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Erica wants it all. The house. The career. And most of all…the husband.

 

She meets Andre, and she hopes that he is the one. He is. Just not the one for her. Andre is full of lies and deceit, and once they all come to surface, Erica finds herself in a sticky situation that she’s not sure how to get out of.

 

Men come with baggage. Men come with lies. Some come with empty boxes. They always have something to hide.

One

The sound of the tea kettle whistling made both ladies turn in the stove’s direction. Erica beamed from ear to ear, watching her mother rush over and pull the kettle from the hot burner. It was a Tuesday, which is not a typical day Erica would visit her mother, but it’s been a little over a month since they talked, so she decided she would come for a visit when she woke up this morning. Erica grinned as she admired her mother’s toffee-colored skin as she moved from one end of the kitchen to the other. It was smooth as a baby’s bottom, and at the age of 65, her mother had no flaws. Mrs. Roxanne didn’t look a day over 40, and most people assumed she and Erica were sisters when they were out together. But it wasn’t just her mother’s good genes that made Erica smile; she loved the relationship her mother had with her father. Their marriage was the epitome of what she thought marriage should be, and she wanted that one day…soon…very soon. As her mother sat opposite her, Erica huffed out a low breath. She’d been in a drab mood, thinking deeply about six months ago when she was happily in a relationship—but seeing her mother’s perky and cheerful attitude improved her melancholy spirit. It’s been forever since they sat down and chatted, and Erica was prepared for anything her mother could teach her about the stability of a long-lasting relationship. She may be all of 35, but from her last relationship, Erica knew she could learn quite a few things from her mother. Sometimes it was hard to admit, but her failed relationship with her ex made her question if she would ever become a wife. She never intended for her visit to become a Q and A, but it looks like that’s where it’s headed. Scribbling her questions in her mind, she watched her mother pour steaming hot water from the tea kettle into two tiny teacups.

“Momma, how do you and daddy do it?” Erica asks while dipping her teabag repeatedly inside her cup until the water dimmed to a dark brown consistency. She then put a dollop of honey in the cup and stirred. Setting the spoon on the paper towel to her left, she picked up the teacup, brought it to her lips, and blew over it about three times before taking a sip.

“How me and daddy do what, Erica?” Roxanne moved her shiny Auburn hair away from her left eye, squinting her eyes slightly with one brow raised, questioning her daughter. 

“Love one another for 30 plus years without going crazy. I mean... what’s the secret to always being in love and staying in love with the man you married?” Erica seriously wanted to know. Maybe it would give her insight into why she’s still single and unmarried. All she knew is the happily ever after she dreamt of was too far away. And it couldn’t be that difficult for one man… the man for her, to love her for an eternity. 

“Patience, my sweet girl.” She reached over and gave Erica’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Honey, to be married 30 plus years does not come with an instruction manual. Me and your father had to learn one another. We’re not perfect. We’ve had our ups and downs. But I can say when God made Eric Johnson; he made him just for me.” Her mother blushed with a wide smile; Erica knew her toffee-colored skin would crack, but her skin sprang right back in place when the smile left her mother’s lips. She can’t recall her mother smiling as big when she spoke those words. She knew in her heart that her parents would grow even older together and probably die moments apart from the other. That’s the kind of love she craved for. The type of love she thought she had in her last relationship. But her life went in another direction, and so did the man she was madly in love with. 

“I’m sure you can write a manual on the do’s and don’ts, momma. Your love for one another is so effortless. I desire that kind of love so bad.” Erica fought back the tears that threatened to fall with a smile, and she quickly dabbed the corner of her eyes when her mother looked away.

“Erica, your husband is coming. I believe that.” Her mother’s words were so convincing Erica had an optimistic feeling that her soul mate was closer than she knew.

“From your lips to God’s ears, momma.” Erica looked up at the ceiling with a smile, thinking the gesture wouldn’t hurt. She took another sip of her tea and then picked up her phone to look over her appointments for today. Then, confirming a consultation with a possible new client, she set her phone back on the table.

“Honey, have you ever thought about one of those Christian dating sites? It couldn’t hurt.” If only Roxanne had seen the eye roll Erica had given her in her mind; Erica knew she would have left there with a bruised face from a backhanded slap. She raised her hand, rubbing her cheek. She could almost feel the sting on her face from the thought. Roxanne didn’t play, and Erica knew that about her mother. 

