“I can’t believe we’re spending our Saturday doing this!” Mary complained good-naturedly. It was after seven and ‘Books and Coffee’ having been closed to the public at seven; Charles had suggested that they stock the shelves with the new books he had bought during the week.
Mary could not believe that it had been six months since they had first met at his church; ‘Heavenly Chapel’ where he, being the lead singer, had sung so beautifully that he had captured her attention.
“I did promise to feed you, didn’t I?” Charles Duncan swiped a hand over the beads of sweat settling on his brow. He had taken off his shirt and was in a white T that showed off the rippling muscles on his chest.
“Are you buying my services with food?” Mary said with mock disgust; sliding a book into the allotted slot and flashing him a mischievous smile. She had been there since four; helping customers to choose books and helping some kids to find what they needed to find on the internet. She had also introduced a children’s hour where she read stories and poems to the children and had interactive games – It was a tremendous success. “Not very nice, Mr. Duncan,”
Charles came over to her and pulled her into his arms; he used every opportunity to touch her and it gave Mary such a thrill.
“How about something else?” he murmured, pushing away tendrils of curls clinging to her damp cheeks.
“Like what?” Mary asked huskily – sometimes she had to pinch herself to find out if this wonderful man was really in her life.
“Like this,” his dark head bent and he captured her mouth with his in a light kiss, his tongue touching hers gently; savoring her strawberry scented breath.
“Definitely better,” Mary breathed, her arms reaching up to wrap themselves around his neck, bringing him closer to her – her mouth opening to give him complete access. Her thin blue T-shirt did not hide the hardening of her nipples against his chest and with a shiver she felt his erection pressing against her lower region.
With a heavy sigh, he broke the contact of his mouth on hers, resting his forehead against hers; his breathing shallow. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” He said wryly.
“Maybe,” Mary agreed huskily, running her fingers through his soft dark brown hair; contented just to be in his arms.
“Want us to stop working?” his arms were still wrapped tightly around her waist.
“And miss getting the dinner I was promised?” Mary said impishly, gently nipping his lower lip with her teeth, sending a jolt through him. “I don’t think so,”
“You’re a dangerous woman,” he growled, gently pushing her away.
“I know,” she grinned; going back to what she had been doing. It was still so amazing and new to her. This familiarity with a man; a white guy at that. She still could not believe that they were in fact a couple who spent all their free time together. Most weekends she spent at his house and a few times he would come over and spend some time at her tiny apartment. It was still so unreal.
“Martha called me earlier and said she wanted to talk. She sounded a little frazzled.” Mary scooped up her heavy curls and secured them tighter with a rubber band.
“What do you think it is?” Charles’ concern was evident. Ever since Martha had been forced to tell their mother that she preferred women there had been a constant uphill battle of prayer and fasting to ‘cure’ her. Even the Bishop had gotten involved in the old debacle.
“Don’t know,” Mary shrugged, “I guess I’ll find out tomorrow; I’ve invited her over for dinner.” They had attended Charles’ church the Sunday before where Charles had performed with the choir but they both had special occasions at their churches; where he had a youth convention and she had a founder’s day service.
“So I won’t be cooking for two tomorrow?” he asked lightly – he was elbow deep in a box of books and bubble wrap.
“I’ll be around for dessert,” she told him. Although he had not said it to her; she knew he wished she would come and live with him and it pained him that she refused to even spend the night. She had explained to him that it goes against her Christian principles to overnight at his house – bad enough they were having sex outside of marriage.
“So marry me then,” he had responded casually – they had been at his house cuddled up on their favorite faded burgundy sofa.
Mary had stiffened and pulled away from him but he had pulled her back into his arms. “No need to panic, I didn’t go out and get a ring.” He had told her dryly and had changed the subject.
It wasn’t as if she did not love him enough. She loved him so much that it scared her sometimes but after being engaged a year and have him run out on her to be with someone else – Mary was taking it slow and was determined to be cautious.
Note from author: If you like this story you’ll also love this top African American marriage romance novel.
