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Broken

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Broken, a short story

Part of the Lunch Break series

Stephanie Nicole Norris

Copyright © 2014 by Stephanie Norris

All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

Besides the scriptures quoted from the Holy Bible, this is a work of fiction. The events and characters described are imaginary and do not refer to specific places or persons, dead or alive. Any resemblances are purely coincidental.

What is the Lunch Break series?

This is a series of short stories, packed with the romance, drama, and suspense readers are used to reading in Stephanie’s books. The Lunch Break series is only available in electronic format. Once you get a taste, you will want to read them over and over. Read them on your lunch break, the train ride home, the bus, in the backseat of a car, in a waiting room, the beach, or on an airplane. Wherever you go, you are guaranteed to feed your need to read.

To check out more books in the Lunch Break series, visit Amazon.com or BN.com

Dedication

To my Lord and Savior: You have come into my life, saved my soul, and changed my heart in a major way. I love You and no amount of words can express just how much. I dedicate my writings to You in the hopes that I am fulfilling the purpose You have for my life. To You, I give back the gift You gave me. Thank You for keeping me, even when I didn’t deserve it.

To my readers: You guys rock! I would start naming people, but I don’t want to leave anyone out. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE! The ones who rock with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads; the ones who purchase my books and/or share them by word of mouth to others. I am truly thankful for you and would never take any of you for granted!

To my editor, Jamila E. Gomez: Thank you for going over my words with a fine-tooth comb! You really help my creativity sparkle and I love it! Kudos to you!

To my hubby: I love you, boo. Thank you for always being by my side and making me yours forever to infinity and beyond! You will always be my baby!

Part 1

“Hello?”

“Yes, I was told to let you know that if your rent wasn’t paid by 10 p. m., you will have to vacate the premises.”

“10 o’clock?” Marissa looked at the time on her Netbook, which read 8:28 p. m. “Who told you to call and tell me this?”

“Harry. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just doing my job.”

“I won’t have the money until tomorrow afternoon. You can’t wait until then?”

“It’s not up to me. It’s what Harry says and I’ve got to abide by the rules.”

“Where is Harry? Let me talk to him.”

“He’s already gone for the day and I don’t want to disturb him because he will have an attitude. I’m not trying to go through it with him.”

“I’m about to get put out and you don’t want to go through it with him?” Marissa sucked her teeth. She was so fed up with the extended-stay hotel and the Arab owners. They were so rude and unmerciful. “So, what am I supposed to do?”

“I’m sorry. I have people at the front desk, so I’ve got to go.”

Suddenly, the line went dead. Marissa dropped her head and hung the phone on its base. Frustrated, she dialed Nathanial and waited for him to answer.

“What’s up,” he answered.

“The front office just called and said we have until 10 o’clock to bring them the rent money or we have to leave.”

A sigh resounded through the phone. “And what did you say?”

“I asked who told her to tell us that. She said it was Harry.”

“Well, call them back and tell them I’m at work and won’t be back until tomorrow afternoon.”

“I don’t want to lie for you!” The line went dead again. “Hello!” Marissa slammed the phone down. “Ugh! I’m so sick and tired of this! It don’t make no sense!”

There was an unexpected knock at the door. She opened the door to find Nathaniel on the other side. He stepped in looking unsettled and upset. Standing at 5-feet-8-inches, he closed the door and put the lock and chain on it.

“Yeah, putting the chain on the door should keep them out. You sure solved that problem,” Marissa said.

Instead of responding, Nathaniel walked to a chair and sat down. The soles of his feet ached from the torn Crocs he wore. After removing his shoes, he rubbed them gently.

“So, you’re not going to say anything?” Marissa asked.

“Your whining is not helping. Spitting out insults and threats isn’t making our situation better.”

Marissa huffed. “Do you have the rent money?”

“Not all of it.”

“This is so ridiculous!” she screamed. “I’m sick and tired of going through this!”

“Well, since you don’t want to call the office, I suggest you call your sister and tell her to come get you,” he responded.

The disappointment was apparent when the creases appeared in Marissa’s forehead.

“If I leave, I’m not coming back. Being in this hotel with you is turning me into a mad woman and it has to end. I’m tired of sitting in here waiting for you to step up to the plate. Will you ever get a real job?

Nathaniel sat back and cracked his back, relieving the tension in his sore muscles. He reached for his shoulder and massaged it. Marissa was getting on his nerves. All she did was nag about everything. She sat in the room, day after day, complaining like her legs were broken when she could just as well be working.

“So, you’re just going to ignore me?”

Nathaniel turned the volume up on the San Diego Chargers game. Not only was he going to ignore Marissa, but he was glad they would be apart for a while. Even though the love was there, frustration and intense emotional strain in the relationship were as well. They were losing their way.

Marissa sat across the room brewing and ready to explode on Nathaniel. She didn’t appreciate being kicked out of the only place they called home for a year now. Tension understated the description of the atmosphere surrounding her. She would either be screaming at the top of her lungs or trying to hold it back. In return, her ears, along with the sides of her face, had turned red. She felt the heat rushing, like one of those hurricanes threatening to destroy Louisiana.

“ This is not a joke! They will put us out -- and then what? Where are you going to go? What are you going to do?”

He scratched his forehead and turned the TV up even louder. Marissa grabbed her purse and headed out the door.

“Where are you going?” Nathaniel asked.

She turned around sharply. “Oh, now you want to talk? I’m going to do what you obviously can’t do -- get the rent money!”

“And how are you going to do that?”

“ Don’t worry about it -- like you always do.”

She walked out the door and slammed it. Nathaniel rose from his chair and chased her. “Girl, get back in this room!” he yelled.

“For what? After while, we won’t have a room to go back to because you playin’ games. I should’ve left when I had the chance. Now I’m broke and stuck up here with you, trying to make sure I don’t get kicked out!”

“Listen, girl. Chill out . . . chill out! I’m gon’ get the rest of the money.”

“How?” she said.

“Come back in the room and I’ll tell you.”

Marissa weighed her options, which weren’t many. Her plan was to go borrow the money from Minnie downstairs. She would always help her when Marissa was in a bind. If that didn’t work, she would go see about Joe. That would be the last thing she did. Marissa knew Joe had a crush on her, and sometimes she used it to her advantage. He, too, would give her whatever she wanted. Though that was the case, Marissa knew she was playing with fire when it came to Joe. Men always had an ulterior motive. They never just wanted to help. Most thought women were naive and still wet behind the ears.

“You better not be lying, Nathaniel. I swear!” she huffed.

They went back into the room and Marissa flopped down on the bed. Nathaniel locked the door and put the chain back on it. Marissa rolled her eyes in disgust.

“I have a couple of bangs on the way,” he said. “One of them don’t get off until 12 a.m., and he’s coming to get a quarter. If all of them show up, we’ll be good.”

Nathaniel was a small-time weed hustler trying to get his weight up. For the longest, Marissa begged him to do the honest thing and get a job. That was like pulling teeth. Nathaniel would always say, “By the time I got my paycheck, I could’ve made that money already and re’d up.”

That made Marissa want to slap the taste out of his mouth. This was her man. She hated having these ill feelings towards him, but he gave her no choice. His lifestyle drove her to the point of leaving him multiple times, but she loved him. They had been together six years and engaged for two. When it first happened, Marissa was psyched and ready for the new life. Unfortunately, she was the only one working a real job and trying to put the wedding together on her salary was unrealistic. It bugged her because after everything they’d gone through, he still would not get off his lazy butt and work.

“What if they don’t come through, Nathaniel? What then?”

“I’ll just give them what I have; they’ll take it,” Nathaniel answered. “Harry always be talking about putting us out, but when he get the cash in his hand, he’s always cool until I get the rest.”

“The lady at the front desk sounded pretty certain that if we didn’t have the full amount by ten we have to go” Marissa countered.

“She’ll be gone before 10 o’clock anyway, and Derrick will be in. You know security is the only one here at night, and me and Derrick are cool. He won’t put us out.”

This was true. Derrick smoked weed too, so all he needed was a blunt and he was good. If they got put out, Derrick would let Harry do it the next day.

“I can probably borrow the rest of the money from Minnie.”

“No! I don’t even like that girl, so why would I borrow anything from her?”

“ You are not borrowing from her -- I am.”

“Naw, man. She’s trouble. Neither one of us is fooling with her.”

“Why? Because you tried to holler at her and didn’t know she knew me?”

“I told you I didn’t try to holler at that girl. She just needs attention and feeds off drama. If you believe her, you stupid.”

“I’m not stupid, but I’m no fool either. I know you like them white girls.”

“Girl, don’t nobody want no old Minnie.”

“She isn’t that much older than me, so what you trying to say?”

Nathaniel turned his back and walked away from her. The conversation was going nowhere. It seemed to always happen that way. Marissa believed anything she heard. Yeah, he cheated on her in the past. Ever since then, he couldn’t get the benefit of the doubt. In fact, she questioned almost his every move. Cheating on her was him being immature. He’d grown since then, though. As long as they’d been together, he was over the cheating. Well, sort of. Sometimes, he couldn’t help but flirt. It was in his blood. But flirting wasn’t cheating, right? So what if he called a hotline to talk to women in his area while she was sleep. He was only doing it because he was bored. He had to admit, though. Marissa caught him doing something wrong from time to time, whether it was flirting, texting, or talking on the phone to another female. To Nathaniel, it was all entertainment, but to Marissa, it wasn’t.

“You like my old self, so I know you’ll like her, too. You can walk off if you want, but I know what I know.”

“You don’t know nothing,” Nathaniel said.

“I know you’re a cheater.”

“Do you just want to argue tonight? Because you keep coming at me. Soon, we will be in another heated argument!” he shouted.

“I’m not trying to argue. I’m just keeping it real.”

“Why don’t you just get back on your little computer and play on Facebook like you always do and leave me alone!” Suddenly, his phone rang. “Yeah, you outside? Aight, here I come.”

He gathered a few bags of weed he put together and stuffed them down his pants. Nathaniel was good at getting on Marissa’s nerves, but every time he went out to make what he called a ‘bang’, she prayed on the inside he would come back. Living this lifestyle was costly and he was just too stubborn to see the consequences. When he and Marissa first met, they were official for one week before he went to jail his first time. She got a call from Gwinnett County with him on the other end saying he needed to be bonded out. That time, it cost Marissa sixty dollars to get him released, with six hundred as bond. She was grateful she only had to pay ten percent because he would’ve been sitting still for a while if she had to come up with the full amount.

