What You Gonna Do With Me, Baby? (by Cortney Joseph)

Eli walked in calmly, speaking politely as the love of his life invited him into her home. It’d been a little over three weeks since they’d last seen one another, since they’d last argued, since she’d claimed she never wanted to see him again.

Having gone down the breakup road numerous times, he finally decided that he would not be the first to initiate a sit-down to talk out what was slowly becoming an ongoing problem with the two of them. Though it pained him greatly, he only made a move when she called. And even then, he made her wait a few extra days, just to see if she’d change her mind.

“I’m glad that you’ve agreed to see me.”

 

He paused mid-step, turning to face her. As mad as he wanted to be, his look only softened as he stared into her doe-like eyes. She was as beautiful as ever, petite and fragile. He only wished to pull her into his arms, shower her in his love and kisses, the way he always did.

Still, he held his ground, simply nodding before he continued into the living area. Thanking her when she offered a seat, he sat comfortably and waited. He would not initiate the conversation either.

Caitlyn sighed, wondering if the last time she sent him away had been the final time he’d allow her to cross the line. She’d admit, shamefully, she played with his heart and emotions one too many times. So bent on testing his loyalty, his desire to be with and around her, so certain that at some point his actions would stop matching his words. And just as she knew her own actions were always foolish, sending him through hoops that seemed impossible to jump through, she knew eventually she’d lose him for good.

Standing before him, as he sat silent and stone faced, she prayed for a last chance she was certain she didn’t deserve.

“How have you been, Darling?”

Eli shrugged, cutting her off just before she could begin rambling. “I didn’t come for small talk, Cait. What are we doing?”

“Huh?”

“This. Us. This back and forth. Is it on, or off? Are we hot, or are we cold? Are you done? Because I’ll be honest; it’s becoming frustrating, and downright annoying, to be pushed away when I’ve done nothing but proven myself time and time again.” Without warning, a surge of pent up anger burst through. “I mean, one moment I’m you’re king and the next you’re casting me aside like some jester. One minute you’re thrilled and delighted to say that yes, I am yours. And the next, you’ve disowned me. Walking around as if you’ve never even known me. Telling people you’ve never even loved me. Try as I might to break from it all, I can’t. I stay and I take it, can’t bare to walk away because it hurts too much to be without you. Temporary love and constant rejection, that’s the cycle.”

Caitlyn ran her fingers through her hair. “I-I-I…” She sighed heavily, shrugging her shoulders. This infuriated Eli. The sight of him angry, foreign to Caitlyn, sent a bout of guilt through her. He spoke up again, and she allowed him, giving him the room to finally vent.

“Unfortunately, I feel I’ll always be that fool that keeps running back. I’m yours, no matter what happens because you’re all that my heart has known. You’re the only one I’ve never been afraid to give it to. I was made to love only you, but I truly believe you’re too blind to see just how true and beautiful this love, designed just for you, can be if you would let it flourish.”

“I just need to know that you’re in this for the long haul. I need assurance, constant assurance.”

“By doing what? Testing me!?” He stood tall, shaking his head as she took quick steps back. “Nagging and dogging me every chance you think is perfect when all I have ever been is honest and forthcoming, a man of my word. Bending over backwards to do any and everything only to be told constantly that it’s just not enough? What do I need to do? Prove how deep this love is, how much stronger it grows each hour, pinpoint every little moment that solidified my love for you?”

“I-I…” She groaned, stumbling over the words that she couldn’t find or piece together correctly.

“I am enchanted, under your spell completely. You could tell me to jump in the ocean, off a cliff, into a lake of fire and I would do it if it reassured you that my heart and soul are yours, that I belong to you and only you. Tell me, what will it take? And once I do it, what are YOU going to do with me? If it’s nothing, and there’s nothing you feel you can do, please let me go so that I can attempt to break away and move on. I won’t, but at least give me the room to finally try. Tell me, because I need to know.”

 

“I just don’t know if the constant need for assurance will ever go away. I don’t know why I doubt you, your love, I don’t know what brings about these thoughts that things between us will end badly. I just, I don’t know, Eli. I want things to always be great, I want to be with you. I don’t want to go back and forth, breaking up and making up. But I can’t change the way I am. I don’t know.”

He nodded, willing himself to grow calm again. Stepping to her, Eli gently pulled Caitlyn into his arms. Placing a soft kiss on her lips, he pushed her away after a few moments and smiled. “Then there’s nothing for us to work out.” Her heart sank. “Not at the moment. Perhaps, after you’ve taken time for yourself; to figure out what you want and what you want to do with this, and us, we can talk again. I’ll be waiting.” Though he wasn’t sure how long, Eli gave her a bit of reassurance that he hoped she’d hold on to, a bit he hoped would wake her up. “Call me when you know, Pretty Baby.”

