#writephoto #Serenity A Drabble

“Serenity”

twilight_serenity

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For visually challenged writers, the image shows a blue-lit landscape, land and calm water mirroring the cloudy, silver-lit sky.

writephoto logoWritten for the #WRITEPHOTO WEEKLY PROMPT hosted by SUE VINCENT

Calm possessed her for the first time in seven months.

She no longer felt the need to scream and curse God.

The cacophony of doctors, nurses, and life-sustaining machines no longer blared in her head.

In this moment, her only memory was of the beautiful Mona Lisa smile her mother gave her before taking her last breath.

She looked down, her tears mixing with the cool evening waters, watching the ashes float away, becoming one with her mother’s beloved cove.

Despite her broken heart, she enjoyed the twilight’s serenity, knowing the woman who had given her life was at peace.

A drabble is a short work of fiction of precisely one hundred words in length.
©2020 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

#writephoto #tokens “Tokens of Innocence”

“Tokens”

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For visually challenged writers, the image shows a feather, an autumn leaf and two bright red berries or beads, left amongst the stones and plants by a stone that looks like a head with jewelled eyes…

writephoto logoWritten for the #WRITEPHOTO WEEKLY PROMPT hosted by SUE VINCENT

“Tokens of Innocence”

“I’m nervous.”

“Man, I’m terrified.”

Twelve-year-old Jacky Moore turned to his friend, Matty Eastman, also twelve, and both boys erupted into laughter.

Jacky swept his dark brown curls away from his eyes. “We sound like babies.”

“Dude, think about it. Two months ago, we were the big kids at Meadowbrook Elementary, and in two days we’ll be seventh-graders at Southwestern Junior High… and the babies in the building.”

“You’re not helping.”

Matty leaned back against the birch tree and looked out over the small pond.

“I know, man, but it’s all scary. Six years ago, we were in kindergarten and six years from now, we’ll be high school graduates.”

“I’m gonna throw up.”

Matty chuckled and pulled a long tapered feather from his rucksack. “Remember when we found this and had everyone convinced it was an eagle feather?”

“You still have that? I thought you tossed it after Bartholomew Baden busted us.”

“He only knew it was a wild turkey feather because his uncle poaches them.”

Jacky sat down next to his friend. “Big-mouth Bart. Didn’t his family move?”

“Yeah. To someplace like Montana or Wyoming, I think.”

“Where there are lots of wild turkeys.”

The boys high-fived each other, then Jacky nodded toward the bag. “What else you carrying around?”

With a mischievous glint in his eye, Matty reached into the rucksack and took out a large white rock.

“Meldrick!” Jacky grabbed the smooth rock with bejeweled eyes and clutched it to his chest, belly-laughing.

Matty tried to reprimand his friend. “Don’t Laugh at Lord Meldrick, he’s sensitive,” but fell over in his own fit of laughter.

Sucking in large gulps of air, Jacky held Meldrick in the palm of his outstretched hand. “Dude, this thing got you into so much trouble… but it was funny too.”

“Whew! Don’t I know it.” Matty grinned. “But it was fun.”

“I thought you were going to be the first fourth-grader at Meadowbrook to get medicated and put away!”

Matty howled. “I still say I didn’t do anything wrong. My dad went on and on about all the money people spent on pet rocks in the eighties, so what was wrong with me having a pet rock?”

“Dude, you didn’t go out and buy a pet rock… you made your own!” Falling to his side with laughter again, Lord Meldrick rolled from his hand. Matty leaned over and picked him up. He fingered the red stone eyes he’d taken from his mother’s craft box and applied with a glue gun.

“I thought I was being creative. You know, using my imagination.”

“I could be wrong, Eastman, but talking to Lord Meldrick could have been the problem.”

“Why? We talk to Ranger and your family talks to Deacon. No one expects dogs to respond, but we still talk to them.”

Jacky rolled on to his stomach, leaning on his elbows.

“I believe your dad said, “Dogs can interact with us. Rocks can’t.”

Matty snickered. “Only my dad.” He leaned over and sat Meldrick at the base of the tree.

“You leaving it here?”

“Meldrick is a he, not it, and yeah. My mom’s eyebrows disappear into her hairline every time she walks into my room and sees him.”  Matty stuck the turkey feather into the ground next to his pet rock. “He can watch over our spot and be Ruler of the Woods.”

Matty stood, brushing off his jeans. “We’d better go. You know my dad. His idea of well-done burgers is burned burgers.”

Jacky stood to follow his best friend but stopped. “Wait.”

“Whassup?”

Slipping his hand into his pocket, Jacky removed to smooth red beads and placed them on a rock next to Meldrick.

Matty gripped his friend’s shoulder. “You sure, man?”

They both looked down at the beads given to Matty by a crisis counselor after his neighbors and classmates, Tommy and Ricky Reynolds, were killed in a car accident with their father two years ago. Jacky and the twin brothers started kindergarten together.  The beads were one of the coping mechanisms students were offered to deal with grief and anxiety. Jacky Moore carried his beads every day for almost two years.

Jacky smiled, swiping away a lone tear. “Yeah, man. It’s time to let them go.” He considered his friend. “Life sucks.”

Waggling his eyebrows to lighten the moment, Matty pulled a face. “And we’re only seventh graders.”

Jacky grinned and pushed his friend toward the well-worn path. Matty rambled on.

“We have to get used to six classes a day, final exams, MORE homework—I think the universe hates us—sports practices… dude, you playing basketball or football? We’re tall enough to play b-ball, but girls love football players. Girls! Dude, we’re going to meet new girls and maybe even date. Uh oh. Dates cost money. Man, we’ll have to get jobs! Does this never end?”

Jacky laughed, shaking his head as Matty babbled. He glanced back once at the small tokens from moments in their childhood and knew things would never be the same.

 

©2020 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

#writephoto #crescent “Moments in Time”

#Crescent”

crescent moon writephoto

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For visually challenged writers, the image shows the dark silhouette of a tree against a cloudy sky. The horizon is lit by the gold of dawn, while a crescent moon hangs above the tree.

writephoto logoWritten for the #WRITEPHOTO WEEKLY PROMPT hosted by SUE VINCENT

“Moments in Time”

Having a boss who yelled too much and coworkers who did too little, Gwen Foster closed her garage door, happy to be home and alone.

She walked through the mudroom, stepping over the food dishes and litter box.

Damn cat. Two-hundred-dollars for Morrie, his shots, food and toys, and one week after he became her new roommate, Gwen opened the front door to receive an Amazon delivery, and Morrie took off. A week of lost cat posts online and walking the neighborhood and she was still cat-less.

