Making Love Work (Stand alone) excerpts

A Mother's Love 

 

“He’s here.” Jillian Carter said, startled as the doorbell’s chime echoed throughout her two-story St. Louis suburban condo.

She swept the comb through her thick, jet-black mane one more time. A year shy of forty and she could still boast not one gray strand.

Leaning closer into the mirror, Jillian scrutinized her eye makeup. She grinned, practicing a genuine smile before stepping back and scanning her attire.  “Not bad.” She shrugged at her toned figure before flipping off the bathroom lights and hurrying to the stairs.  Her heart pounded with excitement and trepidation.

For her daughter’s sake, Jillian wanted to make a good first impression on Shana’s soon-to-be in-law whom she was meeting for the first time. Since she technically had never had any in-laws to claim herself, Jillian was excited for her daughter. 

At the stairwell landing, Jillian peeped through the white shutters and recognized the familiar SUV that was parked in the driveway.

With her smile in place, she opened the door, expecting to see Trent, her future son-in-law, and meet his father, who was a widower. Instead, she came face-to-face with a very handsome man with an engaging smile of his own. A well-defined salt-and-pepper beard showcased his perfect white teeth. He was tall—six foot-something—with skin that reminded her of dark pecan.

Remembering to breathe, Jillian stared as she appreciated the formula God used to create this man. She had only seen a handful of good-looking men she would label as drop-dead fine. He was definitely a King Solomon in her book.

If money had a scent, then Jillian was intoxicated from the fumes. Nothing on the man appeared second-hand like some of the outfits she had worn for decades. And by the custom fit of his suit, Jillian felt under dressed in her two-piece sweater dress and jacket—and it was new.

Money meets middle-class. She would not be intimidated in her own modest home.  Jillian swallowed and regained control of her senses, but her lips wouldn’t move.

His eyes twinkled as he chuckled. “I’m Dexter Harris, Trent’s father. I apologize for being early. At the last minute, he and Shana wanted to make a stop, and since I not too long ago got off a plane, they suggested that getting to know you would be more relaxing than going with them. Trent programmed your address in his GPS. I hope that was okay.”

“Absolutely, Dr. Harris.” Jillian stepped back and Dexter walked into her house. Towering over her five-foot-five frame, he filled her foyer with his presence.

“There is no reason for the formality. Please call me Dex.”

“Sure, and I’m plain old Jillian.” She took his trench coat as he removed it.

“Trust me. In that dress, there is nothing plain about you,” he complimented her.

Jillian couldn’t contain the blush as she closed the door. Whirling around, she didn’t make eye contact as she thanked him.  Wow, she thought.

“Follow me.” She led him past her dining room on one side of the marble foyer and her small living room on the other. Her foyer dead ended into a large kitchen that overlooked a great room. 

“Please make yourself at home while I bring out the snacks. I prepared sandwiches and salads. I just need to pop in the dessert and whip up the spinach dip. It will just take a few minutes.”

“If I am to make myself at home then I must offer to help,” Dexter said, following her into the kitchen.

Charming. So that’s where her future son-in-law got that trait. And that’s what won Shana over and Jillian, too. She shooed Dexter away to no avail. “All I have to do is mix the spinach dip and warm the pastries.”  She set the temperature on the oven and grabbed the tray out the refrigerator and slid them inside in no time.

“I can do either.”

“Not in a suit, you can’t. Plus, this is your first visit, so you’re a guest. After that, you’ll have to help yourself in my kitchen,” she joked and looked away to keep herself from drooling or fainting at the tease of his cologne. Trent definitely had good genes in his family. Her son-in-law and Shana should have beautiful brown babies with jet-black hair and expressive eyes like Trent and his father.

Dexter’s deep rumbling laughter was mesmerizing. “I’ll remember that.” Stuffing his hands in his pants pockets, Dexter pivoted on a heel and appraised her family room/great room from the kitchen. He whistled. “This is nice. Did you decorate, or Shana?”
        “Both of us. We enjoy doing projects together. We’ve come a long way from the bungalow we used to have years ago where Shana excelled as an interior designer. I’m proud of her.”

“We’re proud of her,” he corrected, catching her off guard with his statement.

She was flattered by his swift inclusiveness. “Yes, well, I started with dollar store craft kits, which was all I could afford at the time. Soon Shana began to create artwork from anything she could find, literally—socks, utensils and even worn shoes. She had an eye for color coordination and contrast and an imagination to feed her obsession.”

Even with her back to Dexter, Jillian knew when he returned his attention to her. It was as if she could feel his eyes on her. Without turning around, she heard the leg of a barstool rub against her floor. Dexter had taken a seat. 

