Sample of Grace Through the Fire
Copyright © 2017 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.
Thirty-year old LaShonda Riverton listened to Pastor Chilton’s final comments before he released the congregants of God’s Mercy Church. She smiled to herself. The service had been wonderful that day and she indeed had been blessed by the good reverend’s words.
It only took her ten minutes to greet the other parishioners in the congregation and make her way out the front door. Just as she was about to step into her car, she heard someone call her name. She turned around. It was her mother’s best friend, Beverly Conley.
Beverly pulled LaShonda into a hug. It was much like the hugs she’d been giving LaShonda ever since she’d been a little girl.
LaShonda grinned affectionately. “Hi, Miss Bev. How’s Bishop Harper doing this week?”
Bev smiled softly and nodded her head. Her father, Bishop Harper, had used to be the pastor at God’s Mercy. In fact he was the founder of the church. He’d turned the reins of the pulpit over to his second in command after he’d turned seventy-five. That had been ten years ago. He’d recently had a stroke and hadn’t been able to get out anymore like he’d used to.
Bev grinned again. “Bishop’s doing well, all things considered.”
LaShonda nodded her head. “That’s certainly good to hear, Miss Bev. Mama should be back in town next week, if that’s what you stopped me to ask about.”
Bev shook her head and smiled. “Oh, I know when your mother’s coming back to Greensboro.”
From the tone of the older woman’s voice, LaShonda groaned inwardly. In many ways, Beverly Conley was like a second mother to her. LaShonda knew when something was up with the kind, middle-aged woman — and she could certainly smell that something was in the air at that moment.
LaShonda sighed, figuring she’d might as well jump right into it. Her eyes met Bev’s. She gave her a tiny smile. “Is there something else you needed to speak to me about, Miss Bev?”
Beverly nodded her head. “Why yes it is, babydoll.” She paused for the briefest of moments. “You still have that apartment for rent in your house don’t you?”
LaShonda grinned. She’d bought a large, craftsman-style home in downtown Greensboro nine months earlier. She’d gotten the home at a steal. It had been converted to a duplex and she’d been hoping to rent out the left-hand side of her home for the last month or so.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t find a renter — there were plenty of people who’d wanted to live in the nice, recently renovated Craftsman. It was finding a person who was willing to actually pay the rent on a regular basis that was the problem. She’d had to get a court order to evict her last tenant, after the girl had refused to pay her rent for three months straight.
LaShonda nodded her head. “Yes, the apartment’s still available. You know someone reliable who wants it?”
Bev grinned. “I actually do. My nephew, Jonathan, is moving down here to Greensboro from Brooklyn. He’s looking for a place in the heart of the city to live. When he told me about wanting to move, you popped right up in my mind.”
LaShonda nodded her head.
Bev continued. “He’s a financial adviser up there in New York and he makes really good money at it — at least from my understanding — so you won’t have any problems getting paid.”
She paused for a moment then added, “Because of the nature of his job, he can work from pretty much anywhere in the world—,” her eyes met LaShonda’s, “—but he likes it down here in Greensboro. You know...the southern hospitality and all.”
LaShonda frowned. She remembered meeting Bev’s nephew, Jonathan, only one time. She’d been about twelve years old when she’d met him. She was pretty much sure he’d been seventeen or eighteen. He’d come down South to spend two weeks with Miss Bev. LaShonda had had a massive crush on him. He’d been tall, handsome, and muscular, with a gorgeous smile — but he rarely used it. He, of course, hadn’t paid her too much attention, since she she’d been so young.
Then she grinned, remembering how Jonathan had stopped some boys in her neighbor from picking on her. Back then, a lot of guys had liked picking on girls if they didn’t have that video-hoochie look going on — even as preteens.
LaShonda frowned. With her cocoa-colored skin and press-n-curl, she hadn’t looked anything like a video-girl.
With the memory fresh in her mind, she sighed. Jonathan had pretty much told a group of guys on her street — who were particularly evil to her — that they’d have him to deal with if they gave her anymore trouble. He’d said he didn’t care if he had to come down from New York to tussle. The guys had apparently believed him, because she’d had no more problems from them from that day forward.
