I am a sinner.
That's the first thing you need to know about me. Some might say a worm, although when it comes to worms, there are so many various types. The second thing you need to know is that those who brought me up and exposed the fact that I'd been caught in the act, "the very act" of adultery, weren't really after me. By this I mean: they were out to expose, to trick really, the thirty-three-year-old pastor who'd already effectively turned many of their lives and traditional beliefs upside down and on their sanctimonious heads.
So this wasn't really about me and the man I've loved since the very first day I laid eyes upon him, two months and fifteen days shy of me being fourteen years old. The afro-sporting, caramel-hued man of sixteen and a half who wore a grown-up hat (a fedora, I believe it was, although I didn't know the name of it at the time), cocked (as was also his head) ever so slightly to the side. He smiled at me. And his eyes ... His eyes lassoed my heart before his bass voice ever even uttered the first sound that would completely rein me in to tie our hearts and forever knit our souls together.
Oh, I know you think that this is all an exaggeration. But the fact that I'm a little over fifty now proves my point. That tiny spark lit all those years ago was burning strong inside of a roaring fire some forty years later. What would you call it?
So if this is the case, you might ask, then why were he and I caught in adultery? Why is this not a celebration account of our blissful years of holy matrimony together?
Simple. I'm married and so is he. But we're not married to each other. In the past forty years our paths have crossed (on occasion) here and there. At one church program and, early on, one funeral of someone we both knew. And then there was the one surprise time at a department store (which I confess was weird and quite awkward for me). Especially since he had two of his (what would eventually become) three daughters with him, and I had my three daughters and a niece with me. He teasingly introduced me as "This would have been your mother." I believe he said would and not should. I'm pretty sure that's what he said: would, although I confess maybe I wasn't listening as closely as I could or should have. How was I to know he'd be saying something weighty like that? I mean, I was still in shock at running into him in the women's department at Rich's in the mall.
Then came the time, ten years ago, that changed everything. The time he called my business, The Painted Lady Flower Shop, not knowing he'd be reaching me.
When I saw his name and number on the caller ID, I confess I could barely breathe. I tried to decide whether I should answer it or just let it go to voice mail, knowing full well I would not return the call if it did and that there was no one else in my one-woman shop to do it. And if I did answer it, should I let him know it was me, or just be as I am with everyone and anyone else who calls?
Cool, calm, and in my most polished professional voice, I answered on the third ring. And as soon as he learned he was speaking to me, he veered away from what he'd originally called for. We did, however, eventually come back to it: he needed flowers ... for his wife ... of twenty years now. The woman he'd married and was still married to. The girlfriend, actually, he was dating when he and I first met. The one he'd continued dating after he'd stepped up and asked me to slow dance to a song that, to this very day, still takes me back to that night of him gazing into my eyes as I stood on the next to the last step in the basement at a house party.
"Flowers for your wife?" I said with as much excitement as I could muster. "Oh, that is wonderful!" I was happy for him; really I was. His ordering flowers had to mean things were going well for the two of them. After all, he was calling to order my most expensive arrangement of flowers for his wife—although I suppose it could just as well have meant they were having major problems and he was trying to find a way to fix things. That's the thing about flowers: giving them works in either case.
I explained I could have them delivered wherever he wanted. He wanted, instead, to come by the shop and pick them up. I told him I'd have them ready on the day and time he desired.
When he walked into my shop, older (in his midforties then) but still just as handsome (if not more so) and as debonair as I'd remembered him the last time our paths crossed almost ten years earlier, I wasn't ready. No, no, the flowers were ready and waiting. The best job I'd ever done (if I may say so myself).
I wasn't ready.
Not after my knees discovered it was him and cowardly buckled—completely betraying me by refusing to do their part in holding the rest of me up.
"I got you," he said as he quickly rushed over and caught me.
I hurriedly righted myself and took a step away from him. He glanced down at my feet as though he was looking for the culprit of me almost falling. I looked down as well, as though I, too, was looking for a reason for my lost footing. "I'm all right," I said. "Thanks for the save."
He smiled, and in a warm, chocolaty-smooth voice said, "Butterfly." He shook his head as he bit down on his bottom lip, then said, "My beautiful little black butterfly."
I swiftly glanced down again. "My shoes. I guess I should have worn a different pair. These are a bit high, at least for this type of floor here. They're not broken in good ... my shoes, that is ... the soles of them ... These shoes just happen to match...."
