He and his friends met on the basketball team their freshman year and were inseparable for four years. Though Marcus and Atticus had gone off to graduate school, after graduation they’d returned to Atlanta to work. It was quietly understood that they’d all stay in Atlanta . . . stay in touch. On weekends they played pickup games of basketball. They stood up for each other’s weddings and funerals. Atticus couldn’t have gotten through his mother’s funeral were it not for them. If all that wasn’t enough to bind them for life, the car accident the fateful night of their college graduation was. They were blood brothers.

The photographer did his duty and got the picture. Two of the bridesmaids, seeing the action, came running over, their high heels clicking on the wood floor.

“Wait,” one called out, arm waving. “We want a picture with us in it.”

They trotted up to the men, giggling and smoothing out their dresses, while the men gave them the once-over. The two women were young and sexy in their off-the-shoulder, silver-sequined gowns that reflected the light and accentuated their ample curves. Keisha, a sloe-eyed beauty, wiggled in beside Atticus, leaned her ample breasts against him, and pressed her cheek against his.

“That’s the way,” Marcus teased him, chuckling low. “Real close now.”

When the photo was done, Keisha turned in Atticus’s arms, her body close to his. “You’re Atticus Green, aren’t you?” she asked coyly.

“That’s me.”

“I heard about you.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I heard you’ve got the most beautiful eyes. And know what? It’s true.” She pressed closer. “I could look in your eyes till kingdom come.” Her intonation clearly indicated that she’d look at them at least until morning.

“You like them blue eyes?” Beau teased her. “Them’s white-boy eyes. Look at mine, deep, dark chocolate. Not too sweet. African grade.” He laughed.

Atticus smirked and said nothing. All his life his blue eyes had been the butt of jokes among the boys. And a magnet for the girls.

“Hey, Atticus,” Marcus said. His arm remained around the other bridesmaid. “Mattie and I are going out after the wedding. Come with us.”

“Oh, yes,” Keisha urged, wiggling closer.

“Can’t,” Atticus replied. “Sorry.”

“Why not?” Kwame asked, slapping his back. “Keisha wants to go out with you, don’t you, baby?”

She nodded. “Sure do.”

Beau complained, “Why aren’t you asking me to go out with you?”

“?’Cause you’re married, fool,” Marcus shot back. “Your wife’s home about to have your baby.”

“So what? Don’t mean I can’t have a good time.” Beau laughed as Marcus slapped his back.

“Not with me you can’t,” Keisha said in his face. “Come on, Atticus. We’ll have a good time.”

“Wish I could, but I have a service first thing in the morning.”

“All work and no play makes Atticus a dull boy,” Keisha said, twiddling with his collar.

“I’m sure it does.” He gently removed her hands and kissed them before returning them to her. “Maybe another time.” He ignored the loud groans of disappointment from his friends.

“But don’t you be forgetting me now.” Keisha slipped a piece of paper in his pocket, then patted it. “Call me,” she whispered in his ear before slowly disentangling herself and strolling off with her friend.

“Are you crazy?” Beau asked him when they were out of earshot. “That was a sure thing. Back in college you never let an opportunity pass.”

Atticus shrugged. “I’m not in college anymore.”

“No. You’re a priest now,” Beau fired back. “Celibate.”

The men laughed at his expense.

“Not a priest.” Atticus gave them their laugh. “And not celibate. Just more choosy.”

Marcus gave him a gentle punch. “Yeah, right.”

“Hey, I get that,” Kwame said, wrapping both arms around Marcus and Atticus. “I knew when I found my Letitia, she was the one.” Kwame got teary eyed and looked across the room at his new wife. “Look at my bride. She’s so fine. Gentlemen, my days of trolling are over.”

Beau hooted and Marcus patted his shoulder. “That’s real nice,” Marcus said patronizingly. “Give it a few years. As for you . . .” He pointed at Atticus.

A roar from the crowd interrupted them as music for the Electric Slide broke out. Marcus let out a whoop and turned to dance his way to join the lines forming on the dance floor.

Kwame took off after him, looking for his bride.

Beau grabbed Atticus’s arm. “Come on, brother. Let’s show ’em how it’s done.”

The weather was cloudy and cool when Atticus got out of the pizza joint. The pizza was only okay, but the run-down restaurant was close to home and the only place still open. The warmth of the pizza felt good on his hands, and the scent of tomato sauce and crust floated up to him, making his mouth water. With his free hand he turned up his collar, hunched his shoulders, and began walking.

Seeing his friends again, feeling the pull of the bonds of his youth, left him feeling unsettled. Kwame, Marcus, Beau—they all seemed content with their lives; even Big Beau, who talked a good game but was devoted to his wife. They sensed Atticus’s loneliness, as best friends could. And knew that he’d changed after the accident. Sometimes, he felt they tiptoed around him. He caught the hooded glances they shot to each other when they were worried, such as tonight when he didn’t go out with Keisha. They were always trying to set him up, somehow thinking finding the right woman would end his searching. Atticus appreciated their concern, but didn’t they get that he wasn’t looking to get laid? He’d sowed more than his share of wild oats in college. He wasn’t the same popular and conceited kid he was back then. The car accident had changed him. A life-and-death experience did that to a person. And what bothered him most was that the conceited, skirt-chasing Atticus was the man his friends missed.

From far off he heard the high-pitched scream of car brakes. Atticus stopped abruptly, his head reared up, and his heart rate accelerated. In a flash he was back to that night eight years earlier.


Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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