Excerpt for The Bookstore, Fifteen Years of Love and Counting by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Bookstore,

Fifteen years of love & counting

(Forever Woman Volume 6)


B.L. Wilson

The Bookstore, fifteen years of love & counting

Brought to you by

Patchwork Bluez Press

The Bookstore, fifteen years of love & counting

Copyright 2017 by B. L. Wilson.

All rights reserved.

Smashwords Edition

No part of this e-book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Any similarity in name, description, or history of characters in this book to actual individuals either living or dead is purely coincidental.

Please respect the rights of the author and do not file share.

Edited by BZ Hercules

Author’s Note

The Bookstore, fifteen years of love and counting was written and takes place in a time when technology was somewhat more simple. You will find references to flip phones and people not being as easy to reach as they are now. Social media was nonexistent, at least not like it is in the present day, and most of my characters did not feel incomplete without a laptop. Updating the technology might change the plot elements, so I have left the “old-fashioned” ways untouched and request that you enjoy this bit of “nostalgia” as it is written.

Thank you.

B.L. Wilson

For all you women who have suffered so many tragedies in life … the loss of friends and family, take heart. You can make it through those trials and tribulations.

Find that special someone and let them help you. Lean on them during those hard times. Allow them to lean on you when they need comfort as well.

You will both be the better for it.

Love has to be shown by deeds not words.

~ Swahili proverb~

Table of Contents

ONE: I hate book tours

TWO: Welcome to the neighborhood

THREE: Hello, I’m Melba Farris

FOUR: Who’s that lady?

FIVE: Don’t call me ma’am

SIX: Go away. We’re closed.

SEVEN: These shirts and ties are nice.

EIGHT: Life is a circus

NINE: Welcome to the miracle on East Street

TEN: The fire this time

ELEVEN: Where’s Etta?

TWELVE: Was it arson?

THIRTEEN: It’s murder too!

FOURTEEN: I’m not a charity case

FIFTEEN: So many tears and sadness

SIXTEEN: Stay with me

SEVENTEEN: Etta’s Place

EIGHTEEN: Gone baby gone

NINETEEN: Stunning Stella is back

TWENTY: Time to grieve

TWENTY-ONE: You did nothing wrong

EPILOGUE: So much love and more



ONE: I hate book tours

The old man wants you there, Vivian, so you are going. Like it or not, you are going on this book tour!” Maurice Altman stated, standing over her desk. He ran a hand through a thick mop of gray hair, then smoothed down his beard. He sat down in a chair across from her that she usually reserved for her authors. “Come on, Viv. You know you like tours. You’re good at them. You find the most interesting places to display our authors. You get the public interested in them.” He studied her, noting how good she looked this afternoon.

When didn’t Vivian Johnson look great? he mused. He always thought of her as classy broad who wore her business dresses, suits, blouses, and skirts with elegance. She chose just the right amount of jewelry: sterling silver or platinum gold or pearl necklaces with matching earrings and bracelets. Her shoes and handbags blended with her outfits. Vivian was the only woman he knew that actually had leather gloves that matched her shoes and handbags. She always smelled great too. He wished she played around. He sighed inwardly. His wife would cut his balls off and feed them to him a tiny piece at a time if she knew what he wanted. Somehow, wives always found out when their husbands screwed around on the job … any job.

“Oh, quit staring at me like that, Mo. You aren’t getting some of this and you know why too,” Vivian remarked, patting her chest and making her silver necklaces jingle.

Maurice exhaled. “A man can dream, can’t he, Viv?”

“Humph!” Vivian reached over to pop his forearm with her thumb and middle finger, making him flinch and rub his arm. “You know I’m gay. I never hid that from anybody here. All I want is to be accepted for what I do at work, not for what I am in my bedroom.”

Maurice waved a dismissive hand at Vivian. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the liberation speech before. Just replace the gay part with gender or race, and I’ve heard the same thing over the years.”

“You didn’t listen to those other folks who said it any more than you heard me, right, Mo?”

Maurice groaned. “Please, just go on the damned book tour, Viv.”

Vivian groaned, then held her head in her hands. “You know this wrecks the hell out of my social life, Mo.”

“Are you still going with Stella?”

“I’m not going with anybody. I never go with anybody, Mo.”

“Okay, wrong terminology. Are you still seeing, dating, or otherwise socializing with stunning Stella?”

An image of Stella Cox sprawled across her bed drifted into Vivian’s brain and decided to stay. Maurice was right. Stella was stunning. She was of average height but that was the only average thing on her coppery body. Her shapely legs were long. Oh my, just right length for wrapping around a woman’s waist. Her breasts were the size of small grapefruits with their distinctive nipples that were made for licking and sucking on. She hadn’t even reached the best part of Stella located inches below her belly button. Stella Cox was simply gloriously spectacular. Well, almost the perfect woman. Stella didn’t care who else Vivian screwed just as long as Vivian was available when she needed her. Whenever Stella needed a place to crash, Vivian was supposed to drop everything. That included kicking other women out of her bed to make a space for Stella alone. The odd thing was how she went along with Stella’s games even when she secretly wished for more.

“Vivian?” Maurice frowned when she ignored him. He noted the dreamy expression on her face and called her name again. “Vivian? Earth to Vivian, talk to me?” He snapped his fingers in front of her nose. After several finger snaps, Vivian finally smacked at his hand.

“What, Mo? I heard you the first time.”

Maurice walked to the door of her office. At the door, he turned around to face her. “Viv, go on the book tour. It’ll be good for you to get away from … you know who.” He sighed. “Ida says I should tell you that.”

Vivian groaned. “Mo, when are you going to tell her to stop reading those damned how-to psychic and fortuneteller manuals? We publish books after we research them and check out their authors. You know that stuff she’s reading is bullshit. Nobody double checks that crap. She’s not a psychic. She’s Jewish. You’re Jewish. She should find something better to do with her time instead of making false predictions about her husband’s co-workers.” She watched Maurice squint, then rub his beard in troubled silence. “God! I’m so sorry, Mo. I don’t know what I was thinking when I said that.” She rose and went over to squeeze his arm while looking into his face. “Tell Ida to email me her predictions anytime she wants to.”

