After a night of indulgence, Gwen finds herself pregnant with Rome's twins and just when she and Rome have worked out an arrangement that gives Gwen the stability she's been searching for, Omar comes back to town after recovering from his coma. Now Gwen is torn between a man who is not only a good friend but a devoted father, and the love of her life.
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Love Is Simple; Forever Is Tricky
By Cas Sigers
URBAN BOOKSCopyright © 2008 Cas Sigers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneInside an empty two-bedroom condominium on the third floor of the Riverfront, the smell of freshly painted walls breezes through. In the bedroom are two large boxes-one marked MEMORIES and the other marked JUNK. The brand-new silver-and-black appliances are luminous; not a single fingerprint is in the place. Suddenly, the cracked door flings open and two burly men in gray jumpsuits march in, carrying a cozy, modern rust-colored love seat. With a yellow notepad in my hand, I follow closely behind, direct the gentlemen as to where to place the sofa, and check off my diagram as the men bring in each piece of furniture. One bar and stools, one chair, a television stand, one armoire and one bed later, I finally collapse face forward across the bare mattress, prop my chin on the edge of the bed frame and peer around the bedroom.
"Time to get it together," I whisper to myself.
There was a terrible accident three years ago that changed my life. It left my ex-boyfriend Omar Kirkland slightly paralyzed, sentenced his brother Tracy to two months of defensive driving school, and finally jerked me from my denial. I was an alcoholic spiraling out of control. I immediately left Omar in New York, and checked into a clinic in Richmond, Virginia. Omar felt I deserted him in his time of need. He hated me for it and still does to this day.
"Time to get it together," I whisper, louder, while staring at the textured ceiling. Yet, an hour passes before I actually move from this spot on the bed and begin to unpack, a rather short process for I only have ten items of clothing to hang in the closet. Unintentionally, yet gratefully, I lost forty-eight pounds, bringing my five-foot seven-inch frame from a plump 189 pounds to a svelte 141.
"Mental note: I must go shopping this week."
Fumbling through the huge cardboard construction, I pull out several miscellaneous items from the box marked JUNK. A couple of books, an unfinished cross-stitch project, a cell phone and some old VHS tapes are amongst the stuff to be thrown out. Moving to the box marked MEMORIES, I softly lay my head against its corner and cradle the cardboard like a lover. I dig into the memory box, pull out a few candles, some jewelry and a photo album. Wrapped in a blanket, I flip through the pages, chuckling and laughing at all of the silly pictures I've managed to collect over the years. I place the books back into the box and push the box into the spare bedroom closet.
"I need a bookshelf," I murmur, looking around the room. I also need a floor rug, shower curtain, comforter, lamps, mirror, plants, alarm clock, coffeemaker and a blender."
I trot back into the bedroom, grab my hat, shades and purse. After sliding into my flip-flops, I leave for three hours, then return with four large bags. Immediately, I drop the bags in the kitchen and rush to the bathroom. Sitting on the cold toilet, I stare at my feet.
"Oh, my God, I need a pedicure."
I've never been one for things like manicures or pedicures, but in the past year, I've made many changes-one adjustment being a desire for feminine grooming.
"Caring for your body starts within, but we should never neglect our outside for it's what we see every day, and if we don't see a beautiful reflection, it's very easy to feel ugly," my counselor at the clinic said.
Chuckling, I take the largest bag, from Macy's, and dump it on the bed. Quickly, I strip down to my underwear and try on each item. Prancing back and forth, I walk from the bedroom to the living room and back to the bedroom. Lastly, I try on a fitted maroon wrap dress.
"This is it!" I yell. Turning my rear to face the mirror and stretching my body around to see, I check out my reflection from behind. "This is definitely it." Ten minutes later, I'm enjoying my hot shower. With Prince playing in the background, I get ready to go out.
I haven't been out in years and haven't seen my friends since before the accident. So tonight everyone will be surprised at the new and improved Gwendolyn Pharr.
At 10:00 P.M., the cabdriver lets me out at the corner of Bragg and Tenth.
"Ole Skool," I whisper, and with a confident nod, I slowly walk up to the huge bouncer standing at the door. Shyly, I tap him on his side. Without looking at me, he responds. "The line starts back there."
Shocked that he didn't even turn to acknowledge me, I raise my voice and sass.
"Moo Moo, don't point me to the back of the line."
Suddenly, the six-four, 242-pound male whips around and cuddles me like a newborn.
"Gwen!" he calls out. He picks me up and twirls me around. Steadily, I hold my dress down; his rapid turns are exposing my booty cheeks.
"We have missed you. We missed you so much," he says, placing his enormous face against my tiny cheek.
"I have missed you guys too."
"No one told me you were coming ... wow! You look so ... little," he comments.
"Thank you. I wanted to surprise everyone. Who's here?"
"The normal gang. We got a new bartender, though."
"What happened to Ralph?"
"Oh no! He should have known better. We all tried to tell him."
Nodding, Moo Moo agrees. "Go on in," he says, lifting the rope for me to pass under. "I think Rome is in the back."
