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My Lover, My Friend

Prologue

Cindy Bloom-Kirkland stared silently out of the long, rectangular-shaped window of the old blue bus as it steadily puttered on. On to her hometown of Dayspring, Illinois on that dreary overcast day. Even the sky looked depressed, as if at any moment it was going to cry.

Cindy let out a sad sigh, closed her tired puffy eyes, and leaned her head against the worn black leather headrest. She wished that she were anywhere but here on this raggedy old bus going back home in shame.

But Cindy had to leave. She’d had no choice. He had changed. Yes, her beloved, now ex-husband Charles had become someone else right under her very nose. A mean, manipulative, and cold-hearted someone else.

Perhaps Charles had been that way all along. His parting words had certainly sealed the truth of that possibility in Cindy’s heart forever. In reality, Charles seemed to have taken a sick form of pleasure in the fact that he’d deceived her for so long. And his malicious declarations seemed to somehow empower him.

Even now as the rain began to rapidly blanket the bus with moisture, Cindy remembered how empty his hurtful words had made her feel. Had she been a fool all this time – believing in a lie? Had Charles ever really loved her? His parting words seemed to suggest otherwise.

“I’m ready to move on to the next level of my life. Without you,” Charles had said smugly as he pushed copies of the divorce papers towards Cindy. Papers that only needed her signature to be final. His bold handwriting was already on the documents, signifying that in Charles’ mind the marriage was already over.

Then he went on to tell Cindy that this was best for the both of them since she never really knew him anyway. The arrogant man even had the nerve to give her examples as proof of her ignorance concerning his true character.

“What do you think all those long business meetings and trips were about? I’ve found someone else. Someone who suits me better and is headed in the same direction as me. Someone that I’m, quite frankly, tired of sneaking around to see. Plus, I’m tired of all the guilt,” Charles had concluded.

The guilt?! Cindy scoffed inwardly. It incensed her that Charles actually thought that divorcing her would remove the multitude of guilt from his heart and mind.

Yeah right! Cindy mused angrily. Brother, you’re going to feel guilty for a long time for how you’ve treated me. She’d wanted to say those words and a few choice others to Charles, but she’d been in such a state of shock at the time that all she could do was cry as she signed the fateful documents.

No tears flowed now. They had stopped several miles back when the bus first entered the state of Illinois. Cindy would let the sky cry the rest of her tears.

And it did. The drenching rain continued to beat repetitiously against the bus.

What a way to start the New Year off – divorced, alone, and nearly bankrupt. According to the prenuptial agreement Charles tricked her into signing years ago, the only thing Cindy left their marriage with was the house. She didn’t even get to keep her silver Mercedes since he’d purchased it on the business account, which meant that it actually belonged to his company, not her. 

I’m really going to miss that car, Cindy mused, growing angrier as each mile drew her closer to her hometown. She honestly didn’t know who she was angrier at. Herself? Or her ex-husband?

Charles. Definitely Charles.

Ten miles to go.

Fortunately, Cindy’s sister had offered to let her stay with her for awhile, which was a true blessing. It was also a blessing that Cindy’s six-year marriage had produced no children. Charles hadn’t wanted any. If they’d had kids, leaving him would have been that much harder for her.

Why did I stay so long anyway? Cindy asked herself, considering the fact that they hadn’t had the binding ties of offspring and the fact that the marriage had been bad for years. Now she really felt like a fool for extending loyalty to a man who didn’t deserve it or her.

Folding her arms across her chest, Cindy quickly found her attempt at self-comfort inadequate. She needed more than she could give herself right now. Yet she was reluctant to turn to the One who could give her what she needed. Cindy was still too angry, too ashamed, still a little too prideful to do that just yet. Instead, her mind returned to that last scene at the house.

After Charles had had his say and gotten his freedom, he’d left the premises with glee dancing in his eyes. Glee!

Hurt that he’d been so elated to be rid of her, Cindy had packed with swift hands. Her feet had been just as swift as she went from room to room, gathering only what she absolutely intended to keep. There had been no use trying to stay there any longer than necessary. That house held too many painful memories, too much disappointment. Plus, it was too expensive to maintain on her own.

Besides, Harrelton, Florida was Charles’ hometown. He belonged there. She didn’t.

So among angry tears and under the weight of a heavy heart, Cindy had finished packing her basic necessities and made arrangements to leave. Knowing that she was going to have to watch her spending like a hawk now, she pulled what little money she still had left out of her personal savings account and purchased a bus ticket.

Cindy’s pride wouldn’t allow her to accept plane fare from her family. It was bad enough that she was going to have to live off them until she found a job.    

Marriage to Charles was like a bad investment, Cindy mused, feeling bankrupt on another level now.

Five miles left.

Over the miles of highways and byways Cindy’s tears had long since dissipated. Only anger remained now. The rain was getting lighter. Even the sky was refusing to cry anymore. It had cleansed what it needed to cleanse, had washed away the debris of the past. Cindy’s own tears had done some of that, as well.

Welcome to the Garden City the green and white sign above them read as the bus turned onto the proper exit. The sun had come out and its resplendent presence seemed to whisper these words to Cindy’s broken heart, “Your storm will also pass.”

Cindy wasn’t sure if she believed that just yet. For now, the most she could do was be glad that she at least made it safely back home again.

 

Chapter 1

Gathering her bags, Cindy merged in with the rest of the weary travelers struggling to get out of the crowded bus depot.

Where’s Mavis? she thought miserably, looking around for her habitually late older sister. If Mavis wasn’t already here waiting, there was no telling when she’d get here.

I might as well find a seat and get comfortable, Cindy mused, ready for a long wait. Suddenly she heard someone calling her name.

“Cindy, Cindy, over here!”

Turning towards the voice, Cindy saw a tall man with a smooth shaven head motioning to her. The mocha-skinned man wore dark sunglasses, making it difficult for her to recognize him at first. As he slowly removed the glasses from his smiling face, she saw that it was her childhood friend – Andre Wells.

Cindy returned his warm smile and quickly closed the distance between them. “Hey, boy. What are you doing here?” she asked and then proceeded to answer her own question. “Let me guess. Mavis sent you, right?”

“You betcha.” Andre laughed.

Though it was impossible not to notice Cindy’s puffy eyes, he wisely refrained from commenting on it. Now wasn’t the time. This definitely wasn’t the place.

“As usual, Mavis is running late again, so she asked me to pick you up. That okay with you, baby sister?” Andre continued.

“That’s fine with me, Dre. Just lead the way,” Cindy said, handing her black leather bags over to him. In her peripheral vision, she noticed several women checking Andre out as they made their way out to his car.

Cindy smiled. She was used to women ogling Andre like that. Females had been acting that way towards him for as long as she’d known him, which was twenty-two years and counting.

Andre and Cindy met when she was in the third grade, he in the fifth. That was when Andre’s family moved into the spacious four-bedroom house next door to hers.

Since he only had one sibling, who happened to be an older brother, Andre started referring to Cindy as his baby sister. That was his way of fulfilling his need to be a big brother, too. The fact that his parents were through bearing children and were at that time struggling to build up a successful fast-food franchise without additional responsibilities seemed to make Andre’s big-brother need even greater.

Cindy didn’t mind being claimed as Andre’s sister. She only had one sibling herself and it was not a brother. Having an older sister and brother had come in handy countless times over the years. It would definitely come in handy at this low point in Cindy’s life.

Had Cindy been paying more attention to Andre than to his admirers, she might have noticed how intently he was watching her. Particularly the look of appreciation in his eyes at how much she’d physically changed over the last six years.

While Cindy was married, she’d worn her hair short and in various bobb styles. Now she was allowing it to grow to its normal mid-back length. Furthermore, what was once a slender frame now supported ample curves on the top and bottom.

