She had three choices and a split-second to decide. Catch it, duck, or let it hit her in the face. Her sister, Ebony, must have calculated the distance before turning her back to the crowd gathered below and tossing it over her shoulder. Ebony's aim was surprisingly true. It was coming right at her head.
"Dang it!" she grunted under her breath from her attempted hiding place deep in back of the throng of eager women.
She raised her hand to protect her eyes. At the last instance, however, the woman standing to her right snatched the bridal bouquet out of the air.
"Copper Veronica Patterson," the woman chided, "you were just going to let it hit you. Weren't you? And you know Ebony was throwing it right at you."
"But I knew you were nearby, Pepper," Copper joked, "didn't want to deprive you."
"Yeah, right," Pepper said. "But thanks anyway." She jumped up and down a few times, whooping.
Copper looked up towards the balcony at her sister, who shrugged her shoulders and smiled, as Pepper's squeals of joy vibrated through the air.
Seeing Ebony wearing the wispy white wedding dress evoked memories that were still somewhat painful. It had been their mother's gown. A beautiful combination of satin and lace intricately embroidered with flowers and butterflies, which was originally made for and worn by Opal—their mother—some twenty-nine years ago. Finally, all three of her daughters: Copper, Mahogany and, now, Ebony, had worn it.
The three ceremonies had taken place in this very same spacious backyard of the house where they grew up, Opal's two-story, four-bedroom home in Stone Mountain, a suburb of Atlanta. The peach trees, flower garden and gazebo made a good backdrop for the occasion.
Two years ago, in 1992, when Copper had flown in for Mahogany's wedding, the sights and sounds of the affair had been even more disturbing. It was déjà vu. She had even expected to see Bobby, her ex-husband, slyly flirting with some of the attractive female guests.
At one point, she had to sneak away to her old bedroom to relieve herself of the anxiety she felt by sitting on the bed and hugging the Prince Charming doll she used to sleep and daydream with as a child.
Indeed, it was still her room, her sanctuary. All of her mementos and teenage belongings were there, just as she had left them. Copper felt so safe in that room. She had stayed up there weeping, thinking about her failed marriage, until she heard her mother's voice calling for her, which made her hurriedly fix her face, as she responded to Opal. She wiped away any remnants of tears, and rejoined the festivities with a fake smile as her countenance.
This time, at Ebony's nuptials, the pain wasn't quite as bad. She was stronger now. Sure, the memories came fleetingly, especially when she looked at her sister in that dress. She looked almost exactly as Copper had.
All three sisters stood around five foot eight inches. They had the same mane of dark sandy-brown hair with the widow's peak, deep dimples, full wide lips and light bronze complexion. Also, they had what others called, the "Patterson look." Big almond-shaped hazel-colored eyes, long curled lashes and the dark eyebrows with the fine hairs connecting them, which gave the girls and their mother—whose own mother was from Brazil—an exotic, determined look. When you threw in the tall, supple, hourglass figures, with the butts that made men turn and give them the once-over—twice, one could understand why there were a number of disappointed males at each sister's wedding.
There were almost two hundred guests milling around the sunny backyard at this one. The groom and his groomsmen were standing around the Jacuzzi in their powder-blue tuxedos, posing for the photographer, as the lilting tunes of the Jamaican steel band, set up over by the gazebo, filtered through the warm evening air.
Some of the guests were dancing, while others mingled and snacked on the seafood and fruit spread next to the champagne fountain on the long table against the fence. Everyone was conversing and enjoying the lovely June day. The thunderstorms the day before caused a little mugginess, but it was bearable with the warm breeze that glided over the backyard from time to time like a silk shawl brushing lightly against each person trying to find a place to settle down.
"Sorry, sis," Ebony said, walking up and embracing Copper.
"For what, Ebb?" Copper asked as they made their way over to the champagne and sparkling apple cider, amidst the well wishes that were showered upon the bride.
"The bouquet," she explained. "I was trying to get it to you. I didn't see your roomie standing there. Everyone knows that Pepper thinks she's getting older."
