Sitting on a park bench with her head bowed and tissue catching the tears gathering on her chin. The young woman wondered what she had done so wrong that would cause God to punish her this way. Everything seemed right with the world, up 'til she got that letter. She looked around and thought, how can the sun continue to shine?
Why were the trees still green and vibrant, lifting their branches in praise? All around her squeals of children's laughter rang out and she wondered, 'how can they be happy?' The sound of childhood innocence made her weep even more.
On her lap was an open book, but its pages went unturned. The book was just a transporter, for the letter that rested in the center, a letter of cruelty and degradation. She tried to suppress the tears, but each time she looked at the letter, the tears flowed.
Curious strangers walked by, pointing, whispering and wondering what caused the beautiful young woman to sit in a public place and weep.
An elderly woman with a bag of groceries in one arm, and an old beat up black purse on the other, walked slowly towards her. When she reached the bench she sat down. The sadness of the young woman drew her.
"Honey, are you alright? Do you need somebody to talk to?" The younger looked up and saw kind, brown eyes staring back at her with great concern. She smiled through the tears because this woman looked just like her Nana. Her skin was dark brown with little wrinkles around her eyes. This woman had seen many years and probably had cried many tears. Her white hair was swept back off her face into a bun at the nape of her neck. The older sat the bag down and thought, 'maybe the young lady did not hear me,' so she asked again. "Can I be that ear you so
desperately need right now baby? Sometimes it helps to talk to a complete stranger. Lord knows it helped me many a days."
This time, the young woman smiled and patted the hands of the older, which were gnarled. Her heart was truly touched. "No ma'am. But thank you for offering. I guess I just need to face what's in this letter and make some changes in my life."
"Is it bad news?" The elder woman asked.
Not wanting to be rude and offend an elder, she nodded her head. She was not ready to tell a complete stranger how the man she expected to love her had behaved. She was too ashamed.
The older seemed to understand. She patted the younger's hands and said, "well, whatever it is honey, the Lord's gone fix it for you. You just turn it over to Jesus chile. He gone wipe those tears from your eyes before this day is over. You hear me?"
A smile played at the corner of the younger's lips. She thought to herself, 'Nana would have said something similar. Maybe God did send this woman along.' She began to feel better. She nodded her head and said, "Yes Ma'am. I believe he will."
The substitute Nana stood up slowly picked up her bag and began to walk away. She nodded her head in satisfaction, her job done.
The younger hit herself on the forehead thinking, 'where are my manners.' She called out, "Do you need help with your bag Ma'am?"
"No darlin', I'm just fine. You just go back to focusing on that letter. Everything ain't always what it seems, don't you forget that now." The older lady replied, without even looking back.
The young woman's hands began to shake as she picked up the letter again. As she read it, tears began to flow. Her brown eyes misted over, and tears slid down her cheeks again. "I can't compromise. I don't care what hateful things Jovan say. Maybe I just need to be by myself, cause I sure don't need this mess." She read the letter again, hoping to find something good, or positive, but she couldn't. Jovan wanted her to do things she didn't' want to. She sighed and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, sitting next to her was a man, staring intently at her and for some reason his presence didn't shock her nor make her feel uncomfortable.
Ordinarily, she would have moved, but for some reason, she felt compelled to stay. Maybe it was the warmth in his eyes, or maybe it was the
plain fact that the brother was fine. He was about 6'2, nice skin the color of dark chocolate. There was not a blemish or bump on his face. He appeared to be in his thirties, well dressed and she could tell that he spent time in the gym because of the way his suit hugged his form. She looked into his eyes, simultaneously wiping tears from hers. They assessed one another without speaking.
Finally, he broke the silence by saying, "A sister as beautiful as you should not be sitting here on a day like this in tears. Tell me, what can I do to make it better?" His voice was deep and so caring it caressed her wounded spirit. It also unsettled her, but she tried not to show it. She lowered her head and replied softly, "It is a beautiful day but I don't know about that beautiful sister part." She scooted a couple of inches away from him, and swiped at another tear. She closed the book and even that hurt because it was symbolic to yet another chapter closing in her life.
The man reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and held it out. Her eyes widened as she took it from his hand. She had never met a brother who carried a real, handkerchief unless he was a preacher. She took it and wiped her eyes. "Thank you."
Her voice in turn unsettled him. It was soft, but not weak, sounding like music to his ears. Recovering, he cleared his throat and asked. "Would you like to tell me why you're crying?"
