Belle’s freshly soaped skin married with her essence beckoned Johnny Ray like the wafting aroma of honeysuckle languid in the heavy Texas heat. It made him salivate, and he found himself wanting to devour her. Ignorant with bliss when around her, Johnny Ray constantly craved Belle. The simplicity of her beauty intoxicated him. He loved her completely. Johnny Ray couldn’t quite put his finger on the exact moment that his love for Belle reached the heights it stood at now. Belle and Johnny were well into their twenties now. They had been together since high school their getting married seemed the next step. Johnny Ray felt that he was the envy of all the men in town. Belle was strikingly beautiful. Her long legs reminded Johnny Ray of tootsie rolls, smooth, dark and sweet. He loved running his tongue up and down her thigh pretending she was made of chocolate. Belle wore her hair long, pressed straight, and combed back. Her eyes, round and full of innocence were the color of black molasses. Belle was also beautiful inside. There was never a neighbor that she wouldn’t help in time of need. For most of her life, Johnny Ray was all the man she needed or desired.
Then she got a look at the magnificent Simon Blair! Belle hadn’t anticipated his arrival in the small Texas town of Levy. For months, there was talk of a big textile company coming to set up shop there. Word had it that an architect from a big city was coming in to survey and purchase some land. He just happened to be the nephew of Lula Harper, Belle’s good friend. Her sister, Hattie Mae had moved up North when she was younger and married a well to do dentist, Jacob Blair. Their son was now a young man, college educated and well on his way to a successful career at Long Island Textiles. Simon decided rather than rent a stuffy hotel room, he would stay with his Aunt Lula and Uncle Henry.
He longed to taste the delectable dishes Aunt Lula used to prepare when he visited her during the summers of his youth. Simon fondly remembered the melt in your mouth pot roast, tangy collards, perfectly crisp fried chicken and the syrupy sweet pecan pies. His favorite dish was the creamy baked macaroni and cheese. Aside from his mother, no one up north could come close to Aunt Lula’s recipe. She would use three different kinds of cheeses, fresh cream and butter and boil the macaroni until it was oh so tender. Then she baked it until all of the ingredients worked together in perfect harmony, like a barbershop quartet. The flavors blending so seamlessly into one another you’d think they were one. Grant it, Simon was New York born and bred, but a piece of his heart would always belong to Texas. He had deep roots there. Besides, no one could “burn”, a phrase he coined for her unmatchable cooking skills, like his Aunt Lula, not even his own mother, Hattie Mae.
Belle remembered Simon from his visits during the summer, but she never paid much attention. He was scrawny, with big ears and the most unusual golden eyes. The kids would tease him during his visits, calling him devil donkey boy. Johnny Ray felt sorry for him. He tried to take him under his wing, but being that he was very athletic and Simon was not the sporting type, they never did develop the type of bond most of the fellows had with each other. Johnny Ray had always been the star of the football team, ever since Jr high. Standing a little over six feet tall, broad shoulders, thighs thick as railroad ties and muscles so big they looked like loaves of rising dough. Belle thought they would sometimes burst right through his skin. Johnny was responsible for helping Simon out many summers when the other boys wanted to beat him up. Johnny Ray Dowd was a good man. One who had a ferocious temper when riled. There was occasions that Belle punished Johnny Ray for that same explosive temper.
During this particular “fightin’ time” as they called it, Belle had gone to the meadow on a picnic with a man named David King. David loved them and left them faster than a housefly escaped the wrath of an angry kitchen maid. Belle had gone out with David just to get at Johnny Ray, but she had no intention of sleeping with him. She would always love Johnny. He was her first and only lover, or so she thought.
David King, however, had made other plans on that day. He had always admired Belle and often wondered what she was doing with a dolt like Johnny Ray. David didn’t dislike Johnny. He just had long desired to get a taste of Belle. He knew her flavor would be as sweet as his mama’s banana crème pie and was planning seducing her the day of the picnic. David had brought along an entire gallon jug of sweet strawberry wine, distilled by his Uncle Floyd. Cold fried chicken, potato salad with egg and Vidalia onions, spicy turnip greens with garlic. Fresh yeast rolls, Ambrosia with homemade pecan cookies, fresh from his bakery, completed the meal. David was not only a baker, but an excellent cook. It was one of the things he prided himself most on, his Mother Sedonia insisted upon it. That was one of his secret weapons in getting so many women. It also enabled him not to depend upon them for anything except an occasional roll in the hay.