Maurice nodded. “I will. I know you didn’t mean it.” He exhaled heavily, then scratched his beard. “At least now she’s not sleeping the day away or staying up all night just sitting in Noam’s old room, staring at his baby pictures. This psychic stuff gets her out of the house. She goes to the library to get more books. She’s going to lectures and training sessions on the materials. She’s talking to people again. I’m not happy with her choice of topic either, but it’s inspired her to back into the world again. To me, that’s priceless, Viv.”

“I know, Mo. I’m so sorry. You know, anytime you want to talk, you can.”

Maurice nodded, then patted her hand on his arm. “Thanks.” He stepped out of her office looking a lot sadder than when he arrived.

Vivian sighed. She just stepped all over her tongue with Maurice. She remembered the depressing funeral. Since Maurice’s son Noam was Jewish, he was to be buried within twenty-four hours after his death. According to Jewish custom, his remains were not to be autopsied, but his parents had to find him first. At sixteen, Noam had shown such promise. Academically, he placed third or fourth in his graduating class of several hundred students from the private school for which his parents paid through the nose, eyes, ears, and mouth.

By twenty, Noam was dead of an overdose of heroin. He’d dropped out of school after a year of failing grades, promises to improve, and more failures. After he dropped out, he started hanging out with questionable people he’d met in the street. It turned out Noam’s “friends”—and Mo said the word using his fingers to make quote marks—were drug users just as he was. Once Mo and his wife accepted Noam was an addict, they tried all kinds of interventions, but nothing seemed to work longer than six or seven months. Mo said he and Ida had run out of options after paying for rehab in-state and then out of state four times.

The last thing they tried was a brand of tough love. They threw him out of their home, changing all the locks. They stopped taking his calls, texts, and emails begging for money. They saw Noam one more time before he disappeared. He broke into his used to-be-home to steal his mother’s jewelry, his father’s watches, iPod, three iPads, and any other small electronics he could cart away and sell quickly on the street.

The next time Mo and Ida heard from Noam, it was actually one of his street friends who called but wouldn’t leave his name. The caller claimed Noam was doing some dangerous drug combinations. He might overdose and die, the caller warned. A month later, the same caller said he’d heard Noam had overdosed. They should check city hospitals in the South Bronx and Manhattan’s Lower Eastside. He and Ida had been checking all the hospitals in the areas the caller suggested. They hadn’t found Noam or anybody who fit his description.

Vivian remembered going with Mo to check morgues in the area when Ida fell apart and refused to look for her baby among the unnamed dead. It was a horrid evening when she and Mo finally found his body after five days of sheer hell looking in the local morgues for Noam’s body. That was a terrible time for her good friend and his loving wife. Two years later, and they all were still trying to make sense of Noam’s life and his sudden death. She sighed. No child should die before his parents. It just wasn’t right.

Vivian rose from her antique-looking desk to walk over and look out the small window of her office. At least she finally had a window to look out of. In the hierarchy at Tillary Publishing, large windows were reserved for supervising editors and agents that brought in best-selling authors. Office location and window size told the publishing world how important the occupant was to the company. She gazed up at the gray clouds. Soon enough, it would be cold and snowy. But winter wasn’t here yet. Thank God, it was only late fall. A cool, late fall day but only a matter of months until Thanksgiving and Christmas.

She hated winter book tours the most. She was always hustling from one cold space to another cold place. The winter weather usually didn’t cooperate. Sometimes, they were late for the event. Correction, make that most times they were late either due to traffic delays because the old man didn’t like to spring for plane tickets on anybody but proven best-selling authors. Or they were late due to the bad weather. Book tours for her authors involved driving them wherever or taking Amtrak, provided they could do it cheaply. The old man’s version of cheap usually meant linking bookstore stops along a main train route or renting cheap cars to get from the main route to book signings and readings.

Once, as a new hire, she made the mistake of setting up one of her tours using a well-known bus service. The bus route was a miserable way to do a book tour. Bus seats weren’t made for sleeping comfortably through eight-hour plus rides. Bus schedules weren’t kept in a timely manner. She and her very patient author missed several book signings and reading events because the bus arrived really late and she was unable to contact the bookstores in time to re-schedule. Or the bus arrived so early she and the author had to rent a room for the day. That tour was a mess, but she took it as a learning experience. She never used that bus service again or any bus service unless she’d checked out the service personally.

She continued to gaze out the window, thinking about Maurice and his wife. She hoped he realized she’d been thoughtless in her comments about his wife. She also hoped he’d accepted her apology. Having loving parents with money to throw at their child’s education and later on the child’s problems was no guarantee the child would succeed. She guessed wealth, education, and intellect weren’t even a guarantee the child would live to see adulthood. She wondered, What did guarantee a child’s success in life?

Vivian turned away from the window when she heard the office phone ring. She walked over to pick up old-fashioned ivory rotary phone and sat down in her matching antique chair. She was proud of the old-fashioned but comfortable look and feel of her office. “Yes, Adele, what’s up?”

“Hi again, Miss Vivian. Ah hmm, Ms. Cox is down in the lobby. The new security guy said she had to call up here before he can send her to you.”

Vivian smiled as she pictured Stella Cox. She was probably pissed off in a big way.

Adele cupped a hand around the headset’s microphone and lowered her voice to whisper, “The guard said she’s really angry. He said she looked ready to punch him and the rest of the guys out or kick somebody’s ass. Maybe you could get down there, Miss Vivian. You know how to soothe folks. Ms. Cox sounds like she needs soothing.”

“Thank you for calling me, Adele. I’ve always appreciated your knowledge about what’s going on in the office. No matter what, you have a finger on the pulse here.”

Adele giggled. “Thank you, Miss Vivian. Can I tell Security you’re on your way down to escort Ms. Cox to your office?”