"We all are." Copper chuckled.
"You know what I mean. She thinks that if you're not married by the time you're thirty, you are over the hill, automatically washed up. And she's twenty-seven."
"I keep telling her she has a lot to learn," the twenty-eight year old responded as she picked up two full glasses, handing one to her sister, who was two years her junior and one year younger than Mahogany.
"Did you think about our father at your wedding, too?" the bride inquired, softly.
"Yes, I did, Ebb," admitted Copper. "I wondered if he knew… if he cared. I mean, Aunt Birdie was here, but, just like at my wedding and Mahogany's, too, she didn't even mention his name. There's something about the way she looks at us though. I can't put my finger on it."
Copper wondered whether Aunt Birdie, her dad's sister, had any information that would help them better understand why he left.
"I still find myself wishing that he was here," Ebony shared, wiping away a tear.
"I know." Copper put an arm around her younger sister's shoulder. "Anyway," she held her glass in the air and continued, "to the beginning of a new, wonderful life."
They clinked glasses and sipped the sparkling apple cider.
"Is it, sis?" Ebony asked, with a look so serious that Copper felt something pull at her heart even more. "Will it be wonderful?"
Before answering, Copper looked over at the groom, who was smiling and shaking hands with everyone in range, and she remembered how eight years ago Bobby, her groom, had hardly smiled at all.
"Yes, Ebb, I think Edward will make a very good husband. I believe you will be very happy together."
"Coming from you, Copp, that means a lot," Ebony acknowledged. "I know how psychic you can be sometimes. Boy, do I know. You told me that I would marry him someday when I first introduced you to Edward three years ago when you came back for my college graduation."
"How do you do it, sis?"
"Ebony, I really don't know. Sometimes I get these intuitive feelings. I used to ignore them when I was younger, and they stopped happening for a while. Then they started again, and I noticed that the more I heeded them, the more I would get them." She looked over Ebb's shoulder and saw their mother, Mahogany, and the photographer heading towards them. "Like, right now, I get the feeling that our picture is about to be taken."
Ebony turned and saw them, too.
"Oh, I'm beginning to get the hang of it now," she said as they both laughed.
"And what's so funny?" Mahogany inquired with a smile.
"The future," said Ebb, putting an arm around each sister.
"Let's hope you will be able to say that in the future," their mother said pointedly.
"Opal!" Copper reprimanded jokingly.
Anyone not knowing any better would think that the four of them were sisters. Opal was in her late forties, but still maintained the good looks and figure passed on to her daughters.
The photographer was very professional as he positioned them and took the pictures with the minimum of conversation. His eyes locked with Copper's at one point and suddenly she got the feeling that she knew him. Upon closer scrutiny she realized what it was. He slightly resembled her ex-husband. An inch shorter, perhaps, and more mature looking, but the way his eyes sparkled when he smiled was like her ex, and the square-jawed strong masculine look was how she envisioned Bobby would look in his thirties.
"Mommy, can we get in the pictures?" Copper turned to see her seven and a half-year old daughter, Tiffany, looking up at her. She was holding Mahogany's two-year old, Tanzia, by the hand.
"And who might you be?" the friendly photographer asked.
"My name is Tiffany," she replied proudly, "and who might you be?"
"My name is Doug," he answered, laughing at how grown up she appeared. "Which one of these ladies is your mother?"
"She is," the little girl pointed at Copper and went to stand beside her.
"And I know who your mommy is," Doug said to Tanzia.
"You sure do." Mahogany smiled, picking her up.
The photographer posed them all for several shots as Aunt Birdie stood behind him snapping her little camera.
"Wow," he admired. "Three generations of beautiful black women. And Mrs. Patterson, you are the prettiest grandmother I have ever had the privilege of photographing."
Opal beamed as Copper, Mahogany and Ebony looked at each other and smiled, shaking their heads.
