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Authors: Bonita Thompson

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BOOK: Vulnerable
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“Hi, girl,” Tamara greeted her friend. “Yes, it's good to hear your voice, too. Earlier I was thinking about you. Oh, really? So how's the book doing?” Entering the elevator, Tamara rolled her eyes, only half-listening to Pricilla, who stopped short of bragging about the fact that her second book had already outsold the first. Swiftly, Tamara checked her stack of mail. “Oh, fantastic! When will you be in Seattle?…”

•  •  •

With dry-cleaning in one hand and an iced coffee in the other, Rawn was in a serene mood. He strolled up his walkway, and the last person he expected to greet him at his doorstep was D'Becca. She sat on the edge of his small curve-cornered porch. “Hey!”

“Hey,” D'Becca said back.

The silence between them played out for a few measured moments. Both stood stock-still, and they were feeling suspicious of the other. One waited for the other to speak; to broach a subject that would end the awkwardness of the moment. Whatever they
talked about needed to progress past the night before, which, in the face of a new day, now seemed careless. For a hushed few seconds, they shared a gentle stare. They began to speak at the same time—

“My cell…”

“You left your cell…”

In unison they laughed.

“Aren't you going to invite me in?”

He chuckled while taking in the full essence of her.

Rawn had never known a woman like D'Becca. Granted, his repertoire was limited to women not as sophisticated, and he was only intimately familiar with black women. At the very least, there was a cultural distinction. D'Becca was enigmatic, and that darkness she was cloaked in turned him on in a huge way. There was no way for Rawn to see what was coming.

“Come on,” Rawn said, inviting her in.

They made love, and on the most intimate of terms, all through the afternoon and into the early evening. When they were not stimulating each other, they lay breathless and held each other with tender closeness. Their conversations were neutral—topics that were not superficial, merely safe. And what they were sharing in those moments had nothing absolutely to do with yesterday and would have no bearing on tomorrow. When D'Becca, reluctant, stepped out of his bed and slipped on her boyshorts at close to two in the morning, Rawn urged her to stay over. But she said, “I have to go.” She could not stay overnight. “Why?” he wondered aloud, although he wished he could take it back; he had no intention of speaking the thoughts that were cluttering his head. She had a booking out of town.

“I'll take you to the airport,” he offered.

“No, I'm fine.” She smiled warmly. “Good-night, Rawn. And
stay in bed—don't move.” She kissed him with sincere affection, leaving a hint of her feminine scent and the very essence of herself in his moonlit room.

Once he knew she was out of the apartment, Rawn lay in bed thinking about the past day or two. Whatever he was feeling was amazingly sharp. He began to doze, but his mind kept him from falling into a deep sleep. Ideas played inside his head about D'Becca. Rawn had not considered such questions about women from his past, but specific inquiries started bouncing around his psyche: Was he coming from the heart or was this strictly hormonal? Did he have any real interest in D'Becca as a
woman?
If he never saw her again, would it matter? Finally, and most significantly, did he respect the woman that slipped from his arms like a thief into the dark, crescent moonlit night?

CHAPTER EIGHT

W
hen D'Becca returned to Crescent Island, calling Rawn was at the top of her agenda. Their week was spent Rollerblading along city centre square, and the trails along the scenic park. They sat on the candlelit terrace at Café Neuf and talked and laughed with such rhythm and abandon; and walked the sometimes lively, sometimes deserted pier at night holding hands like lovers who had not known each other very long—that innocence, unfamiliarity, lack of intimate facts that was so transparent in two people with very little history. When a mild autumn took over the ending of an unusually dry summer, the days grew cooler. Still, a generous burst of prolonged sunshine draped over the island.

Since running into her at the bookstore-café, the amount of time Rawn spent with D'Becca surprised even him. In any given moment that he was with her, he decided then and there whatever they were experiencing had reached its plateau. Lo and behold, she would call him and ask if he wanted to do anything, and even though Rawn had plans, he cancelled them and acted in accordance with her invitation. It never mattered to him where the relationship was headed. At the time it was seemingly inconsequential. And even when he sensed something secretive about her, or that she could sometimes be elusive, Rawn did not ask questions in large part because it was not about knowing all the details of D'Becca's life. It was quite simple: he was
into
this woman, and picayune details were plain trivial.