There were not many ways Erica could reply to her mother without sounding irritated and being a smart ass. So she counted to three in her head, finished her cup of tea, and decided to tread lightly, making light of her mother’s question by laughing.

“Momma.” Erica continued to chuckle as she replied. “I’m not a saint, and I don’t want some pretend man of God whose for everybody. I wouldn’t want the responsibility of being a first lady. Besides, half of those men on those sites lie, Christian or otherwise. So I think the old-fashioned way of dating will have to do.” Erica was proud of how she handled herself. Besides, she couldn’t tell her mother she’d set up a profile on that site months ago but later deleted it when she saw an old college classmate’s profile on the site. And this was one of those not-so-attractive girls. As far as Erica could tell by looking at the profile picture of her college classmate, hadn’t much of her changed. She still wasn’t the most attractive person in the world, and her profile bio read single and ready. It seemed desperate. Erica was never the arrogant type, even being a beautiful curvy, full-figured woman who people often mistake for some plus-size supermodel. She never thought she was more than the next person. Erica just felt like she had much more to offer, and soliciting a man on a dating site was not the way to find her soulmate.

“I can only imagine.” Her mother shook her head, saying a silent prayer for Erica to find somebody that would make her happy. As Roxanne stared at her daughter, all she could think about was the grandchildren she wanted before she and her husband were too old to enjoy them. “You know your father is expecting you over for dinner next week. Once we settle things here and return home to Georgia, we won’t see you as much. And if I know your father, I think he’s trying to set you up with the son of one of his lawyer friends.” Roxanne knew by the frown on her daughter’s face she would have an excuse not to come. 

“Momma, I—” Erica closed her mouth when her mother pointed at her. Roxanne Johnson didn’t tolerate Lying, so she held up her finger before her daughter even spoke the lie. However, Roxanne respected her daughter’s personal life and wouldn’t drag the issue. Erica knew by her mother’s silence she would convince her father to uninvite the male guest so they could have dinner with her alone. No other words needed to be said on the matter. “Oh,” Erica stared down at her watch, then stood from her chair, slightly disheveled. The thought of her father trying to set her up made her feel hopeless about ever finding a husband. “I have a client coming to the salon in an hour. I have to go, momma.” Erica expressed while picking her teacup up from the table and sitting it inside the sink. “Thanks for the tea.” She picked up her purse, hung it on her shoulders, and kissed her mother on the cheek, finding her way out the door and to her black Infinity. 

Once she arrived at her Salon, The Hair Affair, she remained in her car, admiring how she built her career from working a booth in another beautician’s salon to having her own high-end establishment. She has a little over eighty avid clients, and she’s doing well with the services she provides for them. Life couldn’t be better than it was for her right now, but having a steady relationship with a man who would be her husband would be just the proper icing on her exemplary life. She slightly smiled when she looked over to see both of her stylist’s cars parked in their assigned parking spaces. “At least they’re both working today,” Erica mumbled, thinking back to last week when it was a madhouse at the salon. Jo-Jo, the male barber, and Dahlia, her best friend who was also a stylist at her salon, decided to take an off day for whatever reason, and a few of their clients came to the salon without notification that they weren’t working that day. Off days had been far and few the last couple of weeks. They’d even been working on Sundays to fill the needs of their clients. Business had picked up over the past serval weeks, and Erica wanted to take full advantage and get clients in. She didn’t play around about servicing her clientele and any other client who stepped foot inside her salon. They were her priority over anything else. Salon hopping is real as chair hopping, and losing money just didn’t go with her success plan. Her salon was one of the top five in  Houston and had been featured in some local magazines.

Finally opening her car door and stepping out with her grande sized Starbucks coffee in her hand, Erica put her purse on her shoulder, walked to the back of her Inifinity as the trunk lifted, and pulled out a tote bag filled with bundles of hair she picked up for her client to look through.  Rushing towards the door, she knew she had about fifteen minutes to spare before her client arrived. Padding her feet across the pavement as if she didn’t have on a pair of three-inch Christian Louboutins, she used her key card to unlock the door and entered her salon. She was greeted by talking and laughter, which brought her out of her thoughts of her father trying to play matchmaker. She tried not to sweat the little things, but what grown 35-year-old woman needs her daddy to play matchmaker. However, her thoughts trampled a bit seeing Jo Jo sit his clippers down, meeting her in the middle of the salon. He attempted to take the tote bag from Erica as she juggled everything in her hands.

