Charity and Jamal grew from high school sweethearts to each other’s ride or die. However, as time has gone on they have changed. Charity is on her way to becoming an all-star attorney while Jamal finds himself content with the lifestyle of a drug kingpin. There loyalty for one and another is tested as Charity finds herself becoming dissatisfied with being just simply the dope man’s chick and wanting to be a real man’s wife. Jamal’s empty promises of leaving the game behind have worn thin and Charity wants more. Will their love make it? Or are they destined to crumble?
“Nah man, I ain’t seen that girl in a minute. I think she outta town.” I already knew Mal was talking about cocaine so I tuned myself out and vacantly stared at the generic movie playing on the television. I was reclined back on the couch with my feet in his lap as he cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder as he massaged my aching feet.
             Once he ended his call he quietly mumbled an apology and kissed me on the cheek. “It’s fine.” I said in a dismissive tone with a tinge of annoyance. “What’s wrong, Charity?” I dropped my shoulders and lowered my eyes. “Nothing Jamal.” He rubbed his hands down across his deeply waved haircut and began kissing on my neck; hitting my exact spot. “Why you acting like this then?” “I’m good, Jamal.” He deftly reached up my skirt and removed my panties and began to massage my clit with his fingertip. He positioned himself between my legs and began kissing on my inner thigh punctuating each word of his inquisition with a kiss. “What. is. wrong. with. you…” Before I could answer his soft, warm lips caressing my thighs lead me to the edge of pleasure. As his thick tongue stroked my clit my anger and resentment had almost dissipated to a thing of the past… almost.
            He gripped my thigh tightly as I came so I couldn’t move an inch. As he came up for air he passionately kissed me as I inched down his Polo boxers and pajama pants. I moaned deeply as he entered me. He pushed my leg back as far as it would go to go in further making me feel it the pit of my stomach. He kissed my neck as he stroked rhythmically and deeply.
            Our session ended with us laying on the bed staring at the ceiling in quiet stillness; the moment was perfect. The perfectness was ruined by Mal’s “work” phone ringing loudly. I rolled my eyes as Mal slipped from my embrace to sit up on the side of the bed and answer the call.
            “Yeah man, my bad. I got caught up right quick. I’m leaving the crib right now.” He said as he gingerly glanced the time on his gold Rolex Presidential watch. He ended his call without saying a word and silently walked into the bathroom. He quickly showered and put on a white V-neck t-shirt, black and white Adidas jogging pants, and black Jordan 6s. He reached under our bed and retrieved a Timberland box full of neatly rolled $100 bills. He took out ten bands and closed the box putting it back in its proper place. He kissed my forehead tenderly before putting his Ruger 9m on his waistband and putting the money in a black Jansport bookbag. “I’ll be right back. I gotta make this move right quick.”   
            I smacked my lips in sheer annoyance and said goodnight as I rolled over in the bed, pulling the covers over my head. He removed the covers from my face and leaned in close to me. “Yo Char, what’s going on? Like forreal. Because this attitude is fucked up.” “Nothing Mal. Do you!” Mal embraced me tightly trying to calm me down. “Char, don’t be like that love.” He clipped $800 off of one of the bundles and gave it to me. “Go shopping. I flung the money back in his face. “Goodnight!”
            Mal left the money where it landed and stormed out. I dissolved into tears. I loved Jamal with every fiber of my being but his lifestyle was another thing. But it hadn’t always been like that…
Eight years earlier…
“Because everyone know the Raiders shake it the best!” As we finished the cheer Mia and I did cheer kicks and returned to the set position. I looked around the gym and realized the whole city had come out for this game. It was packed from the floor to the top of the bleachers. The Parkwood-Washington came was the game of the year. And the Parkwood Raiders were running the boards we were up by 15 points as the game went into halftime. The cheer squad made our way out to the lobby of the gym; all eyes were on us even in enemy terrority. And if Washington wasn’t anything else it was enemy territory. We were rivals in every sport even damn softball.
            “Char, you want something from the concession stand?” “Skittles and a pickle. Good looking out.” Mia was always clutch I had messed around left my wallet in my locker again and my parents weren’t at this game so I couldn’t bum money off of them.
            “Heyyyy Char-Char.” I turned around and saw my godbrother, Wade. He was standing with a group of guys in a huddle by the concession stand. I gave him a hug and a quick dap. He was with his friends Quaven, Mark, and Reese as well as two guys I didn’t recognize. “You know we coming back in the second half and whooping y’all’s ass, right?” I gave him the hand, “Stop it, we got this.” “Yeah, yeah whatever. You coming to the after party tonight?” “Yeah I just gotta find the money to get in.” “I got you.” “Aight bet.”

            I knew the after party in Washington’s gym was going to be on point. Even though Wade and I were talking my eyes kept roaming to one of the unidentified guys. I have never seen him before and that was saying a lot because I knew everybody and everybody knew me. He was tall and slim, with smooth cocoa brown skin, a deep-waved Caesar cut, dark sparkling brown eyes, and sexy lips that framed a bright smile. I think Wade picked up on my glances and introduced us. “Jamal, this is my god sis Charity. Charity this is Jamal he just moved here from New York.” He flashed a brief dazzling smile and said nice to meet you to which I responded likewise. “What part of New York are you from?” “Harlem.” “Cool.”
            I knew he wasn’t from around here; his whole style was different than the local boys. He swag was completely different and I liked it. Before our conversation could continue Mia came over to let me know we had to go back in the gym because halftime was almost over. “Aight Wade, I’ll see you tonight.” “Aight no doubt.”
            As we went back into the gym the basketball teams were out on the court shooting around in preparation for the second half.

“Girl you look good wontcha back dat azz up…” Mia and I were playing around twerking with the rest of the cheer squad in the dark, sweaty Washington High cafeteria. It was loud and hot and I was ready to go. I squinted my eyes to try and make out Wade in the crowd to let him know I needed a ride home. Bodies were moving everywhere and the music was blaring. Mia grabbed my wrist, “Char, where you going?” “Imma see if Wade can take me home. I’m ready to leave.” Mia gave me a pleading look. “Don’t leave.” I sighed, “Okay.” I was ready to go because I knew before it was all over a huge fight would break out between Parkwood and Washington folks, it never failed.