The Imperial March played on her cellphone as she entered her bedroom and Gwen tossed it on her dresser unanswered, refusing to go to the dark side. The last thing she needed right now was to hear her mother’s weekly lecture on how her biological clock was ticking. Maggie Foster knew if Gwen would simply call Charlie and apologize, he’d come back. What she refused to believe was Charles David Benson was a lying, cheating scumbag who only used a promise of a future together to get Gwen to help pay for his extravagant lifestyle. In Maggie’s mind, women did whatever was necessary to make their men shine.

Gwen knew you couldn’t polish a rock.

She stopped long enough to kick off her black heels. She wanted nothing more than to shower away the film of office politics, difficult clients, and incompetent management that clung to her like a second skin.

Her gray pencil skirt and red silk blouse joined the heels somewhere on the bedroom floor. Gwen’s steps quickened, almost racing to the shower as her cell rang again. She turned the water on full force to drown out her mother’s persistence.

Grabbing a towel from the shelf, she threw it over the shower door then headed for her clothes hamper while removing her bra.

Catching her reflection, Gwen froze. The corners of her mouth twitched toward a smile as she caressed the small tattoo on her left shoulder.

Turning to get a full view, the world fell away as Gwen recalled a random vacation and a collision with another hotel guest in front of the elevators.

She could never explain it to anyone—although she’d never tried—but there was an instant connection with the man with the dark brown eyes. And less than an hour later, they were sitting in the hotel bar. They exchanged enough personal information to know she was Gwen; he was Gordon; they were both born in 1983, and neither was married nor had children.

They spent a perfect week together windsurfing, paddle boating, bowling, and exploring San Diego. Seaport Village was a daily stop for an oversized, four-dip waffle cone, just as each evening ended with walks on the beach under a waning moon. There was no mention of family or jobs or anything that existed before they met. This was their time.

On their last evening together, the couple strolled back to their hotel hand-in-hand after sharing a fresh seafood dinner. A light melancholy existed between them for the first time since they met, knowing it was time to check back into reality.

Gwen and Gordon weren’t in love or destined to be together. They didn’t share addresses or phone numbers or even take vacation pictures. But that week belonged to them. No one could ever take those moments in time away.

But when they crossed the street and found themselves in front of a dimly lit tattoo parlor, they looked at each other and grinned. Gordon looked up into the night sky and Gwen followed his gaze. She squeezed his hand, and when he returned his eyes to her, she nodded.

They went inside and told the grizzled old owner what they wanted. Used to inking skulls, devils, and flames, the owner—whose name was Bucket—scoffed, but dug through stacks of drawings until he found one they agreed on, and Gwen and Gordon parted the next morning with smiles, kisses, and sore arms.

She thought of him over the years, always with a smile and no regrets. Caressing the golden crescent moon on her shoulder, Gwen chastised herself for forgetting life was made up of moments, not just work schedules and family squabbles, or lost pets and dead beat boyfriends. They had their moments too, but the ones that counted were the ones that made you smile… like she was smiling now.

©2020 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

#My52 “Captive Heart, Part VII”

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#My52 – Week 21

Word Prompt – breakfast

Word Count – 1161

Reading Time – 2 mins, 16 secs

~~~

“Man, this is some straight up bull.”

Prentiss paced around the sofa where his brother sat slumped over.

“You know Yvonne is behind this. Have the cops even questioned her?”

Mark sat up, dragging his hands down his face and through his dreads. “It’s 3 a.m., dude, and it hasn’t been an hour since they finished with me. I’m sure they haven’t knocked on her door yet.”

“What the hell are they waiting for? An invitation to tea? They should have picked her up the second you gave them her name.”

When he got no response, Prentiss plopped own on the sofa next to Mark. “You look like hell.”

“Damn. Thanks, man. Love you too.”

“You know what I mean. I’m sorry for blowing up at you. It just pisses me off to see you go through shit like this when you’ve done nothing wrong.”

“It’s definitely not the weekend I planned.”

“I know, right? It was cool getting away to chill with Mom and Pop-… oh, damn! Mom and Pop. What are you going to tell them?”

“Nothing yet.”

“Huh uh. You know how upset they’ll be if you don’t call them right away.”

“And tell them what? That ten years of my life has been destroyed and the woman carrying my child is responsible?”

He rose from the sofa and walked over to the patio doors, staring out into the darkness. “I don’t know of anyone who could hate me this much. Yvonne is angry I said no to marriage, and yes, she knew I’d be out of town,” he turned to his brother, “but this is extreme for even her.”

“Stop it.”

“Stop what –”

“She hasn’t been questioned yet and you’re already absolving her of guilt.”

“I’m not- ”

“You are! I get it, man. You still care about her. Maybe even love her. She’s held your heart captive since we were kids. But the Mark I spent the last few days with had found direction and was making plans. Hold on to that guy.”

“I hear you and you’re right.”

He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and turned back to the darkness of the night.

“It’s just coming to terms with everything being gone. My furniture, clothes, artwork… nothing was spared.”

“What are you going to do?”

“It’s not like I have options. Detective Lewis said they’d be done with my place no later than Monday morning. I have to get an adjuster in to file a claim, get the place cleaned up… and start over.”

“Damn. This is just messed up.”

“I couldn’t agree more, but I appreciate my big brother taking me in until I get it all figured out.”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious.”

“What was I supposed to do? Let you stay in some hotel with five dollar bottled water and ten dollar peanuts? Not gonna happen. Mi casa, es tu casa.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Stop thanking me. Now I can blame you for eating all the creamsicles.”

“I hate those things.”

Prentiss waggled his eyebrows. “That’s beside the point.”

Mark smiled for the first time since he’d arrived.

“That’s more like it! Now, c’mon.”

“I know I’ll regret asking, but where are we going in the middle of the night?”

“We’re both too agitated to sleep so you’re buying me breakfast.”

He had no appetite, but Mark was grateful for the distraction… and his brother.

 

He was sick of lists.

There was a list of damages for the police department, another for his insurance claim and HOA, and still a shopping list for his immediate personal needs.

Going over the project list for the rebuild one more time, Mark hit send on the email tab. Now it was Bailey’s problem.

He sat back in the chair, the weight of the week bearing down on him. Yvonne had returned none of his calls or texts and his recent conversation with Detective Lewis only added fuel to the fire.

“The partial prints the crime scene unit pulled weren’t enough to match any prints on file.”

“So, what are you saying, Detective?”

“We have no leads… ”

“Great. Just great.”

“… but we keep the investigation going. Try another canvas of your building and neighborhood.”

“Why bother? My neighbor was out and no one else heard anything.”

“You’d be surprised at what people remember after we’ve questioned them that’s helped us solve cases.”

“Detective, are you sure positive – ”

“Mr. Kelly, we’ve confirmed everything twice. Ms. Bellgoode was at her parents’ in San Diego from Friday afternoon until Monday morning.”

“Pretty convenient.”

“Agreed, not to mention the young lady is far too arrogant and condescending for my tastes, but I have no choice but to look for other leads.”

“Of which you have none.”

“True. But let me ask you again. You seriously believe your girlfriend is capable of something like this?”

Mark sighed. “Until a few weeks ago, I would have said no. But things went sour fast and I saw a different side of her, or maybe it was there all along and I just refused to see it. And she’s not my girlfriend anymore.”

“But the baby?”

“Still not sure about that. She said she was pregnant, but I’ve seen no confirmation.”

“Domestic issues turn ugly fast but I hope you’re wrong if you are going to be a father.”

Mark wasn’t optimistic about the future. The insurance adjuster had said what Detective Lewis left out.

“I see this two or three times a month, unfortunately. Homes are broken into all the time. Thieves are looking for items they can turn into quick cash.” He looked down at his portable workstation. “They took nothing from your place, but destroyed everything. This wasn’t random… this was personal.”

He’d been with Yvonne over five years and had dated no one else in over six. He hung out with his brother or guys from his work crew. His closest friend from college lived over seven hours away. There was no one else in his immediate personal life. If it wasn’t Yvonne, who did this to him?

Mark shoved his tablet into his backpack, locked up the work shack and headed for the parking lot.

He’d told his crew he might join him at Dessie’s for a beer, but now all he wanted to do was get back to his brother’s place and try to rest his weary mind. When had his life become such a shit-storm?

Mark’s brain had other plans, however, racking up a to-do list for the weekend ahead. Furniture store, bedding and linen, dishes-

His heart sank as he approached his Tahoe.

Stunned, he walked around the vehicle then turned in circles taking in the empty parking lot.

No security cameras, and construction fencing blocking all view from the street.

A perfect place and opportunity for someone to slash his tires and smash out his windows.

Clenching his fists, Mark’s body shook with contempt and rage for the anonymous attacker… who was stalking him.

********

Someone is turning Mark’s life upside down and the police say it isn’t Yvonne. Is there someone else with a grudge against Mark Kelly?

To be continued…

 

Part IPart II   |  Part IIIPart IV  |  Part V  |  Part VI  |

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “Captive Heart, Part VI”

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#My52 – Week 20

Word Prompt – elevator

Word Count – 921

Reading Time – 2 mins, 6 secs

