Sample of Becoming His Heaven
Copyright © 2018 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.
I can’t believe it. It’s the first day of my very first class in college and I’m gonna be late! If I hadn’t let myself get roped into staying up last night doing LaNesha’s hair for her in our dorm room, I wouldn’t have slept through my alarm this morning.
With those thoughts in her mind, eighteen-year-old, Denise Washington, frowned as she ran across the campus of A&T State University towards the building that housed her English 101 class. Huffing and puffing, she actually made it through the doors of the classroom with a minute and a half to spare. She had a preference to sit at the front of the class. Her eagle eyes spotted only one seat left in her desired location. With a quickness, she made a beeline towards the table. One second after her hand landed on the chair, another hand landed on it, too.
A girl with giant hoop earrings and long microbraids frowned at Denise and said, “Sorry, I’m sitting here. You gonna have to go find yourself another seat.”
Denise knew that she’d gotten to the chair first, but she wasn’t the type of person who would fight over something like that. Since she liked having peace in her life, she simply stepped back and said, “Um, okay.”
The second she gave up her seat, the amber-complected brotha who was sitting beside the chair in question surprised Denise by standing and flashing her a smile. “You can have my seat.”
Denise grinned back at him. “Are you sure?”
He nodded his head. “Yep.” Then, without saying another word, he made his way to the back of the lecture room.
Fifty minutes later, Denise’s very first college class had come to an end. She stood up and began making her way toward the back of the room, looking all around for the knight-in-shining-armor who’d let her have his chair. The brotha had moved so quickly to claim a seat at the back that Denise hadn’t had the chance to tell him thank you. But she fully intended to do so now. However, he was nowhere to be found.
She shrugged her shoulders. Guess I’ll just have to thank him Wednesday when we have our next class session.
* * *
Two Days Later:
Denise had no intentions of making the same mistake she’d made in her first day of English 101 — she wasn’t going to be late. With thoughts of punctuality on her mind, she left her dorm room a half hour before her class’ scheduled meeting time and began making the short trek across campus.
There was only a handful of people in the lecture room when she arrived. She grinned because her knight-in-shining-armor was amongst them — he was sitting up front in the very same chair that he’d given up two days ago.
Denise made her way to the front of the room and sat down beside him. She flashed him a smile and stuck out her palm for a handshake. “Hi, I’m Denise. Thanks for letting me have your seat yesterday. I have permanent ringing in one of my ears — it’s called tinnitus. I can hear, but not as well as most people our age. So I try to always sit up front…”
He gave her a grin in return. “Nice to officially meet you, Denise. I’m Michael. Michael Young. It was my pleasure to let you have my chair.”
Michael had a preppy hip-hop style of dress that Denise was really digging. And he was cute. But it wasn’t his looks that really impressed her. It was the way that he talked and the way that he carried himself — like he was a genuinely nice person, like he was going somewhere in life.
And also, there was something about Michael — that she just couldn’t put her finger on — something that told Denise he’d make good friend material. Since she was a college freshman who only knew one other person on campus — her roommate — Denise figured she could use as many friends as she could get just about now.
“Are you from here? From Greensboro I mean?” he asked her.
She shook her head. “Nope. My hometown’s a little under a four-hour drive away. It’s a little place along the coast called Edenton.”
He cracked another smile. “Well, we were practically neighbors then. I grew up down the road from you. Well, not really down the road, but only about forty miles away. In Elizabeth City.”
She grinned. “For real?”
He nodded his head. “Yep.”
Denise learned a lot about Michael in the short fifteen minutes before class started that day. She found out that he wasn’t a recent high school grad like most of the other students in the room probably were. He was twenty-three and had served four years in the military before coming to Greensboro to go to college.
She also discovered that he was actually a junior and the only reason he was in English 101 was that his credit for that class hadn’t successfully transferred from the online university at which he’d taken his other college courses.