They had dinner shortly after eight and it reminded Mary of the first picnic dinner he had fixed for her at the store – it seemed so long ago.
It was deep fried chicken, corn bread and potato salad with his mother’s famous apple pie.
“Pat’s cooking I take it?” Mary asked teasingly as he ladled her plate with food. They were sitting on a comforter on the floor and had found two pillows for them to sit on.
“Mom is trying to help me hang on to you,” he said smiling as he passed the plate complete with napkins and a fork over to her.
“I hope you both know that there’s no need for that,” Mary said soberly, biting delicately into the crispy, savory chicken.
“We do,” Charles leaned over and bit a piece of her chicken.
“I’m going to need that back,” she told him teasingly. It still amazed her to discover how natural it was for her to respond to his teasing and be so comfortable with him; she felt blessed and highly favored.
They ate in relative silence – Mary ate everything on her plate including the pie and accepting another slice and had two glasses of iced tea.
He packed away everything in the basket including the left-overs after which they lay on the blanket; his head propped on the pillow and hers on his chest.
“Comfortable?” he asked, pulling her closer. Mary nodded, breathing in the scent of him; her eyes closing in contentment.
It was when she felt his hand against her cheek that she realized that she had dozed off a little.
“How long was I out for?” she asked him drowsily, raising her head to look at him. He had obviously not slept.
“Not long,” he told her. “It’s only a quarter past nine,” he added, glancing at his watch. “Maybe I gave you too much to do.”
“Maybe you did,” Mary told him saucily. She was half lying on top of him; her fingers tracing his lips which opened to capture them; his tongue snaking out to lick and titillate.
Mary felt the telltale pull of desire lancing through her and without warning she slide on top of him; her body settling over his like a glove. “I’m in charge now,” she whispered, lowering her head to within an inch of his.
“Is that so?” His body had tensed with need; his hands coming up to grip her head.
“Yes,” Mary murmured dreamily, her tongue touching his lips lightly, lingering for a minute before opening her mouth over his, going in deep; savoring and tasting. She felt his body shuddering underneath hers and with a quick movement of triumph; she reached down to rub it against his erection.
“Mary,” he began hoarsely, his hips moving underneath her – his great need evident.
“Shh baby,” she murmured, ending the kiss and without saying anything else she sat up – pulling his jeans down and reaching into his underwear to grip him firmly in her hand.
“Mary!” he cried out hoarsely, one hand reaching out to hold her. Mary bent her head and took him inside her mouth; her warm breath against him was almost his undoing. He had risen up on his elbows and his glazed eyes watched as she slide his erection in and out of her mouth.
He did not last long. With a harsh groan, he spilled his seed inside her mouth, his hands clenched into fists as he fought wave after wave of intense pleasure flooding through him. Even after he was finished, his body shaking in the aftermath; she still held him inside her mouth, her tongue bathing him with her saliva. With a groan, he pulled her up to him, crushing her lips with his; his fingers digging into her hair, his mouth ravaging hers.
Suddenly he tore his mouth from hers and reversing their position, he hurriedly pull down her jeans and white panties and buried himself deep inside her; his eyes shut tight as her warmth closed over his semi-erect penis. “You’re driving me crazy,” he whispered in an agonizing voice. He moved inside her and she started moving with him, her hands gripping his shoulders, her breathing shallow. They came furiously together, their cries echoing in the darkened bookstore; their bodies trembling with the onslaught of their emotions.
He rained gentle kisses all over her face – not wanting to let her go. Sometimes what he felt for her frighten him and he found himself praying about it – what if he overwhelmed her and drove her away? He shuddered to even think about it. He wanted her to be his completely but he sensed that she was not ready for that kind of commitment yet; so with a patience that rivaled Job’s he refrain from telling her that he wanted her to be his wife. But how much longer could he hold out?
He walked her home shortly after ten and gave her chaste kiss on the lips. “Anything else and I won’t be leaving,” he warned, tightening his arms around her briefly; then with a wave of his hand he left.
As usual, when he left, Mary felt bereft, as if he had taken the most essential part of her with him. Very soon she knew that she wouldn’t be content with him leaving and she also knew that he felt the same way.