“Do you add red peppers to your dip?” he asked as she set the ingredients on the counter, which also served as the breakfast table.

Jillian was about to pour sour cream into a bowl, but stopped with a spoon in her hand. “No…why, are you allergic to peppers?”

“Oh no, I’m not allergic to food of any kind. The first time I ever tasted spinach dip was at a restaurant. The red peppers and chopped pecans made me want to eat the entire appetizer with no regard for my colleagues at the table. All I can say is umph. Now, when I prepare it, I add red peppers along with the standard ingredients.”

“Really?” Jillian smirked, entertained with his animated expression, subtle cologne, and tempting smile. “So you’re a doctor and a cook?”

“I like to eat.” Dexter patted his stomach. 

Jillian tried not to peep, but she did. The doctor definitely didn’t have a beer belly.  Did Dexter even drink? she wondered. Trent had gotten saved shortly after he met Shana, and he exemplified a superb example of a practicing Christian, but he never mentioned his father’s relationship with God. 

She stepped to her refrigerator and began to rummage through her vegetable tray to see if she had any red pepper left over from the salad she had prepared. Twirling around, Jillian held up the plastic wrapped vegetable. “Ta da.”

“Excellent.” Dexter chuckled as he reached across her granite countertop. He took the liberty of opening the package of dip mix and sprinkled it into a bowl.

His simple gesture made Jillian chastise herself as he began to stir. Dexter was down to earth, not high-minded as she had judged him by the suit he had on. Shame on her. Forgive me, Lord.

Besides being a doctor and living in Atlanta, all she knew was he was a widower with an honorable son. How the women in Georgia had failed to snag him was a mystery to her, but his social life was his business. Dexter had his privacy and she had hers.

It’s not like she had time for any meaningful relationships, anyway, while she reared Shana. Jillian’s focus was on her daughter and that left only so much time for dating.  Now that Shana was a grown woman and moving on with her life, what would be her excuses for not getting out?

Chopping up bits of the pepper, Jillian cleared her throat. “Trent is an amazing young man. You should be a proud papa.”

Sitting straighter, Dexter seemed to puff out his chest as he grinned. “I did my best. My in-laws made sure of that,” he griped, then retrieved his smile. “And you have a sweet and beautiful daughter. You two could pass as sisters.”

Jillian blushed, accepting the compliment as she avoided eye contact. Dexter had no way of knowing that she had been fifteen years old when she got pregnant and sixteen when she delivered Shana.

However, it was because of her youth that she and Shana did have a strong relationship, more as sisters, especially since both had to answer to Lavera, Jillian’s mother. Too bad she had died when Shana turned ten. Lavera would be proud of her only grandchild. As the silence grew between them, Dexter must have sensed he struck a nerve. For a moment, neither said anything. At least she had programmed her satellite radio earlier, so the music floated in the background.

Jillian sighed. She was the hostess, so it was up to her to make her guest feel comfortable. “It’s been Shana and me for twenty-three years. She has been my baby, best friend, and confidant…and at times like a sister, but I’m still Momma.” Jillian didn’t play when it came to being a disciplinarian, especially if she didn’t want Shana to fall under the same fate as she had at fifteen.

“Anyway, three schools were vying for her to enroll. I convinced Shana to attend The Illinois Institute of Art in Chi-town. I missed my baby, but we both agreed I had been right. When she graduated, we had a similar discussion about which job offer to accept. She wanted to set up her own business. I suggested she work for a firm one or two years to build relationships. She agreed.” Jillian sighed. “You can imagine how proud I am of the woman she has become.”

She paused and sprinkled the pepper bits into the dip. “Now, the Lord is blessing her with a good man, but nothing will change about our relationship. We’ll still be close and I’ll treat Trent as my own son.”

Realizing she had been rambling, Jillian glanced up and caught a glimpse of the oddest expression on Dexter’s face—almost menacing. Why? she wondered as a brilliant grin swept away the frown when he caught her staring. 

 

Love at Work

 

Desiree King looked forward to each New Year. She couldn’t help but be excited about the new possibilities, blessings, and yes, even challenges she was sure to experience.

Normally, she didn’t get caught up in the yearly craze of making resolutions. Besides, it was a matter of time before each declaration began to fizzle.

But this year, on a whim, Desiree decided why not toss a few of her own resolutions into the ring. She had her priorities set.

First, Desiree vowed to God to increase her prayer life, then maintain a healthy lifestyle, and last, get back into the dating scene to attract a good Christian man. To help in that department, her best friend, Malinda Thompson, suggested the two of them should try some gradual makeovers to snag a brother’s attention.