David took Belle out to the meadow later in the day. Most everyone they knew would be at the speakeasy for the dollar beer and dance held each Saturday night. He and Belle ate, drank and talked. They even went out on the lake in a rowboat. David liked talking to Belle, he felt very at ease with her. Belle was very different from the women he usually kept company with. All they wanted from him was money and a ride in his car. His reward was all the sex he could ever want, but then they would start calling and trying to get all familiar or tie him down after that. He loathed that part most of all. That’s why he so looked forward to his afternoon with Belle. Not only had he wanted to sleep with her, he knew she would go back to Johnny Ray anyhow. That was fine with him, as the last thing he wanted was to be bothered by another whiny female. That’s a cold-hearted way to look at it, but that’s how David King’ saw it.
Once the sun began to set, David and Belle settled under an old pine tree by the lake to take in the view. The sun setting over Moon Lake was something to behold. It was almost as if God had taken every variation of the color orange and washed the sky with a gradated pattern of tints. The beauty of the sunset coupled with the scent of pine, sweet strawberry wine and thick Texas heat lulled them into a hypnotic state. Soon they were kissing each other with an urgency neither of them had anticipated. David had artistically removed the thin sheath of a dress that Belle wore, and she suddenly lay naked in the evening dusk. “A black satin doll”, he thought as he stood over her and removed his shirt to reveal a perfectly formed chest and arms. Belle had heard the rumors about David’s anatomy, but never paid them much mind. Once David removed his trousers and shorts, she knew what all the commotion was about. The sight of David was enough to shock her out of her drunken state, cause her to sit up straight and just stare. All Belle could do was stare. She was intimidated at first, and she knew it showed in her eyes. For a moment, David seemed self conscious at his magnitude, he didn’t know why. It was a tool that he had mastered the use of most of his adult life and for a minute he thought she might reject him. Belle had only been with Johnny Ray and the only other man she had seen was the time she once caught a glimpse of her father in the bathroom, but she never imagined a man could look like this. David was smooth and brown, beautifully formed and his skin was flawless.
Belle realized her staring had embarrassed David and she wanted to make him feel more at ease. Although she did not go to the meadow with him expecting this, her body pleaded with her to succumb to passion this one time. She cupped David in her hand and pleasured him until he fell to his knees. David gave Belle a look of longing that he had never given any of his conquests before. He lay down next to her, inhaling her womanly fragrance. It reminded him of the smell of clean rain mixed with the sweet funky smell of ravishing sex. It sent tingles through his body and before he knew it he was ready for her. Belle found herself mounting David before he could even approach her. She let out a gratifying moan of delight and would go on to make love to David until she wept. David certainly had something that Johnny Ray did not; he had hit a spot that beforehand, she never knew existed. Belle thought she may have hollered out or bayed at the moon like an animal. Whatever the sound was that she made, it was borne out of sheer gratification.
David had always thought Belle to be a sensual woman; underneath that cool exterior he felt there beat the heart of an insatiable goddess. David and Belle made love for what seemed like an eternity. The last thing he remembers thinking is “Johnny is not satisfying this woman.” With that thought, and sated with Belle, he fell asleep in the sweaty arms of his forbidden lover. They awoke the next morning at sunrise, their breath sour from the wine, bodies sore and salty from the evening’s tryst. Looking into each other’s eyes and without speaking they went to the down to the lake. It seemed much like a ritual of baptism, using the tepid lake water to wash themselves free of their sin from the previous evening. They put on their clothes and walked hand in hand back to David’s car in silence. Their only communication, an occasional glance. There was no need for them to speak; their bodies had done all of the talking the night prior.