Vivian smiled. “Yes. I’m leaving now.” She rose from her desk, walked down the hallway, and nodded to other office holders as she made her way to the bank of elevators at the front of the building. The ones at the rear of the building were strictly for hauling freight to the different floors. She rode the elevator down to the first floor and stepped off, then walked around the corner to the security desk. The guard signaled with his eyes where the attractive but troublesome woman was standing. He didn’t need to do that. She could feel eyes on the back of her neck and turned around.

Stunning Stella Cox was ready to explode.

Vivian strode over to her sometime lover and reached out to stroke an arm through her leather coat. “Sugar, come to my office.”

Stella eyed Vivian, then sucked her teeth. She cut eyes at the security guard. “That asshole should be fired. He made me wait while he called reception. I imagine Adele hustled to call you.”

Vivian tried again to distract Stella. “Sugar, come to my office. Bet I can make you feel better, Baby.”

“Humph! I’m not in the mood anymore.” Stella continued to shoot daggers at the man behind the security desk. She was considering getting a couple of friends together to meet the bastard after his shift ended. She knew a couple of people who would do it as favor to get in her good graces and her panties. Another ballbreaker would charge her a couple of hundred, but he’d do a good job. The guard would remember her for the rest of his life. That is, every time he tried to walk without a limp. “He’s a effing, I don’t know what!” she muttered.

“Honey, stop messing with the man. He’s brand new here. It’s literally his first day.”

“I should call Old Man Tillary and make it his last day too!”

Vivian pretended to scold Stella. “Now, now, Baby Girl. Don’t be mean to the new guy. He didn’t know you weren’t dangerous … not to him anyway.” Vivian winked at her soon-to-be conquest if she played the game just right. “In that leather outfit, he doesn’t know how dangerous you are to my health. You could definitely give me a heart attack today. Don’t you dare go anywhere!” She marched over to the security desk and used the phone to call Adele.

Within several minutes, Adele brought her laptop briefcase, a leather shoulder bag that matched her shoes and topcoat that provided a nice contrast. “Your private chariot awaits you outside, Miss Vivian.” She eyed Stunning Stella, who still had plenty of steam coming out of her ears. Stella paced back and forth, snorting at the new guard like a bull ready to charge at the slightest provocation. “Good luck calming her down, Miss Vivian. She looks ready to explode,” she whispered.

Vivian grinned confidently at Adele, then squeezed her arm. “Or hot enough to … Well, you just fill in the blanks. Honey, I learned a long time ago, anybody that can get that angry has passion times ten in the bedroom when channeled in the appropriate direction. Tell Maurice I’ll call him later tonight about that book tour.”

Adele nodded. “Yes, Miss Vivian. I’ll tell him.”

Vivian tugged gently on Stella’s leather-covered arm. “Come, Baby Girl, let Mama show you something you’re gonna love.” Stella pouted, then sulked but allowed herself to be pulled into a private town car parked outside. The driver was leaning against the car, waiting to help his passengers into the rear. The nice thing about town cars was their privacy and their discreet drivers. “Driver, leave the door open until I tell you to close it.”

“So show me, Viv. Show me whatever shit you’re talking about.” Stella pulled away from her lover’s grip to place her hands on perfectly shaped, leather-covered hips.

Vivian perused her young lover. Her gaze—actually, a leer more than a gaze— started from the top of Stella’s relaxed blond fade to large dark eyes down an enticing neck, then cut to large succulent brown breasts emphasized by the tight V-neck tee. Her eyes lingered there for long moment, then she licked dry lips as her eyes traveled down a flat waist to the fly on the extra snug leather pants.

“God, Baby Girl, you know how much I love leather on you,” Vivian whispered, dropping her hands to reach out to stroke the fly on the leather pants with a palm. She pressed into Stella’s fly until Stella moaned, then rested her chin on Vivian’s shoulder. Vivian knew as soon as she heard the sensual sounds that Stella wasn’t angry anymore. Vivian also knew what came next. Stella would shift her locked-up-tight stance to wide open and offer up her lush body. Without seeing, just relying on touch, Vivian unbuttoned and unzipped Stella’s fly just enough to slide her hands into her snug pants to play. She searched through silky panties. “Where are you?” she sing-songed as she stroked, caressed, and dragged fingers across a hairless triangle just above her target.

“Oh shit, Viv,” Stella murmured, wiggling her crotch against the hands playing with her stuff. “Don’t tease me like this!”

“I can’t find her, Baby Girl,” Vivian taunted softly as she continued to drag her hands lightly up, then down hairless but juicy lips, feeling their readiness. She prayed she hadn’t guessed wrong. Stella loved PDA as much as she did. “Anybody can walk by and see us. Want me to stop searching?”

“Don’t stop.” Stella moaned louder, then leaned up, pulling Vivian’s head closer to thrust her tongue inside Vivian’s mouth. In, then out, faster and faster. Tongues whirling and twirling around each other. Lips meeting, sucking, licking, and kissing again.

“Driver, close the door.” Vivian’s fingers entered Stella’s core. “Take us home.”

Stella strained against them, fighting the climax but at the same time wanting it to last. Stella grabbed on to Vivian’s strong shoulders for balance so she could move slowly against the fingers inside her. “Oh God!” She shivered when Vivian’s thumb pad continued to stroke her clit. “You found her. Now fuck her good!” she rasped as she lost control of her body. She pushed Viv’s fingers deeper, humping like she’d never screwed before. She closed her eyes. She was exploding into Viv’s trusted hands. She became aware of Vivian’s sweating forehead resting against her forehead.

“Whew! Baby Girl, you may have to carry Mama upstairs to the bedroom.”

“You know I could do that with no problem. I love seeing you in this condition.” Stella pulled Vivian against her until she braced Vivian against the town car’s door. She nuzzled Vivian’s neck, tasting the salty dampness. “You’re all wet and sweaty. I worked you hard, huh?”

“What do you think?” Vivian sighed. She was suddenly sleepy, very sleepy. If they were at her place, she’d roll over in bed and take a nap. Usually, Stella found other ways to entertain herself until she emerged from her cocoon. Her video tape collection of classics was also available, as were her CDs, her Gameboy, and some video games she could hook up to the TV in the living room. Once Stella grew bored with non-human playthings, she’d wake up with Stella nuzzling her or tickling her or poking her until she opened one eye. Stella wanted to be petted and screwed until neither one of them could move another muscle.