Denise hated eating alone. As she and Michael were walking side by side out of the lecture room after the class was over with that day, she turned to him and said, “It’s almost lunchtime. You’re not heading over to the caf are you?”
“Yep. I’m starving. I was about to go grab myself a plate in between classes. You heading that way, too?”
“I drove over here. I can drive you over to the other side of campus and we can eat if you want to.”
Denise smiled. “Okay. I’m down with that.”
He grinned, too. “I hate eating alone. I won’t have to since you’ll be sitting with me.”
She laughed. “That’s the same thing I was thinking, ‘cause I hate eating alone, too.”
* * *
Later on that Evening:
“Girl, who was that hottie you were walking out the caf with today? You know, at lunchtime when I was coming in?”
Sitting on her bed in her dorm room, Denise turned to her roommate and smiled. “Oh, that was just Michael… Well, he said to call him Mike. He’s the guy I told you about yesterday. The one who let me have his seat up front in English class.”
LaNesha giggled. “You didn’t tell me he was fine. I guess the two of you trying to hook up or something.”
Denise had just met LaNesha last week, but the two of them had fallen into a relationship that felt like they’d known each other forever. She playfully rolled her eyes at her new friend and said, “Girl, my mama told me to come to this school and keep my head in my books.” She grinned. “Mike’s cute and all, but ain’t nobody got no time for nothing like that right now. I’m gonna be spending my time chasing A’s in my classes…not no boys.”
“Well, since you don’t want him, you can introduce him to me. Okay?”
Denise shrugged her shoulders. “Sure, LaNesha. I don’t really know him well enough to be introducing him to anybody. But we might just be eating lunch in the caf together again after class on Friday. You’d have to skip Physics — or leave early — but if you show up while we’re there, I can introduce you to him.”
Two days later, Denise introduced LaNesha to Mike — just like she'd said she would do. But the funny thing is, LaNesha ended up not liking Mike in a boyfriend/girlfriend type of way.
As as she and Denise walked back to their dorm room after the lunch the three of them had shared, LaNesha looked over at Denise and started laughing. “He's cute with a body built like a linebacker,” LaNesha said, “but he's such a nerd, Denise. Did you see how excited he got about discussing my calculus homework assignment?”
LaNesha laughed again. “If I was the type of girl with hoe-ish ways, I'd be jockeying to get him to hit it and split it... We'd have us a room at the Howard Johnson's or somewhere similar tonight. But I'm not like that. I might only be eighteen, but I'm looking for a real relationship... Something solid, you know?” She shook her head. “But Mike's not my type. We wouldn't work out at all...”
LaNesha gave her new friend a sly look and added, “But the two of you seemed compatible, though. You should try to get all on that boy, girlfriend. Yeah, he’s five years older than us. But you’re eighteen like me...an adult. That means you’re not jailbait anymore,” she teased.
Denise felt the heat of a blush in her cheeks. Then she frowned. “I told you, girl. I'm here to keep my nose in the books.”
* * *
After she'd climbed into bed that night, Denise stared up at the ceiling in her darkened dormitory room, deep in thought. She liked, Mike. But like she’d told LaNesha, she didn’t want to get caught up in a relationship while she was pursuing her Bachelor’s degree.
“Relationships in college can go wrong,” she whispered under her breath, then grimaced. “Very, very wrong.”
That’s exactly what had happened to her mother, AnnMarie. AnnMarie Washington had been halfway through her freshman year at NC Central University when she met and fell in love with Nathan Carson — Denise’s absentee father. Being in love with Nathan had led to Denise’s mother spending so much time and attention on Nathan that her grades had spiraled out of control. She’d gone from being an A-student to barely passing. Then at the beginning of her sophomore year, she’d realized she was pregnant with Denise. Denise’s dad had dumped her mom when he’d found out about his child and disappeared. Early on, complications in the pregnancy had forced AnnMarie on bedrest. She’d dropped out of college at that point because she’d been too sick to handle her classes. And due to having to provide for her daughter alone, she’d never gone back to finish her education.
