PART 1 of 4, DOORWAYS
It was her lips that caught his eye—glazed, frosted, slices of pink, practically oozing with the nectar of seduction. Gary stared at the lips in the picture before him and tried to connect them with silent email voice he’d been corresponding with over the past week.
Lee had emailed him out of the blue, wondering how he’d been and asking about his prices for wedding photography. She’d said that she and her fiancé would be jumping the broom in a year and had heard good things about Gary’s “skills with a camera.” Her emails were light and easygoing. Short sentences, full of jokes and smiley faces. Gary vaguely remembered her being funny, but he certainly didn’t remember these lips.
Gary always had a thing for lips. He saw them as doorways—the starting point of every unpredictable journey of love or seduction.
In the picture, Lee was gorgeous. Thick coils of reddened locks framed the copper-toned skin of her face and she wore a smile so bright and pure that it made Gary happy just to look at it. And those lips. Lee’s lips reminded him of a black hole—swirling with immense, inescapable power and teasing him with unknown enigmas awaiting him just across the threshold. Vortex-like, Lee’s lips kept yanking Gary’s attention, forcing his eyes to nestle into the succulent smile beneath her hazel eyes.
“That picture sucks, don’t it?” Brent’s voice barged into Gary’s reverie. It was too high. Or too nasal. Or too loud. Maybe all three. The kind of voice you’d find yourself saying “yes” to just to keep it silent. But Gary didn’t say yes. Didn’t agree. Didn’t say anything at all. He had never believed that everyone in the world deserved a response just because they’d opened their mouth and said something. If it wasn’t worthwhile, Gary didn’t waste time with a reply. And that was with his close friends and family. So this new guy, Brent, didn’t even merit a glance.
Brent persisted. “My fiancée. It’s kinda cute but you can’t have every single person that comes into the house knowing what you look like, ya know? I told her to keep that picture outta sight until the condo is sold but she insists on sticking it up on the refrigerator.”
“Whose house is this?” Gary knew the answer, but he felt a diversion was in order. He hadn’t meant to be staring at a picture of the man’s fiancée.
“Hers. Selling it, though. Lee said you wanted to get a feel for both of our personalities so I’d thought we’d meet here. Then go over to my place.” Emphasis on the “my.” Gary caught it. Didn’t particularly like it.
“Can I look around?” Gary asked, adjusting his glasses. There was an oscillating fan perched on top of the fridge but it was barely pushing a ripple through the thick July heat.
“Work it out, playa. I gotta make calls.”
Gary had been a wedding photographer for less than a year. The photography part was old. It was just the wedding part that was new. He’d started taking pictures in high school or, rather, at the age when he should have been in high school. His pictures had ranged wide for a while before narrowing toward the photojournalist end of the spectrum. The coup de grace? A stint as a freelancer for Time Magazine. But it didn’t really satisfy him. Then, abruptly, his lens had found itself focusing on couples and their intimate language of love. Or the lack thereof.
PART 2 of 4
By Charles DeVeaux
Brent disappeared, making his way to the adjoining office while Gary wandered around lost in his thoughts of love. Gary had always thought he would recognize his soul mate when he met her. He never, for one instant, thought that woman would be engaged to another man. A man like Brent.
“Hi,” he heard a soft voice say from the kitchen doorway.
Gary closed his eyes for a split second. The seductive southern lilt in her voice made him want to forget her fiancé existed a few rooms down. Made him want to forget he, too, had a fiancée. Loveless. The word raced through his mind like the Indie 500 when he thought about his relationship.
“Gary?” Lee called.
Gary turned and looked inquisitively at Lee as she waited in the kitchen doorway, smiling innocently. In person, it was more apparent that Brent had overlooked her beauty and grace. Gary, certain Lee’s welcoming smile was just for him, had to remind himself to be cool.
“You have a beautiful home,” Gary replied in greeting.
“Come,” Lee beckoned. “Thereʼs still more to see.” Her eyes revealed calm and trust, as if they had known each other all along, and Gary followed her as if they were two grade school children getting ready to run and play a game.
The corners of his mouth turned up into a smile, and he was again magnetized by her lips. And her aura. And the sway of her narrow hips.
