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Can I Get An AmenA Love Supreme\Love And Happiness\A Love Like That\Love Under New Management
By Janice Sims
BETCopyright © 2007 Janice Sims
All right reserved.
Jared Kyles opened the sliding-glass door and stepped onto the patio of his new home in Red Oaks, Georgia. It was a beautiful May morning, and the sweet smell of wild jasmine was in the air. The temperature was cool. The dogwood trees were in full bloom. Fallen pink and white petals covered the ground around them.
He inhaled the heady fragrance of good, clean, fresh air as he stood there wondering which of the six burly black men presently removing huge squares of old sod from the lawn was Alex Cartwright. A big hand brought the coffee cup to his lips. He frowned as he sipped thoughtfully. The man was here, wasn't he?
He lowered his gaze to his watch. It was nine o'clock, and Cartwright, whom he'd hired over the phone, sight unseen, hadn't come up and introduced himself yet. Cartwright's secretary had promised he would show him the blueprints that had been drawn up for the final layout of the yard before the work progressed too far. Jared didn't like to be kept waiting. Time was money.
This was the last time he would hire someone based solely on the opinions of others. When he'd sent out feelers to various colleagues in the construction business in Macon, they'd all concurred: Alex Cartwright was the best to use when it came to landscaping, a consummate professional.
Looking at the vigor with which Cartwright's men per-formed theirduties, Jared had to admit one thing: Cart-wright knew how to pick dependable workers.
He placed his cup on the only piece of furniture on the patio: a deep green, molded plastic chair which could be bought at any discount store. He made a mental note to buy patio furniture, and then he turned and walked up to the man closest to him.
"Excuse me, would you tell me which of these fellas is Alex Cartwright?"
The guy, who was at least six-four, over two-hundred pounds, with skin so dark it gleamed, ran a hand over his bald head before saying, "Good morning!" His grin was wide and white. The first image that flashed into Jared's mind was that of a black Mr. Clean. All the guy needed was a single gold hoop earring in his left earlobe.
"Good morning," Jared said, smiling back. People in small towns rarely forgot their manners. His mother would be disappointed that he'd forgotten his. "Alex ain't here yet," the bald man told him. "She went to pick up her brother, Sam, at the airport. He plays bas-ketball for the University of Florida."
She? Jared thought but didn't voice his surprise.
The guy saw it on his face. "Don't worry, man," he said with a short laugh. "She does the work of two men."
Jared laughed too, but it irked him that Alex Cartwright had misrepresented herself to him. Or had she? None of the men who'd recommended her had thought to mention her sex. They must be having a good laugh at his expense right about now! Then again, perhaps her gender had not mattered to them, just the fact that she was good at what she did for a living. He put his sexist tendencies in check and offered his hand to the guy. "Jared Kyles."
"Ruben Jackson," the black Mr. Clean said, with a firm handshake. "I'm the foreman. Alex told us to get started on removing the old sod, and by the time that was done, she'd be here to supervise the landscaping."
Jared nodded. "All right, Mr. Jackson, you fellas seem to have everything under control. Tell Ms. Cartwright she can knock on the patio door when she arrives."
"Will do," Ruben said, and promptly returned to his work.
Alexandra Cartwright was in her element, speeding down I-75 with a Shemekia Copeland CD on low and her kid brother by her side, complaining. She'd missed this. There was a smile on her face and a happy light in her dark brown eyes. "All of my friends are either in Daytona Beach or Atlanta gettin' their freak on!" Sam said. He was nine-teen and the spitting image of their father: tall, dark-skinned, and rangy, with light brown eyes. Alex had been the only one of them to inherit their mother's dark brown eyes.
"How often do we get to see each other, Sam?" Alex asked reasonably. "I haven't seen you in nine months, and it's been longer for Vicky. She'll be here tomorrow after-noon, and we'll all be together for the first time in over a year. You know Momma and Daddy would have wanted us to stay close."
Sam sighed. He turned his head to look at his older sister. "You're gonna get me with the guilt trip now, huh?" His thick brows arched as he smiled at her.
"I'll use every trick in the book, little brother. You know I'm right," Alex said, her full lips curving in a winning smile.
"Yeah, I know you're right," Sam conceded. "But that doesn't mean I'm gonna stop giving you a hard time. You'd think something was wrong with me if I didn't."
Alex laughed. She pushed a lock of wavy, shoulder-length black hair behind one ear and briefly peered at him. Eyes back on the road, she said, "You know, I think you've grown an inch since I saw you last. When are you going to stop growing?"
"I guess when you stop treating me like a child," Sam countered.
"Never, then," Alex returned, still grinning.