That wasn’t the last time Nathaniel went to jail. He went from only selling weed to selling crack cocaine and got caught one night while Marissa was at work. While he was handcuffed in the back seat of the police car, he managed to pull his cell phone from his back pocket and call her. It was a good thing he had her on speed dial. When Marissa answered the phone, he yelled.

“Baby, they got me!”

Marissa knew immediately what he meant. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“The police busted up on me and Lil’ Chris. I tossed my stuff, but he found it. Man, now I’m in the back seat of his car. He about to take me to jail, baby.”

Marissa cried her eyes out. She loved Nathaniel with all her heart and she didn’t want anything to happen to him. She was twenty-three years old then. She knew better now. Still, she didn’t want anything to happen to him, but he continued to put both of them in dangerous situations.

Three quick sharp bangs at the door made Marissa almost jump out of her skin.

“Baby, open the door,” Nathaniel said.

“Boy, why are you banging on the door like that?” she asked, attitudinally swinging the door open. “You know that drives me nuts.”

“My bad, baby. I left my key inside. You know I like to get in the room quick.” Nathaniel shut the door. “It’s cold out there. Good news,” he said.

“Don’t make me wait for it.”

Nathaniel laughed. “You need a chill pill, girl. I got the rest of the rent. Kevin had three dudes in the car with him. They all wanted some. Good thing I took more than he asked for. It’s too cold to be running in and out.” Nathaniel put his fists to his mouth and blew on them to warm them up.

“I’m about to hop in the shower,” Marissa said.

“Let me hop in with you.”

“First, go pay the rent. Then maybe you can hop in.”

“Man, by the time I get back, you’ll be halfway done.”

“My nerves bad. Can’t you tell? Go pay the rent first. Please?” she pleaded, giving him a soft kiss on the lips.

That was all he needed to get him going. “Don’t wash up too fast,” he said, walking out the door.

Part 2

The door to the front office chimed and Nathaniel walked in at 9:50 p.m. Amanda held her hand up to stop his advances.

“We’re closed; come back tomorrow,” she said.

“How are you closed when it ain’t even ten o’clock yet?”

“Because I’m going home. I’ve got to pick up my son from the babysitter and she’s getting ready to leave. I’ve already counted the drawer down for tonight, so I can’t take anymore payments, anyway.”

If Nathaniel could turn red, he would have. “You call us threatening to put us out if we didn’t pay before ten, and now you won’t even take the payment?”

“I told you I have to go,” she repeated.

Nathaniel did an about-face and exited the office. “These folks crazy around here. Wait ‘til I tell Derrick about this broad,” he fussed.

He turned the corner and paused, watching a white Impala pull up. He assessed it to see if it was his homeboy Peanut or the police. It was no secret that the hotel was hot with all types of drug deals going on -- pills, coke, weed -- anything dealers felt they could turn into money. Nathaniel didn’t want to do this forever, but he didn’t have an end date either. However, with his record, he couldn’t seem to get a job. Every time he applied, he had to answer all these questions about being a felon, probation, and misdemeanors. No matter how honest he was, when the company ran a background check, they never hired him. It tripped him out because they always said having something on your record wouldn’t automatically disqualify you from getting the job, but it always did. Nathaniel was discouraged. How was he supposed to do better for himself, his fiancée, and their son if no one would give him the opportunity? For that reason, he continued his hustle with no room for savings.

The car door to the Impala opened and Peanut got out. Nathaniel emerged out of the shadows smiling. “Hey, boy. Didn’t I tell you not to come back on my property,” Nathaniel said, pretending to be the owner.

The expression on Peanut’s face turned sour as he turned toward the voice. “What up, man? I thought you were Harry wanting to get cursed out.” The men laughed. “You’re just the person I came to see. What you doing right now?”

“Trying to pay the rent, but they closed. Why? What’s up?”

“I’m about to head over to the gentleman’s club. You wanna ride with?”

“You know I wanna go. Let me holla at my girl real quick.”

“Aight. Aye, don’t take all day.”

Nathaniel jogged up the stairs. Upon entrance, he remembered he was supposed to get in the shower with Marissa. However, it slipped his mind talking to Peanut. He made his way to the bathroom, which was filled with steam.

“This water is about to get cold and you’ll be in this shower by yourself,” Marissa said.

“My bad, baby.” Nathaniel stripped quickly, pulling the curtain back as he got in. He rubbed all over Marissa’s body, trying to get his feel on. They showered together for fifteen minutes, exploring each other until they heard a knock at the door.

“Don’t answer it,” Marissa said.

“It may be a bang,” Nathaniel responded.

Marissa sighed. If she heard the word ‘bang’ one more time, she was sure to bang her head against a wall. Nathaniel jumped out of the shower, dripping water on the floor. He grabbed a towel and dried himself, wrapping the towel around his waist. He put his face up to the peephole and saw Peanut. Cracking the door, he put his index finger up to signal that he needed a moment.

“Aye brah, I’m about to run down the street and get Steve. When I come back, I’ma text you. Be ready.”

“Aight,” Nathaniel said.

“Who is that?” Marissa asked.

Nathaniel spun around. “A bang,” he lied. “I told him to give me a minute, so they said they’ll be back.”

“Well, the water’s cold now.”

“It’s all good,” Nathaniel said before going to the closet and picking out some clothes.

“Where you going wearing that? Marissa inquired, watching him pull out his Coogie gear.

“I’m going out to make a couple rounds and handle some business. I want to work on getting the money for next week so we don’t end up in this same situation.”

Marissa rolled her eyes, but she didn’t complain. She wouldn’t because he needed to make the money and she didn’t have it. But she wished for something better for them.

“I guess I’ll sit here and twiddle my thumbs then.”

“Baby, why don’t you call Trisha? She’ll come chill with you.”

“Trisha is your friend, not mine.”

“Why you say that?”

“Because I haven’t met her. When she comes over, it’s to get weed from you, not talk to me.”

“She Tez’s girlfriend, baby. You gotta stop being so antisocial and try to meet some friends.”

Marissa frowned and crossed her arms. Ever since she moved from their hometown of Alabama, she missed her old friends and didn’t know how to make new ones. Marissa pretty much stayed to herself. Currently, they lived in Atlanta. She and Nathaniel moved several times while there. The first time was to a studio apartment in Buckhead. The rent was unaffordable. That was when Marissa was working.

From there, they moved twenty minutes away to Gwinnett County. The apartment was affordable, but the area was full of Mexicans. Nathaniel and Marissa had never been around or seen so many in one area before. After being in the Waterfront Apartments, their home was broken into.

Marissa was in the bathroom fixing her hair that morning when Nathaniel strolled in the living room, noticing his PlayStation 3 was gone. He directed Marissa’s attention to the spot the game console used to be.

At first, Marissa didn’t see anything different. Then her eyes widen when it hit her. She walked over to the patio door, which was ajar. They made sure to close the apartment down as secure as possible, so they couldn’t understand how someone got in.

It frightened Marissa to think that, while they slept, someone broke in. It made her feel vulnerable.

Nathaniel stayed at the house most of the following day, but left for about an hour or so. When he arrived back at the apartment, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Quickly, he reached for his phone and called Marissa.

“Hey baby,” Marissa greeted.

“You’re not going to believe this.”

Marissa’s insides dropped. When Nathaniel called like that, she was always sure he was either in jail or on his way. She braced herself for bad news.

“The TV is gone!” he said.

“What TV?” she screamed madly.

“The 32-inch flat screen that was sitting on the mantle when you left.”

“Don’t play like that, Nathaniel. That’s not funny!”

“Baby, I wouldn’t play with you about this after what happened this morning. Whoever stole the PlayStation came back and took the TV and I was only gone for a short time.”

Marissa threw her phone against the wall. This was so ridiculous. There was no way someone came back through their patio door when they had everything on lock down.

When Marissa got back home, she called the police and filed a report. She still had the boxes with the serial numbers to the items because they recently purchased them during tax season. The front door had scratches on it and Marissa was convinced the maintenance man was the culprit.

“There is no way someone could get in this apartment. Whoever it was knew when we would be gone. My fiancée was here most of the day, so they were watching. Is this grounds to break my lease, because I’m not staying here anymore?” she argued.

The police officer took her statement and wrote down her serial numbers. “It’s a good thing you still have these. If they try and pawn them, they’ll go down for it.”

Before finding out they’d be getting put out if their rent wasn’t paid, that was the maddest Marissa had ever been. Nathaniel got a text message from Peanut informing him that he was outside.

“Alright, baby. I’ll be back.” He kissed Marissa on the cheek and went out the door.

Marissa sat back on the bed, wrapped herself in her housecoat, and pulled out her laptop. There was nothing on TV and she barely could get the remote in her hands most days with Nathaniel hogging it all the time, so she was not up to date with all the latest shows.

The room phone rang, but Marissa didn’t answer it. It was never for her, so she saw no point. It stopped ringing for a moment and rang again.

“Ugh!” she groaned, picking it up off the base. “Hello!”

“Hey, baby girl. What you doing?” Joe said.

“Wow! You’re getting bolder and bolder everyday, huh?” Marissa replied.

“I just saw your boy leave, so I was going to see if you wanted some company.”

“You think I’m going to invite you over here so he can come back and kill us both? I don’t think so.”

Joe laughed. “I wouldn’t put your life at risk like that. I know you really love him, but if he put his hands on you, I would kill him myself.”

“Okay, enough with the threats. I think I can handle myself.”

“Come see me. I’ll be on my best behavior. I promise.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that?”

“If I’m not, you can leave and never speak to me again.” This is something Joe would never say unless he meant it. He had a thang for Marissa, so he must be serious. “Come on, girl. I know you’re bored.”

“Yeah, you’re right. But I’m holding you to your word,” she said.

“Girl, I know I’m right. And don’t worry. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. You believe that, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s not being hurt I’m afraid of.”

“Well, if you’re not feeling it, I don’t want you to come. You can keep sitting on that laptop doing nothing, but we both know you don’t want to do that.”

Marissa sat up and looked out the window. “Are you looking at me or something?”

Joe laughed again. “I keep my eye on you, girl. I know what you like and what you doing when I need to.”

