There's Always a Reason

There's Always a Reason

4.8 7
by William Fredrick Cooper
     
 

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William Frederick Cooper's eagerly anticipated sequel to his wildly acclaimed debut novel Six Days in January is a powerful, heartfelt tale that will resonate with readers everywhere.

In Six Days in January, William Frederick Cooper shed light on the insecurities and fears of African American men through the experiences of his enigmaticSee more details below

Overview

William Frederick Cooper's eagerly anticipated sequel to his wildly acclaimed debut novel Six Days in January is a powerful, heartfelt tale that will resonate with readers everywhere.

In Six Days in January, William Frederick Cooper shed light on the insecurities and fears of African American men through the experiences of his enigmatic protagonist, William McCall. As There's Always a Reason opens, William has experienced another emotional heartbreak at the hands of a woman. When he loses his job, too, William finds himself battling just to survive. When he's convinced he's at his nadir, William meets another woman, Linda Linda Woodson, who begins to restore his faith in all areas of life,illustrating through example that a woman of enormous strength can teach a man the true meaning of love. There's Always a Reason delves into the complex workings of the human heart and its ability to triumph over despair, providing an uplifting message and emotional core that will resonate with every reader.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Cooper's sincere sophomore effort (after Six Days in January) revisits the hard luck life of William McCall, now a 40-year-old law clerk whose latest heartbreak occurs when he catches his girlfriend cheating on him the night he'd planned on proposing. The next day at work, he's accused of embezzling and is fired. Two pages later, he's sleeping in a homeless shelter and slinging a mop at a Times Square McDonald's. But then, while nursing his wounds one day on the Hoboken waterfront, he spies Linda "Lucky" Woodson, a 47-year-old social worker grooving down the pier and singing badly a Luther Vandross song. Linda has also been through the relationship wringer; she's just been dumped because she can't have children. (She had a hysterectomy at 22.) William and Linda hit it off, and as the pair begin restoring each other's faith in love, a cruel twist arrives in the form of a devastating diagnosis for Linda. William's unapologetic emotional vulnerability forms the book's refreshing heart, and through him Cooper conveys both an understanding of and a frustration with the games men and women play. Readers interested in uplift will look past the overheated prose and mawkishness. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Bringing out so many deep-rooted feelings as I was reading it, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could barely see..."

— Zane, New York Times bestselling author of Love is Never Painless, Afterburn, Addicted, Skyscraper, and Nervous

"William McCall's unapologetic emotional vulnerability forms the book's refreshing heart and through him, (William Frederick) Cooper conveys both n understading of and a frustration with the games men and women play."

Publishers Weekly

"William Frederick Cooper strokes his paper with heat and passion! Heartfelt and intense! Seldom does a male writer delve so deeply into the well of human emotion."

— Tracy Price-Thompson, 2005 winner of the Hurston/Wright Award for Contemporary Fiction

"There's Always a Reason is a compassionate centerpiece that lies in the middle of the love table. William Cooper takes an intimate look at love, devotion, and commitment for all the right reasons. Well researched and elaborately written — Bravo!"

— Vincent Alexandria, Harlequin/Kimani Press author of Black Rain

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439122563
Publisher:
Strebor Books
Publication date:
03/08/2011
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
799,615
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt


ONE

"Yes! Yes! Don't stop. It feels so-o-o good!" the woman screamed as the sound of her flesh slapping against her chiseled lover reached a crescendo.

"That's right! Take all this dick!"

Over the past year, he had survived numerous trials that would have broken the spirit of most men, but somehow he'd brought a semblance of order to a world that, for him, could be described by the acronym FUBAR: fucked up beyond all recognition.

The genesis of it all still tortured him, however. Recalling the recollection of that life-altering memory, the mind-blowing moment still shattered his senses like a sledgehammer blow. His bald head throbbing intensely, all attempts to still the headache had been futile, prolonging his plaintive state.

A year later, the torment of the nightmarish day remained.

Riding across the Manhattan Bridge on a crowded "Q" train in a punch-drunk stupor, still unsure of his surroundings, William McCall stared at the downtown skyline of New York City through red, sleepless eyes.

While the Freedom Tower project was in its embryonic stages, the hub of concrete skyscrapers lacked a familiar accent without the Twin Towers. This particular morning, the majestic view seemed even emptier, for if anything mirrored the loss of the magnificent World Trade Center, it was the gaping hole in his heart.

Rolling the dice of love for the umpteenth time, once more he had crapped out. All his dreams of a future with Anna Daniels--his exclusive, exquisite love, the woman he would grow old with--were shattered by an unforgettable sight.

"It's all yours, Baby..."

"That's right! This is my shit here!"

The x-rated scene seemed on an unending loop; the sound of the lovers' lusting banter and physical exertion reverberated between his ears.

"Ooh, I love it when you do it that way..."

"Do you want it harder?"

"Yes, Baby, yes," Anna screamed. "Harder, dammit! Harder!"

Her explicit words giving direction, commands and encouragement to continue the animalistic activity echoed in his mind as if it happened yesterday.

It wasn't supposed to happen again. He thought he'd figured the damn thing out; the crazy masculine force that embodied strength, yet made men vulnerable to the desires when surrendering to that special woman. Praising love and its workings during its prosperity, he refused to allow the jaded world of contemporary dating to bring about negativity.