~~~

After dropping off Prentiss and promising to meet up for dinner next week, Mark Kelly headed for home.

Spending time with his family rejuvenated him. His parents’ understanding and wise counsel bolstered his resolve.

Charles Kelly’s expression had been grave.

“In a perfect world, we can do whatever we want, fulfill all our whims and desires.” He clasped his wife’s hand. “We will always support any decision you make and welcome a grandchild with open arms.”

“They will set records for spoiling a kid.”

Trudy covered her mouth to hide her giggles as Charles glared at his oldest son. “No comments from the peanut gallery.” He returned his attention to Mark.

“Follow your heart, son, but remember to listen to your mind… think it through. Marriage is an important step and not a solution to a problem.”

There was a time when he would have moved heaven and earth to have Yvonne as his wife. But loving eyes blinded him to her true character, her personal agenda, and the truth. He was nothing more than an end to the means for her, used and manipulated when needed then discarded.

Those days were over, but his mother cautioned him to not allow Yvonne to use their child as a pawn.

“All too often, children pay the price for their parents’ anger and hostility. I spent years watching my cousin, Chassie, use her son, Lee, to hurt his father. She’d show up at his job, home… family gatherings, always angry and yelling and demanding. He paid more than the required support but it was never enough for her. She wanted to make him pay for not wanting her and made the man’s life hell until he got an attorney and sued and won joint custody. Then, she interfered with his visitations.”

Trudy stared off across the backyard as though looking into the past.

“Karma is never far away though, and Chassie’s caught up to her and her bar-hopping when Lee was nine. She got two DUIs in a month and Lee’s dad sued for full custody and won.” She considered her son. “I don’t want you or any grandchild of mine going through that.”

After meeting with Yvonne and confirming her pregnancy and due date, he’d call the number on the business card his mother gave him. The family law firm had an excellent record in securing fathers’ rights in custody cases and Mark would fight for his.

He slowed as he drove past the front of his condo, curious about the police cars parked on the street. He hoped the McGills weren’t back to their weekend fighting. The management company said one more incident would force them to take legal action against the retired couple.

Rounding the corner, he entered the underground parking, glad to be home. He’d binge-watch the new season of Lucifer on Netflix and sleep-in tomorrow before getting an update on the workweek ahead.

After grabbing his duffel bag and laptop, Mark started for the elevator but stopped, seeing yellow police tape blocking the entrance.

His curiosity increased as he walked up the ramp to the exterior entrance.

Several police officers stood around the door. One stepped forward blocking Mark’s path.

“May I ask what your business is here, sir?”

Mark frowned. “I live here, What’s going on? What happened?”

“Do you have identification, sir?”

He pulled out his wallet and handed the cop his license. “Are you going to tell me what this is about? Is anyone hurt? Is it –”

The cop cut him off. “You live in unit E25?”

“Yes, I do. What is- ”

The cop turned and motioned to another uniformed colleague. “This is Mr. Kelly. He lives in E25. Escort him upstairs.”

“Sir, follow me, please.”

Exasperated, Mark followed the cop into the building and up three flights of stairs. Exiting the stairwell, he froze.

Only two units occupied each floor, and still more police personnel were gathered outside Mark’s condo.

Alarmed, he was in motion, rushing down the hallway.

“What’s going on here? What happened? This is my-”

“Sir?” A man in a dark suit tried to stop Mark but the uniformed cop spoke up.

“This is Mr. Kelly, the resident.”

Looking over the man’s shoulder, Mark’s mouth gaped open. He dropped his duffel and laptop bags.

“What the hell?”

Red paint covered every surface. Someone ripped the upholstery on the sofa and love seat to shreds before dousing them in paint. His flat screen television was smashed and lay in pieces in front of the stand. The African masks he’d spent years collecting were all smashed in the fireplace. Tables were overturned, pictures ripped from the walls… nothing had been spared.

“W-Who did this? When? Why?”

The suited man spoke up. “I’m Detective Lewis, Mr. Kelly and I was hoping you could answer those questions for us.”

Mark tried to swallow past the lump in his throat as he walked into his destroyed home. He turned in circles in the middle of the room, incredulous at the callous violation of his life. He hung his head.

“Mr. Kelly? Do you know who would do this to you? Mr. Kelly?”

He turned to the detective, shaking his head.

“You’re just getting home. Where have you been?”

“F-Fresno. Visiting my parents.”

“When did you leave town?”

“Wednesday.”

“Who knew you were leaving town?”

