A second later, Jonathan screamed, “Defense!” He jumped off the sofa after Nene blocked a shot. “Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.”
I crossed my leg over the other, swinging it back and forth. Once I tell him how it is, I thought to myself, I’ll feel a whole lot better. Jonathan didn’t bother looking my way as he leaned back on the sofa, tilted his head back, and gulped beer. I rolled my eyes upward. On top of everything else, it was my birthday.
Jonathan threw both hands up in disgust when, Dwayne Wade scored another basket.“ Come on rebound!”
Six months ago, Jonathan asked me to become his wife. I needed time to think about the proposal. The way I feel toward him at the moment, I’m sure more than ever what my answer will be.
I want to be with a man whom I feel passion and love for. The passion has died out of our relationship. I will always love Jonathan, but I was no longer in love with him. The ringing of the telephone snapped me out of my thoughts. Another interruption. The way the day was going, it seemed I would never get around to discussing our relationship.
I rambled around in my purse, retrieved a pink cellular phone, and flipped it open.
“Happy birthday, girl!” a female voice said over the line.
It was Shauna Summer, my best friend and coworker. We both were accountants at Roger& Meeks, a successful firm in downtown Washington, DC.
“It’s my birthday, but it’s not a happy one,” I vented.
“Gurl, I didn’t even get a card.”
“Maybe Jonathan has something planned for later.” Shauna was aware of the strained relationship between Jonathan and me. I knew she was only trying to make me feel better.
“Well, it looks like to me the only thing he plans to do is sit, drink beer, and watch the playoffs.”
Shauna sighed. “I tell you what. This is your day. How about I take you out?”
“Shauna, I know what you’re trying to do, but it’s not necessary.”
“Nonsense. Get dressed. We’re going to Cadence.”
I had to admit the idea of going to an upscale and classy supper club on my birthday was just what I needed. I’d never been there, but Shauna boasted that the clientele was impressive among the African-American community.
“What do you say?” she prompted. " You know you're my girl, we got to do it right."
Instead of answering Shauna’s question, I asked, “Don’t you need a reservation to get in Cadence?”
“Don’t worry about that. I will handle everything. Just meet me at the club at eight o’clock.” I didn't get a chance to answer. The dial tone sounded in my ear.
I closed the phone and met Jonathan’s inquiring eyes.“Who was that?” he asked.
He looked irritated. “What was she talking about?”
“She wants to take me out for my birthday.” Despite what was going on between us, I was hoping Jonathan would say he didn’t want me to go, that he has plans. He didn’t. Without another word, he refocused on the game.
At exactly eight o’clock, I pulled the Volvo in front of the club. I looked out the window and saw a well-dressed couple emerge from a Lexus and head for the entrance.
I self-consciously ran my hand over my tan, two-piece expensive pants suit, with matching pumps, I purchased for my birthday. “ This is my day”, I said to myself. Even though Jonathan’s actions had hurt me, I was determined to have a good time.
A valet stood waiting. I tipped the young man and he sped away.
I stepped inside a set of massive mahogany doors affixed with brass hardware and found myself immersed in grandeur of beauty. The golden recessed lights glistened against gold-toned fixtures, floor-to-floor ceiling stained-glass windows, and green leafy plants near a man-made waterfall.
I thought about sitting in the breathtaking foyer to wait for Shauna and watch the customers come and go, but curiosity got the best of me when the band ended a number, followed by applause, and whistles of appreciation.
I peeped in the posh interior of the restaurant, which was dressed in shades of gold and cream. There were large pillars, erect like military soldiers, standing at attention. Customers seemed to be enjoying themselves, laughing, talking, and sitting at tables with small intimate lamps.
I decided to wait a little longer in the foyer. As I backed out of the doorway, along, hard body behind me halted me in my tracks. When I turned to apologize, the words fell dead on my lips. I groaned. The handsome man was all that and then some. Handsome? No, that was an understatement. The word didn’t even begin to describe the man looking back at me with my mouth gaped open. He reminded me of D.J Augustin, from the Chicago Bulls, a brother who was domineering on the courts and had a body that could give a sistah a real workout.
Not tall like D.J, this man was only around six-feet tall. He had on a white open-neck shirt, with a black jacket and matching slacks. He was black, a beautiful smooth tone, with a face you would never get tired of looking at or touching. I licked my lips.