It was Founder’s day at church and the chapel was packed to capacity. Her mother and father were already there as well as Martha, looking pale and washed out in a white cotton dress with her short curls piled on top of her head in a messy top knot. Her sister had chosen not to wear makeup and her face looked pale and weary. Irene Bennett on the other hand looked stunning in a burgundy silk skirt suit and white heels with a big white hat with burgundy flowers.
“I thought Charles would be with you seeing as it’s a special function,” her mother said, air kissing her cheek. Mary was wearing black and white.
“Charles has a special function at his church too, mother. Hi dad.” She greeted the stoic man in charcoal jacket suit. Mary still could not get over how much her parents had revised their opinion over her being with a white guy. The way they were behaving now was as if he was the son they never had.
“I had to persuade your poor sister to shake off what she was feeling and come for a blessing,” Irene waved a delicate hand in greeting to a sister who had just arrived.
Before Mary could retort, her friends April and Claudette came over telling Mary that she was needed in the Sunday school department. Mary said a quick goodbye and pulled Martha along with them.
“Thanks,” Martha whispered as soon as they reached inside.
“You’re totally welcome, Mary said sympathetically; giving her sister’s hand a reassuring squeeze.
She was in the middle of serving refreshments for her Sunday school class when she saw him. He was standing in the middle of the doorway and for a moment she felt something indefinable run through her. The last time she had seen Darrell he had been explaining to her that he needed something more – someone who understood his ambitious drive.
What was he doing here? Mary wanted to be anywhere else. He looked damned good. But then she remembered that she was not the scared, uncertain person he had left over a year ago – she was with someone and they were in love. Why had she not been told that he was back? The memories came flooding back; he had always been a good listener and she had always been able to tell him everything – all her silly childhood dreams and the days they had spent sipping lemonade underneath a huge oak tree in his back yard. They had been such good friends and had shared everything; even when her mother refused to let her attend a concert that she had been saving up for months to attend; claiming that good Christian children do not attend functions like that. She had cried in Darrell’s arms and he had comforted her and gave her, her first kiss. They had been inseparable – so it had been natural for them to start going out with each other
“Mary,” his deep cultured voice still had the power to stir her. “Your mother told me you’d be around here. Still addicted to children I see.” His perfect white teeth gleamed; an incredible contrast against his dark brown skin.
“Darrell what are you doing here?” Mary willed her voice to be calm. She had regain some semblance of control and was not about to let him see that he had rattled her. He had come further inside the room; always impeccably dressed, he was wearing dark blue suit pants and a sky blue long sleeved shirt with a red and blue tie. He looked tall and successful; but then he had always been very ambitious and was determined to let nothing stand in his way – least of all a fiancé who wasn’t going anywhere.
“I came home Friday night,” he told her. The children were watching a movie about Moses and the Israelites and were quiet for a change. April and Claudette were in the adjoining room with the seniors.
“Home?” Mary pounced on the word. He had not called this place home in a while and even though she had refrained from asking his parents about him, they had told her he was doing very well in the big city.
He nodded, a slight smile creasing his lips. “It turns out the big city is not for me or big city girls.” He gave her a telling look; his brown eyes boring into hers. “I really missed you Mary.”
“I am with someone,” she blurted out; almost biting her tongue off as soon as the words left her mouth.
His eyebrows quirked in amusement as he shoved both hands inside his pants pocket. “So I heard; a white guy who sings.” His tone was slightly condescending and Mary bristled. “When do I get to meet him?”
“Why do you want to meet him?” Mary’s voice was frosty and she had to remind herself that she was in God’s house.
“To see if he’s good enough for you,” he told her softly.
Mary was saved from answering because just then Claudette came through the doorway that adjoined both rooms. “May we need – Darrell?” her tone changed as she stared at the man who had broken her friend’s heart. “What the hell are you doing here?” she asked sharply.
“Nice to see you too Claudette,” he told her dryly. “I see you haven’t changed one bit.”