“My job. And my brother, but he was with me.”

“No one else?”

“No. I didn’t talk to -”

Mark clenched his fists as realization dawned on him.

Yvonne knew.

********

Who vandalized Mark’s condo? Yvonne?

To be continued…

 

Part IPart II   |  Part IIIPart IV  |  Part V  |

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “Captive Heart, Part V”

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#My52 – Week 19

Word Prompt – home

Word Count – 763

Reading Time – 3 mins, 21 secs

~~~

Mark smiled as he stepped out of the Tahoe.

Home.

The chaos of his world always disappeared when he went home.

It didn’t matter home was no longer the three-bedroom home in the cul-de-sac on Highview Avenue in Altadena. His home was wherever his parents were and that would never change.

After retiring, Charles and Trudy Kelly gave up urban life for quieter climes just outside Fresno. Only four homes sat on Old Spanish Trail Road and the Kelly’s owned the last one on the end, at the edge of the woods.

Prentiss exited the vehicle, walking around the front to stand next to his brother.

“Why does this always feel so good?”

Mark chuckled.

“‘Cuz we’re kids again and Mama and Pop will make everything right?”

Slapping his brother on the back, Prentiss nodded. “Exactly.”

They looked up as the front door opened. Charles and Trudy walked down the pathway to greet them looking a decade younger than a couple in their mid-sixties.

At just over six-feet tall, Charles was shorter than both his sons, but his brawn was equal to theirs and showed no signs of softening with age. He’d given up the corporate look of close-cropped hair and a clean-shaven face and now shaved his head and wore a two-day growth beard.

His wife of forty-two years walked at his side; her five-feet nine-inch stature almost regal. Her salt and pepper block braids were wrapped atop her head like a crown.

And as always, they held hands.

“C’mon kiddo. Let’s go see if Mama and Pop can work their special brand of Kelly magic and right your world.”

Mark grinned, following his brother up the pathway, but he couldn’t ignore the niggling feeling of dread creeping up the back of his neck.

“So, just like that, she demanded you marry her? Like she’s the queen of the planet?”

Trudy stroked her husband’s arm. “Calm down, CJ. It could have been worse.”

“I don’t see how it-”

“She could have shown up with a minister and a shotgun.”

Prentiss roared with laughter, and Mark and Charles chuckled despite the gravity of the situation.

Trudy’s expression sobered.

“Mark Allen, if you’re positive you’re the father of this child, there’s no question you’ll be a responsible father and provider. That’s just who you are. But I don’t understand why she wants marriage. It’s not something you do on a whim. Being a parent is a big responsibility, but being a spouse is hard work.”

“Am I that much work, Gertrude?”

She grinned and kissed his cheek. “Honey, you are a full-time job and overtime on the weekends.”

“TMI! TMI! Children in the room.”

Prentiss threw his hands up over his face while Mark squeezed his eyes shut.

“What children? You see any children, Trudy?”

“No, but I see two grown men on the other side of thirty.”

Grabbing his chest, Prentiss feigned injury. “Dang, Mama. Direct hit.”

She waved him off addressing Mark.

“All I’m saying is marriage is a lifetime commitment that too many don’t take seriously. Back in our day and the days of our parents, if a young woman got pregnant, there had to be a wedding to remove the shame and keep family dignity. Of course, it didn’t, and they shamed some women the rest of their lives… even the men who got them pregnant and married them.

“Things aren’t like that now, but women still pay a harsher price than men, because it’s too easy for them to walk away. But that’s not the kind of son we raised, and as long as Yvonne will work with you for the child’s benefit, I see no reason for either of you to lock yourself into a marriage that doesn’t have a strong foundation of love, trust, and honesty.”

“Okay, Okay, Mama. I get it. I understand.” He reached over and squeezed her hand. “Thank you. You still give the best lectures around. But marriage isn’t on the list right now. I still need to confirm Yvonne’s pregnancy. I’ve had too many friends—male and female—freak out over home pregnancy tests that were wrong.”

“I ask her to make an appointment next week with a reputable doctor and text me the details. I plan to be there.”

Charles and Trudy exchanged surprised glances before Trudy responded.

“Explain to us again why you needed our input?”

Mark held out his upturned hands, fingers splayed. “Um. That’s the extent of my plan.”

Charles slid to the edge of the sofa, leaning toward his youngest son. “We’ve talked all around the subject so I’m just going to ask the question.” Concern was etched deep in his furrowed brow. “You said marriage isn’t on the list right now but is it something you’re considering? Son, do you want to marry Yvonne?”

********

Mark’s dad didn’t pull any punches, but what will Mark’s answer be?

To be continued…

 

Part IPart II   |  Part IIIPart IV  |

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “Captive Heart, Part IV”

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#My52 – Week 18

Word Prompt – draft

Word Count – 1174

Reading Time – 6 mins, 28 secs

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“What?”

“You heard me. Yvonne’s pregnant.”

Prentiss scrubbed his hand across his stubbled jaw then gulped his draft beer.

“Not what I was expecting for dinner conversation.”

“And not what I had planned.”

“Uh, what? Just when did you find out? What had you planned to talk about?”

Mark Kelly folded his arms and leaned on the table.

“To answer your first question, thirty minutes ago. And the second, I have the next five days free and wanted to know if you could get the time off too and drive up to Fresno with me.”

“Whoa, whoa! Back up. You found out thirty minutes ago?”

Mark hung his head and took a deep breath before answering.

“After we confirmed dinner, I went home to change. Yvonne was waiting for me.”

Prentiss signaled their server for another round.

His brother frowned.

“Slow down, man. We’re both driving.”

“I know, I know.” He emptied his glass and set it aside. “I’m just trying to wrap my head around this… this ambush by your girlfriend. Besides. Uber is just a phone call away.”

“Yeah, ambush is a good way to describe it, but she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Please. Since when?”

“We argued close to a month ago.” He averted his eyes. “Haven’t talked since.”

“And you didn’t think to share this tidbit with your brother?” He threw his hands up in the air just as the server arrived with fresh drinks. He took a large gulp.

“Damn, man. I’m gonna be drunk on my ass at this rate.” He reached for the glass again, but Mark pushed it out of his reach.

“How about we order some dinner before you finish that? You need to eat something.”

Annoyed, Prentiss sat back in his seat. “No, what I need is to understand why my brother’s life is going to hell quick, fast, and in a hurry.”

“You and me both.”

Mark opened his menu, pretending to be engrossed in his meal options.

Watching his brother, Prentiss smirked. “This reminds of the time you cracked my skateboard and hid it until you worked up the nerve to tell me.”

He sobered when Mark lowered the menu and he sawed his pained expression.

“Talk to me, man. You look like something’s eating you from the inside.”

Dropping his menu on the table, Mark emptied his first Seven & Seven before reaching for the fresh one.

“That’s just anger, man.”

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“Well, Yvonne didn’t show up with smiles or the glow of impending motherhood. She was livid, full of attitude, and told me I was going to marry her.”

Prentiss’ mouth gaped open as he fell back in his chair.

 

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me, Mark. I’m pregnant and we’re getting married.”

“No. We’re not.”

“Yes, we-”

He cut her off. “Just a few ago, if you’d told me you’re pregnant, I would have been on my knees begging you to marry me. Those days are gone.”

“If you think I’m going to be some single mother worn to a frazzle trying to raise a kid on my own, you’re-”

“I will provide for my child. That goes without saying. But I don’t have to marry you to do that.”

“We’re a package deal, Kelly, you don’t get to be a daddy without me.”

“A package deal? You sound like a used car salesman.”

“Save the jokes, Mark, this is serious. My parents are arranging for a small ceremony, and-”

He snapped. “What the hell?”

“Don’t you yell-”

“We broke up three weeks ago… over money and-”

“We did not break up.”

He raised his hand and pointed at her.

“You said if I didn’t transfer the money to pay back your dad not to bother calling you again.”

“Oh, I knew you were just all in your male feelings. Men are such big babies, but I have no more time for that bullshit when I’m having a real baby. We have to get married.”

He dropped his arms to his sides but his clenched fists proved the rage he tried to contain.

“Again, you sound like a used car salesman trying to sell a car to an idiot.”

“Now look-”

“No highlighting the amenities… we’re going to be parents; we’ll have our own little family; no ‘I love you, Mark.’” He gestured toward her. “You haven’t even told me how far along you are.”

“Oh, my God. You sound like a starry-eyed girl. I peed on a stick, big whoop. Men don’t care about the details-”

“Some men don’t. But I do and the fact you don’t know that means you don’t know me and I’ve wasted four years of my life with you.”

“Now I’m a waste of time? Seriously, Mark, how could you be so heartless and cruel?” Yvonne turned away.

“I guess the last four years weren’t a complete loss, I learned heartless and cruel from the best… and don’t even think about turning on the waterworks.”

She whirled around to face him. “Feel better, Mark? Are you over your little show of bravado, because we are getting married.”

A wave of sadness washed over him taking the remnants of their future with it. For twenty years, she was all he ever wanted. Now he understood. His brother was right. He was fascinated… and obsessed with what Yvonne represented. His dream girl.

“Earlier today, I thought about us and thought perhaps I’d been too hard on you. Maybe I hadn’t sacrificed enough for the woman I loved.”

Her face brightened.

He backed up toward his condo. “But that was just longing for something I’ve never had with you, a healthy, loving relationship.”

“Don’t you walk away from-”

“I have to meet someone and I’m running late-”

“Mark, don’t you-”

“… and then I’ll be out-of-town for a few days.”

“I’m warning you-”

“You’re going to make a doctor’s appointment for a real pregnancy test and text me the details. I’ll meet you there.”

“This is all just a waste of time when we should talk to my parents about the wedding.”

“No.”

“Why are you being like this? We should be making plans for the future.”

“That’s what I’m doing, Yvonne because regardless of the tests, we’re never getting married.”

 

When he didn’t continue, Prentiss let out a long, low whistle.

“Don’t stop there. What happened? What did she say?”

Mark cringed. “Not sure. I walked away. But, it involved a lot of yelling and swearing. I went inside, washed up, shook out my dreads, and found a clean shirt. When I came back out, she was gone.”

“Damn, bro. What are you going to do?”

“My plans haven’t changed. I’m going to Fresno and I’d like to have my brother along for the ride to sing 90s songs loud and off-key.”

Prentiss chuckled.

“Yvonne told her parents about the baby and got them involved before she told me. Time to get our parents involved. You in?”

Prentiss’ lips twitched into a smug grin. “Sounds like a road trip to me, little brother.”

********

Mark and Yvonne had their face-time and it didn’t go well. He stood his ground but Yvonne always gets her way.

To be continued…

 

Part IPart II   |  Part III  |

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#My52 “Captive Heart, Part III”

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#My52 – Week 17

Word Prompt – fatigue

Word Count – 1781

Reading Time – 7 mins, 08 secs

