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Authors: Pamela Yaye

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BOOK: Trouble with Luv'
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Chapter 10

E
bony motioned toward the entrance of Martin Luther King Jr. Park with her index finger. “Wow! Look at all the people lined up to get into the park.”

Xavier directed his gaze to where she was pointing. A mischievous grin settled over his mouth. “With a crowd that thick I'm going to have to keep
both
eyes on you.”

I wish you would,
Ebony thought.

Marveling at how perfect she looked, Xavier stole a glance at her. His smile grew, as he listened to her sing along with the Aretha Franklin song playing on the radio. Ebony wasn't musically inclined, but her enthusiasm made up for what she lacked in talent. Her face had a soft shimmer to it, like she had been sitting underneath the sun. Not a hair was out of place and her outfit was wrinkle-free. Returning his eyes to the road, he searched for a parking space. Circling the lot for the third time, he stole another quick peek at his passenger. He didn't know why, but he felt like this was going to be a special day. Maybe it was something in the air. Or maybe it was that body-tingling kiss they had shared in her living room.

Once the car was parked and the engine was off, Xavier slid out of the driver's seat.

“You are quite the quintessential gentleman,” Ebony commented, when he opened her door. Taking the hand he so graciously offered, she stepped out of the car. Well aware that the heat passing between them had little to do with the sunshine and everything to do with chemistry, she squeezed his hand. “It's refreshing to be out with a man who opens doors and pulls out chairs.”

He joked, “What can I say? Some brothers just have it like that.”

Ebony laughed.

“I can't take all the credit. My mom had something to do with it.”

“Tell Mrs. Reed I said she did an exceptional job.”

Touched by the compliment, he draped an arm casually around her waist. The sights and sounds of spring welcomed the couple as they strolled toward the park and, after a short wait, through its open gates.

Music lovers, eager to take advantage of the pleasant May afternoon, descended on Martin Luther King Jr. Park for the International Jazz Festival like bees to a honeycomb. The stomach-grumbling aroma of hot dogs, ice cream and fried doughnuts pervaded the air, and lines at the refreshment stands clogged the walkway.

“Hey, here comes Palmer, Conway and Slaughter.”

Three taller-than-average men, with thick bodies and broad grins, were heading their way. “Hey, guys. What's up?” Ebony looked on as Xavier greeted each man with a high-five and a manly hug.

Xavier put a hand on her back. “Ebony, this is Darius, Juan and Nathan. We play on the same recreational football team.”

Ebony exchanged hellos and nice-to-meet-yous with the men. The group talked about the musical guests slated to appear that afternoon, and the guys chuckled heartily when Ebony glanced up at the sky and said, “It better not rain 'cause I just got my hair done.”

While the quartet discussed their next game, Ebony scanned the park. Martin Luther King Jr. Park had never looked so clean. The grass was trimmed, an assortment of spring flowers lined the pavement and there wasn't a stitch of garbage anywhere. Couples strolled hand in hand, families reclined on the lawn under monstrous trees and die-hard fans bordered the stage, waiting anxiously for the musicians to appear.

Spotting a street vendor pushing a cart filled with everything from water to dried fruit, Ebony popped open her purse and pulled out some money. When there was an interlude in the conversation, she politely excused herself. “Xavier, I'm going to go and get a snack. Do you want anything?”

“A bottle of water would be great.”

She nodded. “It was nice meeting you guys.”

Bug-eyed, the four men watched her sashay over to one of the street vendor carts.

Darius wiped the sweat away from his forehead. Xavier's date was a woman of indescribable beauty. She was sophisticated and everything about her was sexy. Her smile. Her walk. Even her laugh. Nudging Xavier with his elbow, he asked, “Where in the world did you find baby girl?” He shook his head wistfully. “I'm not trying to knock you down or anything but Ms. Thang is
way
out of your league. Honey needs a man with my charm and expertise, so why don't you slide me her number?”

Xavier chuckled.

“A young pup like you can't handle all that woman, X,” Nathan chimed in.

Juan couldn't resist. “Careful, boy, girlfriend looks like she could put a hurtin' on you.”

“Back to my original question,” Darius cut in impatiently, “where did you meet her and where can I get one just like her?”

“I met Ebony at the church banquet I invited
you
three knuckleheads to.” When Darius's mouth cracked open, Xavier jabbed a finger at his chest. “I think your exact words were ‘church is for suckers.'” In a mocking tone of voice, he said, “See, that's what you get for not listening to me. The food was delicious, the entertainment was incredible and there was a roomful of gorgeous, professional women.”

Darius released a slow whistle. “If there are sisters at your church who look like
that,
sign me up, X. I'm there!”

 

After two hours of fighting the crowds and contending with the heat and humidity, Ebony and Xavier were starving. While she hunted for a secluded space at the park, he set off in search of lunch.

A frown formed between her eyebrows when she spotted Xavier. He was headed straight for her, but he didn't have hot dogs or hamburgers or chilli cheese fries. “What's that?” she asked as he approached.

“A cooler.”

“What's in it?”

Xavier had an amused glint in his eyes. “You'll see.” He spread a white blanket on the grass and unloaded the cooler. Bacon and lettuce sandwiches, a fruit platter laced with watermelon, pineapple and cantaloupe, homemade fruit punch, and cinnamon buns covered the width of the blanket in mere seconds. Jazz music playing softly in the background, supplied a romantic scene. The delightful shrieks of children far off in the distance made Ebony suddenly feel youthful and free.

Ebony looked down at the blanket. Xavier had thought of everything. No paper plates for them, either; he had brought along dishes, cutlery and even wineglasses. “Did you make all this?” she asked, once he was finished blessing the food.

“Everything but the fruit.”

