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“I wanna be your lover. I wanna be the only one To make you come Runnin.” ~ Prince ~ CHAPTER ONE It had been exactly one week since Carole Everly celebrated her 28th birthday, - an occasion that didn't inspire a lot of enthusiasm for the word “celebrate” since she was an unmarried statistic, languishing in the limbo of her sugar-free social life. And while this wasn't the end of the world, it could put a damper on Saturday nights. But all was not lost and, if looks had anything to do with it, Carole was ahead of the game. Not quite slender, almost pretty, her full lips were shapely, her nose well-defined, her complexion smooth and glowing. As for the “windows of her soul”, they were deep and animated, their stare having a tendency to space out during the craziness she encountered in the world of single-mingling. Seated in the cafeteria of the company where she worked, Carole glanced at her watch and interrupted her reading, not exactly disappointed that her lesson in “thinking like a man and acting like a woman” would have to be put on hold. “I’ll get back to you later, Steve,” she murmured and put her book mark in place, sighing as she ran her fingers through the crisp dark hair that was cropped so short it required little combing. Making her way out of the cafeteria, heading for her department, Carole’s shoulders slumped. She felt drained. It had been a hectic morning, one that challenged all of her customer service skills as one irate caller after another had blown up the phone lines of City-Wide Utilities, the municipal facility that employed her. It was during these times that Carole was left wishing she had completed college. And how many times had she promised herself that she would get back on track by taking some credit course at the community campus located near the apartment she occupied on Chicago’s southeast side. But having a decent-paying job with good benefits tended to stunt her ambition, and no matter how much she reminded herself that with a degree she could pursue a real career, her motivation had never kicked in. Or, had the advantages of earning her BA impacted on her as a starry-eyed sophomore whose return for her junior year at a faraway university would’ve meant trusting her new “boo” to keep his fly zipped. When these insecurities about her boyfriend’s susceptibility to temptation proved justified, her summer romance had, indeed, evolved into an autumn triangle, - thanks to the wiles of a high-school drop-out with a “BJ” degree. Carole's 20th winter had been a gloomy season. But she learned a valuable lesson about self-esteem. And time marched on… When she was 21, her own introduction to hot sex had brought on a pregnancy scare, and upon hearing that her bedroom jockey had a stable of baby mamas, Carole had kicked him to the curb, telling anyone who would listen “I’m done dealin with ‘dogs’!” But she soon discovered that the canine species included many breeds and they roved everywhere, panting and sniffing and woofing. There had been the fast-talking car salesman, who’d sworn he’d pay back a $300 loan. “I’m good for it, baby, he’d insisted. “I just sold a new Ford and I gotta big commission coming!” After he’d conveniently dropped out of sight, Carole discovered what he really was had been a valet parker, fired for having a suspended driver’s license. Next, was the “misunderstood” married man whose wife had found Carole’s number and phoned. “You ain’t the first skank to try and get next to my man,” she had hissed before threatening to hunt Carole down and kick her ass. After that came the school teacher boyfriend entrusted with a key to her apartment, busted when Carole left work early and walked in on him overseeing the sex education of the 16-year-old daughter of her next door tenant. “She came on to me, and lied about her age!” was the explanation that Carole didn’t entirely doubt as she rolled her eyes and held out her hand for the key he’d sheepishly returned. After pulling his pants back up. And how could she forget the kinky cop with a yen for threesomes. “You have nothing to lose but your inhibitions,” he’d coaxed. Nothing to lose but her dashed hopes for a serious relationship. The beat went on: The “record producer”, always bragging about his latest protégé. “We’re in the studio now and my boy’s album is about to drop,” he’d raved, a claim Carole later learned was a possibility inasmuch as this bungling wanna-be worked part-time as a stock boy in a music store. Then came the buffed, good-looking, health club employee raising Carole’s suspicions when how, after a few drinks, he frequently exhibited an eye for fashion. “I sure like your shoes, and I know they’re Jimmy Choo’s,” was the gushing compliment that finally got this “cross-over” crossed off. Following that was the pre-law student, a hockey fan whose cell phone ring tone was a Beatles song, always bragging about being liberated from the black race’s enslavement to Democrats! “Fox News is actually right about there being no pictures of Obama taken as a boy in Hawaii,” he’d declared before Carole had dumped this oreo from her cookie jar. Finally trying her luck with on-line dating, she’d gotten her fill of the disappointing first dates with sweaty-palmed, penny-pinching dorks bearing little resemblance to their pictures, their height and weight lied about, their conversation boring, their bladders weak. “It’s picky gals like you who will end up regretting the way you reject us plain guys,” had been the parting shot of one of these stammering losers. Unfortunately, the attractive prospects proved to be elusive. “We’ll have to do this again,” they’d purr after meeting