“Have you?” Claudette asked coldly; coming forward to stand beside Mary.
“I need to get back to Mom and Dad,” Darrell refrained from answering. “I’ll see you later Mary.” His voice softened and with an icy glare at Claudette he left the room.
“What ill wind blew him into town?” Claudette asked as soon as he had gone.
“He’s back home apparently,” Mary said lightly, turning to go back to her children. She needed to process what Darrell being back in town meant and she was not ready to discuss it with anyone yet; most of all her friends.
Mary went through the motion of finishing up with the children but the joy had gone out of the day for her. What on earth was David doing back in town and what was she going to say to Charles? It wasn’t as if he meant anything to her anymore but he had a major part of her life for so long – having been friends since childhood and later becoming high school sweethearts and then becoming engaged. They had history and seeing him again brought that back with startling clarity – they never had closure and by the way he kept looking at her all through the service told Mary that he knew it as well. Why, oh why wasn’t Charles here? She desperately needed his arms around her right about now.
Mary tried to escape as soon as church was over but she was stalled because of some meeting that was being held that she was a part of and his parents as well.
“I see David is back home,” Irene Bennett commented as soon as they were outside, getting ready to leave.
“I can see that Mother,” Mary said coolly “And you did not hesitate to let him know where I was did you?”
“My dear; why are you getting so hot under the collar? Surely you told him that you were seeing someone else? Or is it that it is not really over between you two?” Irene asked her daughter, giving her a shrewd look.
“Oh , no doubt about it mother, it is definitely over between us,” Mary said icily; and without saying goodbye she quickly made her leave; pulling Martha with her as soon as she saw that Darrell was making his way over to them. She was damned if he was going to ruin what she had with Charles.
Dinner was eaten in silence. After they had reached home from church, Martha had changed into a dress she had borrowed Mary and had offered to help her prepare the meal. “Payment for my meal,” she had said with a small smile. She had not wanted to talk just yet and Mary had not pushed her wanting to wait until she was ready. Besides, she had her own issues to deal with and she wanted to do some thinking and processing and find a way to tell Charles that he was back.
They were having some chamomile tea in the tiny Living Room when Martha started talking. “I met someone,” she began, placing the empty cup on the table.
“That’s great!” Mary exclaimed, the problem of Darrell temporarily taking a back seat. “Or is it?” she added, noticing the strained expression on her sister’s face.
“I don’t know,” Martha shrugged, avoiding her sister’s stare; her expression blank. “She’s an intern at the hospital – beautiful and several years older than me. We met three months ago and we started seeing each other.”
“So what’s the problem; it sounds like a match made in hospital heaven,” Mary said teasingly, a puzzled expression on her face. She had abandoned the tea on the side table as she realized that it was making her a little sleepy.
“I think she’s too intense,” Martha curled her legs under her. “There’s a no fraternization policy at the hospital and she wants to make our ‘friendship’ public. And she wants to know where I am every second of the day and I am not that person Mary, I like my own company a lot and sometimes I just want to be by myself.”
“How do you feel about her?”
“She’s beautiful and I keep asking myself what is wrong with me that I don’t feel the way she does?” Martha laid her head against the top of the couch, closing her eyes wearily.
“You know what’s wrong Martha, our upbringing –we were not shown love by Mother and Father so it’s hard for us to show love to anyone else; I am just learning to with Charles; I can’t help myself.” Mary said with a little smile. “But what you are telling me is that this relationship is going too fast, too soon.” Mary reached out and took her sister’s hands in hers. “You are not happy Martha, far from it – you’re miserable and it shows so that means this relationship is not good for you.”
“Tell me about it,” Martha said with a small ironic smile. “I tried to break up with her but she threatened to kill herself; said she was tired of people breaking her heart and she was not going to stand for it.”
“That’s emotional blackmail!” Mary cried. “Listen to me, Martha you have to stand up for yourself and do what you think is right for you! If you are not comfortable in the relationship, get out now.”