Stella kissed Vivian’s forehead, then tilted her chin to look in her eyes. “You’re ready to fall asleep. We’ll be at your place in a few minutes, longer if you buy me dinner.”

Vivian covered a yawn with a manicured hand. She yawned again. “Baby Girl, you don’t look tired. Carry me upstairs when we get home. Bring Mama’s … ‘shit,’ to use your quaint terminology. We’ll do exactly as you say. You can order whatever you want for dinner.”

“Humph! If your security guy gives me a hard time again, no more cootchie for you,” Stella warned.

Vivian shrugged. At this point, she was tired, almost too tired to care what Stella said. An eternity later, she felt a hand brush her cheek, then somebody carried her inside her building. Before she knew it, she was back in her own place, napping in her own bed.

TWO: Welcome to the neighborhood

Patty Davis stretched her solid, muscular, six-foot frame, working the kinks out. It was nearly eight o’clock in the morning. She ran hands down her cornrolls, patting them in place, then she rose from the kitchen table. She’d gathered her breakfast dishes and Etta’s from the table to take them over to the sink.

“Hey!” Etta yelped, still trying to snatch the last piece of bacon from her plate. “Patty, that’s so rude. I’m not even done yet.”

“Christ, Etta! You are a pig.” Pat frowned as she set the dishes in the sink and ran hot water and a soapy sponge over them. “No, pigs stop eating sometimes. You’re a hog, just like your grandmother used to tell you.”

Etta giggled, then rose and walked over to help Pat. She dried and put away while Pat washed. “You’re just jealous I don’t gain any weight.”

Pat studied her best friend, noting her lanky form. They were almost Mutt and Jeff except that they were both tall. She was a little taller than Etta, but she was so much thicker. She sighed. “You’re right, you know. I wish I could eat what you eat and stay skinny like you.”

Etta smacked a considerable ass, then hefted her own breasts. “Humph! All of this says I’m not skinny, Pat Davis.”

Pat chuckled. “I knew that would get a rise out of you.”

Etta grinned. “You know me so well. We should have been sisters, Patty.”

“We are sisters, Etta,” Pat remarked and meant it.

They’d both lost people who raised them. Etta had lost her grandmother. Etta’s first year in college, her grandmother died of the “sugar,” as she called diabetes, so she’d come to live with her and her father. By graduation, she’d lost her own father to a heart attack. He died hooked up to machines keeping him alive. Every time she and Etta visited him, her father would beg them to turn the damned machine off and let him die in peace. She sighed. He finally died on his own. She always hated that he died alone while she and Etta were job hunting. Who even knew where their mothers were? That was what drew them together in junior high school. Discovering they both liked boys as friends but loved the way girls made them feel cemented their lifelong friendship.

Etta snapped her fingers in front of her nose, breaking the spell. “Come on, Patty, quit dreaming about getting some pussy. It’s time to go downstairs and open up our baby.”

Pat chuckled. “I’m not the one who flirts with all skirts who come into our baby. You chase the ones in pants too if they give you half a look back. Hell, even if they don’t return your heated looks, you’ll manage to convince them to try it. Then you tell them they might like it all the time.”

Etta giggled, then clapped Pat playfully on her broad back. “Damned straight, Partner! What would life be like without a little love in it?”

“It wouldn’t be worth living!” they said in unison, then laughed and slapped high five. They hustled down the new metal staircase, each woman trying to beat the other one to the bottom. As always, Etta reached the bottom first because she leaped over the bannister and landed safely on the ground floor. “You have to cook dinner while I wash the dishes.”

“Oh wow! What a surprise, Etta, especially since you cook like shit!” Pat remarked sarcastically. “You even burned up one of my best pans trying to boil water.”

“How many times do I have to apologize for that?”

“A replacement pot would certainly help.”

“I will. I will as soon as we meet payroll.” Etta placed a hand over her heart.

Meanwhile, Pat peeked around her back. “Crossing fingers behind your back nullifies everything you promise, Etta.”

Etta laughed. “Yeah, I know.” She marched outside, zipping up her hooded sweat shirt, then buttoning her jeans jacket over it. She rubbed her hands together, then blew on them for warmth. “Damn! It didn’t look this cold.”

Pat looked at the clear blue sky. She liked cold weather while Etta hated it. She liked sledding, ice skating, walks in snow-covered wooded areas. That wasn’t quite true. She made a correction. Change that to walks in nearby parks when she had the time. Having leisure time hadn’t happened lately. Since they’d opened the bookstore, she’d been busy running it and trying advertise for more customers. “Yep, winter’s gonna be here soon.”

Etta groaned. “And you can hardly wait to shovel snow and walk through the all slush and slop.” She kept rubbing her hands together, finally slipping them under her armpits for warmth. “Come on, Slowpoke. It’s cold out here. Hurry up and get the gates up so we can go inside.”

“If you’re that cold, Etta, go into the store through the rear hallway.”

Pat knew she wouldn’t do it. Etta hated tight spaces. Early on, she and Jimmy accidentally locked Etta inside the warehouse. She’d fallen asleep among the shelves that she was supposed to inventory. It was several hours later when Etta woke up that she started freaking out. She banged on the locked steel door, screaming and screaming. She forgot she had a cell phone or could use another exit through the rear door of the warehouse onto the cross street. It was the idea of being shut up in a seemingly inescapable space where the walls started closing in that freaked Etta out. There was no reasoning with her for days afterwards.

“You know that space is too tight for me. That’s why I try to avoid the office as much as I can.”

“Humph. It’s not so tight you haven’t, uh …” Pat paused, then closed her eyes to think of what to call it. “You christened the space with one of your lady friends.”

