Sample of Because Chivalry is not Dead
Copyright © 2014 Taretha Jones
All rights reserved. No part of the work may be reproduced without the expression written permission of the author. This book is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters, events, and incidents in this book are a product of the author's imagination.
Tabitha Jenkins ascended the steps that led to the front door of the Imani Center. This is the best part of the day, she thought to herself.
"Good morning, how are you doing today?" questioned the gentleman who had been squirting oil on the hinges of the entry doors to the large brick building. He moved to the side and held the door open for her to enter the facility.
Tabitha flashed him a bright smile. "Wonderful. I'm feeling blessed today, Mr. Heaton.” She stopped on the cement landing that led into the interior of the building. “How are you this morning?"
He returned her cheery smile with one of his own. "I can't complain. Just hoping we don't get any snow later this afternoon.”
She frowned, tilted her head to the side and looked up at the horizon. With all of the beautiful Carolina-blue sky that was peaking through the smoky-looking thin white clouds, it didn't look too much like snow to her. “Snow?” she asked in disbelief. “Is the weather forecast calling for snow today?”
He nodded his head in response and looked up at the clouds as well. “Yeah. It doesn't look like it, but AM 1510 Gospel and News 2, both forecasted a dusting later on this evening.”
She passed through the full glass door that he was still holding open, then turned around and added with a grin, “Well, me too...I hope we don't get any snow.” She grimaced. “Normally, I like snow. But I'm hoping that it passes us by this time.”
Tabitha switched the oversized gym bag to her other shoulder and subconsciously frowned. She had really been enjoying the unseasonably warm weather they’d been having lately.
She sighed. “Well, see you later, Mr. Heaton.”
He inched the door closed a little farther and then called after her retreating back, “See you later, Ms. Jenkins. Enjoy your workout."
Dave watched as Tabitha made her way into the interior of the building. She’s pretty and sweet, he thought to himself. Then he frowned. Tabitha had been coming to the Imani Wellness Community Center for a little over a year and he liked her a lot. He paused deep in thought and added a little more oil to the hinge. If he’d met Tabitha years ago, his younger self would’ve asked her out on date. Out to dinner, or maybe a movie. He frowned again. But that was a long, long time ago. That was before he’d decided to never get serious with a woman again.
He continued with his work at hand. He'd had to settle with making small talk with Tabitha instead. Settle for exchanging polite pleasantries — impersonal back and forth banter that was never designed to lead to anything significant.
With Tabitha on his mind, Dave carefully applied a little more oil to the door. He was fairly certain that she wasn’t married. There wasn't a ring on her finger, and she had never come to the center with a man.
He thought about all of the woman who frequented or volunteered at the Imani Center as often as Tabitha did. They all eventually showed up there with their man in tow — if they had one. Either the husband was coming in to workout with his wife, or the husband was coming in to pick the wife up after her workout.
Tabitha always came to the Center alone. She arrived every morning between seven and eight o'clock. She was very polite to everyone. Even old man Hendrix had taken a liking to Tabitha. And that was unusual, seeing that Mr. Hendrix was notorious for being gruff and stuffy with nearly everybody who crossed his path.
Inside the building, Tabitha handed over her membership card to be swiped by the elderly gentleman at the reception desk. His brown face lit up in a smile upon seeing her. "Good morning, Sunshine."
Tabitha smiled back just as warmly in return. “Good morning, Mr. Gatling. I hope you’re having a blessed day so far."
He nodded in agreement. "I can't complain, the Lord’s keeping me. We missed you at church yesterday."
She smiled. "Yes, I missed you all, too. I had some unexpected business to pop up. I had to take care of it at the last minute."
He nodded his head again as he swiped her card through the machine that registered attendance. "Yes, I understand, baby. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.” He handed the card back to her. “I sure hope we see you next Sunday then."
Tabitha took the card that he’d handed her. None of the women there got angry when Mr. Gatling called them baby. He didn't use the term in a downgrading manner. He was at least seventy-five years old. In his eyes, all of them were youngsters or babies.
Tabitha nodded. "Lord willing, I’ll be there." She flashed him another genuine smile before walking through the doors and disappearing into the main atrium of the building.
"See you later, Mr Gatling," she called back over her shoulder.
"See you later, Sunshine."
Mr. Gatling then turned his attention back to tidying up the reception desk. "Dave, if you don't hurry up and close them doors, you're gonna let all the heat outta here."