And with those final words, he walked out. Broken, unsure of what he would do with himself until she made her choice.

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My Bed of Thorns (by Cortney Joseph)

I suppose I should have been like most fools; lie some more and deny. Speak softly and sweetly in hopes that my beauty and presumed innocence would let me off the hook. That my gentle nature and presumed meekness would give him reason to doubt the rumors he’d heard, that he’d keep believing I could never do such a thing to break his heart.

Perhaps if I had done something menial like overdraft our account or been the cause of a scratch or dent appearing on his car, perhaps the outcome would be a little different.

That wasn’t the case, nor could I worm my way out of the problems I’d caused. Reaping what I’d sown, I silently watched as my husband walked in and out of the home we once shared, making numerous trips as he packed and boxed up his belongs, carrying them out to his car. Leaving me and our life behind for good.

 

No matter how I sought and tried to explain, he wanted to hear nothing.

You had plenty of time to talk when you were running to the arms and bed of another man. Instead, you lied and kept me in the dark, too busy finding satisfaction with another. It didn’t matter how many times I’d uttered the words I’m sorry, or how I meant them with every fiber of my being.

I would be left to deal with the pain and guilt of what I’d done alone. Suffer by your lonesome.

Those were his words, and I had no choice but to rest with the mess I’d made.

As he began picking between the photos that lined our dresser, I noticed the way he caressed our wedding photo with his fingertips. His shoulders dropped, a low sigh escaped his lips as he finally turned to me.

Eyes bloodshot red, boring into mine with fire that left my face heated until the painful expression he held became too much for me to bare. I dropped my head, inquiring about if there was anything he wanted to say.

I hoped against hope that his words would be more loving than they’d been over the past three weeks.

“I just want to know, where’d I go wrong? What I’d do? All of the love and trust, the life it took us years to find and build; you throw it all away in a split second, for what?”

Foolishly, I shrugged my shoulders, jumping when he made one swift move, punching his fist into the side of the dresser. “It wasn’t you, it was me.”

 

He scoffed, no doubt feeling I was throwing out a cliché excuse. I wasn’t. “I became comfortable, began feeling as if our little life wasn’t enough. I became bored, began to feel you were too nice, not exciting enough. I was so dumb,” tears slid down my face, dropping one my one against my arm. “searching for something that I thought was missing in my life. I went looking elsewhere, instead of bringing it to you.” Finally, my truth found it’s way out. “I was so used to having you, so used to your devotion to me and our relationship, to our life together; I thought I had you all wrapped up tight, that you’d never leave. I took your love, your kindness… you, I took it all for granted, and I am so sorry. Lawrence, I am sorry.”

“Who was it?”

I shook my head, begging him not to ask that question. I couldn’t bare the thought of giving a name, thoughts of how he might react clouding my mind. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does! You want to finally come clean, after a whole year of lying to my face, come clean about it all. Who was it?” I stuttered the name, sobbing as he groaned in anguish. “Teddy. My coworker.”

“I didn’t mean for it to happen. I didn’t mean for it to go on, Lawrence.”

“Do you love him?” My voice was low, shaking as I tried to get my answer out. “Do you love him, Cassy?”

“No, I don’t. It was just a thing, a mistake.”

Looking up, I could see as he clenched his jaw, holding back the fresh tears that begged to be released as he stared at me intently. The pain shifted to hatred. “You’re right, I shouldn’t have asked who. Still love you so much, I was thinking that I could work through this.”

 

I stood, rushing to his side. Clinging to him, I pleaded heavily. “We can! I’ll do whatever it takes. Lawrence, please, please let’s work through this. I’ve been so lost without you, this house has been so empty, my days so dark. There’s not a day that hasn’t passed since you’ve walked out that I haven’t regretted hurting you.”

He pushed me away, prying my hands from around his arms as he shook his head. “No, not now.” Lawrence turned from me, walking out the door without another word. Out of my life once more, and possibly for good.

My eyes filled with fresh tears, threatening to spill over as I looked towards the dresser. Grabbing our wedding photo, I clutched it to my chest before moving back to my original resting place.

Climbing into the center of my bed, I lay quietly. Curled into fetal position, I clung to what had been the happiest day of our lives, and to my hope, as the realization that I would have to pay the consequences for all that I’d done to chase away the only man that had ever loved me. The bed beneath me grew cold, the sheets prickling my skin as bits of pain began to pang through my body, resting at a heart now attorn.

