Chapter 1

 

            "Tamia Price stretched her arms up and arched her back as she rose from the couch, her weekly fix of an Empire episode watched; a day late because of work the night before, but well worth it.

She scratched her curly brown Afro with the gold highlights and twirled a ringlet around one of her long, peanut butter colored fingers.

            “I don’t know what I’m going to do when the season ends next spring. This show is on fire!” Tamia said out loud, shaking her head and making her hair bounce. There was no one else with her, but the sentiment was indeed one worth expressing aloud.

Walking toward the kitchen quickly, she grabbed a glass from the cupboard and then flung open the fridge door, grabbing the pitcher of orange juice and pouring herself a glass. It was still early, 11:30 in the morning and she had absolutely nothing planned for the day, which was rare. She’d been looking forward to it, but was already feeling a bit restless now that it was taking place. Tamia loved being productive and it had always been a part of who she was for her entire twenty-nine years of life.

            Might as well do laundry. Not fun, but necessary and productive.

Walking over to the counter, she grabbed a chocolate glazed donut before making her way to her bedroom. She took a bite, catching a crumb before it fell to the carpet and looked around, shaking her head again. “Why does Elvan always have so many clothes that need washing?” she mumbled, referencing the bag of dirty laundry that her on again off again boyfriend of twelve years had sitting in the corner of her bedroom. He’d brought it over two days ago and normally his assumption that she’d just do his laundry would have pissed her off, but she had offered to wash them earlier that week.

“It is his birthday,” Tamia reminded herself as she grabbed the heavy bag of clothes and made her way toward the laundry room. Indeed, today was her man’s twenty-ninth birthday, so this was the least that she could do for him since he swore up and down that he didn’t want her making a big deal over it. She couldn’t completely argue with his statement; he did have everything that he wanted in life.

            Elvan Douglas was a successful lawyer, working at his father’s firm and with his hard work came success, and ultimately wealth. There was nothing that Tamia could give him that he didn’t already possess or couldn’t easily purchase. To say he was materialistic was putting it mildly. He spent money frivolously, having always had it and not even second-guessing plunking down his black American Express card wherever and whenever the whim hit him.

College sweethearts once upon a time, the two broke up after graduation, just to get back together at mutual friends’ wedding a few years later. From that point on, they were on again off again. But that money that once wooed her no longer did. It had been great when she was a starving student being lavished with attention, but now…well, that didn’t matter as much. It was the man behind the money that she was consumed by. Elvan was sexy, more so than handsome, with his smooth ebony skin, broad shoulders, and trim waist. Plus he treated her good. He treated her like a queen, mostly, even if others thought him conceited and arrogant.

And the sex? Off the chain. He knew 101 ways to make her holler, and she could have sworn he used all 101 ways on a trip they took to Maui last spring. Maybe returning the favor could be her gift to him that evening—a very special way to say Happy Birthday.

            “I’ll wash his clothes and cook him a birthday meal. Then, hot damn!” Tamia said excitedly as she began to twerk and drop it to the floor. She dug through all of Elvan’s pockets making sure he didn’t leave anything important in them.

As she separated darks from lights she thought about how unhappy Elvan had seemed lately. Maybe it was the nearing thirty thing—it probably scared him. Tamia couldn’t help but laugh at that thought. They often teased each other about how close to thirty they both were, but was Elvan seriously starting to feel the weight of being in his late twenties? Whatever the case was, Tamia couldn’t just do nothing for the man she loved, no matter what he said. A crazy night might be just what he needed to get out of the doldrums.

            As Tamia went through the rest of Elvan’s clothes, she looked toward the concrete floor when she heard a slight ping as an object hit the floor.

            “I knew this man was going to have something in his pocket,” Tamia said, looking down to see what had fallen out. Probably a coin, but she still needed to find it. “Damn it, where did it fall?” she grumbled, looking around. She got down on her hands and knees and began to look. For what…she had no clue.

She just about gave up on it and then she saw something through the corner of her eye, right by the front corner of the washing machine. “What the…” Tamia’s voice trailed as she crawled over to the shiny object that held her eyes hostage. “Is this…” Tamia couldn’t even finish her sentence as her eyes went wide in shock, surprise, confusion, and a few other emotions that she couldn’t put her French tipped nails on. “Oh my gawd,” she whispered, taking the object in her hand.  What she held in her hand was a beautiful, four to five carat princess cut diamond engagement ring. The gorgeous diamond ring stole her breath from her.

            Her body vibrating with energy and an adrenaline rush, she left the laundry strewn everywhere and went back upstairs and straight to her bedroom where she’d left her cellphone. She pulled up Elvan’s name and was about to press send; then she paused. She couldn’t just call him and ask about it. He’d want to surprise her. “Just be patient,” she said, and then she began giggling. She was always talking to herself out loud. Elvan said it was because she was crazy.