“You better not be peeping through no windows. That’s all I know,” she said.

“Don’t you know better of me, girl? Give a brother some credit. Knowing things about a girl use to turn y’all on, but now y’all think a brother be stalkin’.”

“You said it, not me,” Marissa said.

“Alright, alright. You got me.”

“Give me a minute to put on some clothes. I’ll be up there.”

“Please. You can come in whatever you have on. I don’t have a preference. What . . . you walking around in some furry house shoes and a Bugs Bunny nighty?”

“Oh, you are so funny, aren’t you? Actually, I got out of the shower not too long ago, so my furry house shoes and pink and white house coat is all I got on.”

“That’s all you need,” he said.

“Okay, forget it. Have a nice night,” Marissa said.

“I’m just playing with you, girl. Can’t you take a joke?” Marissa twisted her lips like he could see her. “I tell you what,” he said. “I’ll give you a minute to think about it and I’ll be here waiting for you when you decide you’re coming.”

He laughed again and hung up the phone. Joe was always cracking a joke. Sometimes he hit it; sometimes he didn’t. That was one reason why Marissa liked being around him. There seemed to be nothing but drama in her and Nathaniel’s relationship most of the time, so she could use the laughs whenever possible. Going to Joe’s room would be innocent -- nothing to worry about. They had been in each other’s presence before without any funny business. Surely, they could do it again.

****

Nathaniel, Peanut, and Steve stood in line at one of Atlanta’s hottest strip clubs. The Gentleman’s Club was popular for people of all types, but the ones who spent most of their time there were celebrities, drug dealers, and lesbians, to say the least. Once they were inside, they immediately found the VIP room. It was costly, but Peanut paid for it all. He was the type of guy to show off more than he needed to. Everyone knew he was a hustler and had money because he showcased it every chance he got. He had also been robbed three times for this reason.

A group of women walked into the room and Nathaniel immediately zoomed in on the first one. She was gorgeous -- dark chocolate skin, long eyelashes, a round face, and dark brown eyes. Her Brazilian deep wave hair hung down her back and she was covered in purple rhinestones, from her ears to her bikini. She was a sight for sore eyes. Her lip-gloss shined brightly with her rhinestones. She had four girls with her, all looking like they were bread from the same chocolate factory. All of them, except two, had long hair extended to the middle of their backs. One of them had a smooth ponytail swooped up with long strands of hair hanging to her buttocks. The other woman had medium-length curly hair that stopped right above her shoulders. The fullness of it was perfection.

The women were stunning and the men approved. It was obvious from the way Nathaniel’s eyebrows were arched and the way Peanut bit down on his lower lip. The girl with the purple rhinestones noticed Nathaniel and walked up to him to speak.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Moonlight.” She then introduced her friends from left to right. “This is Peaches, Savannah, Jade, and China.” The girls all gave the men sexy smiles. “They will be at your service.”

“And what about you?” Nathaniel asked. “Whose service will you be at?”

“Yours, if you want me, sugar,” she said.

“Adorn” by Miguel queued over the speakers and the girls took their places in the middle of the floor. Posed next to the pole, Peaches did what she did best. The stage was in the center of the circular VIP room and the seating area ran around the walls. Disco balls hung from the ceiling. Three waitresses came into the room carrying trays of mixed drinks, beer, and vodka on the rocks. The evening was all any man could ask for, but Nathaniel was somewhat hesitant about enjoying the festivities. If Marissa knew for a second he was in a strip club, he was sure to be done for. The fact that he was with her after all he put her through was a blessing in itself.

“Relax,” Peanut said to Nathaniel. He handed him a small glass of vodka on the rocks. Moonlight moved in on Nathaniel, dancing provocatively and sensually. He took a swig of his glass and let the evening unfold.

Part 3

In room 356, Marissa flung her shoes off and made herself comfortable. Joe was making jambalaya in the mini kitchen. The smells from the food were intoxicating and made Marissa’s stomach growl.

“Had I known you were going to cook, I would’ve been here sooner.”

“I told you to take your time. When you come see me, I want you to be comfortable. No rush, no pressure.”

“Can I see the remote?”

“Sure, baby. Watch whatever you like,” Joe said.

Joe was a thirty-five-year-old divorced ex-marine. Thinking like any young man would, when he was twenty-eight, he married an eighteen-year-old. Her parents didn’t like him. They thought he was too old to be dating their daughter. Besides in-law troubles, she wasn’t much of a wife. She was still in the prime of her life and wanted to party nonstop. She didn’t cook or clean up after herself. On top of that, she didn’t want to work. She felt that a man should work and take care of his wife. She wanted it all, but Joe showed her quickly that’s not what life was all about. They were divorced in six months.

He watched Marissa from the kitchen as he stirred his jambalaya. Many times, he’d listen to her complain about Nathaniel, his hustling, and not wanting to get a real job. Joe would take care of Marissa. She seemed to be the type of woman who would take care of her man. Joe currently worked for Coca-Cola in shipping and receiving, picking pallets up with his forklift and loading trucks. He made a pretty decent living off his veteran income. He liked to stay neat and clean. When people came into his room, they swore a woman lived there. But it was just him and his Siberian husky, Wolfy.

Joe received an honorable discharge. While in Afghanistan, a bomb exploded as their truck went down the street, leaving Joe deaf in one ear and partially blind in one eye. The military was his life then, but now, being a regular civilian was his life. Now, he wanted a wife and kids to call his own. He wasn’t big on stealing another man’s woman, but if he wasn’t going to treat her right, then Joe would.

He fixed Marissa a bowl of jambalaya. “Here you go, sweetheart.”

“Thank you. This is just what the doctor ordered,” she expressed just before a short prayer over her food,

“Did you pray over my food, too?” Joe asked.

“Umm, not really.”

“It’s like that? I can’t get a prayer?”

“My bad. I didn’t mean to say it so quickly. I’m so hungry. Come on. I’ll start over,” she said. “Jesus, please bless this food we’re about to receive in Your name. Amen.”

“Amen,” Joe said, “Now that’s more like it.”

“Do you go to church?” Marissa asked, taking a bite of her food.

“I use to, but ever since I’ve been back from Afghanistan, I really haven’t found a church home.”

“Oh, well we should look for one together. There is one I go to every now and then,” Marissa said.

“Which one is that?”

“Destiny World Church in Austell, Georgia,” she answered. “Past Six Flags.”

“What time does service start?”

“About ten forty-five.”

“We should go this Sunday,” he said.

“Nathaniel won’t go. It will be like pulling teeth to get him there.”

“Good. I didn’t invite him, anyway,” Joe said.

She slapped his shoulder, “Joe!”

“What? I invited you.”

“How are you going to invite me but not invite my man?”

“He isn’t your husband, so I don’t have to. Okay, I’ll tell you what. He can come, but he can’t sit with us.” Joe said as Marissa slapped his shoulder again. “What? I’m just keeping it real.”

She laughed.

“I love to see you smile, beautiful. You know, if you belonged to me . . . ”

Marissa stopped him. “I don’t belong to nobody but Jesus, honey.”

“When you get married, the Bible says you belong to your husband and the husband belongs to his wife.”

“You gon’ need to show me that ‘cause you might be making up your own verses.”

“Oh, now you got jokes. I would never do that,” he said. “Back to what I was saying. If you belonged to me, we wouldn’t even be in this hotel.”

“And why is that?”

“Because we’d be picking out our house.”

“I’m not all that fascinated by material things.”

“Yeah, you might not be fascinated,” he said. “But if you had your pick of anything, you would enjoy it.” Joe reached over, took three one hundred dollar bills from his dresser, and gave them to her. “When was the last time you did something for yourself, beauty?”

Marissa couldn’t remember. It had been a long time.

“Go out and do something for you, or keep it in your pocket just to have some money. Let me know if you need more.”

Marissa didn’t say anything. She was physically attracted to him, but they had no emotional connection. Why couldn’t Nathaniel be this generous? Then she remembered: he didn’t have any money. She tried to never make money an issue, but the reality was that without it, they couldn’t survive.

“When do I have to pay you back?” she asked.

“That’s yours. You don’t have to pay me anything. What type of tacky dude you think I am?”

“ No one just gives money away -- not even you!”

“Get on all fours and bark like a dog,” Joe said.

Marissa’s eyes almost jumped out of her head. “Oh, no you didn’t!”

Joe could not contain his laughter.

“It’s so not funny,” she said, swatting him some more.

“Yes it is,” he laughed, falling over to his side. “You looked like a deer caught in headlights!”

“ Shut up!” she said, jumping on top of him and swinging her arms. He tried to block her blows, but she was relentless. With quickness, he grabbed her arms before she could pound him anymore. She struggled trying to break free. He pulled her arms down until they were face-to-face. Marissa stopped inches from his lips and before she could protest, he kissed her -- forcefully at first, then soft and sweet. She let the kiss happen. It was a welcomed change with him. For so long, she only kissed Nathaniel, but these foreign lips were soft and inviting.

“We’re not supposed to be doing this,” she said between kisses.

“We’re not breaking any laws,” he stated.

Joe was completely turned on. He pulled her closer to him, as if she could get closer. Their make-out session turned hot. A sudden knock at the door sent Marissa jumping off of his lap. Joe looked at the door and ignored it. He reached for Marissa and the knocking resumed. Marissa wiped away the evidence of his kiss.

“Maybe you should see who is at your door.”

“They’ll go away,” he said.

The knocking got harder. “I don’t think they will,” she responded.

Joe stood to his feet, pulling Marissa back to him. His fingers slid up the back of her neck into her hair. Their lips touched, and again, they kissed. This time, the person outside the door spoke.

“I know you’re in there, I see your car in the parking lot!”

At the sound of a woman’s voice, Marissa shrunk away from Joe. “I thought you were single?” she questioned.

“I am. That’s just Joyce,” he said.

“As in your ex-wife?”

“Yeah. ‘Ex’ being the keyword. She doesn’t want anything.”

“She’s not going away. Maybe I should leave.” Marissa went towards the door.

“Wait,” Joe said. “Don’t leave. I’ll see what she wants.”

Marissa sat back down on the couch and finished her jambalaya as Joe opened the door.

“Why are you beating and yelling out here?” He stepped out onto the balcony, closing the door behind him.

“Why do I have to have a reason?” Joyce asked. “I’ve never had to have one before.”