I laid myself down to cry in the bed I’d made; surrounded by the seeds of deceit I’d sown with my own selfishness.

“I’m sorry.”

A Little Melody [Part 3] (by Cortney Joseph)

I’d just walked backstage after talking with the hosts of 106 & Park after debuting my video for my 2nd single, All Of Me. It was a track I’d co-written with Shayne and so far it’d proven to be a huge fan favorite.

Any time I went to a club, alone or with someone else, it was played. It’d become a hit for lots of DJs in many cities. So much so that Percy decided to make an extended dance version.

It was unbelievable. After I pushed my album back another month, to give Gia’s ass a chance, and myself a chance to debut a proper first single, I released it this past Tuesday. Taking the number one spot, almost instantly. It was INSANE! My twitter blew up. Mostly my peers, some I’d written for, asking why I never said I could sing. A few wanted to do collabs, and I’d even gotten invited on a tour. Of course there were still the negative people, mostly young ass kids who wouldn’t know how to hold a note if their life depended on it. The fat jokes, the she can’t sing as good as… comments, the continuous questions wondering how I’d gotten Tyrese’s fine self to play my leading man for my next video, Make Love … I just took it in as motivation to keep doing better.

 

My parents looked at me, smiling. Starting off congratulating me in English, my mom eventually trailed off into Cantonese as she cried her tears of joy. I hugged her tightly before turning into my father’s arms, inhaling his scent as his deep voice spoke perfect English with a THICK accent. “I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks Daddy.”

“So am I Sis. Didn’t I tell you not to doubt me?”

I looked at my older brother and nodded. “Yes Shayne, you told me. And I promise, I won’t doubt you anymore.”

I won’t doubt myself anymore. And I definitely won’t let my looks define what I do with my talent. Nope, not anymore.

A Little Melody [Part 2] (by Cortney Joseph)

I was standing in a corner, chewing my nails as I watched people’s reactions to the finished product. My first album, All Of Me. The cover was simply my face. While I had a buzz single out, and it’d received SO many positive reviews, no one had ever seen more than my face. No videos, no live performances yet. It’s been almost a year and I haven’t even made my official daytime or late night debut, and everyone you could imagine was asking to be the first. I was a nervous wreck. No one knew I was even in the building. And that was just how Shayne wanted it.

For some reason he believed if people loved my sound first, my physical appearance wouldn’t matter. I wish I could believe him.

I did take the initiative to begin working out though. Not to lose weight for the industry, but to be healthy for myself. If I was going to do this, I wanted it to last a long time.

“Excuse me, can I have your attention please.” I inched from the wall and took a seat at the only empty table.

“First I want to thank you all for taking the time out of your busy schedules to come here tonight and listen to the debut album of the First Lady of our subsidiary label, Golden Lee. Please join me in giving a warm and well deserving round of applause to Melody Lee.”

The applause was thunderous and I literally fought back every tear that tried to make its way out. It was overwhelming, especially when they’d never seen me.

“Now, before I bring our First Lady on stage… I’m going to introduce you to another one of our artists. Gia DeMarco. Her debut album will be out exactly one week before Melody’s, and we’d love for you all to get a little taste of that as well. Gia, come on out here.”

The audience applauded and she sashayed her way to the stage, giving smiles here and there. “These girls nowadays leave so little to the imagination. It’s a no wonder they stay as popular as they do.”

“I know exactly what you mean Jean. I just hope she can actually sing. From the sounds of this Melody Lee, she’s got a real tough act to follow.”

“Right. I do hope she’s a decent young woman though, with morals. That is so needed today, Emma.”

I smiled listening to the older women’s conversation. I just hoped their thoughts stayed positive once I did make it to the stage.

 

Gia’s performance garnered little of the attention she’d hope for. Her biggest cheers and praise came from a group of girls who’d gotten to come along with their parents. Their parents had looks of total disgust on their face. I didn’t mean to laugh, but it was funny.

Shayne made his way back to the stage, visibly nervous after Gia’s first public display. “Okay… that Gia DeMarco. And now we’re gonna give you all exactly what you came for. Please allow me to be the first, as it is a great pleasure, to introduce you to the very beautiful and talented Melody Lee.”