Dave let the full glass-paned door close and stepped back inside the building. He wiped the oil from his hands with the rag he kept in his utility belt.
"Sorry about that, Mr. Gatling."
Mr. Gatling straightened out the fan of magazines that were on the reception desk —the ones that they kept handy for the patrons of the Center. Young folks these days. He shook his silvery head, slightly annoyed. That girl’s been coming in here for over a year and Dave’s been pining after her for as nearly as long. Mr. Gatling chuckled to himself. He probably thinks nobody notices how he looks at her when he thinks nobody’s watching.
Without looking up from his task Mr. Gatling said, "You gonna have to step up your game, young man, and ask her out." Then he looked up and stared Dave straight in the eye. "Ask her to go out for coffee at that little shop that Tyria and Myra just opened 'round the corner."
Dave looked at the elderly gentleman with a quizzical look on his face. "What are you talking about, Mr Gatling?"
Mr. Gatling frowned. "Boy, don't play with me. How old are you now? Thirty-eight, thirty-nine? You old enough to know what I'm talking 'bout."
Dave stroked the short, neatly-trimmed stubble on his chin and grinned. Here he was, thinking nobody suspected how he was feeling about Tabitha Jenkins, but Mr. Gatling had known...probably all along.
Dave grinned. "A brotha can't get anything past you, can he, Mr. Gatling?"
Mr. Gatling pinned Dave with a stern look...a look not too different from the one a father would give a son he’d caught doing wrong. "Not nowadays, Son...not nowadays.”
Then Mr. Gatling balled his hands into fists and placed them on his hips. Dave immediately recognized it as the stance that he took...right before giving out one of his many life lessons. “Son, I been on this here Earth seventy-four years,” he paused. “I been a lot of places and I done a lot of things. If you keep on waiting, somebody else is gonna swoop that girl right on up."
Mr. Gatling sat down and drained the last of the coffee in his cup. "Have you seen the way that new fella that's been coming in here is looking at her?"
Dave's ears began to twitch as he arched his eyebrow. "What new fella, Mr. Gatling?"
Mr. Gatling scowled. Don't this boy notice nothing, he thought to himself. He shook his head. "The one that Joe Hill just hired at his law office."
Dave frowned. The new attorney, Cameron Morris. Yeah, he’d heard about him alright. According to his youngest sibling, Charmaine, all the up and coming, high-society African-American ladies in town were interested in going out with Cameron Morris. Truth be told, even many of the young White, Asian, and Latina socialites in town were trying to snag the hot-shot Black attorney from New York. Rumor had it that he was the real mastermind behind getting famed basketball player J.T. Hunt off free when his wife had been murdered two years ago. Cameron had scored a seven digit salary for his courthouse victory on that case.
"What do you mean he's been looking at her?"
Mr. Gatling settled himself more comfortably in his desk chair. "Yeah, he came in here yesterday and signed up for a membership. Said he wants to be a sponsor, too." He fiddled with the magazines again, trying to get them just right. Then he began folding towels and neatly stacking them on the rack by his desk — he always made sure their guests had fresh towels upon entering the facility.
Done with his tasks, Mr. Gatling turned his attention back to Dave. “You know, you'd think a wealthy young man like him would want to go to one of the high-end fitness places off of Battleground Ave, but he told me, if it hadn't been for volunteer centers up in New York, he never would’ve made it off the streets.” Mr. Gatling paused then added, “Now, he wants to give back."
Dave placed his supplies in his bag. It had been over seven years since he'd asked anyone on a date, and three years since he'd been in a relationship. He could count on one hand the number of dates he'd been on in the last year, and those dates had all been arranged. He'd only gone out on those occasions to appease his twenty-four year old younger sister, who was constantly worrying about her big brother's lack of a social life.
Dave set his lips into a thin line. He'd been doing just fine living on his own and keeping to himself since his divorce from Jennifer three years ago. He'd had his work here at the center and his volunteer efforts at various charities throughout the city to keep him busy. Yeah, he thought to himself, after Jennifer, I have no interest in going out. It would take a whole lot more than a pretty smile and beautiful brown eyes to get me to go down that path again.
He flashed his mentor a smile. “Thanks for the advice, Mr. Gatling. I'm good. I'll leave that road for Cameron Morris to travel.”
With that being said, Dave picked up his tool bag. “Now, I think I'll go check on those drop ceiling panels upstairs. Mr. Anderson said he thinks one of them needs replacing.”
As Dave disappeared into the elevator on his way to the second level, Mr. Gatling shook his head in dismay.
