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I'm sitting in the passenger seat of my beautiful red candy Lincoln MKT. I feel paranoid. Can everyone see the worry on my face as I'm driving to meet my husband, Forrest, for breakfast? The roads are slick. Dangerously wet. One false move and my SUV could veer off the road. Crash headfirst into an eighteen-wheeler. What if I die? Would death feel better than how I feel right now?
Confronting Forrest Foster is something I dread with everything inside me. Arguing is so draining. Pointless at times. I love peace. Harmony. There's nothing better than when I feel strongly connected to my husband, when we're joking, laughing, sharing a loving smile, and just bonding. Conflict doesn't allow for the good things that I adore.
But I have to go to him. And meeting my husband in a public place is the best way to handle this. I dread confronting him in the privacy of our home. At home it would be just the two of us, hidden behind high walls and closed venetian blinds. After hearing what I'm about to ask him, my husband may get angry and scream at the top of his lungs, sounding and looking as mean as Joe Jackson. The last time Forrest got angry, he screeched so loud it caused such a commotion that the neighbors heard him. My face reddened with shame. I never want to repeat that scene.
It takes another twenty minutes of driving before I arrive at Dot Coffee Shop. Dot's is a popular Houston eatery that serves home-style cooking. They bake some of the best hot buttered rolls within miles. We've eaten here many times; times when things were great between us.
When I enter through the front entrance, I immediately see my husband. I wave and slide into a booth right across from Forrest. I'm calmly staring at him with my hands resting on the wooden table. I silently peer at the man whom I've trusted with my heart for more than seven years. His handsome face consists of a square chin, thick brows above deep-set brown eyes, full lips, neat mustache, and eyelashes so long any vain woman would kill to have them. His broad shoulders, muscular thighs, and long legs make him look like a strong, foreboding type of man.
Forrest Foster is my sexy red-bone soul mate.
"Heyyy baby," he greets me. When he's happy, his talking voice sounds like he's singing. "So wassup? You never wake up this early when you don't have the girls." He closely scrutinizes the oversized menu even though he orders the same thing every time we come here. Silly man.
I take a nervous glance around the restaurant. We're seated in a tiny corner and out of view of many of the other talkative patrons. It's busy this morning. The drone of the ringing cash register adds to the energy of the restaurant.
Even so, I lower my voice. "Well, um. I wanted to talk."
"I don't know why you didn't just wait till I got home. I would've been there right after work."
"Oh really?" I ask, sounding doubtful.
Forrest carefully sets his menu on the table. He grabs my hands and pulls them in his. His hands feel soft and welcoming, one more thing I love about him.
"Where's your gold band?" I whisper, nodding at his left hand.
"Huh? It's probably at home ... in the bathroom ... on the counter."
"Look, Carmen, I'm sensing this weird vibe from you." He releases my hands. "Why don't you just tell me why we're meeting here instead of talking at the crib?"
"To be blunt, I wasn't sure you'd come straight home."
"Where else would I be?"
I take a deep breath. "Toni called the house at five this morning."
"She called private, Forrest. I don't like when people call private."
"How'd you know it was her?"
"Don't you remember we can check who phones our landline even if they call private?"
"Oh, you on some bullshit, huh? You're some type of female James Bond now?"
Forrest sounds very disappointed. God, I hate this.
He sneers at me, looking deeply in my eyes. I'm sure he sees the coldness. The lifelessness. I don't want to feel this way, or appear so distressed. Not until I hear his explanation.
But every time I bring up Toni, my husband gets in a funky mood.
"Okay. Big deal. Toni called. That's not unusual. It's probably about Dante."
"But why wouldn't she just call your cell?"
"Maybe it was turned off at the time. Shittttt. I don't know." He barks at me. My insides stiffen with dread. I pray he can control the volume of his voice.
"Forrest, just tell me one thing. Are you fucking Toni?"
"Answer. The. Question. Yes or no."
"No!" he shouts. "She's my baby mama. That's all she ever was. All she'll ever be."
"Okay, okay." I nervously back down when I notice two wrinkly faced women staring.
But I can't help but feel skeptical of his claim of not messing around with his ex. The IMs I recently found on his computer screen won't allow me to believe him. The tender words he wrote her convict him.
I miss that. LOL. When we gonna do it again?
And Toni's words in response to his:
bAby u know u can have me anytime, anyplace. xOxo.
