Brand New Day by Dellani Oakes – Part 38

At school the next day, Janet can hardly concentrate. She realizes she forgot her lunch, but Diego assures her that’s all right.

Diego drove them to McDonald’s, with Bunny and Ramona. They ate in the car on the way back to school. Enjoying the late summer sunshine, the four of them sat in the courtyard until the bell rang ending lunch. Diego walked her to class.

“See you in chorus.” He gave her a quick kiss.

“Do you have to work tonight?”

“Nope. You?”

“I begged off the entire weekend.”

“Me too. Whatever will we do with all that free time?” He nipped her ear with his teeth. “I need to go.”

He jogged away, blowing her a kiss. Janet walked into drama class in a much better frame of mind than she’d been in yesterday. Trina sat next to her at the table, scooting close.

“So, tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Janet replied innocently.

“You know. I’ve seen that look before.”

“What look?”

“Complete satisfaction. On my own face a few times,” she added quietly as he bell rang. “Was it wonderful?”

“Oh, Trina! Yes, it was!” Janet whispered happily.

“Good. I’d hate to have to break his legs.”

Janet giggled, hugging her friend.

Class went well and chorus to follow, was a lot of fun. They practiced their parts for the Roberta Flack song, jazzing it up as necessary. Once school was over, they headed back to her house as fast as they could, and were in bed right away.

Stopping for dinner, they ate sandwiches, leaving the washing up for another time. It felt so right to be together. Scandalous and a little wrong, but good. Janet knew that it couldn’t last. There wouldn’t be anymore weekends like this, but she was glad they had this one. It was beautiful, perfect.

Saturday night, she fell asleep in Diego’s arms, knowing her parents would be home the next day. This was their last night together. Reality would hit tomorrow, but for now, life was perfect.

Janet’s family moved a week later. She said tearful goodbyes, but really she found it a relief. She loved her family, but Sookie and her mother had caused her so much grief over the last few years, it was nice to have them gone. She settled in with her aunt, uncle and cousin Madelyn. She and Maddie were mere days apart in age. Growing up more like sisters, they got along well. Things were more relaxed and normal in Maddie’s house, and Janet loved it there.

Diego was welcomed like an honored guest, the first time he came over for dinner. Later, he became a part of the family. Uncle Buck, who had no son, took him fishing and camping. It made Janet happy to see them get so close.

The chorus competition approached at light speed. Janet could hardly believe it. The competition was out of town in Lincoln, Nebraska. They were the final group to perform that day, so she had all day to worry about her solo.

Many of the choirs were exceptional, but none of them did anything like their group had planned. They grew more excited as their time approached. It was partly nerves and partly the knowledge that what they were about to attempt would blow the judges away.

Finally, they lined up and took their places on the risers behind the royal blue curtain. They were announced and the curtain rose. The three girls stood together near the microphone. Janet had her pitch in her mind, repeating it over and over to make sure she had it right.

Still in the dark, her voice cut through the darkness. “Strumming my pain with his fingers, Singing my life with his words….”

When she got to the last line, the entire chorus came in with harmony and accompaniment. The lights came up slowly as she and the others sang. The spotlight shown brightly in her eyes, keeping her from seeing the audience. She was just as glad, she could pretend they didn’t exist if she couldn’t see them.

©2020 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from It Takes a Thief ~ A Love in the City Romantic Suspense by Dellani Oakes

I am a big fan of first meetings, or the Meet Cute as they are called in romantic comedies. These often set the tone for the relationship, and tell us a lot about how the couple will interact with one another later in the story.

Jason Banes is a thief, however, he’s found himself on the wrong end of a murder charge. He admits to the accompanying theft, but maintains his innocence in the multiple murders he’s charged with. When compelling evidence comes out that he’s telling the truth, he’s released into FBI custody in order to help them find the person who is ultimately responsible, the elusive Orchid. Unfortunately, Special Agent in Charge Taylor Driscole, doesn’t seem very happy to meet him.

The woman was medium height with an athletic build. Her hair was an average shade of light brown, worn in a sloppy bun as if she couldn’t be bothered to style it. Her eyes were a common shade of blue, her complexion and looks attractive, but not impressive. She carried herself like a professional and her silvery gray suit coat bulged slightly under her left arm. She wore loose fitting, low riding pants that matched the jacket. Her shirt was stark white. She wore a tie; narrow, silk, gunmetal gray. Her makeup was minimal, severe. She had dark sunglasses perched on her head.

