Who Said It Would Be Easy CHAPTER 1
AT FIRST SIGHT
It was a perfect day for a wedding. The temperature may have been in the high-nineties, but there wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the cerulean blue sky and the air was free of humidity.
Charisse Ellison was happy about that. She had spent three hours at her best friend’s salon yesterday getting a manicure, pedicure and facial, plus a new cut and perm and would have been fit to be tied if she’d had to worry about her style shriveling up.
Standing among the throng at the bottom of the steps of First Canaan A.M.E. Church in Queens, New York, Charisse took in her surroundings. Most of her large family had turned out for the mid-July wedding. Watching them as they all waited for the bride and groom to appear, Charisse realized that the only time they got together nowadays was either for a wedding or a funeral. During her childhood, her parents, uncles and aunts did not need a reason to get their collective families together on a fairly regular basis. Most lived in the New York, New Jersey area, and others were spread out between there and Baltimore, so it was never difficult for them to get together. Sadly, as the elder members of the family got older and died off, the younger generations seemed to be too wrapped up in their own lives to make time for simple family gatherings. That was probably one of the reasons the turnout for Jewel’s wedding was so large.
As Jewel and her new husband, Terrance Wilson, emerged from the church, the crowd in front broke into applause. Remembering
the conversation she’d had with Jewel the night before, and knowing how happy her cousin was to finally be married to the man of her dreams, Charisse’s face was lit by her bright smile.
Still, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy because God had yet to send her husband-to-be. Charisse looked forward to the day she would start her own family. Unbeknownst to most of the Ellison clan, Jewel and Terrance were already on their way to becoming parents. Jewel had confided in Charisse at the end of her bridal shower last weekend that she would be three months pregnant this coming week. It didn’t matter that she was thirty years old; Jewel’s parents were old school and legalistically religious. Aunt Jean was the eldest of Charisse’s father’s siblings. Charisse and Jewel both knew that she would not have been happy about her daughter being pregnant on her wedding day.
Charisse’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her mother’s voice. “Johnny, why’d you bring your camera if you’re not going to use it?”
“I’m getting the pictures, Barb. Besides we’ve got all afternoon to take pictures of them,” her father said.
“But you should at least get a shot of them leaving the church.”
Charisse smiled as she watched her parents’ playful bickering. Having tied the knot right after high school, they had been married for thirty-eight years. They were both quite youthful looking fifty-six-year-olds and they made an incredibly handsome couple. Childhood sweethearts, the elder Ellisons had met in the ninth grade when John had been assigned as a math tutor to Barbara.
Always thrilled by watching them together, Charisse’s heart swelled with pride and joy. Even after all these years, her parents’ mutual adoration, admiration and affection were still very evident. She believed their loving playfulness was what kept them so young looking and young-at-heart.
Dressed today in a Christian Dior gown, Barbara presented a striking picture of maturity with her stylishly coiffed silver hair. Looking polished in his Armani tuxedo, John got many second looks from women in the crowd—young and old alike—but he had eyes for no one but his comely wife.
“Mommy, stop picking on Daddy. David’s getting the shots. He’s right up front,” Charisse playfully scolded. Her oldest brother was a professional photographer and, with the help of his crew, was recording the entire event on film and video as a gift to his cousin.
“That’s right, Barb, so stop fussing. You know we’ll get copies of all the best shots.”
John turned to his youngest daughter, placed his arm around her shoulder, and kissed her cheek. “Thanks, baby.”
Frowning, Barbara said, “You need to mind your business, Risi.”
Sidling up to her mother, Charisse purred, “I love you, too, Mommy,” and wrapped her in a quick embrace as she kissed her cheek.
“Get off of me,” Barbara said as she smiled and playfully shrugged Charisse off before turning back to the happy couple. “Jewel looks so beautiful.”
“Doesn’t she?” Charisse agreed as she turned and gazed at her cousin.
“He’s quite a handsome fellow,” Barbara added.
Cutting her eyes at her mother, Charisse said, “Mommy, brotha’s fine.”