The days and nights they spent together blended swiftly into weeks and any free time they had to spare they spent together, sharing most of it at Rawn's. Upon returning from a spur-of-the-moment trip to Victoria with D'Becca, Rawn was greeted with four messages from Sicily, two messages from his best friend, Khalil, and one from a musician friend inviting him to play at Moody's Jazz Alley the following evening.

“Where are you?” Rawn asked Sicily when she answered her cellular.

Waiting for a red-eye near the pick-up bar, Sicily replied with, “And where have you been?” The way in which she spoke came across possessive. “I've left…”

“I know, Sicily. I'm home.”

“But where have you
been?
I thought something might have happened to you.” When he chuckled, Sicily was not amused. “Rawn! You always return my calls. What was I to think?”

“I was out of town.”

“Out of town?
Did you go to visit Khalil in L.A.? You didn't mention you were going down to SoCal.” Sicily reached for her order and pantomimed “thank you” to the barista. Making her way to the door, she continued, “You're being awful evasive.”

“Listen…”

“You know, you really need to get a cell phone. It's 1999 for goodness' sake.”

“You and Khalil are always on my back about…”

“The landline is so passé. That's as old-school as basic cable. You'll be lucky if you can find a payphone in a few years. So where did you go?” She stepped into her SUV.

“Come to the Alley tomorrow night.”

“The
Alley?
You know I don't like that place.” Sicily adjusted her drink in the beverage holder. She switched the mobile from
one ear to the other. Turning over the engine, she said, “I assume you're playing.”

“So I'll see you tomorrow night?”

She pulled out of the Third Avenue parking space and reached for the omnipresent paper cup. Ever the multi-tasker, Sicily held the drink while managing to balance the cellular against her ear, and turned effortlessly off Third onto Seneca, halting for a pedestrian in the process. “Yes, I guess. What, about eight, nine?”

“Nine sounds good.”

•  •  •

Plein Soleil
was playing at a theatre in the University District. Years before, Rawn read the novel,
The Talented Mr. Ripley,
on which the film,
Plein Soleil,
was loosely based. When he read that the 1960s dark and suspenseful thriller was playing for one week and its run would end in two days, he invited D'Becca. After the film, and while walking to the car in the parking lot adjacent to the U-District theatre, D'Becca suggested they go to Palomino for dinner.

On the drive to the restaurant they talked spiritedly over each other while discussing the film. Determined to make Rawn jealous, D'Becca went on and on about the sociopath played by Alain Delon—“he's
so
sexy”—and she was sucked in by the stunningly photographed Tyrrhenian Sea. Rawn, on the other hand, saw the film from a strictly artistic perspective. He was impressed with the Hitchcockian plot and progressively perplexing schemes, the melodrama—a slow and methodical build-up—which he believed was severely lacking in popular blockbusters of the late-twentieth century.

Generally energetic and a good place to be seen, it was a slow night at the restaurant. Prior to being served after-dinner coffee, the ambiance at their table changed within moments solely because
of the sound of D'Becca's ringtone. She took her cellular everywhere—when she sat on the toilet, in the shower, even when she jogged. Finally, Rawn asked her what was the need for having her mobile phone at her fingertips 24/7, and she offered him a justification he would later consider lame and having something to do with her work. It was progressively turning into a way of life, using mobiles in public places. She was terribly presumptuous, assuming Rawn was not put off by her talking on her cellular to Troy and Beth Ann and Savannah and someone whose name she never dropped while in his presence. He went along with it as much as his temperament could tolerate, but he tactfully pointed out to her a few times that she lacked basic manners by taking a call while she was in his company. Sitting across from her at the table, he said, “How important can it be? It's almost ten o'clock, and we're on the West Coast. For once, don't answer.”