            As the party winded down I searched for Wade through the crowd. He was walking with a girl and had his arm wrapped around her. “Hey Wade, can you take me back to Parkwood so I can pick my car up?” He gave me an awkward look, “I’m going to Cookout.” I checked the time out on my cellphone; it was almost my curfew. “Wade, pleasseee take me to get my car. It’s almost my curfew.” “Aight yo, c’mon.” he said with in a bothered tone. Before we reached Wade’s Honda Accord Jamal approached. “Man, I’ll take her home. I’ll meet y’all at Cookout.” “Aight good looking out, yo.”
            “I’m parked over here.” I was shocked when I saw him take a Mercedes Benz key fob out of his back pocket. We approached a silver Mercedes CLS. I got into the passenger seat and reclined  back. “Is this your parents’ car?” He didn’t look at me as he answered, “Nah it’s mine. Why?” “It’s nice.” “Thanks.” I couldn’t believe somebody my age had a car this nice.
            “Why did you move here?” “My mom’s people are from here and she wanted to get out the city.” “Oh okay.” We rode in awkward silence until we parked beside my beat up Jeep Wrangler that had been my father’s college car all through undergraduate and graduate school. “Thanks for the ride.” “Anytime.” I told him goodnight as I grabbed my gym bag and closed the door behind me. “See you around.” “Bet.”
            I quietly tipped into the house because I knew I was an hour past my curfew. I had decided to go to Cookout even though I knew my ass should’ve gone straight home after the party. I just couldn’t resist being around Jamal for a few more minutes. After he’d dropped me off I went right to Cookout to hang out with everybody. I hated being out the loop so I had to have my face in the place. But this punishment was going to be well worth it because I had Jamal’s number.
Present day…
As I flipped the pancakes on the hot griddle Jamal came up behind me and kissed me on my cheek. “Good morning.” I said good morning in a low voice. “You still mad at me?” “No Jamal, I’m not mad at you.” I said as I rolled my eyes. “Man, what’s up Charity? Talk to me.” I spun around angrily. “When are you leaving this shit alone?!?!” “Soon. I just have to get us straight.” “Us?!?! You meant you! I’m good!” “I told you I have to get this business ready.” “That’s the lie you keep telling yourself. You could’ve been made that move.”
            “Just a few more months, babygirl.” He said as he kissed me on my cheek and wrapped his hands around my waist. His Gucci Guilt cologne made him smell delicious. We silently ate our breakfast and got dressed to go into our respective days. He looked handsome as he prepared to walk out in winter bitter cold. He was wearing a black Gucci leather biker jacket, a white Alexander McQueen, a black Gucci beanie, black Levis, and black Timbs. He held me tightly and kissed me on my forehead and told me to have a good day. I put on my wool Burberry coat and followed suit getting into my black M-Class truck.
Chapter 1
            When I arrived on campus I prepared to play parking wars to get a park. Parking spaces by the law school were at a premium. Finally I saw a gold Honda backing out of a spot and I quickly pulled in before a green Kia could beat me to it. I grabbed my Louis Vuitton briefcase out of the backseat and entered the hallowed halls of the Carl M. Rosemount School of Law. When I entered the lecture hall the room was buzzing as everyone was talking about our guest speaker the attorney general for the state, Jerry Paterson. I wasn’t hyped because I knew him personally; him and my father had graduated from law school together.
            When he entered the room he gave me a big hug and asked how my family was doing. My classmates gave me an envious look but that was always my classmates knew my family was well connected. My father was a state Supreme Court judge and my mother was the lead attorney for a Bailey and Price, a large finance firm. But I hadn’t gone into law for my family I’d done it for myself. I wanted to keep people out of jail and not lock them up.
            My parents had been highly upset when I told them that I wanted to practice criminal defense law. My father had built his career, name, and reputation on being a tough on crime prosecutor, eventual district attorney, and now judge. But my passion was helping those who had been railroaded by the system and had never gotten a fair shake at beating the system. I wanted to free my brothers and sisters not locked them up and throw away the key.
            My colleagues hung on Jerry’s every word as he spoke about the current state of our criminal justice system. I could hear his gubernatorial aspirations all over his speech. I knew he was planning on running for governor in the state’s next election and if he won try to get my father to run for the position of attorney general. I wasn’t even engaged in Jerry’s speech due to the fact that Jamal had been blowing my phone up trying to explain himself.
“Char baby I love you and I promise this is almost over. I promise just stick it out.” I didn’t even respond to his message I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Jamal was a high-level cocaine distributor, the connect. He had been for a few years. Many women were envious of the life that Jamal and I lived but I was over it. Jamal had been promising for years that he was changing and trying to do better. But I knew in my heart of hearts that his drug was the streets; he was addicted. He loved the notoriety, the money, and most of all the power. But it sadden me to my core to see his wasted potential. Jamal had the ability to be a CEO of his own company. His mind was just that damn brilliant. Some nights him and I would stay up all night and just have deep ass conversations about any and everything.
            Jamal treated me like a queen; nothing I asked for was too much. He had been loyal to me and would put his life on the line for me. I’d never doubted that but I come to the realization love may not be enough. I could feel it in the air that his reign on top would be coming to an end. One of his main buyers had been popped by the feds with two keys a few weeks prior. I knew it was only a matter of time before they came for him. I just wanted him to walk away before it was too late. I wanted to spend my life with him but what kind of life would we have together?
Eight years earlier…
“Char are we still going to the movies tonight?” “Yeah I just gotta get the keys to my dad’s car.” “Where your’s at?” “The shop. I need some tires.” “Oh so you pushing the Beamer tonight?” “Girl yes, Black Jesus.” That is what my mom and I called my dad’s black BMW 745. He loved that car more than life itself; I couldn’t believe it when he told me I could whip it until my car got out the shop. My girls and I were about to be flossing.