~~~

“Hey, Mark? Mind if I take an extended break? Bout an hour?”

Looking up from the testing console, Mark grinned.

“Hold your horses, Dale. I’ll call for lunch in an hour.”

“And I plan to be here to eat it.”

“So, what do you need an hour break for?”

“I wanna to go down to Russo Construction and Meacham Contractors and punch the shit of the son-of-a-bitch who thought this was proper wiring.”

He yanked part of the melted generator from its housing frame and plopped it onto the workbench. “That’s damn near criminal.”

Mark snickered.

“Calm down, man. You’d only find empty buildings. They ceased operations and locked their doors ahead of the court filings.”

“Well, damn. I was looking forward to knocking some heads.”

“Chill, Dale, chill. It’ll all get sorted and we will be well paid for fixing the mistakes of idiots.”

His crew foreman didn’t respond and Mark glanced in his direction.

“Dale?”

“Dammit it all to hell!” He kicked the workbench.

“No, no, no! Do not give me any more bad news, man.”

“Sorry, chief, but this shit is shot. It’s nothing more than an expensive doorstop now.”

“Damn. Every time I give Bailey a damage report, the total climbs higher.”

“Not our fault. We don’t have bullshit for brains.”

Mark chuckled as Dale considered the damaged generator.

“What is it?”

“Nothing, nothing. It just reminded me of a rack of lamb my wife made once. Dry and crusty on the outside dry and crusty on the inside. It was like eating ashes covered in mint jelly.”

Turning his head, Mark covered his mouth to hide his grin.

“I don’t care if you laugh. I survived. Just like I survived the boiled brisket, under-cooked fried chicken, overcooked flounder, and tostadas served on homemade tortillas hard enough to be used in an Olympic discus throw.”

Dropping his arms to his sides, Mark bellowed with laughter. “No disrespect, Dale, but sounds like your wife’s cooking skills are lacking.”

Dale smirked. “Aren’t you kind?” “Sounds like your wife’s cooking skills are lacking,” he mimicked. “My Susan is a horrible cook and all the recipes, online videos and cooking classes have been no help.”

“What do you do? Eat before you go home? Hide food in the garage?”

Dale’s face fell. “I eat every bite.”

“I don’t get it. If the food is that bad, why would-”

“Every single meal my Susan makes for me takes great effort on her part and is done out of love.” He laid his hand over his heart.

“I’m lost, man, and wasn’t trying to be mean-”

“She taught math at Cal State for fourteen years. Her cooking wasn’t a big deal in those days. She was busy, I was busy, the boys had lots of activities in and out of school, so we ate a lot of takeout. Both our moms were still living, and they always kept a casserole in the freezer for us.”