Today was Sunday and David knew he had to open the bakery, as all the women would be coming in for their loaves of bread and his famous yeast rolls. David kissed her gently on the cheek left Belle on the doorstep of the small house she sometimes shared with Johnny Ray. She was going to slide right into bed, but figured it best to take a bath and remove the scent she and David had created. If Johnny stopped by today, he would surely pick up the smell of another man on her. She drew a soothing bath and filled it with fresh lavender, and rosewater. Belle soaked herself in the warm water, allowing it to envelop her like a mother’s arms around a newborn while breastfeeding. Comforted by the gentleness and warmth of the bath, she closed her eyes and thought of her night with David.
Belle had never been that free with Johnny. She knew there was something lacking in their lovemaking. Maybe that’s what sparked their “fightin’ times”. She used to love feeling the weight of his body on hers, hearing him moan soft and low while at the height of pleasure. Lately she came to dread making love with Johnny. It had become dull and boring. Belle didn’t even look forward to it the way she used to. It was an embarrassing thought, but she always found herself thinking of other things during their lovemaking. Housework, laundry and once she even made the grocery list in her head. Once he even startled her by asking her “Belle, you with me girl?” because he had finished and she didn’t even realize he was through.
Belle found her mind wander back to thoughts of her and David King under the old pine. She caught a chill thinking about how he had tasted of her body, how he had hungrily consumed every inch of her that night. In all their years together, Johnny Ray had never been able to give her such gratification. He had never made her feel the way David did that night. David was far more generous with his body. Unafraid to touch and taste her. All of her. David told her she was beautiful while they were making love. Belle knew she would never be with David again. Eerily it saddened her, like the sound of minor keys played on a piano. She knew Johnny Ray was going to propose soon, and everyone would expect her to accept. But after being with David last night, Belle knew deep down inside, she would never be able to marry Johnny Ray. If she were to be happily married, Belle needed to feel that wondrous bliss she had with David again and again. In her mind she knew Johnny would never give it to her.
Belle thought about stopping by the bakery later to buy bread, just to see David. The thought quickly left her mind when she heard someone knocking on her front door. “Belle, you in there girl?” a familiar voice sang out. “Oh Lord, Johnny Ray!” she thought. How would she be able to hide the glow of rapture in her eyes? She quickly jumped out of the tub and grabbed her robe. “I’m in the back baby.” She drawled in her lazy Texas accent. Belle ran to her bed quickly and got under the covers. When Johnny entered he was surprised to see her still in bed. “Why you in the bed like that girl, you know there’s church this mornin.” he twanged. “Johnny, I, I don’t feel so good today, you’d better go on without me darlin.” she feigned. “Listen baby” he said in that ultra sweet voice of his “I know we goin’ through a real rough time right now, but I still love you Belle, and I think we should go to church today, I want us to get a special blessing.”
Belle knew that could mean only one thing. He was going to propose her to become his wife in front of the entire congregation. That was just like Johnny Ray Dowd. He craved the spotlight, ever since his glory days in high school. She could not endure the spectacle of being paraded around the church like some prize-winning hog. David was used to being with many women, but she’ll never forget what he told her this morning. “You’re not afraid of your body Belle, and that’s a rare thing for a woman. I ain’t never felt nothing like that before.” Belle looked at him in surprise, as Johnny Ray had never complimented her on actually having skills in lovemaking. David went on to tell her “I’m never gonna forget this Belle, never, and I really mean that.” After stating that, David actually kissed her hand. Had she succeeded in actually making David King sincere? Oh Belle knew he didn’t fall in love with her. But from that moment on he would never look at her the same again.
“Johnny baby, I feel like my time of the month is coming on, I really can’t make today baby. Please try to understand.” She said in her sweetest little girl voice, the one that always got her what she wanted from him. “Alright honey, you stay in bed, I’ll brew you up a pot of tea before I leave, unless y’all want me to stay and care for you?” he pleaded. “No, no honey, you go on ahead.” Belle replied. She couldn’t wait for him to leave her alone with thoughts of David in the moonlight.