            I went to Mia’s house to pick her, Michelle, and Aaron up. “What y’all wanna see?” “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” “Aight cool.” When we pulled up to the movie theatre the line was wrapped around the corner. The first face I noticed in the crowd was Trevor, my crazy ex-boyfriend. “Oh shit! Trevor is here.” “Girl he ain’t gonna say nothing. If so we got your back.” Michelle said as she put some fake bass in her voice. I parked my father’s car at the far corner of the parking lot so I wouldn’t have to worry about a dent or a ding. I put on my Roc-A-Wear jean jacket that matched my Roc-A-Wear outfit with my field Timberlands.
            As we approached the line I noticed Jamal’s car parked by the front of the parking lot I knew it by the prominent New York license plate. I took out my Motorola Razor and texted him, “Where you at?” In line. You here?” “In the back.” “Come to the front of the line. I’ll get your tix.” My girls and I made our way closer to the front of the line. We could heae people cutting their teeth about us cutting but whatever.
            Jamal gave me a hug. “What’s up, Charity?” His smooth voice made me blush as I quietly responded, “Nothing much.” I had only seen him once since that night at the game but him and I texted and talked on the phone all the time. He was cool and easy to talk to. Once we finally got into the movie he paid for my popcorn and soda and the guys he was with took care of my girls’ food.
            When I sat down beside him I realized how good he smelled. My heart started pounding as he placed his arm on my shoulders. I relaxed some and placed my head on his shoulder. My heart felt like it was going to flutter right out of my chest and fly away.
            Once the movie ended everyone headed out into the parking lot. I gave Jamal a hug before we parted. As soon as I walked away I heard a familiar voice call my name and I realized it was Trevor. I kept walking. “Charity I know you hear me calling you girl!” I sped up as my girls tried to keep pace.
            Trevor ran up behind me and firmly gripped my arm causing me to spin back into his direction. “Stop Trevor! That fucking hurt.” “Stop running away from me like you stupid.” I tried to snatch my arm away but he only gripped it tighter. Aaron tried to intervene by pushing him and he pushed her to the ground. A crowd encircled us. Trevor grabbed me by both arms and shook me. “Why you be acting so fucking stupid, Char?!?!?” I struggled to free myself. “Let me go!” I could smell the liquor on Trevor’s breath.
            Before I could say another word I saw a fist connect with Trevor’s jaw making him free me and making him stagger back. Before I knew Jamal was beating the shit out of Trevor. When Trevor’s boys tried to jump in it Jamal’s boys did the same and it became a melee. The crowd dispersed as the cops arrived on the scene. Trevor was left bloody on the ground as Jamal and his crew retreated. It was chaos as people speeded out the parking lot before the cops arrived.
            As I tried to process what happened my hands trembled and my brain was racing a mile a minute. Trevor had been my first boyfriend but he was crazy. His father and my father were golf buddies and his mom and my mom were sorority sisters so people thought we’d make the perfect couple. That was until he punched me in my face because he thought I was flirting with another dude when I was really just helping him with a class. I had never told my parents but I had stayed far away from him since then which had been easy because he went to Montrose Day School, the bougie private school. I’d told my parents I hurt my face in cheerleading practice.
            “Aaron, are you okay?” I said as I looked at her skinned knee. “I’m fine, just sore. Are you okay?” “Yeah I’m good.” Mia clenched her fist tightly and exclaimed, “Trevor is such a bitch!” Before she could continue I heard my phone ringing and reached into the cup holder to retrieve, it was Jamal calling. “Are you okay?” “Yeah I’m good.” “You sure?” “Yeah thank you.” “No problem. I wasn’t going to let that slide. Where you at tho?” “About to drop my friends off.” “Can you meet me once you do that?” “Yeah.” I looked at the clock in the car and realized I was pushing my curfew but my parents were at a gala so I was going to take the chance.
            Once I dropped the girls off I navigated to the east side of the city aka the other side of the tracks aka the hood. As I pulled onto the street that Jamal lived I tripled check to make sure the doors were locked. I parked on the curb in front of the house where his car was parked. He greeted me on the porch with a hug. He was a shirtless and wearing grey basketball shorts with high Nike socks and a pair of Nike slides. His bottom lip was busted and there was a cut above his eye.
            “Come in.” I looked back at my dad’s car one more time before I went inside. “Ain’t nobody going to bother it, trust me.” When we went into the living room there were two guys sitting on the couch playing Madden and smoking weed. “Charity, these are my brothers, Malik and Dante.” They gave me a quick head nod and turned their attention back to the game. I followed Jamal upstairs to his bedroom. From floor to ceiling on one wall were nothing but Nike and Jordan boxes. Above his bed was a poster of Beyonce in a bikini. He sat down in a beanbag chair facing his bed as he motioned for me to sit on the bed.
            “Charity, what was that all about tonight?” “My stupid ex.” “That nigga is crazy. You okay tho, right?” “Yeah I’m good. Thanks for what you did.” “It was no problem. I couldn’t just watch that happen.” “I appreciate that a lot of people would’ve just watched.” “Not me.” Jamal got up from the chair and sat down on the bed beside me; feeling his bare arm against mine made my heart race. “You nervous?” He said as he gently took my chin into his hand to make my look into his eyes. “Why you ask that?” “Because you’re shaking.” “No I’m fine.” “You sure?” “Yea.” I said as I let out a nervous laugh. “I hear you.”
            He looked at his watch. “You missed curfew.” I breathed deeply and exhaled. “I know.” “You being bad tonight, huh?” “No my parents are at a gala tonight. Hopefully I can beat them home.” “Don’t let me keep you out. I just wanted to see you and make sure you were aight.” I blushed as he said that in a flirtatious tone. “Do you want to chill tomorrow?” “I will let you know. I have a tea for my cotillion.” He gave me a confused look. “Your what?” “It’s like a ball for high school girls to be presented to “society”.” “Oh that’s what’s up.” I laughed, “Not really.” And it really wasn’t. All it was, was a way for all the bougie people to congregate with other bougie people and brag about their bougie kids; I hated it. Even though a lot of people thought I was bougie those who knew me knew that wasn’t who I was.
