For my first love, Chynna, one day everything we’ve been through won’t matter, all that will be left is unconditional love, the only constant in our lives.
Summer Hammond’s body curled into a fetal position. She was dead. She was sure of it. Flashes of blue ringed while light blinded her eyes and daggers of pain invaded her entire body. Summer’s chest rose weakly, allowing little oxygen into her lungs. Her breaths grew increasingly shallow. Voices began to fade through a vortex of time and space.
Blood stained her white Vera Wang gown, spreading like a crimson Rorschach inkblot. The embroidered taffeta and expensive French lace material lay draped across her body like a white funeral shroud.
Not even fifteen minutes before, Summer stood at the end of a beautifully decorated aisle in the bucolic Greenbrier Knolls Vineyard exchanging vows with Jesse Banks, the man of her dreams.
“I now pronounce you husband and wife!”
Cheers erupted from the crowd of one hundred guests in attendance at the wedding ceremony. “And now I can kiss my bride,” Jesse beamed, his cool peppermint breath whispered on Summer’s lips. Summer gladly welcomed Jesse’s tongue into her mouth for a long, passionate seal of their vows. More cheers arose; including a few “get a room” heckles. The newlyweds reluctantly disengaged from each other to acknowledge the spectators.
A perfectly pink blush colored Summer’s cheeks. Joy permeated through her body. The bones in her face ached from grinning. Summer felt as if all the struggles in her life had led her to this very moment in time. After so many years of hardship and struggling to make ends meet, God had deemed her fit for a reward.
Jesse wore a cool smirk throughout the event. As they slowly made their way down the aisle, he squeezed her hand reassuringly. The guests, seated on either side of the lavender and pink rose petal decorated path, blew bubbles from white monogrammed bubble wands to serenade the handsome couple.
“Wait right there…hold that pose!” the photographer called out to the gushing bride and groom. “Kiss her!” he instructed, hoisting his camera to eye level to ensure he captured the exact moment their lips met.
Jesse and Summer turned to each other on cue, their tongues engaged in another scandalously intimate dance. The photographer’s flash sparkled and the crowd erupted in another round of cheers.
One hundred year old weeping willows swayed in the wake of the breeze with their wispy, white bud covered tendrils. The sun basked the couple in abundant light and warmth. It was truly the perfect May day for an outdoor wedding.
“Walk slowly forward now,” the photographer instructed. Summer hooked her arm through Jesse’s as she carefully navigated the vineyard’s emerald green lawn in her heels.
When Summer and Jesse finally made it to the end of the aisle, they were bombarded by guests eager to snap photos of the happy couple with their cell phones and personal cameras. Jesse waved like a politician and Summer flashed a perfectly even white smile. Summer’s high cheekbones and half moon eyes gave her the exotic look of a movie star.
“One more!” the photographer shouted, jutting his camera forward for a close-up once again of Summer and Jesse’s faces. They faced each other; their happiness so palpable it hung over them like an iridescent bubble. Jesse kissed Summer chastely on the nose. She giggled at his playfulness.
“A yo, JB!” A male voice boomed from the couple’s left, interrupting their moment of bliss.
A frown marred Summer’s face. Jesse’s head jerked at the voice, his head whipping around to locate the intruder.
“This is the real holy matrimony! Marry this motherfucker!” the voice boomed again as two men barreled through the crowds, heading straight toward the couple. The men donned black masks and dark clothing. They pushed the photographer aside and leveled a gun straight at Jessie’s heart.
“Gun! He’s got a gun!” A female guest screamed first.
“Oh shit!” Jesse’s eyes went round as he faced the long metal nose of the weapon. Frantically, he unhooked his arm from Summer’s and stepped in front of her. Jesse wanted to place his hand inside of his white tuxedo jacket where his weapon was secured in his shoulder rig, but he didn’t want to leave his wife unprotected. Before he reached his weapon, the sound of rapid-fire explosions cut through the air.
Jesse’s groomsmen ran at full speed down the aisle, guns drawn. Dirt and grass flew in their wake as more shots rattled off. Two of Jesse’s security guards were picked off, falling to the grass like bowling pins. Screams pierced the air from every direction.
Jesse’s body jerked from the impact of the bullets, his arms flew up, bent at the elbow and flailing like he was a puppet on a string. Jesse’s body crumpled like rag doll and fell into an awkward heap on the ground.