Putting the glasses to her teeth, she bit on the end a moment before speaking. “So, this is him, huh?” She looked at Jason like she was inspecting disappointing livestock.

“Jason Banes,” he said, stepping forward with his hand extended through the bars.

The men flanked the woman putting themselves in front of her like a wall.

“Cool it, guys. He can’t hurt me from in there.” She stepped forward, extending her hand.

Her nails were short, unpolished, well manicured. Her grip was strong, her fingers and palms calloused. Jason got the impression that she could kick his ass too. He took her hand, meeting the intensity of her grasp with equal pounds per square inch. His disarming smile flashed, making no impression whatever on the young woman.

“And you are?”

“Special Agent in Charge, Taylor Driscole.”

You’re Agent Driscole?” He grinned, still holding her hand. The other hand went immediately to his head. Long fingers brushed his curly hair out of his face. “I was expecting a chap. Nice to meet you.”

“This isn’t a social visit, Mr. Banes.”

“Jason,” he corrected automatically.

“Mr. Banes,” she said firmly. “You’re to be released in my custody. The men and I will escort you to a secure location. They’re setting up surveillance and checking security now.”

“All right. How soon do we leave?”

“I’ve got a few more papers to sign, then you’re officially my headache.”

“I won’t be one, I promise. I’m house broken and I do know how to treat a lady.”

He wasn’t really trying to flirt, but Special Agent Driscole seemed to think he was overly familiar. She snatched back her hand, glaring at him.

“Get him ready,” she told the men with her. “Move into position,” she said to the cuff of her jacket.

“Yes, ma’am,” her entourage replied in chorus.

Driscole strode to the door, slapping it with her palm, knocking it aside angrily.

“What’s biting her?” Jason asked the men quietly.

The meat shield shrugged, exchanging a knowing look. Jason wasn’t sure, but he had the uneasy feeling they might be laughing at Driscole, him or both.

He was cuffed, with his wrists in front of him, and escorted to the elevator. Driscole was nowhere to be seen, but she and more security men were waiting in the parking garage. Jason was led off the elevator, surrounded by a walking wall of muscle. He’d never seen so many big, well armed men in his life. Each man had a weapon in his hand. They all looked around carefully, checking for unknown menace. Jason didn’t know whether to feel very safe or very, very afraid.

Two black SUV’s were waiting a few feet away. He was taken to the lead vehicle and put inside. He was flanked by two members of the meat shield. Agent Driscole climbed up front and the rest of the team got in the second vehicle. She contacted the other driver and they took off.

“Why is it you lot like black?” he asked the agents.

“What?” The man on his left asked.

“Black,” Jason replied airily. “Could we be anymore obvious? Do you chaps buy every black SUV in America?”

The man on the left looked puzzled, the man on the right and the driver chuckled. Driscole stared straight ahead. Jason shrugged. He wiggled around trying to get comfortable, but his companions took up most of the seat. He was more of a wiry build himself, but he had very broad shoulders. Feeling slightly claustrophobic, he wiggled some more.

Mr. Left gave him an evil eye. Mr. Right eased slightly toward the door, angling his shoulders so the each had a little more room.

“Thanks,” Jason murmured, smiling a little.

The man said nothing, but nodded and a smile flickered for a second and was gone.

“May I ask where we’re going?” Jason directed at the group.

No one said anything. Driscole shifted in her seat, ignoring him.

“Oi,” Jason said rather more loudly. “I know I’m a criminal, but I think I’ve got a right to know if I’m going to be safe. Might I point out, that you need me—rather a lot?”

Driscole glared at him over her shoulder. Firming her lips, she inhaled slowly. “Look, Mr. Banes. I’m not here to be your friend. I’m here to protect you. The less you know about our destination the better.”

“What? Am I going to yell out the windows and give it away? Who am I gonna tell, Special Agent in Charge Taylor Driscole? Eh? And while we’re having this lively repartee, perhaps you could ask one of the kind gentlemen to undo the handcuffs? I assure you, I’m not inclined to go anywhere. Besides, they’d break me in two before I even got to a door or disabled the driver—not that I know how to do that in any case. I’m a thief, not an assassin.”

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Brand New Day by Dellani Oakes – Part 37

With her parents and Sookie leaving for the weekend, Janet makes up her mind that she and Diego will be together.