D'Becca detected an edge in his tone. Not once had Rawn been testy or provoked by anything she said or did prior to that evening. Accordingly, she chose not to answer and slipped the mobile in her clutch bag, but the discord put a damper on the entire evening—a good film, a nice meal, and agreeable company. It was not until they ran through a heavy rain—and they laughed generously about having to run through rain yet again—did D'Becca laugh from the heart. Her charming, girlish laugh captivated Rawn in some way, and her inexplicable spirit. He was not certain, but he sensed he had fallen entirely in lust with this woman.

When they were in the car, he said, “Let's go to your place tonight. It's been a month since we hooked up at Street Two Books, and I've never been to your place.”

She turned over the engine, and while pulling out of the parking space, asked, “Why are you suddenly so interested in going to my place?”

They were at the street signal at Second and Union. Rawn had been distracted by the fashionably dressed mannequins in a men's clothing store window. He turned to meet her profile and mindlessly studied her staring out into the night beyond the windshield wipers tossing the steady rain to and fro. He replied soberly, “I've never been to your place. That's all.”

•  •  •

A few years after Crescent Island was established in the early 1900s, a Scandinavian immigrant purchased commercial property on the east side of Crescent Lane, a quiet, tightly constructed street tucked out of the way. Directly beyond the pier, Crescent Lane could easily go missed. The street was small but retained some of the most exclusive commercial property on Crescent Island, precisely because of its stunning views. In the early sixties, a black man by the name of Jesse Moody, who was the first person of color to purchase property on the island, approached the Scandinavian immigrant about opening a restaurant on upscale Crescent Lane. He was turned down flat and numerous other times subsequent to his initial approach. The Scandinavian immigrant's son was of a different generation and with a liberal mind-set, so following the death of his father and when he ran into Moody, the Scandinavian immigrant's son inquired if he was interested in space he had available. Not only a good businessman, the immigrant's son understood that the tone and texture of the ethos had evolved; consequently, Crescent Island—it was only a matter of time—would become diverse.

Many years had come and gone since Moody wanted to open his restaurant. He had been plotting the idea of a jazz club when he ran into the Scandinavian-American on the golf course. He explained his ideas. Because of the late-night noise, the immigrant's
son suggested that Moody use space that had been sitting for quite some time in the basement of an art gallery with an alleyway entrance. Hence, the night-spot took on the name Moody's Jazz Alley. Since its opening in the early 1980s, it became legendary. Quite a few famous musicians strolled in unannounced to play sets with the regulars. Moody's did not only put Crescent Island on the map; the once very private island became one of the state's primary tourist traps with romantic bed-and-breakfasts and tranquil parks and hiking trails. Despite the Washington State invasion as a result of advanced technology and the invasive dot-com phenomenon, the island maintained a rare quaintness with extraordinary scenery from every direction.

More commonly referred to as the Alley, Moody's was a popular jazz club that attracted an eclectic crowd. Saturday was the Alley's busiest night, and to negotiate parking was always a challenge since there were no parking lots within walking distance. D'Becca lucked out when a couple was getting into their car no sooner than she pulled into the crammed and narrow street two blocks from the popular night-spot. She made her way toward the club through the cobblestone alleyway and heard the familiar and sensuous sound of George Michael's voice singing “Father Figure.” To her surprise, there was a queue wrapped around the building. Rawn had not warned her that she might encounter problems getting into the club. D'Becca bypassed the crowd of laughter and high-pitched conversation and walked up to the bouncer. He was a large man with a shaved head and nicely trimmed goatee; cubic zirconia studs sparkled from his ears, and his eyes were veiled behind sunglasses the Blues Brothers made fashionable back in the day.

With a few musicians in her past, D'Becca knew how to work the situation. “Good evening,” she said, throwing the bouncer adequate charm. “I'm a guest of Rawn Poussaint.”

The bouncer, who did not change his demeanor, looked D'Becca up and down. He fingered the doorman. When he approached, the bouncer leaned into the doorman and spoke a few words low enough so that D'Becca could not overhear. The man nodded and looked straight into D'Becca's eyes. “Come with me,” the doorman said.

BOOK: Vulnerable
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