“I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?” he said.
It took a moment to find my voice. I felt like Diana Ross in “Lady Sings The Blues,” the scene where she first laid eyes on Billie Dee Williams. Like her, I was a goner.
“Uh, no,” I finally stammered out, wondering if he knew the effect his presence was having on me.
Three months. It had been that long since I’d shared my body with Jonathan. Was that the reason I was so attractive to this stranger?
His face parted in a dazzling display of straight, white teeth. “You’re sure you’re all right?”
I nodded. “Yes, I’m fine.” Without another word, he sidestepped me and went inside the restaurant, leaving his presence forever embedded in my mind.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Shauna said, rushing up to meet me. “I got held up,” she explained. “My man was worried about me coming out tonight.”
Blinking to clear my head, I stared at Shauna, not sure what she’d said. I knew Shauna had met a new man about a month ago. Whoever he was, she was being secretive about him.
“I told him it was your birthday, and nothing he could do or say would stop me from taking you out tonight,” Shauna said as she led me inside the club, excited as ever. “My cousin, Malik sings here,” she boasted.
“Good evening and welcome to Cadence’s. My name is Kim.”
“Good evening, Kim,” Shauna spoke. “I believe you have a reservation for me. It should be under Layla Mills, the birthday girl I phoned about.”
Kim threw us a fantastic smile. “Happy birthday, Layla. We have a table all ready for you. I hope you enjoy yourself tonight.”
Feeling embarrassed and pleased, I returned her smile. “Thank you. I’m sure I will.”
“I’m here to make sure that she does,” Shauna chimed in. Kim beckoned for a waitress who escorted us to a table where we had an obstructed view of the stage.
“I’m Mya and I’ll be your waitress for the evening. I understand it’s your birthday. We'd like to offer you a drink and dinner on the house. What would like for a appetizer?
I arched a perfect eyebrow and looked at Shauna. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you.” The evening was getting off to a great start."
Mya handed each of us a menu, then proceeded to take our drink order. I ordered a margarita. Shauna ordered a pina colada. For the appetizer, I decided on Buffalo wings.
“I’ll be back with your drinks and appetizer.”
It was the band’s intermission, and the soft sound of jazz music filled Cadence’s with warmth and relaxation.
“Come on, what kind of friend would I be if, I let that happen?"
“The man didn't even wish me a happy birthday. I don’t understand what’s going on with him. The past couple of weeks he’s watched the Wizards chase the championship ring with more passion than is in our relationship.”
Shauna opened her menu and looked at me. “Things really that bad between you two?”
“Worse. I tried talking to him. With the playoffs going on, I don’t have a chance.”
“Maybe he knows that’s what you want to talk to him about.”
“I’m sure he does. He has to know that things are not the same between us."
Mya appeared with the drinks and Buffalo wings, then took our dinner order.
“We haven’t made love in months,” I admitted, picking up the conversation when it was safe to speak.
Shauna frowned. “I don’t see how you do it,” She purred her lips and shook her head in disbelief. “No sex in months. No way.”
I laughed at her reaction. “I stopped wanting to. I’m tired of pretending when the passion just isn’t there anymore."
Shauna’s face softened. “I’m sorry. I’m sure it must be difficult for both of you.”
I took a sip. “I'm the only that seems to care.” I looked in my drink glass, as if expecting to find the answer to the situation between Jonathan and me. “I think it's over. But I don't know how I feel about it."
Shauna raised an eyebrow. “You sure it’s over?”
I tilted my head to one side."I don't know. Maybe there's someone else."
"Oh come on," Shauna exclaimed. " Jonathan would not do that to you."
"Jonathan is a man, if he's not getting it from me. He will get it someone else."
"I know for a fact Jonathan is faithful. He's loyal. He would never do anything intentionally to hurt you."
I thought about it for a moment. Shauna was right. Things were going well between us until. I turned down his marriage proposal. Maybe I should rethink everything. Afterall, I have invested two years in the relationship. I shouldn't give up so quickly.
"Maybe, you're right. I shouldn't give up so easily." I noticed a sly grin on Shauna's face. "What are you smiling about? What you up to?"
