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Romance

       Imani lingered in the shower for hours, lamenting over Keyshawn’s unexpected break up with her last night. A three-year relationship she believed was heading towards a marriage proposal ended without warning.

Still in shock, the idea hadn’t wholly sunk in. Imani imagined Keyshawn’s words were part of a bad dream that she would wake up from and be glad it was only a dream. But her aching heart told her differently. As the warm, soothing water hugged her body, she realized Keyshawn was never coming back to her.

Imani stepped out of the shower, toweled off, and wiped off the steamy mirror with her hand. She winced at the sight of her face in the mirror, especially her red puffy eyes. A sigh escaped her as she covered her face with both hands.

Sniffing back her tears, Imani scolded herself. “Stop crying, girl! A night of crying is enough! You’re stronger than that! She wondered why women re-examined themselves when a man dumps them?”

Imani put on her self-pity clothes. Baggy sweatsuit, worn slip-on sneakers, and of course, no bra. Her cell phone rang. For a moment, her heart fluttered. Could it be Keyshawn calling to apologize, admitting he’d made a big mistake? But the ring tone belonged to her best friend, Ebony.

“How you doing, sweetie?”

“I... I guess I’m okay.”

“Well, I’m on my way. Do you need anything?”

“No, thanks. I’ll see you soon.”

Fifteen minutes later, Ebony rang the bell. Imani opened the door. She was relieved to see her friend’s smiling face.

“Oh, Hon, I’m so sorry,” Ebony offered as they shared a mutual hug.  They walked back into the apartment.

“Let me take a look at you.” Ebony held Imani at arm’s length and looked her over.  “You know you look awful? “

Imani placed her hands on her face. “Do I?”

“I mean as compared to how you usually look. But for someone’s who’s been crying all night? Not so bad.

Tears welled in Imani’s eyes.

Ebony grabbed her friend and gave her a gentle shake. “Hey, you’ve done enough of that, don’t you think?”

Imani nodded.

“Do you feel like telling me what happened? Not being nosey or anything, but it might make you feel better.”

“Keyshawn called and asked me out to dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant.”

“On a Wednesday night?”

“Right? At first, I thought that was funny, but he insisted. Actually, I needed to talk with him anyway. He’s so busy working on the company’s new ad campaign, I hardly get to see him at work. Plus, he and his assistant, Pam, have been working late every night this week. So, I was happy to get a chance to see him.”

Ebony raised an eyebrow. “Working late with ‘Pam,’ huh?”

“No, I didn’t think anything of it. Besides, I never knew Keyshawn would go for a blue-eyed Barbie type.”

“He’s a man, aint he? Men are dogs. There are some good doggies; there are some bad doggies. But they’re all dogs.”

“I thought Keyshawn was different. I loved him so.” Imani paused a moment as she wiped away a tear with a crumpled tissue. Then continue, “So, we meet in the lobby, and we take an Uber to the restaurant.   On the ride over,  he was so mysterious. I honestly believed he was going to propose. I got all excited, you know. We sat at our usual table. While we waited for the wine, I began to discuss our plans for the company’s party this Friday.”

Ebony frowned, “You mean two days from now?”

Imani nodded. “As I’m going on and on about what we should wear to the party, I notice a queer look on Keyshawn’s face. I asked. “Is there something wrong?”  He blurted out how he wouldn’t be attending the party with me. And how he couldn’t help it, but he’s in love with Pam!”

“Umm, hmm.” Ebony shook her head. “Stevie Wonder could have seen that coming.”

Imani slumped back against the sofa. “I guess your right. It’s like Beyonce sang. I was just crazy in love.”

“You got that right. But this to shall pass, as my nana use to say.”

“But even worse, the CEO, Mr. Barnes, is a real family man. He believes in couples. Especially if you want to advance in his company. I’ll be stuck under a glass ceiling, Ebony, if I don’t find a date.”

“Go work someplace else. Hell, your good at Human Resources. Another company will snatch you like that. ” Ebony accented her remark with a finger snap.

“Ebony, I’ve been working at the company since I graduated college ten years ago. My dream job is Human Resources Manager. I’m the leading candidate to become the Manager once Lydia retires.  I don’t want to throw away all my hard work.”

Ebony shrugged her shoulders. “Then what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know?”

“Hey, skip the damn party.”

“I can’t do that. Attendance is mandatory for all managers and their assistants. “

“Imani. Don’t you have any male friends to pretend to be your date.?

Imani sat up. “I’m taking a break from romance, Ebony. If I invite any of the men, I know they will take it the wrong way. I don’t want any guy to think he has a chance of dating me. And I don’t want to lead them on. Period.”

Ebony folded her arms and leaned back against the sofa. “Okay, if you really feel that way. But guys lead us on all the time.”

“Thay maybe. But I won’t do it.”