What was going on? Even though she sat in a public place, did that give strangers a right to pry into her life? Was she wearing a "help me" sign? Chicagoans weren't normally so concerned or nosey about other people's business. The old lady seemed to be genuine and if she talked it would have been to her. She wasn't about to tell this guy anything. "Would you like to tell me
why you care?" She asked harshly.
He ignored her tone, smiled and said, "You may not believe me if I tell you."
She could swear when he smiled his teeth sparkled. She rolled her eyes and crossed her legs. Laying the book on the bench between them and giving him a, don't try nothing -- I don't care how fine you are look. She frowned and said, "Try me. Today I'm gullible I just might believe you."
He smiled again and said in a manner that made her heart flutter, "well, I was on my way to a meeting and something just spoke to me… well not something, Holy Spirit spoke and told me to come to this park. That I would finally meet the woman of my dreams."
She stared at him trying to decide whether he was sincere, or had just created the best new line of all times. She stood up and smoothed out her skirt. "Ok, you're a good looking brother, I'll give you that. Wearing, a… a what Armani suit? And the shoes… Gucci right? You probably drive a Benz or something too I bet?"
Knowing where this was headed, the young man held up his hands, "look, I don't blame you for being suspicious, but please give me a few moments. I can tell by your tears that the last brother blew it. He hurt you, but I…"
She snatched her purse and book off the bench and walked away leaving him with an unfinished sentence. How dare he! She got in her car and drove as fast as she could, without even looking back.
In her apartment, fifteen minutes from the Loop, as the newspaper so cunningly put it, she went on a tirade. She tore up letters and Jovan's pictures and threw them in the trash. She had a desire to burn them so they would instantly disappear from her sight, but she calmed down and settled for the garbage. She sat down to write him a nasty reply letter, but the words wouldn't come. She threw the paper and pen down in disgust and grabbed the remote to her TV. Before she clicked it on, her mind went back to the handsome stranger. "Of all the places in Chicago
to go, I end up in Grant Park and run into the city's finest psycho. Where in the world
did he come from and why can't I stop thinking about him?"
The words of the old woman began to echo in her head. Sleep overtook her as she flipped through the channels. She fell asleep thinking about a man that she would never see again, or would she?
The shrill ring of the phone startled her. She jumped up slightly unsettled, not knowing how long she'd slept. It was dark outside and the streetlights were on. Not bothering to look at her clock, or turn on a light she picked up the phone. She opened her mouth to say hello but never got the chance.
"Now, let me finish what I was saying before you so rudely walked away from me. I know the last brother hurt you. He was a fool, but I'm not him. I know you are the woman of my dreams and I want to make you mine. I want to treat you the way you deserve to be treated. I want to make all the hurt go away so that you can trust me enough to become my wife."
All of her sleepiness fled. In its place was fear. This man was stalking her. She clicked on the light and looked at her clock, it was nine.
Suspiciously she asked, "How did you get my number? Never mind that. Mr. you don't even know me and I doubt if you can make anything better for me. I'm not the woman of your dreams. I'm not the woman of any man's dreams, so please leave me alone. If you call me again, I'm going to call the police. Do I make myself clear?
"Wait! Please don't hang up. You don't want me to call you even if it was predestined before the foundation of the world for us to be together? Even if it's meant that's why dude had to walk out on you?"
This guy was spooking her, "Who are you? How did you know my boyfriend left me?"
She could hear the smiled in his voice when he answered, "I'm your husband, your friend, you lover and everything. I am sent by God. It was time for me to find you. As for how I knew about dude? What else would cause a beautiful woman to cry in public?"
"I think you've had too much to drink and need to take a serious nap."
"Don't laugh Shayla, I'm telling you this is real." How did he know her name? She wanted to ask but was too afraid. Maybe he was some kind of evil spirit sent to trap her. She wanted to hang up, but curiosity wouldn't allow it. "Tell me something, uh..."
"Tyler." He interjected.
"Yes, Tyler, do you know where I live too?"
"Yes, I do. I know all your favorites: color, favorite flower, movie and fragrance. I know where you work and I also know what church you attend."
She almost dropped the phone. This man had definitely captured her attention. She couldn't be as dull as Jovan said if this man took the time to find out so much about her. She was still leery, but he'd piqued her curiosity. She stood up and walked over to her window, looking around to make sure he wasn't outside of her building on a cell phone.
No one was in site so she returned to her bed and the conversation. "Oh my God. How can you know so much about me? I mean when we saw each other earlier, you knew nothing about me. How could you have found out so much about me in so short a time?"