“You’re making a scene out here, girl. And it’s cold. What’s up?”

“I just came over here to chill with you for a bit. Can we go inside?”

“No, we can’t. I have company. You should leave.”

“Oh, word? The big man has company,” Joyce mocked. “I come before whatever skank you have up in there, so they need to leave.”

“I don’t think so. You’re no longer my wife. You don’t come before my dinner.”

“Oh really?” she said, giving him attitude.

“Yes really,” he replied, giving it back. “Now get on out of here, girl. I ain’t playin’ with you.”

“What if I don’t want to leave?”

“Then you’ll be standing out here keeping Jack Frost company.”

“Oh, you got balls. Don’t act like you don’t know my middle name. I’ll clown out here and act all kinds of crazy. Try me.”

“Then you’ll be going to jail.”

“And who gon’ call the police? You?”

“I won’t need to. Somebody in one of these rooms will call.”

His door opened and Marissa stepped out. “I’ve got to get going,” she said. “But thanks for the jambalaya. I’ll see you later. Excuse me,” she said, walking between them.

“Marissa, you don’t have to leave. This is not an issue.”

She glanced back. “Looks like an issue to me, but it’s cool. We’ll talk another time.”

“That’s who you were dissing me for? She ain’t all that!”

“Please shut up,” he said.

Marissa could still hear them arguing when she got to her room. She had been gone for an hour. She stuck her key in the door and just as the green light showed, a voice shouted her name.

“Marissa!” Minnie yelled. Marissa turned around looking for her. “Down here, girl.”

Marissa looked over the balcony to the first floor. “Hey girl,” she said.

“I want you to try something. Come see me.”

Marissa opened her door and shut it to re-activate the lock. On her way down the steps, she bumped into Joyce.

“Excuse you,” Joyce said.

“Whatever,” Marissa replied.

“Yeah, whatever’s going to get you knocked out,” Joyce threatened.

“And who’s going to knock me out?” Marissa turned back around to face Joyce.

“Girl, you don’t want none of this. But I know one thing for sure: you need to stay away from my husband. And that’s all I got to say about that,” Joyce expressed angrily before doing an about-face and walking away.

“I guess you’re going to make me do that too, huh?” Marissa wasn’t trying to stir up trouble, but Joyce was asking for it.

“Go back around my husband and you’ll see who’s going to make you do it,” Joyce said, walking away.

Joyce was not scared of Marissa. She thought she was the baddest thing walking the planet. Marissa, on the other hand, tried to stay clear of confrontation. She continuously sent up small prayers, but when challenged, she never backed down.

At Minnie’s room, there was smoke in the air. Marissa fanned with her hands and coughed several times.

“Minnie, you know I can’t stand that smoke.”

“I know it. Sorry, girl. Leave the door open so it can air out.”

“You should’ve done this before you called me down here. Now I’ve got to freeze to death.”

“It’s either that or smell the smoke.”

Marissa sat down and covered her nose. “What is it you want me to try?”

“Hold on. You’ll have to close the door first.”

“Why? You about to pull out a dildo? Give me a heads up so I know to get out of here.”

Minnie laughed. “You so stupid. If I wanted to play with dildos with someone, it wouldn’t be you.”

“Good, I’m glad. Now what is it?”

Minnie pulled out a silver tray. On it, white powder sat in four separate lines. She picked up a straw and burned the tip. Marissa’s eyes widen. Minnie hit one line and passed the tray to Marissa.

“Is this a joke?” she said.

“Come on. Please do this with me, I don’t want to do it by myself.”

“Then don’t do it at all. Are you crazy?”

Marissa looked at the powder, scrunching her face like there was a foul order coming from it.

“Just one time. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it anymore.”

“Minnie, I didn’t know you were into this.”

“I’ve been into it for a little while, but I usually get bored down here talking to myself. I need a friend to be a friend.” She smiled and forced the tray onto Marissa’s lap.

“There is nothing I can do with this. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

“You just put this end of the straw up to your nose and put the other end to the line and sniff.”

Marissa burst into laughter.

“What is so funny?” Minnie asked, holding her hands out.

“That sounds so ridiculous. Sniffing up a straw, girl? No, I’ll pass. I might hit a blunt, but I ain’t sniffing no straw.”

Marissa passed the tray back to her, slapping her thighs and laughing. She shook her head like Minnie was telling the joke of all time. It upset Minnie; she wanted her friend to enjoy the high with her, not come down and laugh at her.

“Whatever. You can leave now,” Minnie said.

“ Oh, you gone put me out now? Aww, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I’m just saying you -- gotta chill out with this.”

“Listen, the last thing I need is a lecture. If you’re not down with it, fine. That’s your business.”

Minnie turned from Marissa and pulled the tray in, sniffing a line of cocaine. Marissa shook her head. It was this hotel; she was sure of it. -Minnie could feel Marissa staring at her. Without looking up, Minnie pinched the side of her nose and sniffed in an attempt to get the remaining residue up her nose. Reluctantly, she looked up.

“Please leave,” she said.

Marissa held both hands up, feigning innocence. She turned and walked out of the door.

Part 4

Back at her room, Marissa checked the time and wondered when Nathaniel would show up. Frankly, she enjoyed the time alone. Space was always needed. It gave them time to miss each other.

She was getting bored with him. She understood why most marriages didn’t work. Who could tolerate the same person forever? Marissa was feeling irritated. In the beginning, things seemed great. But aren’t they always when starting something new?

Marissa knew God. He was all about family and love. She read the scripture that spoke about two being better than one. So why was it so hard, and why did she have the urge to explore new things with someone else?

Three more hours passed and there was still no sign of Nathaniel. Marissa paced back and forth, then sat down in the middle of the bed. Suddenly, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“I just wanted to apologize about the way we were rudely interrupted,” Joe said.

“No problem at all.”

“Are you busy?”

“Not hardly,” Marissa replied.

“Come see me.”

“It’s late. Maybe I shouldn’t.”

“Why? Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Marissa huffed. “No. I don’t know if I should. Your wife threatened me to stay away from you.”

“Ex-wife,” Joe said. “And who cares what she says? I won’t let her get near you.”

“What makes you think it’s up to you?” she said.

“ What -- you scared?” he questioned.

“I’m on my way,” Marissa responded, ending the conversation. She went to the bathroom to freshen up. In the mirror, she played in her hair, applied more lip-gloss, and some pink eye shadow. She decided to change shirts, taking off the black tee and grabbing a light pink V-neck. She tightened her bra straps so her breasts would sit higher. She pulled out a set of pink swivel earrings from her jewelry box. Her face lit up with a smile as she modeled her look in the mirror.

What was she thinking? For a moment, she paused, staring at her image in the mirror. Why was she getting cute for Joe when she had a man -- a man who wasn’t home at 2 o’clock in the morning? With that thought, she left the bathroom, grabbing her room key. Once outside, she buttoned her jacket and walked up two flights of stairs. Before she could knock on Joe’s door, it opened.

“I thought you’d changed your mind,” he said “But I’m glad you’re here. Come on in.”

She walked over the threshold. “It’s warm in here,” she said. “Really warm, did you turn the heat up?” Quickly, she removed her jacket.

“I got that,” he said, reaching for the coat and putting it on a hanger inside of the living room closet. He turned and let his eyes roam over the length of her. As he watched her, she watched him. She loved a man who was taller than her. His broad shoulders and brown skin complimented his chiseled chest and biceps. He needed to put on some clothes. It was hot enough in the room, and looking at his sexiness was making it hotter. “You can have a seat,” he said.

“I know this is your space and everything, but do you have to walk around half-naked?” She folded her arms.

“What . . . this?” he asked, pointing to his chest, “Don’t act like you don’t like it.” A smile played around his lips.

Marissa smirked. “Whatever,” she said.

“You look nice. I like your pink. Only you can make me adore a color I wouldn’t be caught dead in.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I wore it just for you.”

He arched his eyebrows and stepped closer to her. “Really?”

“Naw, not really,” she joked.

“Aaah, okay. I see how you do.”

She laughed. “I’m just playing.”

“I’m glad, because even though I’m sexually attracted to you, I want you in more ways than just one.”

He put his arms around her and embraced her tightly. Their lips met and their make-out session picked up where it left off. Heat engulfed them as they got lost in each other’s embrace. Joe’s lips moved down her neck to her chest. He pulled back and took her shirt off slowly to give her time to object. When there was none, Joe proceeded with his advances. He turned her around so her back was to him and pulled her close. His hands explored her body, touching her small waistline and playing around with her belly button. He kissed the back of her neck and shoulders, grinding against her.

“You’re so soft,” he said. “This is about to go past the point of no return. Are you sure this is what you want?”

Marissa didn’t know what she wanted. Her hesitation gave him pause. He turned her back around.

“I don’t want you to do anything you will regret. If you want me like I want you, then it’s all good. But if you’re unsure, then we stop now.”

Her cell phone rang unexpectedly. When she saw the number, she gave Joe an apologetic look. He held his hands up.

“It’s no problem. Go ahead and answer it.”

“Hello,” she said.

“Baby, I need you to come get me!”

Alarm shot though Marissa’s veins. “What’s going on? Where are you?”

“At the Quik Trip down the street.”

“How am I supposed to come get you with no gas? If you’re just down the street, you’re going to have to walk.”

“Come on, baby. Please don’t make me walk. I got five dollars.”

Marissa huffed and closed the phone.

“Everything okay?” Joe asked.

“No,” she said. Marissa thought about the money Joe had given her earlier. The only problem was making it to the gas station. Nathaniel was a trip. What was she supposed to do with five dollars?

“Are you going to get him?”

“No. He’s going to have to walk like I said. What if I was sleep? What would he do then?”

Joe could tell Nathaniel only caused grief in Marissa’s life. “If you want, sweetheart, I can take you to the gas station and we can fill up the gas can. I have a five-gallon gas can. While we’re there, we can pick him up so you don’t have to worry about running out.”

“Are you serious right now?”

“Yeah, it’s no problem.”

Marissa thought about it for a moment. Nathaniel wouldn’t suspect anything was going on between them because he was just that naive. He didn’t think Marissa would cheat on him, and he knew Joe as being a good Samaritan. He was always helping somebody out around the hotel.

“Alright, thank you,” she said.

He pulled her in for a kiss and caught her cheek. “It’s nothing,” he said.

