Sensible single mother Patricia “Peaches” Miller isn’t about to follow in her mama’s footsteps and become dependent on a man. But when she doesn’t see eye to eye with the man she wants to marry, she knows that returning to a life of girls’ nights out, retail therapy, and chocolate peanut clusters just won’t do for her. Then Raphael, her son’s father, steps back into the picture—and clearly his attraction to Peaches is stronger than ever. There’s just one problem. Raphael has already pledged his heart to another woman.
Peaches has been praying for a perfect family for a long time. Deep down she knows this can’t be God’s idea of an answer—but can you blame a girl for hoping? Now, as she battles with temptation, and with her faith, she’s not sure which will win…
“Michelle Stimpson will have you laughing, crying and relating to each of her vivid, vocal characters.” —AAMBC Book Reviews
“Michelle’s characters always have their own vibrant personalities—this one will keep talking in your head long after the book is through!”
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By MICHELLE STIMPSON
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Michelle Stimpson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneQuinn's proposal was not a big surprise. Actually, it was one of those "it's about time" moments. We'd been dating exclusively for almost eighteen months, and those karats were long overdue, in my book. I believe in taking my time, but my body doesn't. Any Christian woman can be celibate when she's single, but throw a six-foot-tall, chocolate brown brother with a sharp goatee and a good job in the mix ... hmph, a sister is liable to get all shook up. Yes, Quinn was a wonderful man who loved the Lord, loved me, and treated my eight-year-old son, Eric, like his own. The faith was there, the love was there, the Lord was there. But I won't lie-my flesh was so weak for Quinn I thought I was gonna have to go on eBay and find me a chastity belt.
So when he finally popped the question by calling me out and proposing onstage after the local college's production of A Raisin in the Sun (which he directed), I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, the wait was over.
Don't get me wrong: The single life was good while it lasted. There's nothing like being able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, how you want to do it. But that gets old after a while-thirty-four years, in my case. I suppose if my best friend, LaShondra, were still single, it wouldn't be so bad. And if Deniessa, my friend and former coworker, hadn't married that good and throwed-off Jamal last year, I would at least have someone to watch The Best Man with. Well, now it was my turn to join the ranks of married women and start the next chapter in my life. Thank you, Lord.
The first person I called with notice of my nuptials was LaShondra. She and I had been through thick and thin, good and bad, even black and white since she ran off and married a white man. Let me take that back. She didn't "run off," but her husband is white, and I was not expecting my girl to cross that line. I ain't hatin', though. Stelson is good people. He took some getting used to, but I'm over it now.
I hooked my cell phone up to the Bluetooth and selected her name from the radio display. "Hey, girl," I squealed when she answered the phone, "we've got a wedding on the way!"
LaShondra screamed, "He finally did it?"
"Yes, girl," I said with a big exhale. "We're looking at the first Saturday in July."
"Congratulations! Ooh-we've got, what, six months to pull this off-in July?" I knew LaShondra was already planning things out in her head. "You told your momma yet? You called the church yet?"
"No, I called you first, girl. You know I have to get your blessing."
"Pulleeze." She laughed. "Quinn is a good man. I've always liked him. He's a Christian, he treats you well, he's good with Eric. What's there to discuss?"
I sighed. "I guess I just had to ask you for the record, so if something goes wrong I can be like 'You da one who tole me to marry him!'"
"Don't even talk like that, Peaches. What God has joined together, let no man-or Peaches-put asunder. This is God's doing and you know it. Who else could match you up with the one man in the world who could get past your mouth and your attitude to find the real you?"
"I do not have an attitude!" I screamed. The woman in the next car gave me a confused look. I ignored her.
"Is this Patricia Miller I'm talking to? Oh, wait, I'm sorry. This must be the new and improved Patricia Robertson. My bad."
We both laughed at her enunciation of my soon-to-be last name. We ended the conversation with plans to meet Saturday and discuss the happy, snappy wedding. My second call was to my mother, who almost started speaking in tongues. "Oh, my baby! Finally! The Lord blessed you with a husband and Eric with a father!"
"Momma, Eric has a father," I reminded her. Raphael wouldn't win any Father-of-the-Year awards, but he'd been spending more time with our son and he was finally caught up on child support. I had to give him some kind of credit even though I suspected his fiancée, Cheryl, had shamed him into doing right by his child.
Next, I called Deniessa. I expected her to be ecstatic, but her response was more dramatic than anything. She busted out crying. I mean, boo-hooing. "Oh, Peaches, I just hope your marriage is a million times better than mine. I want the best for you, girl. Somebody gotta be happy, you know?"
Okay, what am I supposed to say to that-better you sad than me? "Girl, what's really going on? Why are you trippin'?"
She pulled in a nasty, snot-filled sniff that almost made me disconnect her from my phone. "Go blow your nose!"
"I'm sorry," she apologized. "Marriage is so overrated. People don't understand-I feel like I'm doing hard time here."
