Her Secret Life. Gwynne Forster
following afternoon, Saturday, found him where he spent most of his afternoons, at Harlem Clubs, Inc., his financial and personal investment in keeping children off the streets of Harlem and en route to a productive life.
“Come here, Charlie,” he said to a potential troublemaker. “Sit down. Would you like to fence in the Olympics two years from now?”
The boy’s shrug expressed a careless lack of concern. “Yeah.”
“Well, you are not going to.”
Charlie jumped up from his perch on the edge of the windowsill. “What? What do you mean? I’m the best here.”
Warren stared hard at the boy, having discerned that only challenge motivated him. “But your attitude is the worst, and I’m sick of dealing with it. Furthermore, I am not going to hire a coach for you any longer if you don’t work hard and practice. Got that?” Immediately, Charles shed his arrogance, grabbed a foil and began to practice.
On a sunny weekend, approximately ten days later, Jackie was Dr. Jacqueline Ann Parkton at Hampton University giving a sorority-sponsored lecture on the deleterious effects of teen pregnancy and crime in contemporary society. She noted that her audience included several men and a number of older women. In response to her question, half of the young women present were sexually active, and yet less than one fifth of those had had an orgasm.
When she asked why they had sex if they didn’t enjoy it, one student asked, “How do you say no if you want to be popular?”
She replied. “It’s spelled, n-o. Why buy a cow if you can get free milk whenever you want it and when you can have fun checking out different cows?” She had planned to discuss the hazards of drug use, but time went quickly as the students bombarded her with questions about sex, sexuality, virginity and male attitudes. At the end of her talk, the students crowded around her, asking questions, and a man fought his way through the group and introduced himself as Edmond Lassiter.
“I’ve wanted to meet you, Ms. Parkton, and when I read in the Norfolk, Virginia New Journal & Guide that you’d be here today, I wasn’t about to miss you. You are a very impressive speaker.”
He could spread butter on her as much as he liked, but she was not going to publish his chauvinistic short story. “Oh, yes. I remember returning your story a couple of days ago, and for the second time, too.”
His smile was that of a man accustomed to getting a lot of mileage merely by changing the contours of his face. “Let’s not discuss anything so unpleasant just now. I came a long way to meet you.” He looked at his watch. “It’s a quarter after one, and I’m starving. Would you do me the honor of having lunch with me?” She began to gather her papers. “Please. I came a long way to see you.”
Suffolk, Virginia, where he lived, was practically across the street from Hampton, but she didn’t remind him of that. She pretended to focus on the papers in her hand, her casual attitude belying her appreciation for his masculine attributes. He was a good-looking man and very much aware of his appeal.
“All right, but only if you promise me I’ll never see that short story again.”
His right hand went to the left side of his chest and, as if he’d taken lessons from Morgan Freeman or Jack Nicholson, his smile radiated. “You wound me, but what can I do? I promise.”
As he ate, he chewed his food slowly, deliberately, causing her to imagine him savoring the delights of a woman he adored. He might have attracted her interest if he hadn’t kept inserting bits of propaganda for his short story into the conversation. She refused to respond.
“How do you manage to write that provocative column along with all the other things an editor has to do?”
She was tempted to tell him that he was too free with the compliments. What she said was, “I try not to waste time…like going over your manuscript twice.”
He put a serious expression on his face. “I know you said you didn’t like it, but I wanted to give you a chance to change your mind.”
“You did, and now it’s set in stone, Mr. Lassiter.” She looked straight at him, and when he quickly diverted his gaze, she realized that he was attracted to her and preferred not to be.
“Send me something equally well written that doesn’t focus on women’s body parts and I’ll consider publishing it.”
It amused her that he had the grace to blush. “I think it’s a good story, but…” He threw up his hands as if in resignation and then let his face dissolve into an engaging grin. Looking at his dazzling smile, her thoughts went back to Jeff Southwall, the man whose mesmerizing masculinity had trapped her into making the biggest mistake of her life.
Before she realized she would say them, the words, “You’re wasting your time,” slipped out of her mouth.
But as if he hadn’t heard her, he said, “Thanks for having lunch with me. When I asked you, I thought you’d refuse.” He walked with her to the car she’d rented and opened the driver’s door. “You haven’t seen or heard the last of me. I don’t give up easily.” He extended his hand for a shake and added, “Be seeing you at one place or another.”
“I told you not to waste your time, and I meant it.” However, she doubted he heard her for, without answering, he turned and walked off, whistling as he went.
She let the engine warm up for a few minutes before heading to the airport. The man’s hands were those of a working man, calloused and hard, but he had the manners and demeanor of an educated person. She couldn’t reconcile the two traits. There was something about Edmond Lassiter that didn’t add up—something besides his terrible story.
Then she thought of Warren Holcomb, a warm and tender, yet equally masculine man. Captivating. The man she wanted with mounting urgency each time she was in his presence. There was no comparison. Edmond Lassiter was not even in the running. Granted, she’d been taken aback by his earthiness and blatant sexuality but, even before they separated, she’d become used to him and his sly way of seduction. She released the brake and put Hampton University behind her.
A she drove, she envisaged a life with a strong, warm and gentle man, a man like Warren Holcomb. One who made her forget everything and everyone but him. “It isn’t going to happen,” she said aloud. “If he hasn’t made a move yet, he never will.”
Jacqueline went from LaGuardia Airport directly to Riverdale to see her father. “You look wonderful,” she told him as they embraced. Her father always made her feel as if she was the apple of his eye, although she knew he loved her sister, Vanna, as much as he loved her. “How are you feeling, Papa?”
“I feel a lot better, so you can move me out of this mansion. It must cost a fortune, and I know you can’t afford it.” She didn’t tell him that she had an evening job that enabled her to afford comfort for them both.
“I learned it from you, Papa. I’m only taking care of you the way you took care of Mama, except that I haven’t mortgaged my pension to do so. Stop worrying.”
“It’s time you gave me a grandchild,” he said when she rose to leave. “Find a good man” rang in her ears as she kissed him goodbye.
When she arrived at work the following evening, her first call for service was to Warren Holcomb, who sat alone in one of the private lounges.
“Good evening, sir. What may I get for you?”
His right eyebrow shot up, and she reminded herself to be cautious about her language. He had detected her proper use of the word “may” instead of “can,” which a less-educated person might have used.
“No. Look, I don’t really want any coffee. I want to apologize to you for having knocked the wind out of you the other night. It was careless of me, and I’ve stewed over it ever since. Are you certain that I didn’t