Tamia held her chest to calm down. She was out of breath. She’d gained a few extra pounds over the last couple of years and it had impacted her energy level a lot. It wasn’t always noticeable, but when she ran up a flight of stairs she felt it, alright.

Sitting down on the edge of her bed, she caught her breath, her lips moving until she was ready to talk out loud. “He’s going to propose to me! He’s going to propose to me!” The words were magical and she felt so happy hearing them. She flopped back on the bed and kicked her legs up in the air, moving them back and forth like she was swimming.

At that moment, everything she had to do was forgotten; even the donut that she’d been enjoying. The only thing that was on her mind was that huge rock! It wasn’t like she could un-see that ring and she sure as hell wasn’t going to put it back in Elvan’s pocket and risk it somehow getting lost. How do I handle this situation? It wasn’t like she could just hand it over or anything. She thought about it…wondering the best approach. There was only one person to help her figure this out.

She picked up her phone and dialed Dawn Kent, the Editor at Large for Incarnat Magazine and a close friend. Her leg moving up and down rapidly, she waited for an answer. “Dee, you are not gonna believe what I found in Elvan’s pants pocket!” Tamia yelled, still slightly out of breath.

            “Damn, the way you’re actin’ you must have found a condom, some panties, or another woman’s number.”

Tamia started shaking her head even though she knew her friend wouldn’t be able to see it. “No! I found an engagement ring!”

Everything went silent for a few moments and Tamia took her phone away from her ear to make sure that Dawn hadn’t somehow gotten disconnected from the call.

            “Whaaaat? He’s gonna pop the question!” Dawn shouted enthusiastically.

Tamia couldn’t help the girlish giggle that escaped her lips. “I know! But I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t want to put it back in his pocket and risk something happening to it. What do you suggest I do?” Tamia sat up in bed, biting the tip of her nail.

            “Hmmm…” Dawn said as she thought. “Does he know you’re washin’ his clothes?”

            “Yes, I told him to bring them to me a few days ago. Since today’s his birthday, I wanted to do something to help him out. He basically told me not to buy him anything, so I thought I’d wash his clothes and cook him a special meal.”

            “Are you at his place or yours?” Dawn asked.

            “Mine.”

            “Alright, wash the pants that you found the ring in and then just put it back in when you’re finished. He’ll never know that you found it.” Dawn’s solution was so simple that Tamia couldn’t believe she didn’t think of it. She was pretty sure it was because of the shock of finding out that the man she loved was finally set to propose to her.

            “Good plan,” Tamia said. “Wow. I just can’t believe this.”

“Did you put it on?” Dawn asked.

“Do you think I should?”

“Yes. You wanna make sure it fits good so you know how to respond if it isn’t quite right.”

“Okay,” Tamia said. She didn’t need to be convinced. She put it on and it was a bit tight, but they could get it sized properly later.

“Well, girl, I’ve got to go, but good luck. Make sure you call me after, okay?”

“Got it. Bye!” Tamia ended the call and squealed, still excited. It felt more like her birthday than Elvan’s at that moment.

She had a lot to do. She knew that Elvan was out getting a haircut and visiting with some of his frat brothers, which was great so she could prepare for the night. She had to get to the store, maybe buy something sexy and get ready to rock his world—her future fiancé’s world!

She got back to the laundry, washing it quickly and eager to get that ring slid back into the pants pocket in which it had slipped out from.

***

            “Hey, I’ll be over there in a few minutes.” Tamia’s heart leapt at the sound of Elvan’s smooth baritone voice after she picked up the phone on the first ring.

            “Oh, I can’t wait to see you. Has your birthday been a happy one, sweetheart?” Tamia cooed and she almost kicked herself. She was acting weird. Too lovey-dovey. She knew that she was acting strange and the voice that pushed from her rosy lips didn’t sound like her own. There was a pause for a few moments before Elvan spoke again.

            “It’s been alright,” he said slowly. Damn it! He sensed the difference in my voice after all! Tamia had to calm herself down.

“That’s good, see you soon, baby. I’ve got a special night planned for you.” She hung up the phone and reminded herself to remain cool.

She walked into her bedroom and gave herself another quick inspection. She looked fantastic, she thought, even though she was a bit thicker in the butt and thighs than she used to be. But hell, people were paying for the butter that she got from meat and potatoes.

 She wore a sexy red peignoir with lacy bikini panties that she had gotten from Victoria’s Secret earlier that day. It hugged her ample curves in just the right way. And the red, six-inch, fuck me pumps…well, let’s just say that he would be ready to do just that when he caught sight of her. The meal that she had labored over might well be forgotten, she thought with a chuckle. Then her brows bunched. When did she get that new thigh dimple?