They all began to applaud again and I took a deep breath before standing up. I kept opening and closing my hands as I got closer and closer to the stage, counting silently. Walking up the few steps, I took notice of the looks on everyone’s faces. I was wearing a floor-length, black maxi dress that fit me perfectly without any of my rolls bulging over, and a cute little jacket to cover my arms. My gold heels clicked as I finally walked closer to my brother. He had his arms extended and once I found myself in his embrace, I felt a hell of a lot better.

Another round of applause followed and I gave small weak smiles. Unsure of how they all felt about me, about all of me. “Didn’t I tell you, beautiful! It is my honor to introduce you all to Melody Lee. How are you feeling Mel?”

“Scared.”

The audience laughed and I took a deep breath. “Before she gives you a live taste of what else is to come, we’ll let you all ask questions.” Shayne handed me the mic and stepped back as the questions came rolling in, left and right.

“How old are you Melody?”

“23.”

“So young. What did you do before you began singing?”

“I’ve always sang, no one ever knew though. I stayed behind the scenes and wrote songs for other artists.”

“Any hits?”

“Lots. I can thank the teenagers of the world for that.”

The parents of that group of girls chuckled.

“Have you written all of the songs on your album?”

“All except for one, a cover that I’ve always wanted to do.”

“How did you come up with the title for your album?”

“Um… really simple. I wanted to give this my all. Singing was never something I planned on taking seriously, but if I’m gonna do it, I’m giving my all. I’m also a very self conscious person, so my appearance has a lot to do with it as well. The cover is only my face, but you’re getting a whole lot more.” I motioned up and down my body.

“You’re beautiful!”

I smiled instantly, thanking the man that’d shouted it out.

“One last question guys.”

I looked back at Shayne and smiled.

“Can we hear the voice that we heard on the album now?”

“Yes.”

Shayne nodded and motioned for the band to come on stage. Guys we’d both gone to school with who’d all had gigs that paid way more. They all wanted to be here tonight, just for me.

 

After a few minutes of setting up, I took a seat on the stool they’d brought on stage for me, lowering the mic stand to my height.

“I’m going to sing Writing On The Wall for you all, the song that I covered. This will probably be the last single I release.”

I nodded to Percy and he nodded to Richie, who started playing. It’s now or never.

Some say that I should have known. Some say, Girlfriend he didn’t caaa-aaare. Guess I should have seen the warning signs. Instead I put my heart on the liiii-iiiine. Nooo, I cannot deny, been warned a thousand times. Should have known your kind. How could I be so blind?! Beware of a broken heart, Baby. I guess I should have read the writing on the wall. It saiiid, Girlfriiiiend, he’ll tear your heart apart. I guess I should have read… the writing on the wall.

I heard claps here in there… I let it encourage me as I calmed my nerves completely and sang from my heart. I closed my eyes every time I went for a high note, careful not to overdo it or strain myself.

Oh, I should have played it cool, played it by the rules. You played me for a fooo-ooool. How could you be so cruuuuel?!

“Girl you better sing!!” I had to keep myself from laughing over the words I sang.

Why’d you go and treat me this waaaay?! Bewaaaare, of a broken heart.

From the corner of my eye I could see Shayne smiling hard as hell, excited about the reactions. He’d proven me wrong.

A Little Melody [Part 1] (by Cortney Joseph)

I was sitting in the comfort of my older brother’s studio, in one of the booths, listening to one of the latest beats he’d come up with. It was rough, but still gentle enough to be a great instrumental to a hot R&B song. At least that was I was thinking in my mind as I wrote lyrics that seemed to flow.

Cause I can… give it to you just the way you like. And I… promise I’ll be worth your time… All I need is a…” I stopped and took a deep breath, removing my headphones as I tapped my pen against my bottom lip.

“You know, I’m still waiting on the day you tell me you’re going to start recording and make a name for yourself.”

“People know of me.”

“People know of Melody Lee, the songwriter. They don’t know that you’re up here hitting Minnie Riperton highs and singing Phyllis Hyman lows.”

“Tuh, what does it matter Shayne? In the industry today they’re not checking for songstress with actual talent, we both know that. It’s about what’s hot. And what sells. I’d be a decent underground artist at the most.”

“You know that underground and lesser known artists have some of the most loyal fans. It doesn’t have to be all about the money.”

“I didn’t say I had to be all about that. It’s not about that at all to be honest. If I could work with some of my favorite artists I’d write these songs for free. THAT is how dedicated I am.”

“So be that dedicated about singing. You’ve got it Sis, and you know it.”

I looked at my brother and smiled. He’s always pushed me to do better. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t even be writing for the celebrities I write for now. He was my backbone, my rock… he raised me to be the woman that I am today. Which for the life of me I can’t understand how I’d become so fearless. At least when it comes to my own singing career.

