Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hearts of Steel: Chapter Twelve

I hated to leave him like that, but what else could I do? Somewhere, in the great, unwritten parenting handbook, it has been decreed that parents will forever have that power over their children. I could be a hundred years old, blind, deaf, and toothless. It didn't matter.

Whenever that porch light went on, I'd better run toward it as if it were the light showing the way to heaven. I'd better hear my parents when they call my name loud enough to rival the final trumpet blast, and answer for my sins if they had to flash the porch light more than twice to get my attention.

Maybe that's why my brothers did so well in running. They must have unofficially broken Olympic records trying to get home when neighbourhood kids warned them that someone was flashing for the Cole kids.

As I sat and sipped my morning tea, I contemplated the events of last night. Maybe things had turned out for the best. My mother turning on the porch light had saved me from what might have been a gross error in judgment. I had to admit, I hadn't been thinking very clearly.

I'd been acting on pure instinct. That was the trouble. Maybe I shouldn't trust my instincts when it came to Jack Deneen. He was so unlike anyone I'd ever met. I couldn't trust my usual defense mechanisms when it came to dealing with the opposite sex. What experience did I have? A few fumbing attempts in the university?

And all of my dealings with the men on my job were strictly eight-to-five. I had no inclination to get to know them any deeper than the thickness of their three-piece suits.

Relatives, by default, weren't considered. I grew up with my brothers, learned by trial and error how to deal with them. Male cousins weren't much harder than brothers to figure out. But there, my experience ended.

You couldn't say that about Jack. He knew exactly what he was doing, and how well he was doing it. I had no doubt that given five more minutes, I would have firsthand knowledge of his skills.

"Oh, God," I groaned, pressing the heels of my hands into my eyes. This wasn't like me. This wasn't like me at all. How did things get so out of control so fast?

If anyone had told me that I would be getting it on with a virtual stranger, I would have sued him in court for slander. I just wasn't the spontaneous type. Just ask anybody. Priye Cole was careful, calculating. The ultimate control freak. What had I gotten myself into? A better question to ask, why was I so quick to let him into me?

"Well, now. I didn't expect to see you up so early."

Mother leaned on the wall at the kitchen entrance, her arms folded, watching me. "Or didn't you go to bed last night?" Her tone was full of suggestion.

"I went to sleep. I didn't go to bed. . ." The "with Jack" was left unspoken, but clearly implied. "Were you waiting up for me?"

She had barely said a word to me when she'd opened the door to let me in last night. But her sleep-filled gaze had taken in my disheveled appearance, my rumpled dress and matted hair. As I'd passed her, she'd reached out, plucked a crushed flower from the back of my hair, and set it on the dining table.

"Of course, I waited for you, Priye. Just doing my job."

She moved casually over to the table and poured herself a cup of tea. Mother held the warm mug between her hands, staring over the rim before looking up at me. "Looks like I'm not the only one working overtime."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" My tone was more belligerent than I had a right to be.

Mother took the tone in stride. No one in the Cole household was ever their best before their first cup of tea.

"Oh. . .nothing. But, you'd better fix that scarf before your father comes down. It's cute, goes with the outfit, but clashes with that big purple necklace on your neck."

Unconsciously, I lifted my hand and adjusted the floral scarf knotted at my neck.

"So." She set the mug down with a clink against the table, then began to drag out pots for breakfast. Her back was to me as she asked, "Do you want to tell me all about it?"

"There's not much to tell, Mum."

"I find that very hard to believe, Priye."

She wasn't going to leave me alone until she had some sort of account of last night. I started slowly, gathering my thoughts and carefully choosing my words. "After we left the hospital, Jack and I went out for a drink."

"And?" She prompted.

"Biscuit?" I suggested.

Mother heaved a wistful sigh and bit her lip. "You have to admit, he is one very sexy man."


"What?" Her expression was all innocence.

"But you're married to Daddy."

"Until death do us part," she said. "But am not dead yet, dear. I have eyes."

"It wasn't like that, mum. We just talked."


"Yes, mum, we talked. You know, the lost art of conversation."

"You don't get a mark like that with just talk, Priye. I may be old, but I'm not senile. I still have a vague memory of how it works between men and women."

She stood at the stove as she cracked eggs and dropped them into a sizzling pan with one hand.

"Jack is a wonderful conversationalist," I said softly. "We talked about everything, from Politics to Music."

"I hope you used protection, Priye," Mother said bluntly.

"I didn't know there was protection against conversations," I said flippantly.