Suddenly, Ebony jumped to her feet and looked around as if she lost something.  “Oh, Hell, wait a minute!. I have something for us..”

Unlocking the door, Ebony stepped into the hallway and returned with a huge gift basket.

“Oh, my goodness! Where on earth did you get this?”

Ebony smiled wickedly. “I went out on a date the other night. The date went well, so he sent me this monstrosity as a way of saying, ‘thanks, let’s do it again”  

“Will he?”

Ebony winked and coyly said, “Maybe.”

As they examined the items in the gift basket, Ebony, not looking at Imani, suggested a solution to her dilemma.

“Imani, you know I could ask my brother Nat to be your pretend date.”

Nearly dropping a bottle of wine, Imani glared  at Ebony.

“Are you insane? Your brother, Nat? No offense, but he is the last man on earth I would ever want to spend time with. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know, but Natty fits the bill. First, he’s a guy. Second, he sure won’t misinterpret this date.”

“Ebony, a black leather motorcycle jacket, white tee shirt, raggedy blue jeans, and motorcycle boots would be the proper dress for this party.”

“Now wait a minute, Imani. You haven’t seen Natty in years, he’s cleaned up his act. He can wear other clothes. I know I’ve seen him do it.”

“Ebony, you know how your brother teased me from elementary school all the way through high school. He’s never had a kind word to say to me. And you know, when I come to think about it, he was the only consistent jerk-no offense.”

Ebony smiled. “None was taken.”

Imani continued, “who thought it was great fun to tease and taunt me. Oh, no. I will never be that desperate to ask Nat for anything, ever.”

In silence, the ladies read the labels of treats until Imani spoke.

“Anyway, Is Nat still playing football?”

“Yeah. Nat’s pretty good looking, too.”

Imani placed the package of crackers on the table. “Me on a date with Nat? If you’re not going to be serious, then why answer at all.?

By Thursday evening, Imani had exhausted all her options.

‘Hello?” A baritone voice answered.

Imani swallowed and took a deep breath.

“Hello. Nat?”

“Hey, it’s you, Amaryllis. My sister said if you were desperate enough, you might call.”

“Don’t call me Amaryllis! You’ve been calling me that since high school. My name is Imani. I will never respond to Amaryllis; I don’t even know what that means. But one thing I do know if it’s coming from you, it’s nothing nice.”

“Same old Imani. Full of sweetness. And light.”

“Listen, you said your sister told you what’s going on? Are you willing to help me?”

“Is this a big deal to you?”

Imani hesitated because she didn’t want him to know how much she needed his help. “Yes, it’s a huge deal. I could have called on many other guys.”

“Remember, my sister filled me in. Tell me how much you need my help.”

“Must you always be an ass? Why can’t you do things out of the goodness of your heart, Nat?”

 “Well, according to you, I’m heartless.”

“I said that in a moment of anger and frustration.”

“I guess you’re neither angry nor frustrated now, huh?”

“Nat, I don’t have time for verbal fencing. Will you or won’t you?”

Imani heard Nat let out a loud sigh.

“Okay, I’m in. I always help a buddy out. Give me the details.”

Nat and Imani agreed they’d meet in front of her office building after work by six o’clock.

Imani only caught glimpses of Keyshawn all day Friday. And when they did see each other avoided eye contact. She heard through office gossip that Keyshawn and Pam would attend the company’s gala together. Imani wasn’t surprised. Nat called Imani and told her he couldn’t meet her in front of the office building. They decided to meet her at the party,

Imani sat alone at her assigned table with three couples. One of the pairs was Keywshawn and Pam. After answering a few awkward questions centered around her missing date, Imani feared that she’d been stood. She became nervous when she saw Mr. and Mrs. Barnes making the rounds to each table. How could she explain being without a date?  

Finally, the Barnes made it to Imani’s table. Mr. Bafrnes frowned when he noticed the uneaten appetizer next to Imani.

“Well, Ms. Wallace, I’m glad to see you.” Imani noticed him peek at the empty seat next to her.

“Is your companion running late?”

Imani licked her lips. “Yes, sir. He’ll be here soon..”

“Oh, yeah? What’s his name?” Keyshawn asked, hoping to embarrass her.

Squinting at Keyshawn, she forced a smile.

“His name is Nat Thompson.”

Keyshawn couldn’t suppress a chuckle. “Nat Thompson? The All-Pro Football player, Nat Thompson is he your ‘missing’ date?”

Imani could see the skepticism in Mr. Barnes eyes.

“Oh, I see, Ms. Wallace. I hope –”

Nat rushed up to the table.

“Whew, I so sorry I’m late, darling,”  he said, taking Imani’s hand and pecking her on the cheek.

As Nat shook hands with Mr. Barnes, Imani gave him a quick once over.

Impeccably dressed in a Navy blue suit accented with a cream-colored shirt and coordinated tie. Nat’s black shoes were polished to a high gloss.