The next morning Copper arose early. When they were growing up, Opal had taken them all to church every Sunday morning diligently. However, upon reaching adulthood, her sisters discontinued weekly services, although they still went occasionally. Copper, on the other hand, had carried on, even while in college. She belonged to Seekers—a non-denominational church of religious science in Washington, D.C. Whenever Copper was in Atlanta on a Sunday she attended services at Hillside, which had the same type doctrine.
When she mentioned to Tiffany that she would be going to church in the morning her daughter asked to go along. Tiffany was very bright in school. Copper wanted to expose her to different ideas to help her grow mentally.
They sat through the sermon on "Visualization" and immediately went to brunch downtown at the Hyatt on Peachtree Street. Then they decided to go to the zoo and finally back to Opal's house.
It was a lovely summer afternoon for some mother and daughter bonding. They didn't have the opportunity often. In fact, the last time just the two of them had gone out to eat together was over a year ago, the night that Copper got upset with Tiff for playing a trick on her. They were at a restaurant celebrating Tiffany's birthday, and Tiffany decided to play hide and seek without Copper's consent. That caused a momentary scare until the little girl reappeared.
This evening Copper would fly back to D.C. and Tiffany would, as usual, remain with Opal. As they were driving back to Stone Mountain, Copper asked the question that had been bothering her for a while. She was bothered because she felt guilty having to leave Tiffany. Due to her busy work schedule, Copper didn't have a whole lot of free time to spend with Tiff. For the best interest of her daughter, Copper made the difficult decision to allow Tiff to stay with Opal.
"Tiffany, do you mind living with Grandma?"
"No ma'am, I like it. All of my friends and relatives are here," she replied earnestly. "But you know, when the preacher this morning was saying how by visualizing what you want and believing that it will happen, you can make it so?"
"Well, Mommy," she said, turning to face her in the seat. "I can see myself living with you in Washington like you told me I'd do when I start high school. And I visualize us having a father living with us, too."
"Father? You mean your daddy?"
"Well, I know we haven't seen Daddy in years," the little girl went on. "And I know you always tell me that Daddy still loves me and that you like Daddy, but I don't think Daddy is the one I see. He's not coming back, and we don't want him back. Do we, Mommy?"
"No, baby, we don't," Copper agreed as her eyes watered with delight at the understanding of her little lady.
"So, Mommy, I'm going to visualize a new daddy. I'm going to keep visualizing until it happens, and we're going to be happily ever after. Okay, Mommy?"
"Okay, little girl," Copper acknowledged warmly, squeezing her small hand.
Copper welcomed the help. Ever since her divorce four years ago, she had been waiting for the right guy to come along. Somewhere out there she knew there had to be a man who would fall in love with her and that she could fall in love with… true love. The fairy-tale kind of love in which two people only have eyes for each other.
That happens in real life, she mused. There are couples like that, right? Everyone's not getting divorced. People do stay married, not just for convenience, but because they really love each other. There are black couples like that, aren't there? All black men don't up and leave, do they? They're not all like Bobby or her father, are they? No answers came with the questions. They just circled in her mind.
Ebony and Edward seemed to be deeply in love, she reflected, as do Mahogany and Joshua. But how long would that last? Her own marriage had lasted four years officially. She prayed that her sisters' would last much longer. And since their spouses were black men, too, she felt prayers were definitely going to be needed.
Even with the negativity she felt, however, she never said anything derogatory about her ex-husband to Tiffany. As a matter of fact, she made it a point to always speak of Bobby in an affectionate and positive manner. After all, he was her baby's daddy, even though he hadn't been enthused about that fact at the outset. His blood flowed through Tiffany's veins; she had his eyes and nose. Tiffany was proud to have a professional NFL football player as a father.
Copper tried to make sure that her little girl didn't suspect the bitterness she felt towards Bobby, her own father, and black men, period, for that matter.
"Doug called here twice for you," Mahogany informed her as Copper walked into the den, where her sister was watching the NBA playoffs. "I told him that you took Tiffany to church this morning. How long have you been back?"
"I just got here. I didn't want to block you in, so I parked on the street. And who is Doug?"