            “I really need to get back to the gym,” she frowned when she noticed it. The wedding dresses she liked best would require her to tone up a little. She brushed the thought off. It wasn’t the time to be critical or self-conscious. Everyone gained weight now and again. Elvan had never commented on it once, so why should she worry. He clearly didn’t mind a few extra pounds.

            She turned toward the neatly folded pile of clothes in the corner of her room and smiled. She had placed the pants that housed that beautiful ring on top of the pile of clothes and carefully put the ring back into the pocket. Every time Tamia looked at those pants and thought about what was in the pocket, she giggled in girlish glee. What a night it was going to be!

“I wonder how he’s going to propose. Will it even be tonight?” That thought made her heart sink, because she didn’t think she’d be able to wait. Then she talked out loud once again. “Maybe it’ll be a cruise or something.” With every suggestion, she grew more excited.

She jumped when the doorbell rang. “He’s here!” she squealed again, smiling brightly.

Making her way past her dining room table where all of Elvan’s favorite foods were prepared, she checked that the candles were still lit and shining brightly, giving off the ambience the night would require. The food’s aroma was mouthwatering. Since her sweet Elvan had gone out of his way to do something for her, Tamia would give him a birthday that he wouldn’t forget.

            “Hi sweetheart.” Tamia smiled a white, toothy grin when she saw her man. Elvan’s 6 foot muscular frame towered over her, and he looked so yummy with his freshly cut short hair. “Mm… looking good babe.” Tamia flirted with him and playfully winked her eye. Elvan frowned slightly and maneuvered his body around Tamia’s, almost like he was afraid to touch her.

            “Thanks, I try,” he said and stopped in the middle of the living room.

“What, nothing to say?” she asked, showing off her nightie. “No kiss?” She moved close to him.

He bent to peck her lips lightly and looked at her attire. “Happy birthday!”

He frowned again. “What’s this?”

“It’s one of your gifts. You get to unwrap me, piece by little, tiny piece,” she said, tall enough in the stilettos to reach up and kiss his nose and lips.

Despite her playfulness, she couldn’t help but notice that something was off with Elvan. Was he nervous, or what? Finally, feeling his rigid, unresponsive body, she took a step back and looked at him. He was acting different, more aloof than normal.  Did he find out that he was missing the ring? Oops, she thought, giddy inside.

“What’s that smell?” he asked, inhaling the meal that Tamia had prepared.

She smiled at him. “I’ve made you a birthday dinner that will make you wish we lived together!” Tamia said. Yeah, she knew she was pouring it on thick, but so what? He was proposing soon!

            “Tamia, look…” Elvan began. Tamia placed a perfectly manicured finger on Elvan’s lips.

            “Tonight is your night baby. Let me spoil you,” she said and gripped Elvan’s muscular arm in her hands. She could feel him clenching his muscles as she dragged him toward the dining room. Elvan blinked a few times before averting his eyes from the romantic setting. She felt him tense even more and that’s when she became uneasy thinking that he would be angry with her for doing all this for him. He’d said he didn’t want anything, but he really hadn’t meant that, had he?

“Tammy…you shouldn’t have done this,” Elvan said, averting his gaze from hers.

She didn’t care what he said, she was happy that she had done it. A couple in love should always do special things for each other. She wanted to make sure that’s how they were from now on. That’s the kind of marriage she wanted.

            “Sit,” Tamia said, forcing Elvan to sit in the chair. She made idle talk as she prepared his plate, and he sat still and quiet—too quiet.

            “Tamia, we need to talk,” Elvan said, cutting her off as she rambled on nervously.

            “I know… I know… you didn’t want me to do anything for you. I know you’re a big shot attorney making good money. I know that you could buy yourself anything that you want. But I had to do something for you. You are very good to me,” Tamia said, smiling a beautiful smile at him. A man that would buy a rock as big as the one Elvan bought for her was indeed a good man.

            “Tamia, you need to listen. I’m in love….” Elvan said in a flat monotone voice. Tamia blinked her eyes a few times at that before letting out a small giggle.

            “I’m in love with you too,” she said, leaning down to kiss him on his closed lips again. He flinched when her lips touched his and he quickly moved away. “What’s wrong?” Tamia asked confused. Damn, he was seriously anxious.

            “No, Tamia, I’m in love with another woman and I’m planning on marrying her. You and I are done,” Elvan said and got up from his chair.

Tamia’s mouth hung wide open and her eyes were so big that she was sure they’d pop out of her head at any moment. Right then, her world stopped, her heart frozen and her limbs numb."