At the Quik Trip, there was no sign of Nathaniel. “I’ll get the gas and check to see if I see him, sweetheart. Stay warm in the car.”

He was definitely spoiling her and Marissa tried not to get used to it, but it was hard. She watched Joe as he got out to pay for gas and look around the store. He came out and walked to the side of the building looking for Nathaniel, but there was no sign of him. When he walked back to the car Marissa rolled her window down.

“Where is he?” she asked Joe.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see him. Maybe he caught a ride.”

“Okay,” Marissa said, rolling her window back up.

She was more than annoyed now. Nathaniel’s nagging voice ran through her head:

I can’t believe you didn’t come get me. That’s how we doing it now?” Marissa shook her head as Joe got back in the car.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I just know he’s going to hound me to death.”

“But there was nothing you could’ve done differently.”

“He won’t see it that way.”

“It’s not like you didn’t make an effort. Did he expect you to run out of gas?”

“He will complain that I wouldn’t have run out. He will drive until the gas hand is past the red line. Then he will stop and get gas. About five dollars worth.”

“That’s insane. Have you run out of gas before?”

“Yes, and it was embarrassing. It was broad daylight during rush hour. We were at a standstill and couldn’t make it to the gas station.”

“So what did you do?”

“We had to get out and walk. We didn’t have a gas can, so I had to buy one when we got there. It was fifteen dollars and all I had was thirty bucks, and of course, he didn’t have anything. So we bought a gas can and five dollars’ worth of gas so we could use the other ten dollars to eat.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, relaxing back in his seat. As he turned onto Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Joe unknowingly drove right by Nathaniel.

“That look like Joe,” Nathaniel said to himself, doing a double take. “Ayo!” he yelled, but Joe had already turned the corner. Nathaniel would’ve had Peanut drop him off at the hotel but he was so busy trying to get to that stripper’s house. He cursed. Soon, another car slowed down along side of him and the passenger window rolled down.

“Aye!” the guy shouted.

“Yeah?” Nathaniel responded.

“You know where I can get some weed, fam?”

Nathaniel stared the man down. He was a black guy who looked no older than twenty-five, wearing a Los Angeles Lakers ball cap and a dark blue hoodie. He was driving a black Chevy Impala. Usually, Nathaniel wouldn’t sell to somebody he didn’t know, but he spent half of his money at the strip club, and if he came home without the rent money, Marissa would be furious.

“What you need?”

“A dub.”

Nathaniel looked around. “I got cha.” He opened the passenger door and got in, instructing the man to drive around the corner and drop him off in front of the hotel. The man slid him a twenty dollar bill at the same time Nathaniel slid him a mini clear plastic baggie. “Aight then,” Nathaniel said, jumping out of the car.

No sooner than his foot hit the side walk did two Gwinnett County Police cars encircle him. He took off running at full speed. This was nothing new for him. He’d run from the police before, but never this close to home. He sprinted out of the parking lot, running into the wooded area surrounding the hotel. There was no way they would catch him. He was too fast and the police were fat and slow. When he heard dogs barking, he moved faster -- but not fast enough. One of the K-9’s caught up to him and lurched forward, biting down on his right arm. He screamed and the dog growled viciously, biting harder.

“Aaaah!” Nathaniel yelled, falling to the ground. He pulled his Army switchblade and stabbed the animal three times. The dog let go of his arm, yelping in pain. Nathaniel stabbed him again for good measure before he rose up and tried to run. The pain in his arm was excruciating. Blood dripped from his wound. He emerged out of the trees to spot a truck stop. He ran through the sea of trucks, hiding behind their trailers. Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and called Marissa.

“Hello,” she answered.

“Baby, please come and get me,” he whispered. Marissa could tell by his breathing that something was wrong. She absolutely hated getting these phone calls from him. She was scared that one day he may get himself into something he couldn’t get out of.

“What’s going on now?”

“I’ll tell you about that later. I just need you to come and get me. I’m at the Pilot truck stop on Seminole.

Marissa didn’t even want to ask how he got from the Quik Trip to the Pilot. “I’m on my way,” she said, exasperated.

“Thank you, baby. I love you. I’ma put those five dollars in the tank when you get here,” he said. There was no response. Nathaniel looked at the phone. Marissa had hung up. As he slid the phone back in his pocket, the door to the truck he was hiding behind opened.

“You okay back there?” the truck driver asked. He motioned Nathaniel to come closer. Nathaniel eased up to the door and hopped in.

“Thank you, potna.”

“No problem,” the man said. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes, “You need a smoke?”

“Yeah, I could use one of those,” Nathaniel said.

“Are you homeless?”

Nathaniel did a double take. “Naw, man. Just going through something right now.”

“It’s all good if you’re homeless. I’ve been driving trucks for fifteen years, so I feel homeless sometimes, too.”

“You don’t have a family?” Nathaniel asked.

“I have a son, but I’m not with his mother. I was married, but my wife died in a car crash last year in December.”

Nathaniel was genuinely sad for this man. “Sorry to hear that,” he said.

“She was everything I had. My rock. I know I drove her crazy with all of my cheating and lies throughout the years. Sometimes a man can’t help himself. You know what I mean?” He lit a cigarette and cracked the window. Nathaniel shook his head up and down in agreement. He definitely knew what the man meant.

“The flesh is selfish. It wants what it wants when it wants it. It’s the truth. The book of Galatians speaks of desires of the flesh, such as sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I know we all have cravings. Never knew it was the works of my sinful flesh. Then it warns us that anyone who does such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Have you ever just read the Bible before?”

“Not really. Only what I’ve learned in Sunday school when I used to go. So if all of those things are the works of my flesh and I was born into this sin, how in the world am I supposed to do what’s right? Like you said, the flesh wants what it wants when it wants it, so how can I argue with that?”

“I’m glad you asked. Are you saved, son?”

“I’m not sure,” Nathaniel said.

“If you’re not sure, then you’re not saved.”

“Okay, what does it mean to be saved?” Nathaniel asked.

“It means you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead. You do this by speaking these words. You admit you’re a sinner and turn from your sin. You study your Bible and keep the words close to your heart because every day is a struggle to stay on the right path. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s what you have to do to inherit the kingdom.” The truck driver looked over at Nathaniel taking his words in. “I know it’s deep, but would you expect anything different from the Most High God? You should check it out. Now that my wife’s gone, no other woman has been able to fulfill me. I guess part of that came from being on this truck all the time. Then again, that’s just an excuse.”

Nathaniel could tell the guy needed a companion. He hadn’t said too much since he’d been in the truck. He felt sorry for the guy. The trucker continued with his story.

“This truck might as well be my bride. I’m with her more than anything else. Every time I think about Cynthia, I think about how I wasn’t there for her. Not in life and not in death.”

The truck grew eerily quiet. Nathaniel cleared his throat. “I would like to think I’ve gotten over the cheating, but I haven’t. Sometimes I feel like I’m ready to leave this relationship, but deep down, I don’t know what I would do without Marissa.”

“Oh, is that your wife?”

“No, no. But one day,” Nathaniel said.

“What are you waiting for?”

“We’re not ready.”

“How long have you been together?”

“Five years.”

“Hey, brother. I know it’s none of my business, but life is short. If you love that woman, marry her. Five years is more than enough time to know if you want to be together. If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never get married because you’ll never feel ready. Take it from someone who would do anything to see my wife’s face again.” Nathaniel shook his head in agreement. “On another note, why are you running from the police?”

Shock displayed across Nathaniel’s face. “How did you know I’m running from the police?” The trucker turned up his CB radio. On it were reports of Nathaniel’s description being armed and dangerous. “I’m not armed or dangerous! This some bull, man!”

“Calm down, brother. Another thing you need to know is when the police are looking for you, they’ll say anything to find you.”

Nathaniel watched as Marissa pulled up in their Chevy Aveo. “There’s my girl right there. Hey, thank you, man. I appreciate it. And keep your head up. I have a feeling you’re going to be alright.”

“You do the same, brother. And don’t let that woman get away. If you don’t wife her, another man will. Believe that.”

Nathaniel nodded and hopped down, sprinting to the car. He didn’t like the last comment the trucker made, but he knew it was true. He opened the car door and got in.

“Hey baby. Thank you for picking me up. Let’s go down the street a little bit to get some gas. I want to get away from this spot.”

“I’ve got some gas now.”

“How did you get gas with no money?”

Marissa ignored the question and changed the subject. “Does the police at the hotel have anything to do with you?”

“Baby, you will never believe what just happened to me.”

“I take that as a yes.”

“Yeah, they let the dogs loose on me and everything.”

“Well, we can’t go back to the hotel right now because they’re checking every car that comes in . . . unless you want me to put you in the trunk,” Marissa giggled.

“Oh, that’s funny, huh?” Nathaniel retorted, lightly pushing her to the side.

“I’m just saying.”

Marissa made a left and drove down the road. “Turn into this Quik Trip,” Nathaniel said. “Baby, I need you to go in and get an ace bandage. I need a towel and some alcohol, too.”

“Why do you need all that?”

“I told you they let the dogs out on me. It grabbed my arm and took a nice bit out of me.”

Worry lines creased Marissa’s forehead. Being Nathaniel’s girl had become more a pain than anything. She couldn’t understand for the life of her why he continued to put her in these situations.

“I love you,” he said. Those words began to feel like they were just spoken because it was the nice thing to say. “Oh, so you don’t love me?” he said.

She sighed, “Of course I do.”

“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it,” he said.

But if she didn’t say it, that would be the beginning of a never-ending argument. He was so petty, and whenever they had even an ounce of joy it only lasted for a moment before she was dreading being with him all over again.

Part 5

“Watch your speed!” Nathaniel said just as they passed a Gwinnett County police officer. The officer turned on his blue lights, illuminating the streets. Sirens blazed and Marissa became immediately paranoid. She never dealt with the police because she never had a reason to. She put her foot on the break, stomping on it. “What are you doing?” he yelled.

“I’m pulling over!”

“No, don’t stop! I’ll go to jail!” He reached over and grabbed her leg, forcing her foot on the accelerator.

“Nathaniel, stop!” she screamed. The car swerved violently and the police vehicle rode up on them until they were bumper to bumper. “Nathaniel!” Marissa screamed. Nathaniel looked out of the window. They hit a sharp curve and he yanked the steering wheel, trying to maneuver the car from the passenger seat. They went up a hill and glided down swiftly. He made another sharp turn and cut onto a side street. The car slowed down, and with one gesture, he reached for the door and opened it, leaping out of the car.

