Authors: Carl Weber
I cracked a smile. “Yeah, I guess you did.”
“I love it when I’m right.”
“I know you do,” I joked.
“Does she make you happy?”
“Yeah, she makes me happy. Happier than I’ve ever been.” I looked up at the plaques adorning his office walls as I thought about all the wonderful things that drew me to Sandra. “T. K., I don’t even think about other women. I wake up thinking about only her. There aren’t enough words to describe how she makes me feel.”
“You don’t have to explain it. I’ve been there,” he said with a laugh. “So I guess you really are in love.”
“Yep, I’m in love.”
“Well, that’s a wonderful thing.” He nodded in support. “Being in love is a gift from God.”
“I guess. But it’s not that simple.”
“Oh, Lord, please don’t tell me she’s married.”
I wanted to be offended by his assumption, but how could I? I ’d earned my own reputation by spending plenty of time with other men’s wives in the past. T. K. had delivered more than a few sermons on the issue of adultery over the years, and I’m sure many of them were written with me in mind.
“No, she’s single.”
He breathed an audible sigh of relief.
“But she is the same age as my daughter. They’re friends.”
“I see. You never make things easy, do you?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Is she in love with you?”
He thought for a moment before he spoke. “Well, James, if you’re both in love, then I can’t really see a problem. Sometimes love happens in unexpected ways, but I always say you should follow your heart. If God has brought love to you after all these years, don’t turn your back on it just because of an age difference.”
“I’m just afraid that people will think I’m some type of dirty old man. I mean, it’s not that I haven’t been with younger women before, but never with somebody young enough to be my daughter.”
“Well, you’re probably going to get a few stares at first, but people will get used to it. Deacon Gifts’s wife is twenty years younger than he is, and no one seems bothered by their marriage.”
I wanted to point out that in spite of her youth, Deacon Gifts’s wife looked older than he did, but I kept my mouth shut.
“So what does Jamie think about this? Must be nice for her to have her friend around.”
This was the part I was dreading most. “I haven’t told the kids yet. You know how Jamie can be when it comes to the women in my life.”
“Oh my … So, exactly when do you plan on telling them?”
“After church this Sunday.”
“James, do me a favor. Make that a priority. The longer you wait, the harder it’s going to be. It’s never good to keep secrets from family members. In the meantime, I’ll be prepared to counsel Jamie, ’cause, my friend, she’s not going to take this very well.”
“You don’t have to tell me that. That’s why I haven’t said anything yet. I just don’t know how to approach it without upsetting her.”
“I don’t know if there is a way to tell her without at least some amount of difficulty, James. But you’ll think of the best way, and then you’ll do what you know is right. Don’t keep this a secret any longer. It’s not good for Jamie, and it’s not good for your new relationship either.”
“I know. And I’m going to take care of it soon.”
“Good. Glad to hear it. I’m happy for you, James.”
“Even though she’s so young?”
“Love is one of the great mysteries. You can spend your entire life looking for it or running from it, but the Lord will give it to you in His perfect way in His perfect time. This is a joyous occasion, my friend. I look forward to seeing you two in church on Sunday.”
“Thanks, T. K.”
“Thank you, James. I am always grateful to hear of God’s work in action.”
* * *
I took a deep breath, pushed the button to close the sunroof, and clicked the locks open on my Lexus. “Well, we’re here.”
This was the moment. We were in the church parking lot, and there was no turning back now. We were finally going public with our affair—well, I guess it wasn’t exactly an affair, since we were both single, but it did feel like a forbidden romance. I mean, in this church alone, I was sure we were about to encounter at least a dozen women who did not approve of our relationship, whether because of Sandra’s age or because she was taking me off the list of eligible bachelors. I felt a little bad bringing Sandra into the lion’s den for our first appearance as a couple, but she’d assured me she could handle anything these women had to dish out.