Denise frowned. She had no intentions of following in her mother’s footsteps. In fact, AnnMarie had constantly cautioned her oldest child against doing exactly that. From the time Denise had been seven or eight years old, her mother had instilled into her brain that she was not to make the same mistake that she had.
“Nope,” Denise whispered. “I don’t have time for no relationship with nobody right now… Not even a guy who’s as sweet as Mike. I gotta get that piece of paper in my hand before even thinking about considering anything similar.”
* * *
Two Months Later:
The semester was now half the way over with. During that time span, Denise and Mike had made it a habit of sitting together in English 101 and directly afterward, having lunch at the university’s cafe — or somewhere else in town if time permitted.
Denise hadn’t been expecting it, but Mike had become one of her favorite friends. Her, Mike, LaNesha, and LaNesha’s new boyfriend, Jarren, went some of everywhere together. The four of them liked having good, clean fun, so some of their favorite activities centered around just hanging out in Denise and LaNesha’s dorm room doing things like playing cards or video games.
LaNesha and Jarren were a couple, so most people automatically assumed that the same was true for Mike and Denise. It became a given that whenever the four of them went somewhere new or met new people, they’d have to explain that they were just friends. Just like now...
Jason Young — who’d just arrived in Greensboro for a short visit with his brother — looked across the fast food restaurant at Mike and smiled. Then he said, “It was fun hanging out with you and your friends today, Mike. But are you really sure that you and Denise aren’t together? That you’re not feeling her like that?”
A look of contemplation came on Mike’s handsome face. Then he dipped his French fry into the ketchup that he’d squeezed beside his burger. Next he frowned. “Nah, bruh. We’re not together like that. Denise is good people...I like her alot. And she’s a real looker — baby girl got it going on.” He shook his head and sighed, “But you know I can’t make time for having a girlfriend. I’m trying to get into medical school. Because of our upbringing — how mama didn’t care if we learned anything in school or not — I didn’t do too hot once I started college part-time a few years ago. I need to get all A’s from here on out if I want a medical school somewhere to actually let me in.” He paused then added, “Gotta get my GPA somewhere close to 3.5.”
“But other than that, you’d be trying to hook up with Denise… Right?”
Mike saw no reason why he shouldn’t admit it. He nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah. I’d be legit asking her out on some real dates. But I’ll never become a doctor if I start dividing my attention between Denise and trying to get into medical school. I already know that.”
“So you’re keeping her in the friend zone.”
“Yeah. And funny thing is, somehow I know—,” he patted his chest, “—right in here, that me and her gonna be friends for life. I can feel it, bruh.”
A mischievous glint came into Jason’s eye and he chuckled. “Y’all can always be friends with benefits. What about that?”
Mike shook his head. “Nope. Denise is special. I wouldn’t step to her unless I intended on doing it right. I just take comfort in the fact that she and I are gonna be friends forever, little bro. Some relationships are just like that.”
Jason was normally attracted big-time to sweet-mannered, pretty girls like Denise. However, he understood that his brother had a thing for her — even though Mike had said he wasn't gonna act out on it. That knowledge prevented Jason from stepping to Denise in the way he wanted to. Man, he thought to himself, my brother’s missing out on a good thing with that girl. I guess him making his dream of becoming a doctor come true will make up for losing out on that one.
* * *
A year and a half later, Mike was walking up to the podium during the graduation ceremony for NC A&T State University. He was receiving his bachelor’s degree in biology; that victory had been preceded by him getting accepted into medical school in California two months ago — which was contingent upon his final grades in his undergrad classes, of course.
He’d finished strong at A&T, so he’d be starting his new journey in life in less than three months — he was happy about that. His only regret was that he’d be leaving Denise behind.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Mike had begun to hope that once he got accepted into medical school, he could pursue a relationship with Denise. That line of thinking had been annihilated after he’d asked Denise a few months ago why she never went out on dates with anybody — like the rest of her peers did. She’d spilled the beans about what had happened to her mom, and she’d told him that she had no intentions of dating until she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree. After hearing that, Mike had understood that he had no choice but to respect her wishes. Denise wouldn’t be graduating for another two years, and now that he’d become privy of her desires, he felt like it would be wrong to push up on her about starting a long distance relationship with him.