Guilty until proven innocent. "Carmen." He speaks in a more gentle voice. "I've worked hard all night. We had two close calls with my train, plus some of my cargo was missing."
Forrest works as a railroad conductor and has many important responsibilities.
"So these assholes are watching me like a hawk, like I'm incompetent or not on top of my game. That's why I hate working third shift. Always something going down."
"I know, babe. I know," I reply, trying to match his calmness so we won't cause a scene.
"Then why are you starting BS this early in the morning over stupid-ass Toni?"
Forrest calling his baby mama "stupid" doesn't impress me. Not anymore. The fact that he met Toni before he knew me and had a baby with her before we dated used to bother me. But when he married me instead of Toni, I felt like our love was secure. He wasn't going to let any baby mama drama seep into our relationship. And back then, to prove his love, Forrest presented me with a beautiful diamond solitaire, gave me his last name, and solidified his commitment.
"Look," I say and whip out my iPhone. I show him three tiny photos that I'd snapped of the IMs that were on his desktop computer screen. Disturbing messages between my husband and Toni, the mother of their fourteen-year old son, Dante.
"What's that," he asks, squinting.
"That's what I'm trying to find out."
"Woman, I can't see that. It's all blurry. Why are you playing games?" His voice is getting louder. I have no appetite. But Forrest, who quickly shifts gears and begins smiling at the homely waitress who approaches our table, asks her to bring him a plate of French toast, two scrambled eggs, grits, hash browns, sausage, and a big glass of orange juice.
When the waitress leaves, I ask, "You act like you're eating for two. Are you?"
"Shut up, Carmen. Just be quiet."
"Forrest, all I want is the truth. These photos, they're Ims of conversations between you and that, that—"I scowl like I'm sucking lemons.
"Watch it, now. She's Dante's mother."
"And I'm your wife. I deserve the utmost respect. If you flirt with that woman and cross boundaries with her, no wonder she's treating me like I'm the jump-off."
"Don't be silly. Toni knows how to stay in her lane."
I loudly sigh and expel a frustrated breath. I can't believe my husband is so willing to eat a king's meal while I'm sitting up here ready to bite off all my fingernails. An expensive manicure that he paid for. What's his problem?
"I just want to know how long have y'all been fucking? Don't lie. Because you're cold busted," I say, waving my phone at him.
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh right. With some men, unless they get caught in the act, they've done nothing wrong, is that how it goes?"
"Shhhh, Carmen. You're making a fool of yourself."
Now men, women, and even cute little babies are gaping at us.
I hop up from the table. "I'll be back." I can't stand to sit across from Forrest any longer. I feel so frustrated. I hate fighting. And I despise the invisible wall sandwiched between us. Why is he acting so cold? He's in denial. I guess I am, too. When something seems too damn perfect it usually is. For the past seven years I've been pretending like I have the most perfect husband, the most wonderful life.
I'm sick of pretending.
Like Toni said when she called this morning, she likes to keep it "one hunnert."
It's time I start living in the real world, and keep it one hundred myself.
I reflect on the words Toni and I exchanged in the wee hours of the morning when she decided to pick up her phone and call ours.
The call came in as private. But I know Toni's breathy voice even when she's trying to disguise it. "Toni, why are you calling here asking for my husband? Don't you know he's at work?"
"Last night Forrest told me he might not go to work. That he was feeling sick and may call in. I'm checking on him and trying to find out what happened."
He never told me he was feeling sick, although I did hear him sneezing a couple of times before he left for work.
"Well, he's not here so ..."
"Poor baby. So dedicated. Be a sweetheart and ask him to call me."
I bristle with anger.
"Toni, may I ask you something?"
"It's a free country."
"Why do I sense that you're fucking with me?"
"Oh, it's not you who I'm fucking, honey."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"If you had been doing your job as a woman, you wouldn't be going through this."
"Going through what?" I ask in breathless anger.
"Humph, I'm wasting my time talking to you. If he's over here with me does he really belong to you? Even if you do have his so-called ring and last name? Ask him where his ring is. Humph. Ask him that."
"Toni, what's this really about?"
"I'm keeping it one hunnert. And I recommend you start doing the same."