Thursday evening, they finished packing the car before dinner. The family ate a quick meal and left before dark. Janet called Diego when they were gone. He drove over, suddenly very nervous. He’d told his parents he was sleeping in Sookie’s room, but he was sure they knew the truth. He’d found a box of condoms in his overnight bag.

She met him at the door with a shy smile. Was she having second thoughts? He hoped not. Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow played on the stereo. The intricate music of the jazz guitarist, was among his favorites.

“You hungry?” she asked when the door was shut and locked behind him.

“No. I ate at home. Are you sure about this, Janet?”

She pushed him against the door, kissing him with abandon. Any fear or worry he’d had, left him. Her spirited advances left no doubt in his mind that she was ready, and she was expecting him to fulfill his promises to her.

“Let’s go downstairs,” he said hoarsely.

She led him to her room. She’d lit candles on the metal shelves in one corner. Her double bed looked inviting.

Diego shut and locked the door, even though they were alone. He set down his bag and took her in his arms.

“You’re sure? Because you can still say no.”

“I don’t want to say no,” she protested. She started to take of her shirt, but he stopped her.

“Let me.” Diego reached for her shirt, slipping it over her head.

Janet took his off, her hands shaking. Chest to chest, they kissed a long time, their desire growing steadily.

For Diego, it was somewhat surreal. Something he’d waited for, dreamed about, was going to happen. He was going to make love to Janet. He wondered if he was dreaming. But even his best dream didn’t feel this good.

“You can still say no, Janet.” He nibbled her ear, his lips blazing a trail down her neck.

“Yes,” she whispered hoarsely.

They made love, slowly, gently, getting to know one another. Despite their ages, it didn’t seem dirty or wrong. It was as if their love making had fulfilled something that had been missing until then. This new relationship could be plucked away, all too soon. They were both determined to enjoy what they could. After making love a second time, they had a quick shower and got ready to sleep. Janet made sure to set the alarm.

“Get some sleep,” Diego told her. “School tomorrow, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she mumbled as she fell asleep. “Be that way….”

“I love you, Janet.”

“I love you….”

“I don’t know if I can concentrate today,” Diego confided as they walked into school the next morning. “I’ll be thinking about you.”

“Me too. We have two more nights.”

“Today needs to pass by so we can go home and go to bed.”

Janet laughed, tossing her dark hair over her shoulder as he held the door for her. She was sure everyone could tell that their relationship had changed overnight, but she didn’t care. She knew she’d made the right decision. Diego walked her to class, running to his own before the bell. He was at the door again when class was over, scurrying to his next one once she was at her door. At lunch time, he was waiting by her locker.

“You forgot to pack your lunch.”

“Crap, I did.”

“It’s okay. I’ve got it covered.”

“What?”

“One advantage that high school has over junior high…. Open campus at lunch. Come on.”

©2020 Dellani Oakes

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Brand New Day by Dellani Oakes – Part 36

The bad news delivered, Janet wants to leave. She asks Diego to take her to Taco Village for dinner.

“I had a feeling you’d be coming,” she said. “Call me crazy, I knew to fix a special platter of chicken enchiladas just the way you two like them.”

She presented them with a steaming plate of food. Thanking her, they took forks and started eating from opposite sides. When they were done, his aunt came to clear their plate. She sat down across the table from Janet, taking her hand.

“You look so lost, cariña. What’s wrong?”

Janet told her, trying hard not to cry. Diego’s aunt smothered her in hugs. His female cousins took her to the restroom to freshen up. His aunt stayed to talk to him.

“So, they’re getting back together?” She made a disgusted noise. “I didn’t think that would ever happen. In a way, I’m happy. Ilene’s been alone too long. But to take that girl from all she holds dear. It’s so unfair.”

Diego nodded, gulping. “I don’t want to lose her, Auntie. But what can I do? I can’t marry her yet. What kind of life could we have? We’d have to live with my parents and we might not make it to college. School’s important to Janet.”

Que sera sera,” she said.

“Don’t go quoting song lyrics, auntie.”

“Not meaning to, Diego. I’m really saying, what will be, will be. You can’t change what’s meant to be. If you’re meant to be together for life, it will happen. But if your lives take you different paths, you follow where it leads you.”

“I’ll try,” he said. “But if it takes me away from Janet….”