            Jamal walked me out to my car and hugged me tightly before I departed. The warmth his hug gave me stayed with me until I arrived home and saw my mother’s S-Class pulling into the driveway at the same time. Oh crap! My father was standing in the driveway with my mother when I got out of the car. “Young lady, do you know what time it is? We thought we could trust you to come home without supervision.” I looked down at the ground as I answered, “I’m sorry daddy. I was just over to Mia’s house having girl talk.” My mother butted in, “Don’t impose on people’s homes like that. I’m sure Greg and Paula didn’t want you all over there so late. You have better home training than that.” “Yes ma’am.”
            I silently followed my parents into the house and went upstairs to my room. The warmth returned to my heart when I saw that Jamal had texted me saying goodnight beautiful. My parents arguing in the foyer soon interrupted my peace as I reached for my iPod and headphones to drown the noise out. Lord knows my parents knew how to put on a good front for the public but if they only knew what went on behind closed doors.
Chapter 3
I looked at Jamal across the table from me as we dined on surf and turf at Prime 112. I knew what this trip to Miami was all about I wasn’t stupid; it was a bribe. “Char, what’s wrong? You barely ate your food.” “I’m fine.” Jamal grabbed my hands from across the table. “Baby girl, we can’t keep going through this.” I angrily took a bite of my steak and answer with my mouthful, “Going through what?” “This, this hostility.” “We can talk about this later.”
            As Jamal drove us back to the Fontainebleau Hotel I rode in silence as he placed his hand on my bare thigh. “Charity Elizabeth Peters, I love you.” I didn’t respond. I just pushed his hand off and folded my hands against my chest. Jamal shook his head as we slowly made our way back to our hotel. When we arrived back to our room I kicked my Jimmy Choo sandals off at the door and headed into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. I sat down on the closed toilet and stared off into the distance. I looked at the platinum and diamond bracelet that Jamal had presented me with earlier that day.
            Hot tears gushed from my eyes, down my cheek, and onto my chest as my emotions tolled inside of me like a raging storm just as strong as the one forming outside of our room. Jamal walked into the bathroom and kneeled down in front of me. “Charity, do you want us to be over? I know you’re not happy.” I placed my hand to his cheek and stared into his eyes. “Jamal I love you. You know that. But baby you need to leave the game alone. The last place I want to see you is in the graveyard or the prison yard.” His eyes diverted my gaze. “Don’t talk like that.” “I’m just being a realist. I remember you used to talk about going back to college and opening up a business. What happened?” “Life.”
            “Jamal you can be anything you want to be. Why this?” “This is all I know.” He said as he hung his head low. “Don’t give me that Jamal. You know better than that.” Jamal took my hand that carried the engagement ring he’d given me for my 21st birthday. The ring that had once symbolized our love for each now symbolized broken dreams and empty promises. It was nothing that Jamal could say to repair the damage he’d done to my heart; the countless nights of me staying up praying that he made it home safely, the stress of having secrets about things that could jail me for life, and the pressure of trying to balance the two sides of my life.
            I looked into Jamal’s eye and realized I didn’t recognize the man he’d become. I looked at the faint scar on his under his right eye from where he’d been slashed a few years prior. He was still as handsome as ever; 6’3, dark skin rich like African soil wrapped over a muscular frame, full lips that were made for pleasure, eyes that shone like black gems, a neat Caesar haircut covered with glossy ebony waves, and a smile that lit up any room he walked into. He stood up from his kneeling position and took my hands pulling me up and making me look into his eyes.
            “Charity do you want us to be over?” I held my eyelids together tightly trying to hold back the deluge of tears. I didn’t want to throw eight years of my life away but how much of a future did we really have? “No.” Jamal held me tight and I could hear the nervous flutter of his heartbeat. As he held me I realized the only place I’d ever felt safe was in his arms. That’s why I’d stayed all this time. I never had to doubt his love for me; his actions demonstrated it. And that had been true since day.
Seven years earlier…
“Presenting Charity Elizabeth Peters, daughter of the Honorable Douglas M. Peters and Mrs. Sandra Vaughn-Peters, esquire. Miss Peters is escorted by Trevor Jefferies Junior, son of Dr. Trevor Jefferies and Mrs. Tamela Jefferies.” The only thing on my mind as I was introduced society was the wishful thought that Jamal could be there. But the cotillion was invitation only. The so-called “black elite” filled the room: lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians, and the like.
            My parents stood proudly clapping as I curtsied and Trevor bowed. Once the last couple was introduced we performed out ballroom dance to the delight of the beaming parents. Being in such close proximity to Trevor made my skin crawl. But my parents acted as if it was written in stone that Trevor had to be my escort. I wanted to yell out that he’d hurt me but I knew it would fall on deaf ears.
            When I arrived home from the ball I couldn’t wait to get upstairs and get out of the heavy white ball gown and white silk gloves. Before I could close my bedroom door my parents were arguing apparently my father had invited his newest whore to the cotillion. This wasn’t the first time my father had done something this bold and I knew it wouldn’t be his last. I placed my gown back inside of the plastic garment bag from which it came and hung it in the very back of my closet. I went into my bathroom and washed the make up from my face and got into the shower. I then put on a pair of jeans, my favorite Ugg boots, and my navy blue Howard sweatshirt. My parents were still in the living room arguing as I slid out of the back staircase and up the street to Jamal’s waiting car.
            We quietly drove off into the quiet Saturday night. As we rode through the city streets tears started slowly leaking out of my eyes. He turned the radio down and turned his attention to me. He wiped the tears from my cheek, “What’s wrong?” “Same old shit with my parents. He invited his new girlfriend to my thing tonight.” Jamal shook his head in quiet disbelief, “Damn that’s fucked up. What your mom say?” “They’re arguing about it right now.” “I’m sorry.” “You don’t have anything to be sorry about.” “I know but still I feel bad.”
            I wanted to talk about something else so I changed the subject. “Who lives over here?” I said as we pulled into Evergreen Lakes apartment complex. “This Dante’s spot but he out of town.” “Oh okay.” I followed Jamal up to one of the townhouse style units and waited for him to unlock the door. Once inside he quickly locked it and turned the kitchen light on. I began blushing as I saw the surprise for me in the kitchen. There was beautiful white cake for me on the kitchen table with 17 candles and he was holding a bouquet of a dozen white roses. I slowly walked over to him and hugged him. “Happy Belated Birthday, beautiful.” When he called me beautiful it made me feel warm all over. He kissed me on my forehead as he picked up a jewelry box off the table and opened it; inside there was a thin silver chain with an anchor pendant.