Andre couldn’t decide if Cindy was shaped more like an hourglass or a figure eight. Either way her figure was stunning. Unforgettably so.

When did Cindy get so fine? Andre mused. And when did she start looking like a fragile china doll? his thoughts expanded, noting the dejected look upon her countenance and instantly wanting to comfort her.

Yet his hands were full. Plus, Andre didn’t trust himself to touch her right now, fragile china doll look or not. If he did, he might forget all about their platonic brotherly/sisterly bond and a few other things.

Actually Cindy’s facial features were not Chinese at all, but more on the Korean side. Her grandmother had been from Seoul, Korea. Nana, as they affectionately called her, lost her family when MacArthur’s troops landed at Inchon (a port city near Seoul), and forced the North Koreans to retreat back across the 38th parallel. Cindy’s grandfather, Robert, was among the troops that helped to rescue the Korean beauty.

After the loss of her family, Nana no longer wanted to live in a divided country and thus decided to marry the mahogany-skinned man whose bravery and tenderness had captured her heart. After the cease-fire line finally ended in July of 1953, she was more than ready to leave her country and start a new life. By early 1954, Nana and Robert had married and began their lives together in America.

Although Andre knew how much Cindy embraced both her African and Korean heritages, he also knew that her mahogany skin was usually the first thing people noticed when they looked at her. Her straight silky hair was the second.

Over the years Andre had heard Cindy and Mavis issue the same polite answer, whenever curious people asked where they got such long, straight black hair from. “My Grandmother is Korean,” the sisters would say to those who usually made a bigger deal out of their mixed heritage than they did.

“Are you staying with your parents or with Mavis?” Andre asked, interrupting the uneasy silence that had settled between them from the bus station, to the black Maxima he owned, and on into traffic.

“Mavis. Since I’m going to be doing some light babysitting for her this summer, it’ll be more convenient for me to be there,” Cindy replied, turning away from the passenger window to face him as he skillfully drove with one hand. “Besides, I really don’t think I can take my parents ‘I told you so’ attitude right now. You know they never liked Charles, warned me not to marry him and everything. They even refused to pay for the wedding, like that was going to stop a woman in love from doing what she wanted anyway,” she added in a rush of anger and bitterness.

Cindy suddenly snapped her mouth shut, surprised by how much venom she’d just spewed from her mouth. She turned to stare out the window again, trying to rein in her raw emotions. The passing green scenery did wonders to calm her down again.

Andre looked over at Cindy with concern. He’d heard that barrage of angry words. He’d also seen the changes in her mannerisms. Both disturbed him.

Turning to check his side and rear view mirrors, Andre ventured into the far right lane that would lead to Mavis’ house. Though their destination was conveniently located only a few miles away from the bus station, the distance would give him ample time to try to reconnect with Cindy and hopefully see how much emotional damaged her ex-husband had really caused.

“Since your parents obviously never paid for the wedding, who did?” Andre asked gingerly, determined to keep Cindy conversational. He couldn’t take her silent brooding. At least with her lips moving he could discern where her mind was at.

“The Kirklands paid for everything,” Cindy replied, sounding lighter than she obviously felt based on the fake smile she turned to give Andre. “I just hated being so far away from my family on my special day.” The pain momentarily resurfaced across Cindy’s face, but she quickly masked it again.

Andre’s voice softened. “Mavis and I flew down there to attend,” he reminded her gently, trying to ease some of her pain.

Cindy gave his right thigh a brief affectionate pat. “I know, and I certainly appreciated that gesture.” She smiled, attempting to ward off the threatening blues. “But I guess I just wanted Mom and Dad to be there, too. It just bites that they were right all along,” she admitted, before turning back to the passenger window. 

Suddenly something in the sky above caught her eye.

Looking upwards, Cindy saw that the daylight had darkened again. Why do clouds always have to block out the sun? she silently complained, needing as much light as she could get right now.

“Listen, kid, you’re strong. You’re going to be all right. Better than all right. Especially with your family and particularly with your big brother here to help you through all this,” Andre said, giving her a reassuring smile before pulling into Mavis’ circular driveway. Inwardly he deemed himself in need of a bit of reassurance, as well.

Andre needed reassurance that he was going to be all right around this new Cindy. Because when she touched his thigh a few minutes ago something stirred in his body. Had her hand lingered a few minutes longer, he might have been tempted once again to forget that Cindy was his quasi-adopted little sister and that she was too emotionally wounded right now to handle any type of romantic relationship. 

“Kid? Who are you calling a kid, Dre? I’m 30-years-old, just two years younger than you,” Cindy said, breaking into his thoughts as she playfully poked him in the side.

Laughing, Andre parked the car and went to get her bags. As he retrieved the luggage from the trunk, he had a sudden urge to run back and hold the car door open for Cindy.

Whoa, Dre! Get a grip, man, Andre thought, catching himself before he acted upon that urge. Especially since he’d never done that for her before.

Cindy usually bounced out of the car whenever she was with Andre or his brother, Tim. They knew that she only expected men that she was dating to hold car doors open for her. Otherwise Cindy always exerted her independence around them. That self-reliant manner was one of many things that Andre loved about her.

True to form, Cindy bounced out of the car with an energetic spring. Andre watched as she strolled over to the multi-colored myrtles delicately planted along the walkway, closed her eyes, and took a deep whiff of the delicious greenery before her. A faint smile crossed her smooth mahogany face.

I think her heart can heal here, Andre mused as something deep down inside of him stirred once again. This time in his heart and body.

Andre truly didn’t know what had happened to cause him to suddenly see Cindy in such a different light. Was it the time and distance apart? The change in her physical appearance? His secret yearning to have a woman that knew all of his flaws and still loved him anyway?

Whatever it was, Andre knew that it was becoming increasingly hard to keep looking at Cindy in a brotherly way.

 

Chapter 2

Opening her eyes after taking a brief moment to stop and smell nature’s flowers, Cindy turned her gaze and body towards Mavis’ four-bedroom, two-bath home. She smiled at the beautiful edifice that rested upon five acres of equally beautiful landscaped grounds.

Everything about her sister’s property was neat and organized. The colorful welcome mat and wooden door sign carried the same message, ‘Visitors are welcome here’. And they were.

Such proficiency and accommodation was courtesy of both of the Bloom sisters’ upbringing. They’d been taught early in life to keep everything in its proper place and to treat visitors like precious gems. Cindy had treated visitors like kings and queens in her home. She expected to be treated no differently in her sister’s home.

Having no key to Mavis’ place yet, Cindy walked up to the doorbell and rang it. She soon heard the excited voices of her niece and nephew just behind the door.

“Auntie Cindy’s here! Auntie Cindy’s here!” Ashley and Eric Jr. sang in unison.

Cindy grinned at their excitement, finding herself growing excited, too. That grin was the first thing Mavis and the kids saw when the thick, reddish-brown door was finally opened.

“Auntie Cindy!” Ashley and Eric Jr. exclaimed, surging forward to gather around her legs. They hadn’t seen her since Thanksgiving.

The kids’ reaction to Cindy’s presence today made it obvious that they not only missed her, but still adored her, too. Mavis’ welcoming smile and warm hug revealed similar feelings of adoration.

Truthfully, most people adored Cindy. She had the kind of personality that drew others in. She was so honest, unassuming, and very detail-oriented. Cindy’s dark understanding eyes had a way of making a person feel accepted and important.

Unfortunately, none of those virtues had been enough for her ex-husband. Although Cindy had catered to Charles’ every need, he’d squashed any attempt she made at independence. He hadn’t wanted her to work, except on things related to his job such as fundraisers and charity benefits. Whenever Cindy excelled at those things, which was often, Charles always took the credit.

I’m glad he’s out of the picture, Cindy mused in a brief moment of reflection as she was led inside by the kids.