“Oh my God!” she screamed, pressing the break again, bringing the Chevy Aveo to a screeching halt. By this time, more Gwinnett County Officers caught up with her. She was surrounded. Marissa’s heart beat faster than it ever had before. Tears fell from her eyes and she shook. On a loud speaker, officer Miller ordered her out of the car, but Marissa was nervous. She’d seen plenty of shows where the police were quick to shoot. If they wanted her out of the car, they would have to come and get her.

“This is your last warning. Put your hands where I can see them.” Marissa put her hands up. An officer approached her vehicle, his gun raised. He opened the door and reached in to pull her out. He twisted her hands behind her back.

“Ouch! Okay, okay!” she yelled.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do will be held against you in a court of law.”

“I didn’t do anything!”

“Stop resisting!” the officer said.

“What are you arresting me for?”

“Fleeing from police.”

“Take it easy!” she yelled.

Marissa was put in the back of the police car and escorted to Gwinnett County jail. When Nathaniel made it back to the hotel, police officers were still circling the area. But he managed to sneak onto the property, ducking alongside a car so no one would notice him. It was all adrenaline.

When Nathaniel made it to his room, he put the chain and lock on the door and collapsed on to the bed. He was out of breath and feeling rugged. As soon as his body relaxed, pain shot through his limbs. A howl escaped his lips.

“Owww!”

He embraced his arm. He had been bleeding from the bite for a while now. The pain that coursed through his leg made him clench his teeth.

“Aaahh!”

All he could think about at the moment was the pain. Abruptly, the phone rang, Nathaniel sat up quickly, screaming every time he moved. He wouldn’t even attempt to get the phone if he thought it wasn’t Marissa.

“Hello!”

“What’s up, Nate? Did I call at a bad time?” Joe asked.

“Naw, you right on time. I need your help, man. Can you help me?”

“Sure, sure. What’s up?”

“Can you run me to Gwinnett Medical Center? It’s over in Lawrenceville!” Nathaniel begged.

“You aight, man?” Joe asked.

“I just need to get to the hospital. I’m in bad shape. I need you to help me to your car, too. I’ll explain everything when we get on the road.”

“I’m on my way.”

  • * *

The door to the cell slammed shut and Marissa turned to see who her four cellmates were. She wondered for a moment what they’d done to get there. Then she wondered where she went wrong and how she got there. She shook her head in disappointment and walked to a corner of the room, propping up against the dirty wall. Her hands slid over her face and she sucked air through her teeth. How could Nathaniel do this to her? Marissa didn’t understand what was going on in his mind. One thing was for sure -- this was the last straw. She couldn’t take it anymore. Their relationship had taken on so much strain, there wasn’t a point in them staying together.

Even though she thought this, Nathaniel was the only thing she knew. Five years in a relationship that went stale. What would she do now? Where would she go? Marissa had all of three hundred dollars in her savings account and two hundred and seventy dollars in her pocket. That wouldn’t get her very far. It was time for her to find a job, but who would hire her?

Now she would have pending charges on her background for fleeing from police. As she pondered on her future, madness overtook her. What kind of man would put his woman at risk to save his own skin? Her mind was definitely made up. She was leaving him. First, she had to figure a way out of jail.

  • * *

One hour later . . .

“Thompson!” the guard yelled. Marissa looked up. “Let’s go!”

She stood and stretched, feeling worn and tired. Her walk to the exit didn’t show her exhaustion. There was no doubt she was ready to get out. The correctional officer pointed toward the counter.

“Go get your things; you’re out of here.” Finally Nathaniel posted her bail. She was grateful for that. For a moment, she didn’t think he would come to get her. She stepped to the counter and got her things. “Out the door to the left,” the guard at the counter stated.

Marissa rounded the corner and saw Joe standing 6-feet-5 inches with his arms folded across his chest. He had the most serious look on his face she had ever seen. Seeing him surprised her, making her pause. When Joe spotted her, he immediately approached her. Marissa wondered about her appearance. She hadn’t seen a mirror since she was at the room. She reached to pat down her hair.

“Hey, are you okay?”

“I am now. What are you doing here?”

He put his arms around Marissa, pulling her close. “Let me look at you for a minute,” he said. His brown eyes were so warm as he evaluated her. His hands rubbed up and down her shoulders. “I’m sorry this happened to you. I came as soon as I heard. Come on. Let’s get you out of here.”

They walked out the rotating doors together. Once at Joe’s Range Rover, he opened the passenger side door and helped her into the truck.

“Ssss . . . ouch!” Marissa hissed.

“My bad,” Joe said. “You alright?”

“Yeah. My wrists are still sore from the tight handcuffs.” Marissa rubbed her wrists. Joe stood on her side of the car and rubbed them gently.

“How did you know I was here?” Marissa asked again.

“Nathaniel told me. I called your room hoping you would answer the phone, but he did. He asked me to take him to the medical center. Let me hop in,” he said, closing the door and running around to the driver’s side. Once he climbed in, he continued. “I couldn’t get much out of him on the way. He was growling, squirming, and screaming. I could tell he was in serious pain. I just wanted to get him there. We were in the ER for about fifteen minutes when he was finally taken to the back in a wheelchair. I wanted to know what was going on, so I went back with him. After he got a shot of morphine, he was more forthcoming.”

“Did he tell you he jumped out of the car because he was afraid to face the police? He acted like he killed somebody. He practically forced me to run from the police.”

“How did he do that?”

“Oh, I guess he didn’t tell you that part. I tried to stop when the police was pulling us over. He reached over and force me to drive faster. It was crazy. I’m still trying to figure it out.” She twisted her face with disgust. “I don’t want to see him . . . at all.”

“I understand. He’s still at the hospital if he hasn’t found a way back to the hotel. I came and got you as soon as I heard. Where do you want to go?”

“Take me to the Holiday Inn. I’ll get a room there. I need as much space away from him as I can get. I have to clear my head.”

Joe drove off to Walmart. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Ten minutes later, he emerged with a single bag in hand. He climbed in the Range Rover and sped off to the nearest Holiday Inn. Once they arrived, Joe parked and helped Marissa out of the truck. The doorbell chimed, announcing their entrance. Shelly, the receptionist, greeted them.

“Welcome to the Holiday Inn. Will you be needing a room for one or two?”

“One room, two double beds,” Joe said. “It would be nice if you have something with a large bathtub. Maybe a suite.”

“We could definitely get you a suite with a Jacuzzi tub, or just a medium-sized ceramic tub.”

“Thank you,” he said.

“The suite with the Jacuzzi tub cost fifty dollars more than the other,” Shelly said.

“It doesn’t matter,” Joe responded.

Shelly ran Joe’s credit card, finished the transaction and slid him a room key. “Suite 205 on the second floor,” she said.

Joe guided Marissa to the second floor. Her thoughts were far away from there. The ordeal she’d experienced was settling in on her. There would be a court date that she had to get from her bondsman tomorrow morning. She would need a lawyer. What would she do if she were found guilty?

There was no way she would survive in jail. Just the thought of it brought tears to her eyes. She tried to force them back, but to no avail. Joe opened the door and Marissa walked in and found a seat at the table in the corner of the room. The space was a little bit fancier than most hotels she’d been in, especially the Extended Stay.

Joe went into the bathroom and twisted the knobs on the Jacuzzi tub. Water flowed from nozzles on four different sides. He took out the bubble bath he bought from Walmart and poured quite a bit into the tub. He pulled out aromatherapy candles, strategically placing them around the tub. Taking a lighter out of his pocket, he lit each candle and stuck his hand into the water to feel the temperature. He removed a soap sponge from the bag, along with some French vanilla body wash, and placed them on the ledge of the tub. He walked into the room where Marissa still sat in a chair with her hands covering her face, tears flowing from her eyes down her fingers. Joe squatted in front of her.

“Come here, baby,” he said. Marissa crumbled into his arms and wept. “You’re going to be okay. I’ll make sure of it.”

“Why would he do this to me?” she cried.

“Because he’s a buster, baby.” He cuddled and rubbed her like she was a baby. “You’re in good hands now. Believe that.”

He lifted her and walked into the bathroom. He sat her down on the bench against the wall and took off her clothes, piece by piece. When he got down to the bare minimum, he paused to see if she would react. She didn’t and he proceeded to take off her bra and panties. It was hard for him not to stare. Marissa was beautiful in her skin. He put his arms around and underneath her to lift her and placed her in the Jacuzzi. The water was warm. When Marissa’s butt touched the bottom of the tub, her muscles instantly relaxed. Joe hit a button and the jets came on, streaming out bubbles. He took the sponge in his hands, soaking it and squeezing it over Marissa’s shoulders. Her head fell back, resting against the wall.

“That feels good,” she said as her stomach growled.

“Did you eat while you were there?” Joe asked.

“No. My mind was far from food.”

“I hear that,” he said. “Do you like steak?”

“If you pull some steak out of your back pocket, I’ll swear that you’re an angel in disguise.” They both smiled.

“I’ve been called many things, but angel is not one of them.” This time, they laughed out loud.

“Well, there is a first time for everything,” she said.

“I guess so,” he said. “Are you in love with him?” Marissa pondered on it for a full minute. “If it takes you that long to reach your conclusion, you’ve already answered the question.”

“I love him, but our relationship has been damaged. We’ve been through a lot together. I can count more bad times than good. For some reason, I always go back to him. I have no idea why. A part of me feels sorry for him because he really has no one else. His dad died at a young age. He was eight years old and his dad was the closest thing to him. His mom doesn’t want anything to do with him. He depends a lot on me. Always has. So, I guess a part of me doesn’t want to abandon him like everyone else. It’s heartbreaking because if I’m real with myself, I’m not happy. He won’t get a real job, he’s always running from the police, I always catch him cheating.” Marissa shook her head. “I stay because I don’t want to hurt him, but it’s at the expense of me being hurt in return.” She looked at Joe. “So, what’s a girl to do?”

“What was he doing before he met you?”

“He was with his baby mama.”

“Maybe he should go back to her,” Joe cracked a smile.

“And how do you suggest I start this conversation?”

“Send him a text message.” Marissa swung at Joe, playfully hitting him across the shoulder. Joe dodged. “I’m just saying,” he said.