Shauna threw her head back and laughed. “What makes you think I’m up to something?”
I joined in her laughter. “I can tell when you’re up to no good.”
“Trust me." Shauna said. "What I have plan for you tonight, you will never forget."
With a revelation like that, I couldn't wait to find out what else, Shauna had planned.
A hour later, the festivities were interrupted when a spotlight shone on the stage. A tall, male figure came into view, accompanied by a sextet. After my eyes adjusted, I leaned back in the chair. It was the handsome man I had run into at the door.
As he sung, I sat spellbound. His stage presence absolutely blew me away.
Thirty minutes later, he ended his last number amid a thunderous round of applause. I looked over to find Shauna watching me closely.
“Isn’t he awesome?”
“That, he is,” I admitted.
Shauna looked back at the singer, taking his final bow.
“Do you know him?” I asked, feeling jealous that she could know him on an intimate level when I definitely wouldn’t mind getting to know him myself. Maybe he was the man she has been seeing for the past month.
“Is he the man you’ve been seeing? He’s fine.”
Shauna giggled, bending her head forward. “You can find out yourself. He’s coming this way.”
“Good evening, ladies,” the familiar voice spoke behind my left shoulder.
I took a light breath, turned, and looked into that handsome face again. “Hello, again,” I managed to say.
Shauna curiously looked from me to him. “You two know each other?”
I watched him smile and my heart rate sped up. “Let’s just say we ran into each other. May I join you?”
“Have a seat.” I replied.
“Thank you,” he said, sitting slowly, his long body moving with ease. “Malik Hampton,” he extended a hand to me.
“Layla Mills,” I said, closing my hand over his.
Malik nodded toward Shauna. “Cousin, it’s been a while. Good to see you.” He leaned over, kissing her on the cheek.
“Same here, Malik. Today is Layla’s birthday,” she happily chirped. “So, I figured I’d bring her here to celebrate.”
“Good choice. I can’t think of a better place. Food is good, music is fantastic.” His eyes raked boldly over me as he added, “You get a chance to meet beautiful people.”
I returned his gaze with my own and agreed.
“How are you enjoying yourself so far?” Malik asked.
“So far, I’m having a wonderful time.”
He smiled again. “I’m glad. If I had known today was your birth, I would have sung “Happy Birthday to you.”
Inside, my heart sang with delight. The thought of this man, a stranger, wanting to sing happy birthday to me made me feel special.
“I’m glad you didn’t,” I said coyly.
“Why not? I’m a pretty good singer and it is your birthday." Malik said.
“Thank you for saying that. I admit you're not a bad singer.”
“Thanks for the compliment.” Malik signaled for the waitress and placed an order for a scotch and water. “So, tell me Layla, why are you spending your birthday with Shauna?”
Shauna threw him a “no-you-didn’t” look.
“No offense to you, Cousin,” Malik quickly added.
“What’s wrong with me?” Shauna asked, trying to look as if her feelings were hurt.
“Nothing.” Malik swung his head around to look at me. “I just thought maybe Layla’s man would have planned something special tonight.”
“I don’t want to talk about him,” I answered, irritated.
Malik arched back in the chair. “Why not?”
I forced a smile and gave Malik a sideways glance. “Like you said, tonight is my night. I don’t want to ruin it talking about him.”
“I hear ya, girl,” Shauna jeered.
A faint smile flickered at the edges of Malik’s mouth. “I agree, tonight is about you.” He leaned closer toward me. He was so close. I could feel the heat radiating from his body and smell the faint spicy scent of his aftershave. Damn, he smells good.
“ Can I can be so bold," Malik began. "If there is anything I can do to help make tonight more special, please let me know."
My heart thumped erratically in my throat. I could think of a few things I wanted to suggest doing with him, but the reply came out, “Like?"
Malik ran his tongue slightly across his bottom lip. “Whatever you would like me to do.”
I couldn’t tear my gaze away from his. I swallowed hard. I knew I shouldn’t have been thinking what I was thinking, but for the first time in months, I felt alive, feminine, and desirable. “That is bold. I don't know you."
He ran his tongue over his bottom lips. “That's easy to solve."
Malik grinned. “I’ll tell you what.Why don’t we begin with a dance and let the rest of the evening unfold?”
