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The first wave of intravenous medication had quickly dulled the blinding pain that had cut through her abdomen only moments before. Talisa London could breathe again and she gulped oxygen, fearful that it might be denied.
From some distant place above her, a male voice was eerily calming, the deep tone even and controlled as the man explained the impending procedure, assuring her it would be quick, and over before she knew it. As she felt her body being lifted from the gurney onto the operating table, panic swept over her. A large, brown hand that patted her gently against her bare shoulder instantly soothed the fright-filled emotion.
"You're doing very well," Dr. Jericho Becton whispered softly, warm breath blowing against her ear. "Everything's going to be just fine." His voice was melodic, a soothing bass tone that eased right through her.
Focusing her attention upward, Talisa's eyes met his, her stare floating up to his intense gaze. His eyes reminded her of the ocean, the irises a deep, blue-green liquid balm. The black lashes were forest thick; long, luscious, enviable strands. The warmth he exuded was consuming and she could feel herself swimming in his gaze, the sensation like a warm wet blanket wrapping around her. There was something ultrasoothing about his stare and when he smiled, she willed herself to smile back.An anesthesiologist placed a mask over her nose and mouth, instructing her to breathe deeply.
"That's a good girl, deep breaths," Dr. Becton said, echoing his associate, the warmth of his hand still pressed against her shoulder.
Talisa stared upward, her smile widening. "You're very sweet," she said, mumbling into the mask. "And you have beautiful eyes. I think I could love you," she chimed, her eyelids fluttering open and then closed. As drug-induced sleep tiptoed in to possess her, Talisa heard the man laugh, a faint "thank you" echoing into her dreams.
"Talisa? Are you sleeping, baby?"
Talisa opened her eyelids to find her mother staring down at her. She blinked quickly, wiping at her face with the length of her fingers. Lifting herself up against the bed pillows, she yawned widely. "No, ma'am. I think I just dozed off for a quick moment."
Mary London smiled at her daughter. "You was asleep. I woke you up. Sorry 'bout that, but it's time for your medicine. That doctor said you had to take your medicine every four hours." The woman glanced down to the Timex watch on her wrist. "It's past time."
Talisa nodded, extending her hand for the antibiotic and pain medication her mother was holding out toward her. As the small pills settled against her tongue, she reached for the cup of chipped ice and cold water the matriarch passed her way.
It had been one week since Talisa had been rushed to Atlanta's Northside Hospital with a ruptured appendix. She could have kicked herself for ignoring the initial pangs of hurt that had teased her only days before. High doses of aspirin had dulled the ache just enough for her to consider it of little importance. A sprained muscle, she'd thought, remembering an aerobics class that had taxed her body's limits. Then, out of the blue, agonizing pain had hit her broadside, crippling her movements and sending her straight to the floor.
She shook her head at the memory. Everything after that moment, from the ambulance ride to the operating room, was nothing but a blur. As Talisa reflected back, one memory swept over her. She smiled, and as she did, her mother gave her a strange look.
"What?" Mary asked, fluffing the pillows behind her daughter's head. "What are you grinning about?"
"I just remembered this man in the operating room who had blue eyes. I think I told him I loved him."
Mary frowned. "There were lots of men in that hospital with blue eyes now. That nice Dr. Pearson has 'em, and that tall boy, the nurse. What was his name?"
"Tim, I think."
"That's it. Tim. He had blue eyes, too. But I know you were not serious about being in love with one of them." The woman frowned, the lines deepening against her dark complexion.
Talisa shook her head, two shoulder-length ponytails swaying back and forth against the sides of her skull.
"No. This man was African-American. He was Daddy's complexion, maybe a little lighter, and he had bright blue eyes."
Mary skewed her face in disbelief. "They was probably them colored contact lenses."
"Did you see him?"
The woman shook her head no. "I would have remembered a black boy with blue eyes. You must have been dreaming from all them drugs."
Talisa shrugged. "Well, if I was, it was a very nice dream." Her mother sucked her teeth, rolling her eyes skyward. "You don't need to be dreaming about no man. A man ain't nothing but trouble waiting to happen to you. They's devils. All of 'em. Take my word for it." She reached for the television remote, taking a seat in the cushioned wing chair at her daughter's bedside. "It's time for my stories. Erica Kane's in some mess, again. I'll sit here and watch All My Children with you, then I need to go get lunch ready."
Talisa laughed, her palm falling against her bandaged belly. She winced slightly, the act of laughing an uneasy feat to accomplish with the multitude of stitches that crossed her stomach.
Mary fanned a hand in her daughter's direction. "Hush, now. I need to hear the television."
Glancing from her mother, to the TV screen and back again, her wide grin continued to fill her face. Settling herself comfortably against the pillows, Talisa closed her eyes and wished for a dream. Wishing the memory of a blue-eyed, black man back to her.
The tall, Caucasian man was pacing the floor anxiously, his distress painting an intricate frown pattern across his face. He ran a thin hand through the short length of saltand-pepper-toned hair that graced his head, staring intently at the younger man who stood before him.