With Charles out the way, maybe now she could spread her wings and fly to the heights that she was destined for. If only Cindy knew what that destiny was. 

“Hey, Dre. Thanks for picking Cindy up for me,” Marvis said, giving Andre an appreciative smile as he entered the house a few seconds later. “I was late picking the kids up from their after-school program and that threw everything else off,” she explained.

“Uh-huh,” Andre replied, half-listening to Mavis’ explanation as he placed the first of Cindy’s luggage by the brown leather couch in the living room.

No need to give full attention to Mavis’ latest attempt to explain her perpetual tardiness. Andre had heard every excuse there was by now. Each time he wondered how someone so organized in other areas of her life, couldn’t seem to organize her time more effectively.

The root of Mavis’ problem stemmed from the fact that her perception of time was severely distorted. She always seemed to think that she had more time than she actually did.

“But now that Cindy’s back, I can start being on time more,” Mavis continued to explain, despite the fact that Andre had tuned out her latest excuse several minutes ago. “Shoot, now that Cindy is back, I might even be ten minutes early to things.”

“Yeah, right,” Cindy and Andre echoed, voicing their disbelief in unexpected unison. Realizing their accord, they looked at each other and burst out laughing.

At the sight of Andre’s beautiful teeth, Cindy’s breath suddenly hitched. She wondered why she never noticed their beauty before now. The man could be a poster child for the American Dental Association with those chops.

When Andre moved to stand beside her in the foyer area, Cindy felt even more strangeness within her body. She actually felt butterflies fluttering in her stomach at his nearness. That made her wonder about a few more things.

“I like your new look, Dre. That shaved head, neat goatee, and diamond stud in your ear is really working for you,” Cindy said, speaking past her flutters. “Very nice. Very nice indeed.” She smiled, briefly rubbing his smooth head for emphasis.

Huh? What? Cindy mused as a sharp injection of pleasure rippled through her body. Her skin tingled with delightful sensations, throwing her emotions for a different kind of loop now. She practically snatched her hand back down to her side.

Andre instantly hooded his ebony eyes to hide the spark of desire there. He stifled an unexpected shudder of pleasure from Cindy’s touch. Although he knew that she was just being her usual playful self, her hands had felt so good on his head. Too good. Like they belonged there and then some.

Putting what he hoped was a playful smile on his face, Andre responded with his own brand of lighthearted banter. “Don’t touch the dome, girl. This right here is for my ladies,” he said, rubbing his head in exaggerated front to back strokes as he moved a safe distance away from Cindy.

What is wrong with you, man? This is Cindy, remember? The girl you call your little sister, Andre scolded himself as he went to collect more luggage from where he’d placed it on the porch. 

What ladies?” Cindy and Mavis responded in unison this time.

Laughing together, the sisters followed Andre into the living room area as he brought in the last of Cindy’s baggage. The kids tagged along too, never too far from their aunt.

“You act like you have a harem or something,” Mavis said, continuing their conversation.

“When you know you’re a one-woman-at-a-time man,” Cindy added, rolling her eyes at Andre.

“You’re so right.” Andre conceded with a smile, loving the fact that Cindy knew him so well. He especially loved the fact that she was looking a lot chipper than she did at the bus station and in the car.

* * *

After leaving Mavis’ house, Andre continued to think about how well Cindy knew him. About how she knew him almost too well.

For one thing, Cindy knew that Andre was an impeccable dresser. That he cared about his appearance more than the average man. One would never find him wearing the same outfit twice in one month.

Cindy also knew that Andre was very selective when it came to dating. That he tried very hard not to let his lower member lead him around and would never lead a woman on just to satisfy his male ego or appetite.

Andre believed in being upfront and honest with everyone. In fact, his steadfast honesty was the cause of his latest breakup.

Andre’s last girlfriend, Julie Medders, had been gorgeous from head to toe with her smooth fair skin, short, curly hair, and curvaceous body. The first seven months of their relationship had been heavenly for him. Yet when her true nature finally surfaced, his life quickly turned into a living hell.

Not only was Julie extremely jealous, but she required constant validation and attention from Andre, which was tiring in and of itself. After nine months of dating, she began to pressure him into getting married with the ferociousness of a pit-bull.

When Andre refused to give into Julie’s demands, citing the fact that he was not in love with her, she threatened to start dating someone else. Such threats only made Andre that much more steadfast in his decision to wait. He wouldn’t be rushed into something as important as marriage and he’d told her so.

True to her word, Julie began dating someone else. Someone she’d actually been secretly seeing for months prior to their breakup. To rub her new relationship in his face all the more, Julie even brought her new beau into Andre’s upscale restaurant a few times.

Being the prudent businessman that he was, Andre gladly took their money with a smile.

Every.

Single.

Time.

Business was business in his book. He’d deal with the affairs of his heart at home.

Two months ago, Andre heard that Julie had left town with her new beau. Though he was glad his relationship with her was over, he often wondered how he could have been so wrong about her. How Julie could have slipped under his radar.

That single experience taught Andre to be much more discerning in his next romantic relationship. As the attributes that he wanted his next woman to possess began to form in his mind, that same mind decided to settle back upon Cindy.

Like Cindy, Andre’s next woman would have to be easy to talk to, honest and understanding. She would also have to be a giver, also like Cindy, whose middle name should have been ‘charity’ on account of her giving heart.

As Andre thought more about Cindy, he found that it comforted him that those aspects of her personality were still the same. He even liked most of the things that had changed about her. Yet there were some differences in Cindy that deeply disturbed him.

For instance, her smile. It bothered Andre that Cindy’s smile never quite reached up to her soulful eyes anymore. That her dark brown pools remained sad no matter how much the corners of her mouth turned upward.

What did that green-eyed rascal do to her? Andre wondered, not only angry with Charles for mistreating his friend, but finding himself jealous that the other man had had Cindy at all.

Now Andre was really confused. When did he start being jealous of Charles?

As he prepared to leave Mavis’ street, Andre turned left instead of right, deciding to take the long way home. He had a lot to think about. These new feelings towards Cindy had to be sorted out. A long drive just might help make that sorting process go all the more smoother. Faster, too, since Andre wanted to bring some clarity to the situation quick and in a hurry…for both of their sakes.

 

Chapter 3

Mavis and the kids showed Cindy to the guest bedroom.  That was where she would reside for the duration of her stay with them.

Like the rest of the house, the guest bedroom contained numerous hardwood pieces. It sported a queen-sized sleigh bed accented with hand-carved details and a pecan-colored veneer inlay. There were about six beige and white pillows of various shapes and sizes atop a matching comforter. On the nightstand sat a private telephone and an antique lamp.

The two tall bay windows in the room were complemented by white vertical blinds. Through those blinds, the evening sunlight poured freely into the room, beckoning Cindy’s healing to begin in full force.

“I love this room, Mavis. It’s wonderful.” Cindy sighed with pleasure at her lovely surroundings. She hugged her sister in gratitude.

“I’m glad. Eric and I redid it after your last visit. We thought this would be the best room for you during your stay. I hope you decide to stay for awhile, Cindy. Not only because I need your help with the kids, but because we just love having you around.” Mavis released her sister and walked over to the lamp to turn it on. It would be dark out soon.

“Thanks, sis. I think I need to be here, too. Around family that loves me and accepts me for me.” Cindy’s eyes suddenly grew very serious.

Mavis instantly saw the change in her sister’s countenance and responded accordingly. “Uh…kids, go watch TV for a bit. I need to talk to your auntie alone.”

As the children reluctantly, but obediently left the room, Mavis pulled Cindy towards the bed to sit down. “Now tell me what happened to you down there in Florida. I want to hear everything.” Her voice was gentle and caring as she spoke.