His demeanor changed and Mark could see the sadness in his eyes from across the room.

“Then my Susan got hit with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. What a nightmare. Doctors, misdiagnoses, medication… it was too much for her and sent her into severe depression. She had to quit teaching, and withdrew from life, including the boys and me. And if that wasn’t enough to make us all loony, we lost both our moms during that time, within a year of each other. And I thought I would lose her too.”

“Dale, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get in your business or dredge-”

“But we found a doctor up in Pasadena who gave us the right diagnosis and understood CFS. There’s no cure, but new medications and therapies, and a wealth of information made a big difference in Susan’s health. It’s been nine years and we manage. Some days she can barely hold her head up and other days I get home and find her gardening.”

“You have nothing to apologize for, dude. This is life… our lives.”

“You speak in plural…’we’…’our’…”

“Hell yes, I do! Her fight is my fight. We’re in this together.”

He approached his supervisor.

“I can’t feel her pain. I can’t take away her fatigue. But, I took vows “for better or for worse, through sickness and in health” to be at her side.”

“Too many don’t take those words to heart… or say them from the heart. They’re caught up in the feel-good moment of getting married and looking forward to the honeymoon. They haven’t been tested, and not everyone will pass.”

“I worked with this guy years back, Gill Fonner, who divorced his wife of seventeen years because she lost her breasts to cancer. You hear me? She had pieces of her body cut away so she could continue living… and he bailed. Said it was too much for him to deal with.”

“Another idiot, Sid Broome, had only been married four years when his wife had a massive stroke at thirty-six. She couldn’t speak or walk. He left.”

“Damn.”

“I know, right? But this story has a happy ending. She spent her forty-first birthday in a bikini on a beach in Cancun… with her new husband. She married one of the doctors who consulted on her case. Even at her worst, unable to do anything for herself, he saw her beautiful soul and stayed by her side.”

“What happened to Sid?”

“Miserable bastard lives down in San Pedro, working around the docks and drinking too much to numb his regrets.”

“He got exactly what he deserves.”

“No, he and Gill both deserve an ass-kicking. I tried to tell them both that marriage doesn’t work that way. Real love takes real sacrifice. You can’t have one without the other. You don’t get to walk away when it gets hard. That’s when you’re tested. That’s when you find out what kind of human being you are. And they suck.”

“Agreed. Now I want to beat the crap out of them.”

Dale chuckled.

“I started all this to say I know what Susan’s been through and how far she’s come. I sat her down one day and told her she didn’t have to cook or clean a thing. The boys and I would do more, and if needed, I’d hire someone to come in two or three times a week.”

“You’re a good husband, Dale.”

“Yeah? I regret ever bringing it up. I hurt my wife that day.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’d lost her good health, career, professional contacts and even her friends stopped coming around because they didn’t understand why Susan was always so tired or always in bed. I’m not angry, though. In the beginning, we didn’t understand either. But by offering to do more and hire help, I was taking away her family… saying she was useless.” He hung his head. “She cried for so long it scared me. I got down on my knees and begged her to forgive me.”

“Of course, she did, because she loves me as much as I love her. So, yes, I sit down to meals I sometimes cannot identify, but there’s no way I’ll ever criticize or refuse any of them.”

Mark could only smile and shake his head, the lump in his throat making speech difficult.

“What?”

He cleared his throat. “That’s the kind of love my parents share… and the kind that eludes my brother and me.”

“Trust it will come and be patient. I was thirty when I met Susan.”

“If you say so, man.”

“I do, and I also say we need to end this Hallmark movie. I’m feeling way too sensitive.” He shuddered. “Sure I can’t find one of those lame assholes and beat the shit of them?”

“And Dale’s back!”

They shared a chuckle.

“Hey, how does Susan put up with your potty-mouth?”

“Potty-mouth?” Are we twelve? I swear, cuss and have been known to pitch a bitch, but never around my wife. That would be disrespectful.”

Mark’s eyes widened. “But you come to work and subject us to it?”

“You’re a guy. Get over it.”

“Hello? We work with women.”

“And have you heard what comes out of Trina’s mouth? She makes me blush.”

Dale cackled to himself as he worked a chisel around the housing frame.

Mark grabbed his cell and updated Bailey by text.

While he waited for a response, Dale’s words weighed on his mind.

Real love takes real sacrifice. You can’t have one without the other.

Had he sacrificed enough for Yvonne?

It had been three weeks since he closed his condo door in her face, but she still invaded his thoughts.

He hadn’t reached out but neither had she, and she was the one who issued the ultimatum.

Still, the icy fingers of guilt crept up the back of his neck.

Have I put money and material things ahead of our relationship?

He shook his head to clear his thoughts.

Yvonne never asked me for anything. I offered.

Stop being a schmuck.

He frowned, glancing to his left and right. Dale was across the room and the rest of his crew was one level down.

What has Yvonne ever done for you? Name one thing she’s done from her heart. Better still name one time she’s told you she loves you and it wasn’t in a sing-songy voice like she was talking to a pet.

Bowing his head, Mark rubbed his eyes.

He was losing his mind.

Not only was he getting a smack-down by his subconscious… it was right.

#

Intending to run in and change, Mark parked in the guest lot of his condo instead of underground.

Bailey said things were beyond ugly with the contractors and told Mark to lock the site down and give his crew the rest of the week off at straight pay.

He hadn’t had five straight days off since the holidays and sent a text to his brother inviting him to dinner.

Mark hoped Prentiss could get the time off too and ride with him up to Fresno to see their parents.

He stopped and emptied his mailbox then took the walkway to his place.

“Mark?”

Looking over his shoulder, he saw Yvonne standing under a tree in the courtyard. His chest tightened.

She was breath-taking in a burgundy and crème jumpsuit that hugged her full hips. Her hair fell in tiny ringlets around her face, but the hard expression she wore ruined the vision and sent him into defensive mode.

“What are you doing here, Yvonne?”

“We need to talk about us.”

“I don’t want to rehash this-“

“I don’t give a damn what you want. I’m pregnant and you’re going to marry me.”

********

Mark was just getting used to being single, now he and Yvonne are going to be parents. His dream girl is becoming a nightmare. Still, he wonders if marriage would be what they need to stabilize their lives.