She whirled around, waving a wooden spoon at me, "That isn't funny, Priye."

"I know, mum. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to smart off."

"We had this conversation when you were sixteen and again at eighteen."

"When you went with me to pick up a prescription for birth-control pills. I know, mum. But the only thing I ever really used those pills for was to clear up my skin."

"Are you sure you don't need a refresher course? I'm serious, Priye. You know how I feel about s.ex outside of marriage. We raised you up in church, hoping that you would follow the church's teachings. . .but. . ." She paused and seemed to reconsider what she was going to say.

Was it something on my face that silenced her? An expression? I don't know if she could have accurately read my expression. Maybe because I wasn't exactly sure what I was feeling.

I was fearful of disappointing my mother, angry at myself for letting myself be so easily manipulated. At the same time, I was eager to see Jack again. I was secretly pleased that he was as aroused as I was; though my brothers would probably tell me that it didn't take much to get a man in the mood. I still wanted to believe that it was something about me that Jack wanted, not something that he could get from any woman on the street.

"You're a grown woman. You do what you want to do. I just want you to be careful. Not with all these diseases flying around. It kills."

"I'll be careful." I promised her. I didn't insult her by telling her that there was no need for care. I didn't promise her that I would abstain. How could I? I couldn't even promise myself.

"And next time, stay to the far side of the house. There's a blind spot there where the porch light barely hits."

"How do you. . ." I began, then quickly closed my mouth with a click. I didn't want to know. The image of my parents in passion was more than this baby girl wanted to picture.

Mother then pulled up a chair beside me, folded her arms on top of the table, and whispered conspiratorially. "With those luscious lips, he has to be a great kisser."

"He's all right," I said.

"Come on now, on a scale of one to ten, where does he fall?"

"You don't give up, do you?" I shook my head.

"If I was the giving-up kind, you and your brothers wouldn't have lived past puberty."

"What? What do you mean? We were such angelic children!"

"Hah!" Mother snorted in derision. "Just who gave you that impression?"

"Aunt Rosa. She said that we were wonderful kids. She told me that I was her favourite."

"She tells all the children that. I was her favourite before you and your generation came on the scene. Besides, our Aunt Rosa, has a nasty habit of egging you children on.

I laughed my heart out till my back ached.


I should have been more honest with Priye and told her how her abrupt shutting down had affected me.

When I left Priye last night, she'd known that I wasn't being truthgul. The way she'd kept insisting that I shouldn't be mad let me know that she had an inkling of how I felt. It was only an inkling, however. There was no way she could know the full extent of my emotions. Hell, I didn't even know. I didn't want to dwell too deeply on them last night. It was much better for my sanity if I concentrated on other matters.
I'd left her, driven around the city for a while, letting the necessity of focused thinking to navigate the Saturday night streets of Lagos occupy my attention. I'd driven until the needle indicating the level of gas in my tank had sunk dangerously close to empty.

In the calmer light of day, I can honestly say that I wasn't really mad at her. That is, I'd thought about it and come to the conclusion that she wasn't deliberately being a tease. Her responses were too open, too unrestricted to be practiced.

In those heated moments, she'd wanted me just as much as I'd wanted to have her. It must have taken just as much effort for her to emotionally withdraw as it had taken for me to physically withdraw.

Was I mad? That wasn't exactly the right word. It didn't fully sum up the cauldron of emotions boiling barely beneath the surface. Disappointed, yes. Frustrated, somewhat. Aroused? Definitely. The combination of all three had put the scowl on my face that she'd translated to anger.

They say that discretion is the better part of valor. Loosely translated, rather than make a foolish mistake and force her to accept my passion, I'd backed off, letting the cooler head on my shoulders prevail.

Some of my teammates would have encouraged me to "go for it." To "get it while it was hot." Others would have advised me against letting a woman know right from the get go how to get to me. But the ones whose advice I trusted, the ones who would have recognized that I'm looking for something more than a quick lay, would have held up my friend Paul as the perfect example.

He'd made it very clear early on how Priscilla turned him on. She didn't have to read the heated thoughts burning in his head. Every touch, every whispered offer, every heated glance he tossed her way melted down her token resistance. In the end, she would only let him go so far. Paul had left it up to Priscilla to decide just how far he would go.

They went, all right. All the way down the aisle.

As I toyed with the idea of calling Priye to apologize, I decided against it. She'd backed off last night, put some distance between us. In doing so, she'd put something in my mind. It was my turn now. It was my turn to give her something to think about. Would she think about me?

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