Summer stood frozen, her feet seemingly rooted into the earth around her. This was just a bad dream. It wasn’t real. She couldn’t get enough air into her lungs to breathe.
“Jesse! No! No!” Summer shrieked, finally finding her voice.
“Get that motherfucker!” Someone yelled.
The sounds of tires screeching and more loud booms exploded around Summer. She coughed as the grainy, metallic grit of gunpowder settled at the back of her throat. Summer inched in the dirt to where Jesse lay. The smell of bloody raw meat wafted up her nose. The earth around him pooled into a deep burgundy lake of his blood.
“Jesse!” she screamed her throat burned with acid. Summer grabbed her husband’s shoulders and shook them, hoping for a response.
“There’s another one!!” a man screamed. “Get him!”
Summer looked up just in time to see the end of a silver gun.
“No!” she sobbed, throwing her body on top of Jesse. More deafening booms blasted through the air.
Summer hovered between consciousness and oblivion. The thundering footfalls of fleeing guests left her feeling abandoned and adrift. Summer lay on top of Jesse, her breathing labored. An explosion of heat passed through her body, spreading like wild fire in a California forest. The origin was hard to pinpoint, as the pain seemed to radiate from every pore of her body.
Her eyes rolled back; then darkness came down on her like a guillotine.
Summer had no choice but to welcome the darkness with open arms.
When the Smoke Cleared
Summer’s eyes fluttered open. The raging fire in her throat and pounding between her ears indicated that she was
dead. No, she was very much alive and each ache in her body made her painfully aware of that fact. Summer immediately started gagging. She kicked her right foot and lifted her left hand to grab the thick breathing tube running down her throat that was making her gag. The heart monitor next to her bed sounded off with a high-pitched scream. Two nurses rushed towards Summer’s bedside. Mitch jumped to his feet, sending Caralina’s head bouncing off of his shoulder.
“What’s happening?” Mitch huffed, panicked. Caralina, still dressed in her strapless lavender bridesmaids gown, was on her feet and moving towards Summer within seconds.
The nurses ushered Caralina to the side of the room, away from the patient.
“Ut un! I wanna know what’s happening!” Caralina demanded, hitching her dress up around her hips, ready to charge.
“Please, stay back. We need to treat the patient!” a nurse chastised from Summer’s bedside.
Caralina curled her hands into fists. “Bitch, don’t push me again!”
Mitch grabbed Caralina around her waist.
“No, Mitch! That’s my fucking best friend laying there! They can’t just turn me away like that! I wanna know what’s happening to her!”
The nurse drew one side of the curtain around Summer’s bed, shutting Mitch and Caralina out.
“Mrs. Banks…it’s going to be okay. Shhh… Don’t do that now, you’ll injure yourself,” a short, stocky nurse with calm eyes and coffee bean colored skin consoled as she drew Summer’s hands away from her face.
“We’re going to have to ask you both to step out,” the taller, red headed, blue-eyed nurse instructed as she peeked out from behind the curtain.
“I’m not going nowhere!” Caralina boomed. Mitch tightened his grasp and tugged her towards the doorway.
“C’mon man. If they call security, that’s bringing heat we don’t need right now. We already out of league out here. This is a long way from BK. I ain’t tryin’ fuck with no toy hospital cops right now, Lina,” Mitch said as he pulled her, heels dragging, from the room.
“I got her arms down…you tie,” the short nurse instructed as the red head went to work on tying Summer’s wrists to the metal poles. It was for her own good, they repeatedly assured her. If Summer managed to pull the tube out, she could do permanent damage to her vocal cords.
Saliva leaked from the left side of her mouth, trickling down her chin and pooling in the dip of her neck.
Please! Take this tube out!
Summer screamed the words in her head, but nothing came out of her mouth but muffled groans. Her throat was on fire.
“I know. I know. Breathing tubes are a bitch when you’re awake, but that collapsed lung you got there is worse, so try to relax and let the machine help you. I’ll give you something to help you sleep,” the short nurse comforted, maternally patting Summer’s arm.
Summer’s eyes darted up to the television hanging on the wall in front of her bed. The television volume was muted, but close caption was turned on. Jesse’s face flashed on the screen.
BROOKLYN BUSINESS MAN WITH ALLEGED CRIMINAL TIES SHOT DEAD ON HIS WEDDING DAY
Irritated, Summer moaned gagging against the tube again. The heart monitors reacted with a high pitched screech.