Etta giggled. “That’s so not true, Patty.” It was true, but why admit it? When it came to great sex, her claustrophobia went out the window as long as the sex kept coming and the woman did too. Keisha Briscoe had the greatest junk in the trunk she’d come across. They’d screwed everywhere they could. They did it in the store, the office, the warehouse, and her apartment upstairs. There were two places they couldn’t do it. Patty’s place because it just wasn’t right to do it there. It felt disloyal to dishonor Patty’s bedroom like that when Keisha suggested it one time. Of course, the other place they never did it was in Keisha’s bed. For reasons of safety, they couldn’t do it there. An image of Keisha’s lush, caramel-colored booty and red-brown triangle popped into her head. She groaned loudly, then adjusted her jeans around what was throbbing behind her fly. She wasn’t feeling the cold any longer. She unzipped her hoodie several inches, then unbuttoned her jeans jacket, leaving it hanging open.

Pat had unlocked the gates, then pressed the remote to raise the two gates. She eyed Etta’s state of undress as she unlocked the store’s front door. “Thought you were so cold a minute ago. Now you’re unbuttoning and unzipping.”

“Never mind about me. Just hurry up and open the door.”

Pat unlocked the door, then bowed and stepped aside. “Enter into the queendom, my cold, bossy friend.”

“That’s not funny, Patty.”

Etta looked beyond Pat to wave at their neighbors across street. The Wongs owned the laundry mat. They were open twenty-four hours a day, six and half days a week. Their four kids worked in the laundry. Anybody could find them washing, folding, pressing, and delivering clothes after school and before school to help their parents. Two of the kids were avid readers, so in exchange for English lessons and book loans, she charmed their mother into washing and folding their dirty clothes once a week.

She liked the neighborhood they’d chosen to set up shop. Most of the shops were small mom and pop operations with families and friends working for the owners. Like the Wongs, the shopkeepers of East Street worked hard and long. They expected their employees, whether family or not, to work just as hard and long as they did.

Pat turned around to see who caught Etta’s attention. She grinned when she saw Mrs. Wong sweeping the sidewalk in front of the laundry. She stepped outside to greet her. “Morning, Mrs. Wong. Send one of the boys over to check out the new books.”

“Yes, Patty, I do today later. I say it right?”

Pat steepled her hands together as in a prayer, then bowed. “Yes, it’s perfect.”

Mrs. Wong smiled and returned her bow. “I send over boy and girl when school over.”


Etta poked Pat in the side. “Her perfect English could use some correct tense and adjective replacement therapy.”

“When you learn to speak Chinese, we’ll talk, Etta.”

“Morning, Senoritas!” Ernie Gonzales shouted, then waved from across the street and up the block.

Not to be outdone, his nephew from the bodega across the street whistled at them, then yelled, “Hey, Pat, Etta, how goes it?”

The two women looked at their counterparts farther down the block.

The two bodegas sat across the street from each other. Their owners were outside setting garbage out for pickup. A father and his sons owned the first one to open called Gonzales & Sons. The father’s brother Ernie owned the second one called Ernie’s. They stayed open longer than the laundry mat. Both stores were open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The two brothers came from and had produced large families, so sons, daughters, in-laws, cousins, and younger siblings worked interchangeably at both stores.

“Have a good day, guys,” Pat remarked, waving.

“It’s going great,” Etta responded.

Next door to the bookstore was a dollar store that wasn’t open yet. They didn’t open until nine thirty or ten o’clock most days. They closed eleven hours later between eight thirty and nine o’clock.

They stood looking at the block known as East Street, noting the Mickey D and a drug mart on the opposite corner from the bodegas. School kids were going in and out of both bodegas and Mickey D’s on their way to school. A couple of the teenagers stopped by to ask if they had this book or that book. The liquor store in the middle of the block wasn’t open yet, but the check cashing place was open and selling million-dollar dreams.

“Hey, we just opened up. Drop by after school and we’ll check for you,” Etta remarked.

“Yes, people, hustle up before you miss that bus and you’re late again.” Pat issued a gentle reminder to the kids.

Etta and Pat grinned, watching the older kids stroll down the street as if the bus would wait for them while the younger ones raced to catch the same bus. Two school bus drivers honked, hoping to make the bigger kids run, but they were too cool for that. Instead, they waved dismissive hands or made obscene gestures at the drivers.

“Do you ever want kids?” Etta asked. She watched one woman holding a little boy’s hand. The young woman joined several other mothers walking with their under-school-age kids. They walked as a group to a different bus stop waiting for a smaller bus to take their kids to the local daycare so they could go to work or stay at home with their younger children. The woman holding her son’s hand kept looking back at Etta as she walked down the other side of the street.

The young woman stood out from the other mothers. She looked like a young professional dropping the kid off on her way to work. She didn’t have that stay-at-home-with-the-kids, slightly frazzled look of the other neighborhood mothers. She wore a black and dark brown checkered woolen skirt, brown leather ankle boots, an ivory turtleneck blouse under a tailored brown pea coat, and a matching tam. She slung an expensive brown leather Coach bag over a shoulder. Etta knew exactly how much the Coach bag cost because she’d bought it for Keisha Briscoe.

Pat watched Etta watching Keisha and sighed. “Etta, be cool. Let her take her kid to the bus. Let her go to work. Christ. Why don’t you just stay away from the woman before you both get caught? She has a husband. She likes the penis, Etta.”

“No, she has a jealous asshole who doesn’t appreciate how wonderful she is. I do appreciate. I plan on appreciating her until she decides to leave him. And she loves pussy.”

“No, you love her pussy. She just loves how you love her junk and her trunk.”

Etta giggled. “Where did you learn that lingo? I believe the appropriate term is ‘junk in the trunk.’”

Pat sighed. “You know what I meant.”

They both entered the bookstore to start another day of work.

Across the street from the bookstore, Mrs. Wong finished sweeping the sidewalk in front of the laundry mat and went back inside.

“I see you to talk to book lady, Mrs. Wong.”

“Yes, I like to.”

Mr. Wong shrugged. “They different, Mrs. Wong.”

“What different mean, Mr. Wong?”

“Junior say they different. I say what different. He say they like Uncle Charlie back home.”