Although Desiree agreed, it really wouldn’t matter. Who would notice her? Desiree’s job had been the real culprit that hindered her from attending many of the Friday night services at church that catered to singles.

Then one week into January, something unusual occurred. Never in her three years as an assignment editor for KDPX-TV had Desiree received an anonymous letter. The sealed envelope was hidden among other items in her designated mail slot.

Tucking it under her arm, she headed to her work station. Jokingly, Desiree called the assignment desk the circus area. On some days, it was like a zoo when everything exploded, overwhelming the newsroom.

The assignment desk was more like a service counter rather than an actual desk or cubicle. It was the newsroom’s central command center. The person manning the post had to monitor several radio and television stations’ news stories.

If that wasn’t enough, emergency, fire, and police scanners occupied most of the back wall. When breaking news happened, it was Desiree’s job to dispatch a photographer with or without a reporter to any location to cover the story.

Her goal, along with the entire news team, was to beat the competition to the scene and report it first on the air.

At her work station, curiosity about the envelope got the best of her. She broke the seal.

Desiree, I’m not shy, but I’m respectful of your time while at work as well as my own.

Oh boy. She took a deep breath. What rumor was stirring in the newsroom now? Bracing herself for some kind of complaint or gossip, Desiree continued reading.

I’m very interested in getting to know you. Besides being gainfully employed, I’m single, never been married, and have no children. I do have three adorable little nieces. You would like them. They’re heartbreakers in training, thanks to my sister.

Huh? Frowning, Desiree was dumbfounded. Was this supposed to be akin to a love letter?

If so, she had not received one of those since…first grade when cute Peter Jones was practicing his cursive letters and sent her a sloppy I love you note. Desiree exhaled and finished.

I’m a Christian who believes in practicing what the pastor preaches. I give God more than lip service. If my approach is too forward or too juvenile for you, and you don’t wish to receive another letter from me, you can unsubscribe from any more of my intentions by marking on the outside of this envelope, “return to sender.”

Okay. This had to be a prank. Although Desiree didn’t preach the Word per se at work, she did wear her allegiance to God on her sleeve in her treatment of others. Dismissing the note, Desiree shoved it to the bottom of her purse and forgot about it. 

A week later, another sealed envelope was tucked in her mail slot.

Yesterday, as I sat in the newsroom, your beauty constantly distracted me. If you’re thinking this is a prank, it’s not.

I’m just a man who appreciates God’s amazing handiwork. I hope your interest is at least piqued. Texting, phone calls, and dates are more my style, but I’m biding the right time.

Her so-called secret admirer had lost his mind. It was a well-known fact among her colleagues that she did not date on the job. There were no exceptions! Cheez, did she have to send out a mass email to reiterate her position? If she received one more letter, Desiree would take it to personnel and let them deal with the harasser.

At twenty-seven years old, Desiree had, so far, evaded potential coworker-wannabe-suitors at the St. Louis NBC affiliate. When someone tried to cross the line into her personal affairs, she steered them back toward topics she deemed work-related.

She had good reasons to be so adamant. Then there were the cheating spouses right under her nose. One, in particular, came to mind. The sheriff had delivered divorce papers from John’s wife who worked upstairs in the business office. Stupid. How he thought she wouldn’t find out was mindboggling.

It had been a big mess. Newsroom staffers didn’t need to post anything on Facebook or Twitter. The blabbermouth mill was faster than the Associated Press news wire service. If she had been the judge and the jury, Desiree would have fired the offender on the spot, but she had no say in other people’s affairs. 

Desiree had been up-close-and-personal with a few female coworkers when they got trashed through office gossip about their sexual escapades. As her heart bled for them, she did her best to offer them kind and encouraging words. However, the damage had been done. Two of them never regained their respect from their peers. 

At the start of another week, Desiree walked through the newsroom door with a smile. She hibernated all weekend except for church. Shifting her coat in one arm, Desiree nodded at a few coworkers.

She stopped at the bulletin board to read the latest company news and then strolled to the mail slots. It was amazing how much mail was delivered on Saturday in a mad rush to get press releases there by Monday. Without looking through it, she headed to her work station.

Shifting in her chair, Desiree laid her mail aside as she logged into the computer to scan the notes from the overnight crew. Multitasking, she absentmindedly fingered through the stack. She froze when she spotted another letter that bore the same handwriting.

This had to stop. Angling her head, Desiree performed a slow sweep of her surroundings. She took in every nuance of everybody and -thing in her peripheral vision.