            He unlatched it and placed it on my neck as I lifted my hair up. “It’s beautiful. Thank you so much.” “No problem.” I fiddled with the necklace between my fingers as he lit the candles on my birthday cake and softly sang the birthday song to me. I wasn’t able to spend my actual birthday with him because I’d had cotillion practice and dinner with my parents. Even though his gift was a couple days late it was better than any other gift that I’d received.
            We sat on the couch and ate cake as we watched old episodes of Martin. I relaxed and kicked my shoes off laying my head on his shoulder. He pulled me closer and gave me a light kiss on the lips that turned deeper and more passionate as he slid his tongue in my mouth. He placed his hand on the back of my neck pulling me closer and began kissing on my collarbone. He gently pushed me back on the couch getting on top of me, letting his hands move up my sweatshirt and inside my bra touching my breasts. My heart was beating clear out of my chest as his warm hands touched my bare skin.
            He began kissing on my neck and I could feel him getting hard against me. “Let’s go to the bed.” I slowly got up and followed him down the dark hallway to the bedroom. He picked me up and gently laid be on the bed before pushing sweatshirt over my head and kissing on my stomach. I kicked off my shoes as he unbuttoned my jeans and pulled them off and then took his shirt off.
            He pushed my sweatshirt over my head and began kissing on my neck again. “You sure you want to do this?” I quietly whispered yes as I looked into his eyes. I shyly turned my head as he undressed. He took a condom out of the nightstand and put it on. As we lay flesh-to-flesh, chest-to-chest he asked me was I sure again before he slowly entered me, popping my cherry.
Chapter 4
“Charity, how are things going?” “Pretty good.” “You ready to finish up the program?” “Yes, I’ve been ready.” “Take your time. This shit right here is fucking brutal.” Conrad said as he sipped on his cognac as he looked over some legal documents. Conrad had been my mentor for a few months now he was a junior partner at Balance, Kee, and Pope, one of the largest minority-owned law firms in the country. “I’m just over school.” “Take your time, grasshopper. They’ll be plenty of people who need defending when you’re done with this phase.” “I know, I know.”
            Conrad and I had known each other for years. He’d been the SGA president of my college while I was a freshman class senator. He had always been someone that I admired because he had this magnetic quality about him and he was so well liked. He mentored me during my freshman year and we’d remained friends since then. As he stood up his solid, 6’3 frame towered over me. He went into his file cabinet and took out a document. “Read this and tell me what you think.”
            He leaned back at desk and gave me an expectant look. “It’s good the ending could be a little stronger. But otherwise it’s good.” He gave me a smirk as he took the brief away from me. “Look at you, giving me pointers and shit. My little girl is all grown up.” I playfully flipped him the bird as I began packing up to go home. “How is Jamal doing?” “He’s well. How is Nechali?” “She’s well.” Nechali was Conrad’s fiancĂ© as well as my line sister.
            Conrad walked me with me to my car through the all but empty parking deck. “Take care, Conrad. I’ll see you tomorrow.” “You do the same.” He stood beside my car until I drove away.
            When I arrived home the house was covered in the aroma of a rich tomato sauce. When I walked into the kitchen Jamal was standing over the stove putting the finishing touches on his homemade spaghetti. He kissed me on my forehead and then pressed the spoon to my lips so I could taste the sauce. “Mmmm, delicious.” Jamal could cook his ass off when he wanted to. “It’s good?” “I mean it’s good but not better than mine.” “Chill yo.”
            I kicked my shoes off and prepared our plates. “How was everything today?” “It was cool I sat in on a trial today with Conrad.” “Conrad.” Jamal said with a grunt. “Don’t do that.” “I know, I know. I just don’t like that nigga and I’m not going to front like I do.” “He’s harmless.” “Yeah whatever.” Jamal wasn’t the jealous type at all but he didn’t like Conrad and he made it known. Because he knew that Conrad had a crush on me. Jamal caressed my cheek with the back of his hand as he looked into my eyes. “Charity, what’s wrong?” “Nothing forreal this time. I’m just tired.” “You sure?” “Yes, are you still going with me to the event for my firm on Friday?” Jamal sighed heavily, “I am. It’s black tie right?” “Yes.” “Your parents going to be there right?” “Yes.” I said with a laugh.
            I shivered as I walked out of the cold February air and into the warm lobby of the Imperial Hotel. Jamal and I made our way to the registration table. “C. Elizabeth Peters.” The hostess looked up at me. “Right this way Ms. Peters.” Jamal took our coats to the coat check and then we followed the hostess to our table. My mother hugged me tightly as she saw me approaching. She warmly greeted Jamal as well. My father hugged me tightly and gave me a kiss on my cheek. “You look lovely, Char.” “Thanks, Daddy.”
            “How are you doing Jamal?” My father asked. “I’m well, sir.” As I eyed Jamal in his black Armani tuxedo all I could think was Jamal cleaned up nicely. He looked better than any CEO that was present. My mother quietly examined Jamal from behind her champagne glass. My parents had grown to respect Jamal over the years in spite of what he was. They knew without doubt that he loved me and that without question I loved the fuck out of him.
            A broad smile spread across my face as I saw Conrad and Nechali approaching our table. I could see a glint of jealousy show in Jamal’s eyes. “What’s good, man? Good seeing you.” They did the brotha handshake. “Maintaining man.” I hugged Nechali tightly I hadn’t seen her in over three months. “Heyyyyyyy booooo. I missed you.”
            My father motioned for Conrad and Nechali to join our table. I smiled a little on the inside as I noticed that Jamal and Conrad had on the exact same tux. They already could pass as brothers. They were both about 6’3 with smooth dark chocolate skin and bright smiles. However, Jamal was thick and Conrad was slimmer. Jamal wore his hair cut in a tight Caesar and Conrad wore his in a fade.