* * *
Tabitha placed her gym bag into the cubicle, closed the door and activated the lock. She always got this strange feeling when she ran into Dave Heaton. She couldn't quite put her finger on what it was, but it was something about him that gave her butterflies. Maybe in another time, another place, another lifetime, she would open up herself to explore those types of feelings. But as things currently stood in her life, she had no time or interest in those types of things. She couldn't allow it.
She frowned and thought back over a conversation that two other female patrons there at the Imani Center had been having about Dave several days ago. They had been in the aerobics room. The women were new members and it was obvious that the two were friends, but they’d been arguing over which one was going to ask Dave to take them out. It had pained Tabitha's heart to hear their heated exchange. Whatever happened to the days of women waiting for the men to ask them out, she’d wondered. The women had both stalked out of the room in a huff and Tabitha was pretty much sure they were not on speaking terms anymore. She shook her head.
Yes, it was undeniable that Dave was handsome — with his dark brown skin, chiseled features, and broad chest — but there was something beyond the physical about Dave that was intriguing to Tabitha.
Probably his eyes, she thought to herself. She smiled. Yes, that's exactly what it is. It was as if, whenever she saw him, she could see into his soul, and what she saw was a spirit of strength, kindness and compassion... intertwined with deep hurt and pain.
Tabitha nodded her head. Yeah, hurt and pain. She was very familiar with those two. She could identify that look anywhere.
Deciding to push thoughts of Dave from her mind, Tabitha placed her headphones into her ears and scrolled through the music directory on her iPhone, landing on her favorite gospel recording artist, Willie Moore. She slowly smiled. There was nothing like inspirational Gospel hymns to uplift a downtrodden spirit.
She stood, placing both arms above her head and stretching her muscles in preparation for her aerobics workout. Then she exited the locker room and made her way to the aerobics section of the facility. She adeptly climbed onto the elliptical machine, adjusted the settings, and pushed her body into motion.
* * *
Ten Minutes Later:
Dave placed the ladder in the hallway outside of the aerobics room. He glanced through the full view glass windows that comprised the walls of the workout area. There she is again, he thought to himself.
He climbed the bottom three rungs of the ladder and reached up to unfasten the casing that held the fluorescent light bulbs in place. He had noticed earlier in the morning that one of the bulbs had blown out and needed to be replaced. He’d decided that he’d might as well take care of this little job before tackling the problems with the dropped ceilings that Mr. Anderson had mentioned.
He unobtrusively glanced through the glass wall, mesmerized by the gentle sway of Tabitha's body as she swiftly moved the pedals of the elliptical machine back and forth. Before Tabitha had started coming to the Center, if you had asked him if there was a such thing as exercising gracefully, Dave would’ve said,“No”. But she somehow made her sweat-inducing workout seem beautiful...almost like poetry in motion.
He positioned the new bulb in place and averted his gaze, concentrating on his job at hand.
He frowned. The last thing he needed was for anyone to think he was some sort of perverted Peeping Tom...one of those guys who came to the gym and harassed the women who were trying to stay fit. And fit she is, thought Dave.
He crinkled his brows. She always dressed modestly when she came to the Center. But she always looked nice. Her daily workout gear consisted of simple t-shirts and loose-legged yoga pants. As she glided on the machinery, the knit fabric of her clothing would sway and gently accentuate her womanly curves. Dave took another glance into the aerobics room. Despite the modesty of her dress, anyone with half a brain could tell she was fit.
He frowned, realizing that he actually enjoyed the bit of mystery that seemed to surround her. It was something exciting, it activated something inherent in his male psyche. Her clothes weren't form-fitting, or high end Spandex, like many of the outfits worn by some of the women who frequented the Center, but she always came off as classy.
Dave stepped down from the ladder, still deep in thought. It was just like waiting for Christmas Eve, or waiting for your birthday to unwrap your presents. You never knew what lie underneath the wrapping paper, but you knew it was gonna be something good. And Tabitha was one gift Dave wouldn’t have minded unwrapping.
He frowned again. What in God's name am I thinking, he worried to himself. He was not interested in her, or any female, for that matter. He had sworn off of women and relationships several years ago. In his estimation, they were too much drama, and caused too much heartbreak. He would much rather be alone for the rest of his days.