"This is career suicide, Jericho," Dr. Elijah Becton insisted, shaking his head from side to side. "What are you thinking, son?"
Jericho shrugged, shaking his own head. "I don't agree, Dad. I need to do this."
"What about the practice?"
"The practice will be fine. You will continue to run things just as we've been doing. Besides, I'm not going to be gone forever. It's only going to be for one year."
The elder Becton rolled his eyes. "Why Africa, of all places?"
"Because they need the medical help. Because it's where I need to be for a while."
His father nodded slowly, his own ocean-blue gaze meeting his son's as the two aquatic stares spun one into the other.
The moment was interrupted by a knock on the library door. Both men turned toward the entranceway as the solid oak door was pushed open. Irene Becton stepped into the room, greeting her husband and son with a wide grin.
"Is it safe to enter?" she asked, easing over to stand between the two men.
The senior Becton leaned to kiss his wife's mouth, pressing his lips lightly against hers. Reaching for his hand, the woman clasped his fingers between her own.
"Our son is leaving for Uganda. I tried to talk him out of it but he won't listen."
Irene laughed, reaching to kiss her child's cheek. "Good for you, Jericho. The experience will be good for you."
"For heaven's sake, Irene. He's going to the jungles of Africa!"
The woman shrugged. "Oh, please! Would you have preferred he choose Iraq or Israel, instead? Maybe Bosnia? I'm sure his services are just as needed there."
Elijah tossed up his hands in exasperation. "Whose side are you on?"
"I'm on the side of all those children who will benefit from our son's altruism. You should think about going yourself. Get back to your Peace Corps days."
"I was never in the Peace Corps," the man responded.
"You should have been," she said matter-of-factly, her gaze penetrating his.
Crossing his arms over his chest the man smiled, shaking his head from side to side. "Well, I'm too old to be volunteering in the field now. But I do my part every time I sign one of those large donation checks you keep writing."
Jericho chuckled. "You're never too old to give back, Dad." Irene winked at her son. "That's right. You tell him, baby boy. So, when do you leave?" she asked, leaning her back against her husband's chest as he wrapped the length of his arms around her.
"I'll be flying out the first week in April," Jericho answered, his gaze dancing from his mother's face to his father's. "I have some time before I have to leave."
The couple nodded, one shifting comfortably against the other. Jericho smiled, warmed by their presence. Irene and Elijah Becton were the pillars in his life, his own personal fan club and cheering squad. Although Jericho understood the adversity the duo had faced being a white male and black female during an era of heightened racial tensions, the two had built a solid relationship on a foundation of mutual respect, passion and pure love. Jericho yearned for what his parents shared"constant companionship with that one person who touched your soul and held the key to your heart. He sighed, and the wistful gesture was not lost on his mother.
"That's good," she said, a smile widening across her ebony face. "I've volunteered you for one of my fundraisers at the end of the month."
Elijah laughed, giving his wife a quick hug before moving back behind his desk and taking a seat against the leather chair. "You're in for it now, son."
Irene fanned a hand at the man and sucked her teeth. "Ignore your father. This will be fun. My women's group is hosting a bachelor auction and I've put you on the program. You'll need to decide what your date package will be, or of course, I can plan it for you, if you like."
Elijah roared with laughter, wiping at the moisture that rose to his eyes. "Which means she's already planned it for you. I told you, son," he muttered between chuckles. "Didn't I tell you?"
Wide-eyed, Jericho shook his head from side to side. "A bachelor auction? I don't think so, Mom. I can't."
"Yes, you can, and you will. It's for a good cause. We're gifting the money we raise to the hospital for pediatric cancer research. So, you have to do it. Besides, this will give you an opportunity to meet some very nice women."
Jericho sighed, a look of defeat gracing his face. "Yes, ma'am."
"And you need to get your hair cut," his mother said, running her hands through the excessive length of her son's locks.
Jericho bristled. "Never," he said emphatically, shaking the jet-black strands that fell in a gentle wave against his skull. "I don't have any need to cut my hair, so please don't ask."
Irene rolled her eyes, nodding her head at her husband. "You need to talk to your son."
The man shook his head. "Oh, now he's my son. My son needs a haircut. Your son gets to parade around like a side of beef for the cause. You've got some nerve, woman!"
Jericho's mother laughed. "It's for a good cause and you never know. Our son might meet a nice girl, and we might get grandchildren out of the deal."
The morning staff meeting had gone well, and when Reverend Edward Warren gestured toward Talisa, asking to speak with her privately, she was surprised. It was rare that the minister ever had anything to say to her that he couldn't say in front of them all.
Mrs. Stevie Parrish, the student activities director for the Wesley Foundation and Johanna Bower, the administrative assistant, both watched curiously as Talisa followed Reverend Warren into his office, the man closing the door behind them.
Reverend Warren took a seat in one of the two oversized recliners that decorated his office, pointing a finger toward the other.
"Make yourself comfortable, Talisa," the man said, smiling at her warmly. "How have you been feeling?"
"I'm doing very well, sir. Fully recovered."