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Elle Rose: (Chapter One) A Romance Novel
Just at the thought of walking into the stunning venue of her cousin’s wedding, Elle’s hands trembled so badly, she could barely light the cigarette cradled between her lips—a cigarette that she knew she didn’t need. If her manager, Lawrence, knew she was smoking right now, she would never hear the end of it. He would fuss her out, cuss her out, and as her Mama would often say, call her everything except a child of God. Based on the issues she’d been having with her throat lately, she knew she should probably do without this cigarette. But she needed this Newport Light to calm her nerves as badly as a man lost in the desert needed a bottle of Dasani to soothe his parched throat.
Sighing as the smoke filled her lungs, Elle finally relaxed against the driver door of her car and let the nicotine have its way. The store owner stepped outside and glared at her. Through her darkly tinted designer shades, she glared back at him. She knew she was more than 25 feet away from the entrance of the door, and the way she was feeling, she wished that midget of a man would give her a hard time. She’d willingly give him the tongue-lashing of his life. Thankfully, he glared at her once more and returned back in the store.
Elle checked her cell phone for the time. Where was Turtle? The wedding started in—she glanced at the phone again—in less than two hours and she still had to drive all the way up to The Millennium Center, find a park, and make it into the main room before everyone else took all the good seats. She wasn’t too worried about it, however. Her family epitomized “black people’s time.” If Sabrina’s wedding started at 2pm, that meant everyone would be in place by 2:30—if then.
The black on black Camaro whipped into the parking lot with screeching tires, announcing his arrival. Elle rolled her eyes. She would never understand why he had to be so extra all the time. However, when he stepped out the car and dusted his shoulders before rising to his full height, Elle had to take a moment to admire his swag.
She sat back and watched her childhood friend stroll toward the car like he was Denzel Washington on the Red Carpet. Turtle had on a deep burgundy flat-cap covering his bald head and a plaid black, white and gray scarf double-laid around his throat. He wore fitted jeans, a black vest, a black collared shirt, a speckled tie that matched his hat, and a shiny pair of square-tipped dress shoes. And of course, even though it was the last week of October with plenty of cold wind blasts and not a peek of sun in sight, he wore his black wool jacket over his arm as oppose to over his body. The man looked like money—and he should, considering how much Elle had paid for his outfit.
“Took you long enough,” she snapped, flicking the cigarette butt to the ground and stepping it out. “I thought we said we were leaving at eleven.”
“Elle, don’t trip. It’s only a quarter past.”
“You know I hate being late.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have made me look so sexy. My lady friend couldn’t keep her hands off of me,” he said with a smirk. “We almost blew the roof off that car.”
Elle’s mouth dropped open. “Y’all had sex in the Camaro?”
His smirk grew in size as he moved her out the way so he could get in the driver seat.
“Turtle, that’s not funny or cute. I rented that car. We have to turn it back in.”
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t get anything on the seats.”
“God, you are so nasty,” she said, hitting his arm. “And what are you doing? You’re not about to drive my car.”
“I bet I will. We’re running late, and we’ll never make it there in time with you driving like Miss Daisy. Get in.”
She crossed her arms and glared at him.
He buckled his seat-belt.
“I’m not playing with you,” she said, tapping her foot, arms still crossed.
He sat back against the driver seat and sighed loudly with his eyes closed. “You’re wasting time, Roses.”
He was the only one who could call her Roses and get away with it.
Reluctantly, she walked to the other side of the car and slipped into the passenger seat. “And don’t drive like a fool either. I’m not trying to die today.”
Elle buckled her seat-belt and squealed, seeing her life flash before her eyes as Turtle pulled onto the highway in front of oncoming traffic and floored her BMW. Instead of hitting him or
demanding for him to pull over, she closed her eyes tightly and prayed earnestly that they would make it to Winston-Salem alive.