I imagine it is hard when you're married to a fool. Lord, don't let me say that. I was tired of dealing with Deniessa's drama, but I couldn't say so. After all, I was the main one cheering her down the aisle. Matter of fact, I was cheering everybody down the aisle, hoping to keep the line moving so it would be my turn soon.
I searched my mind for one of those good old standby Christian clichés to soothe her pain. All I could come up with was, "Prayer changes things." I said it in an old, deep, soulful tone-like Sofia in The Color Purple would say it-for effect.
Deniessa didn't buy it. "Not if the person you're praying for is an absolute idiot."
I was not in the mood to go down that road with her. It always led back around to point A: She married someone she had been living with for three years. The only reason he even asked her to marry him was because she gave him an ultimatum. I can't blame Jamal-he knew which side his bread was buttered on. He had to do something, because it gets cold out there on them streets, I hear.
"Girl, I'll be praying for you. How about me, you, and LaShondra get together this weekend and do one of our girls' movie nights?" I offered. I knew it was a long shot-those two had all but kicked girls' nights to the curb since they jumped the broom.
She sniffed again. "I don't know. I have to see. Jamal is using my car right now."
"Is he working a night shift?" I asked.
"No. He still hasn't found anything yet. But he might need the car Saturday night. I just have to ask."
The words flew straight from my brain out of my mouth before I could catch them. "How you gotta ask to use your own car if he ain't got no job?" I could have bopped myself on the head for fueling the hot mess already flaming in their marriage.
"You tell me." She could only laugh at herself.
I shook my head. "I gotta go, girl. Forgive me for adding my two cents to y'all's business. Let me know if you want to come Saturday night. I'll come pick you up if you need me to. I'm sure LaShondra won't mind taking you home."
"Thank you," she said. "I'll let you know."
I ended the call with Deniessa but continued the conversation with myself and my Father. "Lord, if I ever let Quinn use me like that, just take me on home to glory."
I talked myself all the way to Raphael's house to pick up Eric. By the time I got there, I had strengthened my resolve not to lose myself in my husband like I had seen so many married women do in my last, say, fifteen years of marrying off friends and relatives. It's like something clicks in their heads and they lose all sense of identity, all sense of independence, sometimes all sense period.
I had to give it to my girl LaShondra-she kept moving up in the school district and trying to get where she wanted to be even after she got married. She kept her house; she rents it out. The only thing she didn't keep, which surprised me, was her last name.
"It's not like Smith is a distinctive last name," she had said.
"Neither is Brown! But Smith-Brown-now that sounds important."
"Sounds like a law firm," she had said, giggling.
"Like I said-important. LaShondra Smith-Brown. She don't play. She will sue your behind any day." I'd acted it out as though on a low-budget commercial. She had laughed at me in one of those condescending you-wouldn't-understand-because-you're-not-married laughs. I just rolled my eyes at her. Nonetheless, she dropped the Smith and went straight to Brown. Something I sure wasn't about to do, no matter how plain-Jane Miller is for a last name.
Still building my mental list of marital dos and don'ts, I rang Raphael's doorbell and waited patiently for either Raphael or Cheryl to answer the door of their one-story home in one of the older, more crime-ridden areas of Dallas. I had some reservations about letting Eric spend the weekend with his father in this neighborhood, but once somebody got mugged in broad daylight right outside my condo, I said, whatever.
Besides, I figured Eric could use a little "hood" in his life. There's nothing like a good game of baseball in the hood with first base a shoe, second base somebody's car, third base a fire hydrant, and home plate a flattened plastic milk jug to prove that you can be happy with next to nothing.
Raphael opened the door and Eric squeezed past his father's frame to give me a tight hug. "Hey, son," I said as I rubbed my hand across his head. Apparently, Raphael had taken him to get a haircut-without being asked! That was one for the record books.
"Uh." Raphael rudely burped. "Is that a ring on your finger?"
"Yes, it is." I beamed, making note of the mixed expression on Raphael's face. I couldn't tell if he was about to congratulate me or say something sarcastic, so I gave Eric orders to get in the car.
"I'm getting married in July to Quinn. You met him at Eric's school awards ceremony," I reminded him.
Raphael nodded. "Yeah, I remember him. July? Why so soon?" He crossed his arms, looking down from his towering stance. If I could get up on a stool, I might be able to prove he was balding. The hard years of drinking and womanizing had caused him to age quickly. Still, he was good-looking, and I truly hoped that our son would grow up to be as handsome as his father.
"Because we're in love," I replied. "And we're not getting any younger."
Then came his true concern. "You're not planning to take my son away from me, are you?"
I rolled my eyes in disbelief. "You know me better than that."
He let his defenses fall to his side along with his arms. Something in me said, awww ... he loves our son. I almost felt sorry for the poor chap, bless his sorry heart. But it had taken me eight long years, several hours on hold for the attorney general's office, and countless prayers to get Raphael right where I wanted him and Eric needed him. This was my victory, not Raphael's.
"Well, congratulations," he muttered.
And loud silence transpired. I gave Raphael a quick smile before saying, "Good-bye."
