Early Morning

Ibrahim’s eyes open around four in the morning, as always. He sits up, and next to him, Jada mumbles in her sleep, turning over onto her side and away from him. Lowering his feet to the floor, he slips out of the room and into the hallway. He showers then dresses quietly in the next room, not wanting to wake his wife. When he leaves the house, it is still dark outside. He shoves open the front gate and steps onto the sidewalk, and his mind is drawn to his son, about an hour away.

Kaleem will be already be up and training with his coach. It is mere weeks from the 2020 Olympic Trials and the pressure is up, especially since now Kaleem is a father—and Ibrahim a grandfather—to a six-month-old baby boy.

His name is Anwar.

It means, ‘light’, Kaleem explained, his voice filled with pride. Anwar Ibrahim Carter.

And Ibrahim smiled.

Anwar looks like both his parents. His complexion, currently that of a lightly-roasted peanut, will ripen slightly to a richer, darker hue, but his eyes are the same hazel as those of his mother, Asha, with her dense, spiky eyelashes. Anwar has her disposition as well. He is often still, smiles easily, and is content to lie quietly in his crib or play alone. Occasionally he gurgles to himself, or bursts into loud, high-pitched shrieks as if testing to make sure he still has a voice in this world. He rarely cries. His nose, his lips, his ears are Kaleem’s, and he reminds Ibrahim of what his son looked like as an infant.

Like I spat him out, Kaleem likes to say when he picks Anwar up, holding him above his head like Mufasa did Simba in ‘The Lion King’. We gotta make some more, babe. Two more. Or three. Let’s make three more just like this one.

Whenever he does this, and says this, Asha rolls her eyes but Ibrahim can see the deep feeling in them, and the indulgence. Kaleem will no doubt get three more babies out of that girl. He will get whatever he wants.

About two months after Anwar was born, Ibrahim spent a weekend with his son and daughter-in-law. In the morning, when Kaleem woke up to run, Asha was up as well, and breastfed their son, sitting on the sofa next to him while Kaleem put his runners on and prepared to leave the house. Walking in on the moment, Ibrahim apologized and retreated to the second bedroom listening to their voices trailing behind him.

Kaleem and Asha talk all the time, their apartment filled with the sound of their voices, of them narrating to each other details of their days and the hours they were apart.

Bruh peeled out of the parking lot at like, ninety, I’m tellin’ you …

… She is the meanest teacher in the whole school, and I kind of hope they fire her before I get back … I guess that makes me mean?

I was so high offa that run, babe, I almost jumped over the car instead of getting into it …

… Wonder if I’ll always have this little pooch now. Will you still love me if I’m fat?

Kaleem makes Asha laugh, and when Ibrahim looks at her with his son, he sees a light in Kaleem’s eyes that no one else—except now, Anwar—can ignite with the same ease.

Ibrahim found himself wishing that he and his wife talked as much. They used to, but not now. Now, there is often silence in their house.

When he first came home, they talked. Well into the night, and for weeks afterwards, they had long, winding conversations and frantic bouts of spontaneous lovemaking. But that, too, has slowed and almost stopped.

The very first time he touched Jada, after he came home from prison, Ibrahim was hesitant, slow, and embarrassed that his hands trembled. He was afraid of the strength of his need, and that he might hurt her. Jada was patient, and kept saying that it was okay, that he could go slow, that it was okay … okay … okay.

Her saying that had an effect that was opposite of what she probably intended. He was not reassured. It made him worry that prison had not only stripped them of their easy intimacy, but of her belief that he could please her as a man. And if she doubted his manhood, he wasn’t sure what he had left.

They managed it that night, though the first time had been fast, and no doubt unsatisfactory for her. He waited until he was ready again, and the second time had been better, but still, not good enough. He wanted to try again, but Jada said it was okay … okay … okay. And so he just held her until she fell asleep.

He did not sleep as easily. Or, really, at all, until early the next morning after he was finally able to make her pant and perspire and moan out his name the way she used to before his own foolish actions and the State of California had splintered his family, and separated him from his wife.

