Chapter VIII: A Familiar Face
Friday Afternoon, September 24th, 3:17 p.m.
Erica was happy that the work week was over. She’d had a successful week as far as the magazine goes, but she couldn’t help but replay the fight she had with Darren over in her mind all week long. She couldn’t believe how disrespectful he had been. She really liked him as a person and she thought maybe they could possibly work toward something in the future, when she was actually ready for a relationship. He had finally convinced her that a relationship between them wouldn’t be considered wrong. However, she was still determined that she didn’t want a relationship at that point. She thought that she and Darren could continue to hang out and spend time with each other, although she felt guilty about sleeping with him. She didn’t want him to view her as an easy lay, or that she was using him for his body. It wasn’t easy to resist Darren: he was handsome, charming, smart and sexy. She knew that part of their breakdown was her fault. She could have told him no when it came to sex but she didn’t. Her body craved him but her mind wouldn’t let him in as a potential mate, not just yet anyway.
She sat at her desk, massaging her temples when one of her employees, Teena, walked in to her office.
“Erica, are you alright?” Teena asked with a look of concern. Erica was startled a little.
“Oh...yes, I’m okay,” Erica said, trying to put on a happy face. “Just a little tired is all.”
“I have the deposit ready for you to take to the bank,” Teena said, handing her a blue zip envelope.
“Thank you, Teena,” Erica said, taking the envelope. “Tell you what: you and the rest of the staff can leave for the day. You can let them know for me.”
“Thank you, Erica, you’re the best,” Teena said, her blue eyes sparkling in the brightness of Erica’s sunlit office. “I’ll let everyone know! Have a great weekend!”
“I will Teena, and you have a great one was well,” Erica smiled. Teena and the rest of her staff were model employees; everyone got along as if they’d known each other for years. Erica always held monthly lunches for the staff at the finest restaurants in Chicago. She wanted them to know how much she appreciated them. There were weekly raffles for prizes, such as gift cards and weekend getaways. The staff loved Erica and she loved them back. They were like a second family to her.
As Teena was skipping out of the office, Jennifer was walking into it.
“Why is she skipping like a little kid at recess?” Jennifer said, laughing. Erica joined in.
“I told her and the staff to take the rest of the day off,” Erica said. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Aleve. She slid two out of the bottle and threw them into her mouth. She opened her bottle of water and took a swig to wash the pills down.
“Don’t tell me you’re still stressing about Darren,” Jennifer said in a low voice. Erica looked out into the staff area and saw everyone snatching up their purses, briefcases, laptops and all, ready to head out into the Chicago sunshine. After the last person left, Erica stood up and sat on top of her desk.
“I can’t believe he acted that way,” Erica said. “I had told him over and over and I guess he just didn’t believe me.” She had gotten the phone calls from him but each time he called, she sent the call to voice mail. He had left a voice mail and he sounded so sad. Several times she was tempted to pick up the phone and call him but she remembered the crass way he had talked to her before he left her apartment and she changed her mind.
“I can believe it,” Jennifer said. “You did say he had been to jail, didn’t you? Who’s to say he didn’t go to jail for beating up a woman?”
“He didn’t,” Erica said. “Bianca confirmed it. It was drugs.”
“Well anyway, I’m glad you found him out for what he is: a disrespectful piece of crap. Let’s move on to another subject though,” Jennifer said, a smile spreading across her tanned face. “You remember my friend Carlos? The fine Puerto Rican guy I met at the post office a few weeks back?”
“Yes, I remember,” Erica said. Jennifer had never been into white guys; the entire time that Erica and Jennifer had been friends, Jennifer has always dated outside her race. She felt that white guys were too preppy, too weird or too wimpy for her. She liked strong men, which is why she always dated either black or Hispanic men.
“Well, he has a friend…” Jennifer began.
“No Jen,” Erica said.
“You didn’t let me finish,” Jennifer said.
“I already know what you’re about to say,” Erica said. Although she was still reeling over the argument with Darren she wasn’t ready to jump back into the dating pool. She still had feelings for him and felt that it would be betrayal if she went out with a new guy so soon.
“Don’t tell me you still have feelings for that jerk,” Jennifer said, frowning.
“It’s not easy to cut off my feelings like that,” Erica said. “We had a lot of fun together. It wasn’t just about the sex; he’s a good person. I hurt his feelings and his pride. I shouldn’t have let my sexual feelings get the better of me.”
“Look, stop blaming yourself,” Jennifer said. “You told him what the deal was and he didn’t want to accept it. Then he threw a tantrum like a little kid and disrespected you. You deserve better than that.”
“I know I do Jen,” Erica said. “And it will happen. Just not now. I need to clear my mind. No matter how much I crave a man’s company, I will not fall into that trap again. Not anytime soon I mean.”
Friday Evening, 5:22 p.m.