As his plane took off from Piedmont International Airport one bright, sunny day a month later, Mike knew that he’d always view Denise as ‘the one who got away’. He’d be on the west coast for at least the next seven years or so. She’d be on the east coast...two thousand miles away. That was his only regret about his future.
His cell phone was set to airplane mode, but he pulled out the device and began swiping through the photos he had stored on it. He came to his favorite snapshot of him and Denise together. Using his index finger, he slowly traced the profile of her pretty face. Then he whispered, “I’m gonna miss you, girl.”
Ten Years Later:
“Denise, this is Sister Johnson calling. Jamal’s not gonna be able to drive the church bus day after tomorrow...you know, to take everybody who needs a ride back home after service. I'm calling to see whether or not you can step in and take his place. Besides Deacon Black and Charmaine — and Deanna of course — you're the only one who’s got a Class B driver’s license certification. I know I could ask Charmaine to do it, but we had her to do it week before last. Can you pitch in and help out?”
Denise had to hold in the sigh that she wanted to release. She loved her church home, and she loved volunteering to assist wherever she was needed. However, she wasn't exactly looking forward to taking on the responsibility of driving the church bus this upcoming Sabbath day. She'd been going full blast all week and she was looking forward to a couple of hours of ‘me time’ after church — time where she did absolutely nothing at all but relax.
Sister Johnson continued speaking. “Like I said, I hate to impose on you like this, but do you think you could help out?”
Denise moved her cell phone over to her other ear. “Okay, Sister Johnson. I’ve already volunteered to help with the ticket booth for the Gospel concert that’s being held Sunday afternoon. Making it back to Faith Tabernacle on time after driving the bus is gonna be difficult, but I'll do it.”
“Praise God! Praise God! I knew we could count on you, baby. And I know the Lord’s gonna bless you for that big ol’ heart you got. See you in church Sunday.”
After she’d disconnected her phone call with Sister Johnson, Denise grimaced. Now that she’d taken on an additional after-church task, she really would be cutting it close on Sunday — as far as making it to her volunteer post at the Gospel concert was concerned.
Sitting in a massage chair in the downtown spa that Denise owned and operated, Denise’s best friend, China, shook her head and said, “Why didn’t you just tell Sister Johnson no, sweetie? It’s great to be a service to your church and community and all, but you were just telling me a few minutes ago about how you were looking forward to having a couple of hours to yourself after church before you dived into that volunteer gig that First Lady talked you into.”
Denise’s frown deepened. “Yeah, I know. But they needed me, so I said yes. Deanna’s got a baby on the way and she’s been having nausea lately, so it probably would’ve inconvenienced her to drive the bus. Then Deacon Black is almost eighty, so I would’ve felt bad letting him handle it — especially on a rainy day like Sunday’s gonna be…”
China interrupted her friend. “Honey, I’m sure if you wouldn’t have come through, they would’ve found somebody besides you, Deacon Black, or Deanna to handle it.” She shook her head. “I’m telling you, Denise… You need to learn how to say no sometimes. You’re starting to stretch yourself too thin. You’re spending sixty hours or so per week working here at Rejuvenations...which is kinda understandable seeing that you own the place and it’s your bread and butter. Then you jump up to volunteer whenever friends, family, or the church calls on you.” She pointed an accusatory finger at her bestie. “And before you say a word in protest, you know I’m telling the truth.” She sucked her teeth. “I don’t see where you find the time to even sleep.”
Denise let out a breath in a sigh. “Honey, I sleep. I wouldn’t be able to keep going, otherwise. And you know how I feel about everything you’re saying… If God’s blessing me, then I wanna be a blessing to other people. Plus, the Lord never puts more on us than we can bear...more than we can handle.”