Mrs. Wong gasped. “Uncle Charlie dead. They die too?”

Mr. Wong waved an excited hand at his wife. “No, no, they not die too. Uncle Charlie…” He searched for the words. “They bitten peaches. They tongxinglian.”

Mrs. Wong laughed, then nodded. “I know. Etta say.”

Mr. Wong folded his arms over his chest. “Humph! Etta talk much to women. I see her all time.”

Mrs. Wong flicked her husband’s arm with her thumb and forefinger. He tried not to show pain. “I like Etta. She nice to us.”

Mr. Wong nodded. “I like her too.”

Meanwhile, further down the block, Keisha and the rest of the young mothers walked by both of the Gonzales boys. One cousin pulled heavily loaded garbage cans to the curb while the other cousin swept the sidewalk in front of the bodega owned by their uncle and his son. Both young men stopped sweeping to ogle the women but directed most of their comments to Keisha Briscoe today.

“Keisha, o-o-o Mommy, you look so good this morning.” He patted his fly. “I got something for you that you gonna like.”

His cousin interrupted to add his viewpoint to the conversation. “Mamacita, I got more for you than he does.” He rolled up his sleeves to flex biceps, then pulled up his shirt to show off his rock hard abs.

Their aunty watched from the window of the bodega. She decided to disrupt both of her fresh-mouthed nephews. She grabbed a broom, then snuck up behind both of them. “Okay, Mr. Fly, let’s what you got.” She whopped his butt with the broom until he yelped. “And you, Mr. Muscles, show your Tia how strong you are now!” She whacked his back with the broom until he begged her to stop.

Keisha, along with the women and some of the children in the group, pointed and laughed as the boys tried to avoid more broom whacks from their aunty. The group called out encouragement for the aunty to keep whipping the boys’ smart-mouthed asses. They even stood and watched for a long moment. Then they shouted their thanks to the aunt as they walked on toward the buses. They were glad somebody stopped the lewd remarks they had to endure whenever these particular cousins were sweeping or setting out the trash.

Inside the warehouse, Etta’s cell phone rang as she was lifting a box from one of the shelves to sort through it. She’d stacked several piles of books in the first three aisles that they could discount and put in the bins outside. “Hello, Roots, Routes, Reading, & Writing Bookstore. How may I help you today?”

“You could help me by unlocking your apartment door and doing everything I tell you to do to me when I get inside.”


“Yes, I want everything.”

“Ah, so you want the 4-R special today, huh?”

“I’d rather have the Etta special. If she’s not available, I’ll take what I can get.”

“What time do you want delivery?”

“Oh, I think as soon as possible works for me.”

“Hmm, that is so funny.”

“What’s that?”

Etta stroked her chin. “Well ... ASAP works for me too. Meet you there in fifteen. Use the building entrance. Come around the back way through the side street.”

“Make it ten.”

Etta laughed. She flipped her phone closed and slipped it into a back pocket. She walked out of the warehouse and locked the door. She poked her head into the office. “Patty, I’m going upstairs to see if I left the water on.” She grinned, then winked. “It may take a while to check all the pipes.”

Pat cut her eyes at Etta. “Did you at least pull out books we could put on sale?”

“Yep. I left ‘em stacked in the aisles where you could find ‘em easily.”

“Okay. I’d tell you to have fun with those pipes, but you don’t need me to say it. Etta, just …” Pat sighed. “Be careful, huh. Have her use the back door, huh.”

“I ain’t stupid, Patty. I already did.”

“Yeah, yeah, Etta, see you when I see you. Say hello to Keisha for me.” Pat shook her head as she watched her partner stroll out the front door, then go next door to the building’s entrance. One of these days, Etta was going to leave with Keisha. She’d send her an email from some faraway place with pictures attached. They were living together and were finally happy. She’d need a new partner when that happened. She sighed and went back to book orders and checking the financial ledgers. She also had to decide if she wanted to hold the senior yoga classes in the open space today or not. Etta was better at charming the dozen or so old ladies and two old men into their poses than she was.

Later on that afternoon, she was laughing with the children who were gathered on floor pillows in the center of the bookstore’s floor. They were doing show and tell with the pictures they’d drawn after story hour. Several senior citizens joined in her laughter. This was always the best part of senior story hour. The children illustrated what they heard and understood from the stories seniors read to them from their dairies, letters, or told as first hand eye-witnesses. The children’s fanciful interpretations were always interesting as well as mind blowing at times. Everybody always enjoyed themselves at the event. The bookstore supplied the supplies, space, and the refreshments. The children and the seniors supplied the stories and the fun.

THREE: Hello, I’m Melba Farris

Vivian woke the next morning with Stella’s nipple in her mouth and Stella’s hand on her hand, guiding it into her warm cavity. “Baby Girl wants Mama to wake up and fuck her this morning. You fell asleep last night and wouldn’t wake up to finish what you started with me.” Large dark eyes closed when Vivian took over the activities.

An hour later, Vivian sat at her breakfast table, sipping a freshly made French vanilla dark and sweet as she read the NY Times book review. She couldn’t concentrate on the article. Stella’s beautiful face and stunning body kept drifting into her head, screwing up her ability to think about anything else. Stella could be so selfish and so demanding, but she also looked so good lying in her bed or hanging on her arm when they went anywhere together. Walking down the street caused a stir among the male population as they ogled her magnificent swaying ass or her lush breasts. As for the females who figured out what was going on, they caught her eye and winked or gave her an okay signal. She loved all the attention Stella brought with her, but she was beginning to wonder if it was worth it. By the end of their lovemaking sessions, she was deeply unsatisfied and usually so very tired. Hmm. “Lovemaking” was the wrong terminology. They were sheer sex sessions where she screwed Stella every which way but loose until she came multiple times while Stella messed with her by not screwing her.

She sighed, folded the paper, and stuffed it in her briefcase. She put her dishes in the sink. She’d wash them when she returned home tonight. It was time to begin a rough draft of the book tour Maurice demanded that she go on with her new writer, Melba Farris. She decided to take the subway rather than a cab service. With Stella already gone, she felt cabbing to work was a waste of money. Stella was the one who demanded town cars, taxi cabs, and even rental cars to get her anywhere she wanted to go. Stella said it made her feel so special and different to be driven around the town while the little people took trains, buses, or walked.