“I want you to check out my family room,” Lee said over her shoulders, already heading down the steps of her duplex.
Gary followed her to a large room. Lee pointed out all the nooks where her favorite books were shelved and her family photos sat on display. He took notice of the images: camping with friends, family reunions, standing in a her lab coat laughing, while holding a piece of chalk in front of a blackboard decorated in long physics calculations. In every picture, the same stunning face smiled, with eyes accentuated by naturally long eyelashes. So familiar, Gary thought. This is her. She was supposed to be mine.
“These pictures represent my life,” Lee explained out, interrupting Gary's musings. “They might help with the shoot.”
He nodded and stared, but his thoughts were consumed by his life. He was committed to hard time; an upcoming loveless life sentence with his fiancée Lacey. She was a journalist who he had met while working at Time Magazine. Eventually, their friendship became a partnership and within the year he asked Lacy to be his wife. She was a good woman. But today, like many others in recent weeks, the thought of marrying Lacy was unsatisfying. She became pushy and needy. And made him sorry he had declared his love. He wanted his ring back. To give to Lee. The idea crept in his head before he could silence it.
“I’m ready when y’all are,” Brent yelled, clearly growing impatient with the wait. Handing his house keys to Lee, he said, “Why don’t you and ol’ photography guy here start looking around my place? I’ll lock up and meet you there.”
Breathe, Gary thought, standing off to the side, but close enough to hear the exchange.
Lee pecked Brent on the lips then turned to Gary and asked, “Mind if I ride shotgun?”
I can’t believe this is frickin’ happening right now. Gary lifted his hands toward his face to massage his temples and adjust his glasses. I was hired to take wedding pictures, and now I’m scheming on the bride.
“Sure,” Gary replied.
PART 3 of 4
By Taylor Graves
Gary opened the passenger door to his car and gestured for Lee to get in. As he walked around to the driver side, he noticed Brent peeking out from the yellow-curtained kitchen window. Gary smiled and waved. She’s mine now, he thought then proceeded to drive off.
“Can you give me directions to his place from here?” Gary said to Lee. He knew exactly where Brent lived, but wanted to hear her voice.
She complied, then added her own request. “Do you mind if we ride with the windows down? It’s such a beautiful day and I love the fresh air.” Before Gary responded, Lee turned the music up and said, “This is my song!”
Gary wasn’t much of an R & B enthusiast, but appreciated the way Lee’s body began to sway in her seat to Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”. She gazed out the window, her hand playing chase with the cool breeze. Gary continued to watch her from his peripheral vision, noting that her soft, sweet, comforting voice was now belting out lyrics.
She’s singing to me, not Brent, Gary thought. She uttered, “I can't believe that it's real / the way that you make me feel. A burning deep down inside / a love that I cannot hide…. Here I am baby…come and take me…take me by the hand.” The opening lyrics and the chorus had Gary’s body tingling and his mind sliding into a day dream. All he could hear was his thoughts; all he could see was Lee. Her skin glistened as the sun danced on her body. A body he desperately wanted. The slight fragrance of Lavendar and vanilla lingered in the air. It was the body mist she wore, and Gary inhaled deeply of its succulence.
At a red light, Gary looked at Lee. She smiled. Her hazel eyes were full of love, and she turned away quickly, momentarily embarrassed, but continued to sing the last few words.
Was that an invitation? Gary wondered. I should do something. Be daring! Why can’t I just kiss those lips? While he savored lustful thoughts, his conscious delivered a lightening-quick response. Because you’re engaged to Lacey. It angered him to remember his fiancée at this most inopportune time. After all, Lee was the woman of his dreams. Materialized and realized, he confirmed to himself before speeding off. Even the green light was telling him to go.
“Lee,” he called softly.
She didn’t reply. He called her name a second time, and turned to look directly at her.
“Lookout Gary!’ Lee yelled.
Gary snapped out of his semi-reverie and hit the brakes. He clenched the steering wheel and swerved, nearly driving his brand new silver Audi Q7 off the parkway road. He stopped momentarily; his heart was racing and he was inwardly grateful for avoiding a certain catastrophe—until he heard smothered laughter coming from the passenger seat.