LaShonda really appreciated Jonathan for that. She flashed Beverly a smile. “Feel free to give Jonathan my cell number, Ms. Bev. I’d be happy to rent the unit to him if he wants it.”
Bev gave her a tight hug. “Thank you, babydoll. I’ll call and give him your number today.”
Five minutes later, after LaShonda had pulled out of the church’s parking lot, Bev settled herself into her car and dialed her best friend’s number. The phone was answered on the very first ring.
Bev smiled. “It’s me, Pamela, and it’s all done.”
Pamela Riverton grinned on the other end. “She’s offering Jonathan the apartment?”
Bev nodded her head. “Yes she is. Now it’s time for them to make the love connection. We both already know they’re perfect for one another, but they have to take that second step.”
Pamela Riverton couldn’t take the smile off her face. She’d never let her daughter know, of course, that she was meddling in her love life; but at twenty-nine, LaShonda was well past the age where she should’ve gotten married — at least in her mother’s eyes. Pamela knew that Jonathan was perfect for her daughter — God had already showed that to her in a dream. She was only trying to help things along.
* * *
LaShonda smiled as she merged onto the interstate. Her thoughts settled on her new home — it was relatively large, and in a somewhat desirable neighborhood of downtown Greensboro. When her realtor had shown her the revitalized Craftsman six months ago, she’d been pleased to discover that it had recently been converted to a duplex. Having a tenant to share her mortgage payment would go a long ways towards helping her grow her savings account — which was already quite sizable, considering that she was only thirty years old and had earned all the money on her own.
Then she frowned. She had all the trappings of a modern, successful, young Black woman — great home, nice car, fabulous friends, and now an amazing job. But, she didn’t have a guy in her world to share it all with. In her estimation, that was the only thing that was missing from her living a fairy tale existence.
Then she thought about her ex-fiancée, Calvin, and their broken engagement. She shook her head. Maybe she didn’t need a man in her life.
She laughed humorlessly to herself. Maybe I should get a dog instead for companionship and call it a day.
She smiled at that prospect. She nodded her head. Yeah, a cute little chihuahua or teacup poodle would be perfect. In her eyes, her pet would give her unconditional love, and never disappoint.
Yes, I’m gonna definitely look into doing that — getting a pet that is.
* * *
The Following Morning:
“Ugggggh, I absolutely detest Monday mornings,” LaShonda said to her friend and business partner, Lexi, as she walked through the back door of Blessed Security and into the two-story industrial-style building.
Sitting at her desk, Lexi looked over at her girl and smiled. Then she took a sip from her mug of specialty-brew Kenyan coffee. “I told your butt, Shonda...you need to start opening your day with a couple cups of this right here.” She tapped on the side of her steaming hot mug of Joe. “Your Mondays would be just fine if you did that.” She chuckled. “Shoot, all of my weekdays are just fine.”
Shonda shook her head. “Um, honey. I think all of your days are ‘just fine’ because you have that wonderful husband of yours that you wake up to. I’d be smiling from ear to ear — just like you — if I had an Alonzo Kirby in my life.”
Lexi and Alonzo have been married for three years, but she was very much in love with her man and he still made her feel like a newlywed most of the time. Therefore she couldn’t help but smile and say, “I do agree that every woman should have a man like my husband in their life.” Then she closed her eyes and lifted her hand up towards heaven. “It’s the grace of God that I have Alonzo.” She looked over at Shonda and frowned. “We had some pretty big obstacles standing in the way of us getting together...you know?”
Shonda hadn’t known Lexi back when she and her husband had been courting, but she’d heard the stories. So, she gave her girl a smile and said, “God is good like that and you have indeed been blessed.”
“You know he’s waiting to bless you, too...don’t you, honey? In fact, I think you’d hit it off with my cousin, Tyrell. He’s moving to Greensboro in August. He’s about to start college here at A&T.”
Shonda took a seat at her own desk. She gave Lexi a look full of skepticism. “You do remember that I’ll be turning thirty-one this year, right?”