One fine looking man, David King was tall, lean with a complexion golden as honey. He wore his shiny, dark curly hair close to his scalp. David’s mother, Sedonia, was American Indian. His father, Big Jim King was a Cajun mulatto from Louisiana. This combination made David and his siblings quite stunning. His looks were part of what drove so many women crazy. The craziest of which was Clara Thibodeaux. David met Clara at the grocery store. They hit it off right away. He thought, not only was she cute, but equally entertaining. David began visiting with her the following week. He liked spending time with Clara. She was easygoing and carefree, much like himself. She didn’t mind just having a sexual relationship with him, no strings attached. He liked that, no whiny phone calls and no trying to become Mrs. David King. Just “Fun in the sun and then we’re done.”, he liked to say. The mysterious tragedy behind their breakup is another story.
The spring after Clara met David, she became acquainted with a local pig farmer named Jerry Galloway. He seemed to be decent, he made a good living and since Clara felt what was between her and David was only sexual. She decided to marry Jerry after a quick courtship. It was soon found that Jerry has sustained an injury in the war and was not able to service Clara. She did not discover this until their wedding night and sought immediate solace in David’s arms. The next day, his pride wounded because his new wife had been with her lover on their wedding night, Jerry went to visit David at his bakery. He threatened to kill him and feed him to his pigs if he ever touched his wife again.
David commiserated with his twin brothers, Jacob and Jason later that evening over several shots of corn liquor. They shared the same red hot Indian and Cajun blood and stunning good looks as David. All of the King boys were tall, but only the twins got their fathers girth. As a result they were quite intimidating. Legend has it the twins paid a visit to the Galloway farm one night, and after the visit, no one ever saw Jerry again. Clara sold the pig farm for a large sum of money and went back home to her folks in Louisiana. Some say the twins, killed Jerry, cut him up and fed him to own pigs, the same thing he had threatened David with. Others say they heard the sounds of someone screaming as if being tortured in the woods late that night. The sounds woke up most of the neighbors and they sent for Big Jim. He went out to investigate and said all he found was Clara crying and saying that Jerry had left her when he found out about David. All of Jerry’s things were gone so he must have up and left her cold. The fact that Big Jim was the boy’s’ father, and the sheriff, no one had ever brought up the story again.
Clara continued to call David and would come to town to see him from time to time. David noticed that she wasn’t the same after Jerry’s disappearance and also seemed deathly afraid of the twins. She literally cowered whenever they were around. David quickly tired of her nonsense after a few months. She would often come into town unannounced, sometimes letting herself into his place or showing up and embarrassing him at the bakery. Despite his best efforts, David couldn’t shake Clara right away. There were times he even weakened and slept with her. Other times, when she started ranting about evil spirits taking Jerry away, he couldn’t bear to be around her. She was still an attractive woman, but there was something different about her eyes now. David noticed Clara’s behavior becoming more bizarre. She became obsessed with voodoo and black magic. Ever since she had gone back home to visit the bayou, Clara, would continually speak of evil spirits and dryads that could take your life away. Another thing David did not care for was that she had taken to wearing amulets and pouches filled with vile herbal concoctions. It seems some of the old women back home had convinced Clara that evil was coming to her because of what had happened to Jerry on her wedding night. David tried to assure her that it was all in her mind, but Clara would have none of it. David eventually told her she need not come back to town since he had found another girl.
Clara stopped calling David and last he heard she had been sent to a convent by her family. Her mind never right after the tragedy, they felt Clara needed to be in a quiet place. The convent lasted a few months. The nuns could not control Clara’s ranting, crying and yelling in her sleep. The girl was convinced that someone in Jerry’s family had put a “root” on her. Spirits would try to eat her soul while she slept. Clara’s family had to commit her to a sanitarium. David sometimes found a postcard or letter in the mail from her, the writing scattered and confused. He’d begun throwing them away at the suggestion of his parents. The twins were sent to work on an uncle’s ranch in Kansas and would sometimes visit their family in Texas with their wives, Charla and Kayla, twin sisters from Kansas City. Never again would anyone in the King family speak of what occurred on the Galloway farm that ill-fated night.