“God never puts more on us than we can handle, but sometimes we put more on ourselves…or we allow others to put more on us. That’s where the problem comes in, Denise.”
Denise grimaced. She and China had had this discussion before and it always ended in gridlock — China would insist on Denise not allowing people to talk her into doing things so often and Denise would insist that she could handle it.
Deciding that it would be best to direct the conversation in other directions, Denise skillfully moved the topic of discussion over to the weather.
* * *
Later on that night, after finishing a twelve-hour work shift at her spa, which had been followed by running errands for the sick and shut in at her church, Denise finally walked through the front door of her home and flopped down on her sofa. A quick glance up at the clock on the wall in her living room showed that it was already past ten-thirty. She'd been so busy that she’d missed dinner once again. But she was too tired to even care.
She wanted to drag herself into the kitchen and fix the healthy salad and homemade grilled chicken breast she’d been dreaming of all day — in fact, the fixings were in her fridge. However, she knew that wasn’t going to happen. I think I’ll just add a frozen TV dinner to the snack cakes I ate for lunch and call it a day.
Poor eating habits. Yep, she’d definitely fallen into that wide abyss. Based on her less than healthy food choices over the past year or so — which were a direct result of how busy she'd been — she was surprised that she hadn't put on more than the twelve pounds she’d recently gained.
I’ve gotta somehow find some time to make my way to the gym, she thought to herself.
Yes, she'd had that thought. But she didn't exactly see the act of her making it to the gym coming into fruition. Between her running her thriving business and all of the other things she did to help people, she couldn’t visualize herself carving an hour or two out of her day to hit up the Y.
“But God makes a way when there’s seemingly no way,” she whispered under her breath. “I just have to keep praying on it and I’ll get there.” She grabbed the small love handle that was beginning to grow around her once somewhat slim waist. “I’ll have this gone...it’s only gonna be a matter of time.”
Ten minutes later, she'd just finished nuking her microwavable meal when her phone began ringing.
“What are you doing calling me at almost eleven o'clock, Tosha?”
Denise's younger sister, Tosha, laughed. “I’m calling because I knew you were gonna be up. Now check it out… I have four tickets to the play that Heavenly Christian Comedy Troupe is putting on at The Skyline Room next weekend. I'm going with Rodney, of course. His cousin, Mike, is coming into town next weekend. I figured since the two of you are friends from way back when, you’d be open to snagging the last ticket and going with the three of us over there.”
Denise smiled. “You have tickets to The Skyline Room?”
“Yep. Sure do. I told you I was gonna keep calling 990 AM Gospel Radio every day to enter that contest they were having. They did the drawing for the tickets this afternoon and yours truly won ‘em.”
“Wow. They actually pulled your name in the drawing?”
“I definitely wanna go.”
Tosha chuckled. Then in a sly little voice she said, “I figured you’d say that. Now… Is seeing fine-tail Mike part of the reason why you wanna tag along?”
Denise was quick with a response. “Girl, please. Mike and I have been friends forever — for over a third of my life. Our relationship is strictly platonic and it always will be. We’re not feeling each other like that. I’m sure if something was gonna pop off between the two of us, it would’ve happened by now. Plus, he lives way out there in California...two thousand miles away.”
“People do long-distance relationships all the time, Denise. Well, maybe not all the time, but you know what I mean.”
“I haven’t been living under a rock all my life, I’ve heard of people doing long-distance relationships, sis. But two thousand miles is ludicrous. And like I said, Mike and I are just friends...really good friends, Tosha.”
“Yeah, yeah… Okay. I know all of that already...that y’all are good friends. But I can't help but tell you how every time I hear you mention his name, I think about what a nice couple the two of you would make if you ever hooked up.” She giggled. “Y'all would make some cute little babies together, too.”