Erica and Jennifer sat in the lobby of Chase Bank, waiting for their personal banker Sydney Garcia to finish up her business with another client. Erica had met Sydney when she opened up her personal and business accounts and they immediately clicked. Sydney was born and raised in Chicago on the West Side so she knew the ins and outs of the city and had turned Erica on to a lot of hot spots for shopping and dining.
The ladies were chatting when all of a sudden, Jennifer’s green eyes grew wide.
“Oh…my…goodness,” Jennifer said, her eyes almost bulging out of her head.
“What?” Erica said, looking into her friend’s face.
“You are not going to believe who just walked into the bank,” Jennifer said. Erica suddenly froze; she prayed that it wasn’t Darren. She knew that he had a checking and savings account with Chase Bank too. A huge smile spread over Jennifer’s face and Erica knew that it couldn’t be Darren.
“Who?” Erica said, beginning to turn around. When she did, she looked into the face of her first official boyfriend, her first love, Cassius “Cash” Turner. He still looked the same as he always did, but slightly older with a trimmed beard. He stood in line, scrolling through his phone with his head down, deep in thought. He didn’t notice Erica and Jen watching him.
“Girl, he is still fine,” Jennifer giggled. Erica thought so too but she didn’t say anything. “I’m about to go holler at him and let him know that you’re here.”
“No, Jen don’t do that!” Erica said. “I mean, he may be married with kids or something.”
“What does that have to do with anything? You’re just saying hi, not asking him to take you to a hotel to have sex.” Erica had to laugh although a quick picture of him in the nude did flash across her mind.
“I mean…I don’t know,” Erica said. She suddenly felt self-conscious and shy. Jennifer was right: she and Cash were far from strangers. They went on dates, they attended prom together and they even shared their first kiss together. Cash had wanted to go a bit further than kissing but Erica was determined not to give herself to anyone until she was mature enough. Cash understood and never pressured her.
“I’m going over there,” Jennifer said, standing up and grabbing her purse. She moved swiftly to the line and tapped Cash on the shoulder. Erica looked over her shoulder and watched as Cash looked up from his phone into Jennifer’s smiling face. They hugged each other and began small talk. Then, right on cue, she saw Jennifer point in her direction. Cash followed her finger and looked directly at Erica. He smiled broadly. He waved her over to him but she pointed toward Sydney’s office. She guessed that Jennifer told him about the transaction Erica had to make so he nodded his head. Jennifer strolled back over into the waiting area and plopped down next to Erica.
“Girl, he wants to talk to you!” Jennifer said, squealing loudly. A few customers turned around and she gave them the evil eye. They turned back around.
“Okay, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Erica said. “As I said, he may be just trying to catch up for old time’s sake. I can promise you that he has a wife or at least a girlfriend. Plus, I already told you: I’m not looking for romance.”
“It doesn’t have to be romantic,” Jennifer said, becoming annoyed. “You and he are childhood friends, high school sweethearts. No one on this earth can break that bond. Wife, girlfriend or whatever.” Just then, Sydney’s client walked out of her office and nodded at the ladies before departing. Sydney strolled out into the waiting area and greeted the ladies.
“How was your week ladies?” she asked.
“It was pretty okay, and yours?” Erica said.
“Uneventful but busy,” Sydney said. “You ready to do this?”
“I’m gonna sit out here and wait for Cash to finish up his transaction; you can go in without me,” Jennifer said. Erica and Sydney walked into the office and Erica took a seat in front of the desk. She handed Sydney the weekly deposit and Sydney entered her information into the computer system. Erica glanced out of the office and saw Cash walking into the waiting area and taking a seat next to Jennifer. He looked into the office and smiled at Erica. Erica smiled back and focused her attention on Sydney and the business at hand.
“You know that cutie?” Sydney said, glancing briefly at Cash and looking back at her computer screen.
“Yes, we grew up together,” Erica said. “We were high school sweethearts.”
“Oh really?” Sydney said. “What happened?”
“We both left our hometown and we lost contact,” Erica said.
“Girl if I were you, I’d be trying to connect again,” Sydney said, suddenly losing her professional way of talking.
“He may be married or something,” Erica said.
“Only one way to find that out,” Sydney said. “Be right back.” She stood up and took the blue envelope into the bank safe. Erica wanted to turn around but she was afraid that it would be obvious that she was looking at Cash. Her right leg began to shake and she placed her hand on her knee to stop it. A few minutes later, Sydney came out with an empty blue envelope and a receipt in her hand.
“Thanks so much Sydney,” Erica said. “I will be seeing you in two weeks.”
“You’re welcome,” Sydney said. “And remember what I said: get that info girl.”