“Now, would you want somebody to send you a text message?”

“No one would because I know how to treat a good woman,” he said, staring her down. “I know there’s no life in playing in the streets, whether it’s money or women. The problem with these young boys who think they’re men is they set themselves up for their own demise. They don’t know any better. They haven’t educated themselves enough to know that instead of putting their hard work in the streets, they should put their hard work in at home. They haven’t figured out that when it’s all said and done, they’ll be old and alone. No woman will want their leftovers and they still won’t have money in the bank.”

“The Bible tells us that wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labor will increase,” he continued. “See baby girl, you can’t really make someone else happy until you take care of yourself and make you happy. So, while I’m sure your heart is in the right place, your current state of mind will only cause more stress on you and your relationship. And I’m not just saying that because I want you for myself,” he smirked. Marissa’s stomach growled again. “Let me order us some food, baby girl.”

He rose from the floor and Marissa watched him walk out of the bathroom. He was right. Everything he said made sense. Joe turned her on in a different way. She found herself connecting with him mind, body, and soul. Although their physical connection hadn’t gone beyond kissing, when they did, it was electrifying. She wished Nathaniel would attempt to read his Bible, but wishing would be the closest she would ever get to him reading the Word of God. Marissa let out a deep sigh and sunk under the water, trying to put her mind at ease.

Part 6

Three days later . . .

“There’s nobody by the name of Marissa Sanders here. She’s posted bail.”

Nathaniel stared at the officer like he lost his mind. “What do you mean she posted bail? How she do that?”

“The way any other person would do it,” the officer said.

Nathaniel didn’t like his sarcasm. “Who posted her bail?”

“Access bonding company.”

“When?”

“Looks like the same night. That’s all I can tell you.”

Nathaniel left the police station confused. If Marissa had been out for three days, why hadn’t he heard from her? He took out his phone and dialed her.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey?” Nathaniel responded. “I just left Gwinnett County jail trying to post your bond and they said you were already out. Why haven’t you called me, and where have you been?”

“You’re just coming to get me? Really?”

“You know I had to hustle up the money first.”

Marissa sighed. “Nathaniel, we need to talk.”

“We are talking.”

“I mean about our relationship.”

Nathaniel dreaded this conversation. He knew he would have to have one after what happened the other day. He’d had time to think about it and he took the coward’s way out.

“ Listen, baby. Before you say anything, let me just say I’m sorry. I love you and I was wrong for what I did. I should’ve stepped up and been a man -- your man. But I won’t ever do that again. I promise.”

Marissa walked to the window of her Holiday Inn and Suites room and looked out. “This relationship has run its course. I’m not happy in it and neither are you. I’m tired of struggling, tired of you cheating on me, and tired of the arguments. And frankly, I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired. You left me in the car while you jumped out. They took me to jail for fleeing from police. I have to go to court, and now you’re calling me three days later talking about making my bond. I was insulted and violated. Do you know they strip searched me?”

Nathaniel pulled to the side of the road and closed his eyes. Marissa’s words were beating him down, but she continued with her rant.

“They took off all my clothes and a female guard put gloves on and stuck her fingers inside of me. I have never felt so nasty and ashamed in all my life! I love you, but I love me more. I’m done. Goodbye.”

She disconnected the call and dropped her head. Closing the door to this chapter in her life took the wind out of her. She seriously wished him well and hoped Nathaniel would be alright in the long run.

“Are you okay?” Joe asked.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“I understand if you need some time,” he said.

Marissa turned to him, placing her hands on his chest. They had been cuddled up since they’d been there and Joe hadn’t tried to sex her. He respected her ordeal and had given her space.

“I appreciate what you’ve done for me,” she said. “But I don’t want to be in your debt. You don’t have to babysit me anymore. I’m going to check out of this room today and probably get a weekly room somewhere a little cheaper. You’ve been nothing but good to me. You’ll make someone real happy one day.”

Joe grabbed her hands. “You’re never in my debt. I didn’t do any of this so you could owe me anything. I did it because I care about your well-being. Now, if you want to check out, that’s your prerogative, but you can stay here as long as you need to. There’s no rush. Get your head on straight. I’ll call my lawyer.”

He turned to walk off, but Marissa held on to his hands. He looked back at her and she stepped to him, leaning in for a kiss. He scooped her up and their tongues explored each other’s mouths as his embrace tightened. Marissa felt flushed. Heat coursed through her. She was drowning in his love and she never wanted the feeling to end.

  • * *

Nathaniel picked Marissa’s car up from the impound earlier that day. Her words reverberated in his head as he sat in it. Would she really leave him this time? Marissa threatened to leave many times before. She left once or twice, but it never lasted for more than a day or two. Somehow, this time felt different. What would he do without her? She deserved better, but he was not up for losing her now. In life, things happen and people make mistakes. Nathaniel pondered on Jesus’ name, wondering what he’d do if Jesus gave up on him. Marissa constantly tried to get him in Church, but he always had an excuse. He heard good things about Jesus from relatives, friends, and Marissa. Although he’d never gotten to know Jesus for himself, could He really be the piece that is missing from his life? He picked up the phone and dialed his aunt. She answered on the second ring.

“Hello?”

“Hey auntie. How have you been?”

“Auntie? Who is this? I just know this isn’t my nephew who I haven’t heard from in months now.”

“Come on, now. You know it’s me or you wouldn’t have said it.”

“Boy, I haven’t heard from you half the year. Where have you been hiding?”

“I been trying to come up. You know money is the ultimate distraction.”

“Uh huh. Money won’t buy you salvation. When was the last time you talked to Jesus?” she asked.

Nathaniel chuckled because he could always depend on his auntie to mention Jesus. “That’s what I called you to ask you about. I don’t know much about Him, except for what I’ve heard. How do I get to know him?”

“I’m glad you asked,” she said. “Let’s pray. I want you to repeat after me: Heavenly Father, I come before you today to confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead. I want You to come into my life, Jesus, and show me Your face. Direct and guide me in Your way. Help me to not lean upon my own understanding, but on Your understanding. Lord, forgive me for my sins and make me over again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Nathaniel shed a few tears with his head bowed into the steering wheel. He felt unusual emotions; ones that he’d never felt before. His body was covered in goose bumps and the most he could do at the moment was be still.

“Hallelujah!” his aunt called out. “Thank you, Jesus. I don’t know what has gotten into you today, nephew, but I sure am glad for it.”

Nathaniel spoke about the past days’ activities. On the other end of the phone, his aunt held her chest, shocked at the things Nathaniel had done. But she didn’t express her concerns. She just gave him advice. The best result came out of it and she would be forever thankful for that.

“Sometimes God will let us go through things to bring us closer to Him. You may sit back and wonder, ‘how can God put me through this?’ But it is for your benefit to endure these things. The only thing that matters in this life is what we do for God. Remember that. Now, I know you’re hurting and you don’t want to lose Marissa. She was in love with you and would do anything for you, but you need to ask yourself what have you done to keep her around? Have you done right by her?”

“Not lately,” he responded.

“You’ve got to get yourself right. Work on you, baby. And if you were meant to be, you’ll be.”

“So, that’s it? She has a court date coming up because of what I did to her. I want to help her, but I don’t know how. What would Jesus do?” Nathaniel asked.

“Jesus is a forever-loving God. He is and will always be a just and righteous God, even when He walked this earth. The same captives that turned Him in, He showed love to.”

“How so?” Nathaniel asked.

“When they came to arrest Jesus, He was on the Mount of Olives. Peter cut off the ear of one of the soldiers and Jesus told Peter, ‘if you live by the sword, you die by the sword’. He picked the soldier’s ear off the ground and put it back on the side of his head, healing him instantly.”

Chills ran through Nathaniel. In his heart, he knew the story was true.

“Now I’ll ask you. What do you think Jesus would do?” his aunt said.

  • * *

Ten days later: Gwinnett County Courthouse

Marissa and Joe sat next to each other on the third row from the front. The courthouse looked like any other courtroom: large brown doors, traditional brown interior, rows of seats that looked like church pews, and a large mahogany desk where the Judge sat. There were prosecutors at one end of the mini tables before the judge and defense lawyers at the other end. Marissa shook slightly. Whenever she’d been to court, it was never on her behalf. Joe held her hand because he knew she was nervous, but he was confident she wouldn’t have to do any time. He had a good lawyer and his faith was in him.

Nathaniel entered the courtroom. It had taken him much prayer to get enough confidence to step in this place. He looked for Marissa and spotted her on the third row. Seeing Joe next to her, his fingers intertwined with hers, sent fire through Nathaniel. His instinct made him push forward to snatch Joe up, but before he could get close, someone called his name. He turned around to see his lawyer, Thomas Bond.

“I’ve got you all set. Are you ready to do this?” he said.

Quickly, Nathaniel’s thoughts went back to the task at hand -- the whole purpose of him being here in the first place. He nodded his head and took a seat two rows behind Marissa and Joe. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of them, but he tried to stay put. He made a mental note to confront Joe later.

“All rise,” the clerk said.

The Judge entered the courtroom and everyone was seated. They called six cases before Marissa’s name was finally called. Her lawyer walked before the Judge at the same time as Thomas Bond.

“May I have a word, Your Honor?” Thomas requested.

“Are you Marissa Thompson’s attorney?”

“No sir.”

“Well, what business do you have up here?”

Thomas leaned away from the mic and spoke to the Judge. The Judge looked for Nathaniel and nodded his head. Thomas turned and waved for Nathaniel to come and stand before the Judge. When he rose, all eyes turned to him. Seeing his face sent a shockwave through Marissa. She wondered what he was doing. She also noticed his professional clothing and his clean-shaven face. She couldn’t deny that she missed him because she did, and seeing his handsome face caused her stomach to ripple like butterflies. As he passed them, he gave Joe a threatening look that said, ‘you started and now I’ll finish’. Joe nodded, accepting his silent challenge. Marissa saw the exchange and wondered what it was about, but in a way, she kind of knew. Nathaniel approached and stood next to his lawyer. The Judge spoke.

“Nathaniel Davidson, you have come before the court today to confess to enforcing Marissa Thompson into fleeing from police. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Your Honor.” Some people in the courtroom whispered, surprised by the confession. Marissa’s stomach did a back flip.

“Tell me how that happened.”