Martha turned to face her, gripping the hands holding hers. “I have always envied you Mary; we grew up with the same parents yet you have always managed to stand on your own.” She sighed, releasing her sister’s hands. “I am not like you Mary, I don’t even care if I have a relationship or not, I just want to be left alone to live my life in peace.”
Mary felt the love and pity warring inside as she looked at her sister’s pale, sad face and she wished she had a cure-all to give her and just take away all the cares she was carrying.
“If you ever say I sound like Mom and Dad I will have to disown you as my sister,” Mary told her grimly. “But I have to say it. It seems to me that you are not comfortable in your own skin – you’re afraid of your own shadow;” Mary took a deep breath before looking her sister right in the eyes. “Maybe you need to ask the Lord to sort it out.”
There was silence for a bit and Mary thought Martha was not going to answer her.
“I have asked him to,” she replied finally, her eyes down cast, her fingers twined together. “I have been asking Him to for a while now and it’s like he is not answering me – he has forgotten me Mary – it’s been so long since I’ve had a relationship with him that I think I might have been forgotten – he doesn’t answer me,” the last piece was said on a despairing note, her eyes filling with tears. “I have no one to turn to.” she buried her head in her hands and her shoulders shook with sobs. Mary moved closer and gathered the tortured girl in her arms, her own tears starting.
Even after the tears had stopped, both girls sat there in each other’s arms; finding comfort in the nearness – a comfort that they had not been able to feel around each other, not since they were children growing up together.
Martha spent the night; Mary had urged her to and she had not needed any further persuasion – she had made a call, Mary assumed that it was to the girl she was in that strange relationship with and had gone to the bathroom to take a shower.
Mary had called Charles and apologized, telling him the circumstances and that Martha was spending the night.
“It’s okay baby, I need you but she needs you more right now.” He reassured her. “How was church?”
That had been the perfect opportunity to say to him, “Hey guess who’s back in town? Remember the fiancé I told you about? He was at church and apparently he’s back home.” But all she said was; “It was very good – missed you though,”
“I missed you too baby, get some sleep and tell Martha hi for me.” He told her warmly before hanging up.
Mary felt like the lowest worm. Why couldn’t she have mentioned it to him? It was not as if Darrell meant anything to her, did he? She agonized over it trying to justify not saying it to him. Just then Martha came out of the bathroom with a cheerful expression on her face.
“You look different!” Mary commented as her sister pulled on a borrowed nightie. “What happened in there?”
“I prayed and decide to just leave it to Him,” Martha told her. She had climbed on the bed and watched as Mary took out a comforter and an extra pillow. “I am tired of carrying this situation Mary and I need to find a way to deal with it – so I have decided to go with prayer and leave it for Him to deal with. You were right, I am not happy in my own skin – have not being for a long time now and I need to be.”
“Good for you,” Mary said meaning it. She just had to find a way to deal with whatever was bothering her and let it go!
They talked for most of the night which they had not done in a long time and by the time they had drifted off to sleep they were two lost friends who had discovered each other again.
“Good job Benjamin, I want you to put those away now and clean up your area,” Mary gave the little boy a warm smile. It was almost dismissal time and she had instructed the children to clean up their area and put away the books they had been coloring. It had been a hectic day and because she had gotten little sleep she was feeling the tiredness washing over her – she was going to the store to relax and watch Charles work. Her cell phone rang just as she was about to leave and Mary answered it with an impatient, “Hello?”
“Hey, I see that you have the same number,” It was Darrell and for a minute, Mary froze. Taking a calming breath she answered, “What do you want Darrell?”
“I want to talk to you Mary, we left some things unsettled the last time and I want to clear it up.” He told her.
“We left some things-“ Mary broke off with an ironic laugh. “Darrell you left me for someone else remember? You more or less told me I was not good enough for you, do you recall now?”
“Please, let’s not bring up the past, I want us to move on,” He pleaded. “I want to just tell you what went wrong Mary, just give me a hearing.”
“You know what Darrell. No! I am with someone else right now and there is no ‘us’ anymore – you saw to that and I don’t appreciate you coming back home and trying to start up something that you destroyed us.” Mary said tightly. “I mean, seriously?”