Making his way down the block to Free Range, the newest hipster café in the neighborhood, Ibrahim notes that the streets are quiet, deserted, and clean. All the gangbangers are gone these days and in their place are signs on almost every block about city council meetings, and block parties, farmers’ markets and garage sales. Free Range is open twenty-four hours because the couple who owns it, lives in the upper level and have a rotating cast of characters who staff it around the clock. They are young, this couple, and friendly, and fair-haired and perpetually suntanned. The dude wears flip flops all the time no matter his attire, and occasionally he wears skirts, which bear Polynesian prints.

It’s called an ie lavalava, he told Ibrahim when he caught him looking.

And then he launched into a soliloquy about how he didn’t really buy into the whole “gender binary thing” especially when it came to something as meaningless as the garments one put on their body.

That’s cool, Ibrahim told him, though really he was just hoping he would stop talking.

His name is Martin, and his partner’s name is Thea. That’s what he calls her, his “partner.” Funny, the changes in meaning that words have gone through in Ibrahim’s lifetime. While he was in prison, ‘partner’ also came to mean ‘life partner’ or ‘domestic partner.’ Apparently heterosexual people used those terms now as well and it wasn’t just the inadequate subsitute that gay people had to adopt when they couldn’t get married.

Though the streets are quiet, and it would be an ideal morning for it, Ibrahim no longer runs as often. He lost the habit when he was in prison, and afterward, found that he did not enjoy it as much as he used to. When he started, many years ago, it was because it gave him an outlet for the urge he had to move, to get things moving, to get ahead. Now, he has a different impulse – to sit still, to contemplate, to enjoy details, and to appreciate. He is not as hungry as he once was. This lack of hunger and the absence of a fire in his belly concerns him.

Sometimes, he still runs with Kaleem; though not lately now that his son has had to train harder. Now, Kaleem can run circles around him.

“Mr. Carter!”

Ibrahim approaches Free Range and finds the front door open, and Thea on her knees wiping the glass with a cheesecloth, holding a bottle of organic cleaner.

She stands upright and smiles at him, wiping her hands on the thighs of her jeans and setting aside the cleaning tools to take one of his hands in both of hers. She does a little bow when she greets him, a habit she says she picked up in India, where she once lived on an ashram.

Although he is aware she’s a cliché, Ibrahim likes her. She has that kind of blonde hair that always looks frizzy and dry, and out of control that she doesn’t do much with, except pull it back with a scarf once in a while. Stray strands are always wafting out of nowhere into her greenish eyes, upon which she will swat them away impatiently. She reminds Ibrahim of someone. He can’t remember who.

There is no one else in sight, either inside the café, or on the street. Ibrahim wonders at Thea’s comfort being this alone with him, a tall, brawny Black man. Over the years, Ibrahim met a few white kids like this—the ones in whose eyes he detected no awareness of his being different from them. The ones who he believed truly did not attach any consequence to him being Black and them being white. To whom their difference was a matter of descriptive significance only.

Obama Babies was how Ibrahim thought of them – young people who were in middle school when the Black President was elected, and who grew up in uber-liberal enclaves where it was so accepted it didn’t even merit discussion. Some of those young, white Obama Babies used to come into San Quentin as volunteers. Some of them looked truly surprised at what prison was like. Some of them even cried while they were there, or as they left. Many of them didn’t come back.

“Lemme guess,” Thea says. “Spinach omelet with egg whites only.”

“You got it.” Ibrahim nods. “I’ll help out while you’re doing that … put these …” He indicates the umbrellas for the outdoor seating, still folded, and stacked in a corner.

“Yeah, thanks. That’d be cool. It’s going to be a real scorcher today, apparently.”

While Thea goes in to make his breakfast, Ibrahim unfolds the umbrellas one by one and chooses a place to sit. When he sits, he takes the time to look around and sees that the neighborhood is still quiet. He realizes that he has left his phone at home. Having a cell phone with him all the time is something he still hasn’t become accustomed to, so he often leaves it places.

You can’t do that, Ibrahim! Jada said to him once, when she returned from work and found his phone sitting on the entryway table.