“Shayne…”

“What scares you Mel, really?”

“Just because I have the voice … it doesn’t mean that I’m the type that they’re looking for. I’m not like you Shayne, I can’t ignore every single negative comment that comes my way.”

His eyes showed nothing but concern. “You know as well as I do that we live in a world that is superficial. BUT, we also live in a world where there are people who appreciate TALENT and not just looks. Melody, you are one of the most beautiful women I know.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re my brother.”

“Umm… Stacey is our sister and I think she’s one of the ugliest people in the world, so it’s not that.”

“Stop!”

“I’m saying. It’s personality with me Sis, NOT looks. You’re gorgeous. Now give me that notebook, take a few deep breaths, and get ready to sing you heart out.”

“You’re taking my notebook, what am I going to sing?”

“Your favorite song. I just want to see how you do when you trust and believe in yourself.”

 

Later that night I was in my bedroom, looking myself over. I was trying to find the beauty that my brother and my friends saw. I, the product of a biracial marriage, was nothing you’d expect. I had the long, bone straight hair that came from my mother’s side of the family. Her and her sisters were some of the most beautiful Asian women to grace this planet. And my deep honey complexion came from my father’s side of the family, mixed well with hers. He came from a family of some of the most affluent Bahamians that lived in the United States.

I have big, doe-like eyes. Brown, although they sometimes look Hazel if there’s light hitting them. Standing at 5’5”. And as big as house. No, four houses.

I’m not beautiful. And despite what my brother says, if I were to take a singing career seriously, my voice is not something people would focus on for long.

I’ll just stay behind the scenes.

 

By the end of the week I’d written and recorded six new demos for my brother’s newest find. Gia DeMarco; set to be pop’s next big artist… according to her little following. We were now sitting in a meeting, trying to see which ones she’d choose for her upcoming debut album.

“Damn Sis, you really came with it this go ‘round. You know I’m loving all six, but I can definitely see A Chance, Make Love, and Feel Alright being great for Gia’s voice. Don’t think I ain’t peep that small College Girl sample.”

“Haa, you know I stay bumpin’ Bobby Brown.”

“I know, I know. So Gia, which are you feelin’ the most.”

“None of them.”

Shayne and I both looked at Gia and she shrugged before giving one of her infamous stank looks. She was becoming too comfortable, and too difficult to work with far too early in her career.

“You can’t be serious Gia. I mean, I can see some not being your personal style but you have to at least felt Make Love or Feel Alright.

“Let’s be real Shayne, all of them are shit. And the only reason you’re giving so much praise is because Melody is your sister. I want to work with REAL writers. And how the hell am I supposed to sing her shit anyway. The way she sings makes it impossible to understand. You’re no Toni Braxton, Melody.”

“Bitch, you’re not even Rihanna.”

Shayne pushed his chair back and pulled Gia back as she charged for me. I stayed seated, smirking. “Little Girl, I could sing circles around you.”

“You couldn’t even RUN circles around me, too damn busy stopping to eat everything in sight.”

“Yo, Gia, you need to chill out. I’m not going to have you disrespecting anyone in my studio. Especially someone trying to help you. And especially my family.”

“It’s cool Shayne. She just better be glad my quota for sitting on skinny bitches has been met for the month.”

Percy, who’d been sitting quietly at the other end of the table laughed and shook his head.

“You wish you could look this good.”

“Gia… CHILL. Mel, she’ll take the three I said.”

He looked at me, his eyes pleading for me to let it slide.

“No.”

“What?”

“She can’t have them.”

“Sis, come on. Don’t let ignorant shit stop you from getting paid. You know those are guaranteed hits.”

“It’s not all about the money, remember? And I know they’re guaranteed hits. That’s why I’m gonna sing them myself. Got room on your roster for another artist?”

Shayne’s face lit up and Gia’s jaw dropped. “Hell yeah Sis!”

“Good. Percy, think you can come up with a beat that’s a little slower for Make Love? I want that to be a baby making track.”

“I got you Mel. Shayne, I’ll holla. Gia… tuh…” He laughed and walked out, Shayne following behind a few seconds after giving me a hug.

 

I was picking up my bag when I felt a presence behind me. “You’ll never make it Melody. You’re nowhere near the standard of what people like today. I mean look at you, looking like a reject version of the old Kelly Price.”