Most of the day-shift reporters and writers hadn’t arrived yet, so the newsroom was fairly empty. “This is getting old—quick,” she griped, ripping the thing open.

The third note went for the kill: I can continue to write you letters, but I don’t want that. I need to know would the affections be mutual if you learn who I am. Will you meet me for dinner this Friday at 7 p.m., at the Melting Pot in Chesterfield? I’ll do everything in my power for you not to regret it.

“Hey, Desiree,” someone called out, approaching her.

Startled, Desiree looked up, almost falling out of her seat. Bunching up the paper, she shoved it under a stack of folders. “Good morning, Greg.” Desiree felt like a robber caught with stolen money glued to her hands.

She groaned, hoping she didn’t look guilty. But to any seasoned news hound, she probably did.

“I need…” He paused, blinked, and then stared at her. “Wow. Whatever you did to your hair, it’s working for you. You look hot.” He peered over her shoulder to a classroom-size white chalkboard that listed the schedule of who was working that day.

“Thank you.” She got her first compliment on the subtle highlights in her normally dark hair. Plus, Desiree let Malinda talk her into getting soft bangs. Even her stylist agreed that it gave her a sassy look.

“Can you spare a photog so I can get a couple of random shots of downtown St. Louis businesses for my story?”

Turning around, Desiree checked the chalkboard, too, against what was scheduled for the day. From that moment on, it was one request after another. People asked, and Desiree was expected to make it happen.

Surprisingly the day was filled with more compliments. All of them didn’t come from her male coworkers.

Desiree’s female counterparts also raved about the outfit she was wearing. She blushed from the accolades. Desiree had simply added bold shades of red to her dark clothing.

Throughout her busy day, her mind drifted back to the third letter. She questioned if it was an ambush to humiliate her or genuine adoration. Any other time, there wouldn’t be any hesitation. Her answer to going on a blind date would be an automatic no.  

That was before her New Year’s resolutions and her pastor’s request that all members adhere to 3 John 1:2: Beloved, I wish above all things that thou may prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospers.

Elder Harrison instructed, “Don’t get sidetracked. I don’t want you to focus only on the financial prosperity. Seek a healthy walk with God and a healthy lifestyle, which includes taking care of your body.” He added, “Do this for a year, and see what God does in return.”

So it was her pastor who caused her to reflect on other aspects of her life in conjunction with that scripture. Health wise, she was in fairly good shape. She exercised at home. Plus, Desiree naturally preferred fruits and vegetables over junk food. She was already increasing her prayer life daily.

In regards to her social calendar, Desiree needed divine intervention to prosper in that area, too. Working sporadic excessive overtime put a damper on attending church sponsored singles events.

If Desiree did make a function, she was literally part of the Johnny-come-lately news team. With women outnumbering men in the churches, Desiree didn’t stand a chance.

Suddenly, the last note came to mind.

Will you meet me for dinner at the Melting Pot in Chesterfield this Friday at 7 p.m.?

Was this a serious date proposal or a practical joke disaster? Maybe she should go just to put a stop to the distracting notes. Evidently, someone thought he could bend her rules. Maybe it was time for her to set him straight. Yeah, that’s exactly what she was going to do. Set him straight.          

Words of Love

Beware of what you ask for because you just might get it, Simone French thought. As a hot upcoming St. Louis radio personality, she was surprised how much her listeners took what she said literally.

What person was bold and gullible enough to go on a blind date anymore? At twenty-six years old, Simone was single and trying to convince herself that she was satisfied. Only she knew the truth. And God, which makes two.

Every morning on KXNG-FM, Simone’s radio show, “Don’t Get French with Me” dominated the airwaves. Sipping on a glass of pineapple juice, Simone adjusted her headset, then she re-positioned the microphone inches above her mouth. The countdown to her segment had begun.

It was Monday and open line. Simone dreaded the combination. She assumed some listeners still had pent up frustrations left over from the weekend and her show was the venue to dump their laundry. That was a waste with so many strong topics to discuss. Simone never understood the station’s decision to have an open forum twice a week for trivial things people could bore their mother, a therapist, or stranger on public transportation with. 

When some callers became unruly, she did have recourse. They were subject to her tag line, “don’t get French with me,” and then the call was dropped.

Simone swayed her shoulders as she hummed along with her theme music that was blaring from the overhead speakers. Although the station was popular, the owner was slow to embrace the new millennium way of running a business. Basically, he didn’t consolidate job duties and lay off staff.

That was one reason why Simone didn’t have to multi-task and work the controls, answer the phone lines and be the talent. Thank God for Glen Howard, her technical board operator and senior engineer. 

