Sunday Morning--6 a.m.
With the small black velvet box covertly in my hand, I nudge her out of her morning slumber. She looks like a brown angel. Quiet. Restful. I've never felt this way about any woman, and what I'm about to do will be my first and last time.
"What is it, baby? Is something wrong?" she asks as she looks at me. On her side of the bed, I get on my knees. I'm so close to her face, I can smell last night's dinner of pizza and Coke. Foul as it is, this is what love is about. Right here. This moment, in the peace and quiet of the morning. I lean in silently, not sure where to begin. The daybreak is making itself known. The room has taken on a deep blue-gray color as if the sun can't get through the clouds. I feel my heart beating. I wonder if she can hear it.
"Adrian Jenkins, I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell you I love you."
Adrian smiles a sleepy smile, telling me she understands. Her hand glides from the bed and touches mine. Her touch is warm, and it makes my Willie stir out of its sleep.
"Gregory, baby, I love you too. Now and forever."
"I want to know if you can love me in the cold," I say. My homeboy J gave me this idea and the script. I have it memorized to a T and I'm serious about every word.
"Yes," she says, cracking the singing of the birds outside the window with her chalky morning voice.
"I want to know if you can love me when I'm old."
"Baby, you know I can. Stop being silly and come to bed."
"I want to know if you will feed me when I'm sick."
"Gregory, isn't it a bit too early to be playing Twenty Questions? You know I will feed you when you're sick. Remember last winter when you had the flu?"
"Will you always let me know what's bothering you and give me the opportunity to help?"
"Yes. Now come to bed, baby. I miss you over here." She pats the empty spot next to her.
"One last question."
"You are so silly and so romantic." She giggles. "What's the last question?"
I pull the box from behind my back and place it, opened, on the edge of the bed near her nose. The blue-gray morning goes well against the diamond. Twenty-two-carat total weight. Gold and diamond band. It shines like the moon at midnight.
"Adrian Jenkins, will you marry me?"
She rises out of the bed, her hair matted to the back of her head. Tears fill her eyes. "Gregory Alston, it's too early in the morning for this! Look at me! I look a mess!" There's a smile on her face as the ring goes on her finger. Tears fall from her eyes. It looks pretty good against her naked hand and body. Instead of telling me, she pulls me into bed and shows me her answer. It's a big yes! At this time, nothing can come between us . . . nothing!
I'm feeling real good right about now. A brother don't have many days when he's on cloud nine. I mean, just last week my car had a flat, the hot water in my apartment was off for two days, and our company basketball games had been canceled. If I didn't know better, I would think it just wasn't meant for a black man to be happy at all. But this morning, before some serious lovemaking with my girl, Adrian, I did it. I asked her to marry me. I believe, in my heart of hearts, she's the one thing in this world that makes me smile in spite of all the bad, and she has been for the past three years.
Let me tell you about my Adrian. She's a self-employed beautician with no children. She's caring, supportive, intelligent, and fine. The one thing that really attracted me to her was, after our second year of dating, she promised to never leave me. It wasn't just what she said, but how she said it. There was conviction behind it, as if that was what she was living for. That counts for a lot with me, and that's why I love Adrian Jenkins and want to spend the rest of my life with her. No woman has ever made me feel this way, and I trust my feelings.
We've been dating steady for the past three years. I know that's a long time, but I had to make sure she was my type. I'll admit, when I first met her I thought she was wild and unsettled. She just had that wild and unsettled look. Most beauticians have it. I see them all the time at the clubs looking like Lil' Kim video hopefuls and rejects. They wear fake nails that are a million colors, platinum blond highlights in the hair, and the Big T Bazaar designer Versace, Dolce, and Donna Karan imposter clothing. I don't know what they teach our sisters in hair school, but with some of 'em, it's a wonder Mary Kay, Flori Roberts, and Avon haven't taken over the White House and painted it mauve with gold highlights, posting Patti LaBelle up as their trademark.
When I first met Adrian, the only thing that turned me off was her nails. On both hands, they were long and blue with constellation symbols on them. She had the moon on her thumbnails, the sun on her pinkie nails, and planets and stars on her six middle finger nails, which just about covered everything I learned about outer space in grade school. I was turned off because it reminded me too much of this chick I used to date back in the day named Deidre, who used her nails wickedly in bed. Makes me shudder at the thought. But aside from the nails, I was totally attracted to Adrian. She didn't have a lot of makeup on. It was just enough to make her facial features stand out and make a brother like me take notice. She had on a brown leather-and-suede pants suit. Fitted like a glove and her booty was talking to me. For real! I could hear it going, "Yo Greg baby! I'm over here waiting for you! Come on, sweetie!" Her physical was popping off in tongues. Now, let me remind you, my woman is fine. I'm talking about five foot four, one hundred ten pounds, firm, and brown-skinned. Not that skin color matters. I've been with women who were so black they looked purple at night. And then I've been with those of the light, bright, damn near white persuasion. But Adrian is a creamy brown. She has the skin tone that falls somewhere between hazelnuts and dark honey. If you ever met her, she would remind you of Chili from the three-female group TLC. Although Adrian doesn't have naturally curly hair like Chili, she keeps her short style kept up. Like I said, she's a beautician.