In his most convincing and charming voice he replied, "Actually, it only took a couple of hours Shayla and I admit I went through a lot to find out as much as I could about you. I'm sorry where are my manners? My full name is Tyler Montell Benton, the third and I promise you that if in two weeks I don't make you the happiest woman in the world, I will give you five thousand dollars. Yes, five thousand, and you'll never hear from me ever again, if that's your wish.
She dropped the phone and stepped back from it. She could hear him calling her name.
She picked up the phone, not daring to repeat his words out loud. She whispered,"five uh what? You've got that kind of money and you want to date me? Listen, Tyler Montell Benton the third, I don't know what kind of game you are playing. I'm just an ordinary girl who grew up on the West side of Chicago. I have gone to the same church
all of my life. I don't wear designer clothes. I don't drive a fancy car and I have worked
the same job for ten year. I have absolutely nothing to offer you."
"Hah! I think you have a lot to offer virtuous woman."
"Virtuous… Your detectives had no way of knowing…."
He interrupted. "No, I wouldn't dared pry into that aspect of your life."
"Then how did you know I'm celibate? Never mind. Don't answer that. Since we are on the subject, let me save you some time. Yes, I am saving myself for the man God is preparing me for, so if you have any …"
"Shayla, Shayla! Girl you are very defensive."
"Yes I am and I don't even know if I like men right now so please tell me why in the world should I even waste my time with you?
"Because, you are my destiny! And before you say anything else, open your door."
She was about to ask why, when a loud knock on the door interrupted her. Pleased with his timing, Tyler continued, "don't be afraid to answer it, that's just a messenger." Sensing her hesitation he encouraged, "Go ahead and open the door, he's not a mass murderer."
'A man with a sense of humor' Shayla thought. Why'd he go through so much trouble for her? Again, she remembered her conversation with the Nana look-a-like that told her things weren't as they appeared so she shrugged and opened the door. After checking the messenger's ID, she signed for the envelope and ripped it open. Inside was a black leather portfolio. When Shayla opened it she inhaled sharply. Staring at her was a picture of Tyler. She couldn't help but smile back at the crooked smile and those soft brown eyes that seemed to be filled with wisdom and compassion. Instead of an Armani
suit, he wore a plain white T-shirt and faded blue jeans.
She flopped down on her bed. Still in awe she picked up the phone and said to him, "Tyler, you are one amazing man."
He could tell that she was warming up to him, "Well, I didn't want you to get away from me, so I had a friend of mine rush over and take that picture while my other friends, um… forgive me for saying this, in high places did a little detective work. That portfolio gives you as much information about me as I have about you. Look it over and by the time you're done, I will be there to take you to dinner, is that ok?
She was speechless. She looked down at those eyes, and thought, 'how can I refuse? Lord please help me to make the right choice.'
"Shayla are you there?"
"Uh, yes. I'll read it over, but I'm not committing myself to dinner with you."
He chuckled and said with confidence, "After you read what's in there, you'll go out with me. Oh, don't dress up. I have a taste for some Mexican food, so I was thinking about heading over to Taylor Street. We can go to Pepe's and afterwards, get some of those delicious Italian Ice's from the stand that's only a few doors down. Do you know where I'm talking about?
She snorted, "Who can live on the Westside and not know whre that place is?? If we're going on Taylor Street, I'd rather dressed up a little and go to the Rose instead. We can still do the Italian Ice tho'. Is that ok?"
He smiled wondering if she was aware that she had just committed herself. He didn't care where she wanted to go. He would have flown her to Jamaica if she wanted him to, but he calmly said, "That's fine, whatever you say. Tonight is your night and I am at your service."
Choosing her words wisely Shayla said, "Tyler, about your offer… of giving me money if I don't care for you in two weeks, can we please forget about that? I don't know if you know it or not, but that was kind of insulting. You may be used to shelling out a lot of money to others, but you don't have to pay me, even if we aren't destined to be together.
"But I don't want you to think you have wasted your time with me. I'm willing to compensate you for your time."
Shayla rolled her eyes and sighed, "There you go again, that's insulting Tyler. Listen, this is not one of your business ventures. I don't need your money. Well, let me rephrase that. A sister does need money, but I don't want your money. If you're my husband, my king, my friend, lover and everything as you so dramatically put it earlier, then you shouldn't feel compelled to offer me monetary compensation."
Tyler winced and said, "Ow! You are right. Alright, I withdraw the offer. Girl, I'm going to show you the best two weeks of your life and you will come to care for me as you so conservatively put it. I plan to make you love me."