When he cued her, Simone took a deep breath and commanded a bubbly introduction, “Heeeeeeey, it's Monday on ‘Don't Get French with Me’, comin’ at ya in three, two, and one.” 

Just as Simone’s energy kicked into high gear, Glen yawned. Pitiful. Her show was the first of four Glen engineered daily, and he looked as if he’d already worked a twenty-four hour shift and wouldn’t stay awake much longer.  

He wasn’t happy that he had to put in the extra effort to answer the phone. Glen preferred engineering shows where the hosts were so boring, the phones hardly rang. He reminded her of a Maytag repairman.

“Welcome, St. Louis,” she purred. “It’s open mic. Give me a call and tell me what’s on your mind.” Simone gave the number.

Although the station used a three second delay feature, no one screened her calls. If management decided to further stimulate the economy, she would put her request in for a screener.   All seven phone lines lit up and Simone took the first caller. “Good morning, Patrick. What's on your mind?”

  “Besides you and me and—”

Simone rolled her eyes. A Beyoncé or Halle, she was not. As a matter of fact, very few people even knew how she looked. She refused to have her picture posted on the station website. At first management bucked, but then they decided with her voice, why not create a mystique about her. That was all well and fine with her.

“Keep your clothes on or in five seconds, you know what you’ll hear.”

“No harm, Frenchie, no harm. I called to talk about materialistic relationships.”

 Really? Although she could somewhat relate to the topic, she hoped Patrick’s point of view wasn’t about berating women. Thanks to disingenuous ex-boyfriends, Simone seldom dated anymore.

While her guest ranted, her mind drifted back to some of her own disappointing fiascos: David Knight had no problem insulting her by stating their relationship was less stimulating than her talk shows. He wanted the radio sex kitten he heard on the air every morning. Before him, there was Calvin Kane. Although the brother was fine, the “snake’ had his own agenda: to use her to increase his personal contacts within the radio industry.

Whoever said that a woman could have it all—lied. She had yet to become that woman, considering she was living a double life. Men described her radio voice as sultry. One time she was teasingly told she could turn a simple, hello into a five-minute pillow talk.

She couldn’t take credit for a voice God gave her. That asset aided in her show’s popularity and paid the bills. Otherwise, she had no problem being soft spoken.

Simone was nothing like the image she portrayed over the airwaves.  As a Christian who believed in practicing what her pastor preached, Simone longed for a deep, meaningful and committed relationship. She preferred a Christian man, but she was open as long as the date was respectful and willing to attend church. Who knows, the sermon might lead him to repentance.

As Glen eagerly signaled for her to take a break, Simone realized that she had given her caller more than his one minute of fame. It was also time to air a goofy car dealership commercial Glen had recorded. Although her engineer was a media tech guru, he couldn’t buy a broadcast voice.

“Thanks Patrick,” she disconnected. “You're listening to ‘Don't Get French with Me’ on KXNG. When I come back, I want to hear from you. There’s got to be some love out there!”

It was the first time she had zoned out during one of her Monday open mic shows. Maybe she was becoming immune to gripers. Soon enough, Glen tapped on the glass partition, and then counted down the seconds before she was live on the air again.

Simone punched the second line. “We're back. Let's welcome Gina to the show.”

“Frenchie, I don’t know why the brothers are complaining. The guy before the break, Patrick, and other men are only after one thing—make that two, physical gratification they call intimacy and a hot cooked meal.

“Sisters are tired of being used and discarded. It’s a new day. When the break-up occurs, we can walk away with compensation for a broken heart.”

She was not about to play referee. Withholding her sigh, Simone responded, “Hmm, games people play, just roll the dice and you might get love, or a once-scorned companion. C’mon, somebody out there has to have a true love story. Make me want to use this box of tissue.”

For the next hour, Simone’s show was inundated with calls about busted, shaky, and unfulfilling relationships. Women described themselves as bitter and broken. Men characterized their former girlfriends as gold diggers.

Finally, a sixty-five-year-old retired bus driver phoned in, describing the perfect love affair that bloomed into a forty year marriage. “Stop playing games. I think people know instantly if he or she is the one.”

Simone had faith in God, but wasn’t completely sold on the ‘love at first sight’ thing. There were too many unknown variables. Basically, like the man being a jerk. “Okay, I’m out of time,” then without realizing what she was saying, Simone tossed out a challenge, “Go out on a blind date. Close your eyes and open your heart. You might find the love of your life.”

Removing her headset, Simone stood and gathered her papers to make way for the next host behind her. Without asking for one, she strolled out the studio with a headache. Simone liked her job, but it was the crazy people who called who challenged her patience.