“Oh, no, I missed the ceremony.”
Turning simultaneously when they heard the female voice behind them, Charisse and her parents were joined by her sister.
“I was wondering where you were,” Barbara said.
“Joe was late picking up the girls,” she replied as she kissed her mother’s cheek.
“Hi, Daddy. Hey, Risi,” she said and kissed them both in turn.
“Hey, Star,” Charisse greeted her older sister.
“Why didn’t you bring them?” John asked, referring to his granddaughters.
“Because I want to have a good time. It’s so seldom I get to go out. I’m going to enjoy myself today.”
“I heard that,” Charisse muttered.
Known to family and close friends as Star due to her childhood aspirations of becoming a world famous model and actress, Angelina James was five years older than Charisse and the divorced mother of two young daughters upon whom she had transferred her aspirations. Dressed in a simple, but stylish red tank dress, Star was almost the mirror image of their mother save her long, blond-tinted hair.
Star asked, “Did they start on time?”
“Five minutes late,” Barbara answered.
“I was hoping Jewel would have taken her time getting here.”
“Jewel was too eager to get married to be late to her own wedding,” Charisse stated.
Charisse and her family turned at this new voice.
“Hey, girl!” Charisse was thrilled to see her best friend making her way through the crowd. Embracing, the women exchanged pecks on the cheek.
“Ooh, your hair looks great! And I love your dress.”
“Thanks,” said Charisse.
A portrait of walking elegance, Charisse was wearing a crystal-blue raw silk strapless knee-length dress that flattered her hourglass figure. Her feet were ensconced in ice blue Ferragamo sandals with three-inch heels that exposed her freshly pedicured toes.
“Connie definitely hooked me up, but look at you.” Taking her friend’s hand, Charisse spun her around as if in a dance.
Almost a full head shorter than Charisse’s five feet, six inches, Myra Lopez wore a stunning lime green print halter swing dress—the colors of which blended splendidly with her dark, Mediterranean skin tone—and gold t-strap sandals. Her waist-length hair was styled in loose, flowing curls.
“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Ellison. Hey, Star.” Reaching out, she hugged both of Charisse’s parents.
“Hey, Myra,” Star answered.
“How you doin’, sweetheart?” John asked.
“I’m good. You’re looking sharp,” she said, gingerly touching his lapel.
“Well, you know, I can’t have my children looking better than me,” he said smugly.
“Were you inside?” Charisse asked Myra.
“Yeah, I got here right after they started. I was in the back. I saw you when you were leaving the church, but I didn’t want to be yelling in there, you know.”
Turning back to Jewel and Terrance, who were still standing at the door of the church, Charisse sighed. “Doesn’t she look beautiful?”
“She sure does. She looks so happy, too.”
“I forgot how fine Terry is,” Myra said.
“Yeah, isn’t he? I was checking out his groomsmen, too. There’s some good looking brothas on his line.”
“Well, you know
I was checking them out.”
“How’re you getting to the reception?” Charisse asked, changing the subject.
“I was hoping to bum a ride with you. Do you have room for me?”
STEFÀN WAS DECKED OUT IN A STEEL BLUE,
five-button single-breasted suit, which was accessorized by a pale gray Italian cotton shirt monogrammed with his initials, its French cuffs boasting white gold knotted links. A silver lattice silk tie expertly knotted at his throat, and midnight blue snakeskin shoes completed the ensemble.
Equally eye-catching in a light olive, four button, single-breasted suit with an ecru cotton shirt and olive silk jacquard pattern tie was his best friend, Julian, whose outfit was complemented by brown calfskin oxfords.
Suddenly intoxicated by the smoothness of dual auras, women of varying ages turned to get a better look when the two men entered the reception hall during the cocktail portion of Jewel and Terrance’s reception.