He discovered her sitting on the sofa, his phone clutched tightly in both her hands, still wearing her scrubs from work, eyes rimmed in red.

I didn’t know what to think! she continued, her eyes still a little wild.

You should think I forgot my phone, he told her, calmly.

And then she dropped it to the carpeted floor beneath her feet, put her face in her hands and began to cry.

It was like that at first, after he came out. Like she wasn’t sure she knew him anymore, and didn’t know what to expect. It stung that she thought there was any scenario, any circumstance that would have him walking out on her without even a word. Walking out on her at all. Before prison, she knew that there was no way he would ever leave her unless he didn’t have a choice. Now, he was constantly reassuring her and she was constantly reassuring him when before, no reassurance was necessary.

When Jada works a long shift, as she did last night, his wakefulness unsettles her and that is why Ibrahim leaves the house. She sleeps better, he thinks, when he is not there. And yet, paradoxically, his absence also makes her uneasy.

“Here we go!”

Thea returns, bearing a tray, but on it are three plates. One with Ibrahim’s omelet, another with scrambled egg whites and avocado, and another with whole grain toast. There is also a decorative teapot, and two teacups.

“Do you mind if I join you?” Thea asks.

 “Of course not. Please.” Ibrahim gives a brief nod.

Thea sits in the chair opposite him. She has pulled her hair back more securely, and is now wearing sunglasses atop her head. She pours them tea.

Ibrahim smiles at her and then shuts his eyes to say a brief, silent blessing over their meal. When he opens them, Thea is staring at him.

“Were you praying?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“To whom?” Thea’s head falls to one side.

Ibrahim’s eyebrows involuntarily lift.

“I mean … what religion are you?” she amends.

“I believe in the existence of the Divine, the Most Holy.”

Thea smiles. “That’s not really an answer though, is it?”

Ibrahim shrugs.

“I don’t believe in God,” Thea says conversationally.

“No?”

“No.” Thea picks up her fork. “The world is just a random, violent place. And we have to take from it whatever joy we can find.”

Staring at her for a moment, Ibrahim feels a sudden sadness.

“You’re really young to have such a grim outlook,” he said.

“You don’t think it’s random and violent?” Thea asks. “The world?”

“Sometimes violent. But not random.”

“If you really believe that, Mr. Carter, then you must have been a lucky, lucky man.”

“Ibrahim,” he says. “Please. Call me Ibrahim.”

‘And Then’ Author Tia Kelly Drops in with a Few Friends

And ThenHello Nia Forrester readers! Hi Nia! Thanks for inviting me to hang out today to share what I’ve been up to… I’m so exhausted these days from writing, family stuff and more writing. I feel like my eyes are crossing and look forward to a little break during the holidays. Regardless, I am so happy to be in this place and can’t wait to tell you about my latest book And Then.

 

Well a few weeks ago, I released my sixth story Playing for Love.  As much as I love the Wilkersons and look forward to what is ahead in the rest of the series, I knew that particular novel would take readers on an emotional roller coaster. I decided I couldn’t close out 2013 that way… I wanted to make the ride a little bit smoother as we transition into another year. So I decided to release one more novel this month – And Then. It’s not quite a holiday tale, but it is… well… calmer. Kind of. Perhaps I’ll just leave it at smoother.

 

“Smoother?” Shelby asked. “Did you even read The Love Sessions? That was a little much if you ask me and now you want to soften it up?”

Veronica raised her glass and nodded. “Agreed.”

“Excuse me?” I turned around to look at these faces and shake my head. Then I realize the “voices” I hear came from some of my characters. I really think I need to catch up on sleep… I’m hearing and seeing things. Mya Sinclair, Shelby West, Veronica Brooks and Marie Sinclair are talking to me. And I see them.

“You think you need sleep, try working with a husband with an international roster of athletes calling all hours of the day and night. No concept of time zones whatsoever,” Mya chimed in.

I dart my eyes around the table. Wait, table? How did I end up at a table in the middle of a restaurant? I nervously glanced at Shelby who was eyeing me above her salt-rimmed margarita glass.