“I know. I’ll say special prayers. You take your girl somewhere to make her happy.” She kissed his cheek and pressed money in his hand.

Diego didn’t need the money, but she wouldn’t take it back. Thanking her, he took Janet outside.

“Where do you want to go?”

“I want to go play pool.”

He laughed loudly. “Okay. But we’ll go to my house. I’m not taking you to the bowling ally or the pool hall.”

“Fine.”

Diego took her face in his hands. “I love you,” he said in Spanish, knowing Janet was fluent. “That won’t change, no matter where life takes us.”

“I’ll always love you, Diego. Until my dying day.”

They went to his house and played pool far later than they usually stayed up on a school night. His parents, knowing the situation, didn’t argue or fuss.

“That girl’s got a lot to deal with,” his mother said to his father. “She needs this time with Diego.”

Her husband nodded. He was a man of few words, but that didn’t stop him from disagreeing with her if he thought she was wrong. This particular time, he knew she wasn’t. At 10:00, he told Diego to take Janet home.

Sitting in her driveway, Diego didn’t know if he should talk or kiss her. She solved that problem by kissing him—long and slow and deep.

“This weekend, when my parents are gone, I want you to stay with me.”

“Janet!”

“Don’t you dare argue with me, Diego Hernandez! I want you to stay here and make love to me. I don’t care what they think. I don’t care what they say. They could change their minds at the last minute, and make me move too. I’m not going to miss out on the one thing I want most, just because of them.”

“Are you really sure?”

“Positive. Will you?”

He nodded, kissing her. “I promise.

The rest of the week went by in a slow blur for Janet. The only moments that were clear to her were the ones that included Diego. Somewhere during that week, her mother took her to the doctor to get on the pill. She endured the humiliating exam without protest. This was simply another step toward getting what she wanted.

©2020 Dellani Oakes

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First Meeting from Indian Summer Revisited ~ A Love in the Sun Romance by Dellani Oakes

I am a big fan of first meetings. These often set the tone for the relationship, and tell us a lot about how the couple will interact with one another later in the story. Although they get off to a somewhat rough start, Malin Dimas and Carina Enriques-Deza find that they are mutually interested. Carina is an art student who loves photography. She’s so absorbed in her projects, she doesn’t always pay attention where she’s going, particularly if she’s in a rush.

Class ended, but Carina hardly noticed. She had another class, then she had to work. Her less than glamorous job was waiting tables at a small outdoor restaurant on Hypolita Street.

Rushing to her class, she neatly avoided running into anyone until she got to the staircase. Going from the bright sun to the sudden shade, she was still wearing her sunglasses. She ran headlong into a tall, broad shouldered body. Her bag went one way, her body the other, while the strong male hardly moved. He did grunt, her elbow having caught him inadvertently in the midsection.

Carina sprawled on the ground, cursing in Spanish and English as the man tried to help her up. Hardly looking at him, she was trying to find the things that had fallen out of her bag.

Her phone had landed in a shallow puddle. Her pens and lip gloss were nowhere to be found. A well calloused, long fingered hand helped her up, brushing her off as a pleasant tenor voice apologized for running her down.

“I’m so sorry. I got sun dazzled I guess,” he said quietly, handing her the lip gloss and pens. “I got in this dark and I couldn’t see a damn thing. Sorry about that.” His soft Southern accent was warm and welcoming.

Carina looked up at him. He had black hair and dark brown eyes. Her own jade green eyes locked with his for a moment and she smiled.

“It’s okay. I couldn’t see either. Environmental hazard living in Florida.”

“Beg pardon?” He looked confused.

“Sunshine,” she pointed skyward.

“Well, it is the Sunshine State, right?”

“Yeah. Sorry, I really need to run. I’ve got class.”

“Oh, sure. Sorry again.”

“No problem. Sorry I elbowed your gut.”

“Missed the nuts,” he said with a grin.

Carina giggled as she trotted up the stairs. The young man walked with her, taking the steps two at a time.

“I bet your girlfriend will be grateful for that,” she said as he opened the stairwell door for her.

“Don’t have one, but I’m mighty happy you missed ’em. I’ve grown a bit attached to them over the years.”

With a sidelong glance, she eased past him as he held the door for her. He stood by it, leaning on the edge, gazing down at her. There was barely enough room to slip through, but she did because she was in a hurry. Waving to him, she dodged in her classroom as the instructor was about to close the door.