            “How you been good brother?” My dad said as he looked at Conrad they were both members of the same fraternity. I could feel Jamal tensing up as I held his hand. Jamal was intelligent but he had dropped out from State after our first year because he was too busy hustling out of his dorm room. But he could’ve been so much more. “Things are good. Trying to get lil’ sis over here to join the firm.” My father looked at me sternly but he directed his words to Conrad. “Why? So she can defend crack dealers and murderers. She is coming to the city’s DA office.” Balance, Pope, and Kee was a high profile firm because they defended big time drug dealers as well death penalty cases.
            “Mr. Peters, she has a knack for this. You know this. At Balance, Pope, and Kee we just make sure our clients get justice.” Before my father could start going in my mother cleared her throat. “So Nechali are you going to national convention?” “No, I won’t be able to make it. Conrad and I are going to Bali that week.” “Ohhhh exotic.”
            I turned my attention to Jamal. “Babe, you want to dance?” “Sure.” As we came close on the dance floor Jamal whispered into my ear, “Your dad actually spoke tonight.” “Bae, don’t worry about him. Just enjoy our evening.” Jamal moved his hands down to my lower back as we slow danced.
Six years earlier…
“Happy Birthday Charity… Happy Birthday to youuuuuuuuuuuu.” The whole entire skating rink sank as I blew out the candles on my birthday cake designed to look like a Louis Vuitton Damier Azure speedy bag. My mom had really outdone herself for my 18th. I know a skating rink party seemed childish but it was what I wanted. My parents had rented out the skating rink and it was packed. I had invited all the school and everybody knew my birthday parties were the truth. As I finished blowing out the candles I made my way back to the rink. Jamal was posted up in the corner with his cousins.
            “Hey boo.” I said as he and I hugged. He kissed me on my forehead. As he reached into his back pocket and took out a small box. I tore the wrapping paper off of the box and inside it was a pair of 2-karat diamond earrings set in white gold. “Thank you baby but I can’t take these. Too much. “You deserve it.”  “You sure?” He gently kissed me on my lips, “You deserve it like I said.” “Okay.”
            Deep down inside I didn’t feel right taking his gift. I had been hearing rumors about him selling drugs. I mean he’d always been fly but now even more so. He was rocking hella jewelry and had a brand new Lexus LS. I’d asked him but he’d denied it and I had not proof otherwise. He had been spoiling me like crazy but I didn’t feel comfortable taking it because I knew it cost a lot of money and plus my parents had been asking about the gifts. He’d even bought me a Gucci bag for Christmas.
            As the crowd made their way out of the party I couldn’t believe my eyes. Parking right at the entrance of the skating rink was a blacked out BMW 325 complete with all black rims topped with a big red box. I started jumping up and down and ran and gave my dad the tightest hug ever. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” “You’re welcome Char-Char you deserve it.” My dad was the best he’d got it completely customized exactly how I wanted it. I hugged my mom as well. “Baby doll be careful. Don’t drive too fast.” “Yes momma.”
            Mia, Aaron, and Michelle began to scream giddily when they saw my car. “Oh my god! It’s so pretty.” I couldn’t hear them speaking as I watched Jamal and his boys pull out of the parking lot. I just wanted to spend the rest of my night with him. Mia was already covering for me because I was supposed to be “spending” the night with her.
            I looked at my phone and saw Jamal had texted me. “Meet us at Waffle House.” The girls piled into my car and we made our way to Waffle House. Michelle began being nosey, “Sooo when is Jamal going to meet your parents?” “I don’t know. I’m thinking I’m doing to invite him to my dinner.” My parents always threw me a big birthday party but we always had a private family-only dinner as well. “How you think your parents are going to act?” “Like they always do.” “True.” “Y’all so damn cute together. Matching and shit.” “Girl hush. We were matching though.” We both had white True Religion shirts with red writing, light blue True Religion, and red and white Jordans. Nobody round here was rocking Trues yet; they won’t ready for us.
            Jamal and his boys were sitting in the car smoking a blunt when we pulled up. When they saw us they got out and we made out way inside. As we squeezed into a booth I cuddled up tightly with Jamal I’d missed him so much. I noticed one of my dad’s colleagues I covered my face hoping he hadn’t seen me.
            Once we left Waffle House I dropped the girls off and made my way to Jamal’s house. His mom was gone for the weekend so we had the place to ourselves. As normal the front door was unlocked and I walked right into. What I saw shocked making me let out a gasp. Jamal was sitting at the table counting stacks of money with an eight ball of cocaine beside him. When he saw me he just froze. I turned around and tried to run away but the strides of his long legs quickly caught up with those of my short legs.
            As we stood on his front porch I began to cry. “You lied to me!” “You wasn’t supposed to see that.” “I bet. You lied to me! How could you?!?!” “This is only temporary. Come inside though. You loud.” “No I don’t wanna come inside! I don’t wanna go anywhere with you!” “Don’t do that.” He gently pulled on my arms bringing me back across the threshold and into his living room. “Char chill, this is not permanent, I promise. When Tae got locked up I took his place until he gets out. Somebody has to put food on my mom’s table.” Dante had been locked up late the prior year on a probation violation.
            He hugged me and kissed me passionately then looked into my eyes. “Imma stop soon as he gets out, I promise.” His words sounded sincere and I trusted him. “Okay.” He went into the kitchen and quickly packed up the cash and drugs and hid then somewhere in the house.
            He took my hand and led me upstairs to his bedroom. He kissed me on my neck as he took off my jacket. He whispered in my ear, “You still love me?” “Yes.” He kissed my spot again, “You sure?” “Yessss.” I said as I began to moan again. We began undressed and I lay back on the bed as he began kissing my inner thighs making me tingle all over. He reached over into his nightstand and mumbled “Shit.” “What’s wrong?” “I’m out of rubbers.” “Damn it.” He began kissing on my stomach. “Do you trust me?” My heart began to pound. “Yes.” I knew what meant.
            As he entered me he let raw he let out of a soft groan. “Shit this feels so good.” My mind slowly drifted away from the thought we were having unprotected sex as my mind filled with the pleasure. Jamal looked into my eyes as he went deeper. “You love me?” “Yessssssss.” It felt so good that it didn’t even faze me when he came inside of me. I was so caught in the moment.
