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Benefit of the Doubt
By Myra A. Dorsey
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Myra A. Dorsey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Kinder Kendall
I'm the kind of woman who stands out in a crowd, literally. My best feature has always been my legs; well-muscled, sensually chocolate, and sexy. I've had perfect strangers approach me in public restrooms just to compliment my legs.
I'd like to claim the credit for them. After all, I've spent countless hours throughout my twenties, and thirties, on the soccer field and volleyball court, toning them to perfection. Not to mention, the great sacrifices I've made foregoing supersized fries, extra cheesy pasta, and decadent triple-layer fudge cake. But, the real credit goes to my parents. Without them, nothing would have been possible.
I wasn't prideful about my legs. That would be sinful; rather they were my source of confidence. They helped define me as me. When I walked down a hall, the stares I got made me feel like a powerful, beautiful, woman. As that person, I was smart and self-assured. I could do anything I set my mind to, and I usually did. Little did I know a single, misguided decision was just about to cost me those perfect legs and a hell of a lot more, not once, but twice.
I always wanted to be well-established before I settled down and started a family. About five years ago, I realized that I had to make a change if I wanted that dream to come true. I had a good career in marketing, made plenty of money, owned my own condo, and had two cars, but that one special person in my life was missing.
I'd dated plenty, but no one ever seemed to measure up.
"Kendall Sweeney, what are you waiting for?" asked my cousin and best-friend, Lola. She pointed the carrot she had been peeling at me like a conductor's baton, "Ryan is a smoking hottie. I would be working that hard. That man is fine husband material."
"I kind of broke up with him," I mumbled.
Lola snapped the carrot in half. "You didn't!"
"He started it," I said unapologetically. I pulled a pot of potatoes off the stove and slammed it on the counter. "You should have heard the way he laughed at me when I told him I didn't want him drinking any more."
"How much had he had?" asked Lola.
"It was only his second, but we had a long night ahead of us and I didn't want him getting plastered."
"Did you bother to mention that before you left the house?"
I scowled. "He's a grown man. He should have known better. Besides you should have seen the way he teased me, calling me a teetotaler. So I told him where to go," I said dumping the potatoes in a bowl. "How to get there," I added, squirting mustard at the offending potatoes like a fire hose. "And that I'd be more than happy to show him the way," I blazed, slamming globs of mayonnaise on the mixture.
Lola gently slid the bowl from my grasp. "Mmm hmm," she said stirring the potato salad.
"Don't look at me like that! I can finish those," I said grabbing for the bowl.
"Oh no you don't." She cradled it like a baby. "I like whole chunks of potato in my salad, thank you very much. What did he do when you cussed him?"
"He left with his friends and I caught a cab home. Who needs him, anyway?" I shrugged and sank down on a counter stool. "Too bad ... I really liked him."
"Kendall, did you ever stop to think, that you could avoid these unfortunate break-ups, if you were a little ... a little more ..." she paused, "you know?"
"What?" I dared her.
Lola rolled her eyes. "You need to give people the benefit of the doubt."
"I don't trust anyone until they give me a reason to."
She sighed. "That's just it, most people trust others until they're given a reason not to."
I snorted. "My way has always worked just fine."
Lola stopped cooking and looked at me. "Be honest. Has it really?"
I grabbed a carrot and munched on it in thought. This wasn't the first time, family or friends had pointed out my seemingly fatal flaw. Their voices echoed in my head as I thought back over the years:
"Kendall, you're much too quick to cut people off."
"Kendall, you need to have a little more compassion."
"Kendall, why don't you put the shoe on the other foot and give people a chance?"
I had a quicksilver smile that charmed perfect strangers, but I was equally swift to light into anyone who dared look at me wrong. In fact, I was the spitting image of Daddy, a natural born curser. By the time I was old enough to speak, I knew words that peeled paint off walls. Pity to the person who did me wrong, I turned on them as soon as I looked at them. The epitaphs that spewed from my mouth, made them wish they were never born. I didn't just put people in their place; I crushed them and dared them to leave. No one messed with me and that's the way I liked it.
"Maybe it's time to try a new approach," said Lola. "Be the change you wish to see in the world and all that good stuff. You're too smart and pretty not to have the man of your dreams. If I had your killer legs and Coke bottle waist, I'd work them big time. Heck, I'd set my sights high on someone like Denzel Washington or better yet that hottie from Criminal Minds, Shemar Moore."
I laughed and caught a reflection of myself in the mirror. I was petite, not nearly tall enough to be one of the angular, super-models, with high cheekbones men of that caliber dated. I was more the all-American, girl next-door, sweetly pretty, shoulder length brown hair, with shining dark eyes, and a perfect Crest-white smile. More than one man had told me I possessed something irresistible they couldn't quite put their finger on. But in the end that's exactly what they all seemed to want—to put their fingers, hands and other parts on me, and little else. I was sick of that scene. I wanted a real man. Someone who stepped up to the plate and delivered a total package, unconditional love, a soulmate and best friend. If he was cute and good in bed, all the better.
