Lettie rushed through the supermarket gathering anything and everything she might need for the impromptu dinner party. She only had a few hours to clean up, cook a large meal for ten people, and make herself presentable to Braxton’s standard. Thank God the market was mostly empty. No long lines. No one was standing in front of the meat counter taking up space contemplating the various cuts of meats and prices. No one to steer her shopping cart around. Yes, thank God for small blessings. Lettie practically ran through the store tossing necessities into her already full cart.
All she needed to complete her dinner requirements were some golden delicious apples and cinnamon. She hustled toward the expansive fresh produce section of the market and was pleased to see it was also deserted. Lettie had her hand on a ten-pound bag of apples when her phone began to trill.
“Shoot!” Lettie dropped the bag of apples back onto its pile on the produce counter and reached into her denim jacket pocket for her phone. As her heart raced, she prayed it wasn’t Braxton calling to check up on her. He often did so when Lettie was out and about. Braxton claimed he always wanted to make sure she was safe whenever Lettie left his presence, but Lettie had a sinking feeling that his “concern” was nothing more than another form of control she could not escape.
She held her breath as she looked at the name on the screen. A tremendous sigh escaped her as Lettie realized it wasn’t Braxton calling but her play big brother, Shelton Westley.
Shelly and Lettie had been inseparable since fourth grade. Because she was an only child, Lettie gravitated to Shelly’s larger than life family with its myriad of warm personalities. After one fateful neighborhood block party, the pair vowed to be best friends. It’s been twenty years since that party, and they have yet to break their promise to each other.
Lettie quickly answered the call. “Hey, Shelly. What’s up, love?”
“Nothing much, darlin’,” Shelly replied in his exaggerated Southern accent. He was a Brooklyn, New York native, but living in Atlanta, Georgia for a few years after college left an impression on him. Lettie smiled at his slightly high-pitched Southern drawl as she continued to hunt for decent apples.
“Well, to what do I owe the pleasure of a random phone call? Aren’t you supposed to be heading to New York to visit your mom and dad this weekend?”
Shelly sighed. “Yeah, that was the plan, but you know me. Plans are made to be broken.”
“Oh, Lord. What’s his name?”
“Girl, hush. This has nothing to do with a man.”
Lettie settled on a bag of apples and set them in her cart. She made a sharp turn down the aisle to find the spices. “Okay, so you didn’t meet anyone and set up a date during the weekend you’re supposed to be spending at home?”
“Well…yes, but that’s not the reason I’m not going home today. I met this guy after the fact. His name is Michael, he is a Leo, six foot six, and has a head full of curly hair. Chile, the man is so gorgeous he made me want to weep!” Shelly confessed in a rush.
Lettie laughed as she found the right aisle. “I knew it. You are such a slut,” she teased.
Shelly joined in her laughter. “I know it, and you know it, but don’t tell anybody else.”
“I will not, I promise. Now, what happened with New York?”
“Nothing major,” Shelly said. “Ma had an opportunity to go to Atlantic City with her sisters, so she left with them instead. I offered to go home and visit with Pops while she was away, but he told me he wanted to use the time she was gone to sit around in his drawers and watch dirty movies. And, honey, trust when I say that is not a sight I wanna see, okay?”
Lettie let out another throaty laugh. That sounded about right. Shelly’s parents were extraordinarily comical and very open-minded. She remembered the last time she tagged along on one of Shelly’s home visits; his mother caught herself talking about sex as she prepared breakfast for everyone.
“Lettie, I don’t know how this Braxton person treats you in the bedroom, but if he treats you as good as Poppa Westley treats me, you are one lucky girl,” Ma Westley had told her as she scrambled eggs. Shelly, already seated at the large kitchen table with Pop Westley, Lettie, and Shelly’s baby sister, Gina, had turned to his mother with a horrified expression on his face.
“Ma! We don’t need to hear all the sordid details. Please, spare us.”
Ma Westley shrugged her petite shoulders and spooned a heap of eggs onto a platter. “I’m just saying, honey. Your father is talented. I don’t know who he was with before me, but I want to thank her for teaching him how to make my toes curl just right.”
Shelly had dropped his head flat on the table, making a solid thunk sound against the wood. Gina continued sipping her orange juice, utterly oblivious to the conversation.
Pop Westley had taken a long look at his wife with a twinkle in his eye and said, “No one had to teach me anything. It’s a God-given talent.”
Shelly’s mother nodded her head without turning away from the stove. “Well, baby, if she didn’t teach you anything, I need to thank her for letting you practice.”
Lettie had burst into hysterical laughter at the elder Westley’s banter. Her giggles reached a maximum when she looked at Shelly’s face and saw nothing but his wide-eyed shock and embarrassment. As a family, the Westley’s were a handful, but Lettie wouldn’t trade them for the world.