Present day…
The gala was in full swing they had switched from strictly old school to more contemporary music. I couldn’t help but laugh when Conrad and my father’s old ass broke their necks trying to get on the dance floor when “Atomic Dog” came on. That was basically their frat’s national anthem. I couldn’t lie though my dad could still hop with the best of them. I looked at Conrad he was always so full of energy and had always been the most owt member of his frat while we were in college.
            “Char look at your daddy. Now when we get home I’m going to have to rub him down with Ben-Gay.” My mom said as she laughed. When Conrad and my dad returned to the table they were both completely out of breath. “Daddy you okay?” “Yeah I’m okay babygirl. I had to go show these young bruhs how it’s done.” As the night ended I bid my parents and Conrad and Nechali goodnight.
            On the ride how Jamal was quiet until. “I don’t like how Conrad looks at you.” “Don’t start this shit. I don’t like how a lot of women look at you but you don’t see me trippin’.” “But still, you and that nigga work together. I don’t get good vibes off of him. He seem like a snake.” “Like I said before he is harmless.” I took his hand and pushed it up my thigh towards my pussy. “Plus you know this is yours.” Jamal bit his bottom lip as he felt it. “See you about to get something started.” “Always.” His cell phone began ringing ruined our moment. “Speak.” I could hear the person on the other end yelling. “Bruh, I’m on the way.” He hung up his burner phone and threw it. “Fuck!” He turned to me and spoke in a gentler tone. “Bae, I gotta make this move right quick. Imma drop you off. I’ll be back soon, I promise.”
            I folded my arms tightly across my chest and became hot with anger. Jamal didn’t say anything else he just focused on the road. He knew I was sick of his shit. The tears came rolling down my face in a hot gush. I became so inconsolable Jamal pulled over and began rubbing my back trying to calm me down. “Don’t touch me, Jamal! Just take me home.” When we pulled up outside of our home I got out and slammed the car door so hard the window shook but not before telling him not to get caught. I stomped inside and began undressing. I wasn’t even going to try and stay awake for him tonight. I was too damn tired and I had too much work to do in the morning plus I planned on going to church as well.
Chapter 5
“How great is our God. Sing with me, how great is our God…” I swayed in my seat as I listened to the praise and worship. I slid over to the next seat as my mom came in. “What’s wrong Char? You look tired.” “I’m fine just didn’t sleep well last night.” “Get your rest, baby girl.” I hated that I couldn’t focus on the word because my mind was on everything but the word. Jamal still hadn’t made it in when I’d left to go to noon service at church and his phone was off.
            As church ended my mom invited me to brunch. We met at Sinclaire’s, our favorite restaurant. As we sat at our secluded table my mother gently grabbed my arm. “Char, don’t lie to me I gave birth to you and believe it or not I know when something is wrong with you. So what’s going on with you and Jamal?” “Who said it was about Jamal?” “You two have been together eight years and he is the only thing that I have known that has ever been ever to affect your mood drastically. So what’s going on with you two?” “Simply put, I’m not happy.” “You didn’t have to tell me that. It’s written all over your face. I remember when the mere mention of that boy’s name sent you across the room beaming with joy. So is he cheating?” “I don’t think so. It’s just his lifestyle.” My mom sighed heavily, “You knew what you were getting when you got him. So why does it bother you now?” “Because he said he was leaving it alone.” “Fast money is addictive baby. My father and I have never approved of your relationship but he kept you happy so we’ve learned to keep our mouths shut. But baby if you’re not happy you need to leave him.” “I don’t want to leave him. I just want him to do right.”
            “He’s doing what he thinks is right. Don’t get me wrong. Jamal is extremely intelligent but he has chosen to do the wrong things with it. All I’m going to say is don’t waste your life waiting for him to do right.” I knew my mom was right. That’s why when I got home I began packing my shit. Although I stayed at his house the majority of the time I had my own condo downtown. When Jamal’s S-Class finally pulled into the driveway at 6PM I was placing my last bag into my cargo area.
            “Where the fuck are you going?” “I’m getting the fuck out of here.” Jamal grabbed my arm and pulled me into the house before we could make a scene for the neighbors, something we had done a time or two before. “The fuck is going on Char?!?!” “I’m sick of this shit, Jamal! I’m out.” I took off my engagement ring and placed it on the coffee table. “Jamal I have begged and pleaded with you to change before this shit runs out. Don’t you know one day your luck is going to run out?!?!” “Here we go with this shit again! Your ass don’t be complaining when I keep your ass dipped in that best of the best.” I let out an empty laugh, “Do you think I needed your ass for that shit?!?! I have been in fucking Gucci since I was a baby!” “You won’t when your parents cut your ass off and put you out on the damn streets. Now were you?” I grew silent, Jamal was trying to cut deep now.
            “Yeah because I was knocked up by your dope dealing ass!” “I should’ve never started fucking with your bougie ass!” “Nigga I upgraded your ass!” “Yeah right! Fuck outta here!” Before I could say anything else I ran out of the door in tears as the memories of the past hurt came rushing back.
Six years earlier…
As I looked at the two pink lines I began to cry. I called Jamal into the bathroom from the look on his face I knew he already knew the verdict. “It was positive?” I just nodded my head in confirmation. For the past week I’d been filling nauseous and I’d missed my period. It had been six weeks or so since we’d done it raw and this was the worse case scenario.
“I gotta get rid of it.” “Damn that’s your first thought?” “Huh? What you mean?” “You wouldn’t even consider having my baby?” “It’s not like that. We’re just eighteen. We got plenty of time for babies.” “That’s fucked up yo.” “It’s not like that.” “Yeah it is.” “Stop being selfish, Jamal.” “I’m not the one being selfish.” Our voices got so loud his mom made me leave.
On my way home I rode in silence not even the radio was on. When I pulled in the driveway I called Michelle. “So are you?” “Yes.” I said as tears flooded. “What did Jamal say?” “I think he wants it.” “You know y’all can’t have it though.” “I know. I need the pill. Did that hurt?” Michelle had taken the abortion pill the past summer when she’d gotten pregnant by some boy she’d met while visiting with family in Chicago. “Not really it just feels like a bad period.” “Okay.” “Do you want me to go with you?” “Yes.”