“Mary please just hear me out, I just want to clear the air. We were friends at one time, remember – you once told me I was your best friend. I want that back again; even if you don’t want a relationship – how about friendship?”
“I can’t discuss that right now Darrell, I have to be somewhere now, please don’t call me again.” Mary hung up the phone.
Damn, Damn, Damn! She raged inside, forced to go to the bathroom to try to regain her composure. There was no way she could face Charles with the emotions that were rioting inside her – he would pick it up immediately and he would ask the obvious question – why was he having such an effect on her when she was supposed to be over him?
She got to the shop at around four thirty. After she had paced inside the bathroom, written her lesson plans and turned off her phone and prayed that Darrell would not get it into his head to come to her work. It was while she was working out the details of putting together a collage of five different types of fruits that she felt calm enough to go and see Charles.
He was with two customers and Mary was glad to see his achingly familiar face and realized how much she had missed him. He gave her a quick smile as he pointed the two women to where the books they were looking for were located before coming over to her.
“Hey?” he whispered, pulling her for a quick kiss on the lips. “I kept looking at the door; that’s how much I have missed you.”
“I had to do something at school,” she murmured, returning his kiss – a feeling of guilt invading her body.
“I know, baby.” He kissed her again; releasing her reluctantly as one of the women called his name. “Duty calls,” he said regrettably.
“I’ll be here,” she told him, waving him away and taking her seat at the table at the rear of the room. She loved to watch him work, her mouth curving into a whimsical smile as she watched him explaining patiently to the elderly lady that had just come in that the book she had ordered had not come in yet. He was what she needed and she loved him – what was there to agonize over? Darrell had left her without a moment’s hesitation; he had been her friend for years and he had left her to pick up the pieces of her life and face the humiliation of his desertion and now he wanted back in – what was he thinking? So why are you still entertaining thoughts of him? The voice came out of nowhere and Mary jumped – Was she? She was over him – wasn’t she? She had not even been in love with him – not like she was with Charles but they had shared so many things together – first kiss, first date and first lovemaking which had ended up disastrously with them in the back seat of his first car, a beat up old Bentley. They had ended up laughing together and had spent the rest of the evening just talking. Mary was jolted out of her reverie by Charles who had come over; having finished with his customers.
“Hey! Where did you go?” he teased, taking a seat across from her.
“Just thinking,” Mary smiled hiding her guilt. “Are you through? I saw you sweetening up that elderly lady just now. Trying to make me jealous?”
“Did it work?” his eyes were searching and Mary knew he was aware that something was up.
“Absolutely!” she said a tad too brightly. “I was just about to come over and demand satisfaction.”
“You should have,” he told her lightly. “I will be closing in a minute. Want some coffee?” he stood up; his eyes still on her.
“Go ahead, I’ll get it myself.” She waved him away and stood up to go get the coffee. Maybe the coffee would give her liquid courage and steady her nerves somewhat.
It was minutes after six when he turned the open sign around to close and Mary was on her second cup of the delicious coffee. “It always surprises me how good this coffee taste,” she took an appreciative sip.
“What’s going on Mary?” he asked her soberly, his hands inches away from hers instead of touching them.
“What do you mean?” Mary knew she sounded defensive but she couldn’t help it.
“You are not yourself and you’re jumpy. I love you very much and I am attuned to your feelings and I would like to think that you are attuned to mine. I would also like to believe that there is nothing we cannot share with each other.” She had never seen him so serious and it made her panic.
Mary put the coffee cup on the table slowly and taking a deep breath she told him; “Darrell is back in town. He was at church yesterday.”
“Who?” he asked puzzled.
“My ex-fiancé,” Mary explained.
“I see,” he was silent for a minute and Mary wished she could read what was going through his mind. “What does that mean?”
Mary stood up a little agitated. “What do you mean?” she had wandered a little over to the non-fiction section.
“What does him coming back here mean to you Mary? To us?” Charles’ voice was soft and unhurried and Mary wished he would just forget about what she told him and take her into his arms so that her world; their world would be all right again.
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