"You haven't changed a bit," he said with a grin. "You're still that same funny, bubbly, wonderfully beautiful girl I met all those years ago when you were thirteen."
I touched my hair with its strands of silver. "That's not true; I'm much, much older now."
He continued to smile. "Which merely confirms that wine does indeed only get better with time." He stared into my eyes, then ticked his head twice.
"Well, Spears ... Spear Carrier, let me get your order," I said, bringing us both back to reality.
He laughed. "Spears? Spear Carrier? No one calls me Spears or Spear Carrier anymore. Well, hardly anyone. Talk about a throwback."
I grinned. "Is that right?" I'd never called him Spears or Spear Carrier, not even back then. I'd always called him by his given name: Ethan Duane Roberts.
"That was way back in the day," he said. "Back when I was into javelin throwing. I was good though. I loved throwing a javelin." He made an imaginary throw. "I really thought I was going to make it to the Olympics: throwing, running, jumping ... something."
"Well, I guess we all had big dreams back then."
He looked intensely at me. "Yeah. We did, didn't we? I was into sports big time. And you—"
"Had dreams of other things." I nodded. My way of ending where his statement was about to lead us. "Let me get your order." I walked into the back room and retrieved the flowers he'd ordered.
"My goodness! Those are gorgeous!" he said when I stepped back in carrying a crystal vase of flowers like it was a hard-earned trophy. "Absolutely ... beautiful!"
I set them on the counter so he could get a better look at them. "Thank you, Mister Roberts," I said. "I'm glad you like them. I believe your wife will be impressed with you for purchasing these. This arrangement is my top-of-the-line offering."
"Oh, you think, huh?" His tone was dismissive.
"Is there something wrong with them? Something you don't like or that you need me to fix?" I asked. "I want my customers to be satisfied. So if—"
"Oh, there's nothing wrong with the flowers. In fact I've never seen anything so lovely ... so magnificent, so gorgeous," he said before making an obvious show of gazing deeply into my eyes. "Well, almost never," he said with a mischievous grin.
"Are you sure you like them? Are you sure now?"
"Oh, I'm more than sure. And I'm more than satisfied. It's just my wife ... Oh, forget it. I'm sure she's going to love them ... or not."
I started to pursue where he was going with that, but then realized it really wasn't my business. If he loved what I'd done, then my job was completed. I told him the total amount owed. He handed me a gold credit card. I processed it, had him sign, and that was that—the end of our transaction.
"Thanks," I said.
"My pleasure," he said.
As he carefully picked up the large vase of flowers, it occurred to me that he might have a time with them in the car. "Let me get a box for you to set the vase in so it won't tip over." I went to the back again and returned with a box adequate enough to handle the task.
"Thanks again," he said. "And I'm definitely going to send more business your way."
"I certainly will appreciate that. With the slight economic downturn, it's been hard out here for folks with their own businesses. No one's giving us much of a hand up. At least, not here."
"Well, thanks again," he said as he headed toward the door.
I hurried to the door and opened it for him. "Oh, it was my pleasure. Do come back again ... and soon," I said. And as quickly as those words left my mouth, I wished I hadn't said them. Not because I hadn't meant them; I say those exact same words to every single person who patronizes my business. In fact, it's part of my mission statement. I will let my customers know it was a pleasure serving them. And I will always invite existing customers to patronize my business again. But for some reason, saying those words to Ethan "Spears ... Spear Carrier" Roberts had a totally different meaning. Totally different.
At least, they did for me.
Two weeks later, Ethan called again and ordered the same type of flower arrangement as before. I couldn't help but smile. That had to mean the flowers worked. Once again, he wanted to pick them up. And once again, I told him they would be ready and waiting. Realizing from something I'd said that my business was a one-woman operation, he inquired what time I closed for lunch. I told him two p.m. since most people tended to visit or call during their lunch time anywhere between eleven a.m. and one thirty p.m. He said he'd be by to pick up the flowers before two.
So when I looked at my watch the day he was scheduled to be there and saw that it was five minutes before two, I began to wonder what might have happened to him. But being the owner, there was no hard and fast rule that said I had to take lunch at two on the dot. Honestly, I was just praying that nothing bad had transpired.
Ethan casually strolled through the door wearing a gorgeous forest green suit exactly two minutes before two o'clock.
"Hi," he said, as though he hadn't had me a little on pins and needles.