Dave placed the burnt out bulb into the cardboard box, readying it for disposal. He politely waved in greeting at the Spandex-clad young lady that exited the door of the aerobics room and suggestively raked over his body with her eyes. He set his lips into a thin line. No, he was not going to be a complete fool and hate on all of the women who came to the Center wearing full body Spandex, because many of them were really nice and really decent. It was the ones like this one, who treated the gym like it was a night club that he had a problem with. Unfortunately, those ones all tended to wear the same outfit...lots of tight fitting Spandex, form-fitting sports bras, full face of makeup, gaudy jewelry, and too much perfume.
Dave simply shook his head.
* * *
A Half Hour Later:
Tabitha stepped out of the shower and quickly toweled her body dry. She put on her lacy black bra and matching panties, then slipped into her favorite oversized sweater and jeans. Next she made her way to the locker room and retrieved her gym bag and laptop. She’d been feeling so good while working out that she’d overshot her normal exercise time by thirty minutes.
She frowned. That extra workout time that she'd allowed herself meant that this morning, she had less time for job hunting.
She made her way to the small library that the Imani Center housed on the third floor. It was always quiet in there because no one hardly ever came to the library — almost everyone preferred the large, modern and new media room that the Center had recently added on.
But Tabitha loved the little library. It was filled with various African-American works of literature. From the classics, like Langston Hughes, to modern day African-American romance novels and novellas. The library even had a set of Encyclopedias.
She frowned. With the popularity of the internet, hardly anyone used paper Encyclopedias anymore. But ever since she was little, Tabitha had loved thumbing through the pages and soaking in the knowledge.
She opened the solid oak door, took a seat at one of the two small sofas that were positioned against the wall and powered up her laptop. She began her daily activity of surfing the various job posting sites.
Two hours into searching the web listings, she closed the cover of the laptop and hugged it to her chest. Wow, I’m exhausted, she thought to herself. Last night the temperature had dropped down into the forties, which had made it very uncomfortable sleeping in her SUV. Even with three layers of blankets, it had been rather chilly.
She wearily exhaled and closed her eyes. Lord, I'm gonna need some help with this one. I can’t make it by myself, she quietly prayed. She allowed a tiny tear to escape from the corner of her eye and let out a heavy sigh. She then pulled her slightly worn Bible from her bag and flipped to the book of Job.
Job lost everything in his life, too, she thought to herself. But God gave it all back, multiplied. Maybe, just maybe, through grace and mercy, God will do the same for me.
She began silently reading from the very first chapter. As she read through passage after passage, verse after verse, her eyes grew heavy, and she reclined into the arm of the sofa and drifted off to sleep.
Tabitha slowly parted her thick lashes, as she stretched her arms and let out a satisfying yawn. She squinted her oval shaped eyes in an attempt to read the time on the clock on the wall. If it were not for the two tiny skylights in the vaulted ceiling, it would’ve been completely dark in the windowless library. Her vision finally adjusted to the lack of light. Three o'clock, she read.
She frowned and jumped up from the sofa. Five whole hours. She couldn’t believe that she’d slept for five whole hours. And why were the lights off? She distinctively remembered them being on when she’d begun reading from Job earlier. She slanted her eyes in puzzlement. The Center always kept the lights on, in all areas...until closing time.
She grabbed her laptop and touched the screen to force the computer out of sleep mode. Yep, the computer said it was 3:02 PM. It was nowhere near ten o'clock at night, so the Center couldn’t be closed, she reasoned.
She quickly pulled her fingers through her ponytail. The job fair. She absolutely had to make it to the job fair. She sighed. The event was being held on the campus of NC A&T State University and there was going to be over fifty local companies in attendance, all there taking resumes and looking for candidates to hire.
She grabbed her things and hurriedly made her way to the library's door. The event wouldn’t be over till 5PM. If she hurried, she could make it. She probably wouldn’t be able to get to visit all of the employer vendor booths, but she was pretty sure she could get through at least half of them.
As Tabitha moved out into the corridor, she quickly forced her eyes to adjust to the almost total lack of light. Unlike the library, the hallway didn't have skylights or even windows for that matter. She frowned. What is going on, she wondered. It was as if the Center had closed. But that’s impossible, she reminded herself.
She made it halfway down the hallway and then, in her haste, collided with a strong male body. Instantaneously, two large, strong hands gripped her arms. They both tumbled backwards onto the carpet and Tabitha landed on top of the man’s solid, broad chest.
In the eerily quiet, isolated darkness of the corridor, she felt a slight panic rise in her chest.
