Saidah's Christmas memories have been warped by personal tragedy. A chance encounter brings her unexpected love and a new outlook on life.
Here's to finding love where you least expect it!
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“I don’t know why you’re being so difficult, Saidah. Just put on some clothes, run a brush through your hair and come over.”
“Maybe I don’t want to go over there. Maybe I want to sit on my couch and watch A Christmas Story back to back while I drink myself into oblivion.” As if I needed to prove my point, I loudly sipped from my mug of spiked hot chocolate.
“That’s the exact reason you need to bring your behind over here. You don’t need to be by yourself on Christmas. Especially on Christmas.”
I rolled my eyes while switching the phone from one shoulder to the other. I was comfortable, deeply implanted into the corner of my new leather couch, under a chenille throw, in my pajamas and fuzzy Christmas socks. The socks weren’t actually necessary, since it was the warmest Christmas Atlanta had seen in years, but they were red and had little green Christmas trees on them, so they were helping to ring in the holiday season as best they could.
The trees on my socks were about the only sign of cheer in my condo. It had been years since I put up a tree and decorated for the season. It had also been years since I joined Faith, my friend-as-close-as-a-sister, and her family for Christmas dinner. My new tradition wasn’t one I picked up by choice; it was a natural consequence. And I was in no hurry to change something like a natural consequence.
“I promise you, honey. I’m fine right here. Enjoy your meal and your family. Are we doing after Christmas sales on Saturday?”
Faith sighed that long, drawn out sigh that usually accompanied a roll of her dark brown eyes and pursing of her pouty lips. “Why do you have to ruin everything, you stubborn brat?”
“Wait, what? I didn’t know we were name calling on today of all days, the celebration of the birth of sweet little eight pound, six-ounce baby Jesus.”
“Yes, we’re name calling when you’re being stubborn. I was trying to surprise you. Jay is coming to dinner.”
My heart skipped a beat at the mention of him. I didn’t have to ask for a last name or a clarification on who Jay was. I knew very well, and Faith knew, too. The very thought of him brought his face to my memory—strong square jaw with the dimple in the chin, skin like whipped mousse, chiseled cheekbones, classic nose, wide-set eyes so dark they looked black and the longest, prettiest eyelashes you ever saw on a man. Always impeccably dressed and intelligent to boot.
Jay was the one that got away.
“Don’t lie to me, Faith. Jay is really coming to dinner?”
“I wouldn’t lie to you, Saidah. Never have, never will.”
“Well. When did that happen? How did you even get in touch with him?”
“I have my ways,” said Faith. In the background, I heard the clank of the heavy lid to her Le Creuset Dutch oven. A Le Cordon Bleu trained chef that owned a successful catering company, Faith could tear up a meal like nobody’s business. You’d swear you were dining at a five-star restaurant and be right in her dining room.
“I’m serious, Faith! How did you manage that? How do you know he’s really showing up?”
“Anthony ran into him in Nashville a few weeks ago at that conference he went to— you remember they’re in the same frat? They started talking, catching up. He works in… building design or something. Was doing pretty well, but he hinted that his wife left last year.”
“Left him? Women are giving up rich handsome men these days?”
“Girl, I guess. There was an affair, or at least that’s the vibe Anthony got from talking to him. Anyway, he seemed to be having a hard time, said something about being alone this year so Anthony invited him over. He came home and told me and that’s when I called you and asked if you were coming over.”
As stubborn as I was about spending the day in my pajamas, alone, on my leather couch, the thought of seeing Jay after all these years could be a game changer.
We’d all gone to college together at Albany State University. Jay and Anthony were line brothers in Alpha Psi Alpha. Anthony and Faith were dating and were trying to hook me up with Jay. He and I were friends, then close friends, and then one night after a party, on the walk back to the dorms, he pulled me into the shadow of a building and pressed himself against me, walking me backward until I was caught between the cold brick wall and the warm man with the racing heartbeat.