Nathaniel relayed to the Judge the events that happened leading up to the police chase. The court room was quiet as he went over the details. Once he finished, he ended with a plea.

“There is no reason for her to go to jail for what I’ve done. If it was up to her, she would’ve pulled over.”

The judge examined Nathaniel, who looked to be a man with some common sense, but for some reason, these young men constantly got themselves in a bind.

“I admire you for stepping up to the plate, young man, and taking responsibility; however, you have broken the law in more ways than one. The minimum penalty for fleeing from the police is three years. Your lawyer has asked for the minimum punishment on your behalf for these penalties and I’m tempted to give you the maximum. However, I’ll give you a break this time since you’re being honest. I sentence you to thirty-six months in Gwinnett Correctional Facility with thirty months suspended. You’ll serve six months and be on probation for the remaining thirty, where you will report to your probation officer on time and be subjected to drug tests. Any failure, young man, and you’ll have to live out your sentence in the correctional facility. Do you understand?

“Yes sir,” Nathaniel said.

“Marissa Thompson, your charges are dismissed.”

The Judge banged his gavel and the officers approached Nathaniel, taking him into custody. Nathaniel looked at Marissa and mouthed, ‘I love you’. Tears formed in Marissa’s eyes. Never before had Nathaniel been so responsible and she wanted to run to him. Nathaniel looked at Joe and mouthed, ‘Checkmate’. Joe gave him a stare down to ensure it wasn’t over. This time, Nathaniel nodded, accepting Joe’s silent challenge.

  • * *

“Cash or credit?” Marissa asked the patron.

“Credit,” the patron responded. He slid his card through the machine attached to the end of her register.

The day after her court appearance, Marissa received a call from the local Kroger’s grocery store. The supervisor had gotten her application for employment and surveyed it. He called her references and made a decision to hire her. God was right on time. She needed that position badly and she was grateful for the blessing, even if it was only nine dollars an hour. It was enough for her to pay for her own rent and not have to depend on Joe to do it for her.

Marissa turned off her light at the top of the register to indicate her line was now closed. Her shift ended in five minutes and she didn’t want to be stuck with a customer with a shopping cart full of groceries.

It had been three weeks since she’d seen Nathaniel. Working gave her no time to see him on his visiting days, but today, she would make time.

Last night, she told Joe she needed space. It was not her intention to jump from one man to the next. It was time for her to focus on herself with no distractions.

“I understand,” Joe said, “But check this out. I’m not far away whenever you want to see me or need company. Is it okay if I check up on you from time to time?”

Marissa smirked. “Of course.”

Since the court appearance, they had seen each other off and on. Every time Joe came within her presence, he brought gifts or roses. He was a complete gentleman and that wasn’t hard for Marissa to see. As much as she appreciated it and loved it, she couldn’t help but think about Nathaniel. What had gotten into him at the courthouse? She had to know.

“I’m gone for the day. See you tomorrow,” Marissa said to a co-worker on the next register.

“Alright, see you,” the co-worker responded.

The dashboard time on her Chevy Aveo read 2:59 pm. She pulled out and made her way to Gwinnett County Correctional Facility. Upon entering the parking lot, Marissa took notice of the crowd of cars near the entrance to visitation. This was nothing to new to her. She was well aware that it may take her hours before she was actually allowed visitation.

  • * *

Three hours later . . .

“Davidson!” the guard yelled.

Nathaniel rolled off of his bunk and side-eyed the correctional officer.

“You got a visitor!”

“Who is it?” Nathaniel asked.

“Do I look like the book keeper? If you want the visit, get up off your lazy backside. But if you don’t, that’s fine by me. It’s your visit.”

Nathaniel walked to the cell and waited for it to open. The door buzzed and slid open.

“That’s what I thought,” the guard said.

They walked down a faded brown hallway with dingy lighting and got on an elevator with a group of ten other inmates ready and amped about their visits. The only person who would come and see him was Marissa. Only now, not even she was showing up. The last three weeks had been miserable for Nathaniel. If it was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was being locked away like a caged animal. Humans shouldn’t live like that. No one should be held against their will to live like that under any circumstances. He was tired of the smart-mouthed guards and the bland food that ran through him like liquid. Although he only had to serve six months before he’d be out on probation, the time seemed to slither by at a snail’s pace. Six months couldn’t come fast enough.

On the visitation floor, they stepped into an open area with tables and benches that looked like picnic tables. His eyes scanned the area and he didn’t see anyone familiar. There was a gang of women in scantly-dressed apparel coming to show off their goods to their men so they could go back and dream about them all day. That’s as far as it went. To Nathaniel, it was all a tease. He didn’t want to see a woman with her goods hanging out when there was nothing he could do about it.

The guard pushed him forward. “Do you want your visit or not?” he asked.

That’s when he spotted her. Marissa looked to be in uniform, but she was still beautiful. His stomach did a back flip and excitement kicked up in him. He walked toward her with a hurried pace, then slowed the closer he got to her. Her hair hung past her shoulders and her skin was smooth and clear of any blemishes. She wore her favorite pink lipstick with just about anything and only she could pull it off, making herself look sexy in generic clothes.

“Hey,” she said.

He walked around the table and enveloped her in a hug. He squeezed her so tight and kissed her on her cheeks and then her lips. The smell of her was more intoxicating than anything and he realized even more how much he had taken her for granted. He ran his fingers through her hand, smelling the lilac shampoo she used to wash her hair. Never letting her go, he kissed her neck and face and moved back to her lips.

“Davidson! Unless you want to end this visit real quick, I suggest you get back on your side of the table!”

Nathaniel heard him, but didn’t care. He was stuck in their for six months, so he might as well make the most of this visit. He continued to hug her like he never heard the guard.

“Baby, I missed you so much. I thought you had forgot about me. I love you, girl. You don’t understand how you make my heart feel.” He kissed her again.

“Nathaniel, please sit down before they kick me out. I want the full visit. I’ve been waiting for hours.”

With those words, he released her from his grasp. “I don’t ever want to let you go.”

She blushed. Marissa didn’t think it was possible, but he made her blush for the first time in a long time.

“I said your side of the table!” the guard shouted, standing closer to them than he was before.

“Sit down,” Marissa said, motioning to the other side of the bench. “How could you think I forgot about you? I know you don’t mean that.”

“Actually, I do. I haven’t seen you since the court date and you’ve already made it clear that you don’t want to be with me anymore, so I figured you’d just moved on with your life.”

“I could never just forget about you like that, and I would’ve been here sooner, but I got a job at the Kroger’s and I’ve been working overtime ever since.”

“Oh,” he said, “Is that why you’re dressed like this?”

She chuckled. “Yes.”

“I thought you were cuddle up somewhere with Joe,” he said, giving her a serious look.

Without blinking, Marissa added, “I’m sure you did.”

“Is that not true? You two seemed pretty close at the court date.”

Marissa sighed. “I have been with him,” she admitted.

That was a blow to the gut for Nathaniel. His eyes turned from loving and questioning to sick and angry. “Didn’t take you long at all to forget about me. Why are you here seeing me if you have another sucker on the side?”

Marissa wasn’t bothered by his anger. She knew he wouldn’t take the news lightly. “I haven’t been with him sexually and I’m not with him. I said I have been with him -- meaning, we’ve been in each other’s company, but that’s about it. He’s been a good shoulder to lean on through everything. Not to mention he was the one that came and got me out of jail.”

“I came to get you out of jail, too, but you were all ready gone.”

“Three days later!” she yelled.

“You know I had to hustle up the money!”

Marissa through her hands up. She’d heard it all before. “Look, I didn’t come here today to argue with you. In fact, I came here because I wanted to see how you were doing and know what’s up with you.”

“I’m alright. I’d be better if I knew someone was waiting for me when I left this place.” He gave her a hard stare.

“I’m surprised you came to court that day. What’s gotten in to you?” she asked, getting to the real reason behind her visit.

Nathaniel’s face softened. “I spoke with my aunt. She spoke the real to me. She helped me . . .” he paused. “Get saved.”

Butterflies fluttered through Marissa. Surely he didn’t say what she thought she heard. “You accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

A smile played around his lips. “Sure did. It was a special experience, too -- one that can’t be explained. Within a matter of minutes, I knew what I needed to do. So I came to rescue you. That was my sole purpose.”

Tears formed in Marissa’s eyes. She could definitely tell the difference, and with Jesus, anything is possible. That she knew for a fact. Maybe their relationship could work out after all. There is always light at the end of a dark tunnel, right? She stood and leaned over the table, kissing him sweetly.

“That’s it. Your visit is over!” the guard yelled. Marissa and Nathaniel continued to kiss until the guard pulled them apart.

“I love you,” she said.

“Will you be waiting for me when I get out of here?” Nathaniel asked.

“Maybe,” Marissa said with a huge smile.

They were pulled farther apart as the guard shoved Nathaniel back towards the elevator. “I love you, too! Can I call you later?”

Marissa shook her head up and down.

“Go put some minutes on your phone!” he said. That was the last thing she heard him say before she could no longer see him.

The butterflies continued to rummage through her and she felt like gliding out the door. For the longest time, she’d tried to talk some sense into Nathaniel, but he always shrugged it off. She couldn’t be happier then she was right now. This called for a celebration. She would stop at the store and pick up a bottle of wine and celebrate quietly in the comfort of her own space.

The End


Broken

Relationships always start out rosy in the beginning, but they never last that way. At least this is what Marissa thought as she watched Nathaniel preparing to go out to God knows where at 11 o’clock at night. What used to be love had turned into regret — to the point that Marissa often despised being around him. Sure, they’ve had their break-ups and their make-ups. But this relationship had grown stale, boring, and sometimes depressing, and Marissa wanted out. Now Joe, on the other hand, was handsome, flirtatious, and older. He had Christian values and knew what he wanted out of life. Marissa couldn’t deny his obvious charm and magnetic pull towards her and she wanted to find out what being with him was like. However, being a Christian woman herself, her morals wouldn’t allow her to cheat on Nathaniel, even if their relationship was practically over. Or maybe she could get a taste just once. Nathaniel didn’t have to know, and God would forgive her, right? The struggle between knowing when a relationship has run its course or when it’s time to stand strong is real. Is the grass really greener on the other side?

  • Author: Stephanie Nicole Norris
  • Published: 2016-05-08 20:20:25
  • Words: 17644
Broken Broken