Sam groaned. "I could be in Hotlanta right now with a sepia honey all over me."
"I've been paying attention in English class. I'm broad-ening my vocabulary."
"I'm sure the honeys are impressed."
"Well, you know, what can I say? I'm all that!"
"Oh, now, hold up. Don't go gettin' cocky on me. I changed your diapers!"
"See? That's why I'm never gonna bring a sweet thing home with me for Thanksgiving. I don't want to be em-barrassed by comments like that," Sam said.
"I have no doubt that one day you will bring a "sweet thing' home with you. But do me a favor, make sure she's good people before you get all up in her business."
"All up in her business?" Sam asked, shocked that his sister had suggested she knew anything about sex. Didn't she know it was taboo to talk to her brother about such things? No, he could answer that question himself. Since their parents' deaths, Alex had assumed the role of the parent. She thought she had the right to say anything!
"Don't you think it's a little too late for that talk?" Sam asked, sounding calmer than he really felt. He was a man, after all. A man who knew the score. He'd been sexually active since he was sixteen. Three years now. Not that his sister knew that. She didn't have to know everything!
"It's never too late for that talk," Alex said. "Oh, don't go looking all puffed up like Daddy used to when Momma would say something to upset him. I just want you to stay safe, Samuel Edison Cartwright. Choose your partners with care. Never, and I mean never, have sex without using a condom. Use two if you need them."
Tight-lipped, Sam turned on the seat so that he could see her face. "You're so interested in my love life, what about yours? Do you use a condom every time, big sister?"
"Honey, it's been so long since I did anything, I qualify for sainthood. But, yes, little brother, I most certainly did always use a condom."
If it were possible, Sam's face would have turned a bright red hue. "Good God! I thought you were a virgin!"
"At twenty-seven?" Alex asked with a short snort. "I'm not exactly a femme fatale, but no, Sam, I'm not a virgin."
"Who?" Sam asked, his curiosity piqued. He knew she'd dated Rick Washington, a local attorney, about two years ago. She'd never mentioned why they'd broken up.
"A lady never tells, just like a gentleman never tells," Alex said lightly.
"All right," Sam agreed. "But you know this conver-sation is creeping me out, right? Now I'm going to be looking at every man in town who's around your age and wondering, could he be one of Alex's ex-lovers?"
"There have been only two, so you can put your mind at ease."
"Oh, so the number of ex-lovers you'll reveal, but not their names."
"Their names are of no significance," Alex said. "I'm not still involved with them, and it's highly unlikely we'll ever interact with them socially. I only told you I'm not a virgin so that you wouldn't think me a prude for giving you advice about your sex life."
"Fair enough," Sam said, reaching over to turn up volume on the CD player. "Now, can we let Shemekia serenade us the rest of the way home? I'm afraid you're going to bring up something else embarrassing."
"Like that big bag of dirty laundry you brought with you?" Alex asked.
"I was hoping you wouldn't notice," Sam said, cha-grined. "I just didn't have time to do it before I left. I'll do it as soon as I get home." He lowered the volume.
"I know you will," Alex said. "You and the washing machine have been on good terms since you were ten years old. I hope you aren't letting some "sweet thing' do your laundry for you while you're at school."
"Well, if they ask, who am I to refuse?" Sam said, smiling roguishly.
"If I didn't need both hands to drive, I'd knock you upside your head! You don't use women like that, Sam. Do your own funky laundry!"
"It's not as if I don't do them favors," Sam defended himself. "It's the barter system. I fix their cars for 'em or something, and they do my laundry. It ain't nothin' negative."
Alex eyed him briefly. "Are you telling the truth?" "Cross my heart," Sam said. When they were kids, that had been the sign that absolute truth was being spoken. You had to believe whatever was being said. "All right," Alex said. "It's just important that you respect women. We work hard for it, and we deserve it. Daddy never disrespected Momma, no matter how much they argued."
"You were only seven when Daddy died. I guess you don't remember much. Yes, they argued like any other couple. But I always knew they loved each other, so I never worried that they were going to get divorced. They were so close. You could feel the love coming off of them just by being in the same room with them. That's how much they loved each other." Her eyes grew misty at the memory.
"I can't believe it's been ten years since Momma got killed," Sam said, his voice low and wonder-filled. "All I remember about her was that she always hugged me before I went to school, and she always kissed me on the forehead before I went to bed at night. She never forgot to do that."
"No, she didn't," Alex said softly. She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye with her index finger. "Now, tell me about your studies. Quickly, so I can get my mind off of sad things."
Excerpted from Can I Get An Amen by Janice Sims Copyright © 2007 by Janice Sims. Excerpted by permission.
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