“Wow! So he’s all of a sudden a gentleman today!” Dahlia yelled out across the salon, flailing her hands around and poking out her bottom lip. It wasn’t a big surprise for Dahlia to get loud in the salon. She was always blunt, but when Erica looked at her friend from across the room, she got a weird feeling from her outburst. “You didn’t give me one hand when I walked in this morning juggling my shit in my hands.” Dahlia frowned, then stuck out her tongue, sitting the mousse can down. She realized people were staring at her, so she laughed to throw off the unwanted attention.

“D, you didn’t have shit in your hands but your keys and that spiked coffee you always sipping on.” After Jo-Jo’s comment, the entire salon erupted in laughter, but Erica didn’t find the humor in it. Jo-Jo was a no-nonsense type of man. He did his job and flirted with the ladies, but he didn’t pick and choose when it came to being a gentleman. Erica assumed Dahlia was on one today. And more so lately, those two had been at each other’s throats, but Erica never took their little spats seriously. This was typical behavior for them, but something about the look in Dahlia’s eyes worried Erica. Then again, she laughed to herself, knowing her stylists loved giving the clients a show. Whether it was about celebrity gossip or inner circle gossip, those two always were in some mess at the salon. 

“If you two don’t stop it. We have clients.” Erica chastised the two like they were small children that needed to be put in a time-out. They didn’t know it, but she just couldn’t take their childish behavior sometimes. “Jo-Jo, thanks for lending me a helping hand, but I got it. Besides, your client is over there in your chair waiting. Speaking of, how many clients do y’all have today anyway?” Erica asked, wondering if she would be the last to leave the salon tonight. And she figured since they both took off in the middle of the week last week, they would want to get those cancellations back in soon as possible. Jo-Jo quickly replied, saying he had at least five coming in from last week, which he had rescheduled when he took off, and had some regulars coming in today. Dahlia didn’t answer, at least not right away. Instead, she walked her client to the hairdryer area and situated her; then, she walked back to her station and started cleaning before speaking. Erica stood with a questioning gaze in her eyes, looking in Dahlia’s direction, wondering what was going on with her today. They’d been close friends for years now. Erica figured it was something going on at home, and if that’s the case, she knew Dahlia would talk to her about it. So she let it go. She didn’t respond when Dahlia said she was leaving soon as her next client, who she had just buzzed in, left. 

Hours had passed, and Dahlia had long gone for the evening. Erica finished her last client’s hair using the curling wand, adding loose curls to the sew-in she’d installed. She’d waxed her client’s eyebrows and upper lip prior, and now all she had to do was pull her fingers lightly through the curls, spray a light sheen, and she’d be done. Spinning the styling chair around and putting a medium-sized handheld mirror in front of her client’s face, the woman smiled. She shook her head from right to left, admiring how her hair flowed. She grinned wider and thanked Erica for making her beautiful. Before her client left, she swiped her credit card on the square reader Erica pulled out of her purse. Erica then scheduled her client a two-week return appointment and walked her out the door. It took about fifteen minutes to clean and disinfect everything in her workstation. Jo-Jo had finished with his last client, and they walked out together. He waited until Erica was safe in her car, not that crime was high in the Hyde Park area. It’s just something Jo-Jo did, being the only male working in the salon.

Once Erica buckled her seat belt and drove away, Jo-Jo drove off in the opposite direction. From the rearview mirror, Erica noticed that he didn’t go in the same direction he usually drives when he’s going home. She brushed it off, thinking Jo-Jo had a date since he was a single man. He worked in a hair salon with women, but it was nothing at all feminine about Jo-Jo. He was average-looking, average height, had medium brown skin, and had tattoos on his arms. Erica laughed as she drove through the green light getting off at her exit. When she first interviewed Jo-Jo for the barber position, she told him he sort of resembled the singer Usher. He was a good fit for her salon since he was one of the top barbers in Houston and had built an extensive clientele that consisted of some local musicians, women, and children. She was happy to bring him aboard but believed he’d slept with half of his female clientele. The reason is because of the considerable large tips they always leave him. Erica’s thoughts shifted to what was happening the next few days. She knew closing on her house was one of the best things she had done in the last six months, and tomorrow was move-in day. The trucking company was set to be at her current home at 6 am to begin loading furniture and boxes. Erica blew out a sigh of relief because she knew there was no way she could do it all alone. Initially, she had planned on living in her current house until she married, but things with her ex took a turn for the worse. Entering that home her ex often visited would make the memories almost unbearable to think about. The breakup was fresh, and she constantly told herself the move was for the best. And far as she’s concerned, tomorrow couldn’t get here soon enough. Two hours later, Erica had packed the last box, showered, and was now in her pajamas.  Carrying her pillow and blanket, she climbed on the couch in the living room, powered on the TV, pulled her blanket close, and closed her eyes, instantly falling asleep.