Lexi sucked her teeth and then smiled. “Of course I remember that, Shonda — the big three-o party we threw for you last month was all fire. But my cousin spent six years in the military — he went there right after graduating from high school. So he’s not a baby, he’s twenty-five.”
“Twenty-five is still a baby in my eyes, boo. I might want a man, but I’m not desperate.” At least not yet, she thought to herself. “I’m not about to rob the cradle.” She sighed. “Plus, most twenty-five year old guys I know are still a little on the immature side.” She shook her head. “I was reading an article the other day and it said that at twenty-five, some men’s brains still haven’t fully developed.”
“For real, Shonda?” Lexi asked in disbelief.
“Yep. I was shocked when I read about that, too — and by the way, it was an NPR article, so it was a very reputable source. I really couldn’t believe it, so I went online to do some more checking.” She sighed. “Lo and behold, I found another four websites that were saying the exact same thing.” She nodded her head. “So yeah...I can do without the drama that dating a twenty-five year old can bring.” She smiled at that point. “So thanks, but no thanks.”
“Well, there’s this other guy—”
“Now you’re starting to sound just as bad as Ms. Bev and my mama. Those two—”
Lexi held up her hand. “Alright, alright...say no more.” She giggled. “I completely understand. Your mama and your honorary auntie really need to win some sort of award for the number of men they’ve tried to set you up with. I’m sure they’ve broken some record somewhere. They’re off the chain.”
“Yeah, they both should get a gold medal alright.” Shonda frowned. “Although I do have to admit that for the last four or five months, they’ve both laid off of me somewhat.”
Lexi tilted her head to the side deep in contemplation. “Yeah, they have...haven’t they?”
“Mm-hm. I should be happy about all that...but, girl, it kinda makes me a little bit nervous.” She let out a breath on a sigh. “Kinda makes me feel like they’re up to something.”
Lexi laughed. “Your mom and your auntie are so sweet, Shonda. I can’t imagine either of them being up to anything remotely shady against...” She paused mid-sentence and asked, “What’s that cute little name they both call you again?” Then immediately answering her own question, she giggled and added, “Oh yeah...tookie-bear. Now like I was saying, I can’t imagine either of them doing anything but showing love for their tookie-bear.”
Lexi shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe they just finally decided to honor your frequent, but nice, requests that they stop trying to hook you up. But you really can’t blame them for trying to help out. They love you girl — just like I do. They just wanna see you happy.”
Shonda, of course, wanted to see herself happy, too. She really wanted a husband, but it just seemed like that wasn’t going to happen for her. At least not anytime soon. Husband or not, she’d resolved to take the advice that her pastor had given to all the single adult parishioners in his congregation. And that advice was to work on making themselves the best people they could be in preparation for their Mr. or Mrs. Right coming along.
Shonda sighed. “That’s enough on all of that, Lexi. We have a long day ahead of us. All of the online orders from over the weekend need to be shipped out and Juanita called and told me she’s sick...she thinks she has the flu or that bug that’s been going around the city. It’s gonna be just you and me for today.”
"Alright, honey. I guess the next couple of days are gonna be like it was back when we decided to combine our resources and open this business together two years ago — long and hectic.”
Shonda nodded her head. "Yep, I’m afraid so.” Then she lifted her lips in a tiny smile. “But you and I are pros at getting our work groove on, so we got at least one blessing in our favor.”
Lexi grinned and gave Shonda a high-five. “Amen to that, girl.”
* * *
By the time she made it home that afternoon, Shonda was tired. She and Lexi sold home security components and security systems to people all throughout the United States. They’d had to box up and ship a total of a hundred and ninety-three orders that particular day. She was happy that business was booming — because that meant that she and Lexi were getting paid — but without Juanita helping them that particular day, the work flow had been brutal.
Right after she’d popped her salmon fillet into the oven to bake, her cell phone began ringing. A quick look at the device showed a number with an out-of-town area code that she wasn’t familiar with. She was tired, so her first instinct was to let it go to voicemail. Then at the last minute, she changed her mind and answered it.
“Hello,” she said into her phone.