Acknowledging and correcting mistakes of yore, his past demons were in the rear view mirror of distant memories, having been replaced by confidence and restored trust. Coming of age, he reached the stage in his life where wisdom met self-worth, adding to substance. Someone would come along who would appreciate his virtues, aid him in strengthening his character to build him up as he would her, and their love would conquer all.

What he witnessed made a mockery of his personal growth.

"Does he hit it like this?"

"No...he...doesn't...mmph."

He watched as Anna's sinuous back arched like a jungle cat as she succumbed to the powerful sensations of the man's fluid movements. Squealing as she churned against his abdomen, her hips rolled and her backside wobbled as she met her lover's vicious thrusts with equal vigor.

"That's right. You better cum!"

Repeatedly replaying the scene, she never responded to me like that, William thought. Lovemaking with Anna had always been pleasurable; exciting and ecstatic, spellbindingly sensual. Loving the way she cried, "take me there," when he explored each curve and crevice, every single pore of her copper skin, her orgasms always drenched our sheets.

Remembering how he religiously brought her to nirvana, he enjoyed investigating her core with his mouth, face and nose. Licking her labia like a starved cat, then tickling her triangle the way Ray Charles tuned the ivory, his singular purpose after midnight was to make her chest hurt from the ragged breaths of a climax. Then, as she recovered from his oral performance, he pleased her with the tempered thrusts and seductive stirring of his rigid tool. Taking delight in the fact that she'd purse her lips or clench her teeth in response to his meticulous care, living for the sigh of contentment that came from her sexual surrender, there was no equal to the loving I gave her, he believed.

Assumptions can be a motherfucker, he now realized. His performance paled in comparison to those five minutes of unscheduled voyeurism.

"Baby, let me suck you. I wanna taste you."

"Damn, girl, you're out of control," the baritone announced as Anna swept her tongue along his erection. Pumping her head like a piston, up, down, and all around on his oiled steel, she proceeded to seal her lips around the meaty spot where shaft meets head, and sucked relentlessly. Connecting with the male version of the G-spot, her lover's knees sagged ever so slightly.

"Damn, Baby, you got skills!"

Peering upward from his groin, Anna's expression was of a famished woman willing to do anything to please.

"You like that? Do you like the way I suck your dick, Baby?"

"Oh, hell yeah!"

The memory of her begging to fellate him would never leave him, nor would the grunts, growls and groans of the shared lasciviousness.

Witnessing the woman you love stick her tongue out to capture another man's release in her mouth can devastate a man; especially when watching the events with an engagement ring in hand. The simultaneous loss of your love and your livelihood, and the recollection of such however, can rob him of his sanity.

The approach of midlife had matured William. A couple of years before his world collapsed, his responsibilities as a Managing Clerk at Goetz, Gallagher and Green quintupled when the New York-based law firm merged with smaller ones in Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. Having complete confidence in his abilities, Mr. Gallagher, the senior principal of the country's third-largest law firm, met with William and other partners from the additional cities and recommended he oversee the implementation and progress of various computer databases in the newer venues.

The promotion was not without resistance from an elderly, seventy-something Dallas partner.

"Are you sure he's the best man for the job?"

Although singed by the heat of corporate racism, William stared indifferently into the pupils that tried to bore a hole of intimidation through his chocolate countenance.

Surprisingly, Gallagher's response was immediate.

"I wouldn't be too concerned," he announced. "I can assure you that Mr. McCall is the best man for the job."

"I must say, his credentials stand out," the Seattle partner added.

"But he doesn't have a bachelor's degree," the Dallas attorney countered.

William thought of Vivien Thomas, the brilliant surgical technician who, despite pioneering the treatment and cure of "Blue Baby Syndrome" was not properly acknowledged for his natural abilities and experience because he lacked a college education.

"At this point, I don't think that has any relevance," stated a Chicago partner. Fifty something, he was the only other black face in the meeting. "I mean, his track record in the New York office speaks for itself."

Philadelphia agreed.

"I think he's the right man for the job," the partner boomed.

"He'll need an assistant to supervise the New York office in his absence," Gallagher added.

"I'm sure I'll find someone," William uttered.

"Okay, then it's settled. Congratulations, William," Gallagher said. He was promoted to managing supervisor on the job, a position that would utilize his expertise on the numerous court and legal database systems prominent to efficient filing and monitoring court cases. The opportunity to travel as he spearheaded the training of subordinates in the various offices was one he embraced, and the significant raise in pay was appreciated.

Seventy grand a year. William beamed. That's a long way from the twelve grand a year I made doing messenger work back in the eighties.

"Gentleman, I assure you that you've selected the right man for the position," he boasted.

Now it was up to him to find a suitable assistant.

He thought he'd secured such in Markham Chandler. Well-dressed, articulate, ambitious and athletically built, the chestnut-complexioned man the Robert Monroe Agency sent reminded William of himself at thirty.

The interview was conducted over a steak dinner at Houston's, a swank midtown restaurant located in the Citicorp building. Noticing and admiring his confidence from their initial handshake, both had been born in Brooklyn's King's County Hospital, had come from large families and attended college at NYU, without graduating. Additionally, Mark, as he preferred to be called, had his rough dues in his occupational field, a point William noted while surveying his resume.

"So, I see you're presently working for Reliable Clerical Services, Mark," he observed.

Mark nodded. "I enjoy working with..."

"Juan Roldan?"

"Do you know him?"