“Carina, nice you could join us.”

“Sorry. I fell,” she explained as she walked past him.

“You okay?” Those were the last words that made their way into the hallway.

Malin Dimas shouldered his backpack and walked downstairs. He would have used any excuse to walk that girl to her class. He didn’t have another class until eleven, so he headed to the nearest coffee shop, got a large double shot and wandered to the Plaza in front of Government House. Sitting on the steps of the Slave Market, he gazed out over the town.

© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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Brand New Day by Dellani Oakes – Part 35

Janet tells Diego about having to move to Texas, and about her deep, dark secret. He tells her it’s all right, and will all work out.

He opened his mouth, tilting her head back so hers fell open. The kiss he gave her was beyond anything he’d given her before. His tongue dove into her mouth over and over as he clutched her hair. He held her close, his chest crushed against hers. Slowly, he came back to himself and ended their heated embrace.

“I should take you home,” he said, his voice husky. “Your folks are worried.”

“Five more minutes,” she begged. “Hold me, kiss me just five more minutes.”

“We need to go, or I’m gonna do something bad.” He tugged at the crotch of his jeans.

Diego drove her home and walked her up to the house. Her parents waited anxiously in the living room. Sookie was in her room with the door shut.

Her mother rushed her, hugging her tight. “Thank God, oh, thank God!”

“I’m okay, Mom. I was at the park.” Janet’s voice was muffled by her mother’s shoulder.

“Let’s all sit down and calm down,” Evander said.

Diego and Janet sat together on the love seat. Her parents sat opposite on the couch. Evander leaned forward, hands folded in his lap.

“You ran off before I could finish,” he said quietly. “I know this is a shock. I know it’s not easy to process. Mom and I talked this over, and we’ve got a way to make this work. At least I hope so. School hasn’t started back home yet, so we could get Sookie in at the start of the year, if we left by the end of the week.”

Janet started to speak, but he held up his hand. She closed her mouth, letting him finish.

“Your Aunt Martha and Uncle Buck have agreed to let you stay with them. You and Maddie are the same age, and seem to get along well….”

“I love Maddie, she’s like my sister!”

“Then it’s perfect. You can stay with them. If you get tired of them, you can stay with Bunny’s family, or Diego’s.”

“You’d let me stay in the same house with him?” Janet was shocked.

“Not alone,” her mother said with a laugh. “But his parents agree that it would be okay, once in a while, for you to sleep over with Ramona like you’ve done for years.”

“Really? I wouldn’t have to leave?” She was so happy, she wanted to dance.

“We can do this for the school year,” her father said. “By summer, you’d need to move to Texas permanently.”

“Daddy? Really?” She burst into tears. “I don’t want to leave!”

“Honey, you two might not even be together by summertime. You could finish your high school in Lubbock. Maybe even get into college there. It’s a good school.”

“We’ll be together,” Janet argued. “We’ll love one another forever!”

“Honey, I know you think that….”

Janet didn’t say all the things in her mind. There were too many emotions battling for dominance.

“We’re going to start packing things up and set about getting this house on the market. We’re going this weekend to find a bigger place and get Sookie registered in school.”

“I’m not going. I have to work this weekend.”

“I thought it would be nice to do as a family….” her father began.

“I’ve got to keep my job. I can’t miss the entire weekend. That’s when we get the most business.”

Evander silently agreed with an inclination of his head. “We’re leaving Thursday night.”

“You can have a couple friends over to keep you company,” her mother said, sniffling. “I’d like you to come with us, but—I can understand why you won’t.”

“Can I go now?” Janet asked.

“Dad made a nice dinner….”

“I’m not hungry,” she said. “Can I go?”

“Sure,” her father said. “I’ll save you a plate.”

Janet nodded, rising. Diego followed without saying a word to her parents. Her mother burst into tears as the door closed. Janet heard her father speaking quietly and calmly. She couldn’t hear his words, just his hushed tone.

“Where do you want to go?” Diego asked.

“Taco Village. I’m starving,” she replied.

“But you just said….”

“I lied,” she snapped. “I can’t eat his food.”

Diego simply nodded and drove to his aunt’s restaurant.

©2020 Dellani Oakes

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Brand New Day by Dellani Oakes – Part 34

While they are hiking, Evander tells Janet that Sookie is his daughter, too.

“So, where does that leave us?” Janet’s face held a challenge.