"Hi there," I said with a genuine smile, relieved that he was all right. "Let me get your order."
"Butterfly," he said, causing me to stop in midturn. "Have you eaten anything yet?"
I turned completely back toward him. "No. But I'm good. That's the great thing about being the boss; I'm in charge. And as the owner, I want to ensure that all of my customers are taken care of. Did you need something else? You're welcome to browse. I'm not in any hurry."
"No, I don't need anything else. It's just ... well ... I haven't had lunch yet. And I was wondering ..." He seemed to be having a hard time finding the words he was looking for. "I mean to say ... if you don't already have plans ..." He let out a slightly audible sigh. "Would you like to go get a bite with me? Lunch, I mean ... go get a bite of lunch with me. My treat."
"Oh, you don't have to do that."
"I know. I'd just like to sit and chat with you. If you don't mind. You know ... catch up on what's been going on in your life," he said.
I frowned. "You know ... I don't think that would be a good idea. I'm married; you're married. You know how that is."
He chuckled. I could tell it was forced. "Oh, it wouldn't be a date or anything like that. It would merely be two old acquaintances who both normally eat lunch separately ... at least I assume you eat lunch or something that counts as lunch." He grinned. "It would simply be two people eating a bite of lunch together ... while we talk. That's it. It doesn't even have to be a big lunch either. And if you're worried about being away from the shop for too long, we can go someplace near here. I don't know how long you usually take for lunch, but we can stick to your normal time." He tilted his head slightly. "Come on. Don't leave me hanging out here flapping in the wind. What's a bite amongst two old friends?"
"Come on. Don't make me have to get down on my knees and beg." He then smiled with those eyes that had a way of appearing, at times, to twinkle. His smile and those doggone gorgeous brown eyes, once again, began doing a job on me.
I smiled back, then shrugged. "Well, okay. I mean, it's only lunch ... right?"
"There you go," he said with a single clap. "It's only lunch. Would you like to go somewhere close to here or would you prefer I pick the place?"
"There are only a few fast food joints near here, not any great eating places. Sadly, this area is becoming a ghost town. Oh, wait! There is this sweet little deli ten minutes up the road. I hope they haven't moved or closed shop."
"Then we can go there if that's where you'd like." He nodded, then promptly burst forth with another one of his full grins, displaying his still-perfect teeth just as I remembered them being when I was thirteen. "I'll wait for you in my car," he said.
"Oh, you mean we're going to ride together? Me and you? In the same car?"
"Well, it makes sense, don't you think? There's no reason for us to drive separate vehicles to the same destination. Besides, I still have to come back to get my flowers. We certainly wouldn't want them in the car in this late-August Southern heat wilting ... drooping ... dying ... while we sit in an air-conditioned place ... eating away."
"Yes ... your flowers. You're right. They'll definitely fare better if we leave them here until you're ready to take them home or back to work with you."
"Actually, I'm off work now. Totally free. All yours, for the rest of the afternoon in fact."
That's when I should have given him his vase of flowers and politely escorted him right out of the front door.
I suppose that's why people say hindsight is twenty-twenty.
It was near the end of August, after most of the teens (who would have likely packed the place) had returned to school following their summer vacation when Ethan and I unceremoniously strolled into Daisy Queen's Deli. I concluded that was why the place was so empty, especially during this time of day. I loved Daisy Queen's Deli, whose style was much like the popular deli franchises of the day without patrons having to go through a line to place their orders. The other big difference was Daisy Queen's Deli's bread wasn't as thick as those franchises, making me feel better about eating a sandwich from there, knowing that I wasn't consuming a bucketload of carbs.
Besides, Daisy and Queen were entrepreneurs much like me. Queen and her mother, Daisy, started their business some ten years earlier, originally serving their customers in what most referred to as "a hole in the wall." It was a really tiny place. But Daisy had created a special sauce for her sandwiches and that secret sauce created its own buzz, quickly putting that hole in the wall on the map. Then there was that television show that traveled to towns in search of the best eating places. They'd heard about Daisy Queen's Deli, came and featured it on the show, and the rest—as people like to say—is history. Daisy Queen's Deli's business boomed so much after that segment aired that Daisy and her mother had no other choice but to expand to a bigger place.
Excerpted from FOREVER SOUL TIES by VANESSA DAVIS GRIGGS Copyright © 2012 by Vanessa Davis Griggs. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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