"Very well. He's like a brother to me and I try to support his endeavors by sending him my legal business for the other offices. You know, like out-of-state document retrieval, filings, and service of process. I'm very proud of him. He's come a long way." William paused. "Since I know everyone who's employed by him, I find it rather odd that he never mentioned you."

For the first time, he saw a tiny crack in the veneer of Mark's self-assurance. "Mr. McCall, I'm always busy, handling his court work in Westchester, Suffolk and Orange counties."

An awkward moment ensued, during which William fought confusion. A novice at conducting interviews, he wanted to construct a link of completeness; to be professional, yet easy-going and approachable. Unlike his interactions with superiors who fancied their reputations as taskmasters, his fancies were to be a cool boss, one that can chill after hours with his employees, yet be able to maintain the bridge that separates managers from subordinates.

The process would start with a simple request.

"Mark, please call me William. Whenever I hear Mr. McCall, I look over my shoulder for my father."

Seeing the relieved smile from across the table, he eased the pressure that came with the attempt of leaving an impression.

"Are you familiar with the local and federal rules?"

"I sure am."

"Can I give you an exam?"

"I'm ready whenever you are."

"Okay then. Let's count the days on state court pleadings. Can you do that for me, Mark?"

"Sure. On a summons with notice, its twenty days from the date of personal service that a defendant must serve a notice of appearance and demand for complaint. A summons with the complaint, if personally served, a defendant has twenty days to answer. Am I correct?"

Smiling, William remained silent.

"I guess you want more, huh?"

"Yup."

"If served in any fashion other than personal, then the defendant has forty days from the completion of service to answer or file a motion."

"What constitutes a completion of service?"

"Service is perfected when the proof of service has been filed with the court."

"That's correct, Mark. Now, what are the state rules with regards to counterclaims?"

"You reply to counterclaims that are made in a defendant's answers, and you have twenty days to reply, twenty-five if the answer was served by mail."

"The state rules for discovery in New Jersey?"

"Superior court?"

William nodded.

"Thirty-five days for production of documents, sixty days to respond to interrogatories."

He's an excellent candidate, William thought as he nodded approvingly. Spending the next half-hour quizzing him further on the rules and regulations, Mark never faltered as his answers continued to be immediate and accurate. Dazzled by his prospective employee's zeal, William remained reticent with his findings. After discussing the firm's benefit package and incentives, he shifted to a lighter dialogue.

"Come to think of it, Mark, you do look familiar."

"I've seen you play basketball," Mark noted as he sipped from a cola.

Nothing like talking sports to raise an eyebrow.

"So you ball, huh?"

"Very well," he responded.

"Our firm's team could use help at shooting guard."

"I play the point, William. I love comin' down, shakin' the crap out of a dude with a killer crossover, and laughing at him as I score."

"But will your team win? All that matters to me is the W at the end of the day. And that comes from making your teammates better."

"I make my team better by scorin' buckets."

Smiling, William couldn't help but notice his arrogance, not to mention his eloquent speech slipping into street vernacular.

He'll learn a lot from me if he can suppress the cockiness.

"See, now with that attitude, you couldn't play the point here." William laughed. "You get everyone else involved first. Only when necessary do you take over games."

Smirking, the competitor in Mark surfaced, albeit slightly. "I take it you're the point."

"Yes. I've been the lead guard for years now."

"I remember you torching some teams in the corporate league games. You also played for Team Dynasty in the Dyckman league on 204th and Nagle, right?"

"That was many years ago. I'm kind of old now."

"But you still have a great first step. That championship game at Baruch College, in the Lawyers' League last year, you hit about thirty, right?"

Smiling, William nodded. "I hit a lot of jumpers that night. You know, the 'chip' will be in the Garden from now on."

"I heard. So I guess the new point guard will take the firm there," Mark announced.

Shooting him an oh really look only hardened competitors recognize, William yearned for the steamy asphalt of a summer blacktop beneath him, as the spirit of a gym battle surged into his bloodstream. In his youth, the pill would've already been at the table, and just a whiff of conceit from an opponent would be sufficient fuel to still the tongue of any trash-talker.

But he was older now.

"I guess so," he sighed, making a concession to Father Time.

"C'mon, you mean to tell me you don't keep track of your points?"

"That's for young guys. When you near forty, all the individual stuff becomes irrelevant."

They argued the point for the next five minutes: Mark, from his And-1 mix-tape point of view and his prospective employer, from the "been there, done that" perspective. During the banter and the ensuing back-to-business conversation, William smiled. Reminding him of an impetuous little brother, he relished the opportunity of being a mentor, as a previous authority, Michael Garvey, had done the same for him.

That his skin was bronze and his origins were of the same impoverished roots he'd risen from only strengthened the bond. In loving his fellow black man, he made a pact with his Maker that whenever the opportunity presented itself to be his brother's keeper, his actions would be swift.

No further candidates would be interviewed, no background or reference checks, for he trusted his brother. The next day, the office manager made Mark an offer of forty-three grand a year -- more than I ever made as an assistant -- and he had his running mate, both professionally and socially.

Having a pupil, he recalled, meant letting him know he was appreciated.

Acting on those thoughts, he always sprung for dinner during the after-hour training sessions, as well as drinks whenever they ventured to The Den, an always crowded Harlem nightspot that satisfied all sweet tooth cravings with its assortment of chocolate and eye candy.