That night in bed, I thought hard about what Lola said. I'd been wondering about it a lot lately. I closed my eyes and scenes from my ugly break-up with Ryan came flooding back to me. I'd really blown it.
Am I really a horrible person? I wondered. Am I really that selfish? Do I really only care about myself?
I'd always pictured the perfect relationship with a man being much like my relationship with my parents. As an only child, I was the center of their universe and they were mine. Everyone knew the Sweeneys were like the Three Musketeers. We did everything together, couldn't wait to be in each other's company. Sure we had some knock down drag out fights, but our love for each other was unconditional no matter what.
"God," I whispered into the quiet, darkness of my room. "Do I really have the capacity to love somebody unconditionally, the way I love Mama and Daddy?"
I'd had several relationships where I thought I might be in love. But when it came right down to it, if they were trapped in a burning building, I wouldn't have gone in after them. That couldn't possibly reflect well on me.
"Please help me have a more open heart," I whispered again. "Let me be more compassionate. Show me how to give others the benefit of the doubt."
It wasn't long after that, that Lola dragged Percy Spencer to my doorstep—or at least the idea of him. Like a cat with her prized catch, she proudly laid her scheme at my feet. Unlike me, she never could resist a good charity case.
"Who is this guy exactly?" I asked.
"Just someone who came into The Center. He's trying to get a job right now and I thought you'd be perfect for him."
I arched a brow at her, "Perfect for what?"
She laughed. "To help him sell himself. I thought with you being in marketing and all, who better to get him ready for his interview?"
"Aha ... I don't do charity work, no thank you."
"I thought you were going to try to be more compassionate?"
I bit my lip. She had me there. "Are you sure it's just for work?"
She looked at me innocently. "What else would it be?"
I snorted. Lola was notorious for trying to set me up on dates.
She scowled. "It's not that kind of meeting, I swear."
"It better not be."
"Then you'll do it?" she grinned.
I nodded. "Fine, I'll help your loser friend."
"You're compassion is astounding," she said placing a card with the date and time of the meeting in front of me.
"You knew I'd do this!"
She kissed my cheek. "Contrary to popular belief, Ms. Grinch, I know your heart really isn't two sizes too small. Besides, you know you want to, you really, really want to," she sang as she left.
"He's probably going to be too cute for his own good," I grumbled. She knew I was a sucker for pretty boys. That was something else I was asking God to help with. Pretty boys were nothing but trouble. I couldn't help being attracted to those kinds of men, but I figured maybe God could help me find a happy medium between them and the not-so-cute, blah guys with an extra helping of boring on the side.
Of course Percy was exactly what I hoped he wouldn't be; tall, with a rich mocha complexion, chiseled features, and a smile that could charm killer bees. I picked him out from across the room at Starbucks. At least Lola's got good taste, I thought as I walked over to him. "Percy?" I asked.
He held up a hand to silence me, then pointed to the headset, I hadn't seen in his ear.
Oh no he didn't, I thought. No one asks for my help, then brushes me off like ... I caught myself. Remember, you're becoming a kinder, gentler Kendall. Give him a break, you're five minutes early.
I smoothed my blouse and motioned to the seat next to Percy.
He nodded and spoke into his headset. "I understand, but that's not going to be possible. Yes, I understand. I'll see what I can do." He tapped the headset and turned a bright smile on me. "Sorry about that, I didn't expect you quite yet. I really appreciate this. Lola says you're quite the miracle worker."
"I don't know about that, but I do know a few things about marketing."
"I'm afraid you have your work cut out with me. Can I at least buy you a cup of coffee?"
"Thank you, that would be nice." I set about spreading a notebook, pens, and folder of interview tips on the tiny table. He might be good-looking, but I'm not the least attracted to him, I lied to myself as I arranged my "desk." I stole a peek at his butt as he waited for my order and inhaled sharply.
Figures it would have to be nice too, I glowered then folded my hands in front of me and stared hard at them. Damn Lola! Why was she always putting me in these situations?
"Everything all right?" asked Percy.
"You looked kind of angry with someone just then. I hope it wasn't me."
I flashed him one of my famous smiles. "Sorry, you're fine. It's nothing."
He set a cup of coffee in front of me. "Oh, I almost forgot. I didn't ask how you took it, so I brought these too." He dumped several pink, white, and blue packets of sugar and artificial sweetener in front of me, then pulled mini tubs of cream from his pocket.
"Thanks," I laughed and selected my favorites. "If you don't mind me asking, why do you need my help? You look like someone who can take care of himself."
He laughed. "Looks can be deceiving. I was in the Marines for a decade. From there, I went straight into a job I had for the last six years. I've never interviewed for anything in my life. The Commander arranged my civilian position."
"Sounds like you've had it cushy."
"If you call sleeping out in the rain, living in the desert, and answering to a commanding officer for everything you do cushy."
"Sorry, I didn't mean your military career, just that you've been lucky. Most adults have had to interview at least once by the time they're ... they're ... whatever you are."