I give him a quick hug and walk into the club. The atmosphere is lighter than it was a couple of years ago. The sconces have been replaced with track lighting and the dance floor has lighting along its edge.
"I bet that was Lia's idea," I say with a chuckle. "I wonder where she is."
Lia McNair is my only female friend. She is part of the gang that Moo Moo spoke about earlier. She is footloose and fancy-free and her life always embodies chaos. She is a bit insecure, and though she's very pretty with a petite frame, Lia needs constant validation. I find that most women are like this, which is why I only have one female friend. Lia works for an advertising company. It pays a great salary and Lia spends most of it shopping. And, if she is not in the malls, she is out on dates. Hardly ever spending an evening alone, she keeps a steady, but always has a couple of candidates on the side.
I continue to canvass the crowd in search of familiar faces, noticing a few regulars and speaking to a few of the new waitresses. Suddenly, I hear a familiar voice over by the pool tables. I look over and see Rome leaning over to take a shot. Rome is my dearest male friend. We've had a couple of romantic encounters, but he's one of those guys you don't try and tie down. It would be a big waste of time.
Slowly, I walk toward the table, but halt when I see a long-legged young woman come up behind Rome. As she distracts Rome, he misses his shot. While stroking his back with her right hand, she wraps her left fingers around his pool stick and slowly slides her hands up and down his pole. Rome gives her a suggestive look as she rubs her leg against his and slowly saunters away. She glances over her shoulder and winks as he watches her walk toward the back lounge area.
"Groupies," I whisper.
I quickly walk through the crowd and stand at the end of the table where he just made his shot.
Startled, Rome rushes over, grabs me by my waist and hoists me in the air. He nearly falls off balance with excitement.
"When did you get here?"
Rome places me down by the chair and rubs his hand across my face.
Staring intently, he speaks. "You look amazing." Smiling from ear to ear, I pose, turning right and left, and pose again.
"It's me, in the flesh."
Rome hugs me one more time, yet I nudge him off, taunting. "I see the old dog is still up to his tricks."
Rome moves in close to my ear and whispers, "Woof!"
Chuckling, I move a step back and sit in the chair.
"I missed you," I say.
"I missed you more. C'mon, let's go to the office. We can't talk out here."
Quickly, he unlocks the door and rushes in. After moving the stack of papers from the desk seat, he leans against the desk corner.
"What in the hell happened to this place?" I ask, looking at scattered papers everywhere. "Who's been doing the books?"
"Lia!" I shout. "Lia can't balance her own checkbook, I know she can't run this place."
"She's good at keeping the money straight-she's just not good at organizing."
"I got her e-mails updating me on the club's status, but I had no idea she was doing the accounting."
I hop up and immediately begin going through the paperwork. Moving one pile, I place it on top of the file cabinet and begin looking through the set of papers in front of me. Rome attempts to remove the papers from my hand and make me relax.
"Stop it! You just got here. Relax!"
"There's no time to relax, look at this place. Did you file taxes this year? Where are the returns from last year?"
"Be still," he says, grabbing both of my arms and placing them by my side.
Rome moves close to me and stares into my eyes.
"Are you all right?"
I slowly nod my head while peering at him.
"I need to hear an answer," he comments.
"Are you sure?"
Removing my hands from within his, I take a step back. "I said I'm fine. I know I've been gone and I appreciate you letting me be a silent partner for the last three years but I'm back now."
Rome hops onto the desk and motions for me to come closer.
"Your eyes say something is wrong."
I look away while answering. "This place just holds so many memories. It's hard, you know. But I'll be okay."
"I wasn't sure you were coming back."
"At times, I wasn't sure, but I helped build this place. I had to come back. This is our place, right? Our dream to own a successful nightclub," I ramble while walking through the office. Then I pick up a picture of Omar, Rome and me.
"The Three Stooges." I smile and then take a brief pause before asking, "Have you talked to him?"
"Once, right after he came out of the coma. He didn't want to talk, said he was still mad about that old bullshit we got into before he moved to New York. You talked to him?"
"I tried, but he wouldn't take my calls. He said I abandoned him in his time of need and that he never wanted to talk to me again."
"Damn. I can't believe I haven't seen you in three years."
"I didn't plan on being gone this long, I just didn't know how to deal with everything. I needed that time I spent in Virginia."
Slowly rubbing my shoulders, he responds. "If it's too soon, it's okay. Maybe the club isn't the place for you to be."
Whipping around, I angrily ask, "Why would you say that, Rome?"
"I ... mean, with everything ... you know."
"The drinking. This isn't the best place for someone with ... with a ... well, someone who stopped drinking."
Defiantly, I step back and retort, "I don't have a drinking problem ... not anymore. I was in the program for a year. I stayed in Virginia because of my depression, which I got from being in the program. But this club is a part of my life, and I wanted to come back." Sadly, I pause and look up at Rome before continuing. "You don't want me working here?" I softly question.
"Of course I do," Rome states. "I just want you to be happy."