“Hi, this is Jonathan Harper — Beverly Conley’s nephew — I’m hoping that I’ve reached her goddaughter, LaShonda.”
Oh, he’s calling pretty quick. He must really be interested. Since she really wanted to rent the other half of her duplex, she got excited. “Oh, yes, Jonathan. Yes, yes. This is LaShonda. Ms. Bev told me to expect your call this week. You’re calling about the rental...right? I can guarantee you that it’s nice. I have pics that I can text you and everything. It has beautiful, big bay windows downstairs. Carved archways and heavy, original crown moldings. The hardwood floors are to die for — they're the gorgeous wide planks, not the narrow ones. In fact, my real estate agent confirmed to me that they’re original...they were in the house when it was built almost a century ago.” She quickly shook her head. “But don’t worry about it being a hundred years old...yeah, it’s an older home, but it’s been a hundred percent renovated. It feels like it’s brand new.”
Then she frowned. Lord, I was just rambling on and on. I bet he thinks I’m desperate to rent my place out. She shook her head once more. Well, I kinda sorta am desperate for a reliable renter, but I shouldn’t be up in here allowing myself to come off sounding like I’m thirsty..that’s embarrassing.
Taking advantage of the lull in her conversation, he finally said, “I’ll take your word for it. Plus, my Aunt Bev said it’s nice, so I’ll believe both you and her.” Then he added, “I’m actually flying into town tomorrow. I know it’s short notice, but do you think I could check it out then?”
Without hesitation, she replied, “Tomorrow will be just fine. Unfortunately, I won’t be clocking out of work until six or six thirty. Will meeting me at the duplex at seven be okay with you?”
“Yep. Seven o’clock tomorrow is perfectly okay with me.”
They wrapped up their pleasant little conversation shortly after that last comment. After Shonda had disconnected their call, she couldn’t help but to think to herself that she liked the deep timbered masculine tone of Jonathan’s voice. Then she shook her head. What Mama Bev’s nephew’s voice sounds like is no concern of mine. We might possibly be about to share a home together, but it’s not like he’s coming here to wife me up or anything. He’s gonna have his very own front door entrance to the left half of this house, and I’m gonna have my entrance to the right half. If he rents the place, we’re probably not even gonna be running into each other. From what I heard from Ms. Bev, her nephew’s a pretty busy brotha who likes to keep to himself. I’m pretty busy, too. She brought her eyebrows together in a slight frown. Plus, he didn’t even acknowledge that we’d met each other all those years ago. Yeah we weren’t friends or anything — and we were only on a ‘hi and bye’ type of level — but he was just now talking to me like I was a stranger from off of the street. Like we hadn’t ever met each other at all. Like he hadn’t stood up to those bullies for me and had a profound effect on my teen years.
With those very convincing thoughts on the status of their relationship in her mind, LaShonda went about the business of getting her dinner on the table. She pushed all thoughts of Jonathan Harper out of her brain.
After she’d sat down to enjoy the fruits of her culinary efforts, she blessed her food. Yes she was thankful that God had provided dinner for her that day, but she couldn’t help but think to herself that she was getting tired of eating the meals that her heavenly father had blessed her with alone. Lord, I’m lonely...being by myself is getting old.
“Shonda...girl, you sure are working real fast today.” Lexi laughed at her own little statement then continued speaking. “You gonna make me think you got a hot date or something this evening that you haven’t told me about.”
Shonda looked across the staging area where she and Lexi were boxing up orders. She shook her head and smiled. “Boo, you know your butt would’ve been one of the first people I told if I had a hot date for this evening. I’m meeting with a potential tenant for my duplex after work, and I don’t wanna be late. That’s why I got a little extra pep in my step today.”
“Potential tenant you say?” Lexi giggled. “This tenant must be of the male persuasion, and he must be really cute. You’re over there looking all excited with a dreamy expression in your eyes.”
Lexi pointed at the box that Shonda had just completed and said, “You normally get the packaging tape just right on the first try when you’re packing orders. You had to have a do-over with that box right there...it’s looking a little beat up. Something’s on your mind, and whatever this something is...well, it’s gotten you off your A-game.” She lifted her lips in a tiny smile. “For some reason, I think it’s this new tenant you’re talking about who’s got your mind preoccupied.”
