Chapter III: First Meeting
Saturday Evening, April 18th, 5:35 p.m.
Erica took major pains to get ready for the night’s dinner at her sister’s house in Deerfield. She had been busy the entire day, waiting for the IKEA delivery service to bring her furniture. She had to use a sleeping bag to sleep in the night before but being that she was worn out from the long flight, she slept soundly. The delivery service arrived that morning around 11 and she spent the whole morning and part of the afternoon instructing the deliverers on where to place the furniture. Soon after they left, the Sears Appliance store drivers arrived with her appliances. The last of her items were finally set up around 2:30 so after they left, she took a quick nap in her new king sized bed complete with a Serta iComfort mattress and a 1500 thread count comforter in her favorite colors, purple and black. She set her phone to wake her up at 5pm so she wouldn’t be late. Dinner was scheduled for 6:30 and she wanted to be fully awake. She wouldn’t be able to pick up her car until Monday so she had to either call a taxi or bother Bianca for a ride but she didn’t want Bianca to have to drive her all the way from Deerfield back to the Loop at night. She called the taxi at 5:50 and it arrived at 6 on the dot. She made it to Bianca’s right at 6:30 and was proud that she had timed herself right. She saw Bianca’s silver Jaguar and Dean’s silver Benz in the driveway and another vehicle was in front of the house, a black Escalade. She wondered who it belonged to. She walked up the stairs to the front door and rang the doorbell. Bianca answered almost immediately.
“Erica!” Bianca yelled.
“Bibi!” Erica squealed, throwing her arms around her big sister. She was amazed that her sister looked exactly the same as she had when she was in college. Aside from a different hair style, she had the same face. The two sisters held onto each other tightly, savoring the feeling of having each other in their lives again.
“You look amazing sis!” Bianca said.
“So do you, looking like a teenager!” Erica laughed. Dean walked out from the kitchen when he heard the ladies squealing.
“Hi sis!” Dean said, holding out his arms for a hug.
“Dean! How are you doing?” Erica asked, walking into his outstretched arms.
“I’m good; how was the flight? And how was your first night in Chicago?”
“The flight was too damn long and my night was pretty uneventful,” Erica said. “No furniture, no car, and I had to order take out.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore; you got me and Dean to feed you. Look how skinny she is, Dean! We gon have to fatten her up with some good old American soul food,” Bianca joked. They all laughed in unison. Just then, a tall handsome dark skinned guy walked out from the kitchen.
“Darren, this is my sister Erica Parker. Erica, this is my brother-in-law, Darren Sharp,” Bianca said. Erica was taken aback by Darren; she had no idea what he looked like and had never met him. She was definitely impressed. Darren’s eyes fell on Erica and he was mesmerized. He had seen pictures of her that Bianca had shown him but she was even more beautiful in person.
“It’s nice to meet you Darren. Bianca’s told me so much about you,” Erica said, extending her hand.
“It’s nice meeting you too Erica,” Darren said, trying to push the lump out of his throat. He took her hand and shook it, noticing how soft it was. He let his hand linger a little too long but apparently, Erica didn’t mind. He finally let go.
“Well, are you guys ready for dinner?” Dean said.
“Yes, I’m more than ready,” Erica said, glancing at Darren, who couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her.
Darren couldn’t believe the beauty of the woman who stood in his brother’s living room. He had heard that Erica was beautiful, but not stunning. She stood about 5’8” or 5’9”, medium caramel skin tone and shoulder length hair that she wore in curls in a cinnamon brown shade. She also had the cutest beauty mark near the right side of her mouth, which made her even more sexy and alluring. Darren let his thoughts take over and barely heard his brother announce that dinner was ready.
“Yo D! You hear me, man? Dinner’s ready,” Dean said.
“Aight man,” Darren said, snapping out of his thoughts. “After you, ladies.” He let Bianca and Erica walk in front of him, not only to be a gentleman but also to take a quick peek of Erica’s ass. He was pleased with the view. They all sat down at the table, with the ladies on one side and the guys on the other. Darren sat directly across from Erica and he was glad for that. That way, he could take in her beauty without having to sneak a peek sitting next to her. The dinner menu was grilled steaks topped with mushrooms and onions, loaded mashed potatoes, string beans and biscuits. Darren noticed how daintily Erica ate her meal: dabbing at her mouth with the napkin, chewing slowly with her mouth closed. Everyone seemed to be enjoying their meal and not saying much. Bianca decided to break the ice.
“So how was your day Darren?” she asked.
“It was aight; I just chilled around the house today, playing my X-Box,” Darren said, making sure to chew with his mouth closed. He didn’t want Erica to think he was a pig.
“You and that damn X-Box,” Dean said, sipping his wine. “So did you go out last night?”
“Yeah, me and Deuce and Ty hung out last night,” Darren said, looking over at Erica. She smiled and blushed.
“Where was Mario?” Bianca asked.
“Mario is in love,” Darren said.
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with falling in love,” Bianca said, taking a bite of her steak. “I think everyone should experience true love. Don’t you Erica?”
Erica looked at Darren and blushed again. Darren noticed this and was flattered. She is a hottie, Darren said. I wouldn’t mind having her on my arm.