My parents were on vacation in Aruba so I went into my parents’ safe and took out two hundred dollar bills. They’d never notice it was gone. The following morning I went to the clinic with Michelle. It was in an old broken down shopping center way on the other side of town. It was dimly lit it felt depressing, all the women looked extremely sad some were even crying. I quietly sat there waiting for my turn. The nurse read me the information and gave me the pills.
When I got home I went into my room and took the bitter pills and within 30 minutes I felt the worst cramps I’d ever experienced sending me into the bathroom. As I sat on the toilet I felt myself pass a large clot and I knew exactly what it was, our baby. Deep down I felt sad but I couldn’t let myself feel sad it wasn’t our time. Jamal and I had plenty of time to have a baby.
Present day…
I cried and instinctively touched my stomach as I thought about that day in my bathroom. I had always felt a hole in my heart since that day. My parents had found out about the abortion because I’d carelessly thrown the pill bottle in my trashcan. My mom found it and all hell broke loose. They sent me to live with grandma for the remainder of the school year and cut me off financially. They even went as far as to take my car. By the time second semester of my freshmen year rolled around they warmed back up to me but it had been a split in our relationship since then. During that time period I had to clutch onto Jamal for dear life. He was all that I had. But I knew deep down he’d never forgiven me for aborting his baby.
            He had been trying to get me to have his baby for a few years now but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to have my career straight and him out of the game. But now I knew he was never leaving the game. So why bother?
            When I walked into my condo I felt like I was in a strange place. I probably only stayed there once or twice a month and that was when Jamal was out of town and I didn’t feel safe by myself. I kicked off my shoes and lay across my cross and began sobbing. I know my mouth had that Jamal and I were over but did I really mean it? We had been together almost a whole damn decarde.
            I couldn’t lie the following morning I was disappointed when I hadn’t heard a word from Jamal. But I had to keep it moving as I pulled into the parking deck I saw that Conrad was pulling up at the same time as me and he had a Starbucks latte in hand for me as well. He was wearing a light grey wool suit with a light purple shirt and a dark purple tie.
            “Good morning.” He said as he passed my latte to me. “Good morning.” “Damn girl don’t sound so excited.” He said sarcastically. “My bad.” As we got onto the elevator he gave me a sincerely concerned look. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” He pointed to my hand. “That missing engagement ring says otherwise.” I tried to cover my hand, “It’s nothing.” “Okay, well if you ever want to talk about ‘nothing’ you know I’m here for you.” “Thanks.”
            “Oh yeah, you’re going with me to court today. I need an assistant.” “Okay.” His cologne overwhelmed me and almost entranced me. “Damn you smell good. What you wearing?” “Jean Paul Gaultier.” Conrad went into his office long enough to pick up a file and we were back out the door. I sunk into the buttery leather seats of his BMW 745 and looked out the window. “So are y’all done for good?”  “I really don’t know. We have a lot we need to work on.” “True. I wish you two the best.” “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
            As I looked at Conrad make his opening argument I saw his true talent and passion for his job. He was damn good. The state’s attorney was already looking like a deer in the headlight. This case was over before it even started.
            After court we headed for an early dinner before heading back to the office. We went to Melvin’s, a soul food spot that we loved. As we conversed over dinner an older black woman approached us. “I don’t mean to interrupt your dinner. But you two make a beautiful black couple. Such young professionals.” Before I could correct the woman Conrad answered for us with a smile. “Thank you ma’am.” He said as he intertwined his fingers between mine from across the table while giving me a mischievous grin. As she walked away I took my hand away and whispered, “You ain’t shit boy.” He leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Yeah so I’ve been told.”
            “Can you help me draft these briefs tonight?” “Yeah, that’s fine. I ain’t got shit to do.” When we arrived back to the office everyone was gone except for the custodian. Conrad turned on Stevie Wonder, took out his laptop, and silently got to work as I did some work for my own class. My diligence was interrupted by Jamal calling me.
            “Hello.” I said in a low voice I went into the corner of Conrad’s office to take the call. “I guess you’ve been busy today, huh?” Jamal said in an amused tone. “Yeah you can say that.” “We need to talk ASAP.” “About what?” “About us, Char.” “What about us, Jamal?” “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired of your BS. It was either the game or me and you chose the game, period.” “Char, I’m just trying to get us situated.” “Jamal that line might have worked last year, year before last, and the year before that but it’s old now. You love that life just admit it.” “No, Char I love you more than anything.” “Jamal, look I’m busy. I’ll talk to you later.” And with that being said I hung up. I didn’t have time for him right now. I could tell from his body language that Conrad was listening but he hadn’t taken his eyes off of his computer screen.
            “You okay Char?” “I’m fine.” I said as I flopped back down in the desk chair. Conrad got up and poured him and I each a glass of scotch. “We all go through the bumps.” “I know, I know. Jamal and I are just heading in two different directions.” I looked out of the window at the city’s beautiful skyline. Jamal had been the only man I’d ever known and I didn’t want to throw away eight years but my future with him was getting foggier and foggier. I knew in my heart it was time to move on before it was too late.
            I felt Conrad come up behind me and close the space between us. He began to gently rub my shoulders. “You sure you’re okay?” “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” “Char, you’re too special to be messing with someone who doesn’t understand or appreciate that. You deserve nothing but the best don’t forget that.” “Thank you.” I continued looking outside in deep thought until Conrad gently kissing on my neck broke my thoughts.
            His soft lips stirred up a mix of confusion and desire inside of me. When I didn’t stop him he began sucking on my flesh and rubbing his hands down my body. His touch set my body ablaze. I could tell from his movements he’d had these intentions for quite some time. He turned me around, picked me up, and placed me on his desk. I could see the lust in his eyes as he placed his hand on the back of my head and began kissing me again. My better judgment finally prevailed and I pulled away. “No Conrad, I can’t. I just can’t. Nechali and I go back.” “What Nechali, doesn’t know damn sure won’t hurt her.” “But we’ll know.”



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