Shonda shook her head. “It’s not even like that, honey. I have no idea what Jonathan Harper looks like — I haven’t seen him in almost two decades. I’m just excited about the prospect of possibly getting my place rented out, that’s all.”
Lexi’s eyes lit up. “Oh, so it is a guy. And not only is it a guy, but it’s someone you know.”
Shonda sighed. “I don’t really know Jonathan Harper. He’s Ms. Bev’s nephew. I met him a long time ago when he came to visit her for a couple of weeks one summer. We were both kids and we didn’t become friends or anything at all. He barely mumbled ‘hi and bye’ to me back then.” Shonda shook her head. “And before you say anything, I don’t even know what the brotha looks like nowadays. So I’m definitely not crushing on him.”
An ’mm-hm’ look of doubt came into Lexi’s eyes and she asked, “But I bet you thought he looked good back in the day, didn’t you?”
Shonda sucked her teeth. “Girl, please. He was seventeen or eighteen that one summer I saw him. I was around twelve. I had more pressing things — like my Barbie dolls — on my mind. Not Ms. Bev’s almost fully grown nephew.”
Lexi smiled. “Alright, honey. If you insist on telling it like that, then I’ll just leave it alone and go with what you’re saying. But get a quick snapshot of him when he’s not looking. I’m curious and wanna see what he looks like.” She winked her eye. “Plus, you might just want to have a pic of him in your phone for potential mate research purposes. You know...to make sure his smile is just right or that he’s not cross-eyed on the sly or something.”
Shonda grinned, too, at that point. “You’re a certifiable mess, Lexi Bullock Kirby. Good thing I like you, or else I’d be kicking you to the curb and telling you that we can’t be friends or business partners anymore,” she kidded.
Lexi laughed. “Just take the picture, boo. Like I said, I’m curious. I wanna see what this man who’s about to share a house with my bestie looks like.”
“You ain’t curious, honey...you’re nosy. N-O-S-Y...nosy.”
Lexi smiled. Then she winked her eye. “Yep. And I’m not too proud to admit it either. Being nosy is a good thing...just as long as it’s not taken too far. And I never take it too far.” She shook her head. “Don’t nobody want anybody all the way up in their business. And I can respect that. I just wanna know what this Jonathan looks like...you know, in case I have to send either my police detective husband or one of my brothers looking for him.”
Lexi’s eyes met Shonda’s. Then Lexi added, “He’s Ms. Bev’s nephew and all, but are you sure you should be meeting him at your place by yourself? You said he’s practically a stranger. That you only met him that one time.”
Shonda felt blessed to have a friend who genuinely cared about her safety. She smiled. “Yeah. Imma be fine. You know I have one of the best residential security alarm systems on the market installed at my house. It’s the very same one that you and Alonzo have at your place. It records video and has an emergency mode. It’s top of the line.”
Lexi nodded her head. “Okay, hun. I guess I’ll just leave it at that.” Then she looked up at the wall. “It’s almost six-thirty. Since you have to meet this Jonathan person at seven, you’d better go ahead and bounce.” She waved her hand across the table where she was working. “I can finish up in here.”
“You sure, Lexi?”
“Yep. I’m good. Go already, boo.”
* * *
A Half-Hour Later:
Shonda pulled into her driveway at exactly six fifty-eight and frowned. She was pretty much sure that her company had arrived. Not because of the rental car that was now sitting right beside hers, but because of the brotha who was on her front porch with a screwdriver and hammer in hand.
She cut her engine and stepped out of her Lexus. With him standing on her porch, and with her still in the driveway, their eyes met. Lord, he is fine, she couldn’t help but think to herself. Just as cute as he was all those years ago, but more mature-looking...more manly.
She felt like fanning herself with her hand, but caught herself at the last second.
