Shanice sat on the summit overlooking the city. This was her place. It was where she could be alone with God and her thoughts. She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. Her life had been a tough one. She grew up in a rough neighborhood. When she was seven, her father was killed in a drive by shooting. Ten years later, her mother overdosed on crack. She went to live with her uncle but ran away after he started sexually abusing her. For several months she lived on the streets, rummaging through garbage bins for food because she refused to turn to prostitution. She believed in God and that her body was a temple.
It was one Autumn morning when she met Neil Patterson, the city’s councilor. He was a very popular man who had been doing a great job cleaning up the city. She was standing outside of a café, watching the people inside having their hot coffees and chocolates along with donuts or bagels, her mouth watering when she sensed that someone was standing behind her. She turned around at once and found herself looking up at a very tall and distinguished man dressed in an expensive black coat. His sandy colored hair was neatly combed and she could tell that he didn’t belong in these parts. He looked familiar too. Then, she remembered where she had seen him. He was on the cover of yesterday’s newspaper. He was even more attractive in person and looked to be in his early forties. He smiled now. His eyes were an unusual shade of blue. “Are you hungry?” he asked.
She nodded and wondered if he was going to give her money to buy something to eat. To her surprise, he said, “Come, let’s go inside where it’s nice and warm.” He opened the door and after a slight hesitation, she went inside. He led her over to a table by the window as several gazes followed them. People recognized him and greeted him. They didn’t look at all surprised to see him with an African American teenager who looked like she hadn’t had a bath in years. They were used to seeing him rubbing elbows with the dregs of society. It was part of his appeal.
He seemed nice enough and she let him buy her a meal. Hunger overpowered pride. Besides, she didn’t know when again she would be treated to a free meal. While she wolfed down the food, he talked. He was a good talker and she could see why he was where he was. He was charismatic and she found herself warming up to him. And he was very attractive. She always did have a thing for older men. The guys her age were full of themselves and so immature.
He wasn’t married. She didn’t see any ring on his finger but then, again, he might be one of those men who didn’t bother to wear one. It was foolish sitting there thinking these things when she wasn’t going to see him again. He was being kind to her and she was thankful for that. After they left this café, they would go their separate ways and he would forget all about her. She knew that she would never forget him.
He didn’t have anything to eat. All he had was some hot chocolate. He asked a lot of questions about her life which she was unwilling to answer but did anyway. She left out the part about her uncle, though. He asked her about going into a foster home and a homeless shelter but she made it clear that she didn’t want to be in either. She had heard horror stories about those places and she wanted nothing to do with them. She would rather take her changes on the streets until circumstances changed for her—until God intervened. She didn’t mention God to him. Most people were put off by religion.
She liked being in the café. It was warm and friendly. She wished she could stay there longer but she knew he was a busy man and had places to go and people to see so she didn’t want to keep him. After she finished her hot chocolate and he paid the bill, she stood up. Holding out her hand, she thanked him for his kindness and was about to walk away when, he said, “Instead of going back to the streets, why don’t you come and live with me? I have large estate, with lots of room and staff. You will have your own room. You can come and go as you please. I won’t put any restrictions on you.”
She stared at him. “Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“I just want to help you. I have a sister your age. What do you say?”
“Well, I don’t want to be a freeloader,” she said. “Is there a job I can do to pay for my keep?”
“What about college or university?” he asked. “Aren’t you interested in furthering your education?”
“Of course, I am but my mother couldn’t afford to send me to college. What little money we had she wasted on drugs.”
“Instead of working for me, you’ll go to the college or university of your choice. What do you say?”
She stood there for a moment, considering all of this. This was better than being homeless—living in the streets and struggling to survive. Besides, the weather was getting colder and all she had was this beat up jacket which wasn’t keeping her warm at all. She studied him. He looked like someone she could trust. And she didn’t hear any alarm bells going off in her head. Shrugging, she said, “Sure. Thanks again. As soon as I graduate from university, I’ll be gone.”
He smiled. “Whatever works for you, Shanice.”
They left the café and her life on the streets behind. That was four years ago. She was in university now, studying Sociology. Their relationship had started out platonic and then, this morning, when she went back to the estate after a night of partying at a friend’s house, he was waiting up for her. She sneaked into the living room and paused until her eyes adjusted to the darkness when the room was flooded with light. Blinking, she went over to the sofa and sat down, tugging off her strappy sandals. Her black dress was short and hugged her body. The skirt rode high, revealing her legs. She watched as his gaze traveled over her and the color flood his cheeks before he demanded, “Where have you been?”
“I was at a friend’s birthday bash,” she explained. “I tried to be very quiet so that I wouldn’t disturb you—“
“Do you have any idea what time it is?”
She glanced at her watch. It was five minutes to three. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t mean to stay out so late.”
He went further into the drawing-room, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his silk robe. His hair which was always neatly in place was slightly disheveled. “I knew that I had told you that you were free to come and go as you please but, I still expect you to act responsibly. For this infraction, you are forbidden to leave these premises unless accompanied by me for the rest of the summer.”
She jumped to her feet, aghast. “That’s not fair,” she cried. “This is the only time I’ve stayed out late. You can’t hold this one time against me.”
“And another thing, I don’t want to see you dressed like that again.” Anger flared in her at that moment. “You’re not my father,” she retorted.
“No, but I am responsible for you and as long as you live under my roof, you have to abide by my rules.”
“Fine!” she said, grabbing her shoes and handbag. “If that’s all, I’d like to go to bed. I’m tired.” She was about to walk past him when he caught her by the arm. She turned her head and looked up at him, the anger in her eyes dissipating when she saw the expression on his face.
“I care about you, Shanice,” he muttered urgently. “I was out of my mind with worry when it was midnight and you hadn’t come home. I had no idea where you were. I tried calling you but your cell was turned off. In future, you need to tell me where you are so that I don’t worry or in case I need to get in touch with you.”
“You’re right,” she acknowledged. “I should have let you know where I was last night. I’m sorry.”
“And I’ll do the same,” he said. “I’ll let you know where I’ll be at all times, in case you need to reach me.”
The grip of his fingers on her arm was very distracting and he was staring directly into her eyes. She suddenly had trouble breathing properly and her heart was pounding. “Am-am I still forbidden to leave the premises?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, you’re not,” he said softly. “You’re not a prisoner.”
“So, I can leave whenever I want?”
He nodded. “Yes.” He moved closer. “You’re free to leave here as agreed four years ago but I hope you decide to stay. This place and my life would not be the same without you. They would be empty.”
That was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever said to her. She was touched to the very depths of her being and she could feel her eyes water. She loved it here. It was the home and life she had always dreamed of. And she loved being with him. She realized that she had loved him since the first time they met but had convinced herself that she could never be more to him than a charity case. But, the way he was looking at her and what he had just said proved her wrong. Without thinking, she reached up and touched his face. He turned his head and pressed his lips into the palm before he pulled her into his arms.
She smiled now as she remembered that first kiss. It was out of this world. It sent tingles all over her body and she could swear that she heard fireworks. Scrambling to her feet, she watched as the sun finally disappeared over the horizon. Tomorrow was the first day of her last year at university.
It was getting late. It was time to head back. She wanted to be there, waiting for him.