The scent of Red by Giorgio Beverly Hills, Sandra’s fragrance for the day, filled my nose as I clambered out of my car and strolled around to help her out. She was looking exquisite in a white suit I ’d bought for her on one of our frequent trips to the mall. Not that she wasn’t sexy in her tight jeans and form-fitting dresses, but she really cleaned up well. I was sporting my white Armani suit, and together we sure made a handsome couple.
As soon as I opened Sandra’s door and she stuck one of her muscular legs out, we got our first dose of the reactions to come. Althea Jones, one of my exes, pivoted her head around on her neck like Linda Blair in
when she saw us. She stared through the window of her beat-up Buick, which was parked next to us.
What the heck is going on?
was written all over her face.
I know Sandra saw Althea out of the corner of her eye, but she ignored her as she took my arm and we walked toward the church. We wove our way through
the groups of people still milling around the parking lot. Plenty of them stopped their conversations and did double takes as we neared them, as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. I had been a member of this church for a long time, and I’m quite sure no one could remember a time when I had shown up to a Sunday service with a woman proudly on my arm. I felt their eyes on our backs as we took long strides past them to the entrance.
Bishop Wilson was getting into the welcoming part of his service when we walked in. He glanced up and gave us a warm smile, and I smiled back nervously. Sandra actually seemed to be handling the attention better than I was, but that was probably because she hadn’t slept with half the women in the room. She couldn’t really imagine what they were whispering as we passed by, but I could—all too well.
We sat down in the middle of the church, and I stared straight ahead. I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone or see the malicious expressions that I was sure some of the women were wearing. Oh, if I could be a fly on the wall after service today, I was sure I ’d hear plenty of un-Christian comments being shared among some of the more jealous sisters from my past.
As the service progressed, I relaxed a little and actually allowed my eyes to wander around the congregation. The sad thing was that almost everywhere I looked, I saw a woman who I ’d been intimate with at one time or another. For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed of my promiscuous behavior. Maybe loving Sandra had me looking at all women through different eyes and realizing that they deserved much more respect than I ’d ever shown them. I wished I could erase some of the things I ’d done with different women,
particularly those for whom I ’d never felt anything. My body felt heavy with regret.
I accepted the angry glares coming from some of the women as penance for my past misdeeds. One by one, they craned their necks around or stole glances in our direction, then rolled their eyes at Sandra and me, pushing their noses up in the air for emphasis. Amazingly, Sandra seemed unfazed by all of it. She let their unfriendly expressions roll right off her and just kept listening to Bishop Wilson’s sermon with a serene smile on her face. She must have sensed my uneasiness, because every once in a while, she reached out and squeezed my hand or rubbed my back in a supportive gesture.
As for me, I couldn’t tell you one word that the bishop preached. I couldn’t concentrate on the service because of all the accusing eyes on me. Whoever said people could hurt you without lifting a finger ain’t never lied. I imagined the angry looks as bullets being shot at me from all over the church. And that saying about hell hath no greater fury than a woman scorned, oh, I had no doubt now that it was the truth.
When church was finally dismissed and the last “Amen” was uttered, I got up and took Sandra’s hand. I was headed for the back door in a hurry, but I didn’t get far before someone stopped us.
“You never showed up for dinner the last time I invited you,” said Sister Jessica. She was a homely sister who used to be my Sunday meal ticket. At least I ’d never slept with her.
“Good to see you,” said Monica Jones, venom dripping off of each word she spat at me. I ’d had a short fling with her.
“Yeah, long time no see,” Aurora Williams said, her
lips curled up in disgust. A piece of spit flew between her teeth and landed in my right eye.
I was wiping my eye when Brother Hayes came up to me, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “How you doing, man?” He gave me a firm handshake, but he wasn’t looking at me. He couldn’t take his eyes off Sandra. “You lookin’ good, James.”
“I’m glad you could make it to service today, Deacon Black.” Deacon Howard’s eyes drank in Sandra’s figure also.
“That’s a beautiful woman you’re with,” commented Marvin Rivers.
Sandra accepted his compliment graciously.