That heffa hung up even when I tried to respond. I flung the iPhone onto the bed. I wondered what the hell was going on. Was this woman still bitter over the fact that Forrest and I got married even after she rejected his engagement? Back then she told Forrest she loved him. But the tramp wasn't sure if the baby was his or someone other poor clueless sucker's. So she wouldn't marry him. But later on, after the baby was born, she found out Dante was Forrest's and she begged him to marry her. But by that time Forrest had moved on. We were in love. He proposed to me. I said sí, ja, oui. And now Toni's claim to fame is being Forrest Foster's baby mama. And all she can do is instigate. Be jealous. Act out.
Because Forrest Foster and I have what Toni wishes she had: a husband with a good job that pays excellent benefits and enough income to take care of his wife plus two adorable daughters: Briana, six, and Jazmin, three. These two kids are the joy of our lives. As far as I'm concerned, our life is complete, content, and lacks nothing. Moreover, Forrest and I are the proud owners of a luxurious two-story brick home located on a cul-de-sac. It features a first-floor master suite complete with master bath, Jacuzzi tub, separate shower, his-and-her closets, and a sitting room. We've got a bad-ass kitchen with top-of-the-line Viking appliances, gas fireplace in the family room, a large library, a spiral staircase in the two-story foyer, and three more bedrooms upstairs.
A house to die for.
When Forrest's amazing father died a year after we got married, the widowed man left his only child a six-figure insurance policy, enough for us to place a hefty down payment on our house, plus tastefully furnish the entire place, travel every year, and allocate funds for future emergencies.
Sometimes when I think about how blessed I am, I can almost sympathize with Toni. But not for long. Women like her make me sick. They chase after knuckleheads that treat 'em worse than murderers, but mess over a decent-hearted man who has goals and wants a better life. But when she realizes she made a mistake, she wants to backpedal. Toni had her chance but blew it. If she hadn't let so many disgusting men get between her legs while she was dating Forrest maybe she would be more than what she is. A used-up jealous whore. But she can't totally complain. Toni may not have the man, but she gets plenty of child support; besides, Dante is on my husband's health and dental insurance. She has me to thank for all of that. Although I hate that he got involved with this skank prior to meeting me, I insist he do right by his child. But just because Forrest acts honorably with Dante doesn't mean I'm willing to put up with Toni's crap. Not when she is pretty much insinuating that she's fucking Forrest.
If there's any truth to what she's suggesting, I will want to bust this home-wrecking heffa upside her head, then pull a Jackie Chan on my husband. I'll jump from the staircase onto his big ole head and fatally injure that fool.
Hold up; let me get a grip on myself.
In reality, I've come too far to let craziness destroy the best relationship I've ever had. In the past, I've dated some scrubs, a couple addicts, and a few unmotivated guys that didn't know where they were going in life. But Forrest was different. I wasn't blinded by a million red flags when we dated. Instead, I recognized his admirable qualities.
Paying the bills on time is a priority with Forrest, so he has excellent credit and is always getting credit card offers in the mail. He takes good care of the house, knows how to repair broken electronic devices, and doesn't mind mowing, pulling weeds, and watering the lawn. He never complains about doing dirty work, like taking out trash or killing roaches and spiders, things I'm not about to touch. In other words, I don't have much to complain about. All I know is that I love Forrest Foster and the splendid life we've built together.
But when I think about all the good and try to be more realistic about our life, everything isn't totally perfect every single day. We squabble now and then like all married couples. We say things we don't mean and act stubborn and petty. And there were a couple of times when Forrest got so angry that I noticed another side of him. A side that scared the dog crap out of me.
A side that made me question things.
A side that brought me here to Dot Coffee Shop.
A side that compels me to keep it one hundred with Forrest and to see if he'll do the same for me.
I say a quick prayer and depart from the ladies' room. But a tall, deliciously handsome man whose head is covered in dark dreadlocks is forced to share the tiny hallway with me. We are in close proximity as we try to pass one another.
"Good morning, beautiful. How are you today?"
I smile back, shocked at his attention. "Fine, and you?"
"You're more than fine. You're incredibly gorgeous. Sexy just like Kim Kardashian, only prettier."
I blush. "Thanks. That's so kind."
"Are you spoken for?"
"Yes, she is," Forrest says with a stern voice, appearing out of nowhere. He taps my arm several times: the classic "she's mine" signal. Forrest grabs my elbow so aggressively a sharp pain shoots through it. He rushes me back to our booth.
Excerpted from Reckless by Cydney Rax Niobia Bryant Grace Octavia Copyright © 2012 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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