Erica walked out of Sydney’s office, feeling like her legs were made of rubber. She had no idea why she was feeling nervous about talking to Cash. It wasn’t as if they were strangers: they grew up together, knew each other’s families, been on dates with each other, had even kissed and made out a few times. But that was so many years ago, Erica thought to herself. Cash stood up as soon as she made her way into the waiting area.
“Hello Erica,” Cash said in a deep sexy voice. Cash always had a deep voice even as a teen but now it was deeper. He still had the same smooth chocolate skin although now a thin beard covered it, along with a goatee. He still had that dazzling white smile and bright brown eyes. He resembled a young Lance Gross but a bit thinner and with dimples.
“Hello Cassius, it’s good to see you after all these years,” Erica said. Cash walked up to her and opened his arms for a hug. Erica drifted into his arms and welcomed his hug. He smelled absolutely delicious. They hugged briefly but it was enough for Erica to begin tingling. She saw Jennifer smiling and giving her the thumbs up while they hugged. She stuck her tongue out at her.
“I was hoping that I’d bump into you one day,” Cash said.
“Really?” Erica asked.
“Yeah. I went back to Bethesda a few months back and I talked with your parents at the grocery store. They told me you were moving to Chicago to open up your own business. Magazine, right?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Erica said. She had forgotten that Cash made frequent trips to Bethesda to see his parents and family and childhood friends. She should have remembered that he would see her parents while he was there. He loved them and they loved him back. “So what are you doing in Chicago?”
“I just moved here about a year ago,” Cash said. “Work transfer.”
“So is there a Mrs. Turner and Baby Turners?” Jennifer blurted out. Erica frowned but was grateful that she didn’t have to ask the question herself. Cash laughed.
“Still the same Jen I see,” Cash said.
“Yep, and I ain’t ever changing,” Jennifer laughed.
“To answer your question: there is no Mrs. Turner, at least not anymore.” Erica didn’t know why that answer made her feel good.
“What happened?” Jennifer asked.
“Jen, maybe he doesn’t want to tell us all that,” Erica said. “This is our first time seeing each other in years. Don’t you think we should ease into the conversation?”
“Why don’t we take this conversation outside of this bank?” Jennifer said. They all walked out and onto the sidewalk. Just then, Jennifer’s phone rang. She checked the screen and started smiling.
“I gotta take this call; I’ll leave you guys to finish up the conversation,” Jennifer said, walking away and toward Erica’s car. She got in the passenger seat and closed the door.
“Jennifer is never gonna change, is she?” Cash said. “That must have been a guy I assume, the way she was grinning.”
“More than likely, yes,” Erica said.
“So what have you been up to since moving here?”
“Not very much; I’ve been busy with my magazine. No room for much of anything else,” Erica said. She refused to mention her time with Darren. “I visit with Bianca and her husband Dean from time to time but not as much as I should. I promised myself that I would start spending more time with her. She’s the only family I have here in Chicago.”
“Wow, I haven’t seen Bianca in years,” Cash said. “I would love to see her sometime soon.”
“Maybe we can arrange that,” Erica said. “I’m sure she’d love to see you.” Erica was thrilled at the thought of seeing Cash again.
“What about you? Are you dating someone? I don’t see a ring on your finger so I’m guessing that you’re not engaged or married.”
“I’m not dating anyone at this time,” Erica said. Flashbacks of her time with Darren crossed her mind, and she quickly pushed them out of her head. “My magazine keeps me busy.”
“You know what they say: All work and no play…” Cash joked.
“I know I know,” Erica said. “So you never finished telling us about the former Mrs. Turner; what happened there?”
“It just didn’t work out,” Cash said. “I loved her for all the wrong reasons and vice versa. She gave me a beautiful son and I’m grateful for that but…the love was never really there. I felt like I owed it to her to marry her because she held me down.” So he has a son, Erica thought.
“Oh okay, I understand,” Erica said. “So do you get along with her?”
“Yes, we are still friendly and cordial with each other, especially for our son’s sake,” Cash said.
“Is your ex and son in Chicago?”
“No, she chose to stay in Atlanta. I will have him for summer breaks and on some holidays though,” Cash said, whipping out his phone. He scrolled through some pictures and found one of his son. He showed the picture to Erica.
“Oh, my goodness, he’s adorable,” Erica said, beaming at the picture. He looked exactly like his dad at that age. Same eyes, smile, and dimples.
“Thank you. That’s my little man Braylon,” Cash said. “I hope to introduce you to him when he comes to Chicago for Thanksgiving.”
“I’d like that,” Erica said. She had hoped to see more of Cash. She didn’t want to begin a relationship with him at that moment but it would be nice to spend time with someone that she didn’t have to learn all over again.
“You want to exchange numbers?” Cash asked. Erica handed him her phone and he entered his number. She took his phone and did the same. While the two childhood friends/high school sweethearts were exchanging their numbers, they had no idea they were being watched.