On the other hand, she actually loved taking trains. She enjoyed trying to read the paper on a noisy bumpy ride or simply people-watching while listening to snatches of conversations and trying to fill in the gaps that weren’t said. She regarded subways like she regarded the green lady, the Staten Island Ferry, and the Empire State Building. They were the icons that made New York the Big Apple. Without them, the city was another apple in a barrel full of big city apples. She deliberately left out the Twins in her descriptions. They had weathered too many undeclared wars. Their stories were just too sad to contemplate. She walked the few blocks to the closest station and joined thousands of New Yorkers who were also waiting for early morning trains.

Good morning, Adele. How are you today?” Vivian remarked. Stopping by the reception desk had become a regular routine between the two women. Vivian regarded the young woman as the little sister she never had rather than a potential love interest. Although she got a distinct sexual vibe from the young woman, she’d never act on it. Based on some of the questions Adele asked and didn’t ask, she was still trying to figure out her sexual orientation. While Vivian liked her women younger, she also liked them sure of who they were in bed. She thought nothing was sexier than a confident bed partner. She smiled. That included confidence outside the bedroom too. Right now, stunning Stella fit that description perfectly.

Adele adjusted her headset, then held up a finger indicating she was on a call. “Yes, Ma’am, I’ll check that for you. Hold, please.” She pressed another button. “Please hold.” She pressed another button and nodded. “I’ll see if she’s in yet. Please hold.” She grinned at Vivian, then winked. “Are you in yet? You’re a popular woman today. All these calls are for you.” She looked down at her buttons. “Line one is Stella. Two is Maurice. Three is one of your new authors, Melba Farris.”

Vivian raised a hand to cover her heart. “Tell Stella I swear to God I will call her right back. I promise.”

Adele giggled. “Miss Vivian, you always say that, but you never do. Stella stays pissed at you.” She winked. “Yesterday, she wasn’t smiles when I brought your stuff down to you. She looked like she wanted to kill everybody. I hope you worked some magic on her when you two got home.”

Vivian grinned, then patted Adele’s hand. “You are far too young to hear about my magical moves.”

“Am I too young too?” Maurice remarked, rubbing the small of Vivian’s back. “We need to talk about your book tour.”

Vivian groaned. “I just got here, Mo. I haven’t even put my stuff down.”

Maurice moved closer to whisper, “You could put your stuff down on me anytime if it made me feel as good as Stunning Stella looks when she leaves your office.”

“Mo, you realize you’re walking a thin line that leads to sexual harassment charges, don’t you?”

Maurice stepped back in pretend surprise. “What, me? You need witnesses for that, don’t you?” He eyed Adele, giving her a hard look. “I doubt very seriously if you have any witnesses. Most people would be afraid for their jobs. There are very few people around like you who don’t need the money and do the work for pleasure it gives them.”

Vivian’s eyes narrowed at Maurice, but she didn’t say anything. She grabbed her briefcase and her handbag and walked away. “Adele, honey, tell Melba Farris I’m on my way to my office. I’ll call her back in two minutes unless she chooses to hold.”

“Yes, Miss Vivian, I’ll tell her right now.”

Maurice watched Vivian marched down the hallway to her office and sighed, then shook his head. “All that sensuality and sexiness. She likes women as much as I do. What huge waste of exquisite womanhood. What do you think, Adele? I am right or what?”

Adele held up a finger as she pretended to take another call. She flipped a button to make it look right. “Hello, this is Adele from Tillary Publishing. How may I direct your call today?” She sighed when Mr. Altman finally walked back to his office. He was an asshole. She wondered why Miss Vivian didn’t ream his ass out. She was fearless in her opinions. She had no problem expressing them most times.

Before Vivian reached her office, she’d made a decision. She decided she wasn’t calling Stella back. Today, she didn’t need the distractions speaking to Stella would give her. She rubbed her temples. Sometimes their phone sex got so raunchy, she ended up closing her office door to take care of a raging clit while she listened to Stella and a friend take care of each other. She sighed as she hung up her coat. In the back of her mind, she wondered if this was going to be her life forever. Could one woman ever be enough for her? She didn’t think so. Her phone rang as she sat down at her desk. “Yes, Adele?”

“Ms. Farris is back on line three.”

“Thanks. Adele?”

“Yes, Miss Vivian?”

“If he ever bothers you or approaches you in a way you don’t like, come see me. I’ll take care of it, okay?”

“Yes, Miss Vivian, I will. Miss Vivian, do you think I could be gay?”

“Adele, honey, that’s something only you know.” Vivian sighed. “Lucky people know almost as soon as they discover sex, what they like and who they like. For the rest of us, we kind of stumble around trying to figure it all out. We make mistakes. We cause hurts without meaning to simply because we’re trying to figure out who we are.”

“Oh.” Adele sighed. “Oh.”

Vivian frowned with another thought. “Honey, is there somebody you’re interested in?”

“Hmm, I wish. No, not yet. I’m just trying to prepare for when there is somebody.”

Vivian smiled at her innocence. “There is no preparation that I can think of that works. You meet her or him. Something like an explosion goes off in your head. You know that he or she is the one. Or so they say. I’ve never been so fortunate to find that special lady.” She sighed with longing. “I’ll keep looking, though. Anyway, transfer the call, Adele. We’ve kept her waiting long enough.”

“Oh my, I almost forgot she was holding. Talk to you later, Miss Vivian.”

Vivian chuckled. She liked the young woman with her wild curly mop of dark hair that always seemed untamable. Her large dark eyes were filled with such innocence and hope. It was too bad all the women she knew would devour Adele like a tiny snack, spit her out, and go on to the next victim. She’d love to introduce Adele to a nice girl her own age with a bit more experience to serve as a teacher. Unfortunately, she didn’t know anybody like that. She didn’t have the time or the desire to do it herself. Office romances were always a bitch when the two parties broke up. Co-workers always took sides, which left the workplace a messy battleground too. She’d been through enough office romances herself as the involved party or the outside observer to know just how screwed up things could become. “Nope, stay away from them at all costs,” she murmured just as her phone rang.