"What about Perk's or the Lenox Lounge?" William contended, referring to historical Harlem watering holes.

Markham smirked. "Man, those spots are A.P.O."

"A.P.O.?"

"Yeah, man. A.P.O. All played out."

"Oh, I knew that."

"Yeah, right."

Together, they chuckled.

They would find that same chemistry in the Lawyer's League skirmishes. William found his desire for basketball rekindled by his younger, more gifted backcourt mate, and together they led their firm to consecutive seasonal champ- ionships. Acknowledging the skills of his colt-like partner, he relinquished the point guard position and flourished in a lesser, complementary role.

A year later, he was still rewarding his pupil; they watched Yankee games from first base box seats and endured what are they doing here stares directed at token minorities seated close to the historic playing field. One particular evening, the fabled Pinstripes had opened up a 12 to 2 can of whoop-ass on the hated Red Sox.

"Yo, this game sucks," Mark announced as A-Rod launched another lame fastball from Curt Schilling toward the right-field bleacher bums. "The Yankees are puttin' that head out."

"Tell me about it," William responded, scanning the historic landmark. Hundreds of fans headed toward the exits as they too cared not to stay for Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" victory serenade. "We're outta here."

Leaving the house that Ruth built, he dialed his cell.

"Hey, Baby. I know it's late, but do you want me to come out? Cool. I'll see you later."

Mark sighed. "Are you still dealin' with that crazy chick? I keep telling you to leave her alone."

"Man, what do you know about women?"

"Man, I have a K.I.S.S. philosophy."

"K.I.S.S.?"

Mark nodded. "The 'keep it simple stupid' philosophy. No woman's pussy is worth more than my dick, William."

Sliding his Metrocard through the train turnstile at 161st Street, William understood Mark's resentment. Five years earlier, Mark was engaged to his high school sweetheart, Clarissa Stevens, and found out that Douglas, the three- year-old boy he thought he fathered, was the child of Stan, an older brother.

Distraught over the revelation, he almost landed in jail because he pummeled his sibling so bad. Clarissa was left to fend for herself from that point forward. Even attempting to recoup the monetary support given from his heart in judicial proceedings, Mark's efforts were futile when the judge dismissed the case.

He might have fared better had he not beaten up his brother, William thought. Seeing a remorseless stare in his eyes every time his assistant recounted the events that damaged his heart, he removed the employer hat.

"Sometimes, they're too young to appreciate a man with good qualities," he argued. "Most women in their twenties are still finding themselves. Having not yet experienced life, a lot of their actions are selfish and self-centered, for they're self-absorbed. It's an 'all about me' stage they grow out of with maturity." Hearing his own tone reminded him of the many times Steve Randall, his old Delaware buddy, had tried to fill his head with similar logic when it came to his dating beliefs. "Have you healed completely?"

"Yeah, man. Fuck these bitches."

"They're not bitches, Mark."

"You should be saying the same thing. Anna guarded her heart for a year before submitting. How do you know she's worth marrying? The times we watched pay-per-view fights at her house, she seemed rude to me, like she doesn't respect you."

Having crossed the line, William's response to Mark was stern.

"You should stick to resolving your own issues. I got this."

"I sure hope so."

One year, 365 days. And if you crave an additional day of sordid memories, try leaping to 366. Although time passes in a blur, negative events seem to unfold slowly, so that the stinging aftermath tortures you longer than the experience itself. His two-year relationship with Anna Daniels was not unlike any other relationships, full of peaks and valleys. Recalling their introduction, it was at a Wednesday night birthday party. The Big Apple was injected with spring fever, and William decided he needed to be around his own people before making the long trek to a lonely Brooklyn apartment.

Venturing to Perk's, he remembered spotting her, above the clouds of congestion, sipping a glass of bubbly in solitude at the bar. A gray ice bucket on the counter nursed a bottle of Moet, the source of her revelry.

In actuality, she noticed him gazing at her. Blushing, as if caught with his hand in the cookie jar, familiar feelings invaded his bones.

After all these years, he was still bashful.

Damn, she's too attractive to be alone. What's up with that? I wonder who sent her the bottle.

His answer emerged through minutes of observation. She was with a girlfriend, simply chillin'. A few men attempted to get her attention, but she ignored their advances, saving her attention for the bald-headed chocolate brother who went beet red in the face.

As William waged an unnecessary war with his nerves, she simply awaited his arrival. And when he finally mustered the courage to stand behind her, she called him over.

"What kept you, sugar?"

"I don't know, actually."

There would be another bottle of champagne that evening, plus stimulating conversation. Anna Daniels was seven years older than he at forty-four, and a mother of two. After fourteen years as a driver for the New York City Transit Authority where her hours changed on a bi-yearly basis, she obtained a degree in business administration and transferred to the corporate offices as an assistant manager in the payroll division.

Her youthful facial features belied her years, and her smile possessed enough electricity to illuminate Harlem. Gorgeous hazel eyes, matching her fitted olive dress, glowed with attentiveness, and captured William's heart from hello. Her ample bottom, healthy thighs and gymnast calves turned the heads of many in the establishment, but all of her faced William with an interest that surpassed polite pleasantries.

The resident deejay must have felt their heat, for R. Kelly's "Home Alone" broke up their discussion.

"Let's dance," he said.