“Let me go!” She began to struggle and attempt to pull her arms out of his iron grip. She positioned her knee, readying herself to kick him in the groin. Then she softly hissed, “If you don’t release me this very minute, I’m going to scream.”
“Hey, hey. Wait a second.” Her unknown assailant released his hold on her arms. “There you go… You're free. I have no intentions of causing you any harm.”
She could sense him moving his body away from hers in the darkness. Then he continued, “If I had intended on hurting you, screaming would do you no good, anyways. Nobody would hear you… Nobody but me. We're the only ones left here.”
Tabitha rolled away from him and quickly groped in the darkness for her gym bag. During her tumble, the bag had landed on the floor, as well. As her hand lighted on the bag, she swiftly reached in and retrieved her can of pepper spray. It was at this moment that the man clicked on a bright flashlight and she was momentarily blinded by its rays. In her shock, the pepper spray fell from her hand.
He shone the light on the container and picked it up. After several frantic blinks, in attempts to readjust her vision to the light, Tabitha realized that her tentative attacker was Dave Heaton. She let out a small sigh of relief.
He picked up the bottle. “Um...I think you dropped your perfume.” He turned over the container in his hand and began to scrutinize it. Then he let out several loud hoots of laughter.
Tabitha got angry and placed her hands on her hips. “What's so funny, Mr Heaton? Did I miss the joke?”
He continued to chuckle. “Pepper spray. Were you really gonna pepper spray me?”
She scowled. “Yes. Yes I was. I didn't know who you were...stalking down this hallway in the dark.”
Dave held the can out towards her, his lips still twitching in suppressed laughter. “I would very much like to return this to you, but first I need for you to promise that you’re not gonna use it on me.”
Tabitha reached out and attempted to pull the can from his grasp, but he wouldn’t let go. She then relaxed her frown, and looked him squarely in the eyes. “No. I don't think it will be necessary for me to spray you today, Mr Heaton. You're safe with me.”
Dave suddenly felt lighthearted. For some reason, he was happy to discover that the mystery woman was Tabitha. “Um, but can I trust you on that?”
Tabitha felt her irritation starting to rise again, and then she realized that he had relinquished his grip on the canister. She realized that he was only joking with her.
“Yes, Mr. Heaton, you can trust me on that.”
She relaxed her features, thinking back over what he'd said moments earlier. “What do you mean by we’re the only ones here?” she inquired. “The Center doesn't close 'til ten today.”
He stood and then reached out his hand, “Here, let me help you up.”
She frowned at the hand that he offered. Her first instinct was to tell him that she could manage getting up on her own. Then she changed her mind and accepted the hand that he held out to her. “Thank you,” she murmured.
Dave bowed. “You're very welcome, Princess.”
She frowned. “Tabitha. The name’s Tabitha. Remember? Not Princess.” She paused. “We live in the real world, Mr. Heaton...not Fantasy Land. Fantasy Land is the only place you'll find princesses” she replied, a bit sarcastically.
Tabitha grimaced. What’s wrong with me today, she wondered to herself. Her words sounded a tad bit harsh, even to her own ears. Over the last two years, she’d really been trying to turn her life around, to reinvent herself. Everything she said and did, she approached with the attitude of: What Would Jesus Do? So, she took a deep breath, smiled and hesitantly added, “I'm sorry...that was sorta harsh.”
Dave returned her smile with one of his own. “Okay, Tabitha,” he said, placing emphasis on her name. “Excuse me, for calling you out your name.”
He took a slight bow. “I'm aware that it's the 2000's, but chivalry is not completely dead. And if I ever met a princess, I'm sure sure she would remind me of you...graceful, gracious, and beautiful.” He paused. “All is forgiven. In fact, there’s nothing to forgive.”
Those words pouring from someone of the male influence's lips would normally have come off as a stale pickup line to her. But somehow, Tabitha realized that Dave was sincere. She stopped the curt retort that she'd almost let slip from the tip of her tongue. She paused in reflection. Two years ago, she would’ve let her salty comment fly. That was before she’d made the decision to truly turn her life over to God.
Dave waited for her to strand before continuing. “Now, back to your question, the Center closed two hours ago.”
He paused and thought back to the conversation he and Tabitha had had that morning concerning the weather.
“That dusting of snow that was forecasted turned out to be a lot more.”
Tabitha placed the pepper spray back into her gym bag and pulled it across her shoulder.
Dave continued, “Mr Gatling broadcasted the closing announcement over the loud speakers—,” he paused, “—several times. I'm assuming you didn’t hear it.”
