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By Ginny Albert
iUniverseCopyright © 2007 Virginia A. Albert
All rights reserved.
Because of my metaphysical philosophy, my life was based on the principle that I controlled my own destiny. With that in mind, I avoided the pitfalls that could potentially throw me off the path to right living, and thus minimize disaster. Having been raised in a traditional Roman Catholic household, sex before marriage was discouraged. That being the case, I would never have expected the night to conclude as it did. Of course, I could blame everything on the fact that I was a romance writer — always in search of interesting black male heroes, with which to enthrall my huge readership. I had frequently incorporated the unique traits and tendencies of male acquaintances into my characters. Needless to say, these activities never required me to sacrifice my morals, or my religion. Why then ignore my beliefs, and become willfully complicit in the destruction of my own innocence on this particular evening?
The party was in full swing at Sean's — one of Atlanta's hot nightspots. James Waverly and I — Sierra Elizabeth Bradford — stood in a corner. We had danced once, and were sipping our respective beverages — mine was cranberry juice; he drank a beer. The dance floor was packed with young men in their revealing jerseys designed to show their bulging biceps to advantage. Many women wore off the shoulder barely there mini dresses, and short skirts that left little to the imagination.
I wasn't that much a party-goer. James, my best friend, liked to dance, so I agreed to come with him.
"Sierra, I haven't seen Angela, recently. How is she?"
"Fine. I invited her to join us tonight, but she preferred not to, so ..." Cousin Angela and I weren't as close as we were in high school. After graduation, she seemed to be struggling to find her center. For a while she even left home; none of the family knew where she was.
We were watching the crowd and bobbing our heads to the music when James bent down close to my ear and yelled, "See that guy wearing the black shirt over there in the corner?"
I looked across the room. "Yes."
"Didn't you have a crush on him in the eleventh grade?" "No."
"Tell me anything!"
Since high school, James had harped on what he saw as my obsession with men. Of course, I did not let on that I was actually seeking interesting aspects of specific men to infuse into my male characters. It was a sort of inner joke to let him think that I had plenty of boyfriends. In truth I had none, nor did I care to forge a relationship with any. All of my girlfriends had experienced major heartache as a result of their involvements, and I had no desire to mimic them. Instead, I had love affairs with the men in my novels. I enjoyed keeping James in the dark, nonetheless. Furthermore, he could talk? When we first met, there was hardly a time that some girl wasn't hanging on his arm. But now, he didn't date or mention any girls that attracted him — none that I knew about.
We were still watching the dancers and moving to the beat when a man approached us. James was engrossed in the dance floor action, unaware of the man's presence.
I looked askance at our intruder. Both hands in pockets, something resembling a smile curving his lips, he examined me in a way that was rife with interest. Finally, James turned toward me then noticed the stranger and flashed his usual friendly smile. "Well, well!"
They vigorously shook hands. Then James took my arm, led me through the pressing crowd into an outer room, and closed the door. The man had followed us.
"I didn't expect to see you here," the stranger shouted above the booming vibration.
"I'd been told that you dropped off the face of the earth." He gave me another searching once over. "I can see why." His eyes were riveted to James. "Well, aren't you going to introduce us?"
"Oh, sorry. Sierra Bradford," said James, "this is a friend from college — Wade Grisham."
Wade Grisham was very handsome; medium brown skin, tall, well-spoken. He seemed older.
I offered him my hand, which he received gently. His dark eyes twinkled as they bore into mine. "I'm pleased to meet you. Now that I remember, James used to discuss you all the time."
I smiled, as he continued holding my hand.
"Wait, my cell phone's ringing," James said. Reaching inside his pocket, he flipped open the phone and pressed a button. "This is James." After he had listened for a spell, the jovial smiley face crumpled into a mask of seriousness. "I'll be there as soon as possible ... tonight." Slowly he put the phone away, and looked at me. "Sorry, Sierra but we're going to have to leave early."
"I've got to go to Hartsfield-Jackson — right now."
"The airport? Who's coming to town?"
"Then what are you going there for?"
"Hopefully, I can still get a flight to San Francisco." He looked pointedly at me. "I'll drop you home first, of course."
"James, what is it?
"That was my Mother on the phone. It's my brother — he's ill. She and Dad want me to meet them there. So, I've got to go."
"This sounds really serious. Do you want me to go with you?"
"I'd love to take you with me, but I won't know how long I'll be away until I get there and see where things stand."
"Are you sure? I don't mind, you know."