Lost in his own zone, Turtle had plugged his cell phone into the AUX port and was bobbing and singing along to some of Babyface’s earlier music. He had no idea about the inner turmoil that was raging inside Elle, causing her to gnaw at her freshly manicured nails. The hour and a half drive gave her too much time to think. The last time she’d been with her family was earlier this year, around Valentine’s Day, when they’d brought homemade cards and heart-shaped red velvet cake to Big Mama’s bedside in the cancer ward of UNC – Chapel Hill. After two months of promising results, the doctor came in and cast a somber shadow on their moment of festivity. Dr. Fejori now had different news. The cancer was back, worse than ever before. No amount of surgeries or chemo could help Big Mama now. The cancer had metastasized and spread even more aggressively to all her major organs, and unfortunately, the cancer was no longer responding to chemotherapy or radiation. It had been a sad moment indeed, with her mother collapsing on the hospital floor, overcome with despair, her father crying and feeling defeated even as he had tried to console his wife, and Big Mama just laid there, looking at the doctor with a smile on her face.
“I’m not worried,” she had told the doctor, “because my God told me that he has a ram in the bush.”
The doctor frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean, Mrs. Nathan?”
“It means, there’s another option.”
“Well…” The doctor hesitated for a moment while he looked through the paperwork attached to his clipboard. There was so much hope, so much promise in that one word, “well,” that everyone had looked up at the doctor, including Elle, and had waited for him to continue. He sighed again. “Well, there is this one clinic called The Impossible. They specialize in alternative treatments for stage IV cancer patients.”
“And?” Elle’s mom had asked, clinging to her husband’s hand.
“And, while they do have some awe-inspiring survival stories, I must be honest. They’re still a work in progress, using lots of the newest scientific discoveries to create an integrative, multi-focal therapy treatment plan specialized for that particular patient and his or her specific type of cancer. Each patient has a team of five doctors fighting tenaciously against time for the patient’s life. For ovarian and lung cancer, they have a much higher success rate, at 12
percent. For the type of cancer that your mother has, however… they’re success rate isn’t all that great.”
“What’s their success rate?” Elle had asked, propping her hip on the large windowsill positioned behind her.
The doctor paused again. “For pancreatic cancer, there’s a 2 percent chance of survival.”
“That’s enough for me,” Big Mama had said. “If God can take two fish and five loaves of bread and feed a multitude, then he can take two percent and a team of five doctors to save me from the claws of death.”
Her optimism and hope in the face of death had been touching, inspiring even. But the reality of the situation was that out of 100 people who underwent that treatment, 98 would die and 2 would live. Odds against her was undeniably an understatement. And furthermore, the treatment cost a quarter million dollars, which had to be paid in full prior to the initiation of services. Now granted, they did offer loans to qualified patients—but who was “qualified” in her family? No one in her family had good credit, not a single soul, except her. So who had they looked to to foot that bill? Of course, her. And when she had refused and two weeks later, Big Mama passed…it was a done deal.
She hadn’t spoken to her mother, or her father, or her big brother or her baby sister since they’d called her to announce grandma’s death. The announcement came with such bitterness, such hatred directed at her as though she was the one who had planted the cancerous seed in Big Mama to start with. But the anger and bitterness and hatred didn’t just come from her immediate family. All of her aunts and uncles, and great-aunt and uncles—Big Mama’s children—hated her too. Her cousins had basically disowned her, unfriended her from Facebook, posted mean things about her and her music career: called her a Whitney Houston-wannabe, said that Keyshia Cole must be her singing coach, dubbed her a Halle Berry-knockoff, clowned her for never winning or even being nominated for any award in her three-year career—the mean, ridiculing sayings went on and on. It had just gotten really ugly, and Elle didn’t know how to fix the situation.
