Entanglements Sneak Peek: Prologue + Chapter One
© K.L. Hall and www.authorklhall.com, 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K.L. Hall and www.authorklhall.com with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.
Prologue—This Shit Feels Like Teenage Fever
Darius Adams lived in the core of my thoughts from as far back as the first grade, to be exact. He was the first boy I’d ever fallen in love with. I was six years old, playing on the playground where my best friend, Chesnee Dinkins, and I noticed him. He was a young, little Black boy with a big head and a smile that could melt just about any six-year-old girl’s heart at the time. Chesnee and I even used to count how many D’s we had in our full names just to see who was destined to be with him. We were both tied with one ‘D’ each. The minute we discovered his favorite color was green, we swore it was ours, too, even though I despised anything that had to share the color of puke or Oscar the Grouch.
One day after lunch, when the teachers lined our classes up beside each other, Darius got a girl to do his bidding by asking me out for him.
“Darius wants to know if you’ll go out with him,” she chimed in a medley of whispers and giggles.
Like the nervous soul I was back then, I quickly declined his offer with a simple “no.” To this day, I didn’t know why the word flew off my tongue so fast. Not even a whole ninety seconds later, he asked out Chesnee. Guess what her answer was? The two of them remained a “couple” until the fifth grade, and by then, the feelings for my first-grade crush faded, but only temporarily.
By the time I reached middle school, Darius had somehow returned to my heart. He had a crazy growth spurt and was much taller. He was always rocking some bushy-ass, straight-back cornrows. Even at the tender, know-nothing age of twelve, I knew we would be together, get married, have children, and grow old together. That was until I realized I’d gone from the six-year-old apple of his eye to just another face in the sea of fast middle school girls, some of whom were far more advanced than I was. I remember begging to be dropped off at the skating rink on the weekends just to see him and be ignored or get no more than a wave and a church hug. For years, I kept my feelings to myself because he’d made it clear I was in the friend zone.
As the years rolled by, I became more and more comfortable living in the shadows of his other “girlfriends.” By the time we’d transitioned from big middle schoolers to the small fish in a big pond as freshmen in high school, his popularity skyrocketed. He made the basketball team effortlessly and quickly became one of the school’s top basketball stars. He averaged over a dozen points a game, yet I was just another face in the crowd of adoring fans.
Things changed the summer before our sophomore year. I had a boyfriend then, but Darius and I would text occasionally. One morning, after both my parents left for work, Darius snuck over. He was the first boy I’d ever dared to sneak into my house. The two of us hung out for much of the day, just talking and watching music videos on TV. Right before he was about to leave, it happened. He kissed me. His lips were cold and moist, and his breath lacked minty freshness, but I couldn’t have cared less. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be his girl and would do anything to be his one and only.
One of my biggest flaws was that I had a way of following my heart’s desires instead of listening to my rational mind. That flaw led me to Darius’s house one night after work, wearing a short jean skirt. I left there with my second kiss that night. It felt like the first time all over again, but better, as far as seventeen-year-old boys go. A week later, I was in his room, lying on his mattress while looking up at the makeshift curtain in the form of a fleece blanket he’d flung against the window to keep the sunlight out. I glanced over at the neon red digital clock perched on the edge of his dresser; my cup runneth over with nervous energy. It was already late, and I knew I had to get home soon, but not before getting the one thing I’d fantasized about for years.
“We can do it, but only for five minutes,” I cautioned.
By the time our junior year rolled around, I had thought I’d finally put in enough work to get him to commit fully. We’d been talking more and spending more time together behind closed doors. He nicknamed me “Too Short” because he towered a clear foot and a half over me. I was special because he thought I was.
As the year flew by, the deeper in love we fell. I wanted Darius more than air sometimes, to the point where I probably would’ve done anything he’d asked of me.
In one of our late-night conversations a few weeks before Christmas, he confided in me that Christmas was a holiday he never liked to see coming because he’d never been one to get a lot of gifts. I wanted to change that. I loved him that much. I wanted him to have a Christmas he’d never forget, so I spent my entire paycheck on him and his family. Darius even bought me a gift: a necklace with a red pendant and matching earrings that couldn’t have cost more than a ten spot. It didn’t matter if he’d spent $500 or only one red cent; it was the thought that counted for me. It showed me we were finally on stable ground, finally on the same page. There was no doubt in my mind we’d be ringing in the new year together as an official couple, and all the times I’d faded to the background and waited in the shadows would’ve been worth it.
Heartbreak set in two days after Christmas when Darius cowardly sent a Myspace message to my friend, Olivia, telling her to relay the message to me that he had a new girlfriend and to tell me he was sorry. Crushed was an understatement. He annihilated me and didn’t even have the guts to do it to my face.