"I appreciate that. But there's no reason to tie you up." He looked as though he had already touched down in San Francisco. An apologetic expression on his face, he said, "I know we just got here, but this can't be helped."
"I understand," I said. "You go on ... I can get a taxi home."
"Sierra, I don't want to leave you here. You don't know anybody."
"Look James, I know you're used to doing everything for me, but I can look out for myself. Your family needs you now."
"I'll take her home," said Wade. "You go — take care of your brother."
James looked at me, a worried expression on his face. "Are you okay with this?"
I shrugged. "Yes — go on. Don't worry about me."
James looked at Wade, who smiled slightly. "I promise to get her home untouched, unharmed — safe and sound."
Again James's gaze engaged mine. "You're sure this is alright with you?"
I glanced at Wade and then back at James. "If he proves to be a complete cad, like I said — I'll get a taxi,"
Wade laughed good-naturedly.
I reassured James, "... or call and ask Mother to pick me up."
James regarded me uncertainly, as he backed up. "Okay, but I wish you would just let me drop you home. We can go dancing anytime."
"But I don't want to go home yet."
He sighed heavily. "Okay." Then, he stared Wade down. "Don't disappoint me, Wade. Take good care of her — I mean it."
"I've got your back, man," said Wade. We followed James outside to the parking lot. James and I hugged affectionately, after which he got into his car and sped away. Wade and I watched the tail lights on James's car fade into the murky darkness. While sauntering back to the club, Wade chuckled dryly. "This is a strange first meeting, isn't it?"
I was thinking of James and his sick brother. "Yes."
When a staggering male reveler almost ran into us, Wade quickly stepped in front of me. "Hey, watch it!"
The man — oblivious to the near collision — slurred some unintelligible profanity, and then slunk behind the small dimly lit structure that housed the parking attendant.
Wade took my arm. "I hope James's brother is going to be okay."
"Me too ... they were always very close."
"I wonder what happened," Wade posed pensively. "Must be serious, since he had to leave so quickly."
"I guess we'll know sooner or later."
Wade rummaged inside his pocket, pulled out two cards and gave them to me. "One for you — one for James. Tell him to call me. I don't want to lose touch again."
Absently, I slipped the cards into my purse. We arrived at the entrance to the club. A few couples lingered in the shadows next to the building in various states of physical involvement.
"Let's stay out here and talk for a while," he said. "It's too noisy in there." "But I want to dance," I said.
"Okay, but first ... could I ask you a question?" "Sure."
"What is James to you?"
I was puzzled. "What?"
"Meaning," he continued, "what kind of relationship do you have with him?"
"We've been best friends since high school."
"Best friends, huh?" Was that an expression of relief on his face? "He seems very protective of you. The way he used to discuss you when we were in school I thought you were his girl."
"No! Absolutely not. He's the best man I know, though. I wouldn't trade him for the world."
"Really? That's pretty good for a man who's just a best friend. Does he know how you feel?"
"I hope so — he's always there for me. He makes me strong in ways that I might otherwise be weak."
Wade was pensive. "What are you going to do when he meets somebody? He can't continue being all things to you when he gets a girlfriend."
"James is a very unique individual. He's not like everybody else. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he never marries. Sometimes — sometimes it's as if he's a priest. That's just how pure he is."
"Well, I don't exactly see him that way."
"Perhaps you don't know him as well as I do."
Wade laughed. "And you don't know what men say when women aren't around."
"Nor am I interested to find out."
"Yeah — anything not to dim James's halo."
"That's exactly how I see him. He's kind, selfless, thoughtful, compassionate, generous, and handsome, as well. I don't know anyone else like him." Already, I was missing James.
"Let's go dance," said Wade, "then we'll come back outside."
"Okay," I said.
Wade was a great dancer; we danced more than once. Many women whispered to him as they passed — some made openly flirtatious comments. Others grabbed at him. One or two slid folded slips of paper into his pocket. He was mildly amused, but did not react. I had his complete attention it seemed. Numerous guys said things to me, but my companion would always squire me off by my elbow, or give them a hands off sort of look. He was quite the protector. James could not have left me in the care of a nicer or more trustworthy friend. At least, that's what I thought at the time.
We went back outside to get some fresh air, as it was sweltering inside with so many bodies packed together — writhing in the blissful release they derived from the sensual ambiance of the music.
"Let's walk for a bit," he said. We headed toward a grassy area and stood near a tree.
"So you're the same age as James?"
"Yeah — didn't you hear him say that we were in college together?"
"You seem older — is why I asked."