for a drink, a suggestion that was followed up by a flurry of text messages that suddenly stopped. And so it had gone; nothing but duds. Talk about “puttin a ring on it”! Putting a condom on it was more like it, what with an epidemic of STDS just waiting to infect - all of which had contributed to Carole’s decision to declare a hiatus and embrace celibacy. No, you couldn’t cuddle with a book but you could hug a pillow, and there was something redeeming about solitude. It was a profound exercise in getting in touch with yourself – on so many levels. Not to mention that there were actually more interesting pass-times than polishing male egos. Furthermore, there was something to be said for leading a life where she could do as she damn well pleased! Still, beneath the wires of her push-up bra, there beat a heart not yet ready to give up on finding a soul-mate... Arriving back at her work station, Carole braced herself, ready to again take on the public. Settled into her swivel chair, she had just adjusted her head-set when her hand stopped in mid-air upon spotting Lillian Moore, the bespectacled, heavy-hipped, soon-to-be-retired team leader plodding along, accompanied by who was undoubtedly going to be her replacement. Have mercy, Jesus. Before summoning her composure, Carole allowed herself to gawk long and hard at the prime specimen of strapping black manhood who was being ushered around. Suddenly revitalized, she could hardly wait to meet the new stud in the stable, and the first thing she noticed as he was being led toward her was that there was no wedding ring on his finger! Reaching her last stop, a weary Lillian Moore cleared her throat before making the introductions, her hesitation giving the soon-to-be-acquaintances a chance to lock eyes. “Carole Everly,” Lillian rasped, “this is Troy Briggs.” Overhead, the ceiling light blinked. CHAPTER TWO Staring at the tiles over the urinal in the lavatory at City-Wide Utility, Troy Briggs zipped up his fly after tucking away the well-endowed penis that was just one of his many assets. A neat hair-line and a sharp moustache, both of which provided a pleasing contrast to the rich color of his chiseled face were among the other traits contributing to his appeal. Never mind that there was a hint of vulnerability in Briggs’ intense eyes, his manner was cool, his demeanor confident, his stature tall and trim. Exiting the men’s room, glad the first day in his new position was over, this up-and-coming young brotha was motivated to square his shoulders and take stock of himself. Recently-divorced, newly-promoted on his job at City Wide Utility, his past had been plagued by problems, - set-backs that had begun when his schooling had been interrupted. Doing what he thought was honorable, he had reluctantly interrupted his pursuit of a college degree to marry his knocked-up girlfriend. In hindsight, all signs pointed to this pregnancy having been part of a feminine scheme to make him her ticket to respectibility. From the moment Coreen Booker pulled him off his bar stool and “backed that bootie up” on the dance floor of the club where he’d gone slumming, Troy Briggs had become the captive of a brassy, sassy, gainfully-employed broad plying him with offers he couldn’t refuse. There was how she’d paid for their dates, kept gas in his car, bought him gifts and, above all, lavished sex on him, lovingly anticipating his every need… “Nothin’s too good for my man,” she’d cooed one evening, squatting on top of his erection. “I was just waitin for the new Jordan’s to come out so I could get you a pair.” “You shouldn’t have,” he’d murmured, sucking up the nipples that dripped off her huge breasts. “That was a lot of money to spend on gym shoes.” But there was no end to the things Coreen wanted her man to have, and a brand new wife topped the list! So, with the announcement of a positive pregnancy test, how could he have not been affected by the tsunami of tears she’d rained on him when he’d balked at marriage? “I can’t afford a wife!” How could he have not been touched by the plaintive declarations of undying love? “You my whole world!” How could he have not been worried about the suicide bluffs? “I don’t wanna live without you.” How could he have not reacted to the desperate pleas that included the threat to abort a 4-month fetus. “You’re taking advantage of my conscience!” Resenting Coreen’s insinuations, considering himself a better class of black man than the low-life deadbeats clowning on Maury’s show, he’d finally given in. Whipped. And no sooner had he moaned “get my balls, too”, than a day later they were huddled before a judge at city hall as Troy’s words uttered in the heat of passion came back to haunt him. At least he hadn’t had to pay for the rings. True, marriage wasn’t that bad at the beginning… True, Coreen was a great balm for the ego that had been crushed by his former love interest, a sophisticated, high-maintenance diva who’d unceremoniously dumped him, coolly explaining that “your financial status and earning potential just don’t meet my expectations”. True, with the $25,000 instant lottery winner Coreen had purchased, the newlyweds had gotten off to a good start. Lucky them. True again, he had tested well enough to be hired for a good-paying new job. Capable him. But, then, falseness had reared its ugly head, when he’d discovered that his bride had lopped 3 years off her age. Devious her. “So what if you younger than me,” she’d dismissed. “Don’t make me no difference.” And there was how she had been secretly selling weed to supplement her income. “Pot-head cops was some of my best customers.” And how she’d lied about resigning from her bank teller job. “Everybody