Denise's cheeks warmed up in embarrassment from thinking about her and Mike getting together in an intimate fashion. For that reason, she was happy that Tosha wasn't standing there in her kitchen with her. Her sister would’ve had a field day if she’d noticed her blushing.
Denise took a deep breath then said, “Enough of all that foolishness, Tosha. I’m just glad that it’s China’s turn to close down the spa this upcoming Saturday so that I can look forward to going to The Skyline Room. If she wasn’t closing, I wouldn’t be able to go. I’m not even gonna ask what play we’re going to go see, because I know it’s gonna be good. I’ll definitely be meeting y’all there.”
“Nope.” Tosha giggled. “I already knew you were gonna be coming, so I told Rodney to tell Mike that you were gonna be his unofficial date. You’re not driving yourself...Mike’s gonna swing by and pick you up. Be ready next Saturday evening at six-thirty. The four of us are going out to a late dinner first. Then we’re going to see the play.”
Denise grimaced. “I can’t do dinner. China might be shutting things down for me over at Rejuvenations next Saturday, but I’m not leaving there until six. I always try to make sure that at least three of us are working the floor at all times...you know that.”
“Already got you covered, sis. I called Rhonda and asked her if she could take your place. Her, China, and Keisha would make up your trio. You have no reason to not cooperate with me on this.”
Denise suddenly turned her frown into a smile. “I see you got everything planned out. But what if I would’ve said no, Tosha?”
Tosha chuckled again. “Yeah, right… I know you, sis. You saying no to going out to The Skyline Room — one of your favorite places outside of church — that’ll be the day.”
Denise finalized her call with her sister, then she tiredly scooped up her TV dinner and made her way into her living room to eat it. She was looking forward to the play the following weekend, but she wasn’t looking forward to how tired she knew she was going to be when she attended it. Her day on the upcoming Saturday was going to start at 5am. She was gonna be waking up that early because that was going to be the only time she had to make the muffins she'd promised the civic group at her church — they were having their semi-annual bake sale for charity.
Everyone seemed to adore Denise’s homemade cranberry orange muffins, so she hadn't said no when her first lady had asked for four dozen of them.
She let out a sigh as she began eating her generic-tasting, boring dinner. They need those muffins, Lord. I’m glad I can be of service. I’ll be lucky if I get in four hours of sleep that day. But that’ll be alright...I can handle it.
She was so tired that night from her long, exhausting day that she dozed off right there on her sofa, without even finishing her meal. When she finally woke up, it was a little past five-thirty the following morning. As sunlight began to filter into her living room, she caught a glimpse of her half-eaten TV dinner from the previous evening and frowned. This hadn’t been the first time she’d inadvertently fallen asleep in her daytime clothes without finishing her dinner...and she was sure it wouldn’t be the last.
She grimaced. I guess that just comes with the territory when you’re a busy person like myself. Then she sighed. But it’s all good though.
An hour later, she was showered and dressed in a fresh change of clothes. She normally skipped breakfast, but since she’d only half eaten her dinner the previous day, she was hungry. The desire to eat led her to one of the only two diners in her quaint little town — Jake’s Place.
Jake’s Place generally ran a special of the day for each meal that they served. This particular Saturday morning, the special was banana nut waffles.
Denise was trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. She understood that waffles weren't exactly the best choice as far as being healthy was concerned, but she had a fondness for the fluffy Belgian style squares of golden goodness that Jake's Place served.
As she ate her waffles and eggs, she couldn’t help but think about how this particular breakfast was one of her old friend Mike’s favorites. Then she got to thinking about some of the moments that she and Mike had shared during the two years that they’d been enrolled at the same college.
The fact that he's coming into town next week must be the reason why he's on my mind right now. She was surprised that he hadn’t told her about his upcoming visit himself. He’d texted her last week wishing her a happy birthday, but he hadn’t mentioned anything about visiting his family that lived there in Edenton.
It’ll be good to see his face around the place for awhile, she told herself.
“I hate eating alone. Now I won’t have to since you’ll be sitting with me,” a masculine voice said from behind her.
