Desperate Hearts

Bradford James Livingston couldn’t believe it. He had finally married the woman of his dreams, Paula Dianne Copeland. He was the most blessed man on the face of God’s green earth. As they took their first dance together as Mr. And Mrs. Bradford James Livingston to the sweet, slow, romantic melody of his favorite song, he reflected back to the first time he’d ever held her in his arms. It had been at her best friend Taylor’s wedding almost a year and a half ago when they had danced together to this very song.

The sultry voice of the female singer filled the air of the hotel’s banquet room as Bradford held his wife next to him and breathed in the mere sight of her. Man, oh, man, was she enchanting! And she was his, all his. Even though the room was filled to capacity with their family and friends, they only saw each other. The sparkle in her beautiful dark brown eyes told him that her love for him was as strong as his for her.

To his displeasure, their song ended. Bradford wasted no time in partaking of another kiss from his lovely bride. Mmmmm-mmm. Her lips were so soft, as sweet as honey, and as moist as fresh dew on a cool spring morning. This was nice. He could kiss her forever. Oh, wait a minute. Something was wrong. Her kiss. Suddenly, it had turned into a drenching rain, not just on his mouth but all over his face. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings by wiping his face. He’d surely live to regret it if he did, but she was slobbering all over his face. He couldn’t take it any longer.

“Ah, baby, I know you love me,” Bradford grinned, “but can you cut the waterworks?”

She didn’t answer. Instead, she continued to lick him all over his face.

Bradford partially opened his eyes and saw honey blonde hair and a pair of big, gray eyes staring back at him. The face looked familiar, but it certainly wasn’t his Paula. Who had he married? Whoever it was gave him another soggy kiss, which felt more like a lick. He opened his eyes fully.

When he saw who—or what—it was, he yelled, “Gee Gee, stop!”

The five-year-old part cocker spaniel and part schnauzer continued licking her owner’s face.

Bradford turned his head from side to side. “Gee Gee, I said stop!”

The dog didn’t understand. This was their usual morning routine minus some of the face licking. She’d been having a hard time waking her master this morning. What was wrong with him?

Bradford sat up straight in bed. “Ginger, stop!”

Uh-oh. He’d called her by her given name Ginger. He only did that when he was upset with her and meant business.

Ginger’s droopy ears stood up straight. She wasted no time jumping off her master’s king-size storage bed and taking off on short legs.

Bradford could hear his pooch hauling it down the stairs and across the hardwood kitchen floor, apparently heading to her hiding place in the laundry room where she usually sought refuge when she knew she was in trouble. All of a sudden, he felt something warm and wet on his sheet underneath his left hand. He lifted his hand to see a dark circular-like wet spot.

Frowning, he called out, “Ginger, I’m gon’ whip your—-”

Grunting, Bradford quickly climbed out of bed, made his way to the master bath, and washed his hands and face.

As he prepared breakfast later, he made up his mind to tell Paula tonight at the cookout at her house of his true feelings for her.

Bradford smiled inwardly as he thought about their initial meeting and encounter at her Aunt Evelyn’s house over a year and a half ago. They had mixed like oil and water but had soon become the best of friends. They’d been friends for almost a year and a half, and he hadn’t seen her as anything more than that until about a year ago. He’d been trying desperately to fight his feelings though because after all, it had been he who had stressed that he only wanted to be her friend, which was true at the time. It had never been his intention to fall in love with her. He’d had nothing but the purest and sincerest intentions of friendship with her.

But tonight was the night. He was finally going to tell her that he loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her as more than just friends.

* * *

The gentle breeze of May stirred the sweet-smelling, succulent aroma of honeysuckles up the green, grassy hillside surrounding the airy, outdoor room where most of the guests had congregated. The flowers’ nectar filled Bradford’s nostrils as he secretly searched for Paula. Finally spotting her, he forced himself to take gentle strides in her direction because he actually felt like sprinting toward her as though he was running a marathon. She looked pretty in her white knee knockers and red and white striped v-neck tee.

Paula’s eyes twinkled as she caught and held his gaze. It was obvious that her feelings for him were mutual. He could hardly wait for them to talk later.

“Hey,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you. Where’ve you been?”

“Conversing,” Bradford responded with a mischievous grin.

“I should’ve known. You’re either talking or eating. Or both,” she added jovially.