“I got you good,” said Lee
“That wasn’t funny, Lee” Gary replied. He wanted to be upset with her, but her laughter calmed him.
“Sorry, baby, I was just having a little fun with you,” Lee said, winking. “Turn left after two lights. Brent’s place will be the last one with the cobblestone driveway at the top of the hill.”
“Lee, I could have really hit something or someone,” Gary chastised. He didn’t care about anything other than being with her at this moment, especially when she referred to him with endearment.
“But you didn’t,” Lee said. “I knew exactly what I was doing.” After a moment she added, “Park out front. Brent’s slow so we will have a little more time until he gets here…”
PART 4 of 4
By M. Brandon Frazier
My life was a lot less complicated an hour ago.
Entering the front doorway, Gary felt like he was walking onto set of a movie gone askew; a combination of HavPlenty meets Sliding Doors meets Love Jones meets Cheaters.
Casually confident, Lee strolled into the house first with a sense of ownership and power, that this man’s home—any man’s home, for that matter—was her domain. Anxious but cautious, Gary nervously walked behind.
“Okay Gary,” she started with a smile.
Damn those lips! Gary thought.
Sultrily leaning akimbo inside the doorway of Brent’s entertainment room, Lee continued. “Its been a long day and at this point all I want is a hot shower and a cold beer. The kitchen is on the left and Brent keeps his good liquor in the cabinet above the microwave, so go ahead and fix yourself something too—chances are you need it even more than me after all that stunt drivin’!”
“I’ll only be a few minutes; feel free to walk around with your camera but don’t touch anything. Well, almost anything. . .”
Gary sipped a beer as Lee headed to the bedroom, noting what a lovely silhouette she made while gliding up the stairs. He cursed for feeling so happy with Lee and simultaneously realized just how unhappy he was with Lacey.
Touring each room in the house, Gary noticed the stark contrast of Lee and Brent’s homes; Brent had no displayed pictures of family, keepsakes, college memorabilia, mementos, or dog-eared books of substance. Everything was so tone-deaf, blank and sterile. Just like him, Gary thought. Plain and simple.
After a second beer and sneaking a stiff shot of Brent’s top-shelf bourbon, Gary sat back on the sectional with couch-humored visions of Rick James in mind. He waited for Lee to return and debated whether to tell her how much his infatuation was growing.
Barefoot and clad only in a white plush cloth bathrobe, Lee finally appeared at the foot of the stairs and playfully beckoned Gary. “Could you grab my drink and follow me up here for a second please, Gary. There’s one more thing I want to show you.”
The smell her new fragrance—a mix of light jasmine and shea butter—assailed his senses as he drew near, ready to follow Lee anywhere.
Music was playing softly in the background as they entered the guest bedroom doorway. Lee patted a seat for him adjacent to her on the bed; she slowly removed the camera from his neck, clasped his hands in hers, breathed deeply, and briefly closed her eyes before she spoke.
“Gary, we have both been feeling the same vibe and energy all day. I believe in kismet and know we are here together, right now, for a reason. You probably thought my email arrived out of the blue, but I have followed your work for a while now; your pictures speak to me in an intimate and very real way.
“What I’m trying to say is I trust you. I need you to trust me, Gary.”
It was then that Gary realized this moment was not about Brent, wedding pictures, or anything happening in the next year; it was about this day, this minute, right now, the solace of two kindred souls sharing without judgment. Silently nodding, he turned on his camera, stood up and slowly backed away to allow Lee to get comfortable.
“I feel the same way Lee; I’ll do whatever you want. . .”
The voicemail was curt and to the point. “It’s Brent…uh, the wedding’s off…so I guess you can return the deposit I paid since technically no pictures were taken. I wasn’t even the one who wanted to hire you in the first place so send the money to my PayPal account.” Click.
“Little do you know buddy!” Gary laughed out loud, reminiscing over the pictures that were taken that night while driving to the jeweler to exchange his now ex-fiancee’s ring.
‘‘No problem,” Gary continued to chuckle. “Ol‘ photography guy here will happily return your deposit, because what I was paid in full is priceless!”