Tabitha closed her eyes and swallowed. I must’ve been so exhausted that I slept through the announcements.
She frowned. “No, I didn’t hear it. Did you guys send anyone to check the floors? You know, to make sure no one was still here?”
Dave rubbed the close-shaven stubble on his chin in contemplation. “Yes, Mr Gatling sent the two new interns, Tyrese and Shonda, to inspect the floors.” He frowned. “They obviously didn't do a good job.”
Tabitha grimaced, “Obviously not.” She picked up her laptop, happy that she had had it in the heavy duty padded case. She had splurged and purchased it two months ago. She doubted that her computer would’ve survived her tumble, otherwise.
She looked back up at Dave, who's muscular physique was still illuminated in the glow of the flashlight. “Well, I guess I’ll be on my way. I have a function to attend today. If I leave now, I just might make it.”
Dave frowned and shook his head. “I guess you didn't understand, Prin...um, I mean Tabitha. There's at least a foot of snow out there. All of which has fallen in the last three hours and there are no signs of it letting up—,” he paused, “—at least not anytime soon.”
It was Tabitha's turn to frown. She couldn't believe what he was telling her. “What do you mean by anytime soon?”
“Well,” he continued to stroke his chin, “The latest weather forecast says that it will be snowing off and on for at least the next two days...”
“Two days!” she exclaimed.
He nodded his head and reiterated, “Yes, two days. Almost every scheduled event in the city has been canceled. The weather conditions have made every street and highway practically unnavigable. Thirty minutes ago, the governor declared that Greensboro, and all of North Carolina is under a state of emergency.”
Tabitha could hear his voice going on and on, but his words were all becoming a blur to her. She closed her eyes and took a calming deep breath. There was no way she could stay in her car during a certified blizzard. Where in the world am I going to go? What am I going to do? She took another deep breath. She would have to stand on her faith and figure it all out as she went along.
“Well, Mr. Heaton, I guess I’ll be on my way then.”
She began walking toward the stairwell. She’d only made three steps towards the end of the corridor, when Dave gently placed his hand on her shoulder.
“On your way to where?” he asked in puzzlement.
Tabitha wearily shrugged his hand from her shoulder. Her problem with finding a warm, dry, and safe place to bed down was too pressing for her to concern herself with the questions he was asking. She frowned. “I’m going to my car.”
Dave stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. “You really must not have understood what I said.” He paused. “We’re snowed in. There’s at least a foot of snow out there right now, and it's still coming down really hard. There's snow in the parking lot, on the roads — too much for anybody but rescue and emergency personnel to even think about driving around in. At least for the next two days.”
Tabitha had been so distressed over finding somewhere to stay during the storm, that it had totally missed her comprehension that because of the weather event, she wouldn’t be able to leave the facility. Understanding had finally dawned. For the next two days, at least, she wouldn’t have to worry about where to lay her head. She closed her eyes, and silently thanked the Lord for giving her these two upcoming days...two days of not having to worry about staying warm.
Dave could see the light of comprehension finally settle in her brown eyes. “So now you get it?”
Tabitha nodded her head in agreement. “Yes, I understand.”
Dave smiled. “Good. Now that we have all of that cleared up, it would be great if we can make our way downstairs to the main level, where there's light.”
Tabitha looked up at him with a quizzical expression on her face. Maybe she had spoken too soon and she didn't have a warm place to stay after all. “Did the power go out? Is that why it's dark up here?”
“No, I actually just now turned the lights off...on this level. That's where I was coming from when we bumped into each other.” He paused. “Electricity conservation, you know? No need to leave the lights on if there's no one here to use them.”
Tabitha followed him down the corridor towards the staircase.
Dave held the stairwell door open for her to walk through. “After you, Madame.”
Tabitha smiled. “I guess you're not letting up on the perfect gentleman routine.”
He flashed her another one of his perfect smiles. “No, never, Tabitha. Never.”
She passed through the door that he held open for her and they both made their way downstairs. When they entered the main atrium landing, Tabitha held her breathe in awe. The large fluffy snowflakes that she could see falling through the floor-to-ceiling windows were beautiful.
“This is gorgeous!”
Dave watched as Tabitha stared at the fat flakes floating through the air and landing on every surface that they touched. Her oval shaped dark brown eyes glittered with excitement and her ebony colored skin radiated pure joy. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail and falling mid-back, she looked like a kid at Christmas. Dave had spent the better part of ten years in New York so he was used to the snow. But down here in North Carolina, heavy snowfalls were a rarity. One that happened once in a blue moon. In fact, the snow was so infrequent that when even moderate snow events did occur, it generally snarled traffic and shut down many businesses.
