Part 3

John watched the intense look on Evangeline's face with unwavering pleasure. God, she was beautiful. The gentle slope of her nose led to a tip that begged to be kissed. Her large, luminous brown eyes were truly windows to her soul. The more time they spent together, the easier it was for him to read her. The humor and intelligence mingled with the fire of passion. He never knew how expressive brown orbs could be. Being with her educated him in more ways than one. And he was loving every minute of it.

She clutched a list in one hand while trying to wrangle a shopping car with the other. Without breaking stride, she said, "Staring won't make me change my mind about this."

His hand trailed down her back to rest low on her hip. He brushed his lips against her ear. "Oh, I can see how determined you are. I'm not brave enough to go against such…tenacity."

They shared an all too brief peck before John took control of the cart and followed Evangeline into the corner grocery. Having a girlfriend definitely changed things. Before, his grocery shopping consisted of a six pack of beer and the occasional carton of milk. He grabbed food where he could. Sometimes, he skipped meals altogether. But that happened less and less lately. She insisted on being fed and he could not resist pleasing her. The last few weeks, they began switching from eating out to eating in. Neither of them was a great cook but the attempts more than made up for the final product.

"What's first on the list?"

"Geez, what isn't on this list?" She ran a hand through that sexy, thick mane. Shrugging, her finger jabbed the page. "Let's hit the produce department. We need zucchini, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes…"

He clutched his gut and groaned. "All those vegetables. What are you trying to do to me?"

"Keep you healthy, Lieutenant." She fell into step beside him, linking her arm through his. "You have a stressful job. My Dad… Well, he wasn't healthy and by the time he tried to be, it was too late."

Air lodged in his throat and halted his speech. He swallowed hard. His voice sounded hoarse and strangled, responding to the emotion building within. "I understand."

She squeezed his arm and gave him a soft smile. Then, she moved ahead of him and he brought up the rear, following her.

They worked the grocery store like a team. When they met in the middle where dried pasta lined the shelves, they couldn't help but laugh at the sheer absurdity of it. Her peels of joy opened him from the inside out. The self-imposed walls shielded him from far too much. He was grateful for the something in Evangeline that demolished the barricades. Impulsively, he took her hand and pulled her close. Wanting to taste her almost claimed his senses. But gut instinct kicked in. Eyes bored into the back of his head. He stiffened before whipping around.

A couple about their age stood near an endless assortment of tomato sauces just a few feet away. Angry, red patches colored their cheeks. Disapproval came off them in a tidal wave. John recognized them from his condo complex. Despite their standoffish demeanor, he always greeted them. He doubted if he would again. Now that he understood the reason for their cold behavior.

He felt Evangeline move beside him. She tried to pull her hand free, but he refused to release her.

"Just let it go," she whispered. "They're not worth it."

"No, they're not," he said to her, "but we are." Raising his voice only slightly, he called out, "Is there a problem?"

"All the women out there and--"

"And what?" John challenged. "I was fortunate enough to find one who's as brilliant as she is beautiful. Is that what you were going to say?"

"No," the man spat. "Far from it."

"Leave them alone, Preston," the woman said. "It's too late for him anyway."

John nodded. "It certainly is." He turned his back on them. He and Evangeline finished their shopping and left.

After dinner, while the dishwasher whirred in the background and the fireplace flickered with warmth and light, he pulled her close to him on the love seat. His fingers threaded the soft waves of her hair. Carefully and gently he voiced the question that had been at the forefront of his mind. "What happened at the store…are you okay?"

"I should have asked you that." She spoke quickly as if she'd been waiting for the conversation to begin. "I'm used to stupidity, but I doubt if you've ever encountered that kind before."

"By that kind, you mean bigotry. Racist bullshit." His voice grated with unreleased anger. "It's 2004…dammit. I'm sorry, Evangeline. I'm sorry that happened."

"Me, too." She sighed and leaned against him. "In the back of my mind, I maybe expected it, but I hoped. I hoped it wouldn't happen. Our being together shouldn't matter to anyone except us. You know, but that's a little naïve, I guess. My father isn't here anymore. My mom lives in Chicago, but your family is here--"

"They don't have a say in us." He ran a hand through his hair as he collected his thoughts. "Maybe we should have talked about this before. But the truth is the difference in our skin color hasn't been a factor for me."

"It hasn't really for me either, but…"

Her hesitation stirred something inside him. He shifted to meet her gaze. "But what?"

"My skin color isn't the most important thing about me, but without what you see on the outside, I wouldn't be who I am on the inside," she said quietly. "I'd like to know that you appreciate the whole package and that you're not ignoring certain aspects because it's easier or whatever. God, I'm probably not making any sense and words should come easy to me."

"You don't want me to discount your heritage," he said, understanding. His fingers stroked her cheek. He noticed the contrast of his flesh against hers. Deep within, he took stock of the differences. In reality, they didn't really matter. They simply were another facet to cherish. He never considered that she needed to know that.

"I get it, Evangeline. You're right. I've never experienced bigotry or discrimination based on who I am, but when we were in the basement and you told me about your father's advice, I wasn't so contained in bubble that I didn't understand."

"You chose to be a lawman because of your dad, I bet." When he nodded, she continued. "I could have been a teacher, too, and followed in my parents footsteps. But after what my dad went through… I chose the legal profession because ideally it's fair and colorblind. If I present the best case, my skin color will never be a factor. Defense of my clients is based on facts. That's why when I lost the custody case I analyzed all the details. When you're a black female and things go awry sometimes the little doubts nag in the back of your mind. Did this happen because I'm black or because I'm a woman or both? In law, none of that matters. Yet, something changed with that judge. I had her on all points. Despite that, my client lost."

"Did you ever think it was because of your race or gender?"

Evangeline shook her head. "No, not this time. My dad taught me to be the best but he never failed to warn me that sometimes being the best wouldn't matter. Some would judge me based on things that I cannot change nor have any control over. It sounds so logical but it's anything but. Seeing that couple look at us with disapproval bothered me. Not because of the disapproval itself but because they believe they have the right to disapprove of us."

"I didn't like that either. What I hated more was that they were hurting you or didn't care if they did." He ran a hand through his hair and leaned back against the sofa. His arm curved around her, bringing her closer. "I'm glad we're talking about this. I said you could say a lot without words, but there are times when words are necessary."

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