Walking with a rhythmic bravado that bellowed as if he was stepping to theme music, Stefàn knew he looked good. He also knew the females were checking him out. They always did. Notoriously vain, the slender six feet, four inches tall, butterscotch complexioned man took great pains to maintain his impeccable appearance. His hair—worn about a quarter inch in length and gradually faded on the sides and back to the hairline—was always freshly cut as he had a standing appointment every Friday with his barber of ten years. Flawless skin and a pencil-thin mustache and goatee complemented his uncommonly handsome face. As the quintessential finishing touch, Stefàn’s smile gleamed, exposing a row of perfectly straight white teeth, and brought to light a single dimple in his left cheek.
By contrast, Julian, who was a very handsome man in his own right, but did not possess the “pretty-boy” good looks or self-satisfied demeanor of Stefàn, was quite subdued. One might even say he was slightly bashful. Standing about four inches shorter
than Stefàn, but more solidly built, he sported a shiny baldpate and his skin was the color of creamy peanut butter. Julian’s only facial hair was a neatly trimmed mustache, but it was considerably thicker than Stefàn’s. Whereas Stefàn had a somewhat untouchable countenance, Julian’s eyes were warm and very welcoming. An appreciative, playful smile danced across his lips as he slowly scanned the room, taking in the variety of well-dressed female attendees.
Both men were single and enjoyed that status. The difference was that Julian had a respect for the fairer sex, which would not, in good conscience, allow him to be but so much of a Casanova. Having been married once, Julian could actually see himself walking down the aisle a second time, if the right lady came into his life. Stefàn, on the other hand, was a bona fide bachelor and not interested in being yoked to anyone. As an object of desire for numerous members of the opposite sex, he reveled in the fact that he had his pick of so many.
As Stefàn stood checking out his prospects, Julian said, “I’m going to get a drink,” before walking away.
Stefàn eyes veered in the direction Julian was headed. Scanning the scene briefly, he was about to turn back when he had to do a double-take.
The woman was stunning. She was laughing at something her friend had just said and although she was too far away for him to hear the sound, he knew it would be music to his ears. He could not have been happier when he noticed that Julian had paused right near them.
MYRA WERE STANDING AT THE BAR,
sipping their drinks and chatting when they were interrupted by a stranger.
“Excuse me, ladies. Could one of you get the bartender’s attention for me?” he asked kindly.
Turning and quickly giving him the once-over, the girls gave him a silent stamp of approval before facing the bar again to summon the bartender.
Charisse suddenly turned back to the man. “What are you drinking?”
“Remy Martin,” he said with a smile.
Myra waved the bartender over to their end of the bar.
“What can I get you ladies?”
“Remy Martin, please,” Myra stated.
Charisse then asked the stranger, “Straight?”
“On the rocks,” he replied.
“On the rocks,” she added.
Smiling, the man said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Charisse replied in a preoccupied tone as her attention was directed beyond the gentleman at the gorgeous man whose dark eyes were locked on hers. As he moved toward them—in slow motion, it seemed—Charisse suddenly and inexplicably felt butterflies in her stomach.
“Good afternoon, ladies.” His smooth baritone voice was accompanied by an interested gaze that lingered on Charisse a moment longer than was necessary.
“Good afternoon,” they chorused.
“You’re both looking quite lovely this afternoon.”
In unison again, “Thank you.”
“Are either of you related to the bride or groom?”
“Jewel is my cousin,” Charisse answered.
Nodding, he replied, “Now that you mention it, I do see a bit of resemblance around the eyes. I’m Stefàn Cooper.” Offering his hand, he asked, “And you are.…”
Extending her right hand, a quiver ran up Charisse’s spine as Stefàn firmly but tenderly grasped and softly kissed it, without breaking eye contact.
“Pleased to meet you, Charisse,” he seductively whispered. Turning then to Myra, he again offered his hand.
He kissed her hand as well, but not nearly as demonstratively. What a smooth operator
, Charisse thought.
“I see you’ve already met my man, Julian.”
“Actually, we haven’t been formally introduced. We were just helping him order a drink,” Charisse stated.