At first Cindy was going to gloss over her pain, but being in such a loving environment prompted her to bear her soul. Finally she could open up to someone she trusted. Someone that she knew would love her no matter what.

Mavis listened attentively as Cindy told her how Charles used to constantly put her down whenever she tried to move outside of the suffocating emotional box he’d created for her. How he’d cheated on her for years and how he even had the nerve to blame her for his adulterous behavior. Cindy cried as she revealed how she always felt as if she had to earn his love by doing what he wanted or expected of her.

“Charles used to make me feel as if it was a privilege to be his wife. That he could have any woman he wanted and that I should be glad he chose me,” Cindy continued. As she spoke, she involuntarily popped the knuckles on her hands, a nervous act she hadn’t done since she was fifteen.

Years ago, Cindy sat in her room doing the same exact thing to her knuckles. Back then she’d been waiting up for her older sister to come home from a date with a football jock named Floyd Jenkins. The same Floyd Jenkins that had a bad reputation for ‘loving them and leaving them’.

Since personal cell phones were not in vogue for teenage use back then, Cindy had no way to get in touch with Mavis to check on her. After three hours of worrying, she finally got up the nerve to wake their parents and tell them about Mavis missing her eleven o’clock curfew. Cindy shared her fears about her older sister possibly being hurt or in trouble.

As it turned out, Mavis had been in trouble that night. Floyd had put her out on the side of a lonely dark road, out in the middle of nowhere. The jerk left Mavis to find her own way home because she refused to have sex with him, rejecting the opportunity to become another notch on his teenage libido’s belt.

Knowing Floyd’s address, Cindy led her parents to his house. After begging her father not to throttle Floyd since they needed him conscious to tell them what happen to Mavis and after restraining her mother from bringing the police into the matter, Cindy finally got the scared young man to reveal where he’d left her sister.

Instead of being angry at Cindy, Mavis had been extremely grateful. And despite the fact that she received the scolding of her life for choosing Floyd simply for his outer appearance instead of his inner qualities, she was more than happy to be spared that long walk home in the cold dark night.

Tonight Mavis was extremely angry, yet once again not at Cindy. She was mad with Charles. “That green-eyed, two-timing monster. He should have been glad to have someone like you!” Mavis shot out, brimming with fury after hearing all the horrible things her ex-brother-in-law had done to her sister.

“I agree, sis,” Cindy replied, rising to her feet as nervous energy settled into her body. “I think he stayed with me for as long as he did, because I made him look good among his peers,” she said as she paced the floor.

“I figured as much. But I don’t understand why you stayed with him for so long. Especially after he tricked you into signing that pre-nup a week before your wedding day. I mean, to tell you that you’re signing the deed to the house, knowing full well that some of those forms contained a prenuptial agreement was just plain cold-hearted,” Mavis said with a deep frown.

“I know I should have left Charles then, but I just couldn’t,” Cindy replied, briefly pausing from her pacing. “I still loved him and I felt so embarrassed by my stupidity. I also didn’t want Mom and Dad to be right. I wanted to prove them wrong about him. About us.” She shrugged and returned to her pacing. “And then Charles apologized and started treating me like such a queen that I soon lowered my defenses and forgave him about the pre-nup thing. He not only expressed deep sorrow about the way he’d presented the papers to me, but he told me that he only did it because his wealthy family pressured him into protecting his and their financial interests.”

At the time, Charles’ explanation had made perfect sense to Cindy, who found it easy to believe anything negative about the Kirklands. Even now she could still recall how snobbish his family had been towards her.

The Kirklands were always making subtle remarks about Cindy’s complexion, saying ridiculous things like ‘you’re cute to be so black’ to remind her of how different she was from the rest of them. In fact, she’d been the darkest in-law in the family. This was largely due to the fact that the predominantly light-skinned Kirkland clan tended to marry other same skin toned persons. In their eyes, Cindy’s only redeeming quality had been the long, straight black hair her Korean heritage afforded her.

Instead of being angry with them, Cindy had felt sorry for them. She often wondered what had happened to make the Kirklands despise such a very important part of their own heritage. Their emphasis on her hair was one reason she’d kept it cut short. Charles had been another. He liked it short.

Now that Cindy thought about it, her ex-husband had seemed to take a perverted form of pleasure in irritating his family with little things like that. Yet on the surface, he appeared to go along with them.

Maybe that’s why he married me, Cindy mused hotly, wishing that she could erase the last six years from her memory altogether.

“Why didn’t he just tear the papers up after you confronted him?” Mavis probed, trying to pull her sister out of her deep thoughts. Cindy needed to purge herself, not hold this mess in even longer to fester and cause unnecessary problems later on.

“Stupid me,” Cindy replied, pausing from her pacing again. “I’m the one who kept Charles from tearing them up. I wanted to prove to him that I loved him, not his money or position in the community,” she explained. “I really loved Charles and he betrayed me time and time again. All I have left now is the house,” she concluded tearfully, sitting back on the bed with a plop. A sad sigh escaped her lips.

Mavis handed her a tissue from the nightstand’s floral box and waited for a moment while her sister collected herself. “Well, what are you going to do with it? The house, I mean.”

“Sell it, I guess. I certainly don’t want it now,” Cindy resigned, dabbing at her eyes with the tissue. She hated when her eyes got all puffy. Besides, hadn’t they been worked enough already today?

“I suggest you let Mom process the sell for you. You know how good she is with real estate. She can sell anything. Florida property usually goes pretty fast anyway and that gorgeous house you own ought to make you a pretty penny.” Mavis’ advice was two-fold. She wanted Cindy to have funds to reestablish herself, but she also wanted to help her sister remove all traces of that fair-skinned, wavy-haired beast she’d been married to from her life.

“That’s a great idea. When will they be back in town?” Cindy was feeling increasingly better by the minute.

“Tomorrow night. I’ll go over there with you. You all can work out the details then,” Mavis replied, suddenly reminded of the fact that she forgot to water their mother’s plants today.

“Thanks, Mavis. Once again you’re right on the mark. I love you, big sis,” Cindy said with a hug.

“Love you too, little sis. Now get some rest.” Mavis gently returned the hug, before leaving the room.

That’s exactly what Cindy did when she was alone – rest. She hadn’t slept that good in years.

Meanwhile Mavis and the kids made a quick trip over to grandmom and granddad’s house. They had some plants to tend to.

 

Chapter 4

The next morning, Cindy awakened feeling extremely refreshed. Lighter. Relieved even. That surprised her.

Cindy thought she was supposed to miss Charles way more than this. Or at least experience some kind of withdrawal symptoms from their relationship. So far none of that had happened.

I guess he did me a favor by divorcing me, Cindy mused as she went to take a quick shower.

That talk with Mavis had done her an even bigger favor. It helped her to discern the blessing of being set free from a bad marriage, a self-centered man, and finally the shame of having played the fool for far too long. 

* * *

After her shower, Cindy dressed in a pair of lemon-lime sweats, pulled her hair up into a lime-green scrunchie and went down for breakfast.

She looks good and rested. That’s a good sign, Mavis mused, briefly looking up from her culinary task to smile at her sister.

“Hi, sleepyhead,” Mavis rang out, before returning her focus to the five miniature pancakes on the flat griddle in front of her.

One, two, three, four, and five – Mavis flipped them all in perfect succession. All were golden brown with no black streaks on either side. She smiled at her accomplishment.

“Auntie Cindy, come sit by me,” Little Eric (aka Eric Jr.) said, making room for her at the white breakfast nook that he and his sister sat at.

“Sure thing,” Cindy replied, causing her nephew to smile with joy. She smiled at him in return, silently noting how much he and his sister looked like both of their parents. 