“Hi, Vivian.”

“Hello, Melba. How are things with you?”

Melba groaned. “I never realized how much marketing there is to do for a book. I thought writing the book was it and you all did the rest. That’s nowhere near true, is it?” She sighed. “Don’t even answer. I already know the answer. I have a radio interview for some station that I never heard of. Then there’s some one-on-one interviews for the newspapers. Print media people is the phrase I heard used. Maurice called to say you and I need to set up a book tour. I thought the worst thing about writing a book was taking an author photograph. I hate being photographed.” She chuckled. “I never look like the ‘me’ I want to be.” She sighed again. “God, I’m sorry to burden you with my complaints this morning. I’m sure you didn’t mean for me to tell you how things really were, did you?”

Vivian chuckled. She liked Melba’s frankness. “Not exactly, but I’m glad you did. I want honesty from my authors. If something doesn’t work for you, tell me about it. We’ll talk and see how we find another solution. For now, let’s talk about schedules and availability.”

Melba grinned. She could get to like Vivian Johnson. “Okay, sure. I’m open to that.”

Maurice tapped on Vivian’s door, then invited himself inside while she was on the phone with another bookseller. She’d turned around to face the single window in her office. “Aw, come on, Craig. Sweetheart, do it for me, p-l-e-a-s-e. You know you’re a good guy. I can guarantee you’ll fill all hundred and fifty-one seats for both readings.” She frowned and rubbed her temples. “When did it become one hundred and fifty-one, Craig? The last time I was there, your store only seated eighty people maximum. You wouldn’t be trying to slip one over on me, would you?”

She covered a groan and rolled her eyes upward as she spun her chair around. She caught Maurice’s eye, then made one hand into a chattering sock puppet every time she said “yes, Craig.” “Yes, Craig. We’ll be there on time. Yes, Craig. Books will be delivered five days ahead of the reading. Yes, Craig. We’ll give you an author discount. Yes, Craig. We’ll pay to ship whatever you don’t sell back at our expense. Yes, Craig. We’ll be there ninety minutes to an hour before each reading. No, Craig. We won’t set up. We will send you the displays we want used. We think you’ll want to keep them, but if you want to send them back with the extra books you don’t sell, be my guest.”

Vivian sighed. “Craig, sweetie, I’m telling you there won’t be any of her books left on your shelves. Yes, Craig. You will fill all the seats. Humph! Make it white roses, Craig.” She hung up the phone, then collapsed face down on her desk, which muffled her voice. “God, how did I let you talk me into this, Mo?”

“You know you’re the best at this, Vivian.”

“I haven’t done this crap in a long time for a good reason. I just remembered why.”

“How many more calls do you have to make?”

Vivian sat up to run her hands through her hair. Leaving her hands folded behind her neck, she rocked in her chair before she spoke. “Need to make or have to make, Mo?”

Maurice practically leered at her thrust out chest, then caught himself and chuckled. “Hey, the old man and I appreciate what you’re doing for the company.”

“Put it in my next paycheck. Maybe I’ll believe you.” Vivian sighed. “My gut says this author is going to be a bestseller. She’ll make a slow start but build up to it. I think she’s going to fill seats wherever we go.”

“Okay, I’ll contact our friends in the news media and see what we work out. Have you started on updated press releases for the book yet?”

Vivian nodded. “I’ll email them to you.” She pulled up her screen, searched for the right file, and sent it to Maurice’s email. “I’d like to do treats, Mo, and giveaways.”

Maurice rose, then rubbed his chin. “We go fifty and fifty with the larger retailers.”

“No, let me choose which of the smaller ones. I want this to be classy and intimate, Mo. We pay for it. We choose the trinkets and sandwiches.”

Maurice nodded. “I have to ask the old man, but it sounds like the numbers will be smaller.”

“They will be. It may cost us in the beginning, but we’ll more than make it up on the back end.”

Maurice grinned. “Is Yes Craig small or big?”

Vivian groaned. “He’s a pain in my ass is what he is.”

“And such a nice ass it is, Vivian Johnson.” Maurice ducked, then quickly closed the door behind him before a roll of scotch tape hit the door. He wiggled the fingers in his ears and stuck his tongue out at her through the door glass.

Vivian giggled, then tossed a rubber eraser at the door. It bounced harmlessly off the door and landed on the floor. She needed that piece of comic relief before she called the next thirty bookstores on her list. Her phone rang.

“Yes, Adele?”

“It’s Miss Melba Farris on line one. She wants to speak with you about the tour.”

Vivian exhaled. She hadn’t finished making calls yet. What could Melba Farris possibly want now?

“Any idea why she called specifically, Adele?”

“She just said it’s about tours, lists, and stuff. She said you and she should talk now.”

Vivian rubbed her temples. Newbie authors could be real pains. They needed hand-holding for everything from bad reviews to good reviews to what to write during book signings and what to say at book readings. She hadn’t spent much time with Melba Farris. So far, they had communicated through phone calls and emails. Maybe it was time to invite her to the office for a chat.

“Ask her if we sent a car, could she come to the office later on today?”

Adele giggled.

Vivian didn’t have time for games today. She had too much work for that. “Okay, Adele, what’s the joke?”

“You don’t need to send a car. I’m looking at her right now. She didn’t want to disturb you. She was in the area. I said you were pretty cool about new authors stopping by without an appointment. I said I’d call upstairs just to double check.” Adele watched the well-dressed, chubby older woman with the salt and pepper afro motion that she stepping across the street to buy coffee. “Was that okay, Miss Vivian?”

Vivian wanted to jump through the phone and kick some receptionist ass. She couldn’t very well do that. She liked Adele too much. “Yes, Adele, that was okay to tell her that. I’ll clear my schedule for the next hour.”

“I can help with that.”

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