*

It was bright and early the following morning, and Erica knew coffee would be what got her through this busy day. Finally, the trucking employees moved everything inside the moving truck and were ready to take it to the new house. Erica did her last walk-through to ensure she hadn’t left anything behind. Then, flicking off the living room light switch, she closed the front door to any memories, locked it, and left the key inside the mailbox at her previous landlord’s request. She was excited and nervous at the same time, but she was ready for this move and to make the new house a home. A half an hour later, Erica turned on her street, where all the houses had similar builds. The subdivision was quiet; not many children lived on her street, and if they did, they had to be older teens because she couldn’t recall seeing any children playing outside when she went to the open house. Soon as she stepped out of her car, the trucking company’s truck turned the corner. It would be just a matter of hours before they had everything off the truck and placed inside the house where she’d already given them specific instructions on where to set everything. The moving men would place all the furniture, hang the drapes and put the beds together. Money was no object. What she spent on the packers was worth every dime. They would do the bulk of the work, and all she would have left was to unpack boxes.

It’d been all of four hours, and besides the boxes scattered around in each room, the trucking company had gone. They’d earned every dime of the twenty-five hundred dollars she paid them. Nevertheless, Erica was satisfied with their services, and if she had to do it all over again, she would use this trucking company again. Standing in the middle of the room, Erica forgot she left boxes inside her car. Grabbing her keys and walking out the door, she pressed the unlock symbol on the key fob unlocking the doors. Looking straight ahead, she notices a man staring at her, walking toward her new home. Her abdomen tensed as the stranger approached, but the closer he got, the more handsome she thought he was. “He could be harmless,” she mouthed, hoping he couldn’t read lips as he approached.

“Hey. I hadn’t seen you before. You’re new to the neighborhood.” The handsome stranger who hadn’t officially introduced himself expressed with a gentle smile. He was all of 5’11, and Erica knew that because she stood at eye level with him with her heels on. She almost frowned, wondering why she chose to wear 3-inch heels to move boxes in. “My apologies. I didn’t tell you my name. I’m Andre. I live a few houses just down the street.” He said, and her eyes followed the gesture of his finger-pointing in the direction of the second tan house towards the end of the street.

“Nice to meet you, Andre.” She smiled, holding on to one of the boxes she pulled from her car’s trunk, feeling slightly embarrassed, realizing how wide she’d grinned. She caught herself staring at his oval-shaped face and smooth milk chocolate skin, looking edible. He had deep-set dark eyes, a soft dark beard, thick kissable lips, and smelled dignified. Not rich, but very well off of a business stature. He wore a dark-dark blue tailored suit and a pair of cognac-colored oxford loafers. His whole attire spoke volumes about his sense of style. Erica smiled on the inside because, looking at him, a sense of style was something they had in common. She wore 3-inch heels with everything. And she could tell just by the fit of his tailored suit he wore them all the time. “I’m Erica, and yes, I am new to this subdivision. I closed on this house weeks ago, and I’m just moving in. How long have you lived in the neighborhood?” She asked, thinking no harm could come from her question.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Erica. And actually,” He showed all 32 of his celebrity white teeth, smiling again. “I’m new to the neighborhood myself. I moved in about two months ago.” Andre explained when his eyes landed on the box cradled in her arms. “You know I can help you with those boxes.”

“I- I shouldn’t. I mean, you don’t even know me.” Her head shook from side to side, but she thought it was nice of him to offer. “And I don’t expect you to help me. I really can take the boxes inside by myself. Besides, you look like you were on your way out, and I don’t want to keep you from anything important.” Erica expressed, holding on a little tighter to the box wrapped in her arms.