“Well, I can understand that. I’m sure Brother behind the bar is more apt to notice two beautiful ladies like you before this guy,” Stefàn commented as he tilted his head toward his friend.
“Julian Walker, and thank you again for your assistance,” he said softly, shaking both of their hands.
“Are you guys friends of Terry’s or family?” Charisse asked.
“Friends,” Stefàn answered.
“We play ball together,” Julian added.
“Here you go, partner,” the bartender said as he placed Julian’s drink on the bar.
“Can I get a Ketel One shot with a 7-Up chaser, please?” Stefàn asked.
“You got it.”
“Thanks.” Addressing the women, Stefàn asked, “Do you ladies live in the city?”
“I live in Brooklyn,” Myra answered.
“I live in New Jersey,” Charisse said.
“Where about?” asked Stefàn.
Apparently amazed, Stefàn responded, “Oh, yeah? We’re in Teaneck.”
“Small world,” said Charisse.
“No doubt,” Stefàn murmured with that seductive glint still flickering in his eyes.
“You guys live together?” Myra asked.
An emphatic “No!” issued from both men’s mouths.
“We’re just good friends,” Stefàn stated.
“Been hangin’ since junior high school,” Julian added.
“Oh, okay,” Myra said.
The bartender returned with Stefàn’s drink, which he placed on the bar. “Thank you.” Reaching for the shot glass, he said, “So, Charisse, I guess your whole family’s here, huh?”
“Pretty much.” Pointing to the photographer who was going around the room taking pictures of the guests, she said, “That’s my brother right there.”
“I’m guessing,” said Stefàn, “since neither of you are wearing wedding bands, that you’re both single.”
“You guessed correctly,” Charisse said with a coy smile.
“And I don’t have to worry about anyone running up on me if I stand too close to you, do I?” Stefàn asked. As he put the shot glass to his lips and downed the clear liquid in one swallow, he looked at Charisse in a manner that indicated he wanted to get even closer.
Feeling suddenly anxious about Stefàn’s suggestive words and mannerisms, she nevertheless answered, “No, you don’t.”
“Charisse, don’t believe a word he says to you.”
Turning at this audible intrusion, the quartet was joined by the best man, Don Wilson, who had, at one time, tried to get close to Charisse.
Smiling patiently, Charisse said, “Hi, Don.”
Reaching behind Charisse and placing the shot glass back on the bar, Stefàn retrieved his soda. Then, flicking his thumb in Don’s direction, he mockingly asked, “You know this guy?”
“Yeah, she knows me but she doesn’t wanna know you, so leave the lady alone,” Don jokingly instructed.
Exchanging a soulful handshake with the newcomer, Stefàn asked, “Whassup, dog?”
“You, man.” Turning to Julian, who he likewise greeted, Don said, “Whassup, Dub?”
“How you been, man? We haven’t seen you on the courts in a while. Don’t tell me we scared your behind off the last time you were out?” Julian teased.
“Yeah, right, you wish. I’ve been out of town on business. Just got back in yesterday morning,” Don said. Turning his attention away from the men, he then asked, “So how have you been, Charisse?” as he leaned in and kissed her cheek.
“I’ve been great. Did you ever meet my girlfriend, Myra?”
“No, I haven’t. How are you?” Don asked, extending his hand to her.
Myra gently shook it. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“This is Terry’s brother, Myra.”
“Yeah, I was gonna say. You look a lot like him. Are you older or younger?” she asked.
“Are they about to make an appearance?” Julian then asked Don.
“Yeah, I just came in to tell everyone to head on into the banquet hall. The party’s about to begin.”
Shaking Don’s hand once again, Stefàn said, “All right, Bro, we’ll see you inside.”
As Don walked away from them, Stefàn asked, “So, Charisse, will you promise to save a dance for me?”
“I guess so, but don’t expect me to come looking for you,” she smugly answered to cover the unease he caused in her.
The corner of his mouth turned up in a sly smile. “Oh, don’t you worry about that. I’ll be keeping my eyes on you,” he provocatively stated as his pupils bore through her.