Shayla bit her lip and said, "Whatever. Look, I hope I don't regret this decision. I usually pray before making choices like this, but I sense that I can trust you."
Tyler heard the pain in her voice. "Shayla, before I hang up I'd like to say that I'm not out to hurt you. I'm not out to get you in bed either, been there - done that in my youth. You are a beautiful woman and I know you are my wife. I've been praying and waiting for this moment. God finally directed me to you today and I don't plan to lose you. I will always respect you and if I say anything to hurt you, don't suffer in silence. Your pain must become my pain. I want your joy and happiness to be mine too.
Do we have a deal?"
Shayla could not believe her ears. She had to be dreaming. She knew God answered prayers, but this was unreal. She was now convinced that even if Tyler was not the one, saving herself for her husband was not the wrong decision.
She said cheerfully, "We have a deal."
"You'd better get to reading then. I'll see you in a bit."
She hung up the phone and began to read through the portfolio. She had to stop reading in a couple of places because fear overtook her. If everything she read was true, this man was one of the most prominent, African American bachelors in Chicago. She would have to ask if he was in a good church, but that could wait. In an hour or so he was going to be ringing her bell. She rushed to her closet and said, "Jesus, if I'm asleep, please don't wake me up, Let me sleep on!"
After she showered and dressed, she sprayed a little 'Miracle' by Lancome on her wrists and neck and looked at her reflection in the mirror. The navy blue silk dress fit in all the right places, but discreetly. She tied a blue and silver scarf around her neck and put on her silver earrings to match. She picked up his portfolio again and danced around the room holding it to her chest.
It made her proud to read something positive about a brother and she wasn't a bit biased because he claimed to be her Issac. The fact that he was holding his own in the stock market made her want to call up some family members and tell them, "see, I told you that all our men aren't locked up or on drugs. I told you that you don't have to go to bed with every man that asked." She thought about it and then shook her head. "Nah! I think I'll call Nana and tell her what happened. Of course she's going to take the credit for it. She's going to say that it's all that fasting and praying that she's been doing for me."
Shayla reached for the phone, but stopped because someone rang her doorbell. Whoever was on the other side was very impatient because they persistently rang the bell as if their life depended on getting into her apartment. Could that be Tyler already? If so, why is he ringing my bell like that? It couldn't be. He was too courteous. She called out, "Wait just a minute! I'm coming. I'm coming."
Shayla bolted upright and looked around. Her heart was pounding loudly and her hands began to shake. The room was pitch black and it took her a few moments to realize what'd happened. She had fallen asleep and when she yelled out had startled herself. She looked down to see if she'd wrinkled her dress while waiting for Tyler.
What she saw only caused her to be more confused. Instead of the blue dress she wore
her ratty lounge pants. Disoriented and very disappointed, she looked all over her bed for
the portfolio, but it was nowhere to be found. None of it was real. The only thing that
was real was the maniac at her door. They had stopped ringing and began to knock. She groaned and stomped down the hall muttering. "I can't believe it. It was only a dream. How could it not be real? I can still hear the playful tone in his voice. There's no man of my dreams, no portfolio and no dinner date. I'm not even going to get a lousy Italian Ice." The knocking began again. Whoever it was better have a darn good reason for ringing and banging on her door so aggressively. "I'm coming doggonit! Keep your stupid shirt on!"
She looked at her watch, it almost ten o'clock. She snatched opened the door ready to go off and there he stood – smiling and holding her favorite flowers, Stargazers Lilies. He flashed that debonair smile and began to talk quickly before she slammed the door in his face. "I'm sorry about ringing your bell like that, but I didn't know if you were home and I was desperate to see you. I know we got off on the wrong foot today,
but may I come in? I wasn't just feeding you a line. I truly do believe that you are my
destiny. I hope you like flowers. I picked them up from a florist by my house."
Shayla was speechless. How could this be? She'd just dreamed about him and
here he was. She realized she was staring, but couldn't help it. She blinked several times
and asked softly, "What is your name?"
"Jonathan. My name is Jonathan Wheeler."
"Do you know my name?" When he shook his head she smiled and said, "my name is Shayla Torrington. You wouldn't happen to have a portfolio on you would you?"
He looked at her oddly. Then held out the envelope in his hand, "how did you know?"
She stepped aside and allowed him to enter. She had no idea what was happening, nor did she care. Maybe there was a such thing as fate. Could he be her destiny? Whatever it was Shayla didn't care. She lifted her eyes and said softly, "Thank you Jesus."