He smiled. Her joy was contagious. Just watching her enjoy the snowfall made him enjoy it through her eyes. He was so entangled in the moment, that it caught him by surprise when she turned around and said, “Why are you still here at the Center, Mr. Heaton? Don't you have family that you need to get home to?” She paused. “You know...to wait out the storm with?”
Dave took a seat behind the customer information desk and began logging into the computer system. “No, I don't have anyone to get home to. I volunteered to stay over to monitor the systems and make sure nothing goes wrong here during the storm.”
“Oh,” she responded.
He kept his head down as he entered information on the keyboard. “What about you? Is that part of the reason why you were trying to rush out of here? In the middle of a blizzard.”
Tabitha turned back to the window. She didn’t want him to see the sad expression that suddenly came over her heart-shaped face. There had been a time when she had had family to go home to, but not now. She answered him simply.“No.”
Dave took in the way the cream-colored sweater played off of her chocolate skin and the way that her jeans gently hugged her thighs. She was petite, but curvy. He estimated that she was only about five feet three inches at the most. But she was pretty, like an ebony princess. He really had meant his statement earlier. She reminded him of a princess. Not only was she beautiful on the outside, but she was also beautiful on the inside. He stopped his pecking on the keyboard, deep in thought. He really admired the way that she freely volunteered her time to the Center's senior citizen and childcare outreach group. And she volunteered to assist with their domestic violence outreach program. He was surprised that a beautiful woman like Tabitha Jenkins didn't have a husband and two or three kids of her own at home waiting for her.
Dave continued with his task on the computer while she continued drinking in the winter wonderland that was unfolding around them.
Then he stopped and motioned to the cardboard box on the desk. “It's almost dinnertime. I had pizza delivered in before the storm kicked in. It's cold now, but you can use the microwave over there to reheat it.” He pointed towards the employees’ lounge. “It's pineapple and beef. Feel free to help yourself.”
Tabitha wrinkled her nose and then turned around and grinned. “Pineapple and beef...my favorite combination.”
Dave smiled in return. There it is again. That contagious grin. He reached into the desk and pulled out plastic plates.
“Pineapple and beef,” she repeated. “I thought I was the only one in all of the world who enjoyed that duo.”
She thought back to college, to when all of her dorm mates had thought she was weird for wanting her portion of their delivery pizza to be pineapple and beef. That was before the days when pineapple and ham was the norm and popular.”
Dave tilted his head to the side and grinned. “Girl, what you talking about? I'm the one who made pineapple on pizza popular. It came straight from the West Coast. I started this trend, back in...”
He paused, and Tabitha broke out in laughter. “Sure, Mr. Heaton. I totally believe that.”
He grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, okay...but it is good, though.”
“Yes, it is.” She took the plates that he offered. “Would you like me to heat you up a slice as well?”
He peered keenly at the monitor for a second. “Um, I'm almost done here.” He paused briefly then added, “Sure, that would be great. I’ll meet you in the lounge in five minutes.”
Tabitha nodded and made her way to the employees’ lounge.
Dave Heaton... He really is a very nice guy, she thought to herself as she watched the pizza rotate in the microwave. She took the first plate out after the oven beeped and replaced it with the second one. Tall...check. Dark...check. Handsome...check. Funny...check. Hard-working...check.
She frowned. Why am I here ticking off Dave Heaton's qualifications? She wrinkled her forehead and grimaced again.
She reached into the microwave and pulled out the second slice just as Dave entered the room.
“Good, it's ready,” he said as he walked over to the mini fridge. “What would you like to drink?” He paused. “We have water, cola, grape juice...”.
“Grape juice would be great.”
He took out two individual-size containers of grape juice and placed them on the coffee table. She followed his lead and positioned the plates of pizza beside the drinks.
He turned to her and pointed towards the 56” flat-screen television. “Would you like to watch TV? I can get the remote.”
“Sure,” she responded.
Dave walked over and opened one of the bins of the decorative bookshelves in the corner of the room. He pulled out the remote and handed it to her.
Tabitha took a seat in a corner of the sofa that sat in front of the coffee table. She clicked the TV on and muted the volume.
“Whaaat?” she exaggerated. “Unbelievable....finally a guy who doesn't hog the remote.”