"Then let's end this conversation."
Raising his hands in the air to indicate defeat, Rome moves closer.
"Fine, let's start a new conversation. You are looking incredible in that little dress and I love your hair. You look like a new Gwen." He flirts.
Ignoring his flirtatious remarks, I place a stack of papers between our bodies.
"How about you help me clean up this office. I don't see how either one of you can get any work done here."
Rome tries to move the papers away and tickles my sides. Giggling, I move behind the desk so that he can't get to me. Playfully, he chases me around the desk until there is a knock on the door. Suddenly, we both stop. Abruptly, there is another knock. From outside the door, a soft, girly voice hollers, "Open this door, Rome."
"What do you want, Lia?" he calls out.
I quickly motion for him not to inform Lia that I'm in the room.
"Look, I don't care what or who you are doing. Open this door, my hands are full."
"Wait a minute," Rome says, laughing quietly.
"Open it now," Lia yells while kicking the bottom of the door.
"Didn't he say wait a minute?" I shout in a disguised voice.
Agitated, Lia hollers back. "Oh no, ma'am, you don't talk to me like that." She continues to yell through the door while searching for her keys. "Rome, whoever that is, you might want to set her straight before I get in there."
"Bitch, I ain't scared of you," I yell while chuckling underneath my breath.
Lia finally gets the door open. "I got your bitch," she says, swinging her purse in the air and holding food in her other hand.
"Oh yeah," I say, coming from behind the door. Lia spins around, charged and ready to aim, but to her amazement, she sees me. Frantically, Lia jumps up and down and into my arms. She drops the bags of food on the floor.
"Oh, my God! Oh, my God! It's you!" Lia screams, holding me tight around the neck. "I missed you, Gwenie. I missed you!"
"I should let you two catch up," Rome says while picking his food up from the floor.
"The food. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, finish hugging your friend. I got it."
Rome places the food on the desk, kisses me on the cheek and leaves us to catch up. Lia leads me to the chair, sits down and pulls up a stool.
"You lost so much weight. You look really good!" she says.
"Well, did I look that bad before?"
"No. But now, you look almost as good as me."
Lia stands up and shimmies her full-C cups while gyrating her hips from side to side. I laugh, lean over and push her back into her seat. Giggling, she sits and oddly stares.
"What?" I ask.
Lia places her hand against my face and continues to gawk.
"Stop staring at me."
"I'm sorry, I just can't get over it. The last time I saw you in the clinic, you didn't look so good. The doctors said that you had gotten a hold of some pills and that you overdosed. I didn't know what to think," Lia sadly expresses.
"I never wanted to kill myself, but the therapy and the counseling groups got to me. I kept blaming myself for the accident, and Omar was still in the coma at that time. I thought he was going to die."
"I know," she softly consoles.
"To stop drinking was one thing, but to deal with the reality was just too much. I just wanted to escape."
"So you've officially stopped drinking?" Lia asks with a smile.
"Two years, six months and two weeks," I proudly testify.
"Good. I'm going to stop drinking too," Lia comments.
I look on with doubt.
"I am. Friends have to support each other. If you aren't drinking, I am not drinking."
"That means no drinking, period-not just around me."
Lia pauses and scratches her temple, then responds. "Cool. No drinking, period." She extends her hand and gives me a firm shake.
"I missed you, girl."
"I missed you too," says Lia. "Where are you staying?"
"I got an apartment at the Riverfront."
"Very nice. I must come see it this weekend."
I stand and give Lia a long hug. Lia, smiling, pulls me toward the door.
"Where are we going? I have to clean up, I can't leave this mess here," I comment.
"Please, this looks good. You should have seen it last week. Besides, you just got here, let's have some fun before you start working."
Sighing, I follow Lia out of the office and into the lounge area.
"I want you to meet my friend," she says as we walk up to a tall, handsome, bald gentleman. "This is my best friend, Gwen. Gwen, this is Rob."
The man takes my hand and kisses it.
"My pleasure." He speaks in a baritone voice.
"Same," I respond.
I pull Lia to the side. "Is this your man?"
"No, we've gone out a couple of times. We haven't had sex or anything."
"But we might do it tonight." Lia winks.
I shake my head with strong disagreement. "What about-" I ask before being interrupted by Rob.
"Excuse me. Lia, I'll be over here when you're ready. Nice to meet you, Gwen."
"Yeah, you too," I quickly reply.
Lia softly covers my mouth with her hand. "Shh! I'll tell you all about it later. Right now, my date is waiting." Lia and I hug again. "I'm so glad you are back. Call me in the morning. We have to do lunch tomorrow."
Before her sentence is complete, Lia is whisking her way through the crowd to meet her date. Standing in the center of the dance floor, I begin rolling with laughter. True, I haven't seen my best friend in almost three years and yet she ditches me for a date. I wouldn't expect anything else from Lia McNair.
Excerpted from Love Is Simple; Forever Is Tricky by Cas Sigers Copyright © 2008 by Cas Sigers. Excerpted by permission.
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