“Well, I think we do know one another, Erica.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “And you know I’m Andre, who lives just down the street.” He pointed out, gesturing his head in the direction of his house.

“Yes, That’s true, Andre. We are neighbors.” She said with a nod of her head, laughing. 

“So, that’s settled.” He said matter of factly. “And if you think you’re inconveniencing me, you’re not. If I had plans, I would cancel them to ensure that you don’t carry not one box inside your home. So, please, let me help you.” Andre pleaded, extending his arms out towards her. Her whole body felt as if it was melting when she blushed. His persistence was something special and sexy too. And after coming to terms that it’s been six months since her break up from her ex, and she’d been doing everything independently, she gave in.

A half an hour had passed. And in just that little time, Erica enjoyed Andre’s company. He kept the conversation going while taking a few boxes to one of the bedrooms. He sat a couple of boxes in the large open den and left the remaining boxes in the living room. They talked a bit longer, and Andre complimented how lovely her house was inside and offered to help if she needed anything else done. Erica knew she was smiling a little too hard and tried to keep the glow on her face at a minimum, but this man was fine and a gentleman. She walked him to the front door; she grabbed her wallet and took out a fifty-dollar bill. “Andre, I know this is hardly enough for you helping me with those boxes and carrying them to the rooms they belong. But please take this.”  She reached the large bill in his direction.

“Erica, I can’t accept money from you. What kind of a man would I be if I let you carry all those boxes yourself. So please, keep your money.” Andre genuinely expressed. He found himself attracted to her. She’s smart. Beautiful as hell and seemed to have herself together. The most important part is that she’s single. He assumed she was because no man was around helping her with the move. Andre had been watching since she and the movers arrived on Chanteloup Drive. Mentally, he licked his lips, gawping at her, but he kept it subtle on the outside. She was exactly the woman he wanted. And his gut was telling him this was the right moment to ask her what he’d wanted to ask when he first introduced himself.

“My number…” Erica beamed but was taken aback by his request. She’d known him less than an hour but felt close enough to him to allow him inside her home. The way she saw it, she might as well give him her number. “Alright.” Erica nodded. She took his phone when he handed it to her. Erica typed her name and number in and handed him his phone back. Before he left, he told her to have a good night and that he’d be giving her a call. Erica watched Andre walk down the bricked walkway and to the sidewalk. She didn’t go inside her house or close her door until he was a few feet away from her house.

Huffing a heavy breath, and wiping the imaginary sweat from her forehead, Erica knew she had only about forty minutes before dark and wanted to have the last of the boxes unpacked in her bedroom. After sleeping on the couch the past few days, she was ready to crawl up in her Kingsize bed under her down comforter for a good night’s rest. Erica thanked God the moving men had put her bed together and all the other furniture in each room. Clearing out the boxes labeled bedroom, she took the contents out, finding a picture of her and Niko. Her ex. Someone had taken it off guard of them at Dahlia’s wedding about five years ago. They were standing close together, his arms wrapped around her, her eyes closed, and his lips pressed against her forehead. Erica loved that picture and loved him too. She thought he was the man of her dreams—the man who would give her everything she wanted out of love. But, thinking back, she felt there was some missed communication on his part. They always wanted the same thing, at least that’s what she believed until he admitted he never wanted children and had no plans of ever getting married. Erica felt duped. She felt betrayed. And she had held that anguish inside for a long time. She was ready to let go and move on, and her new house was the beginning.

The memories of them together in her old house were overwhelming, so she gave a sixty-day move-out notice to her old landlord, found her a realtor, and purchased a home. Gazing out the window and seeing the sunset, she gathered everything she was throwing out. She felt no remorse in leaving behind the picture of her ex inside one of the empty boxes. To her, it was nothing of purpose inside, like her failed relationship. Erica was ready for the world. Her salon was one of the best in Houston; she had eighty clients and more new client consultations than she could handle. Erica accepted that she had a shitty relationship in the past, but she was ready for a new beginning. For some reason, she knew moving into this house on this street would be it. Stepping away from her porch carrying boxes, she walked to the sidewalk, sitting them all on the curb. This was the end of one life and the beginning of something better. Darting her eyes away from the curb where she sat the empty boxes, she took two steps forward, looking in the direction of Andre’s house with a smile on her face.

SNEAK PEEK

*unedited*