His lips said, "Good-bye," but I could tell that he wanted to say something more. Finally, he stepped outside of his house, closed the door behind him, and said softly, "Quinn is a lucky man."
You could have bought me for a quarter.
Raphael turned and went back into the house.
"Thank you?" I whispered after he was long gone.
I drove home halfway listening to my son talk about his weekend and halfway wondering what on earth had gotten into one Mr. Raphael Sadiq Lewis. Well, I suppose I was looking extra nice in my form-fitting skinny jeans and my red, stretchy, button-down blouse. And I had just gotten my short do shampooed and flat ironed, not to mention my freshly waxed eyebrows. I wasn't much for makeup, because my skin turned into a pimple factory with most foundations. My deep brown skin tone held its own and fell into a nice glow after five. It was well after five, so I knew I had to be looking good.
Too bad for Raphael. He could have had anything he wanted from me, once upon a time.
Chapter TwoI couldn't go anywhere in the building Monday without people congratulating me on the engagement. I must have gotten fifty e-mails from people: Best wishes! God bless your union! All kinds of mess from people who barely spoke to me at work. Who knew that getting engaged would suddenly make me a celebrity at Northcomp?
By ten o'clock I had to call LaShondra and ask a favor. "Could you please call Stelson and ask him what is the big deal with white people and engagements?"
"It's not a white thing, Peaches. They're just happy for you."
"No, no, no. This is a white thing, I'm telling you. Black folk don't get this excited over an engagement. I'm thirty-four and I've already got a child. I ain't no Cinderella."
"Hmmm." LaShondra thought out loud. "Have they been asking to see the ring?"
"Some of them have, but not too many."
"Have they asked to see his picture? You know, when Stelson and I were engaged, people always wanted to see his picture to confirm I was marrying a white man," she recalled.
"Let me assure you, nobody here thinks I would marry a white man," I replied in straight, loud monotone.
That's when I saw it. After wading through the numerous e-mail messages from employees whose names barely rang bells, I finally found the e-mail message from our company's CEO, George Hampton, which explained everything. I read it out loud to LaShondra. "Due to recent spikes in the price of gasoline, a sharp decline in sales, and a less-than-desirable review of productivity, we have determined that Northcomp must make cutbacks in order to remain a viable competitor for the technological dollar. The personnel office, led by Patricia Miller, in conjunction with our consultants, The Yancey Group, will be working to review assignments, job descriptions, and productivity goals. We anticipate these reviews will result in early retirement offers and reduced demand for human resources. We understand these changes present a difficult but necessary transition for Northcomp, and we look forward to solutions that are least disruptive for our company and our employees."
"Wow," LaShondra said. "You've got a tough job ahead of you."
"This is crazy!" I hollered.
"What's the problem?" LaShondra asked. I had to forgive her nonprofit-world ignorance. Since she was a principal in a public school, her politics were different from mine.
"That man just sent out an e-mail saying that Patricia Miller is going to be firing folks!"
"That's not what he said, Peaches."
"He might as well have. Don't you see, LaShondra? He's trying to make me out to be the executioner. He's trying to paint me as the bad guy!"
"The consultants will have input," she tried to reason.
I huffed one good time. "The consultants will be good and gone after the smoke clears. Half these consultant folks don't know what they're doing. They don't know our company-they're just paid to agree with me. This is a corporate nightmare!"
There was a gentle tap on my door, and a woman I remembered vaguely from a past interview stuck her head into my office. "Hold on, LaShondra," I said as I acknowledged this unplanned visitor.
"I just wanted to say congratulations-"
"I'm busy right now." I shooed her out with my hand. I just couldn't take the fakeness anymore. The woman's face was suddenly painted with disappointment as she ducked back and closed the door. My blinds were open enough for me to see her stand outside my door for a moment and collect herself. Was she ... crying? Yes, she was breaking female corporate rule number one: Do NOT cry at work.
"LaShondra," I whispered, "this lady is crying outside of my office."
"She's crying because I wouldn't let her come in here and give me her bogus congratulations."
LaShondra fussed, "Maybe she really meant it."
"I'm gonna hang up the phone now, LaShondra. I'll call you later."
"Later, alligator. And stop being so mean."
I buzzed my secretary, Theresa, and told her not to let anyone else in my office without official business. Next, I called George and let him know that I felt, what did I say? "Awkward" about the wording in his e-mail.
George tried to act like he didn't understand my concern. "Patricia, I don't think the message will come across the way you've interpreted it." Yeah, right. Hampton informed me that if we could convince several of the senior employees to take early retirement, we would probably only have to release hourly employees who had been with the company less than two years. "Honestly, this is really more a precautionary measure than anything else."
I still didn't appreciate him making it seem like I was the mad black woman running around with the ax while he was the innocent CEO who couldn't be blamed for anyone's demise. Why couldn't he just blame it on the economy like every other company? No, he had to go put a name and a face on it.
Excerpted from Last Temptation by MICHELLE STIMPSON Copyright © 2010 by Michelle Stimpson. Excerpted by permission.
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