigger than that. And besides, at that point, I'd already heard more than enough. Then I noticed that the light went out. I hurried up and put on my best 'Oh, I didn't know you were home' face. If he knew what was really going on with me he would've braced himself. I saw his shadow coming down the hall.
"Lorena. Hey...what's up, babe?"
"Hey." I kept eye contact to a minimum.
"I was just about to call you on the cell. You hungry?"
"No. I'm okay."
"You sure? I'm getting ready to call an order in at Outback."
"Uh...let me think about it."
"Cool.."
For the life of me I don't know why I didn't just go off on him right then and there. Goodness knows he earned every ounce of it. But when he kept bouncing around my apartment like everything was kosher that made me even more angry. And I wasn't about to keep that bottled up any longer.
"Nathan."
"Yeah. You ready?" Was I.
"Yeah."
"Cool. What do you want?" I paused before responding because, at that point-of-no return, a sister needed to make sure she said what she felt, and felt what she said.
"I...want to know why you came soft-walking in here at close to two o'clock this morning?"
"Lorena, I was gonna call you as soon as I found out that Ronnie wasn't coming in, but I didn't want to wake you. As it turned out, I ended up having to stay late until somebody else showed up."
"You've called here later than that before."
"And why are you asking me this now? I mean, if you knew what time I came in, why didn't you say something then?"
"It doesn't matter if I ask you now or ten years from now. The question is why were you coming in here that late? And this time I'd appreciate it if you told the truth."
"Lorena, what are you talking about?" By then his nostrils were good and flared. That meant that more lies were coming. "If I told you once, I've told you a thousand times, I don't always get off work at the same time! You know how they are down at the Plant! If my relief doesn't show up, then I'm stuck there until they do! I mean, why are you always pressin' me on that?"
"Why? Because half the time you're lying right in my face! And the other half you seem to have a problem with telling the truth! Now, I've dealt with you and your smoking for four years, Nathan. Four years! And I even had the nerve to put a down payment on that car you've been driving after that 'so-called' girlfriend of yours ruined your old one with the old sugar-in-the-gas tank routine. Now that should've told me something right there, but noooooo, I had to go and start feeling sorry for you. And if that wasn't bad enough, I even believed all the lies about you 'just hanging out' with the fellas."
"Lorena, do you wanna call Chris and ask him what time he showed up?"
"Nathan, please!" He couldn't have possibly expected me to fall for that one. "Now I'll admit, it took me awhile to figure you out, old boy. But eventually I did. And you wanna know something else? It's got nothing to do with what you call 'the System', or the fact that your parents divorced when you were nineteen. It's about you, Nathan! You and the fact that you just can't stay committed to anything or anybody!" Nathan stood still as a portrait. "Now you can play me for a fool if you want, but I'll tell you this much. I know what you're doing!"
"Lorena--"
"--And if you wanna keep seeing that...chick, like we both know you've been doing, then let's stop playing games and just end this thing right here because you're really wasting my time now! And to put it to you straight, Nathan...the last thing I need is a man who creates more problems than he can solve! And--"
"--Are you finished yet?"
"--another thing. If you ever, EVER, raise your voice at me like that again, you're gonna wish that you were never born!" I didn't mean for my temper to get away from me like that. But when you were beyond being angry you weren't always responsible for your actions. "Now, with that being said, it'll be in your best interest if you just get all of your stuff out of here now before that other snowstorm hits later this week because, effective as of right now, you no longer have a home here!"