I smiled and nodded. “Funny. That’s one I’ve never heard. But let’s get this straight right now… you may be my brother’s first major artist, but I’m going to be his NUMBER ONE. Oh yeah, make sure you get those zits on your face cleared up before your photo shoot tomorrow. Wouldn’t want your fans to think you’re imperfect.”

Her hands rose to her face quickly and I walked off smirking, working out my game plan in my head.

Unknown to my brother, Percy, and everyone else who worked with us, I already had my first album planned out.

I guess now is finally the time to get it recorded and everything else worked out and executed. What the hell am I… What is my pride getting me into?

Stranger In My House (by Cortney Joseph)

In a tattered t-shirt and ripped up jeans, cigarette dangling between my fingers as tears and running mascara stained my cheeks, I took one long drag and blew smoke.

I blinked for the first time in what seemed like hours when my bedroom door creaked open and he attempted to tip-toe in. See, I’m sitting in the dark and at 2 a.m., the only light creeping through the blinds that rest against the window was the moonlight, and there wasn’t much of that.

 

I watched as he began undressing. I could hear him throwing his jacket, unbuckling his pants, kicking his shoes against the wall. This had become too much of a routine, only difference now is that I found the courage to sit up and wait.

He sniffled before turning on the light. One side had been blown out since this morning so it was dimmer than usual, and that suited me just fine. From the look on his face I could tell that my ‘raccoon’ appearance startled him. After all, I was never the type of woman to look anything less than my best, even when it was late at night and I was … “Supposed to be in bed by now, aren’t you?”

“Why do you ask that?”

“You’ve got work early in the morning.” I do. But somehow, it’s set in my mind that work and everything else will have to take a seat on the backburner until I can figure out what’s going on in my own home, with my man, behind my back. “You look a mess, should have washed all of that makeup off. And why are you smoking, since when do you smoke?”

“Since you missed our anniversary dinner.”

“Danielle, that was seven months ago.”

“I know.” I took another drag before putting the cigarette out, leaning back against the palm of my hands as I watched him undress. His back to mine, I guess he figured I’d be too blind to notice the scratches, and too dumb to say anything about them. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me anymore Anthony. I smoke now, I drink, crash diet, and so many other things.”

“Why? Why would you ruin your beautiful body by doing all of these things, killing yourself by smoking? This isn’t you Danielle.”

“What else am I supposed to do when I’m trying to figure out new ways to please my husband when it’s so obvious that you’re finding pleasure elsewhere?” I’d been staring at the ceiling by now so I turned my attention back to him, looking into his eyes. “What else am I supposed to do when I’m crying and wondering why my husband doesn’t love me anymore?”

“Of course I love you Danielle, don’t be foolish.” Anthony walked into the bathroom closing the door behind him. Immediately I heard the shower running.

 

I got up and walked into the bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror once I caught sight of my frightful appearance. Looking at his silhouette, a million questions ran through my mind.

Who is this man? And where is the Anthony I married? Who does he love now and is she taking my place?

 

I hurriedly opened the shower door, startling him as he dropped his towel and soap ran down his body. “Damn Baby, if you wanted to join, all you had to do was ask.”

“What’s her name?”

Anthony took one deep breath before taking my hand in his, pulling me towards his wet body as he ran his fingers through my hair and down the sides of my face. “Danielle, you know that there is no one else in my life. I love you; I gave my heart to you. Come on Boo, stop tripping.” He planted soft kisses along my neck, attempting to lift my shirt but I pulled away. I could smell the scent he tried to wash away quickly and the sight of the scratches on his back shot to the front of my mind.

“Come on, get in the shower with me Babe, let me make you feel better.”

Grabbing his face, looking into his eyes, I only had one question to ask. “Why are you calling me Boo and Babe? Those have never been your nicknames for me.”

“Danielle, why are you bugging about everything?”

“Why are you changing all of a sudden? Since when do you pull me close by wrapping one arm around my waist? Since when do you run your fingers through my hair, kiss along my neck? Since when do you shower as soon as you walk through the door, undress in the dark, and expect me to be asleep when you know I worry about you at night? Since when do you come home with scratches on your back?!”

I pushed him away and walked back into the bedroom, pacing back and forth while trying to keep myself calm.

 

I said that I wasn’t going to yell, I wasn’t going to act belligerent or let him bring the South Baton Rouge out of me.

Anthony walked in a few seconds later and looked at me as he wrapped a towel around his waist. “Nothing has changed about me Danielle, I’ve done all of this for years. You just never noticed.”

“I am not stupid Anthony. You leave early in the morning, stay gone all day long. You never call home or call to check on me, you come home at all hours of the night. You’ve been forgetting entirely too much lately.”