Little Eric had his mother’s mahogany skin and his father’s thick eyebrows and curly hair. Ashley’s coloring was the same, except she had her mother’s long straight black hair. They were beautiful children inside and out. Cindy loved them dearly.

“Auntie Cindy, Mommy’s making mini-cakes today. They’re our favorites,” Ashley said with a mouth full of syrupy bread. Her little cheeks were shiny from where buttery fingers had touched them.

Mavis turned to glare at her daughter. “Don’t talk with your mouth full, little girl,” she scolded semi-playfully.

Ashley immediately put her hands in front of her mouth. “Yes, Mommy,” she mumbled out with a sheepish grin.

“Too funny.” Cindy laughed at their exchange as she took her seat. “By the way, where is Eric? I didn’t get a chance to see him last night.”

“He’s at another medical convention. He’ll be back on Sunday,” Mavis replied with a wistful sigh, revealing how much she missed her husband. “Anyway, don’t just sit there watching others eat. Grab a plate and get your own grub on. The bacon is over there on the right, eggs to your left. Snatch up as many of these pancakes as you want. By the way, I always cook pancakes on Saturdays. During the weekdays the kids eat hot or cold cereal, so I try to make Saturdays a special treat.” Mavis flipped another batch of pancakes and then reached for her glass of juice on the counter.

“Mmm...don’t mind if I do,” Cindy said, getting up to fix her plate. When she was done, she popped a slice of bacon into her mouth and then turned to face her niece. “See how this looks when I talk with my mouth full of food?” Each chew was exaggerated, meant to make a point.

“Ooo…gross, Auntie. Yuck!” The pony-tailed youngster squealed. “I get the picture now.” Ashley’s nose wrinkled with displeasure while Little Eric laughed.

“I thought you would,” Cindy said, winking at Mavis before sitting back down beside her nephew.

Mavis only smiled as she continued to sip her juice. Cindy is a trip. Still lovable as ever. She obviously hasn’t lost her sense of humor, she mused, thinking that that was another good sign.

* * *

Later at their parents’ house, Cindy, Mavis, and the kids assembled in the spacious black and white living room. They were ready to discuss a little business and hopefully engage in a bit of healthy family fellowship afterwards.

On the striped fabric sofa, Cindy sat with Little Eric between her knees as he busily played with a red and white action figure on the floor. Ashley sat with Granddaddy Michael in the black leather recliner. A brown Barbie doll was in her hands.

“Cindy, I’m glad to see that you’re letting your hair grow back. That short cut didn’t accent your heart-shaped face at all,” Wilma observed warily as a frown creased her nut-brown forehead.

Mrs. Bloom had always worn her own jet-black hair straight and long, the same way she’d kept her girls’ hair when they were growing up. That ritual had been done as a testament to their Korean heritage. That frown Wilma wore now revealed how much she disapproved of Cindy breaking with that tradition.

“I know, Mom.” Cindy sighed with irritation. It was no use telling her mother the real reasons she’d kept it short. That would only spark off another argument about Charles and she didn’t come over here for that. She came here for help.

“Uh...Mom,” Mavis quickly intervened, seeing the look of remorse roll across their mother’s face and the look of irritation on Cindy’s. They needed to handle some business first. They could tackle the hard emotional stuff later.

“Cindy needs help selling her house,” Mavis continued. “We wanted to ask you to oversee the sale. Hopefully get Cindy a nice little starting over package out of it.”

Wilma’s eyes instantly lit up at the very thought of selling real estate, revealing just how much she loved her work. For the moment she forgot all about the rift between her and Cindy. 

“Sure, I can help my baby girl sell her house,” Wilma said, sending her youngest child a warm look now. “Be glad to do it, too. It’s a great piece of property as I recall. Let me think.” She began to tap her right index finger on her chin as she thought out loud. “That large brick ranch home has a twenty by forty swimming pool, two-car garage, three bedrooms, two baths with granite counters, and oak and tile floors. Right, Cindy?”

“Uhm…yes, Mom. How can you remember all that? You've only been there…what? Twice in the last six years?” Cindy marveled at her mother’s photographic memory.

“Cindy, once is all it takes for me. After two visits, I can draw the floor plans of a given house in my sleep,” Wilma said confidently. “Now my best estimate is that you’ll probably be able to get six figures for your house,” she continued, putting to use some of the new appraisal tips she’d learned on a recent business trip.

“Is my woman good or what?” Michael piped in, laughing with pride. “Cindy, don’t worry. Your house will be sold within a month tops.” He paused, briefly looked at Wilma and then looked at Cindy again. His mahogany-skinned face and his tone were now serious. “Also, baby girl, your mother and I want to apologize for not being there for you like we should have over the last few years. We should’ve never let our feelings towards Charles drive a wedge between our love and support for you. We won’t let that happen again, no matter who you marry next time. Please forgive us.” His dark brown eyes were sincere and glistened with unshed tears.

Looking from one parent to the other, Cindy saw genuine repentance. How could she not forgive them? Especially with her big burly father growing misty-eyed.

The former prize fighter had never cried in front of his children or hardly anyone else for that matter. To Cindy’s knowledge, her father had only shed tears twice in his life. Both times had been after the birth of his daughters.

Sighing with enormous relief, Cindy joyfully jumped up and gave both parents a big hug and a kiss. “I love you guys.”

This turned out well, Cindy mused as her hopes rose for everything else in her life to fall into place, too.

* * *

As the red minivan made its way back to Mavis’ house, Cindy and her sister had another heart-to-heart talk.

“That visit went smoother than I thought it would,” Cindy spoke softly, careful not to wake the sleeping children that were buckled up in the backseat.

“Yes, it did,” Mavis said, looking briefly at her sister. “You know Mom and Dad never stopped loving you. They just didn’t like your husband, that’s all.” She returned her eyes to the road. “I never told you this, but Mom had a problem with the way Charles was always primping, looking at his reflection every chance he got.” Mavis smirked. “I had issue with that, too. Especially after I caught him staring at his reflection in one of my long dinner knives. I knew then that Charles had an elephant sized ego.” She chuckled.

“Yes, he did.” Cindy laughed, recalling how long it took Charles to get ready to go anywhere. How they usually had to start getting ready two hours in advance because he never could decide what to wear. How the outfits she’d laid out for him were never good enough, even though he was the one that asked her to lay them out in the first place.

“Dad didn’t like Charles, because the man always wanted you to wait on him hand and foot, like you were his maid or something,” Mavis continued to share. “You had to cook everyday, whether he came home for dinner on time or not. Clean the house from top to bottom everyday, even though he worked against your efforts by dropping his clothes where he took them off and wouldn’t even wash a dish behind himself.”

“I did those things out of love, Mavis,” Cindy said, glancing out of the side window to chase pending blues away. The calming street lights reminded her of a Christmas tree, except all of those bulbs were white. Only the tri-colored traffic signal lent any varying hues to the dark residential street.

“I know you did,” Mavis replied. “I cook and clean for my husband for that reason, too. And we both know that Mom does that kind of stuff for Dad. So understand that there was nothing wrong with what you did. But rather it was the way Charles reacted to what you did that was so infuriating. He didn’t appreciate your acts of love and consideration, Cindy. It’s like he expected you to do those things for him regardless of how he treated you in return. As if it was your duty or your only significance in this world. Like none of the other things about you mattered.” Mavis frowned at the thought of what else her sister must have endured over the last six years, things that she might never tell them.

Cindy turned to her with a nod. “You’re right, sis. I just never gave voice to those things before. I’m glad somebody finally did. Was there anything else you guys disliked about Charles?” she asked, wanting to get all the sticky stuff with her family out in the open and dealt with so that she could move on with her life even faster.