Back to how I met Adrian. I was at Players, a local club for the twenty-to-thirty-something crowd, and she was sitting at the bar with two of her friends. One of them was kind of thick. Healthy arms and a booty that could have walked through the crowd on its own. She wasn't fat, just big-boned, while the other friend was fine like Adrian, but her haircut was all wrong. She had one of those asymmetrical-to-the-fifth-power-with-honey-blond-highlights things going on. Her head looked like a cutting board, but I assume that's what the sisters are into because she wasn't the only one that night sporting the hairdo. They were laughing and you could tell they were talking about other people in the club. Going through their girlfriend motions as they sipped their drinks. Look, point, talk, giggle.
At first, I was reluctant to go over to Adrian because she had one of those looks that sisters sometimes give in a club. It was that look that says, I'm looking good, I'm feeling good, I want to dance, but not with you! If it hadn't been for the way she smiled at me, I would have never approached her. Not in this lifetime. I don't wear rejection well. It isn't my color. The DJ was spinning a nice remix of a song that had the crowd hyped, so I told myself, What the hell, and walked over and asked her to dance. At first she hesitated and had me standing there like I was Joe Fool or somebody. I got kind of pissed because her girls were checking me out, looking me up and down like I was yo-yo. I knew they would probably have something to say once I walked away from the bar. Look, point, talk, giggle. Women always do. Adrian looked over at them and smiled. The one with the bad haircut smacked her rose-colored lips and said, "Girl, go on, I'll watch your drink." I held my hand out and she took it. I still remember how soft her hands were the first time I touched her. Man! Every time I think about my baby, I feel good! Anyway, we danced the rest of the night. Before the club closed, we did the man-and-woman thang by exchanging phone numbers and ever since then it's been heaven on earth. Man, I love my lady!
So here I sit, Sunday morning, getting ready for church. Adrian just left. She was ecstatic. The ring cost me a pretty penny and I'm glad I got a college education and a damn good job working with computer systems. Otherwise, I would have been at the Dollar General store trying to get the Cinderella cubic zirconium special without the pumpkin. Those hairdressers make nice money, especially if they're good. Adrian is the best. Her salon is called AJ's Getaway. It is the only black-owned and black-run shop here in Dallas where sisters can go and get a free massage if they get a perm, cut, and color. Adrian is working on getting a business-improvement loan so she can add to the shop. She wants reading and day care rooms. She believes that hair salons should be an escape where black women don't mind giving their money. They can't mind much now, because she's driving an LS400 fully loaded Lexus. I'm telling you, my lady is bad! Dammit! I better hurry up.
I'm supposed to go to church today with my sister, Shreese. She's my baby sister by three years, but we're close. She's all into the church scene and it affects everything she does. She goes four nights a week and all day on Sunday. I mean all day, from sunrise to sunset. She's on the usher board, in the women's chorus, and head of the Pastor and Staff Relations Committee. She is the only woman I know who cried and fasted for two weeks when she found out gospel artist Kirk Franklin married Tammy. She also has a framed, blown-up, action-sized photo of her and T. D. Jakes hanging in her living room like it's a Brenda Joysmith original. That wouldn't be so bad, but the picture is in a frame that cost her a good ninety-seven bucks! She professes that Mr. Jakes is worth every penny spent on the frame.
My sister has some serious religious issues that need to be resolved, is what I think! I believe she's more into the practice of church than the purpose of church. She's always been that way. Back when I was a senior in high school and she was a freshman, she would carry her Bible to school with her every day. Other students used to tease the hell out of her. By the time she graduated, she had been voted "Most Likely to Achieve Immaculate Conception." But it was cool, because I never had to fight the boys off her like most big brothers had to do. Shreese didn't go out on dates and she didn't allow any guys to call her after six. She's always been a little weird, but I love her and she's good people. Telling her about my engagement is going to be tough, because Shreese takes nothing lightly.
Oh, hell! Where's my watch? Oh, I left it in the kitchen. Got my keys, Bible, wallet, cool . . . I'm out. I better watch my swearing, too. Last time I visited, I almost let one slip out.
Excerpted from When All Hell Breaks Loose by Camika Spencer. Copyright © 1999 by Camika C. Spencer. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.