“I only forgot our anniversary because I’ve been working a little too much, I’ve been swamped at the office and the pressures of trying to perform well that month got the best of me.”

“Another woman got the best of you. Just admit it.”

“There is no one else Danielle.”

“There has to be!! You don’t touch me the same, you don’t look at me the same. You don’t hold me, talk to me. I even think that if you could go without seeing me at all, you would. I know you don’t see me as your wife anymore.”

“Danielle…”

“I’m just a doormat, here for sex when your mistresses can’t be found. I know it.”

“You’re being ridiculous, and I’m getting real tired of these accusations you’ve been throwing at me lately. You know what, perhaps you’re the one that’s cheating.”

“You know that’s not true! I would give up everything in this world for you but you wouldn’t even give two shits.”

Anthony clenched his jaw as he stared at me, but I wasn’t backing down this time. We’ve been down this road once before and I’m convinced that if I let it go on any longer, it’ll escalate to more than just him cheating. “Just tell me her name. Who is the woman that’s got you dressing differently, talking differently, and acting differently? Who is the woman that’s gotten all of your attention now? The woman who made you forget all of the things that I love? I bet you couldn’t even tell me where my spot is, you don’t make love to me the same. You treat me as if I’m worth nothing to you now.”

 

My tears were flowing again, and like many times lately, he didn’t even bother to console or comfort me. He’s not the man I married, a stranger.

“I’m committed and dedicated to you Danielle. And that’s the end of this discussion. Either join me for a little fun in the shower or go to bed. Just stop bringing this foolish cheating shit up.”

“No.”

“What?”

“I said NO. Tell me her name? Is she better than me? More experienced, willing to do more sexually? Why are you cheating on me?!”

He grabbed me by my arms, shaking me a little as she clenched his teeth and spoke lowly. “I’m not cheating, and that is the last time I’m going to say it.”

Throwing me back, I fell on to the bed, rocking myself back and forth as he walked back into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him.

 

In one swift moment, without fully thinking it through, I searched my dresser for a few shirts and a couple pairs of shorts, some panties and socks, throwing them into a small duffle bag after pulling it out of the closet. I zipped it up, slid on a pair of sneakers, and grabbed my keys. Staring at the bathroom door for a few moments, I thought about going in and banging his head against the wall of the shower, but I left it alone.

He won’t confess to what is so evident, and I refuse to be with someone I don’t even know anymore. Maybe we’ve both changed, maybe I’m just not good enough anymore. Maybe we’ve just outgrown one another and he doesn’t know how to say he wants out. Whatever it is, I’m done living a lie with a stranger.

Don’t Look Back (by Cortney Joseph)

Melvin paced back and forth through Sabrina’s living room, thinking of all the ways this one moment could go right, and all the ways it could go wrong.

Though he chose to have faith in a positive outcome, he knew he had to be realistic and consider that her feelings just might differ from his own.

Though it seemed they’d been having a great time with one another, enjoying the company that the other provided, the entire situation could be taken two totally different ways.

What he wanted, and what she felt it should be.

 

He mulled over all that he could say, promising himself that he wouldn’t get tongue tied or lose track of his thoughts, that he would be clear and concise in his intentions, as honest and open as he’d been since the day they first met.

Melvin stopped, stood still for a moment before shaking his head and moving on to the next set of scenarios. He paced and paced, patiently waiting for Sabrina to make her entrance.

There was another twenty minutes, for which he was thankful. From the corner of his eye, as he paced to the left, he saw Sabrina walk in with her hands resting at her sides. There was a smile on her face, a sight he’d grown to love. A sight that brightened even the darkest of his days when he was blessed with her presence.

“Sorry that I kept you waiting so long. I couldn’t settle on a look.”

He eyed her up and down, willing himself to speak with the sense the good lord gave him. “You look wonderful in anything, Darling.”

Sabrina thanked him, offering a seat as she took one, hoping to break the awkwardness that threatened to settle around them by jumping straight into a conversation. “I was surprised to get your call this morning. As much traveling as you’ve done lately, I was expecting you to take some time for yourself before you found your way around here again.” I wasn’t expecting you to return this way at all, she thought to herself.

Melvin inched closer, speaking honestly. “I couldn’t bare the thought of being away from you any longer. To say I’ve missed you, that wouldn’t even begin to explain my feelings over the past month and a half. The loneliness seemed unbearable, until I called to mind sweet thoughts of you. They helped me get by.”

“Why me?” She exhaled, suddenly feeling the urge to speak on the things she’d heard in his absence. “You’ve got your pick of women, all through this town and the next.”