The last thing she wanted to do was go to Sabrina’s wedding and face her entire family, but at the same time, Sabrina was the only one in the family who still engaged with her. She was supposed to sing at her cousin’s wedding and she did not want to let her down. Before Big Mama had passed, Elle had already agreed to sing the song that Sabrina would walk down the
aisle on, as well as the first song that Sabrina and Eric would dance to as husband and wife. After Big Mama had passed, Elle had tried with everything in her to talk herself out of Sabrina’s wedding, but Sabrina was not having it. So Elle had done the only thing that she knew to do: go to the wedding with the support of a close friend who would help her stand against the evil looks and the ostracism that she would most certainly endure.
The closer they got to the Millennium Center, the more nervous she became. By the time they pulled into the parking lot of the courthouse-looking building with its cream-colored pillars, her palms were sweating and she badly needed another cigarette. She felt more nervous pulling up at her cousin’s wedding than she’d ever felt walking out on stage in front of an audience of thousands. Turtle must’ve noticed her anxiety because he reached over and squeezed her shoulder.
“Yeah.” She nodded.
“You don’t look cool.”
“Turtle, I’m scared as hell.”
He eased into a parking space, killed the engine, turned and faced her. “Your cousin wants you here.”
“Nothing else matters but her.”
“I know. But…” She breathed in deeply and her eyes filled with tears as she looked up at the ceiling. “They hate me. And it’s not even my fault. I mean, no one knows my financial situation. They just think because I’m a singer, that I’m balling out of control and that I should pay for this and pay for that, but no one really knows what I’m facing and how my label be tripping at times, and what I’m going through. I did not kill Big Mama—”
“I know you didn’t, Elle.”
“I did not kill her. She was already dying. She was…I couldn’t…it didn’t matter if…it’s not my fault.” A sob tore through her throat and she dug her face into her hands, felt the hot tears slipping between her fingers and grimaced because she knew her makeup was ruined.
“Come here, girl.”
She didn’t budge.
Turtle undid his seat-belt, undid hers, and pulled her into his arms against her will.
“Stop, Turtle. Just leave me alone.”
“Let me hold you,” he said and held her tight until she stopped trying to push him away.
Once she was able to regain control of her emotions again, she pushed Turtle away and flipped down the visor to see how badly she had destroyed her makeup.
“Your face,” Turtle said, “looks like something out of a horror movie.”
“Thank you for noticing,” Elle said as she removed the wet wipes from the glove compartment and began wiping her makeup away. She didn’t have time to reapply it, so her face would just have to be naked for this event.
“Maybe you should let Sabrina see your face like this. Maybe then she’ll reconsider you singing—”
Elle jabbed him with her elbow as she wiped the last traces of makeup from the corners of her eyes and nose. She quickly applied moisturizer, a little eyeliner and some deep burgundy matte lipstick. That would have to do for now. When she turned to face Turtle, she gasped.
“What?” he asked looking down at himself.
“Oh, goodness, I got makeup on you,” she said. She slapped his hands away. “Just hold still for a minute. If these wipes can get out blood, they can probably get out makeup too.” She held the lapels of his shirt while she wiped and scrubbed at the makeup that her face had put against his vest. As she wiped him down, she felt him staring at her. “What?” she asked, quickly glancing up at him.
She cut her eyes at him again. “What?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I was just admiring your face. You’re always wearing makeup and I just think…I think you look really nice without it. You’re almost cute. Almost.”
“You got jokes, Turtle?”
“Nah, I’m dead serious.”
She finished wiping at his vest and was relieved to see that the wipes had done the job. His vest was completely stain-free.
“Look at the ass on that one,” Turtle said, staring out the window at a woman who was walking past looking like she was dressed for the club rather than a wedding. Her red, long-sleeved dress was cute, but if she sneezed too hard, her butt cheeks would be exposed. “Man, I’m bout to get some numbers up in here today. These women are beautiful.”
“Excuse me? What about your lady friend who you just screwed in the Camaro that I rented for you in order to bribe you to come here with me in the first place?”
“What about her? She’s my lady friend; not my lady.”