She murmured. “You’re the one always writing about us eating when we’re together. Why are you so surprised?”

“I do not!” I snap, feeling defensive. Okay, I am not arguing with a fictional character… Am I?

“Just roll with it. You have to pick and choose your battles with these three. I do,” Marie whispered before sliding a bowl of salsa my way. She winked and I politely smile before reaching for a tortilla chip. My hand collides with Mya’s and she laughs.

“Don’t mind her. She’s always stuffing her face,” Veronica joked. “So, what’s this about a new book? I thought you said all you planned to write about in the last one.”

“I did,” I replied. Damn, these are some good chips and salsa.

Mya looked across the table at me with a smile. “I told you.”

I couldn’t help my own grin. These women reminded me of old sister-friends, the kind of friends you want to know are in your corner through good times and bad.

As if reading my mind, Veronica chimed in, “You made sure we experienced our share of both. I wasn’t crazy about how you left things for me in The Love Sessions.”

“Did you read And Then?” I asked.

Veronica nodded and pointed to her e-reader on the table. “I was just telling the girls I might give the rest of your work another chance now. I stopped reading for awhile there.”

“I hope you have some juicy stuff between me and the hubby,” Shelby said as she reached for Veronica’s reader. “May I?”

Veronica handed it to her and Shelby started tapping the screen. Shelby added, “I already one-clicked it. I plan to read it this weekend when I get some free time. Now that I’m on winter break, I can finally catch up on all of my to be reads.”

“I finished it this morning. Pretty slick of you to drop another book like that without telling anyone. I happened to see it mentioned on Facebook that you had a new one out and it was about us,” Mya remarked. “By the way, we need to talk about Carlos.”

“Why does everyone bring up Carlos Ortiz? He was in another series altogether.” I asked.

The ladies exchanged glances with each other, but no one would say anything. The one I counted on to speak up was the most tight-lipped – Veronica.

“Don’t look at me,” she said. “You know that’s not who I am anymore.”

“You’re okay with that?” I asked.

Veronica shrugged. “Did I have a choice? Life happens and we learn from our mistakes. Things could have been a lot worse for me, but I guess with children present and it being the holidays you cut me some slack.”

Slowly a sly smile flashed across her face just as Shelby interjected. “There were little ones in the last one and Tia didn’t hold back.”

“True,” Mya said quietly.

“Wait, do you all think I was that harsh in The Love Sessions?” I ask.

They exchanged looks again until Veronica finally spoke up. “No you weren’t harsh. It was just very emotional. Actually, The Love Sessions was eye opening. At least it was for me. I wish I read it before Darius and I decided to divorce each other. Maybe things would have been different for us.”

Veronica sighed and looked away. Then something made her look back at me and I saw maturity in her eyes that I never noticed before. “I did love him. You never gave me a chance to say it to him, but Darius was my first and possibly only love. I always wondered if I could go back… if you could rewrite The Love Sessions, would you let me tell him? Would it have changed anything?”

The table got quiet. Several servers appeared and placed large platters in front of everyone and the ladies went about eating. I noticed the plate in front of me loaded with one of my favorite dishes… enchiladas verdes.

Marie giggled and pointed to the cheesy, gooey loveliness I was staring at. “Just like you think you know us so well, we know you, too. Thank Shelby for ordering for you. Somehow she knew you would show up.”

I dig in trying to ignore that nagging feeling reminding me that the food could not be real, just like these women are nothing but fonts on a page.

“Really? You want to go there?” Shelby asked, arching a brow high as she looked at me. “If we aren’t real, why bring us back for another book?”

I thought about her question. I wanted to answer her, but I also wanted to sanely respond in a way that would not attract attention if anyone happened to notice me having a conversation with myself in the corner of a restaurant (that was if I really happened to be in this incredible place with delicious Mexican food).

“My last novel, Playing for Love, was a little hard for me to write and release. It picked at some old scabs. I needed that comfort afterward; you know the feeling you get when surrounded by old friends. You all have been that constant this year and there when I experienced some really big moments like the USA Today review. Shelby, you were my first character that I introduced to the world. It feels like yesterday when I imagined you and Matthew walking into Cowboys Stadium.”