Jonathan placed his hammer on top of his toolbox and then flashed his aunt’s goddaughter a bright smile. “Hi, Shonda. It’s been a long time,” he said in that deep-toned voice that she’d admired over the phone the previous evening. “I hope you don’t mind that I fixed this porch post for you. Aunt Bev told me when I got into town this morning that you’d been looking into finding someone to handle it, but the prices you were being quoted were through the roof.” He wiped his hands on the shop rag that he pulled out of his jeans’ pocket. “I’m pretty good at repairing things, so I borrowed Uncle Robert’s toolbox and took care of it for you for free.”
He winked his eye at her at that point and chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m not trying to sway your decision to rent me the place by doing this. I just wanted to be helpful and I love doing home repair work. In fact, my very first summer job back when I was in high school involved me helping my grandfather build houses. I even have an apprenticeship certificate from the National Association of Home Builders.”
Shonda took a brief look at what he’d done. The work that he’d performed appeared to be of professional quality. Jonathan Harper had just saved her six or seven hundred bucks.
He flashed her a smile. “And I’d like to apologize for being so offstandish last night when we talked...for coming off like we hadn’t ever met before. After all, through Aunt Bev, we’re practically almost family.” Then he frowned. “I know it’s not a real excuse for my behavior, but there was a fire at my condo yesterday and I lost most of my belongings.” Then his grin reappeared. “But the good thing is, God allowed everybody in my building to make it out with their lives. So I can’t really complain.”
A look of compassion immediately appeared on Shonda’s face. “I’m so sorry to hear that, Jonathan.” She nodded her head. “Of course your apology is accepted. I hope your insurance policy replaces everything you lost — even though I know some things just aren’t replaceable. We had a fire at my house when I was a teenager, and I had a music box that my grandmother had given to me for Christmas when I was little. I lost that in the fire. I was never able to find another one...even though my mom and I looked and looked.”
She began humming the tune to Peace Be Still. She smiled as a look of reminiscence came into her deep brown eyes. “That was the song that my music box used to play. I was fourteen when we had the fire. I always said that I’d keep that music box as a keepsake and maybe even pass it down to my own little girl when she got to be old enough.”
“So you’re a parent? Aunt Bev never mentioned anything about you having a baby in the conversations we’ve had over the years.”
Shonda let out a little laugh. “Oh, you don’t have to worry about dealing with noise from kids if you decide to rent the other half of my duplex, Jonathan. I don’t have any — at least not yet. I was talking about my future kids.”
He smiled. “I love children. It wouldn’t have been a problem at all if you’d had some.”
For some odd reason, Shonda liked hearing him say that he liked having kids around. It wasn’t that she intended on having babies anytime soon — seeing that she wasn’t married — but she loved kids.
Then she immediately thought to herself: Whether or not he loves kids is really none of my business. She quickly decided to change the subject. She pointed at the porch post. “Thank you for repairing that. I really do appreciate it and you did an excellent job.” Then her eyes met his. “If you’re ready, I’d love to go ahead and show you the inside of the house.”
He grinned. “Yep. I’m ready.”
When Shonda finished giving Jonathan a tour of the half of her duplex that she was renting, he had the same smile on his face that he’d been wearing when they’d first started the tour. "This is a great house, Shonda. I can actually see myself being happy living here for a while. I’m very interested in signing the lease...that is if you’re still interested in renting to me.” He winked his eye. “I’ll even pay for a full-year rental in advance if that keeps you from giving it to one of my competitors. I’m sure you have lots of people interested in your property. It’s in a great part of town, and like I said, the house is beautiful.”
His smile widened. “I know this is gonna sound crazy, but it kinda reminds me of the inside of the brownstones in Brooklyn that I’m used to. I feel like I’d have a little part of back home down here in the South with me.”
The second he said that he’d be paying a full twelve months worth of rent, he’d totally lost Shonda. Everything after that little statement became one huge blur for her.
“Um, did you hear me, Shonda?”
A look of embarrassment washed across her features. “I’m sorry, Jonathan. What were you saying?”
He grinned. “I was asking if I could sign the papers today. I’d like to rent it.”
She beamed right back. “Yes. I have the rental agreement in my apartment. Come in and have a seat. I’ll get it for you.”