“Oh, that’s alright, Nat. I knew you were coming.” Imani said, smiling nervously.

Keyshawn sat dumbfounded. Mr. Barnes couldn’t stop grinning.

“Mr. Thompson. I’m so glad you could attend our annual company party. ”

Nat shook his hand. “My pleasure. Mr. Barnes,.”

“No, please call me David.”

Nat smiled. “Okay, David, as long as you call me Nat. And who’s this lovely lady?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. This my wife, Doris.”

“Hello, Mrs. Barnes, lovely dress your wearing.”

“Thank you, Mr. Thompson.”

“Nat, please.”

Mrs. Barnes blushed. “Thank you, Nat.”

Nat turned his attention to Imani. “I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to be with my Amaryllis.”

“Amaryllis? How sweet.” Mrs. Barnes said.

Imani looked at Mrs. Barnes and then Nat.

Keyshawn leaned forward. “Wow. It’s really you. You’re an all-pro offensive left tackle.  How do you know Imani?”

“We’ve known each other for years,” Nat answered, gazing into Imani’s eyes.  We’ve never had the time or opportunity to see each other. We were in relationships until recently. But luckily, we’re available now, so I took my chance.”

Nat squeezed Imani’s hand, and Imani smiled. “I’ll be right back. If the waiter should come, I’ll have the beef.”

Imani watched him as he walked towards the exit. His massive shoulders filled his suit. Imani was in a daze. The years had changed Nat, he was actually charming now.

“Do you get free football tickets?” Keyshawn whispered to Imani.

At first, she ignored him. But when he asked her again, she responded.

“Ah, no. You should know  I know nothing about football.”

“You’re dating a mega football star, and you know nothing about Football?”

“Knowing football, Keyshawn, wasn’t a condition for us dating.”

Keyshawn smiled feebly.

“Keyshawn, “ Pam cooed, “I want to dance.”

“Okay, okay. Let’s dance.”

Keyshawn smiled before leaving the table.

Imani was in the middle of finishing her appetizer when Allan sat next to her. He was not only a co-worker but also a childhood schoolmate.

“Hey, Imani, was that the Nat Thompson?”

Imani looked at him. “Yes, it was. He’ll be back in a minute.”

“I haven’t seen him since high school. You two finally got together, huh?”

Imani gave him a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”

“Nat protected you all through middle school and high school.”

“You’re crazy, Allan. He teased me in school.”

“Yeah, maybe so. But I bet no one else did?”

Imani thought for a moment. Some guys did once or twice.

Allan looked at her. “Well? Nobody right? Because Nat told us all if anyone hurt you in any way, they’d answer to him..”

         “Is that why my dates never got fresh with me?”

“Oh, yeah. Nat threatened every guy who even thought about getting fresh with you. Oh, oh, Nat’s coming back. I’ll talk to you later.”

For the rest of the evening, nat and I enjoyed ourselves as if we were really dating. We danced, laughed, shared memories all night long. I finally got up enough nerve to ask him why he called me Amaryllis. He smiled and sweetly told me that the flower Amaryllis symbolized pride, determination, and radiant beauty.

My first date with Nat was the beginning of a relationship and marriage that has lasted 25 years.

February 20, 2021 04:50

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5 comments

Cathryn V
00:25 Feb 25, 2021

Hi Gerard! I really enjoyed this story. Easy flow and great ending! A few places made me smile: Imani put on her self-pity clothes. Baggy sweatsuit, worn slip-on sneakers, and of course, no bra. “Umm, hmm.” Ebony shook her head. “Stevie Wonder could have seen that coming.” I don’t know if you like critique but if you do, let me know ok? Thank for writing!

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Gerard Watson
04:55 Mar 13, 2021

Cathryn...Call me a silly goose, but I just learned how to see my submitted stories. I apologize for taking so long to respond. Thank you for taking the time to read my story, and no, I don't mind an honest critique. It can be harsh or nice, I'm here to learn the craft of writing. anything anyone can help me reach that goal, I appreciate it. Believe me, I'm not thin-skinned. Been through too many critique wars. have you submitted anything? Please advise me, I'd love to read it. I'm glad you got the Stevie wonder line. I was worried about tha...

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Cathryn V
05:53 Mar 13, 2021

You’re dialogue is really good. I especially the beginning with Ebony and imani. Snappy and shows two close girlfriends. The story flows well and the twist at the end was a nice way to wrap it up. You might try working in some aspects of the environment to bring the reader into the story. My last one, “Just Words” is #83. I’m not happy with it. But one week isn’t long to make up a story as you no doubt know!

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Gerard Watson
17:57 Mar 13, 2021

I agree. I hope by working on these weekly prompts, I'll not only gain writing/creating speed in writing but also because of people like you-I'll become a better writer. Hope springs eternal, huh?

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Cathryn V
20:06 Mar 13, 2021

lol, indeed it does!

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