“Yes. None of us liked how he refused to see you as his equal.” Mavis’ neck muscles tensed with anger at the memory of her sister’s inequitable marriage. Her hands tightened on the burgundy steering wheel. “It’s like Charles completely forgot that you had a college degree, were working as a local news reporter, and were living independently before he ever met you. Even if he did remember those things, he acted as if he couldn’t rest until he’d reduced you to full servitude.” Mavis glanced at her sister again. “Cindy, being a wife means being an equal. Remember, Eve came out of Adam’s side, not his foot. In short, your husband should have done those benevolent things for you sometimes.”

“You’re right again, Mavis.” Cindy nodded again. “I see now where I missed it in my marriage in that area. Yes, I tried to emulate how Nana and Mom catered to their husbands’ needs. I forgot how Grandpa and Dad returned those deeds with outward signs of appreciation and respect. How they all acted like true teams in their marriages. Is that how you and Eric are, Mavis?”

At the mere mention of Eric’s name, Mavis relaxed from her previous tense position. Her hands involuntarily loosened on the steering wheel. “Yes, and that’s just one of the reasons I’m still so crazy about that man,” Mavis acknowledged with a love-struck look upon her face as she returned her eyes to the road ahead. “I can’t wait for Eric to get home tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, will you be able to watch the kids for me?”

“Yep,” Cindy said, quickly agreeing to her first babysitting gig. “I know you guys are going to want to be alone for a while.” She chuckled knowingly.

“You got that right,” Mavis said, fanning herself with her left hand, while keeping the right one on the steering wheel. The very thought of her fine husband got her excited. Very, very excited.

Hurry home, baby, Mavis mused, lowering the driver’s side window slightly to further ventilate her hot body.

Cindy snickered beside her, fully aware of her sister’s current state of being. “Here, let me help you out,” she said, starting to fan Mavis with her purse.

“Thanks, girl. Every little bit helps.” Mavis chuckled as they continued on their way.

* * *

Later that night, Cindy lay in bed and placed a call to Andre. She told him about everything that transpired since they last talked. Towards the end of the conversation she disclosed her plans for the next day.

“I’m going to church tomorrow, are you?” Cindy asked, pulling the covers up to her midriff. She felt a delicious yawn forming in her throat, a yawn that promised another night of sweet sleep. She looked forward to it.

Andre sat upright in his bed at Cindy’s question. It had pierced his heart and now echoed in his soul. Are you? Are you? he heard in his innermost being.

It had been a long time since Andre had been to church. Too long. He felt ashamed of himself. After all, he was the child of missionaries. Active missionaries at that, who traveled extensively to foreign countries six to seven months out of every year.

While Andre’s parents were out spreading the Gospel to un-churched nations, back home their two sons were allowing the world and the pressures thereof to steer them in the opposite direction. Besides that, his parents were scheduled to be the guest speakers tomorrow, a fact that he forgot all about.

Andre hung his head in shame as he cradled the phone against his ear and silently repented. Finally he said, “Yes, I’ll be there, Cindy.”

“Good, I guess I’ll see you then.” Cindy yawned again; completely oblivious to what Andre had to go through to come to that answer. “Goodnight, Dre.”

“Night, Cindy.” Then Andre flipped the television from the basketball game to a station that broadcast Christian programming. He suddenly had the urge to hear some words of inspiration.

 

Chapter 5

On Sunday morning, Cindy and her family went to church. They were eager to hear what Andre’s parents had to share with their local congregation.

Seasoned missionaries, Timothy and Doreen Wells always had plenty of stories to share about their travels. Stories about how God delivered them out of all kinds of frightening situations overseas. About how He protected them from all kinds of menacing people who hated Christians and anything that had to do with Christianity.

Besides wanting to hear their latest missionary tales, Cindy just wanted to see Andre’s parents again. She hadn’t seen them in at least three or four years.

Timothy Wells Sr. was a very handsome man with graying side burns against his smooth mocha skin. Looking at him gave Cindy a clear vision of how Andre and his brother Tim Jr. would look in twenty years since they both looked a lot like their father. Although the brothers didn’t resemble their mother very much, Andre and Tim did have her kind eyes.

Besides her caring ebony eyes, Doreen Wells had bronze skin, salt and pepper hair, and a face that exuded compassion. It was no wonder that she and her equally compassionate husband excelled on the mission field. In fact, they were both highly esteemed people in the impoverished countries they ministered in.

As Timothy continued to stand at the podium with his wife beside him, he brought his uplifting speech to a satisfactory end. “In conclusion, whether you’re out on the mission field or not, it’s so important to have someone that you love and that loves you back at your side and on your side.” Then he smiled over at his wife and added, “Thanks for being with me all the way, beautiful lady.”

“You’re welcome,” Doreen replied.

When Timothy hugged his tearful wife, the audience broke into encouraging applause. Some stood to their feet in honor of the couple that had blessed them so much this morning with their inspirational words and genuine display of true partnership.

As Timothy released his wife, he instinctively scanned the crowd in search of the rest of his family. It pleased him to see his two sons in attendance today. However, only one of them was standing. The other remained in his seat, looking like he was in a daze. It was the baby boy – Andre.

I wonder what’s on his mind today, Timothy mused, noticing the expression of pure elation on his youngest son’s face. Then as he followed Andre’s gaze, the wise man quickly found his answer - Cindy.

* * *

Andre and Cindy didn’t clap or stand as their eyes searched for and found each other across the crowded congregation. For a moment there, they seemed to be lost in their own little world. His eyes caressed her face. Her eyes caressed his.

Suddenly, the connection was broken when Ashley tugged on Cindy’s red dress sleeve and rose up in her seat to whisper in her aunt’s ear. “Auntie Cindy, I need to go to the little girls’ room.”

Cindy blinked rapidly to refocus herself. Then she quietly got up and slipped away with her niece to the restroom right before the pastor returned to the podium and concluded today’s program.

* * *

After church, Cindy and her family went out to eat at the upscale restaurant that Andre privately owned. Through this establishment, he serviced a completely different clientele from the ones he encountered while working at his parents’ fast-food barbecue chain.

Although Andre loved working in the food service business as a whole, he preferred the more relaxed atmosphere that fine dining offered. That was one of his main reasons for eventually branching off on his own.

Wilma and Doreen, who were the best of friends, spent much of their meal time catching up on each other’s lives. Michael and Timothy did the same thing while Andre went to check on things in the kitchen. That left Tim Jr., his dimpled-faced girlfriend of two years - Neisha Sage, Mavis, Cindy, and the kids to occupy themselves.

Cindy’s group really didn’t mind being left to themselves though. The Wells and Bloom children had always gotten along well together.

Some time after the strawberry shortcake was served, Timothy made a trip to the back to see his missing-in-action son. Andre was seated at his desk with a half-eaten plate of steak and a vegetable medley in front of him. He was going through some paperwork.

“Son, enough of that. You’re neglecting your family,” Timothy said as he sat down in the black leather chair across from his son.

Andre looked up and smiled. “I’m sorry, Dad. It’s kind of hard to just be a customer in your own place.” He closed the blue notebook and picked up his fork again.

“I know.” Timothy chuckled, recalling his own days as a hands-on restaurateur.

Andre suddenly moaned in pleasure. Blame it on that generous helping of steak and vegetables he just inserted in his mouth. “This is really good,” he said after swallowing. “The steak is tender. The vegetables are crisp. Everything is seasoned to perfection. I’ll have to commend Chef Raymond on the excellent job he did today.” Andre looked up at his father and asked, “How was your meal?”

Timothy smiled. “Fine. All of our meals were fine,” he replied as his son took in another generous helping of food. “But I didn’t come in here to talk about food. I came to talk about you and Cindy. It just occurred to me today at church what I’ve actually known for many years. You two are meant to be together. I really believe that Cindy’s supposed to be your wife, son.”