She spotted the cinnamon she needed. She moved toward the checkout counter with a renewed purpose, her shoulder holding her cell phone up to her ear.
“Okay, so you’re not going to New York but found a nice consolation prize. I gotcha.”
“That’s right,” Shelly said. “Our date is tomorrow, so I was thinking you, and I could have some girls time later on tonight. I’m thinking we could watch Fast Five—the greatest porn sans sex ever—and indulge in some greasy Chinese food that’ll leave us hungry mere minutes after eating. Whadya’ say?”
“I can’t, Shelly. Not tonight.” Lettie loaded her groceries onto the moving conveyor belt in front of a waiting cashier.
“Why not? You’re just gonna leave me by my lonesome tonight?” Lettie could practically hear Shelly pouting. “I know you don’t have any plans tonight. Just tell that ole stick-in-the-mud that you wanna hang out. I’m sure Mister will not mind.”
Lettie rolled her eyes at Shelly’s nickname for Braxton. Not long after Shelly and Braxton met, Shelly pulled Lettie aside and huffed, “Girl, Mister from The Color Purple seems like a handful.” Since then, the name stuck.
Lettie took a deep breath before she replied. “He would, actually. We’re having a dinner party tonight.”
“A dinner party?” Shelly repeated. “You didn’t mention a dinner party the last time you and I spoke. When did all this get planned and why wasn’t I invited?”
The cashier finished ringing up Lettie’s groceries and stood silent waiting for payment. She seemed somewhat impatient as Lettie switched shoulders to hold her cell phone as she fished Braxton’s debit card out of her tightly packed wallet. She swiped it into the debit machine standing on a little platform at the end of the payment counter.
“Well,” she began, hesitant, “I could not invite you because…I just found out about it.”
Just like Lettie expected he would, Shelly started yelling into the phone. His rant was so loud, she had to move the phone from her ear and give the cashier, who raised a judgmental eyebrow at the harsh sounds emanating from her phone, a sympathetic smile. Lettie didn’t try to over talk her angry best friend; she allowed him to mouth off as she loaded her bags into her car and proceeded home.
Lettie could understand Shelly’s frustration with her. This wasn’t the first time Braxton put a heavy burden on her at the last minute. Lately, it seemed to be the only way he would do anything with her. Braxton was a man of many needs, and he expected his woman to take care of them. And since Lettie just happened to be the holder of that title…
Sighing, Lettie finally attempted to interject her rambling friend. “Shelly. Shel-Shelton! Will you please calm down and stop yelling at me?”
“No, I will not! You need someone to yell some sense into you. How the hell you put on a dinner party you just found out about? Girl, it’s almost six o’clock. What the hell is that man’s problem?”
“If you hush up for a minute, I could explain,” Lettie said.
“Yes, you do that. Please explain to me how it’s okay for you to be playing hostess to some random folks that man has invited to your home without him even telling you about it until the last minute. Tell me how it’s okay for him to expect some grandiose dinner to be pulled out of your ass when he had all day to plan. As a matter of fact, please explain to me how he didn’t include you in these plans. Aren’t y’all a couple, ’cause I thought that what couples did. They include each other in stuff. Explain that.”
Lettie immediately got defensive. She knew her best friend and her fiancé didn’t get along at all. They never did. Braxton, a more conservative personality, always found Shelton’s exuberant nature to be offensive. The fact that he was gay was just another reason for Braxton to dislike him. Shelly, on the other hand, didn’t like Lettie’s man because of Lettie. He always told her that Braxton was a “snake in wolf’s clothing” who had no business in Lettie’s life. He felt the couple were unequally yoked and that Braxton was too controlling. Lettie constantly found herself caught in between her loyalty to her best friend and her devotion to the man she believed was going to be her husband. Mentioning anything to either of them about the other ran the risk of a massive disagreement with Lettie caught in the middle. Today was no different.
“Shelly, I know you’re insinuating that Brax deliberately waited to mention this party, but that’s not the case. He is just a really spontaneous person.”
“Mmm hmm,” Shelly grunted, unimpressed.
“And for the record, he does include me in decisions. But these are people from his business. He knows what’s best.”
“Lettie, my dear, you sound extra dumb right now. ‘He knows what’s best,’ huh? Keep telling yourself that.”
“Excuse me, Shelly? What do you mean by that?”
Shelly changed his tone from aggravated to sad. “Never mind, Lettie. Just forget I said anything. You’ll figure it out one day.”
“Now what does that mean?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m getting off this phone. Enjoy your duties tonight. Make sure Mister is pleased with you. God forbid if he is the one who’s unhappy. We can’t have that, now can we?”
With that, Shelly ended the call. Lettie inhaled deeply and released a shuddering breath. All she wanted was a happy relationship with the men in her life. Was that too much to ask?
Copyright © 2018 Kris M. Bell