"You know, the photographer from the wedding yesterday," Mahogany reminded her. "Where's Tiff?"
"She's walking up the street with Moms and Tanz. Why is this Doug guy calling for me?" Copper inquired, slightly annoyed. Overly aggressive men were a definite no-no to her. "And how did he get this number?"
"He's had this number for several years now. He's an old friend of Joshua's," Mahogany replied, referring to her husband. "As a matter of fact, he photographed my wedding. You don't remember him?"
"Hoggy, that was two years ago. I had other things on my mind. Why is he calling me?" She tilted her head slightly to the side.
"There you go leaning your head," Hoggy noted, knowing that meant Copper was beginning to get angry. "Why do you think he called, Copp? I guess he's interested in talking to you. I mean, it's not as if he's desperate with those light-brown caramel eyes and a smile to die for. When they say tall, dark and handsome, they're talking about Doug Kenner."
"T, D and H is all right, but. . ." Copper started.
"T, D and H?" Mahogany interrupted.
"Tall, dark and handsome."
"Oh, I forgot. You live in alphabet city now: D.C., CIA, FBI, HEW, GNP, HUD, BLT…"
"Okay, okay." Copper laughed. "You got me that time. BLT, that's funny. But anyway, having good looks is fine, but a man has to have more than that."
"Hey, he's got more than that. He has a great personality. Besides being a good photographer, he's very witty. He's good to people, and as the word goes, he really knows how to turn a woman on, if you know what I mean."
"No, I don't know what you mean."
"I mean he goes past foreplay to five-play."
"What? Who could have possibly told you something like that?" Copper wanted to know.
"I heard it through the grapevine."
"Well, you'd better believe that I'm not going to go out with someone who is being talked about like that."
"Don't pre-judge. Give him a chance. He should be calling back soon. I told him to try back in an hour. He said he just wanted to speak to you before you left tonight for D.C. By the way, are Ebony and Edward going to stop off there on their way back from the Bahamas?"
"Yes, that's what they said last night. I want to think of something special to do for them."
"You'll come up with something."
"I know, but you know how I like to plan things out. At any rate, I'm going upstairs to pack while Tiffany is outside."
"Are you going to talk to Doug when he calls?"
"I have to think about that," she called out, halfway up the stairs.
Actually, she was going to give it more thought than Mahogany would ever imagine. Copper had been celibate since her last sexual encounter with her husband, which was more than a year before her divorce was finalized, an abstention of over five years. Her ex-husband, combined with her spiritual beliefs, was actually the reason she began practicing celibacy. When rumors about his unfaithfulness started reaching her ears, she had stopped having sex with him. She wasn't sure how long her abstention would last, but prayer and faith got her through. Initially, not having sex was difficult, so she prayed that God would remove the desire until she was married, again.
In fact, Bobby was her one and only sexual partner. During the first couple of years after her break-up with Bobby, she went out on various dates. She had even dated one guy, Thomas, for ten months. He was considered one of the most eligible black bachelors in D.C., but there was a barrier and it was high. Although Thomas seemed to be a good catch, he didn't respect her decision to abstain. Instead, he took it as a personal challenge to get her to give in. Rather than compromise her beliefs, she broke up with him.
That was when she concluded there was another side to her personal problem. Not only did she need to de-bond herself from the memories of Bobby, but she had other memories that caused her pain also. Memories of a father who deserted her, memories of incidents that were recounted when her girlfriends sat around bashing black men, memories of things her husband put her through with the gossip of his disloyalty. Plus, she was affected by the prevalent negative images of black men that was being perpetuated in the media.
She had always felt that Copper Patterson deserved more, deserved better. She wanted the best that life had to offer, for herself and for her daughter. No more heartaches or headaches. She had been toying with this course of action before, so she made a decision… to de-bond herself from black men. She would suppress any inclination to get involved with them anymore on a serious basis. Maybe that was why she had been having such a hard time finding someone. Maybe her subconscious mind was trying to steer her away from the brothers. Her job had indoctrinated her to the professional white world of Washington, D.C.