“I can do that.” I put my hand in Malik’s who helped me from my seat. “I’ll be back, Shauna.”
Malik scurried around couples and shouldered his way through to the dance floor. He pulled me into his arms and we began dancing to the slow beat. I knew I was swept away when out bodies meshed together. I inhaled deeply as our bodies began moving in perfect rhythm to the music.
“I’m glad I ran into you tonight, Layla,” he whispered softly in my ear.
“I must admit, I'm glad too,” I replied in a voice so low I didn’t know if he had heard my response.
Malik tightened his hold on me. My breasts pressed heavily against his chest, his hands locked my hips to his and the erect bulge between his thighs pressed into my burning flesh. When one song ended, he held me closer on the dance floor until another song began.
“Why don’t we go back to my place?” he whispered in my ear, then nibbled on it.
A quiver surged through my veins. He kissed my face and tenderly kissed my lips. As I looked into his eyes, all I could do was whisper, “Yes.”
When we approached the table together, hand in hand, Shauna’s face beamed with approval.
“We’re going to go and get better acquainted,” Malik explained. He planted a kiss on Shauna’s cheek. “I’ll talk to you later.”
Shauna’s expression made it clear that she understood the meaning of the statement. “Don’t worry about anything,” she whispered in my ear. “Don't worry about Jonathan, I will take care of everything.”
I knew Shauna would cover for me if Jonathan questioned my whereabouts. That's what girlfriends are for.
Thirty minutes later, Malik pulled into the driveway of his apartment complex. He got out of the car and walked around the vehicle to open the door for me.
We strolled up the sidewalk together. Malik pulled out the key and unlocked the door. I walked inside the apartment on weakened legs. Malik followed me in, closing the door behind me. His hand automatically reached for the lamp on the end table.
He dropped the keys in a tray on the coffee table. The spacious apartment contained a black sofa with matching loveseat. The mantel was covered with family photos, including one with Malik and a little girl, smiling cheek-to-cheek. Tan walls provided the backdrop for African-American paintings. African statues were scattered throughout the room. A wall unit shelved a TV, VCR, DVD, and stereo system. Next to it, a large green potted tree added to the ambiance.
“Come on in and make yourself at home,” Malik instructed, disappearing into the kitchen. He reappeared a few minutes later with a bottle of wine and two glasses. Malik presented me with a glass of wine, then walked over and turned on the CD player. As Luther Vandross music set the mood, I found myself relaxing. I’m sure we both were aware of the sexual tension between us.
A moment of silence developed between us. I stared at him for a long, thoughtful moment. I knew what he was thinking because I was thinking the same. “ What else can I get the birthday girl?”
That was it, the magic question. He slowly leaned forward and kissed me. The kiss sent spirals of ecstasy through me. His mouth covered mine hungrily. I knew he felt me shiver, and simultaneously, he inserted his tongue deeper, adding that exciting brand of intimacy I have never known before.
Instinctively, I captured his tongue with mine. I heard myself purr as I stated the sweetness of his tongue.
“You taste so sweet,” Malik whispered huskily. He reached up and traced his finger along the curve of my cheekbone. His gaze was intent, purposeful, and challenging. “I knew you would.”
I looked at him and couldn’t deny the desire I felt for him. “I knew you would, too.”
Without another word, he took me by the hand and led me into the bedroom. He pulled me closer, his large hands pressing my hips securely to his. “We don’t have to do anything.”
“You’re lying, Malik,” I said softly. I locked my arms around his neck and placed a tender kiss on his lips.
“I’m serious, Layla.”
I silenced him with another kiss. I didn't feel like talking.
Malik planted kisses along the nape of my neck. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the intimate kisses and moans.
We undressed each other, and gently, he eased me down onto the bed. Malik’s touch was light and painfully teasing as his hands explored my breast, back, waist, and hips. Heat rippled under my skin as the flush of sexual desire I hadn’t felt for months coursed throughout my body.
My impatience to be connected with him grew to explosive proportions. Malik knew I was ready for him because his fingers grabbed a condom from the nightstand. I welcomed him into my body, and together our bodies joined in exquisite harmony, soaring high until we reached the peak of delight, exploding in a downpour of fiery sensation.