The chemistry issue now resolved, they shared another interest, a rhythmic one. Closing the place down with their brand of fancy footwork, they ex-changed digits, and their first date would occur a week later.

Greeting her with two dozen red roses on a sunny Sunday afternoon -- thank goodness for those ten dollar boutiques on Eighth Avenue, William recalled -- he thought of the Long Island Railroad ride to Freeport where she resided, the movie Collateral they'd enjoyed, and the ensuing dinner at Cornbread and Caviar, a soul food establishment in nearby Baldwin.

"Why isn't there a special someone?" he asked while sampling roasted chicken.

"I'm hopeful," was Anna's response.

Before William's heart could feel like it belonged, her candor doused his fires.

"But I'm in a physical relationship. We meet for sex every now and then."

"Why isn't there a total commitment?"

"He's in a relationship."

A distinct, metallic sounding tone from William's gut spoke loudly.

Enjoy the wonderful time, and forget about her, it screamed to his brain, with the hopes that possible synchronicity might cause the male mass of skin, bones, water and weakness to heed the warning.

"I don't understand. Why are you wasting time?"

"It's easier to live life this way."

"I went that route, Anna. It didn't work for me. At the end of the day, I felt empty, like I was using someone or being used."

"I can separate the two."

"So you rather detach your emotions?"

"Men do it all the time."

"Anna, men who do that are running from pain, or commitment. That 'happily single' shit preached on the radio is a nice way for men to justify their reasons for not stepping up. It's like saying, 'I'm scared to give my heart completely, but I still want to have sex with you.'"

"So, what's wrong with that? Everyone has needs, and some of us can separate the two."

"Anna, the booty call unions end when someone develops feelings. That always happens when the sex is too good."

"So what does that make me, William, a whore?"

He paused. "No. You're a woman hiding behind her fears. Moving from one liaison to another just because you want to continue having sex doesn't make things right. Don't you feel empty afterwards?"

Seeing Anna shake her head "no" made that initial feeling punch him in the stomach.

Enjoy the wonderful time, and forget about her.

Despite the echo in his head, somehow, the thought was in conflict with William's compassion.

"Anna, why are you driving a used car when there are Ferraris in your driveway begging for a test run?"

Sighing, then pausing, her pouted lips frowned as her body language shifted from confidence to uncertainty. Eyes downcast, fretful fidgeting, both were telltale signs of a woman used to men in a bad way.

"Sometimes, I wonder if love is emotional propaganda to keep everyone from jumping from rooftops," she continued.

William couldn't fault her cynicism, not after hearing about her journey down a tortured path: a physically abusive husband and a dysfunctional twenty- something son; passionate pledges from men that produced disappointing results; failures which left her abstinent for years after the birth of another son; then the opposite extreme complete with momentary diversions, booty calls and quick fixes on company property. Finally the fear of following in her mother's footsteps as she grew older: antidepressants and alcohol to soothe her loneliness haunted Anna. Having been frequently burned, she was fiercely protective of her heart, and for survival's sake she compromised her need for companionship, opting for temporary maintenance whenever necessary.

"I'd rather not have the pressure of a relationship. They're too much of a struggle," she repeated.

"So I guess this date is a waste of time, huh?"

His bluntness brought a sad look, then, a resigned sigh from his date.

"William, I'm hopeful."

"Well, I'm not here for option status. Nor am I here submitting a 'fuck buddy' resume."

As if to prove his point, he dated her for six months without ever mentioning sex. Mindful of her feelings, he sent cards which expressed his feelings and initiated simple, 'how was your day' phone calls to let her know he cared. Exotic dinners were prepared for an additional plate at his apartment, and classic DVDs were viewed at her home between affectionate pecks. Gentle and romantic, he treated her to foot massages, sent love letters via e-mail, and on numerous evenings he cradled her in his arms as she pressed her head against his heart in a serene slumber.

Having dealt with aggressive men who oozed sexuality from their pores, Anna wasn't accustomed to the honeyed handling William provided.

"He's responsible and reliable," she told her mother, who lived in a Baltimore suburb, over the phone. "Very busy socially, yet always making time for love. Everybody loves him."

"He might be different," the matriarch responded, "but be careful."

Innately understanding her issues and hesitance because of his own days of mistreatment, William was patient, hoping she would view him as a positive exception as opposed to a negative rule with regards to men.

Whenever the sex topic surfaced, he uttered three words, "Look, I'm good."

"I can't wait to find out," she responded after being greeted with lilies the day the negative results of their HIV examinations came back.

Anticipating the moment where their bodies would become one, a tingle at his groin served as a reminder that he wanted her.

Moments before consummation were as heated as the act itself. Make-out sessions at her home progressed gradually, from the couch, to her kitchen, then to her bedroom after she sent the kids away to Suffolk County for a weekend at her sister's lavish Brentwood home. Engaging in a deep lip lock, then sucking on pointed nipples like a newborn infant craving formula, William's smile shined through the darkness.

"Sex is supposed to be intense," she argued.

Not when you know a woman is in over her head.

When that moment arrived, all Anna could say was, "Oh my god." William matched her energy with his own ravenous recklessness. Melting her lips with tender kisses, then exploring her fleshly folds creatively each night they shared the same bed, kitchen counter, or other places, the pulse of his tongue had her climbing walls. Nibbling on thick vaginal walls, he feasted on her clitoris like it was his favorite entrée, delightfully dancing within her until a multitude of magnificent explosions escaped her.

