Yet what happens when Aaron reappears years later, completely oblivious to the knowledge of his child Joshua, and the feelings Jada had locked away after that one night return twice as powerfully? Will history repeat itself, or will Jada give herself the chance to create an entirely new future?
He was leaning against the doorway, towel haphazardly tied low on his hips, black hair still damp, and water dripping from its curled ends. His head rested on the arm he leaned against, and he stared at her with slumberous eyes. If he’d been in any other setting, Jada would consider him drowsy, but she knew better. He was very alert and all his attention was on her, filing her in a compartment in his brain because he couldn’t live his life in chaos. She pulled the sheet tighter around her bare torso as if to shield herself from his eyes and whatever category he’d designated for her. However, it was too late for that. He’d broken down whatever defenses she had had long before last night.
It was a flat sound, a plateau of a name whose owner meant far more than he should.
Jada never would’ve imagined this when they met three years ago as tutors at a community center in Roxbury. They had been colleagues and treated each other with the typical polite detachment of co-workers, only asking superficial questions and responding with superficial answers. The age difference had had much to do with it—she being a freshman in college while he a semester away from starting at the business school—but there had been something more salient keeping them at a distance, and, if she were honest, it had been more because of her than him. Yet the genuine warmth with which he had greeted her that first day and every day since then had surprised her, disoriented her to the point where she had limited contact with him. This had forced Aaron to initiate the conversations that usually, seconds later, ended with his awkward chuckle, small smile, and shy wave.
He had eventually given her a nickname: Jaybird. It had been ironic because she rarely spoke to him, but each small, brief, impersonal greeting he’d given her had paved the way to conversation, greater intimacy, friendship. It were as if she had been a block of stone and Aaron the sculptor, his conversations a chisel chipping away her unnecessary hardness to reveal the woman who was Jada Channing. She wasn’t quite sure when the sculpture had been completed—perhaps it wasn’t yet—but she knew she felt far more exposed now than she had at any other point in her life.
And that fact had nothing to do with their current nudity.
Jada watched him approach, his towel falling away mid-stride, and she detached herself from the situation enough to appreciate his body. Slightly muscular, yet strong—her preferred body type. He was well defined and hard, but he had yielded to her so well, and she shivered at the memory.
Gentle was the first word she’d think of whenever she remembered last night. His gentleness alone had made her want to cry—soft touches of his hands and lips; soft caresses of his breath and voice along her skin; soft embraces that left her too weak to leave. There was even a soft declaration of love she had convinced herself she’d imagined, and Jada didn’t have the courage to ask him to confirm it. She was so sure, now that the heat and passion of the moment were gone, the answer would change.
Jada couldn’t take a retraction.
A retraction would mean her family was right, her community was right, that a white man like him could never fully understand or love a black woman like her. This was the one time she needed her upbringing to be wrong, to know what she did last night could not be a mistake; that the feelings she’d been nursing for almost two years could blossom and grow into something that would survive long after both had taken their last breaths.
The bed dipped when he sat, and he crawled next to her, sliding a damp, pale arm around her dry, darker waist. The black, wet hairs on his arm tickled her skin and her body quivered from the contact. He moved her curly tresses from her neck and replaced them with his lips, making Jada sigh and grant him more access.
“Good morning, love.”
That was certainly a matter of opinion, but Jada responded in kind, not wanting him to know her inner turmoil. The “adverbial questions” of last night, suspended due to overwhelming feelings and long pent-up desires, seeped into her consciousness, and she drew up her covers to hide from them. What would happen now? He was leaving for New York that night and probably wouldn’t be back until graduation in the spring. When would they see each other again? Where would last night lead them today or even two months from now? How would they continue this relationship—as friends, as lovers, or, God forbid, as strangers? Why should it even matter?
It did matter.
It mattered because Jada felt like she had turned her back on everything for this man, compromised everything because she loved him. She didn’t hop into bed with just anyone; she’d been taught sex was about giving something so personal and sacred that she had to be explicitly sure and confident about her partner, regardless if she were a virgin or not. The fact Jada had chosen Aaron McKensie had consequences that reverberated well beyond themselves.