Andre stopped chewing mid-bite. “Dad, Cindy’s not ready for another relationship right now. She just got divorced, remember? Besides I still see her as a little sister,” he replied, even as the very thought of Cindy being his wife sent delicious shivers through him. Those shivers felt better than any meal he could have ever eaten.

Chuckling, Timothy leaned back in his chair with a knowing smile. “You’re right about Cindy not being ready for another relationship right now. Wrong about still seeing her as a little sister. The way you were looking at that girl in church today proved that fact to me once and for all.”

Andre swallowed the food in his mouth and yet remained silent. He was still too shocked that his growing attraction to Cindy had been so easily discerned…and in church of all places.

“Now when Cindy is ready for romance again, you need to be first in line to take her hand and show her what true love is all about,” Timothy continued. “You two have always been good together, Dre. Your mother and I think you’ll be even better together in marriage.”

Andre smiled. “How long have you and Mom been playing matchmaker?”

Timothy smiled, as well. “Since you became a man.” Suddenly his face and tone grew very serious. “But, son, remember that you must only have Cindy in marriage. Anything else is gonna cause you a whole lot of trouble. Besides, you and that wonderful girl out there deserve something much better than sex outside of marriage anyway.”

“I hear you,” Andre said, quietly pondering his father’s words.

Timothy’s smile returned as he leaned forward in his chair. It was wider this time. “I’m pleased that you haven’t rejected the idea of being married to Cindy, just the timing,” Timothy replied. He just hoped Andre took his advice about all the other things he’d said.

* * *

That night Andre stopped by to take Cindy and the kids to a movie. As planned, this was Mavis and Eric’s night to be alone.

The kids were happy to be going out with their aunt and Andre tonight. They talked excitedly about which film they would see while Cindy put the finishing touches on Ashley’s silky curls. When everybody was ready to go, Cindy and her happy brood rolled out to the theater in Andre’s vehicle.

On the ride to the movies, Cindy couldn’t help but notice how attractive Andre looked tonight. How casual, too.

Tonight Andre wore a green and white polo t-shirt with a pair of green Levi jeans. He’d also donned a pair of white sneakers tonight.

“Since when did you start wearing sneakers? I thought you were Mr. GQ. Only dress shoes for you,” Cindy said, unable to resist teasing him about his casual attire.

“There you go again. I’m a versatile man, Cindy. Surely you know this by now,” Andre said, pretending to scold her as he guided the car into an open parking space at the theater’s expansive lot.

“I guess I don’t know as much about you as I thought I did. Perhaps you can fill me in on what I’ve missed,” Cindy countered, giving him a playful poke in the side.

“Ouch!” Andre said, faking his pain. “I’ll be glad to fill you in on everything you ever wanted to know about me…if you do the same,” he added, giving her a smile that was just as flirtatious as his last comment.

Cindy’s breath hitched at that smile and at his last statement. Was Andre flirting with her? If so, why did it thrill more than shock her?

* * *

After the movie, Andre went to get the car while Cindy and the kids waited at the curb. Just as he pulled the vehicle up to them, an elderly couple came walking out of the theater, holding hands and looking just as happy as they probably did on their wedding day.

Walking by the car, the curious elderly woman made inquiry to the handsome man getting out of the driver’s side. “Is that your wife and kids, young man?”

“No, ma’am,” Andre answered politely, shutting the driver’s side door.

“Well, they should be, young blood,” the elderly man responded with a wink.

Andre winked back, smiled and nodded in agreement.

A watching Cindy was stunned into silence at that exchange. She didn’t even notice that Andre had come around the car and held the door open for her, so that she and the kids could get settled inside.

Back at the wheel, Andre couldn’t stop smiling, especially after seeing the surprised look on Cindy’s face. The elderly couple’s words had shocked her so much that her mouth was still hanging open and her eyes were still wide two minutes after the couple had gone.

When Cindy still hadn’t blinked after another twenty seconds, Andre burst out laughing. He laughed so hard that he couldn’t crank up the car.

“Stop laughing, Dre. It ain’t that funny,” Cindy scolded. She wasn’t in a daze now as she playfully poked him in the side, which only made him laugh that much more.

“Auntie Cindy, are you tickling Dre? I want a tickle, too,” Ashley chimed in from the backseat.

“Me, too! Me, too,” Eric added, eager to join in on the fun.

“Oh you do, do you?” Cindy replied. Then she undid her seatbelt and proceeded to tickle her niece and nephew in the backseat.

With Cindy preoccupied, Andre unfastened his seatbelt and started tickling her. The car bounced lightly as the four people inside had a laughing frenzy, producing an abundance of laffy-taffy tears down happy cheeks.

After a few more minutes of fun, Cindy came up for air with aching sides and a heart that was rapidly emerging from heartbreak. “Woo…I can’t take no more,” she said, wiping her damp eyes. She took in deep breaths to calm herself. When Cindy was able to speak again without laughing, she said, “Okay, you guys, it’s time to go get something to eat. Who wants McDonald’s?”

“I do, I do,” sang the kids in unison.

“Then Mickey D’s it is,” Andre said. Then after he and Cindy readjusted the youngsters in their seatbelts and refastened their own, they started on their way.

* * *

Over hamburgers and fries, Ashley wowed them with her extensive knowledge of Illinois history. She talked about the first Europeans arriving in the region in 1673, even pronouncing the French explorers’ names correctly - Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette.

“Do you know how the state got its name?” Cindy asked, thoroughly impressed with her niece.

“Yes,” the smart eight-year-old girl replied with a smile. “The French settlers that came after Jolliet and Marquette named the region for the Illinois or rather Illini Indians that lived in the area.” Then Ashley disclosed that those same Indians had formed a group of united tribes and called themselves Iliniwek (meaning: superior men). And that the name Illinois came from the French settlers’ unique spelling and pronunciation of that Indian name.

Even more impressed by the intelligent child now, Andre and Cindy rewarded Ashley and a well-behaved Little Eric with ice cream sundaes afterward. Since they were such good babysitters, the two adults rewarded themselves with sundaes, too.

 

Chapter 6

With the house all to themselves, Mavis proceeded to welcome Eric back home the right way. The first thing she did was give him the biggest, juiciest kiss he’d ever had as soon as he walked through the front door.

Eric instantly pulled her closer and deepened the kiss. “Now that’s what I call a welcome home,” he said when the long kiss ended. “Got anymore where that came from?” he asked, running a hand through her waist-length silky hair.

Mavis chuckled. “Yes, but I have to feed you first, man,” she replied, withdrawing from him. “I cooked your favorite – Creole lime chicken and sautéed broccoli florets.”

“Oh, I’m hungry all right,” Eric replied, giving her a look that had nothing to do with food. “Hungry for you.” He pulled her into his embrace again.

Before Mavis knew it, she was lifted up in Eric’s strong arms, carried to the nearest sofa and inundated with his own unique brand of love. She relished each and every second of that love. Returned it with equal fervor.

When Eric’s appetite for her had been somewhat sated for the moment, Mavis led him to their private bathroom for a soothing bath. The meal that awaited them in the kitchen would have to wait. There were more important matters to take care of right now.

In the bathroom, Mavis took her time washing Eric’s body. He gladly returned the favor, lingering lovingly over her curves. Kisses abounded. There was no rushing this time.

After their bath, the couple retired to their candle-lit bedroom.  There Mavis pulled out her favorite scented oil, straddled the back of his legs, and began to massage her husband’s dark brown body. She was intent on relaxing every muscle he had. And he had a lot of them, too.

Though Eric was a pediatrician, he didn’t believe that good health should stop at childhood. As a result, he kept his adult body healthy and strong by working out in his home gym whenever his schedule allowed. He sometimes worked out at his father-in-law’s boxing club.