Unaccustomed to a man enjoying her so much, Anna's orgasms were so strong, he remembered. Her free-flowing eruptions had frightened many a partner, so she found it shocking when she actually heard him gulping.

"Mmm, tasty," he revealed.

When penetration was requested, William parted her skin with an erection wanting unconditional love by day, and unadulterated lust by night. Searching her pupils as he eased in his tip, then full shaft in her pleasure place, his strong steady strokes were measured, meaningful and majestic. In and out, up and down, in slow circles and calypso-like swerves, he demanded tremors every time, and received never-ending moans on call. Playing her sex spot as if born to, he never stopped moving inside her goodness until he saw the glassy-eyed stare of euphoria.

The recipient of love in every conceivable way, for the first time in her life Anna was introduced to a man sensitive and secure, attentive and affectionate to her every need. Still, she was mired in deliberation, wondering if he was too good to be true.

William's frustration with her fears of flying increased daily. Having exorcised his own demons years ago, he wanted her with him in that special place.

The water's warm, Baby. Please join me in paradise.

His leniency with her ceased completely when she received a phone call from a former suitor. Joe, a former fling she described as well-endowed, called while they were making love one Friday evening, wanting her company on an Atlantic City gambling run. Upon hearing the bass voice invade their moment, William's tenderness turned into hours of territorial barbarianism.

"You were in rare form last night, a little rougher than normal," she announced on a Manhattan boat cruise the next evening.

"You should turn your answering machine down."

A pregnant pause followed.

"I still get offers, William, but I was with you."

"Have you made him aware of the man you're dating?"

Her failure to respond revealed that she was still protecting her heart.

By the time she deemed herself ready, singing Brian McKnight songs on their anniversary en route to work, William was ready to move on. A year had passed and while leaving the door ajar for her declaration, he'd begun fielding overtures from potentials.

Incensed, Anna confronted him.

"I'm a person that thinks love through," she announced through tears. "I've endured so much."

"Sometimes, you have to take a chance, Anna. Love isn't logical. It's not something you think about. Either you feel it or you don't," he countered. "Do you feel me?"

Peering deep into his loving brown eyes, she nodded.

After this meeting of the minds, he assumed all commitment issues were resolved, so for the next year he focused on taking the union to the next level. Although his occupational promotion caused him to be away for extended periods, he made sure she was always cognizant of his affections. Bubble baths, and helping her teenage son with his schoolwork replaced the novelty infatuation, and Sunday park strolls after church hinted toward permanence.

Though a sincere effort was made on her end, every now and then disenchantment still reared its ugly head.

"Sometimes, being with you is like being alone," she said.

"Honey, you have to sacrifice today for tomorrow," William uttered repeatedly.

Unbeknownst to him, the future he spoke of did not include him.

He shopped out of state for an extravagant, yet affordable two-carat engagement ring, and planned a low-key presentation upon his return from the Philadelphia office. Having a key to her beautiful, modern deco home, the fateful Thursday night was the only night he'd ever shown up unannounced. Hearing the loud lyrics of Marvin Gaye's "After the Dance" as he pushed down the metal door handle had him thinking she was longing for him. Surprisingly, the house alarm went silent. Noting the dim living room lights and not hearing the hum of an Xbox upstairs, William smiled.

She knew I was coming directly to her tonight, so she sent her son away. Perfect.

Pulling the velvet blue jewelry box from his suit pocket, excitement raced through him as he anticipated the moment where dreams come true for any man.

No more bullshit, just the beginning of forever.

William McCall was ready for marriage again.

The vows would not start on the wedding day; but on bended knee this quiet summer evening. Promising to love her faithfully, he would dry her eyes and permanently erase all of the sorrow she experienced when unsure of a man's love, and cling to her with all his might through seasons of pleasure and pain.

Tonight is the beginning of the rest of our lives.

Passing the living room, the music drowned his footsteps. Assuming she was in the kitchen he veered right, saw an empty wine glass and half of a steak on her electric stove. His palms sweaty with anticipation, anxiousness caused beads of perspiration to escape pores on his bald head.

Yet he never felt more confident.

It's not like I'm asking her to marry me in public.

Turning back, William started down the corridor leading to the bedroom.

His loving smile disappeared quickly as he approached the doorway.

Closing his lids tight, then lifting them, his eyes threatened to come out of their sockets. His head throbbing with hurt, his nostrils twitched and his feet froze in place. Paralyzed and demoralized at once, the sight ripped the affection from his heart.

Jimmy Swaggart had had a better time when he watched.

Seeing Anna with another man was like a dagger piercing his soul. An excruciating feeling clenched his jaws as the sharp tip entered his chest.

His mind abuzz in bewilderment, panic-stricken thoughts entered his brain swiftly; stupid, desperate thoughts.

We can work through this. We'll get past this.

The faint ember of hope was extinguished with the next image. More hurt filled him as the couple, so engrossed in mutual pleasure they failed to see their observer, changed positions. Her lover's eyes were screwed shut as he went personal. Kissing her passionately, he assisted her to his groin and encouraged her to perform fellatio.

His woman obliged hungrily.

As she took his erection in her mouth, the man's facial features mixed pleasure and pain as he strained to fight his release.

The terror that punctured William's chest cavity produced confusion. His throat burning, the muscle in him that loved so deeply stiffened and grew cold. Rigor mortis set in, causing the death of his benevolence and compassion.