To be continued…

 

Part IPart II   |

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#My52 “Captive Heart, Part II”

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#My52 – Week 16

Word Prompt – deadbolt

Word Count – 1140

Reading Time – 4 mins, 49 secs

~~~

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Prentiss held his hands out, fingers splayed.

“Just that, man. You never say Yvonne made you dinner, or you had a nice time at a concert, or she surprised you with lunch. It’s always you paying for something… everything.”

Mark shoved his hands into his pockets. “She’s my girlfriend, and I’m the man who’s supposed to provide for all her needs.”

Prentiss stood and approached his brother. “I’m not saying you’re doing anything wrong, Markie.” He reached out and rested a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “I’m just asking what do you get in return? What does she provide for you? Relationships are a two-way street, not a one-way funnel.”

Mark eased the Tahoe forward in the slow-moving traffic.

Prentiss’ words stung as much now as they had last weekend.

And he still had no reply.

Mark couldn’t think of one thing Yvonne did for him. No dinners, no surprises. Sex had even become another tool in the arsenal she used to get her way.

To be fair, Mark never asked his girlfriend for anything, always telling her he only wanted to see her happy. Part of the blame lay with him.

His plan to discuss their relationship was derailed over the last week with Yvonne’s busy social calendar of events she never invited him to, saying he’d be bored.

Fresh anger flared in Mark’s chest but this time it was at himself.

I have to be the biggest idiot on the planet.

Traffic thinned after passing Glendale and Mark transitioned to the 5 Freeway and sped up.

#

Drunk with sleep, Mark raised his head from the pillow.

Silence.

He massaged his temple, convinced the pounding he heard was the migraine from earlier back to torment him.

Before he could close his eyes, the pounding returned.

It wasn’t in his head; it was his front door.

The bedside clock read eleven-forty, and he knew the only person at his door was the cause of his migraine.

Untangling his long legs from the sheets, Mark headed for the door, resigned. He’d known his decision to not return Yvonne’s calls would cost him.

Releasing the deadbolt, Mark turned the doorknob but before he could open the door, Yvonne barreled into the condo with such force, it threw him back against the foyer wall.

“Where the hell have you been all night? What haven’t you answered my calls?”

She strode past him into the living room rigid with rage.

Mark closed the door and followed. Stopping at the threshold, he folded his arms across his bare chest.

“I hope you’re happy, Mark Kelly. Tonight was important, and you ruined it. What have you to say for yourself?”

“First, please lower your voice. I have neighbors. And second, what the hell are you talking about?”

“Had you answered your damn phone, you’d know and we wouldn’t be here having this conversation.”

“My cell died before I left work,” the lie rolled easily off his tongue, “after a thirteen-hour day of trying to repair and replace another company’s shitty work. What did you call me about?”

She was incredulous. “I can’t believe you didn’t come right in and plug up your phone to hear your messages.”

“Did you miss the part about a thirteen-hour day? I came home, had a beer and a shower and went to bed.”

“Seriously? You didn’t think about me? Wonder what I was doing? If I was okay?”

The corner of his lips arched into a smirk that bled contempt.

“How often do you think of me, Yvonne… when you don’t want something?”

She fumed.

“How dare you? What are you saying, that I use you?”

Mark dropped his arms to his side.

“I’m saying you don’t hear from me all evening and you show up here in the middle of the night not worried if I’m okay but to tell me how I ruined your damn evening. Get over yourself, Yvonne.”

Stunned, she turned away. Seconds later she faced him again… with tears in her eyes. “I don’t understand, Mark. You said you loved me. You said you’d always support my dreams. Now you’re treating me like a gold digger.”

He was unmoved.

“What about my dreams?”

“I didn’t know you had any.”

“Exactly.”

Her face hardened.

“You’re mad at me for something I didn’t know? Something you never told me?”

“I’m not mad. And you don’t know because I’ve never told you. That’s on me. But you’ve also never asked.”

Yvonne wrung her hands. “Let’s stop this for now. My parents are staying another two days and I’m sure once you pay Daddy back, we can go out for a nice dinner or two, and then you and I can talk after they leave.”

His frown was so deep his thick eyebrows almost touched.

“Pay your dad back? What the hell for?”

“Well, for tonight… the champagne and appetizers from Toma’s and dinner at Luminaria’s.”

“You said I ruined your evening but sounds like you all made quite a night of it. Why do I owe your dad?”

“I told him you would reimburse him. I’m your girlfriend and your responsibility, not his.”

He staggered backward laughing. “So, I ruined your ‘celebration’ not because I wasn’t there to share your joy but because I wasn’t there to pay for it.”

Yvonne stomped her foot. “Don’t you start with the money-thing again.”

But Mark didn’t hear her… as he bent at the waist shaking with belly laughs.

Leaning against the door-frame, he tried to compose himself.

“Please give my best to your parents, and if you want to talk, we can… after they leave.”

“What do you mean after they leave, I’ve already planned-”

He cut her off. “I’ve got another thirteen-hour day ahead of me which means I need to sleep…” He gestured toward the front door.

“You’re not serious.”

“Please go, Yvonne. Now.”

“And my dad’s money?”

He moved to the front door. “You and your parents had a lovely evening. End of story. I don’t owe your father a damn thing.”

She approached him; her words measured by her steps. “Think about this, Mark. You’re taking us to a place we can’t come back from.”

He opened the door. “Goodnight, Yvonne.”

She stood in the doorway and glared at him. “If there isn’t a bank transfer from you for $847 when I get home, don’t bother calling me again.”

Prentiss Kelly’s ATM remark jumped to the front of Mark’s mind.

“There won’t be a transfer, Yvonne, and be careful what you speak up.”

He moved to close the door, but she threw her hand up, holding it open. “You’ll regret this, Mark. I promise you.”

“I have regrets, Yvonne… but not about this.”

Mark closed the door and returned to bed, asleep again within minutes, his mind clear.

********

Prentiss Kelly had tried to remind his brother Yvonne was one of the mean girls back in school and she hasn’t changed. Mark blew him off but is about to find out just how mean Yvonne Bellgoode can be.

To be continued…

 

Part I  |

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#My52 “Captive Heart”

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#My52 – Week 15

Word Prompt – sweat

Word Count – 1470

Reading Time – 5 mins, 4 secs

~~~

Mark Kelly arrived at Colton Contracting’s latest job site at four in the morning hoping to complete the job and end his day by noon. Two other firms before them were fired for shoddy work and missing deadlines, but Mark knew he had the best, and most experienced team in the city. However, hearing his crew foreman unleash a litany of expletives while staring at blueprints, Mark knew his day took a turn for the worse.

“What’s up, Dale?”

The foreman removed his hard hat and gestured toward the blueprints, his arms flailing.

“It’s all wrong. This shit is all wrong. No wonder those other assholes got fired. How did they get hired in the first damn place?”

Despite the bad situation brewing, Mark rolled his lips inward and hung his head, holding in a chuckle. Raising his head, he tried again.

“What exactly is the problem, Dale?”

He threw his hands up in air quotes. “The problem is those morons put these systems in backward. Any current running through here will fry this son-of-a-bitch like my wife’s overcooked pork chops.”