He shrugged, shaking his head. “Even if I can sell, what do I do here? That’s a big city, this is a small town.”

“Open another restaurant.”

“This town hasn’t got the pallet for my food. This is a meat and potatoes clientele. I do cordon bleu and soul food. Can you see these folks eating truffles—or chitlings?”

Janet laughed, picturing that. She shook her head.

“I know cooking, baby. I know food. I can’t get a decent job here.”

“So, we have to pick up and move now? Is that it? I have to leave all I know? Everyone I love? Is that what you’re saying?” She screeched. “Ramona was right! You want to take me away! You’re making me leave Diego!”

She screamed at him. People stared, but Janet didn’t care.

“Why did you have to come back now? You’ve f**ked it all up! Everything!” She pounded his chest. “I hate you! Take me home, I want to go home.”

Evander drove her home in silence. As soon as the car stopped, he tried talking to her, but she ran. At first, blindly, then with a purpose, she ran to the park, and sat on the swings, sobbing for several minutes.

Someone walked over and sat next to her. Janet didn’t look up, focusing on the ground. Her misery encompassed her as she rocked back and forth in the swing. He said nothing, but his presence made her calmer. They sat in silence a long time, swinging in unison.

“Your dad called me,” Diego said softly. “He said you’d run off. I told him I knew where you’d be.”

“Mind reader?”

He laughed softly. “No, baby. You go one of two places—here, or my house. You weren’t there….”

“He wants us to move.”

Diego nodded, taking her hand. He kissed her fingers.

“I want to be a family,” Janet wailed. “But I don’t want to leave.”

“Let him talk to you. Tell you more. You don’t know everything.”

“I know he’s Sookie’s father too. My parents lied about that. They lie about everything! Did he tell you why Mom left him?”

“No.”

She said nothing.

“Sometimes people lie to protect themselves, or they lie to protect people they love.”

“You don’t lie to me.”

“I would if the truth would hurt you this much. And you’d lie to me then, too.”

“I already have,” she whispered. “All my life is a lie. Everything I am—a big, fat, black lie.”

“What are you talking about, Janet?”

“The reason Mom left, the thing she couldn’t forgive—Dad’s half black. That makes me black too.”

“So? Is it a sin? Did you break a law? Your genetics don’t make you who you are to me. I don’t care what’s in your DNA, Janet.”

“It doesn’t upset you?” She looked up, dark brown eyes meeting his lighter ones. Gaping at him, she stifled a sob.

“Why would it? You’re beautiful, fun to be with, and I love you. I don’t care about anything else. So it doesn’t count as a lie.”

Janet burst into tears. Diego hopped off his swing, taking her in his arms. He pushed the swing back as he’d done before, standing between her legs. His kiss was tentative at first, gaining power as she responded. Breathless, they parted.

“I love you, Janet. I want to be with you, marry you…. I want to be the father of your children, and live with you forever.”

“I want that too.”

“We’ll get through this, I promise. Let’s hear what your dad has to say. I know we can find a solution.”

“Meantime, you’re thinking about what I said?”

He chuckled softly, seductively. “Baby, I haven’t stopped thinking about it, since you said you’d go out with me. I’m a guy, cut me some slack.”

“I think about it too. You make me tingle.”

“Cool….”

©2020 Dellani Oakes

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Epiphany from Whose Book Is It Anyway? ~ A Love in the Sun Romance by Dellani Oakes

Sometimes, couples will have known one another for a while before taking it to a different level. For whatever reason, they don’t see that they’re in love. Several of my couples are good friends, often involved with other people. However, the bond between them is strong. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, completely by surprise, they realize that they’ve been in love for ages, and didn’t see it. I’ve decided to call these Epiphanies and I’ll be sharing them in and among the First Meetings.

Duff and Grace have been roommates and friends for over four years. Although Duff had carried a torch the entire time, Grace has kept him firmly locked away in the Friend Box. He keeps hoping something will change, that she’ll realize how much he loves her. He’s been waiting for the right time to talk to her, and finally one night, he has the chance. Her parents are visiting, and he’s talking to her father about what he wants to do once he graduates from college.

“Eventually, I want to do some teaching, but Grace comes first.”

I glanced at her. Tears welled in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I put my arms around her, holding her close.

“No man ever put me first,” she whispered. “Except you.”

“Gracie, you’re always first with me. No matter what.”