As vocal as I was about being done with him, I secretly held out, watching numerous females run in and out of his life, only to remain last in line.
“Don’t forget about us.”
Those were the four words Darius penned in my yearbook our senior year. Throughout high school, he’d mastered turning me on and off like a light switch. I allowed him to siphon all my love and self-worth until we walked across the stage, about to start the next chapter of our lives and leave the memories of our adolescence and teenage years behind.
That was when the shot clock expired.
Chapter One—Run, Don’t Walk
Eleven years later.
Many tears and many years later, I made sure that forgetting about us was precisely what I did. It had been over ten years since I’d graduated from high school, and I was living alone in an upscale, two-bedroom condo in Maryland, a few hours away from my small hometown and the meddlesome drama. I had a popular love column in an edgy, online publication, The Heartbeat, and zero kids or relationship ties. At twenty-nine years young, I considered myself a minimalist in the love department. I was simply having fun in my twenties and “living the life,” as my mama would call it.
A few days before Christmas, I beat the DC metro area holiday traffic and hit the interstate to head down to Virginia to pay my family and friends a visit. My tires kicked up dirt when I turned onto the dusty back road. I scanned the familiar scenery zooming past my windshield. I hadn’t come home for a visit in at least six or seven months, yet everything was the same. From the old-timey stoplights to the people, all stagnant.
“I’m so glad I’m out of this place,” I mumbled as I drove my car up my mother’s winding, gravel driveway.
I hadn’t even gotten my suitcase out of the trunk before Rusty, my mother’s oversized golden retriever, burst out of the front door with my mother in tow.
“Rusty!” I shrieked joyfully, kneeling to rub him behind his big, floppy ears.
“Aw, he’s such a big ol’ baby when you’re around,” Mama interjected. “All that guard dog stuff flies right out the window when he sees you.”
A warm smile spread across my face. “As long as he’s not this friendly with strangers, we’re good.”
“Go on in the house with Rusty. I’ll grab your suitcase,” she offered as she shooed me inside her cozy, memory-filled home.
“So, what’s new, Mama?” I quizzed her when she entered the living room.
“Oh, nothing, you know me.”
I dipped my chin in a nod. “Yeah, I know. Work, church, more work, and then more church.”
“You are exactly right, and I hope you plan on going with me on Sunday before you head back up to Maryland,” she encouraged.
I rolled my eyes skyward, knowing she was not going to let up on me about going to church until I was squished in between two pews bright and early on Sunday morning. “Yeah, sure. I’ll go,” I agreed.
She flashed a smile of approval. “Good. Do you plan on seeing your father while you’re in town this time?”
I shrugged off her question. “I’ll give him a call, I guess.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s still your father, Nia.”
I expelled a loud sigh. “I know that.”
My parents divorced when I was nineteen years old. My father seemed to have moved out and moved on simultaneously, while my mama remained alone, cloaking herself with “the word.” I didn’t care how insightful the Bible was; what was it good for if it couldn’t keep her warm at night? Deep down, I wanted her to find someone and be just as happy as my father was, but at the same time, I didn’t think I could ever be okay with calling some other man my stepfather.
“She’s nice, you know?”
“Who, Carol?” I asked, letting my voice sour when my father’s girlfriend’s name rolled off my tongue.
“Yeah. I ran into her a few weeks ago in the grocery store. She spoke and smiled.”
“A few weeks ago? Why are you telling me this now when we speak almost daily?”
Mama lazily shrugged her narrow shoulders. “Must’ve slipped my mind, I guess.”
I shot her the side-eye. “Mm-hmm.”
“So, how’s the column going?” she asked, changing the subject.
“It’s going well. I’m just cranking out material as it comes to me.”
“I tell everybody about you, you know? I’m so proud of you.”
“Yes, I know. You tell me all the time.”
“Makes a person feel good, knowing they raised somebody right. You’ve got your own place, car, and a good career doing something you love. There are so many people who can’t say that, Bug.”
I smiled when she called me by my nickname. She’d called me Bug for as long as I could remember. “I know, and I owe it all to you and Dad, but mainly you.”
“And God. Never forget God,” she added.
“Of course not.”
“Well, I’m about to get dinner started. I’ll let you relax and kick your feet up for a bit.”
“What’s on the menu tonight?”
“Meatloaf and baked macaroni and cheese.”
“Yum! I’m going to write. Let me know if you need help with anything in the kitchen.”
I retired down the hallway to my childhood room that looked like it could’ve been in a museum. Nothing had been touched or moved since I’d left for college.