The attention was becoming overwhelming. Between the women who wanted to kill me and the men who wanted to be me, Sandra and I couldn’t get close to the exit. Fortunately, Bishop Wilson approached us, and the others, especially the jealous women, took the hint and backed off.
“Brother Black, so good to see you.” A broad smile lit up his face. “And who is this beautiful lady you’ve brought with you today?”
I introduced Sandra to Bishop Wilson. He extended his hand and shook hers. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about you,” he said.
Sandra broke into a brilliant smile. “Bishop, I’ve heard wonderful things about you, and your sermon was so moving.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Do you have a church home?” he asked as he helped guide us toward the exit.
“Actually, I don’t. After your sermon today, I was thinking I ’d like to join your church.”
As we stepped outside, I stood back and watched how Sandra engaged Bishop Wilson in conversation,
promising to return next Sunday and even expressing interest in volunteering in some of the church’s community service projects.
I was so proud of the way she handled herself, not once allowing anyone to intimidate her or shake her confidence. She was an amazing woman, and in spite of our age difference, we were meant to be together. We’d cleared our first hurdle as a couple and came out without a scratch. Now came the hard part—convincing my daughter to accept us.
It had just turned dark when I drove past Keisha’s apartment Sunday night. It pissed me off to think of it that way, as her place. To me, it would always be our place, and if I had anything to say, it would be our place again, once I convinced this hardheaded woman that I was the only one who would accept her with all her flaws. Keisha was damaged goods, but I still wanted us to work things out and be together. As soon as she realized that I loved her in a way that none of these other dudes ever could, she would stop messing with them and come back to me.
When I looked up at the windows, I saw that the lights were off, but Keisha’s car was parked out front. It was too early for her to be sleeping, so I wondered if maybe she was up there with someone, and if so, who. Was it Omar, or some other fool I knew? She seemed to have a taste for my friends. I wanted to get out of the car, climb the fire escape, and peek in the window, but it was dinnertime, and most of the neighbors were home, so that wouldn’t work.
I called her on her home phone, but she didn’t answer, even though I had dialed *67 to hide my cell
phone number. It was possible she just wasn’t home. Maybe someone had picked her up or she had walked somewhere nearby in the neighborhood. I so wanted to climb that fire escape to see if she was in there. I sat in my car for a while and considered taking the risk, but then I remembered the night I ’d spent in jail and decided it wasn’t worth it.
I drove over to a couple of restaurants and neighborhood bars we used to frequent, pretending to check out the menu for takeout while scanning the room for Keisha. But she wasn’t at any of our haunts. Where could she be? The thought of her being in that apartment with some man was tearing at my soul.
I dialed her at home again, and the answering machine picked up. Shit! Where the hell was she? It was driving me crazy. Desperate for some type of clue, I punched in the code to retrieve the messages from the machine. Instead of playing back messages, the automated system kept recording. Obviously, she’d changed the code. This just pissed me off even more. Why would Keisha change the answering machine code unless she had something to hide?
I was determined to find out exactly what she didn’t want me to know. I called her answering machine over and over, each time trying a new code. I punched in her birthday, my birthday, her mother’s birthday, our anniversary, and Valentine’s Day. None of them worked, but I refused to give up. I was on a mission. After everything I ’d read in her diary, I didn’t see how she could have any more secrets left to hide, but obviously she did.
Finally, I punched in Omar’s birthday, and bingo, the messages began to play. There is no way to truly describe how furious this made me. Omar’s goddamn birthday was her code, like he was her man or something!
I wished he was there right now so I could bash his head in.
I sat in my car and listened to Keisha’s messages. I could feel my body tense up when the first Voice I heard was a man. But it wound up being a bill collector, which made me smile. Yeah, she couldn’t handle her lifestyle without my help, could she? Keisha liked to shop and go out to fancy restaurants at least once a week. Sahe was probably missing a brother for real now. Maybe I could use her financial situation to my advantage later. She was being stubborn, but once she got desperate enough for some help with her bills, she’d have to come crawling back to me. Her parents damn sure weren’t going to help her out after they already lost so much money on our wedding.