Denise’s eyes lit up when she heard that. Without turning around, she knew who the voice belonged to. It was the very same phrase that she’d said that day over ten years ago on the campus of NCA&T when she and Mike had first started eating lunch together every weekday.
He stepped into her line of vision, and Denise stood up and gave him a hug. Then she pulled back and gave him a playful little punch in the chest. “Why was I the last to hear about you coming into town, Michael Young?” she kidded. She placed a playful look of hurt in her eyes. “I thought we were tighter than that.”
Understanding immediately dawned for Mike. “I told Rodney not to tell your sister that I was gonna be the person using that fourth ticket to The Skyline Room. I guess he told her and then she told you. My plan was to surprise you this morning… You know, about me being in town. I was gonna come in here and order breakfast. Then I was gonna Facetime you while I was eating and ask you where did you think I was at.” He grinned. “I guess my surprise was ruined on all fronts… Huh?”
Denise couldn’t help but giggle. “Um, you really should’ve known better, Mike. Each and every time you tried to surprise me with anything when we were back in college, it turned out all wrong. You had that pizza joint around the corner to deliver me my favorite pizza on my birthday my freshman year… They took it to the wrong dorm room.” She snickered. “Then when that didn’t work out, you brought all those cupcakes to class the next day to try again. But that was the one day I didn’t go to class because I’d overslept.”
He laughed, too. “Yeah. Guess I should’ve known better.” He held out his arms in a ta-da type of gesture. “Well… Surprise, I’m here.”
She grinned. “Yes, you are. And it’s good to see you, my friend. How long are you hanging around this time?”
Mike hadn’t told any of his friends or family on the east coast yet, but he’d given up his position in the ER department of Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California a month ago. He’d quietly had all his things shipped to a storage facility located about a half-hour drive away from the diner that he and Denise were now standing in. He'd missed having family around for ten long years. He was coming home…coming home to stay.
His eyes met hers. “I’m gonna be around for a while, Denise. A looong while. I’m actually here for good.”
She laughed. She knew there was no way he could be serious. “Quit kidding, Michael Young. You here in Edenton for a week this time or two?”
“I'm renting a place from my brother over at Tranquility Cove Cabins...you know, until I can locate a more permanent place of residence. I don't need a lot in a house — I’m a minimalistic type of brotha. But there are certain things that I'm hoping my home has. I checked out some real estate places online—,” he shrugged his shoulders, “—but I haven't found anything that's caught my eye just yet. I'm probably gonna have to stop trying to do it on my own. I’m probably gonna have to bite the bullet and get a real estate agent. Those online websites can't do but so much for somebody who's as particular as myself.”
Denise realized at that point that her friend was telling the truth. He's actually moving back to North Carolina… He's moving back home.
When she still hadn't said anything, Mike chuckled. “You are gonna be okay with seeing this ugly mug of mine around town, aren't you, Dee? I know Edenton’s not but so big, so we're gonna be running into each other from time to time…” He tagged on, “...probably a little more often than from time to time.”
She couldn't help but give him a friendly, heartfelt hug, from which she pulled back giggling. “Boy, please. It'll be great having you around, Mike.”
He grinned. “Good.” Then he rubbed his hands together in anticipation and said, “I’m gonna go order what you’re having real quick. Then we can sit down and celebrate me finally being back where I belong.”
* * *
Forty-five Minutes Later:
“Lord, have mercy, Denise. You running all up in here fifteen minutes late… You're never ever late. And you have a big ol' Kool-Aid grin on your face. What's done happened, girl? You meet a man or something?” Denise's bestie, China, giggled after she'd said all of that.
Denise sucked her teeth. “Nah, honey. You know there's only a handful of eligible men running around here and I'm not interested in any of them. Plus, I'm not really looking. If God wants to send me a Boaz, I'm sure he will… In His time and in His way. But I did run into an old friend of mine. That's why I have this smile on my face. And that's also why I'm late. The two of us were over at Jake's diner having breakfast and time got away from us. We were celebrating him being back into town.”