“You are such a dog, Turtle. How old are you? Thirty-two? Don’t you think it’s ’bout time to change?”
“When I find the right one, I will.”
“No, when you find the right one, you’ll run her away with your doggish ways.” She looked up at him, stared into his deep brown eyes, and suddenly, the realization hit her like a zap of lightning.
“Oh my God!” she squealed in excitement.
“What?” Turtle asked, frowning at her. He glanced at the time on the console. “Look now, you up here spazzing out about being here on time. I got you here on time, and now you in the car procrastinating, prolonging everything. If we be late, just know—”
“I need you to be my boyfriend.”
“—it’ll be because of you, not me.” Turtle paused, blinked, frowned. “What’d you just say?”
“I need you to be my boyfriend,” she said with great excitement, smiling so big that she showed all of her teeth.
Turtle scratched his ear, then scratched at the back of his head. “Did I just miss something?”
“Turtle, it’s the perfect plan! Think about it like this.” Elle sat up straighter in the passenger seat, feeling the greatest sense of relief that she’d felt in quite some time now. “You and I grew up together. We’ve had this love-hate relationship our whole life, like big brother, little sister. Everyone knows that. If we walk up in here holding hands, kissing, people will be so shocked and in disbelief that we’re in a relationship that they’ll focus on that instead of Big Mama’s death.”
“But we’re not in a relationship.”
“I know that, silly! But they don’t know that.”
“Elle, I’m confused.”
“What’s so confusing about this? It makes perfect sense. Give them something else to focus on instead of Grandma’s death. But we gotta make it believable, Turtle. We gotta be like, like all over each other and crazy about each other and—”
Turtle was shaking his head. “No, no, no, and hell no. Are you crazy?”
“What do you do mean?”
“Elle, I don’t see you like that. You’re like my little sister.”
“But I’m not your sister.”
“And you ain’t even my…type.”
“Don’t come for me, Turtle. You’re not my ‘type’ either. Number one, I date men who have jobs—”
“Oh, so now you gonna come for me?”
“No, since you put it out there like that, let’s deal with it. I deal with men who have jobs, men who are financially stable, men who aren’t whores—and I definitely don’t do ball-headed. That’s not my thing.”
He smoothed a hand over his head. “Yo, you crazy. This ball head drives the ladies insane, especially when I’m between their legs, eating that thing—now mind you, I don’t eat everything cause these days, you can’t put your mouth on everything—”
“Turtle? You think I really wanna hear that?”
He laughed. “I’m just saying, tho.”
“A’ight, so we need to practice kissing so this thing will be believable.”
“Elle, I am not kissing you.”
“Turtle, I need you to kiss me. How are these people ever gonna believe that we’re in a relationship if when we kiss, it looks like two toads trying to suck up a fly?”
Turtle busted out laughing. “You are crazy, girl.”
She puckered her lips. “Come on. Just do it and get it over with.”
He leaned over and pecked her lips, like a grandma would peck her grandson’s cheek.
“Really, Turtle? Can you kiss me like you mean it?”
He looked at her lips, looked back up at her, made no move whatsoever. His facial expression looked bored, bland. “Elle, I’m not feeling this.”
“I’ll strike a deal with you then.”
His eyebrows perked up. “What’s that?”
“Instead of having to turn in the Camaro today, I’ll rent it for you for another week, so you can style and profile.”
He twisted his lips. “That’s not enough.”
“Are you serious?” She hit his chest. “Then what? What do you want?”
He sucked in his bottom lip, stared at her through narrowed eyes. “Lend me the money to start my own private trainer gym.”
“Are you serious?”
“Does it look like I’m joking?”
She sighed. Boy, it seemed like people were always about the money these days. “How much?” she asked.
“One hundred thousand.”
“Damn, Turtle. That’s steep.” His expression remained unchanged, very serious. She knew he was not playing. “I’ll do seventy-five.”