Shelby smiled at me and nodded. I looked over at Mya and knew she was still hesitant to open up with me now. She endured so much and I don’t think she understood how much it hurt me to write her going through it.

“I know,” Mya whispered. She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “It’s okay.”

“Mya, you were the one everyone wanted to strangle. Remember? You made it hard for Donovan,” I said. She nodded and I continued, “But I knew that there was more to you. The funny thing is, I believe Donovan always understood you better than I could as the writer. It was the love I felt between you and Donovan that made me want to explore unconditional love. That love I feel like is missing in the media. That’s why I needed to come back home to where it all started, to be around all of you when I closed out the year. I needed you.”

Veronica reached for a tissue and dabbed her eye. And then she cleared her throat and said quietly, “I am glad you came back to us. We needed you, too. Obviously, a lot has changed since The Love Sessions. Seeing where we all ended up in And Then was a great way to bring the series to a close.”

“Who said that was the end?” I suddenly asked. “A few of you are not attached and you know how I am in love with love. Anything is possible.”

Marie groaned and held up both hands. “Someone please take Tia’s pen away.”

A ringing phone was heard above the sudden bickering and I watched Mya reach for it. She answered it and nodded while she spoke. Then she passed me her cell and said, “It’s for you.”

I take the phone and look at it, musing that there I was with imaginary people, eating pretend enchiladas and now taking *insert air quotes* a phone call.

“Hello?”

“Hey Tia! It’s Donovan Sinclair.”

Now this is getting out of hand. “Yes, Donovan?”

“The guys and I are at our favorite spot grabbing a bite and wanted to know if you’d mind swinging by. We have a few questions about this book you just put out about us.”

“Remind her we are lawyers.” I heard in the background.

Crap.

I chewed on the corner of my lip and the ladies shook their heads amusingly. “Sure Donnie. I guess I should ask Mya for the directions?”

“Why? Now you want to ask for help doing something?”

I recognized the voice and realized that either Jackson took the phone or I was on speakerphone. Finally I sighed and gave in. “Give me half an hour to get there. I’m not leaving until I finish these enchiladas.”

Then I hung up the phone, passed it back to Mya and grabbed my fork.

“I heard Donnie’s not happy with this one,” she said, after putting the phone back in her bag. “He managed to get an advanced copy of it and read it the other night.”

Shelby added, “Eric’s not pleased either. You know how he hates our business being put out there.”

I looked at Veronica and she shrugged. “Why are you looking at me? You broke Darius and me up two years ago, remember?”

I rolled my eyes and sighed.

Figures while I was busy trying to finish up my Christmas shopping my characters had a bone to pick with me about my writing.

The server stopped by to place the check on the table and the ladies all looked my way. I shook my head and stood up. “You all looked pretty cozy before you pulled me into this hallucination. I’m sure you can cover the bill.”

 

Now to figure out how to handle the men…

 

Click here to read an excerpt from And Then.

 

About And Then

All’s well that ends well… Or is it? For Donovan, Mya, Eric, Shelby, Veronica and Darius, their guess is as good as anyone else’s. With the Love Sessions workshop behind them, life goes on for the group that reminded others the significance of marriage vows. Now, together they face another important lesson – rediscovering the meaning of love.

 

Donovan and Mya Sinclair’s marriage might appear intact, but something is amiss behind closed doors. Eric and Shelby West battled through their share of storms before, but Shelby refuses to let anything disturb their household again even if her husband invites it into their home. Veronica and Darius Brooks quietly divorced two years ago hoping to close a fifteen-year chapter in their lives, but it’s hard to bury the past when reminders of it pop up every day. While Mya is determined to figure out how to fix the issues in her own marriage, it just might help a few people along the way while bringing old friends back together once again.

 

And Then is the follow up to The Love Sessions, a novel in the Love Sessions series by Tia Kelly featuring: Love’s Rebound, Give Me You, Save Me From You and The Love Sessions.

 

Buy Links:

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