“Him?” China teased. “So I see it was a guy.”
“Yeah, Little Miss Nosy-Bot...it was definitely a person of the male persuasion. And before you get all the wrong ideas, it was only Mike.”
“Oh. It was only Mike,” China mimicked. “As in hot, handsome, charming Dr. Mike I’m assuming,” she laughed. “Honey, if that brotha didn’t live half the way ‘round the durn world, I’d be all on that.”
Smiling, Denise shook her head at her bestie. “No, you wouldn’t, China Powell. You just finished telling me yesterday that you think Shameek’s on the verge of proposing to you and that you’re gonna say yes...if and when he does.”
China giggled. “Oh, yeah. I temporarily forgot about all that.”
Denise knew her girl was head over heels in love with Shameek Overton, so she laughed, too. Then using a tone full of skepticism, she added, “You temporarily forgot... yeah, sure… I totally believe that. After all, you only talk about him off and on for half the day.”
China lifted her lips in a sheepish little grin. “Yeah, I love me some Shameek. Mike’s cute and all. But he can’t hold a candle to my main squeeze.”
Denise laughed again. “Yeah. I thought that was just about how you were really seeing it.”
“But for real though, what’s Mike doing in town? I thought he only came around once a year. He came visiting two months ago when his brother’s wife had her baby… So why is he here now?”
Denise paused for a moment then said, “He’s actually moving back to North Carolina. He’s living in one of his brother’s vacation rental cabins right now...you know, until he can find a house to buy that he really likes.”
Stop kidding, Denise.” China laughed. “You’re a good one, honey… You almost had me believing you.”
“You should believe me, China. Because it’s the truth. Mike’s moving back home.”
China finally realized that her girl was being dead serious. Since she knew Denise had had a crush on Mike back in the day, using a guarded tone of voice, she asked, “How do you feel about that? About him relocating here to Edenton?”
“I’m happy for him.” Denise shrugged her shoulders. “He’s my friend and I know he’s been missing home for a long time... How else am I supposed to feel about his dream coming true?”
With a guarded expression on her face, China asked, “Um, what about that thing you used to have for him back in the day? You know, the crush back in college? Are you interested in acting on that now that he’s gonna be around?”
Denise sucked her teeth. “Shoot, girl. I have no intentions at all of acting out on that little crush I used to have on Mike. The two of us are friends. That's all there is to it. And he's a good friend, too. I can count on Mike to be there for me — that's always been the case for us. Trying to strike up a boyfriend/girlfriend type of relationship with him would ruin all of that.” She shook her head. “I don't wanna risk losing his friendship if we give a relationship a try and things don’t work out.”
Denise paused for but a moment then added, “Plus, who's to say that he's interested in me like that anyway.” She began walking towards the back of the salon. “I don't have anything else to say about any of that. Let's get to work. We have a long day ahead of us.”
China had plenty more that she wanted to say on the subject. However, she knew her bestie well enough to know that it was time to leave the discussion on Mike alone. Well, she told herself, I guess I have to creep up on the conversation with my girl at another time. Denise is good people and I love her like a sister. She deserves to have a decent man in her life. I've seen her and Mike together. I definitely think there's some type of spark there. In fact, I know there is.
* * *
Denise had had back-to-back clients throughout her workday, so she hadn’t had time to really give Mike being in town again too much more thought. The second she locked the door of Rejuvenations and started her fifteen minute drive home, that all changed. Her brain refused to not think about her handsome doctor-friend.
That California sunshine sure has been good to Mike over the years. He’s looking way past fine.
She shook her head to dispel her errant musings on her friend’s good looks. She pursed her lips together in dissatisfaction. Mike has given me no indication at all that he’s feeling me in that way. I better pull the reins back in on what I’m thinking before I do or say something to embarrass myself...or get myself into trouble. Just like I told China back at the shop… Mike and I are just friends. End of story.