Nash and Emily quietly left the room. I held Grace, letting her cry. I just hold her until she’s done, I never tell her to stop. I learned a long time ago, that’s the way to make her angry, or make her cry longer.

“Why didn’t I ever see you?”

I didn’t answer, suspecting it was rhetorical.

“You’ve always been so good to me. You take care of me. I went from one moron to another, but you always stuck with me, comforting me when they left.”

“They weren’t all morons. Some of them were pretty nice.”

“Those guys didn’t get the part where we lived together.”

“Well, you have to admit, it’s not the most common arrangement.”

“True. They couldn’t believe we’d never been to bed together.”

“Men wouldn’t get that. There’s no straight man in the world who wants to be just friends with a woman. There’s always an agenda.”

“For what?” She turned wide eyes on me.

I shrugged as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Sex—duh. I shouldn’t even have to clarify that for you, Grace.”

“Was there for you? Have the last four years been part of an agenda?” She shoved away from me, sliding off the opposite side of the stool.

“Think for a second, how crazy that sounds.”

“You just said—”

“I love you, Grace. I’ve loved you for ages. I always hoped you’d eventually fall for me, too. I stayed on, as your friend, because it was the only piece of you I had. I could have left, but it would have killed me.”

“Seeing me with other men must have been torture,” she sighed, moving into the circle of my arms.

“Yeah.” I couldn’t say anymore. Just knowing there was another man sharing he bed, making love to her, made me sick. Many long nights, I’d lain awake listening to them having sex on the other side of the house. It was torture.

She kissed me deeply, pouring her love into it. Breathless, overwhelmed, I kissed her in return. It felt so good having her in my arms. This was where she was meant to be. There was only one place I wanted her more, but not with her parents in the house.

Her phone rang—that special ring tone. She reluctantly reached for it, but I took it from her.

“Hello?”

“Who’s this?”

“This is the roommate. Who the hell is this?”

“Mark. Her fucking boyfriend.”

I paused, considering. “Nope. You gave up that title when you left town without telling her. But that’s okay, because a better man is in your place. Thanks for that.”

“You? She’s dating you?”

“Yup! Just spent the most fantastic weekend of our lives. Lose the number, Dick.”

“Mark.”

“Whatever.” I hung up.

Grace stared at me, a smile twitching her lips. “You lie way too well.”

“It’s that theatre training. I simply elaborate on what I imagine us doing.” I shrugged like it was the most simple thing in the world.

Grace didn’t answer. She stepped closer, holding me tightly, her head pressed on my chest. “I love you so much, Duff. So very much.”

© 2020 Dellani Oakes

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Brand New Day by Dellani Oakes – Part 33

Evander makes plans with Janet, after school. Once she gets home, he invites her to go for a ride.

They drove to the bluff south of town. It was one of Janet’s favorite places. They parked the car and headed to the hiking path. Her father handed her a hat and a canteen. Janet remembered they always used to hike together. Her father was adventurous, like she.

“Remember the rattlesnake?”

“I remember being scared white you’d get bit,” he replied. “That took courage, baby girl.”

“But I killed it.”

“And he was mighty tasty too.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell Mama?”

“About the snake?”

She gave him a patient look. Evander sighed heavily.

“There was never a good time. She was ecstatic about you. I was too. And I thought maybe—because there was so much white blood. It wouldn’t matter…. Your mother couldn’t forgive me.”

“She’s blamed me for years,” Janet snapped. “All my life, I’ve carried your guilt because you didn’t have the balls to tell her! Do you know what that’s done to us? Do you have any idea?” She wanted to hit him, but refrained.

“I tried apologizing. How does a man atone for a lie like that?”

“And it wasn’t because you were black. It was the lie! Five years we tried to live like a family and you finally gave up.”

“I did,” he admitted sadly. “I told her if she couldn’t forgive me, she could leave.”

“Why didn’t you leave?”

“Because it had to be her decision, not mine. I laid the line, she had to cross it or back away. It broke my heart when she chose to leave.”

“You never called. You didn’t write!”

“I did! I swear. Every birthday, every Christmas—I sent cards and gifts. They came back unopened. I tried to see you. I begged. The last ten years have been torture without my girls.”

“Where does Sookie fit into all this?”

“Sookie fits in like you.”

“What do you mean?”

“What Mom’s telling her right now, is that I’m her daddy, too.”