“What’s going on in here?” the red headed nurse returned, hands on her hips.
“Something upset her,” the short nurse stated, following Summer’s line of vision.
Summer’s eyes were glued to the television screen. Warm tears flowed from her eyes, trailing into her hairline. She strained against the arm restraints. Her entire body tensed. Heated daggers of pain shot through her back and shoulder with every movement.
“I think she wants to hear this,” the short nurse said, nodding towards the television. She grabbed the remote and raised the volume. Summer relaxed her head on the pillow as she listened to the tail end of the newscast.
Police authorities say when the smoke cleared, four people were found dead, including two alleged gunmen. Six others were seriously injured. So far, police have not offered any speculation about a motive for the tragic wedding day massacre.
Scenes from the wedding flashed across the screen before the newscast went to commercial. Agitated, Summer shifted restlessly in her bed.
“Shhh… You have to stay calm,” the nurse comforted as she plunged a sedative into Summer’s intravenous line. “This will help,” she whispered in Summer’s ear as the medicine entered her bloodstream. Summer squeezed her eyes shut and Jesse showed up on the insides of her eyelids.
The day Summer met Jesse, she’d literally run into him. “C’mon, c’mon,” Summer tapped her nails on the steering wheel of her boss’s Audi A8 impatiently. Traffic was at a standstill and she was late with his dry cleaning and lunch. She looked at the time on her cell phone again. “Shit! He’s gonna kill me!”
Summer was personal assistant to Rex McKenzie, hotel magnate and tycoon of McKenzie Enterprises, and he hated when she was late.
Summer laid on the horn. “Drive people!” Traffic only inched forward. Summer’s cell phone rang. Her heart jerked. “Fuck!” She hit the car’s Bluetooth function. Ignoring the call was not an option.
“Hello?” Summer answered, her voice quivering. Rex started his tirade. Summer felt her scalp prickle. She narrowed her eyes as she listened. Rex’s voice reminded Summer of the bleating pigs being carried off to slaughter on her grandfather’s farm back in Cuba.
“I’m coming Rex…traffic is a nightmare down here,” Summer said evenly. The car speakers vibrated with the sound of Rex’s high-pitched, effeminate rant.
“Okay, okay!” Summer placated, biting into the side of her cheek. If only she could tell Rex to fuck off with his small dick. Better yet, she would love to give him the world’s biggest bitch slap across the face.
Summer slammed her fists on the steering wheel. She was powerless. She needed the job. And she needed Rex’s money. If Rex fired her or cut her off, she would be right back where she’d started when she arrived in Brooklyn from little Havana. Dead broke. Hungry. Homeless. Owing debts.
Summer swerved the car out of the lane she was in to try to maneuver through the gridlock. She hit the gas, accelerating the car forward. A horn sounded from somewhere to the right and Summer hit the gas again, just as her car collided with another.
Summer screamed as her body flew forward against the steering wheel, causing the airbag to deploy. She felt like someone had punched her in the chin and chest. The dusty smoke from the airbag caused her to cough, powdering her lips and face with a white dust. She felt like she’d been in a boxing match with a prizefighter.
Summer heard three loud bangs and felt the car shake. She blinked her eyes trying to get them to focus. She couldn’t seem to locate the source of the noise.
“What the fuck was you doing? You ran right into me!” A broad shouldered, square chinned, hulk of man came into focus. His features were etched into a scowl, and he looked like a typical villain in a comic book. The monstrous man was pounding the hood of Rex’s Audi with his gorilla fists.
Summer’s heart leapt into her throat.
Oh shit, I hit someone!
The driver’s side door of the Audi suddenly flew open, sending a gust of humid summer air into her face. Before she could react, Summer felt herself being forcefully dragged from behind the wheel. She tried to hold on to the steering wheel as her anchor, but her grip was too weak. Summer’s body was pulled from the car like a rag doll.
“Get off of me!” Summer shrieked, swinging her arms wildly. Summer tried to duck back into the car, but the man gripped her tightly in his bear claws.
If only Summer could grab the little piece she had stashed in her purse for emergencies such as these. Summer kicked her feet and caught him in the gut, slightly missing her intended target—his nuts.
“You little bitch!” he snarled, grabbing a fistful of hair.