Staying in shape allowed Eric to keep up with his many young patients and also bring pleasure to his wife. Even now he heard her moans of pleasure as she massaged his rippling muscles.

If that’s not enough motivation to stay fit, I don’t know what is, Eric mused with a smile after hearing yet another pleasurable moan from his wife’s lips.  

As Mavis continued massaging him, he thought about how much he loved her body, too. Her deep mahogany skin was scrumptious to look at and touch. Her small frame with its perky wineglass-size breasts, ample hips, and perfect Vidalia onion-shaped bottom were a man’s paradise.

“Let me touch you now, baby.” Eric moaned deep in his throat, eager to trade places.

Complying with her husband’s wishes, Mavis lay on her stomach without being told, fully aware of his preferences. They were always like that with each other. Always anticipating the needs and desires of the other.

Slowly pouring oil in a trail down Mavis’ back, Eric watched as the essence of the mixture sparkled from her mid-back to the tips of her generous derriere, which was a strong family trait shared by all the Bloom women. The oily trail beckoned him to touch her there, everywhere.

As Eric gently massaged the oil into Mavis’ pores, he planted random kisses up and down her spine. He stopped briefly to kiss her in special places, causing her to moan and writhe beneath his touch.   

“I’m ready, baby,” Mavis moaned out, thrashing her body back and forth, lost in passion as she voiced her desire for consummation.

Immediate consummation!

“Are you sure?” Eric teased, knowing full well that she was.

“Oh, yes,” she purred in response.

Soon they were joined with her back to his chest. Holding her close, Eric caressed Mavis’ soft skin in a soothing, loving manner.

Slowly. Rhythmically, they moved together.

Then faster and more sensually, leading to a series of wild, mind-blowing motions.

Their intense conjugal beat, the feel of his wife’s soft body against him, and her heated response were enough to send Eric sailing over the edge. Yet he had to make sure that Mavis was satisfied first. He couldn’t get too caught up in his own pleasure and forget about hers.

Forcing himself to regain some semblance of control, Eric slowed the pace all the way down.

“No,” Mavis instantly protested. “Keep going,” she added, continuing to move her hips against him with lightning speed.

More than willing to cooperate with her needs, Eric re-quickened the tempo with strong rhythms of love. Mavis squealed out her delight in response. It wasn’t two minutes later before they surrendered to ecstasy with simultaneous cries of release.

Moments later, husband and wife lay drained and sated in each other’s arms. Eric barely had enough energy to get out of bed to blow out the candles before sleep claimed them both.

Awakening an hour later, Eric and Mavis quickly showered and ate their neglected meal. They wanted to be fully alert when Cindy and Andre returned with the kids.

* * *

Across town, Andre sat behind the wheel of his vehicle, silently wondering what it would be like to have Cindy as his wife. To have her as the mother of his children.

Based on how well they did with someone else’s children tonight, Andre could already tell that they would make a great parental team. Now he wondered how they would be as lovers. Even as those ponderings danced in his head, a lover’s song came on the radio. Andre began to sing along with it.

In the passenger seat, Cindy faced forward again after checking on the sleeping kids in the backseat. In the background, she could hear Andre singing her favorite Luther Vandross’ tune – Superstar. He sounded great, almost like the originator of the song.

I forgot how well Andre could sing, Cindy mused, enjoying his talent to the fullest as she relaxed her head against the headrest and closed her eyes. With his good looks and enormous talent, he could’ve made it big in the music business.

Waiting until after the song was over, Cindy opened her eyes and turned to Andre with inquiry. “Have you ever thought about singing professionally?”

“Yeah, I have,” Andre admitted, taking his eyes briefly off the road. “But I’m entirely too busy right now with the restaurant to do anything like that.” A smile spread across his face at the very thought of his business. A business that he jokingly called his ‘baby’ because it kept him up at all hours and because he was trying to raise it into the quality establishment it was always meant to be.

Cindy smiled, too, noting how excited Andre was by his career. It made her long for the same thing. Made her want to feel the same way about a career some day.

“Speaking of my restaurant, I’d like to invite you back for another free meal,” Andre continued, returning his eyes to the road ahead. “Just name the date and time and I’ll have my multi-talented chefs fix you anything you like, even if it’s not on the menu.”

“I’d like that.” Cindy’s smile widened. “I noticed that the place was pretty crowded in there on Sunday, so it must be doing quite well, huh? Mavis told me that you stay booked up for months in advance.”

“Yeah.” Andre nodded with a satisfied smile this time. “I worked very hard to build up my clientele. Hiring the right mixture of chefs, along with creating the right atmosphere is finally starting to pay off for me.” That smile drooped into a semi-frown. “Unfortunately, trying to hold all that together just keeps me too busy to pursue other things. It even stood in the way of my church attendance, but I plan on changing that real soon,” he said decisively.

“Good for you, Dre.”

“Thanks, Cindy,” Andre replied, turning the car down a quiet brightly-lit street. “I love this new subdivision. I might buy a home in this neighborhood one day.”

Cindy turned from looking at him to peruse the beautiful ranch style homes around her. “This does look like a great neighborhood to live in. In fact, I like that brick one over there with the double garage,” she said, pointing to a very nice house on the right.

Then not wanting to stray too far from their previous conversation, Cindy made a suggestion. “Dre, maybe you can do both. Maybe you can have your restaurant and your music career.”

“What do you mean do both? How?” Andre asked, even though he couldn’t readily see how his current schedule could allow for such a thing.

“You could build a mini-stage in your restaurant and have musical talent, including yourself, sing there once a week or so. I think your patrons would love that. As usual, I’ll help out any way I can,” Cindy replied. “Besides, your voice is too terrific to keep to yourself. It needs to be shared with others. I’m thinking that you should even make a demo or something. That way people can take your wonderful voice back home with them when they leave the restaurant.” 

“Hmm…let me think about that, Cindy. You may have something there.” Then for the rest of the drive, Andre was silent, deep in thought.

After dropping Cindy and the kids off and returning to his apartment, Andre thought even more about what she’d said. He finally came to the conclusion that her suggestion was a good way, no, a great way to enhance his business.

Resting comfortably in his bed now with a legal pad and a pen in hand, Andre began to map out how to take his business to the next level.

Cindy, you did it again. Always seeing the good in people and looking for ways to pull it out of them, Andre thought, pausing over his legal pad as he recalled that she’d been the reason he started Andre’s in the first place.

Seven years ago, Cindy suggested that Andre start his own business. She laid out a convincing argument, highlighting how he’d successfully managed his parents’ fast-food chain while they were away and thus would just as successfully manage his own restaurant. How although his parents wanted at least one of their sons to establish another Wells Barbecue Heaven, they would not push either of them to do so. How his parents gave Tim their blessing to follow his own heart and become a lawyer. How they could be counted on to do the same thing with him.

It was then that Andre decided to follow his own heart and open an upscale restaurant. One that would offer fine cuisine and eventually dancing.

Dancing, Andre mused, quickly writing that word on his legal pad.

In his busyness, Andre had forgotten how he planned on incorporating dancing into his business, too. He’d been so focused on creating the perfect environment for fine dining, that he’d failed to accomplish the other goal he’d set forth.

Right now, his restaurant filtered in mostly jazz and classical music through their intricate intercom system. To have live music and dancing would certainly give Andre’s an added edge over the competition.

Cindy, I’m sure glad you’re home, girl, Andre couldn’t help thinking once again as his hands moved rapidly over the legal pad, sketching out a few changes he’d have to make to his restaurant’s floor plan.

That night Andre slept better than he had in months. It was also the first night he had a sensual dream about Cindy, but certainly not the last.

My Lover, My Friend © 2002-2009 by Suprina Frazier

 

Author Note:

To read the entire revised book, follow the link below (more freebies can be found at that site):

http://stores.lulu.com/suprinaf1