“What?” Janet was shocked, she stepped back, nearly going off the edge of the path.

Evander grabbed her, saving her from a long, drop down a steep hill. He held her to him, trembling. “Let’s head down,” he suggested.

Janet agreed. Suddenly tired, she leaned on him as the descended.

“We tried to put it back together like it was. I did my best to convince your mother…. The night she decided, it was a week after our anniversary. That was a good night. We were happy and I thought it would be better. A week later, she left me. She was pregnant, and we didn’t know.”

“What about Braden?”

“He was an old friend. They knew each other from her visits here. He let people think Sookie was his. He stepped in like a father, helping out. He’s a good man.”

“Why didn’t she marry him?” They were back at the car.

“We aren’t divorced. I love your mother, and I always hoped we’d get back together.”

“And now?”

“Now we are.”

“And what happens next? You can’t keep making that drive, spend a few days and go home.”

“That I can’t.”

“Can you get a job here?”

“I own a restaurant in Texas. I’m the chef. They can manage a few days with my sous chef.”

“But you have to go back?’

Evander nodded.

©2020 Dellani Oakes

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Brand New Day by Dellani Oakes – Part 32

Janet chats with Ramona, then goes to her house to collect Sookie. Carlos gives them a ride home.

Janet’s parents waited for them in the living room. Her father introduced himself to Sookie.

“It smells good in here. Did you cook, Mom?”

Evander laughed. “Could be. And it will be ready soon. Go wash up.”

Sookie and Janet went to wash up in the bathroom. When they came out, the parents were kissing.

Sookie groaned. “Oh, please,” she moaned. “First Janet and Diego, now you?”

Evander laughed loudly. “Little Bit, you’ll keep me on my best behavior.”

They had a pleasant dinner. Afterward, the girls cleaned up and Sookie had her bath. She and Janet moved her things downstairs and they both did their homework. Janet had never felt so close to her little sister. Usually, they were at odds, but today, she was very happy.

Sookie fell asleep, curled on her side, facing the yellow bedroom wall. Janet stayed awake until midnight, thinking about the future, making plans. She intended to make it clear she wasn’t leaving—at least not now.

Waking up wasn’t easy, but a wiggling ten year old made it impossible to ignore. Janet dragged herself to the bathroom and had a quick shower. Sookie and Evander were laughing at the breakfast table. They shushed each other, giggling and winking when Janet arrived.

“I smell a secret,” Janet said as she poured coffee.

“Our secret, right, Little Bit?”

“Yup!” Sookie giggled behind her hand.

Janet was ready when Diego arrived. He came up to the door and Evander opened it.

“Nice to see you again,” he said with a wide grin. “You gonna be a fixture?”

“Plan on it,” Diego replied, shaking the proffered hand.

“Good. You make my daughter smile.” He kissed Janet’s cheek. “See you after school?”

“I work right after.”

“Take the day off.”

“Dad, I really can’t.”

“We need time together, Pumpkin. Please?”

“Ask Mom to call. They won’t believe I need the time, otherwise.”

He nodded. “Will do.”

Janet worried all day about talking to her father. Not even lunch and class with Diego, could snap her out of her daze.

He drove her to the park on the way home, stopping the car. “Talk to me.”

“I need to get home….”

“We’ll talk first. I can’t help if you don’t tell me. I know you’re worried.”

“What if he tells me we’re leaving? What if he says I can never be with you again? I would totally die.”

“Janet, it will work out. You have to believe that.” He took her hands in his. “I’d marry you, just to keep you here. But we’re way too young to get married.”

She nodded, tears bursting from her eyes. “I love you so much. I want to be with you forever.”

“Me too.”

“If they decide we’re moving…. You have to find a way for us to be together.”

“Together? Um…together.”

“Does that scare you?” She raised her chin definitely.

“No! Oh, hell no. Just not the circumstances I expected.”

“If I have to leave, I’m not going unless we can be together. I want you to be my first. Swear to me you’ll find a way. Promise.”

“I—promise. But we don’t know for certain….”

“I don’t care. I’ve made up my mind. Even if we don’t move right away. I want to be with you.”

“Okay, babe. I promise.”

He drove her home and her father was waiting. Diego walked her to the porch. He kissed her cheek and left.

“You okay?” Evander asked.

She nodded, then shook her head. “Where’s Sookie.”

“With Mom. We’re going for a ride.”

©2020 Dellani Oakes

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