His lips pressed against mine, tentatively at first and then with a moan and a tilt of his head, deepened the kiss with an open mouth and a probe of his tongue. After a few minutes of breathless kisses and roaming hands, I pulled him from the darkness and around the corner to the side door into the building.
I dragged him to the room that Faith and I shared, that I was pretty much living in alone since she spent a lot of her time at Anthony’s place. Jay wasn’t my first, but he may as well have been. Being with him felt so different than the few guys that had stumbled through quick, awkward sex. Jay moved slowly, fluidly, I felt like we were meant to be together. There was definitely no stumbling and zero awkwardness.
After, we talked and talked, tangled up in the sheets with my cheek plastered to his warm skin. I listened to his heartbeat and splayed my fingers across his broad chest, feeling him catch his breath. I was already falling in love.
We were inseparable, except when we were with Faith and Anthony. We were those cute couples that did everything together and always hung out together. Until we weren’t.
Jay was from a small South Georgia town and the college experience seemed overwhelming to him. While he did well in classes, he wasn’t used to having so many social options. The allure of being able to date so many women was tempting. So much so that, before the end of our sophomore year and right after Anthony and Faith got engaged, Jay broke up with me.
Over the next few weeks I saw him on campus, hands tightly clasped around the waist of one girl and then another. Looking into someone else’s eyes with that gaze I used to think was reserved for me, laughing that laugh that I thought only I could bring out. I was devastated. I tried everything to get him to realize the mistake he’d made, what he was giving up and leaving behind. Jay was more interested in the next party, the next girl, the next conquest.
Faith and I graduated, and a few months later, I walked down the aisle as her Maid of Honor. Though I hadn’t seen him in years, Jay was at the wedding, as handsome as he ever was, with a beautiful cinnamon toned woman on his arm.
Twelve years later, we’d be in the same room. Him so handsome, more mature and all grown up; hurt and vulnerable from the demise of his marriage. And me so… well, me.
“So, is he still fine? And what are you making?” I made a valiant attempt at sounding nonchalant but Faith was on to me. I could almost hear the grin in her voice, knowing full well what my moments of silence represented.
“I haven’t seen him, so I don’t know. But Anthony didn’t say he’d let himself go or anything. And I’m not going all out— just a bone-in prime rib, garlic mashed potatoes, gravy, collard greens, macaroni and cheese. Maybe a wedge salad with bacon bits, some yeast rolls. Oh, and a Dulce de leche cake. And I’m thinking about whipping up a pound cake with buttercream frosting.”
“Not much? Not going all out? I just gained five pounds listening to that.”
“Dinner is at three o’clock. I’ll save you a place next to Jay. Bring some wine, a nice cabernet or merlot.”
“I already told you— what makes you think I’ve changed my mind?”
“Because I know you. And I know I can always change your mind. See you in a bit.”
My retort was cut off by a dial tone. I sucked my teeth, rolled my eyes and tossed the phone onto the couch. I stomped to the bedroom, heading straight for the closet. Dressing for this dinner was going to be of utmost importance. I hadn’t seen Jay since he paraded that woman in my face and had the nerve to be smug about it.
“Hamm…” I hummed, stepping into the closet to survey my options. “I’ll want to make a good impression… but not look like an attention whore.”
I eyed a pair of skinny jeans, dark rinse. My full figure did look ridiculously good in them, but the way Faith cooked, I would need more room than those would allow. “I need to show off my grown and sexy…. but not look thirsty.”
I thumbed through a few more options before I grabbed up a brand new black sweater dress with stylish zipper embellishment across each shoulder. It hugged my ample hips and showed off my bust in glorious fashion. At a perfect mid-thigh length, it was long enough to be classy but short enough to be sexy. I’d pair it with my over-the-knee, three-inch suede boots.
I plugged in my flatiron and turned on the shower. I was going to be a spectacle or die trying.
Time to show Jay what he’d been missing all these years.