The second they stepped foot into Shonda’s tastefully decorated space, the delicious aroma of a home-cooked meal hit both of their nostrils.
“Wow, it smells as good in here as it did at my Aunt Bev’s place when I made it to her house this morning.” He patted his taut stomach and chuckled. “Aunt Bev had everything laid out. Bacon, eggs, waffles, grits, fruit, sausages...you name, she had it.”
Since Shonda knew that her godmother could throw down in the kitchen, she didn’t doubt a word of what her new tenant was telling her.
He continued speaking. “She fed me so well, that it lasted me all day. I didn’t even have to eat lunch.” Then he sniffed the air appreciatively, taking in the delicious food-based aromas that were assaulting his nostrils. Unfortunately, his stomach chose that moment to rumble rather loudly, causing him to smile. “I guess your cooking skills are on par with my Aunt Bev’s. Smelling whatever you fixed in here has got a brotha’s stomach begging.”
Shonda waved a hand towards her sofa. “You can have a seat and I’ll bring the papers out. I put a beef roast and root veggies in my crockpot this morning before I went to work. In appreciation of you fixing my porch post out there like you did, I’d like to offer you a plate.” She smiled. “It’s your Aunt Bev’s recipe, so I’m pretty much sure you’ll enjoy it.”
He rubbed his palms together. “Me and my stomach will gladly take you up on that very generous offer. Where can I wash my hands?”
Shonda hadn’t meant that he could stay and eat dinner with her — her intention was to fix him a plate to go. But from the way he was standing there cheesing, she didn’t have the heart to tell him that. She decided to just let it slide. After all, I was just here in the house yesterday complaining about how lonely I was eating dinner all by myself. I guess in a roundabout way, the Lord is answering my prayer by sending me a dinner companion for the evening. Then she began to inwardly chide herself. Next time I’d better be more specific in what I’m asking the Lord for. I wasn’t talking about having a dinner companion for just one day. I was praying for someone for a lifetime. If you can hook me up with my soulmate, Lord, that would be just wonderful. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just settle for sharing my pot roast with Ms. Bev’s nephew. It’s better than eating alone again.
She proceeded to turn to her company and smile. “Follow me. You can wash your hands in the guest bath in the hallway. We can take care of the lease after we eat. Deal?”
He rubbed his belly. “Me and Mr. Grumbly say yes.”
She smiled right back. She could tell that she liked Jonathan Harper and in her eyes that was a good thing. After all, we’re gonna be sharing a house.
* * *
A Half Hour Later:
Jonathan pushed his chair back from his lovely new landlady’s dinner table and grinned. “Now that was some good eatin’ right there. It had to have been the best pot roast that I’ve ever had. Now my Aunt Bev’s pot roast is good, but you definitely put some type of special twist on her original recipe.”
Shonda felt her cheeks warm in a blush from his compliment. “I did add a little something something to my broth. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I left the lease agreement in the living room. If you want to go ahead and make your way in there and take a look at it, that’s fine by me. I’m gonna wash our plates real quick and then I’ll join you.”
“Do you need any help with the dishes?”
She shook her head. “Boy, please. It’s just a place setting for two. It’ll only take me five minutes tops to knock this out. But thank you for the offer.”
“Alright. I’ll take your suggestion and look the lease over then. See you in your living room in a few?”
Twenty minutes later, Shonda was sitting on her sofa beside her new housemate with a check for thirteen thousand dollars in her hand. Jonathan had brought his checkbook along with him to her house that day just in case he’d needed it. Keeping his word, he’d paid her a year’s worth of rent, as well as a security deposit.
She held the check up in the air between them. “You sure you want to pay for a whole year, Jonathan? Thirteen thousand dollars is a lotta money.”
He nodded his head. “Yep. I’m sure. Moving down South has always been a dream of mine. Those few occasions that I came to visit Aunt Bev really had an impact on me.”
“There’s plenty of other places that you could’ve chosen to rent here in Greensboro. What makes my little dot on the map so special?”