I grabbed my MacBook and flung myself across the bed. With the holidays approaching, I knew I needed to crank out at least one more article and send it to my editor before the new year commenced.
I woke up the following day to my mama gently shaking my shoulders. “Bug, get up,” she whispered.
“Whaaatttt?” I whined, trying to escape her grasp.
“Wake up. I need you to run to the store for me and grab a few things.”
“Why can’t you do it? I’m tired. I’ve got jet lag,” I groaned.
“Jet lag? You live all of two hours away, if that. Now get up and get going. I’ve got gifts to wrap with the missionaries at church this morning.”
“Fine,” I groaned again before rolling over to swipe my phone off the nightstand.
It was seven o’clock on a Saturday, which meant it was barely light outside and too early to care about my appearance. I threw on a pair of black velour joggers, my favorite Howard University hoodie, a black peacoat, and a cozy pair of UGG boots before heading out the door with my keys, purse, and Mama’s grocery list in tow.
I’d purposefully neglected to run a comb through my hair or toss back a swig of mouthwash before leaving. Instead, I sat in the parking lot for a few extra minutes, smoothing out my matted curls before tossing them up into a bun, wiping the cold out of my eyes, and popping a piece of spearmint gum in my mouth before hopping out. After entering the store and pulling out the list, I grabbed a cart and started going down the aisles, grabbing groceries, and tossing them in the rickety basket, one by one. I had one final item to get when I heard someone call out my name. I instinctively snapped my neck toward the voice and could’ve sworn my eyes were playing tricks on me. It can’t be him. Not after all these years.
“Nia? Is that you?” the man asked, inching closer to me.
I swallowed hard. “Darius?”
A smile dominated his handsome face. “Damn, I thought that was you.”
At six-foot-two, he still towered over me in height, much like he did throughout high school. The years allowed him to fill out in all right places with broad, muscular shoulders and an athletic build. His butterscotch skin still looked as fresh as the day he turned seventeen. Outside of the raven-colored full beard that stretched across the lower half of his round face, his black-framed glasses were the only thing that was noticeably different about him.
“How have you been?” I asked, smoothing my shaky hand over the back of my neck while cursing myself for not putting on mascara so I didn’t look like a damn gopher.
“I’ve been great. How about you?” he quizzed as his fingertips gently grazed my arm. His touch immediately sent a swarm of butterflies spiraling through the pit of my stomach.
“I’ve been good. Can’t complain.” I paused. “And you still look great for what it’s worth. Ain’t changed a bit.” I chuckled, trying to extinguish my butterflies with nervous giggles.
A soft smile traversed his lips. “Thanks. You look great yourself. Still as beautiful as ever.”
I turned my head, careful not to let him see my lips dancing around a smile. I gave myself a mental high-five for getting that gym membership and putting it to good use. “So, uh, what do you do now? Still live around here?” I asked, continuing the conversation.
“I’m the chief marketing officer for a sports marketing firm in DC, but yeah, I’m still around the way. Not too far from town.”
I dipped my chin in a nod. “That’s cool.”
“What about you?”
“Me? Oh, um, I’m a writer for an online magazine. But I, uh, live in Maryland now in, uh, Bowie. I’m just in town, visiting for the holidays. You know how that goes.”
I didn’t know why the hell I was suddenly stuttering and stammering over my tongue. Something about his presence held my breaths hostage and made me as nervous as my former teenage self.
“That’s wassup. My wife loves Maryland. We vacation in Ocean City every summer.”
“Wife?” I asked, sounding more surprised than elated as my eyes dropped to his ring finger.
Sure enough, there was a platinum gold band wrapped around it. Instantly, my heart sank to the ground, and I felt my complexion turn from light brown to as red as it could for my skin tone.
“Yeah, Lennox and I have been married for about seven years now.”
“Wow.” I paused. “I mean, congrats. That’s so awesome! I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks. Well, I’ve got to run. I’ve got to get back to my mom’s house and pick up my son. It was nice running into you, though.”
I felt a lump growing inside my throat that was the size of a melon. Not only did Darius’s ass have a wife, but a son, too. I mustered up a head nod. “Yeah, um, you too,” I said before swiftly turning my cart around and wheeling away as fast as possible.
“Hey, Nia,” Darius called from behind me once more.
Frozen in my step, I replied without turning to face him again. Twice in one day was just too damn much. “Yeah?”
“What’s the name of the site you write for? I’ll check it out.”
I pivoted on the ball of my foot, focusing on his left shoulder instead of his chocolate-brown eyes. “Oh, um, it’s theheartbeat.com.”
“Heartbeat, huh? Cool. And if I don’t see you again, Merry Christmas.”
“Yeah, thanks. Um, Merry Christmas to you, too.”