Dave looked at her, with a feigned wounded expression in his eyes. He said, “Madame, my feelings are hurt...”
Tabitha burst out laughing again. He’s too funny, she thought. He evidently missed his true calling in life... He should’ve been a comedian.
“Okay, Mr. Heaton. I'm sorry,” she chuckled. “Let's compromise. I'll scroll through the listings and we can decide on what to watch...together.”
He nodded in approval and smiled. “Now, that sounds like an idea to me. And by the way, you can call me Dave.” He paused. “You gave me permission earlier to call you Tabitha. It would be a little one-sided if you kept addressing me as Mr. Heaton.”
Tabitha knitted her eyebrows together in contemplation. Was being on a first name basis with Dave Heaton going to feel a little too familiar for her? A little too close. Then she remembered that many of the other people who volunteered and worked at the Center frequently called each other by their first names. Tabitha decided that it would be okay to call him Dave. “All right, then… Dave it is.”
He smiled. “Good.”
They finally decided on watching the all-day Cosby Show marathon. It had been a tie between that and the all-day Twilight Zone marathon being shown on the Science Fiction Channel.
They laughed and enjoyed the onscreen antics of the Huxtable family until 9 PM, Dave seated on one side of the sofa, Tabitha curled into the opposite corner. As the closing credits of the last episode scrolled down the television screen, Dave watched mesmerized, as Tabitha stood, stretched like a lazy kitten, and yawned. Then she gently nipped the crook of her index finger with her perfect, white teeth and innocently fixed him with her beautiful gaze.
“Wow...I can’t even remember the last time I watched TV for that long.”
With any other woman, her movements could have been taken as flirting, but with Tabitha, Dave knew the actions were innocent...that she wasn’t trying to come on to him.
He nodded in agreement. “Yeah, The Cosby Show was one of my little sister's favorite shows when we were growing up...she was convinced that one day she was going to marry Theo.”
Tabitha laughed. “Uh-uh. There's no way that could’ve happened. Theo was my oldest sister, Elaine's man.” She paused, then laughed once more. “At least in her mind he was.”
Tabitha picked up their used plates and plastic cups and placed them in the trash bin. “Well, Dave, it's late. I think I’ll go ahead and retire.”
She turned back around to face him. “There won't be a problem with me sleeping on the sofa in the library will there?”
“No, not a problem at all.” Then he paused. “The sofa in here converts to a bed. Would you rather sleep in this room, instead? It has the TV, you know...”
Tabitha looked at him in disbelief. “Are you kidding me? That sofa in the library is the most comfortable thing I’ve ever slept on. I swear, when I get my new place, I'm taking it with me,” she said jokingly.
Dave grinned and looked at her with a quizzical expression on his face. It had finally clicked. “Is that why you didn't hear Mr. Gatling's announcement today?”
She smiled shyly. Then sighed in resignation. “Yes, Dave. I didn't mean to, but that darn sofa lulled me to sleep.”
“Mm-hm...,” he nodded jokingly. “So it was the sofa's fault, huh?”
Tabitha grabbed a napkin from the coffee table, crumpled it, and playfully tossed it at Dave. “Yes, it was.” She quickly grabbed a second napkin, intent on aiming again, since her first attempt had missed the mark.
Dave reached out and quickly, but gently, grabbed her by the wrists. “Hey, stop that,” he said jokingly. “What am I? Free target practice?”
“Okay Dave, you win,” she laughed and looked up. It was at that moment that their eyes met. They stood there without speaking for several seconds. Tabitha felt as if he were staring into her soul. She swallowed. She could feel her heart start to race. She nervously licked her lips. Then he began to trace a slow circle on her wrist, using the pad of his thumb. Then just as quickly, he abruptly released her from his grip.
He frowned. The laughing, light-heartened tone of moments earlier gone; replaced by a more serious, somber one. “Yeah, I guess it is time to retire,” he said in a serious voice. “I turned on the light in the corridor outside of the library, so you shouldn't have any problems making your way back upstairs. I left blankets on the front desk. Help yourself to as many as you need. Good night, Tabitha.”
Then he turned around and exited the room; leaving her alone.
Tabitha crossed her arms and hugged herself as she stared at the door that he had just walked through. She didn't know what had just happened between her and Dave, but she was sure that something had happened. She rubbed her wrist, where his fingers had just caressed her tender skin just minutes ago. It still tingled.
Maybe it’s not such a good idea for us to be on a first name basis after all, she thought to herself as she exited the lounge on her way to bed.