“I think love, true love, is a wonderful thing,” Erica said. “But you have to be careful who you give you heart to.” Erica’s face took on a somber look. Bianca noticed and quickly changed the subject. Bianca knew all about Erica’s romance with Ryan and how her heart had been broken in the process.
“Well, let’s change the subject; Erica, how’s the business going? Are you excited about opening up your own company?” Bianca asked. Her own company? Darren asked himself. This I gotta hear.
“Everything is going very smoothly,” Erica said, thankful that her sister had changed the subject. Discussing her new company always made her feel proud and happy. “The opening day is a week from Monday so I have a whole week to collect myself and relax before the big day.” She smiled.
“So wait a minute,” Darren said. “You have your own company?”
“Yes, I do,” Erica said. “I am the owner of a new fashion magazine called Forever Strong, which is the meaning of my name.”
“Wow, I’m impressed,” Darren said. “What made you want to create your own magazine?”
“Well, being that I was in the modeling world for nine years, I learned the ins and outs of fashion and beauty and I knew that my modeling days were few and far between after I turned 25. I created a fashion blog which in turn, gave me the idea to create a fashion magazine specifically for people of color.” Darren was sincerely impressed. Not only was she beautiful but she was an entrepreneur.
“That sounds exciting,” Darren said. “Could I be a model for one of your articles?” Everyone started laughing.
“You never know,” Erica said. “I just may need a male model for one of my spreads. You have the look for it, most definitely.” Is she flirting with me? Darren asked himself.
“Hey, I have a great idea!” Bianca said suddenly. “Since Erica is new in town, why don’t the two of you hang out? You can show her the hot spots: where she can shop, dine, and relax after a hard week’s work.”
“I’m down with that,” Darren said, looking across the table at Erica.
“I’m game,” Erica said, smiling at Darren.
She had no idea why she was feeling an attraction to Dean’s brother. Weren’t they related in some kind of way, she thought to herself. After all, her sister was married to his brother. There had to be some kind of familial relationship there. She didn’t want to cross that line and take things too far with him. He was definitely attractive, and his eyes were simply gorgeous. She was happy that Bianca came up with the idea for them to hang out but she didn’t want to develop any type of feelings for him. In fact, she wasn’t looking for any type of relationship with any man. She wanted time to get her magazine off the ground and find herself before bringing anyone else into the picture. Dating would be fine because she missed that male company but she didn’t want to make more of the date than what it was.
After dinner, Bianca and Dean excused themselves and went into the kitchen to wash the dishes and clean up. That left Erica and Darren in the dining room alone.
“Would you like to chat in the living room?” Erica said, breaking the ice.
“Yeah, we can do that,” Darren said, standing up. Erica noticed how tall he was and was instantly impressed. She’d always had a thing for tall men. She stood up from her chair but before she could pull the chair out, Darren stopped her.
“Nah, let me do that,” he said, walking around to her chair and pulling it out from behind her.
“Thank you,” Erica said, impressed. She knew that Bianca had told her about Dean being a gentleman so it was obvious that Darren had possessed the same trait.
“After you,” Darren said, extending his arm out toward the living room. As she walked in front of him, Erica had an idea that he was looking at her ass. She giggled to herself. They took a seat on the couch. Erica smoothed out her blouse in a nervous gesture. When she looked up, Darren was looking at her directly.
“What is it?” Erica asked nervously. She put a hand up to her hair and patted it.
“It’s just that…you impressed me tonight,” Darren said.
“I mean, you were a model and now you own your own company. Very impressive for someone your age,” Darren said.
“Thank you very much,” Erica said. “What do you do for a living, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I work at a warehouse near the South Side,” Darren said.
“That’s good,” Erica said. “So it can get a bit physical huh?” Erica found herself picturing Darren working in the warehouse, muscles bulging, sweat pouring from his head, wearing a white wifebeater…she suddenly snapped herself out of those thoughts. What is wrong with me? Why am I picturing him this way? He’s my sister’s brother-in-law!
“Yeah it can get a little physical there,” Darren said, smiling. “So, what do you like to do in your spare time?”
“Well, I’m actually a homebody. When I lived in Paris it was all work and hardly any play. After work I would either read a book or work on my blog. I hung out with friends from time to time but not very often.”
“I’m trying to get a feel of what you’d like to do when we hang out,” Darren said. “I want to make you comfortable.”
“I like going to museums and plays, stuff like that,” Erica said. She knew that Darren wasn’t the type to do things like that. “But we can do what you like doing. Maybe it will bring me out of my shell.” She smiled.
“Well I was going to say that maybe we could go to a club sometime,” Darren said. “We probably shouldn’t go to the clubs that I go to though.”
“Why is that?” Erica asked, curious.
“The clubs I go to are very hood,” Darren explained. “A lot of hood boys and hoochie mommas. They play hip-hop and rap music…that explicit sh…stuff.” Erica noticed that he changed that last word. She was impressed that he watched his language around her. If only he weren’t my sister’s brother-in-law, she thought. He would definitely be my type.
“You are definitely right about that,” Erica said. “I like clubs but not the ones where women wear razor blades under their tongues and in their weave.” They both laughed.
“I promise you I’ll take you somewhere classy, just like you,” Darren said. Erica blushed. She had no idea why she was feeling a type of way about him but deep down she felt it would be wrong to pursue any type of relationship outside of friendship with him.
“I can’t wait,” Erica said.