"I'm 37. Isn't that what you wanted to know?"
I felt my cheeks growing warm. "I, no, I was just making an observation."
"Well, my luck's run out anyway. I got laid off about five months ago. Haven't been able to find anything since. That's where you come in."
"I'll do my best. Let's start with a resume ..."
We talked for almost two hours. By the time we finished, it was dark. He walked me to the parking garage.
"Thanks, this has been very helpful Kendall. I don't know what I would do without you."
I took a step back, not sure what to make of him. "No problem, we've got a good start. I'm sure we'll get a lot more accomplished tomorrow," I said getting into my car.
"Thanks again," he wrapped twice on my hood before walking away.
I started the engine and was just about to back out when I caught sight of Percy in my rear view mirror. He walked back out the street exit. That's strange, I thought. There were plenty of empty parking spaces in the lot. I wonder were he parked?
I eased onto the street and drove in Percy's direction. He'd pulled the collar of his peacoat up against the brisk, March wind.
I rolled down my window, "Hey, need a ride?"
He looked over his shoulder and kept walking.
"Percy," I shouted again. "Do you need a ride?"
He stopped and smiled. "Sorry, I didn't recognize you. Are you sure? You've already helped me so much tonight. I'd hate to take up any more of your time."
"No problem," I said popping the passenger side lock. "Hop in."
"Thanks," he said folding himself into the seat next to me. "It's cold out there."
"Just head down North, left on Chicago, then I'll tell you where to turn."
"So, where's your car?"
"It's kind of a long story," he said giving me a sideways glance.
"We've got a few minutes."
"It needed a lot of work, so it's been in the shop for awhile. You need to turn right up here."
"I'm tough. I've been through a lot worse than this."
"Yes, with sleeping out in the rain and training in the deserts and all," I quipped.
"Are you making fun of me?" he grinned.
"Maybe a little, He-Man."
"Oh, He-Man? I see how it is," he chuckled. "Stop up here."
I hadn't realized we'd driven straight into Cabrini-Green. It was easy to forget one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago was planted between two of the best. I tried not to react and said a silent prayer of thanks that I'd driven my Sonata instead of my Lexus. "How's this?" I stopped in front of a rundown, red brick, row house.
"Perfect, thanks," he said and hopped out. Then he leaned back in. "Be sure to lock your doors after I leave."
I smiled. "Don't worry He-Man. I can take care of myself too."
"I'm sure you can. But lock them anyway."
"Hey, He-Man, let me know if you need a ride tomorrow."
He winked. "I might just take you up on that."
Chapter TwoFor I Was Hungry
Percy and I meet several times at Starbucks over the next two weeks. There was just something about him that made me forego my religious workouts in favor of helping him. For someone who'd been a military grunt, never had higher education, and never been in a corporate situation, he certainly had a way with words. As I listened to his rich baritone voice answer my questions, I found myself wishing I could speak as eloquently as he did.
Yet something didn't match up. Though he should have been growing more confident in his skills and therefore, happier, he seemed more and more depressed. He never said anything. It was more of an impression I got. The light in his eyes all but went out. And he was always late to our meetings.
I checked the time on my cell phone and shook my head. It was five after. I'd warned him more than once about this. "You've got to treat these practice sessions like the real thing. If you're not on time they might cancel your interview."
He'd nodded and apologized.
"Do you want me to pick you up?" I'd asked, thinking maybe it was because he was walking.
"No, I've got things to do. It's hard to know where I might be before. I'll just catch the L if I have to," he said.
At ten after, I gathered my things. Professors might get fifteen minutes courtesy, but this wasn't college, and I wasn't about to waste time on a charity case that didn't bother to call when he was running behind.
Percy plowed into me as I stood. "Whoa," he said wrapping an arm around me, before I toppled backward. "Sorry about that."
The scents of cinnamon and soap clung to him, in a way that was much too inviting for my own good. I regained my balance, pushed him away, and fixed him with what I hoped was a perfect imitation of Ms. Matlock, my ninth grade English teacher's, most threatening glare. She was so scary she'd made more than one freshman pee their pants. But no one ever forgot homework in Ms. Matlock's class.
Percy just flashed his million-dollar smile and dove into the overstuffed chair next to mine. "Sorry, I'm late."
"Apologies will get you no where Percy Spencer. What have I told you?" I asked hoping I was still channeling a fraction of Ms. Matlock.
He took my hand, "Come on pretty lady, I mean you no harm."
I yanked my hand back. "Knock it off Percy! What's the matter with you?"
His smile faded and he shook his head. "I'm sorry, I can't do this anymore."
"Do what?" I had the strange feeling I was being dumped before we'd even been on a first date.
"This interview thing. There's no point."
"What do you mean there's no point? Did something happen?"
He slowly rubbed his hands over his face. "Not exactly. Nothing new anyway."
"What's that suppose to mean?"
Excerpted from Benefit of the Doubt by Myra A. Dorsey Copyright © 2012 by Myra A. Dorsey. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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