He lifted his lips in a slow smile and a look of reminiscence came into his eyes. “My family has deep roots in the South…right here in Greensboro. My great grandfather — who was my Aunt Bev’s grandfather — used to tell me stories about when he was a boy living here in the Gate City. Back then, this part of town was the place to be if you were an African-American. I guess the stories he used to tell about the Arlington Park neighborhood kinda stuck in my mind. With the recent revitalization efforts that the city has been doing over here, I can see why this community is so special.”
Shonda nodded her head. “That’s right. Your Aunt Bev used to tell me stories about this neighborhood, too.” She smiled. “Her stories were part of the reason why I snatched up this house when it became available. I wanted a little piece of the magic. It’s been a work in progress, but this neighborhood is certainly getting its sparkle back.”
A faraway look came into her eyes. She was picturing the children she wanted to have someday running and playing in the family-friendly park right across the street.
Her look wasn’t lost on Jonathan. “It seems as if you journeyed a thousand miles away just then. Mind sharing what you were thinking about?”
Shonda didn’t really want to share with her new tenant what had been on her mind. She didn’t have any prospects as far as a husband was concerned, so she would’ve felt embarrassed talking about the kids she was hoping to have in the future. I’m not trying to deal with any baby daddy drama, so I’m definitely gonna have to have a husband before I start popping out any mini-me’s.
She flashed him a tiny smile. “Oh, just thinking about how this is a great neighborhood for families and such.”
“Yeah. I know exactly what you’re talking about. The mothers pushing the babies in strollers. The fathers in the park across the street tossing the football around with the neighborhood kids. The young couple who looked like newlyweds that walked past the house while I was repairing the porch post.” He nodded his head. “Yep, this is definitely a great family-oriented spot. After living in the heart of Brooklyn so many years, the change in scenery is gonna be different for me, but I know I’m gonna like it here. I know I already like it here.”
He stood up at that point. He held up the key that she’d given him only minutes earlier. “Once again, Shonda, thank you for renting to me. You’re making one of my dreams come true.”
Two hours after Jonathan had left her place, Shonda still had the man on her mind. Fresh out of her shower, she pulled back the comforter on her bed and slid between her sheets. She closed her eyes and said her nightly prayers. After she’d said ‘amen’, she lifted her lips in a tiny smile. “Oh yeah, Lord, I also want to thank you for sending Jonathan into my life.” She quickly shook her head at that little statement and made a hasty amendment. “I meant to say that I want to thank you for sending someone reliable to rent my apartment...not thank you for sending Jonathan specifically into my life.”
That’s what her lips had just said, but her subconscious was saying: Girl, please. You know you had it right the first time. You like Jonathan Harper. You were thanking God for sending that piece of eye candy down here. He’s good-looking and decent. You could tell that he has a good heart, even though y’all haven’t known each other but a minute. You’re thinking that he just might be a prospect to end some of that loneliness that your butt been feeling. You really want to get to know him a little better. Who you think you kidding, Shonda Riverton?
Shonda pushed those thoughts out of her mind with a quickness. She was determined to convince herself that she’d misspoken the first time. For some reason, she was determined to convince herself that Jonathan Harper could never ever be interested in a girl like herself. Women who look like supermodels or movie stars and such are probably more his type. I can tell. Then she smiled. But it seems like he’d make a pretty good friend though. A person can’t have enough friends.
* * *
Jonathan settled himself into the full-sized bed in his Aunt Bev’s guest room. He still had his lovely new landlord’s light tinkling laugh and beautiful smile on his mind. “The last time I saw Shonda was almost twenty years ago,” he whispered under his breath. “She was in pigtails back then — still a kid. But Lord knows she turned into a mighty fine woman.”
In recent years, he’d been living a Christian lifestyle. So he refused to lust after his Aunt Bev’s goddaughter. However, he couldn’t help but admit that she’d turned out to be quite appealing to the eye.
He thought back to how he’d defended her against the bullies who’d been picking on her all those years ago. He’d been dead serious about issuing some beatdowns if they’d kept at it. He smiled. I bet them boys wouldn’t be saying that foulness now. They’d be too busy drooling at her feet.