If he were friends with Smith & Wesson, there would have been three explosions.

Her head.

Her lover's.

And, lastly, his own.

Three lifeless bodies for the local news.

Resisting a natural ballistic urge, William refused to allow the rage within to take over, even as the visual worsened. Only after watching Anna down his milky solution, then collapse upon him in breathless bliss, did he speak.

"Are you two done?"

Before she could shower him with awkward words and feebly defend the indefensible, he was out the door, on his way to his Brooklyn apartment. Home was a necessary refuge till dawn, when unknowingly, the curtain rose for Act Two.

Arriving to work an hour early, he made a beeline to the Human Resource department to talk about job-related matters and was met with a response from the office manager.

"They've been expecting you in the conference room," she announced.

What's this all about?

The bad dream wasn't over.

Seeing the partner from Dallas wearing a look of vindication on his face upon entry, he immediately sensed something was amiss.

Seating himself at the head of a long, oval table, William bravely smiled.

"I didn't know we were having a meeting."

"I had the other partners fly in last night," Mr. Gallagher announced.

"I just got here," the elderly twang added, knowing damn well he was lying.

The partners from Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles remained eerily silent as Gallagher opened a manila folder.

"Mr. McCall..."

I was William during a phone conference yesterday.

"Is this your signature on these vouchers?"

Sliding the folder along the brown table, William reviewed the documents. The looping, straight cursive looked a lot like his inscription.

"It resembles my penmanship, but I don't ever recall signing these requests." There were fifty in total over a period of four months, the net sum adding up to just over thirty-thousand dollars.

"Do you know what the money was used for?" Gallagher asked.

William shook his head, indicating he did not.

"But you signed these requests," the Dallas partner added. "Where are the receipts?"

"Gentlemen, there seems to be a misunderstanding here. I've never seen these documents before today. I never signed them."

"But it's your handwriting," the partner from Seattle declared.

The brother from Chicago cast his eyes downward at the brown table, never making eye contact.

"I can get to the bottom of this," William coolly assured. "I'm sure this is a mistake."

"That won't be necessary," Gallagher said. Pausing, there was a callous stare. "You are terminated from your position as managing clerk at Goetz, Gallagher and Green, with no severance pay. If you attempt to file for unemployment benefits, we will have you arrested on embezzlement charges and prosecuted to the full extent of the law." Measuring his anger, he continued. "That you conducted yourself in an unethical fashion after everything we entrusted in you shows a lack of appreciation of your progression. Consider yourself lucky that you're not in jail."

Lucky? Lucky? After everything you've done for me? Are you kidding me? I earned every promotion I received through hard work and long hours, by traveling all over the country for you, teaching your respective staffs how to utilize their legal software. And this is my thanks? This is bullshit!

When declaring his innocence verbally, he was far more diplomatic.

"Gentlemen, I didn't do this. Have you looked into this further?"

"We exhausted every angle, Mr. McCall. And your fingerprints fit the crime," the old Texan announced. Unable to conceal his frustration, "For crying out loud," he taunted. "Stop telling falsehoods and admit the truth."

William's agitation escalated.

"The truth is I had nothing to do with this! Where's Markham Chandler?" he inquired.

"That's not a concern of yours anymore," Gallagher retorted. On cue, two burly white men draped in undersized blue blazers entered the room. "Security will escort you out."

Returning to his office to retrieve his belongings, to his amazement, the possessions were all packed up and ready to go.

Even the Enron people had thirty minutes to leave.

Like many who'd experienced loss by way of Katrina, the winds of change dramatically altered the life of William McCall. All his dreams of contentment crashed and burned, causing restless nights of anxiety. His life in the legal profession was over, just like that. Blacklisted wherever he turned, many New York City employment agencies wanted no dealings with a bad seed, so they stopped submitting his resume to other law firms. One particular instance, he saw a recruiter toss his credentials into a trashcan.

Trembling badly when recalling the fact that his 401K earnings were spent on the engagement ring and outstanding bills, he found false comfort in marijuana, puffing and hoping for the expiration of brain cells that triggered sweat-filled depression, and sleepless, sheet-drenching nights of tears.

Five months later, his savings were depleted as well. Falling behind in his bills, a humiliating progression began. The cable went off, then Con Edison. Showering in cold water and shivering through the winter while burning candles for light and heat, he grew desperate. Applying for jobs everywhere, he was overqualified for places like Staples and Subway, for they feared his departure upon immediate hiring. Taking and acing the civil service tests were no problem, but the waiting lists for occupation at the post office, transit or sanitation were over two years long.

He fell several months behind in rent, and was served with eviction notices and court appearance papers at his Brooklyn apartment. Somehow, he lost all petitions for extensions.

The judge had given him thirty days to move.

Desperate for a place to live, he turned to family. His father, Wilford, had recently returned from Norfolk, Virginia, and found love with Tonya, a woman twenty-five years his junior. Together, they lived in a Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone with her three kids. No room there. Edith Hall, his eighty-one-year-old grandmother, sent him money whenever she could, but she had adopted two kids who now occupied the bedroom in her Bushwick home that was once his. Strike two. His mother, Eunice, had relinquished the West Brighton apartment where she'd raised her six children and moved into a cramped one-bedroom in the Todt Hill Section of Staten Island. I can't go there. His brothers were either out of state, incarcerated, or had large families of their own to take care of.