“Don’t touch me! I can stand on my own!” she growled, punching the hulk somewhere close to his chin. Summer stood on wobbly legs, with one shoe missing, trying to compose herself. She smoothed down her rumpled dress with her trembling hands and reached up to her hairline to assess the damage to her head. The impact of the accident still had her head spinning. She didn’t realize how hard she’d cracked her head until she felt the blood trickling down her forehead.
“What the fuck were you doing coming over to my lane?” the man growled at Summer, jutting an accusing finger in her face. “You should fucking learn how to drive!”
With sweat beads running a race down her back, Summer shifted her weight to the foot with the shoe still on and stood her ground. Summer’s lips curled upward and she put her hands on her hips.
“I was trying to get you pussies to fucking drive out here! You think somebody got time to sit in traffic? I got somewhere I need to be!” she said indignantly, not letting the man’s size intimidate her.
When he put his hand up in her face again, she boldly swept his finger from her face. The man curled his huge hands into fists. He moved towards her like he was about to pummel her to the ground.
Summer kicked off her other wedge sandal and steeled herself, waiting for the man to flex. She’d taken hits from dudes his size and bigger in her lifetime. Sundress and no shoes on, she was fearless. She clenched her jaw waiting for the first blow.
“Wow, so beautiful and feisty as hell,” a man stepped from behind the menacing hulk, pulling the hulk’s arm down before he started to rearrange Summer’s face. “I take it from your attitude and your thick accent, you must be Puerto Rican.”
“I got this, Mr. Banks. You get back in the car out of this heat. She’s gonna pay for the damage to your car,” the hulk stammered, his voice a low murmur. A much softer tone than he’d used with Summer just seconds before.
Summer rolled her eyes at Mr. Banks.
He must think his suit and tie will scare me off or impress me. Fuck that, I work with his kind every day!
She was ready for him, too. It was clear that the hulk was Mr. Banks’ driver. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with either of these bastards.
“I’m Cuban, not Puerto Rican,” she mumbled with attitude.
“I apologize. Miss Cuban, I’m Jesse,” the suit extended his hand towards Summer. “Jesse Banks.”
Summer stared at the hand extended in front of her. She had to admit, the man had balls and he was certainly handsome. He reminded her a bit of a cross between Idris Elba and Lance Gross, and was dressed in a three piece suit that was perfectly tailored to his form. She blinked a few times, having a hard time getting her focus back. Gorgeous or not, she still didn’t trust him.
“I’m also not interested. Look, I really don’t have time for this chit chat. Your driver needs to learn how to drive. It’s people like him that make this kind of traffic worse,” Summer sassed, folding her arms over her chest. Summer was in no mood to play games.
Jesse shoved his hand back into his pants pocket. A woman hadn’t summarily dismissed Jesse since he was twelve years old. And here he was, being dissed by a truly beautiful, but vexing female who wouldn’t even shake his hand. Jesse laughed. He laughed so hard, Summer started to question his sanity.
“What’s so fucking funny?” she asked, her eyebrows arching high on her forehead.
“How amused I am by you…Miss Cuban Not Interested. You are one of a kind. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman, so beautiful, yet so unrefined. You’re an original, that’s for sure!” Jesse said, still chuckling.
Summer blew out a windstorm of breath. She threw her hands up. Now this dude was trying to insult her.
Unrefined! You haven’t seen unrefined!
“Look mister, I really have to go,” Summer said, annoyed. She’d wasted enough time arguing with these men.
“It doesn’t look like you can go anywhere,” Jesse said, nodding towards the front-end damage on Rex’s Audi. Summer pushed past Jesse and surveyed the damage for herself. The front of the car was a mass of twisted and gnarled metal.
“Shit!” she muttered, letting out an exasperated breath. The car was going to need to be towed. Summer ran her fingers through her curly, newly dyed auburn locks. Her shoulders slumped. All she could see and hear now was Rex’s reaction—his white skin would turn pink and blotchy, his high-pitched threats not to pay her, and worst of all, his forcing her to suck his tiny, musty dick while she stuck two fingers in his ass for his sick pleasure. Summer shuddered. The things she did to keep a roof over her head. It was never easy and sometimes she truly wondered how she would’ve faired if she had stayed in Cuba.
“I’m fired for sure. Now what will I do?” Summer gasped, cupping her face in her hands. Jesse touched her shoulder, sending a cool chill down her back. She shrugged away from him, feeling uneasy.
Why is he being so nice? Probably already undressed me in his fucking mind!
She didn’t trust anyone, especially men.