“Make it eighty and we have a deal.”
“This is a loan. You do understand the concept of a loan, right?”
“You trying to play me?”
“No, sweetie. I’m trying to make sure I get my money back. For some reason, people in this family think if they ‘borrow’ money from me, because I’m ‘Elle Rose,’ they don’t have to pay me back.”
“I’ma pay you back.”
“I know you will. Because I’m gonna draft up a contract, and we’re gonna both sign it and get it notarized for extra security. And, I want to see a full draft of a business plan because I want to see exactly where my money is going, every dollar, every dime.”
“Damn, you serious about this, ain’t you?”
“As a heart attack.”
“A'ight. I'll give you a business plan. Then we got a deal?”
Elle held out her hand and Turtle paused for only the briefest second, then he shook it. Immediately afterward, he stretched his long, athletic body across the car and reached over Elle, slowly letting back her seat as he lowered his body on hers.
Breathless from being caught off guard, she said, “What are you doing?”
“Kissing you,” and before she could say anything else, he covered her mouth with his in a kiss so deep and sensual that had his body not been pressed against hers, she would’ve lifted out of the passenger seat. His mouth was hard, hot—almost fiery. His tongue was like a weapon that he wielded with such precision and accuracy that it made her toes curl. She was drowning in his kiss. She couldn’t catch her breath, but dammit, she didn’t want to. Without realizing when it had happened, she suddenly noticed her hands were wrapped around the ball head that she disliked so much, holding his head in place as he angled his lips against hers and
deepened the kiss even more. Was that her moaning? Oh God, she was moaning. She slapped at Turtle’s shoulders so he could back up for a minute, hold off for a second, allow her to at least attempt to come to her senses.
He finally broke the kiss but remained rested against her, half-his body weight pinning her down to the seat. “Is that realistic enough?” he asked.
Unable to speak, she simply nodded. Thankfully, he raised off of her and exited the car. Damn, she whispered, still unable to catch her breath. From Turtle, she had expected a lot of things. Never did she expect him to kiss her like…like that.
When he opened her car door, she tried to stand but her legs felt like two cups of Jell-o.
“You a’ight?” he asked.
“Yeah. It’s just, these heels are high. They’re difficult to walk in.”
“Right,” he said, wearing a cocky smirk that she wanted to rub off of his face.
“Can you give me a minute?” She stepped off to the side, placed a Newport Light in her mouth, and cupped her hand against the wind to light the cigarette. After a kiss like that, she needed a hit of nicotine.
“I thought you told me you had quit smoking,” he said.
“I did. For about a month.” Thankfully, he spared her the spiel about lung cancer and cigarettes being bad for her vocal chords and range. Instead, he just waited patiently for her to finish, his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes focused on a pebble that he shuffled around with his feet.
Once she finished, he held out his hand toward her and they laced their hands together, then walked up the cement steps and entered the venue. Nicotine still in her blood, her poker face on and her ‘man’ by her side, Elle felt ready to face whatever stones her family had stacked, ready to throw at her.
***********************************************End of Chapter One
Reader's Participation: What Would You Do?
If you were in Elle's position, would you have paid a quarter million dollars to have the treatment done to your grandmother?
Reader's Participation: What Do You Think?
Do you think two attractive, unmarried and uninvolved individuals (male and female) can be "just friends?"
About the Author
A North Carolina native, Jessica N. Barrow-Smith loves writing African-American romance novels. Holding an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English (both from National U.), she is also the author of Confessions of a Diva (2006), the co-author of Desperate (2012), an English instructor and a professional tutor. As the founder of S&B Manuscript Editing & Critique, she wears the hats of writing coach, editor, copyeditor, and ghostwriter. During her free time, she enjoys performing as an actress at the semi-professional Gilbert Theater located in Fayetteville, NC, singing at church, and being a phenomenal wife to her husband and mother to their four children.
© 2015 Jessica Barrow