“Ha. Ha.”

Taking the platter of marinated meats from her, he walked with her toward the grill.

“This meat looks good enough to eat raw.”

He teased, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

She elbowed him. “I wouldn’t really do it, silly. What’d you marinate it in?”

She stood beside him while he used the large wooden-handled tongs to place the meat onto the hot grill.

His mouth turned up into a huge grin. “It’s a family secret. But maybe I’ll share it with you one day though.”

“Oh, so it’s like that, huh?”

He grinned. “Can we get together later? There’s something I wanna talk to you about?”

Her face dropped. “Sure. Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine. No, I take that back. It’s better than fine. It’s great.”

Her eyes flashed with intense curiosity. “Why are you grinning like a Cheshire cat? Did you meet a girl?”

He gave her a sharp, playful look. “Didn’t I just ask if we can talk later? Don’t you have something else you need to be doing besides standing out here harassing me?”

Paula giggled. “Well, excuuuse me. I’ll talk to you later.”

Bradford chuckled as she walked away mumbling to herself.

“Hey,” came a baritone voice beside him. It was his good friend Richard Mayfield, Taylor’s husband.

“Hey, Rich.”

The two friends shook hands.

Richard leaned in and whispered, “Did you finally ask her out?”

“Ask who out?”

“Paula. Who do you think I’m talking about?”

Bradford cast a cautious eye over his shoulder, then back at his friend. Eyeing Richard, he asked, “You talkin’ to me?”

“No, I was talkin’ to that tree over there,” Richard said, chuckling lightheartedly as he nodded toward the thicket of skyscraper evergreens on Paula’s property.

Bradford released a nervous laugh. “What are you talking about? Paula and I go out all the time. We’re friends.”

Richard peered at the attractive one-story cottage which Bradford had built for Paula when she’d downsized from her huge, extravagant home in Azalea Heights. “I mean on a date. Don’t play dumb with me. Maybe you can fool everybody else but not me.”

Bradford’s eyes made another involuntary sweep of the area. He had never admitted his feelings for Paula to anyone, not even his friends. He chuckled lightly. “Man, we’re just friends,” he whispered.

“Yeah, I know you are now, but it’s obvious that you dig her.”

Bradford hung his head and grinned, then looked back up. Why try to hide it any longer? After all, he was going to announce it to Paula later on. Why not go ahead and share it with one of his best friends?

“How long have you known?”

“Well, for the past several months, but I didn’t really think much of it at first.”

Bradford opened his eyes wide. “Do you think anybody else knows?”

“I don’t know. If they do, I haven’t heard ‘em say anything. Why don’t you just tell her how you feel?” Richard cautioned, “You keep dillydallying around, and somebody’s gon’ beat you to her. I don’t know why the two of you haven’t hooked up by now anyway. You’ve been friends for what–almost two years?”

“Almost. A year and a half.”

Bradford was relieved when their friend Phillip Callahan approached them. Phillip had moved to Charlotte six months ago and had easily settled into the area and their congregation. Since he had experience in construction work and was in need of a job, Bradford had readily hired him on as one of his crew people. The three men had a lot in common and had become the best of friends.

Holding out his hand, Phillip said, “Brad, Richard, how you doing?”

“Phil,” the two men said in unison and shook his hand.

Richard took a sip of his drink.

Bradford said, “Just the man I want to see.” Handing Phillip the tongs, he said, “Take over for me for a few minutes, will you, buddy? And don’t let Richard get too close to it. He always lets it burn.”

Richard looked wide-eyed, almost choking on his drink. “Hey, I resent that.”

“You can resent it all you want to,” Bradford said. “It’s the truth,” he added, chuckling, as he walked away.

* * *

“Hey, Sister Randall,” Bradford greeted Paula’s aunt, Evelyn Randall.

Evelyn broke into a huge grin. “Hey, Brad.”

Leaning down to give the elderly woman a hug, he inquired, “How you doing?”

Evelyn hugged him and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “I’m fine. How ‘bout choo?”

“Terrific.” Taking a seat on one of the black, wrought-iron chairs beside her, he asked, grinning, “So what’s for dinner tomorrow?”

Evelyn had come to love Bradford like a son. Along with Paula, he brought so much sunshine into her life. And just like she’d done with her niece, she had spoiled him rotten by cooking for them all the time, especially on Sundays.