“None of them can hold a candle to you, not in any way.”

Sabrina chuckled, twiddling her thumbs as she looked down and away from the loving gaze Melvin sent her way. It was all so new, so scary. And so undeserving for a woman like her, she felt. “I don’t see how. In case you’ve forgotten, Melvin, I’m not exactly the pristine and pure type of woman most men seek. Damaged goods, if you will.”

Placing a finger beneath her chin, he lifted her face towards his, smiling warmly. “You’re a treasure, worth all that your heart desires. My only hope is that love is one of those.”

 

“It used to be.” Sabrina stood, refusing to face Melvin as he sat up straight in his seat. “It hasn’t been kind to me, hasn’t given me much of a reason to believe it’s something for me.”

“Yet, you still feel it taking hold of you, don’t you? Don’t you know that no matter how you try to run from a feeling as strong as love, as unrelenting as love, there’s nowhere you can hide from it. Try all you might, it finds you and forces itself into your space. Won’t you trust that it’s for real this time?”

“I’m a mess. Nothing but trouble for a good man like you. So broken that I’ll probably fight everything you throw my way. I’ll just bring problems you don’t need when you can live a simple life with a woman that will know her place.”

“Life’s full of problems. We’ll work through ours just the way we work through the unnecessary things life throws our way. And if I’m honest, there’s no one I’d want to fuss and fight with, make up with, and move forward with than the woman that has brought me so many of the happiest days of my life. No one I’d rather learn from, grow with. I love you, I’m in love with you Sabrina and I can’t keep this feeling to myself any longer.”

His words caused her to tense up. She felt the same, though she’d hoped she’d never have to say it. She banked on never having to say it, because until now she’d never gotten this far with a new man. Her only thought was, how long would his feelings last? How long before she did something to make him change his mind.

“Don’t…”

“I’m in love with you, Sabrina. And I’ll come here every day and say it until it’s understood that you’re the woman I want, the love of my life. My dream come true, and all that my future holds.”

His optimism, the joyful lilt in his voice upset her a bit. She wanted him to be like the other foolish men that came calling following the divorce from her ex-husband. To grow tired of her incessant pushing away. Unlike the others, Melvin failed to take hints. Was persistent in seeking every bit of her time and attention that he could earn, persistent in his attempts to love her pain away. Treated her with respect that others seemed to withhold when speaking to or of her. Thought nothing negative of her past or how she went about handling the trauma that came from it. He was patient, kind, a man of his word. He was fearless, relentless in playfully coaxing her out of her comfort zone so that she could learn to enjoy life again. Overly-eager when trying to show her that there was still some good in the world outside of the wall she’d built up, still a good man somewhere waiting and willing to be by her side.

It drove her mad. “How are you so sure? Haven’t you been through the worst in love too?”

 

Melvin nodded his head, standing. He shoved his hands into his pockets. This conversation failed to present itself in his mind as a possible scenario. He thought professing his love would get him thrown out, or laughed at before being told he was nothing more than a friend.

In her voice he heard all the doubt she threw his way, but he also heard the glimmer of hope. “Yes, I have. But, I’ve always known not to go into the next moments of my life with old hurt on my shoulder. I’ve always known not to hold someone new accountable for an old person’s actions. Just as I hope you won’t hold me to whatever your first love has done. Because as easily as I can toss out what I think you want to hear, I can also tell you that I’m not him. It’s easy to say; but I’d like to think that my actions have shown you I’m a cut above him and any other man that was too foolish to see what a gift you truly are, how special you are.”

When Sabrina turned to speak, she came face to face with Melvin. A tiny smile crept across her face as he extended his hand and waited patiently for hers. “I’ve fallen, but I’m so scared.”

“I’ll be with you, every step of the way. Won’t ever let you hit the ground.” She placed her hand in his, feeling the flutter of butterflies that swarmed the very first time she’d ever laid eyes on him. The look of love filled his own eyes, smiling wide as he pulled her into his arms. They danced to a melody that only they could hear. “Things in the past happen for a reason, to make us stronger, prepare us for the great blessings he’s already made ours. All of the pain, the hurt, it’s behind us. And if you walk with me through life and love, we won’t ever have to look back or dwell on the past. All troubles, we’ll leave. We’ll make our own beautiful memories. Will you give it a second chance… with me?”

Swallowing the hesitation that had been so strong, gathering her faith, Sabrina nodded. “Yes.” Melvin smiled, lifting her into his arms as he spun her around. “I love you.”