Ebony laughed. While they ate, they spoke freely about their backgrounds. In the next hour, she learned that he had had a fleeting basketball career overseas, had been to all seven continents, and spoke French and Spanish fluently.

“French and Spanish? Wow! That's impressive. I had the hardest time just trying to master English!”

Xavier chuckled. “My great-great-grandparents immigrated to America from French Guiana, back in the early fifties. My mother wanted us to retain as much of the culture as possible so she forced us to take French classes at the local YMCA. Jackie and I joined the Guianese Association and there we learned how to make traditional foods like cumin chicken, tomato rice and my specialty, callaloo soup. Every other year, my parents took us to Guiana for summer vacation. Jackie and I had the time of our lives. We swam in the ocean, played with our cousins and even climbed coconut trees.”

“I envy you, Xavier. You have such a rich background.” What she didn't say was that she wished her parents had taken that kind of interest in her. Ebony helped herself to another piece of fruit. “Say something to me in French.”

“La prochaine fois que nous dinons, vous allez être le…cuisiner.”

Ebony fanned herself with her hands. “Ooh! I don't know what you said or what it means, but it sounded good! What did you say?”

“I said, ‘the next time we have dinner, you're going to cook!'”

They shared a laugh.

“I know you probably get asked this all the time, but what's it like being a twin? Do you and Jacqueline get along?”

“Do black people like chicken?” Xavier chortled at his own joke, and Ebony couldn't help laughing, too. She was high on fresh air and conversation and Xavier could do no wrong. “It's true what they say about twins. We share the same thoughts, finish each other's sentences, and I know this is going to be hard to believe, but when something's wrong with Jackie, I can sense it. It sounds spooky, but it's just a part of who we are. She got remarried last year and she and her husband are expecting their first child.”

Xavier stared at the family of four meandering past, a contemplative expression on his face.

“How many kids do you want?” Ebony could see Xavier with a whole bunch of kids. His warm nature would make him an excellent father.

“I don't know, but five sounds like a good number.”

“That's five too many for me.”

“You don't want to have kids? Why?”

Ebony took another piece of watermelon from the bowl and bit into it. Watermelon juice dribbled down her chin. She patted her mouth with a napkin and wiped her hands. “I couldn't imagine balancing a family with my hectic career. I love what I do and I've worked hard to get where I am. The way I see it is, some women are destined to achieve greatness in the business world and some are destined to be incredible wives and mothers. I think I fall into the first category.”

As Ebony shielded her eyes from the sun, her mind wandered back to her childhood days. She had never had dolls or played house when she was a little girl; firecrackers, trucks and action figures had been her favorite toys. Her dreams had never revolved around being a wife or a mother. All she had ever dreamed about was being a firefighter. At twelve, she had shelved the idea of running into burning buildings and instead, spent hours combing teen magazines for the latest trends in clothes, hair and makeup.

Ebony had never been wedding-obsessed. Not even in college, when her closest friends were getting engaged and all she heard about was designer gowns, guest lists and honeymoon destinations. When she thought about marriage, there was only one word that came to mind: misery. And she had her parents to thank for that.

“Marriage is hard work,” Xavier was saying when Ebony returned to the conversation. “But nothing worth having in life is easy.” He studied her for a few seconds. “I'm surprised you think you can't balance having a family and a career. You strike me as the type of woman who can accomplish anything she puts her mind to.”

She acknowledged his compliment with a smile. “A few years ago I bought the cutest brown terrier. I bought all the pet supplies the clerk recommended and took her home. I had the dog bed, the fancy combs, all the grooming supplies and the most expensive dog food, but you know what? After three weeks I had to return Lace to the pet store. She ended up being too much responsibility and I couldn't handle it all. Pathetic, huh?”

Xavier smiled softly. “Not at all.”

“Could you imagine me taking care of a baby?” Ebony shuddered at the thought.

“Are there other reasons why you don't want to have children?”

This time when Ebony spoke, she did from her heart. “I didn't have much of a relationship with my parents. My dad was a city bus driver and my mom was a supervisor at a convalescent home. They spent their entire day serving other people and by the time they got home, they didn't have anything left to give to me. My dad, Simeon, was a bully and my mother buckled under his domineering personality. Most of the time, I just stayed in my room reading and doing crossword puzzles. I found ways to keep myself busy, but I always envied the close relationships my classmates had with their parents.”

Xavier didn't want to pry, but he wanted to know more. The loneliness and pain she had endured as a child were evident in her voice, and outlined in her eyes. He ached to take her in his arms and stoke away the hurtful words and neglect she had faced. “What's your relationship with your parents like now?” he queried, after a notable pause. “Are you on better terms?”

“They died in a car accident eight years ago.”

Xavier reached out and covered her hands with his own.

The welcomed gesture made Ebony yearn for more. Much more. It had been months since she had felt the soothing touch of a man's hands. Three months to be exact. She found herself fantasizing about what it would be like to make love to Xavier. He was generous and polite, and if his personality was any indication of what he was like in bed, he was probably a tender, patient lover. Ebony could do tender and patient. She would do anything he wanted her to. The sound of his voice snapped her mind into focus.

“I'm sorry about your parents.” Xavier shook his head sadly, his eyes communicating that he understood what Ebony must have gone through. “I don't know what I would do if I lost one of my parents, let alone both. That must have been a difficult time for you.”

Ebony could only nod. He had no idea.

Xavier wanted to know how she had survived losing her parents. Maybe hearing about that time in her life might give him insight into why she was so fiercely independent. He was starting to understand why Ebony felt the need to be in control all the time. She had been taking care of herself for years. “Do you feel uncomfortable talking about what happened?”

BOOK: Trouble with Luv'
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