She responded with a straight face, “Leftovers.”

Bradford frowned and leaned forward. “Leftovers!”

“Yeah. You thank wit all this food we gon’ have ‘ere today I’ma go home and cook? Have you lost yer mind?"

Bradford doubled over in laughter. “Now, Sister Randall, we can’t have leftovers on Sunday. A big ol’ pot o’ collard greens, some neck bones, potato salad, and cornbread sure sounds good.”

“Sho’ do,” Evelyn responded with her arms folded across her chest. “You gon’ fix it?”

Bradford was shaking with laughter. “Sister Randall, you’re a mess. A straight-up mess. You know that?”

“Yeah, I know. Thank yuh,” Evelyn said as she broke into laughter.

“Well, I didn’t mean it as a compliment,” he joked.

“Well, that’s how I’m takin’ it,” she replied, grinning.

Everyone was having a great time, enjoying good conversation and wholesome association while waiting for the meat to finish grilling. Bradford didn’t think he could wait a moment longer to talk to Paula. He had hoped that they could talk after most of her guests had gone, but he was eager to share his feelings. He felt jubilant inside as he took giant steps toward the house.

It was quiet inside. He admired her decorative touch. The bright colors and sheer fabrics brought a wealth of light and energy to her new home. Though it was much smaller than the one she’d had in Azalea Heights, it was beautiful nonetheless, and she seemed extremely happy and satisfied with her downsized lifestyle.

Her name was on the tip of his tongue as he made his way to the kitchen. However, what he saw caused his brain to malfunction. Paula and Phillip were standing beside the shimmering, gray, marble-topped island embraced in a kiss! Bradford slowly backed away, almost stumbling over the bench in the hallway that he and Paula had built together. He nearly knocked Evelyn down as she was coming through the front door. He grabbed her arms to steady her.

“Sister Randall, I’m sorry. Are you all right?”

Evelyn reached for and held her chest. “Whew! You liked to scared the livin’ daylights outta me. I’m fine. You see Paula in there? I thank everbody’s ready to eat. They just took the rest of the meat off’n the grill. Did yuh see her when yuh was inside?”

“Ah, no,” Bradford hurriedly responded before rushing away.

He almost walked into Taylor and Richard as they stood talking. Taylor looked at Bradford with curious eyes.

“Are you okay? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

“I-I’m fine.”

Taylor looked at him again before saying, “I’m gonna see if Paula needs help with anything.”

Bradford thought, the only thing Paula needs help with is getting Phillip’s mouth off hers. See if you can help her with that while you’re in there.

Richard asked, “Man, are you sure you’re okay? You look sick.”
“I’m fine. I think I just need to eat something.”

Richard nodded.

Bradford spoke in a low tone. “What we talked about earlier–about Paula–do me a favor. Don’t mention it to anybody, especially Taylor.”

“Okay. But why not? What’s wrong?”

“I changed my mind. We’re friends. Anything more would just complicate things.”

“So you’re just going to let her slip through your fingers?” Richard whispered.

“I told you, Rich, we’re friends, and I wanna keep it that way,” Bradford firmly responded.

Richard held up his hand. “Okay. Whatever you say.”

When they saw Paula approaching them with a huge grin on her face, the air grew quiet.

Look at her, Bradford thought. That kiss from Phillip has her grinning from ear to ear.

The touch of her hand as she took his caused a warmth to radiant up and down his spine.

“Here you are,” she said. “I’ve been looking for you. We’re ready to eat. Will you say the blessing?”

Bradford’s first thought was, why don’t you ask your boyfriend Phillip to say the blessing? Instead, he pasted a fake smile on his face and responded, “Sure.”

Richard watched the two of them walk away.

Bradford James Livingston couldn’t believe it. He had finally married the woman of his dreams, Paula Dianne Copeland. He was the most blessed man on the face of God’s green earth. As they took their first dance together as Mr. And Mrs. Bradford James Livingston to the sweet, slow, romantic melody of his favorite song, he reflected back to the first time he’d ever held her in his arms. It had been at her best friend Taylor’s wedding almost a year and a half ago when they had danced together to this very song.
Maxine has enjoyed reading and writing as far back as she can remember. During her summer vacations from school, she participated in the reading programs at the local library and spent most of her time reading. She also likes to write poetry.