Mark laughed out loud this time, but his guffaws were cut short when Dale walked over and threw back the lid of one of the housing boxes.

“At least one of those moron firms already knew this to be true.”

Clenching his fists in anger, Mark approached the junction box… or what was left of it.

The large generator was a mass of melted components and burned wires. It was an eighty-thousand-dollar piece of equipment and one of ten.

After dozens of calls to his boss, the site owner, the site manager, and exchanging more than a few curse words with both fired electrical contractors, Mark sat in his vehicle thirteen hours later, ready to rip someone’s head off.

And the freeway was a parking lot.

A broken air conditioner meant he had no choice but to roast inside his Tahoe, drenched in sweat.

Not wanting to touch his precious house fund, he’d saved money from two paychecks for repairs, then gave the money to Yvonne for culinary classes… her latest bright idea.

In the four years they’d been a couple, Yvonne had opened a yoga studio, taken florist classes, real estate classes, and tried her hand as an Instagram fashion stylist… all paid for by Mark.

The ventures all ended before classes were completed or websites built because Yvonne got bored and moved on to the next big thing.

Mark was unperturbed. He loved his girlfriend and would do anything to make her happy, regardless of costs.

He leaned over and dug left-over takeout napkins from the glove compartment and scrubbed them down his face and across his neck.

The digital display over the rear-view mirror read one-hundred-seven degrees. Twenty degrees higher than the temperature outside his SUV.

Traffic inched forward six-feet and stopped again.

Mark gripped the steering wheel in frustration.

All he wanted was to get home, shower, drink a beer, then fall into a coma in his bed and life was conspiring against him. He and his crew solved the bulk of the problem, but tomorrow would be a day of getting it all down on paper for the lawsuits sure to be filed.

His cellphone chimed and a quick glance showed Yvonne’s name on the display.

He always took her calls but at this moment, he wasn’t in the mood. He’d make it up to her later.

Yvonne Bellgoode was his dream girl, and he’d loved her since junior high school. Mark didn’t mind she never acknowledged his existence until he returned from college thirty pounds lighter and with an electrical engineering degree. He at last felt worthy of the brown-skinned beauty.

He’d spent five years trying to win her over, but it wasn’t until Carl Peete, Yvonne’s high school sweetheart, went to prison for drug distribution—and Mark received a promotion and significant salary increase from Colton Contracting—that he got his chance.

His cell sounded again with Yvonne’s name on the display and he ignored it… again.

Honking car horns brought his attention back to the road, and he pulled forward another six feet.

His phone beeped, signaling Yvonne left a voicemail this time. Against his better judgment, he played the message.

“Mark, where are you? Why aren’t you answering your phone? This is important.”

He grimaced. Everything was always important with Yvonne.

“Mommy and Daddy were so happy to hear about me going to culinary school, they drove up to help me celebrate. Isn’t that wonderful? I called Toma’s and ordered charcuterie trays and two bottles of Dom. Be a sweetie and stop by and pick the order up. After the appetizers, I’ve made reservations for us at Luminarias for eight. And wear your black suit, not the blue one. I hate those narrow lapels. See you soon.”

He fumed, increasing the sweat pouring from his bulky frame.

Toma’s. The most expensive food shop in Burbank. Two bottles of Dom Perignon alone was three hundred dollars, and the trays were almost a hundred each. Dinner for two was three hundred dollars at Luminarias, so before this day ended, he’d spend close to a thousand dollars for a celebration planned without his input when all he wanted to do was go home.

The throbbing in his head increased, guilt trying to worm its way in.

He loved Yvonne and would do anything for her, but it wasn’t lost on him their relationship was growing more one-sided. His older brother, Prentiss, had said the words just last weekend as they watched basketball playoffs.

“Was that your phone?”

Mark slipped his cell under the sofa cushion. “No, I’m good.”

“It was too. It’s her again, isn’t it?”

Pushing his phone deeper into the sofa, Mark shook his head.

“Don’t even try it. It was her. Call number six in less than two hours.”

“Prentiss-”

He held up his hand, cutting Mark off, and muted the television.

“Hey! Virginia’s winning.”

“I hate Virginia.” Prentiss tossed the remote aside and considered his brother.

“Look, man. We don’t step on each other’s toes. Private business is just that, private.” He leaned closer. “But, Markie, this isn’t normal. She called twenty minutes after you walked in the door asking if the game was over because she wanted to go shopping. Twenty-six minutes after that she wanted to go to dinner.’

Mark waved him off, chuckling. “You know females have no clue about sports. She just misses me.”

“Not true. I know women who know more about sports than I do. And Yvonne well knows of how long a basketball game lasts.”

Mark threw up his hands. “Okay, she knows. What’s your point?”

“She’s selfish.”

“Oh, wait a damn minute-”

“You asked.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t expect you to diss my woman.”

“Calm down, little brother. I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

“And how is this your business? What happened to the private part?”

Prentiss Kelly walked over to the mini-bar, grabbed two beers and tossed one to Mark.

“Are you happy with Yvonne?”

Dragging his hand through his dreads, Mark was incredulous. “What kind of question is that? I’m happy. Yvonne is my dream girl.”

Re-taking his seat, Prentiss smirked.

“Yeah, man, I know. Everyone knows. You’ve mooned around behind her since we were kids and she didn’t even know you were alive.”

“Who could blame her? I was a pudgy, science geek.”

“You had at least half a dozen girls trying to get your attention.”

“But they weren’t Yvonne.”

“So? They were smart. Ambitious. Pretty… and nice. They weren’t mean girls like Yvonne.”

“She wasn’t a mean girl, just outspoken, and none of them were even in the same class as her.”

“No, they weren’t—and they still aren’t. Teresa Banks is a full partner in the Beckes law firm. You know them right? The city’s attorneys? Lily Townes owns one of the largest event-planning businesses in the state. About Towne handled the birthday party for the governor’s wife last month. And Cynthia Rivers’ name is moving up on the top local pediatric cardiologists’ list. Successful women. And Yvonne?”

He swigged his beer. “What’s the latest career you poured money into for her?”

Slamming his beer down, Mark leaped to his feet. “You don’t know a damn thing about what Yvonne and I have.”

Prentiss was unmoved. “Chill and sit down, dude.”

Instead, Mark paced around the sofa, his jaws tight with anger.

“Fine. Have it your way.” Prentiss leaned forward, resting his arms on his thighs. “I know you believe I don’t like Yvonne, but that’s not the issue.”

Mark whirled around, glaring at his brother. “Then what is? Why are you so concerned with my private business?”

Prentiss’ expression was stern. “Because I don’t enjoy seeing my brother get used like an ATM.”

To be continued…

~~~

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