Afterward, I lay in Malik’s arms filled with an amazing sense of completeness. I had never been so fulfilled, but I had to look at the night for what it really was. It was nothing more than fulfilling a moment of physical desire.
The next morning, I awakened to Malik’s hard male body snuggled next to mine. I eased undetected out of bed, found the bathroom, showered, and dressed. As I came back into the bedroom, preparing to leave, Malik sat up in bed.
“You don’t have to leave,” he said as his gaze locked with mine.
“Let’s get real, Malik. We both know what last night was about.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way.” He got out of bed, naked. "I know it sounds strange but I really like you."
My heart beat rapidly as my eyes took in the beautiful specimen I had the pleasure of enjoying the previous night. “Malik, last night was wonderful. I can’t remember ever having a more memorable birthday, but it can’t be anything else. In case you forgot, I’m with someone.”
I couldn’t believe Malik wanted to see me again. It wasn’t suppose to happen this way. It was a night for sexual gratification…a one night stand. Nothing more.”
“All right,” he spread his hands apart,” I won’t push. But if you ever need anything, give me a call."
I stepped forward and placed a gentle kiss on his lips. "Thank you, Malik.”
Malik smiled that beautiful smile of his.
I gave his midsection one last ogle. “For everything.”
“You are welcome.”
Malik drove me back to Cadence to pick up my car. Reaching over me, he opened the glove compartment and withdrew a pen and notepad. He quickly jotted down his number and handed it to me. I slipped the paper in my purse.
I watched as Malik got out of the car. He came around to open the passenger side door, extending his hand. “I meant what I said, if you ever need anything." He held my hand as he walked me to my car. Pulling me close, Malik thrust his tongue in my mouth with a kiss that sent shivers to the tip of my toes.
“Good bye, Layla.”
Malik waited until I drove off before he strolled back to his car. As I pulled out into traffic, I wondered how Jonathan would react if he knew what I’d done. Our relationship was in jeopardy, but I never should have spent the night in another man's bed.
A hour later, I let myself inside the apartment. The place was quiet, except for the soft humming of the air conditioner. Then I thought I heard what sounded like a giggle. I pushed the thought aside, but then I heard it again and my senses kicked into high gear. I headed slowly down the hallway.
“Jonathan?” I called.
“Layla?” I heard him answer from the bedroom, followed by sudden movement. A wave of apprehension swept through me, as I stood outside the door. Something wasn’t right. I took a deep breath and strolled into the bedroom. I came to an abrupt stop, not believing what I was seeing. My best friend and Jonathan were in bed together.
I watched as she snuggled closer to him, not embarrassed that I had caught them together. “What the hell is going on?”
“You can see what is going on,” Shauna answered, pleased with herself.
I looked from Shauna to Jonathan. He didn’t say a word. His response was to kiss her on the lips.
It took all I had inside to calm me down. With fists balled at my side___my instincts were to snatch her bald.“How long has this been going on?” I asked in a crack voice.
“You already know the answer to that, Shauna said smugly. “We've been seeing each other for months."
I clenched my jaw to kill the sob in my throat. “ Months? How can you do this to me, Shauna? You are my friend. I confided in you. You know how I feel about, Jonathan"
“What about you and Malik?” Jonathan chimed in. “Explain that.”
I did not have an answer. Tears welled in my eyes as I spun on my heels and ran out the door. I felt a sourness in the pit of my stomach. It was obvious, I thought, settling behind the wheel of the car. Shauna had used my indiscretion to justify sleeping with Jonathan.
I rambled around in the bottom of the large bag and found Malik's number. I dialed. He answered on the third ring.
"Were you in on the setup?" I yelled in the phone. "How could you do that to me?"
"What set up?" Malik answered in a groggy voice. "What are you talking about?"
I proceeded to tell him everything that happened between me and Shauna. As I filled him in with the details, I calmly walked to the trunk of the Volvo and removed a wooden baseball bat.
"Shauna did what?" Malik inquired. "Layla, I'm sorry. I had no idea. I haven't seen her in months. She called me and said, she wanted me to meet someone. That's the truth."
"If that's the truth, I'm going to need your help." I exclaimed as I purposely walked back toward the apartment.
"For what?" Malik exclaimed.
"I'm going to need you to bail me out of jail."