Belle was languishing in bed that Sunday morning, thoughts of David coursing through her mind. Her body pulsated with delight just thinking of him touching her. Kissing her. Tasting her. Belle had become a new woman. Johnny Ray looked a little sad as he left the house. Belle felt badly about not going to church this morning. It was the type of church were little old ladies wore hats. The gaudier, the better. She liked seeing them come in each week, displaying their latest millinery creation, some as flamboyant as a circus carousel. Rev. Crenshaw was a true hellfire and brimstone preacher. Belle always enjoyed his weekly sermon. She couldn’t face him this Sunday. She thought he might see through her and figure out what happened with David the previous evening. Belle thought if she allowed some time to pass, her feelings about the night with David would dissipate.
Johnny Ray was sweet, but he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Belle knew he wouldn’t figure anything out. One thing that was sure about David, he never kissed and told. Belle drifted into a lazy sleep and after a while, was awakened by someone knocking on the front door. “Belle, Belle, you up sugar?” the voice asked. Belle knew that voice, as sweet as honeydew, could be no one other than Lula Harper. Lula was the finest women Belle knew. They loved each other dearly. “Belle honey, Johnny told me you weren’t feeling yourself, so I brought over some food. I knew you wouldn’t be up to cooking.” Lula sang out. Belle rolled over and told Lula to let herself in. No one really locked their doors in Levy until the evening time.
Lula came in and immediately took the food she prepared into Belle’s cozy kitchen. Lula loved Belle’s flair for designing. She would make a great mother someday; her attention to detail was immaculate, her loving touch apparent in everything she did. Every dish in its proper place, all the food put away in the orderly cupboard. Belle’s kitchen was as bright and vibrant as a field of wildflowers. Lula felt the vivid colors personified the essence of Belle’s very soul. Her first love was painting, although she was happy in her present career working as a paralegal for attorney Maurice Lathan.
Mo Lathan hailed from Louisiana. When he set up practice in town, most people thought he was white. He anticipated the volumed promise of legal work for such a small town. Levy was a burgeoning city. Full of natural resources and set on the coast, it was quickly attracting several businesses and new inhabitants monthly. There were always deeds being drawn up due to land purchases, oil sale and livestock trade. Mo seized the opportunity by setting up one of the only black owned law firms in town. He had to work hard to gain the confidence of the ranchers and town business owners after they realized he was black. Most town folk didn’t have a high level of trust with other negroes when it came down to their money. A lot of them would have preferred to go to a white attorney instead. Maurice sometimes felt inadequate because of this and worked extra hard to gain the trust of his clients. Some of them would question his ability repeatedly, angering the already hot headed Mo.
Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana did not necessarily exempt him from being subject to prejudice either. The black children teased and called him “half cooked nigger”. The white children teased him and called him “white nigger”. When he went off to college, he was often accused of passing because he liked to hang out with the white students rather than the black ones. When the white students found out he was black, they no longer wanted to associate with him. Shunned by both races, Mo never quite knew where to try and blend in. He felt he was too white to be black and too black to be white. These lifelong experiences made Maurice Lathan a very angry man. The one thing that never failed to bring a smile to his face was having Belle come into the office everyday. Maurice thought Belle was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He loved the milk chocolate color of her skin and that fact that she was so very tall. Mo himself was an imposing man. He stood about six foot two, with skin the color of a white Georgia peach, bleached pale by the sunlight. His head was crowned with hair the color of a rain saturated coastline. Maurice’s most amazing attribute was his piercing green eyes. They were the color of emeralds.
Mo was a handsome man, but often times subject to loneliness because of his complexion and attitude. If he could have one wish that would be to win Belle over and get her away from that fool Johnny Ray. A man like him could never fully appreciate the depth and charm of a woman like Belle. No, Johnny didn’t deserve her. Mo Lathan was not shy about his intentions either. Belle just couldn’t get past his color. It didn’t have the golden honey like glow that David’s did. Maurice was beyond pale. Mo would fly into a blinding rage if he knew Belle were with David last night. He seemed to have this oddly possessive nature when it came down to Belle. He always half teased if she ever tired of Johnny Ray, to look no further. He would be waiting there for her. “And wait you will.” she thought. Belle would laugh it off. Maurice Lathan was dead serious.