who works around money steals,” she’d scoffed when he discovered she’d been fired. And how the hot steamy sex that had scorched his loins with a frequency that was a tribute to his stamina, was suddenly being doled out on a "just-enough-to-make-him-want-more" basis. “Baby, I just ain’t feelin it right now,” she’d whimpered one night in bed. “My back is killin me.” “Cat got your - tongue?” he’d grumbled, groping his groin, “Naw, but the dog sure got yours,” she’d grumbled, turning her back on him. A sign of things to come as, with Coreen’s advancing motherhood, Troy had started to be turned off by the sight of her bloated figure and her swollen nose. He’d become impatient with her nagging and cravings and pouting, not to mention how when conversation became the substitute for copulation, he could no longer overlook what he’d been in denial about: you could take the girl out of the ghetto, but you couldn’t take the ghetto out of the girl… “I been thinkin ‘bout what to call the baby,” she’d said on another night, crunching on a dill pickle, reeking of Noxema, and wheezing with bronchitis. “We could combine our names and come up with somethin real cute.” “Like what?” he’d asked “How you go for 'LaTrocorette' ?” she’d suggested. “You gotta be kiddin,” he’d winced. And so it went until finally Coreen’s time came and after 3 days of her complaining and cursing and conniving, to the extreme relief of the entire maternity ward, Troy had taken his wife and newborn home. In the weeks that followed, his patience had been stretched to the maxim. Like a deflated balloon, there was a sniveling Coreen, waddling around in a dingy shapeless gown, her pendulous boobs leaking, her unkempt hair exploding, her whining incessant. Then there was her loud, bossy momma treating Troy like an intruder. “Y’all dumb mens don’t know nothin,” she’d regularly informed him. Last but not least was his scrawny infant daughter, resembling an alien from Mars, spitting up milk, grunting out slime, and bawling day and night. Under these trying circumstances, marital discord took on a life of its own perhaps because, as Coreen accused, Troy had become hyper-critical of the wife he found increasingly irritating. “Why you always hatin on me?” she’d moped one morning. “You ain’t all that, yourself.” “That’s not what you blubbered when you begged me to marry you,” he’d muttered, still ruminating over how he’d allowed himself to be trapped. “Nigga, kiss my ass!” she’d vented “Your fat butt will never feel my sweet lips,” he’d snorted. In the dark, however, under the sheets, when creaking bedsprings were the only agitation and gasping outcries the only communication, truces could be called, and at least Troy was doing well on his job, having just gotten another upgrade. The following year, however, things took a turn for the worse when tragedy struck. His precious little sickly daughter had been diagnosed with a rare affliction that included progressive retardation and a life expectancy of no more than 3 years. If hearing this shocking news had devastated Troy, it had demonized Coreen, possessing her to viciously lash out at him … “If you hadn’t always been around puffin them cigarettes when I was pregnant, this woulda never happened!” she’d snarled. “And your guzzling Nyquil for every little sniffle couldn’t have helped matters," he’d spat, wishing, indeed, that he had kicked the habit sooner. On and on it went. Stressed out and guilt-ridden, eventually focusing on the best available option, Troy had finally made the decision to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement program offered by his job, burying himself in the studies that helped to take his mind off his dying daughter and his deteriorating marriage. Sadly, his acquiring a degree had coincided with his losing a child, causing a grief-stricken Troy to withdraw even more after his pitiful little Treena had lost her struggle. It was while slumped on the side of their bed one evening that he’d snapped out of his mood, watching as a half–naked Coreen announced that it was time to start trying to make a “normal” baby. Stung by her choice of words, he became revolted as she began to perform a lewd belly dance, top-heavy and dimpled with cellulite, her grinding pelvis coaxing her stretch marks to crawl around her flabby gut, her neglected hygiene offending his nostrils. And then he knew. He’d had his fill. The time had come. The only thing he wanted to make, - was a walk out the goddamned door! Their divorce had been bitter and spiteful with Coreen getting everything but his car, his lap top, his exercise bike, and, only because her feet didn’t fit them, 4 pairs of Michael Jordan athletic shoes she’d bought him. Facing each other outside the courtroom, she had sneered at him, doing a good job of distorting what was left of her cuteness. "You gonna miss this good ol pussy,” she predicted, twirling the ends of her flowing new weave around the tips of her long, glittering fingernails. “I’ll manage,” was all he’d said, unmoved by what her low-cut, too-tight dress revealed. Then he’d turned his back and walked away, tuning out the spate of vile names she'd called after him. Those had really been trying times, Troy Briggs thought as he came to the end of a hall and entered the small nondescript office he would be now be occupying. Then, for some reason, Coreen’s parting words about missing sex came back to him. If she could see him now, he mused. Comparing his work place environment to that of a rooster in a hen house was not a stretch. Everywhere he turned, provocative prospects were ogling him, and already a perky little chick had put his pecker on alert. Yep, things were finally looking up.