William had no place to go.

Placing his property in storage and living on food stamps, he became an inner-city nomad, spending time sleeping on the subways and "bathing" in terminal or restaurant bathrooms. Three pairs of black slacks, each worn in the seat, and a couple of dress shirts were the clothing for interviews, and dingy blue Levi's and a maroon polo shirt were for Saturdays and Sundays.

Finally, near the end of his rope after two months and with nowhere else to turn, he moved into a Brooklyn homeless shelter until he could find any type of employment that would allow him to put enough money aside to get his own place again.

Fighting to maintain his dignity, the mere fact that he hadn't put a bullet in his temple was no small feat. When the manager of a Times Square McDonald's asked him when he could start, it was restraint from an unseen force that prevented him from grabbing the man in a bear hug and thanking him for saving his life. His job would entail mopping floors and removing garbage, but William was simply grateful for the opportunity.

Donning the traditional uniform complete with a black, golden-arched embroidered cap for the first time, the achievement, albeit small, was significant in its message; he had weathered the storm. It was a long way from black pinstriped suits and interacting with legal minds all over the country, but the uphill climb would start here.

The depths of endurance exacted a heavy toll on his spirit but it paled in comparison to the agony gripping his heart. In an effort to harness the migraine that surfaced whenever the vision of Anna in heat with another was relived, William closed a fist at his side.

It's amazing how a single moment can annihilate one's faith in love, he reflected somberly.

At that point, as he rode the train en route to work, he overheard a trio of well-dressed black women questioning the substance of their male counterparts and their whereabouts.

"Girl, I'm tired of waiting for lazy-ass brothers to get their acts together. If I can succeed in this world, get my own home and car and have a successful career, then so can they. I'm sick of their excuses."

"Where are the real brothers who give up their seats on trains?" one of them chimed in, looking left, directly at William. Her gaze meeting the eyes of an emotionally devastated man struggling to put it all back together, this woman, dressed in a maroon Donna Karan suit, added more attitude to the next question posed. "What are you looking at?"

Trying to ignore a confrontation, William averted his attention.

"Don't look at Ronald McDonald. He can't afford a real woman," another one added.

"Hold the lettuce, hold the pickle, so that you could save a nickel," she taunted, bringing howls from those nearby.

Pain seeping from his heart, William's experiences with women passed quickly before his eyes. All those rejections in youth because he wasn't cool; the days he'd been ridiculed because he wasn't getting any; the time he escaped the clutches of teenage peers and ran away when they were trying to get him laid on a project rooftop; the gay accusations because of his sensitivity; loving the wrong girl in his twenties and the emotional repercussions that left him mortified; the infidelities that destroyed a solid marriage; the conquering of all insecurities and fears through self-introspection; and lastly, the horrible chain of events that returned him to this familiar place.

Boo-yah! All of these moments flashed by quicker than an ESPN sports highlight. Rising, something in him snapped as he approached his tormentors.

"Let me see your left hands, NOW!" he demanded.

Three ringless digits shot out immediately.

"Now, you see," he stated condescendingly, "it's selfish, sophisticatedly dumb women like you three who don't appreciate decent, hard-working brothers. Instead of looking for solutions that might help you maintain a decent relationship with a man, you moan about the problems with having one. It's women like you who are looking for men who don't exist. It's bitches like you three..."

Pausing, he collected himself and reined his anger in, but not before removing three quarters from his pants pocket. Hurling them in their faces, he could care less if he bloodied them. "Look, do us all a favor. Make up your minds, decide what it is you want from a man, and buy a damn clue!"

The train doors opened and William got off at the Rockefeller Center station. Hearing applause from people in the subway car who were moved by his rant, there was no consolation in this display of solidarity; he felt worse than he had prior to unleashing his wrath. Reentering a recognizable state of gloom, gone again was the energy of positive passion that had taken six years -- a lifetime in the world of love -- to recover. Dark clouds of ambivalence and apathy toward women; bitter, cynical feelings he had thought were buried forever, had resurfaced with a vengeance. Disheartened, even nauseated by the thought of sharing and caring, he wouldn't revert to days past where he released his pain by way of emotional mistreatment.

Hurt people, hurt people, he thought. At forty, he was still strikingly handsome. The bald head remained, however, his smile -- once having possessed so much wattage when eager to please -- had received a death sentence, destined to shine never more. His brown eyes, formerly soft, warm and inviting were indifferent, moody and suspicious. The taut six-pack owned a half decade earlier had been sacrificed for long hours in the office, then eventually, the will to carry on. Only his hyper-metabolism and the stress of the past year had kept him from pinching more than an inch. Tired legs supported the extra ten pounds of age, but his chest was still moderately built, a by-product of a daily regimen of push-ups. His full lips were not ruined by his weed binge, but a smooth, chocolate countenance was lined with cynicism. His body definitely exhibited telltale signs of the struggle, but his heart had been destroyed.

Feeling like Willie Mays must have in 1973, stumbling under routine fly balls in Oakland, or an aging, battered Ali in Las Vegas, or Michael Jordan struggling with the Washington Wizards, William realized that he'd lasted too long in the game of love and was tired of making a fool of himself. If he needed a further reminder not to reenter the meat market, all he need do was would pull out the engagement ring.

I got ninety-nine problems, but a bitch ain't one. Anymore.

© 2007, William Frederick Cooper

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