"People always say that. My dad began grooming me from the age of five to fill his shoes, because he had a dangerous career. He was a diplomat stationed in Africa, and when he was killed during a coup, I did what was expected of me."
"Wow. How old were you?"
"Sixteen. "It's the only way I know to account for the maturity label that always gets pasted on me."
"So, what kind of work do you do," I asked.
"I own a computer company — we build and install computers, networks, software — everything."
He leaned back against the tree, arms crossed, looking casually chic in his dark pants and stark white shirt. None of the other young men at the party dressed like Wade. He seemed arcane and erudite — right out of the pages of the GQ of old. More and more he struck me as being a perfect fit for the male protagonist in my novel. However, I would need to get to know him a bit better before making that decision. Of course, there were things about him that were readily usable. Whether the whole man would be acceptable as a character — remained to be seen.
His eyes engaged mine. "Now it's your turn. What do you do?"
"Do you read romances?"
He chuckled. "Afraid not."
"Well, I write romantic suspense novels."
"Oh, yeah? Published anything yet?"
"Yes ... I've been on the best seller list twice. I published my first novel when I was nineteen."
He looked into the distance; cars were coming and leaving. A police cruiser pulled into the gate, driving slowly. It stopped alongside us. The driver shone a blinding flashlight into Wade's face.
Wade angrily averted his gaze. The car passed.
"They make me god damned sick."
"I know. There was no reason whatsoever for them to shine that light into your face."
At the close of evening I was totally at ease with Wade Grisham, never giving a second thought to getting into his car. What happened after we were enclosed in that sleekest of silver vehicles — well ... I hesitate to elaborate. However, I will say that before he took me home, I was introduced to a part of me that I never imagined existed. He knew just what to say, so that in all things he got his way.
Just before day I lay in my bed — thinking. I was no longer myself. The girl who had earlier left home with James Waverly, had died at the deft hands of his college chum, Wade Grisham. What would I tell James? And after what had happened, would I ever see Wade again?
The phone rang. I jumped — stared at it. Could it be James updating me on the condition of his brother? From where I lay my hand could reach the phone, but I could not see the caller id. On the final ring I snatched up the receiver.
"Who is this?"
"Forgotten my voice already?"
Of course I knew who it was — no other man had a voice like his.
"Are you okay," he asked.
"I don't know."
He laughed. "You don't know? I can help you make up your mind."
"How do you mean?"
"Are you available — well, it's almost daybreak, so I might as well say tonight?"
I was ecstatic that he wanted to see me again. "What do you have in mind?"
"Ever been on a Harley?"
"Then, would you like the ride of your life?"
"I'm not the daredevil type."
"Well, not that all motorcyclists are daredevils, I'll retract the offer — for now."
"How considerate of you."
"Let's see ... today's Thursday," he mused. "The Galaxy Planetarium is open late. Would you like to see the planets up close, the moon and the stars in all their glory?"
"That should be fascinating."
"After that we'll have dinner, and then I'll fly you to my own personal planet — the likes of which you'll never see at Galaxy."
My heart began to pulsate. Even though I could not fathom what he meant, I found the prospect both scary and exhilarating. "I'd love to go."
"Fine. I'll pick you up at six o'clock. Meanwhile, get some sleep — you're going to need it."
"I can't wait to see you." He hung up.
I held the phone to my ear for a long time, oblivious to the incessant dial tone. Rather, I still heard his deep voice in my ear. I wanted to scream like a rock star-smitten teenager. God, I was so attracted to him! Then the writer in me was thinking: I must spend as much time as possible in his presence, in order to fix his personality in my mind. I needed to capture aspects, yet unseen that could make him my most fascinating male character ever. He was handsome, sexy, mesmerizing, commanding, and intelligent. Yes, Wade Grisham was the missing link in the novel I was writing. He qualified to become the heroine's love interest.
Strangely, James popped into my mind. How were things with his brother? Wade had so taken control of my thoughts, that James had ceased to exist. I almost hoped this thing — whatever was developing with Wade — would have run its course by the time James got back in town. I planned on being totally without attachment by then. To consider what James might think — let alone — say about what had transpired caused a hollow pang in the pit of my stomach. I was briefly apprehensive; he would be angry.
I had been to The Galaxy Planetarium once in my sophomore year in high school. The place had been transformed since then; there were more attractions. Observing the planets through the high powered telescope was nothing short of spellbinding. And to have such an experience by the side of a man who knew so much about everything just added to my captivation.
Excerpted from Which Man by Ginny Albert. Copyright © 2007 Virginia A. Albert. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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