Okay, she vowed, she was going to heed her subconscious mind. She decided that her next meaningful relationship was going to be with a Caucasian, when the right one came along. Black men, with their hang-ups, would be put on the back burner.
A few weeks after breaking it off with Thomas, she was in Atlanta for Mahogany's wedding. There was a full moon the night of the ceremony, and the reception was in full blast.
Earlier that day she had met friends and co-workers of Joshua, the groom. Jonathan "Buck" Buckner was one of them. A good-looking, but slightly nerdy, white guy, who happened to be at the foot of the stairs and saw her wiping tears from her eyes after being up in her room wondering if her Prince Charming would ever come.
Buck appeared to be so concerned, kind, and understanding as they went out to the backyard and sat in the gazebo and talked. She felt so vulnerable and weak. Looking back, she imagined that must be how it felt to talk to a therapist. Copper talked about herself, and then he shared a little about his life, and she grew comfortable with him. It seemed only natural to exchange phone numbers and make plans to have dinner together the next day.
After dinner they went to his condo, which was usually a no-no since she had just met the guy. But she took a chance. The music was right, and she felt very relaxed. She distinctly remembered that there was a full moon, because she had always heard that strange things happened during full moons. This particular evening she acted in a way that was uncharacteristic of her usual self.
Before she knew it, Buck was kissing her. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the passionate kiss. Buck's hands began to caress intimate parts of her body. She felt herself becoming turned on. Even though she initially felt pleasure, guilt suddenly overtook her. She regained her senses and gently pushed him back.
"I'm not ready for anything like that. Okay?" she announced with a friendly, but firm look.
Licking his lips, he said, "Your kisses sure taste sweet." He wiped the corners of his mouth. "Okay," he gave in reluctantly, "we'll have plenty of time."
Copper didn't know what he based his comment on. Even though it had been years since having sex with her husband, she refused to give in to temptation. When she had sex again, she would be married. The evening had ended with Buck dropping her back off at Opal's house.
"Copper, it's for you!" Mahogany yelled, interrupting Copper's thoughts.
"I'll take it up here," she answered, shaking her head at her sister's teasing tone as she picked up the bedroom phone. She waited until she heard her hang up downstairs before she continued, "Hello?"
"Hello, babe," said the masculine voice on the other end.
Right away it registered whose sound it was. "Hi, Buck," she said with a little vexation. "Now, you know I don't like that term 'babe.'"
"Well now, you know I don't mean anything by it," he began as an abrupt tone was heard in Copper's ear, indicating another call was coming in. "Is that you?" he asked.
"Of course, hold on please," she requested, quickly depressing the switch-hook for a split second to get the other call. "Hello?"
"Hello," a deeper male voice greeted. "Is Copper in?"
"Hi, this is Doug," he continued. "Are you on another call?"
How did he know? she wondered. "Yes, I am. Can you hold for a second?"
"Most definitely," he assured, as she clicked back to Buck.
"Buck?" she asked as she did so.
"It's me, babe-uh, I mean, uh, Copper," he acknowledged. "Tell me, what time are you leaving tonight? I want to get together with you."
"Let me get back to you on that," she responded. "I have another call right now."
"Okey-dokey, I'm at home. You have the number. Call me right back."
"Will do, bye." She clicked back to Doug. "Hello?"
"I'm still here," he said. "I could have called you back."
"No, they were ready to get off the phone anyway."
"Tell me," he inquired. "Why do females always say they when they mean he?"
Copper chuckled. "Do we do that?"
"All the time."
"What do men do?"
"When we say they, we mean they. When we mean she, we say she. At least that's what this man does."
"Hmmm, I guess men don't care if their business gets in the streets and women do," Copper reasoned.
"To me, stating the gender of the person I'm talking to on the phone is not putting my business in the streets." He chuckled. "Now, more personal things are something I would be more discreet about. But using they in that instance indicates something, and could be construed as being ashamed or disrespectful to him, her or it, whoever you were referring to."
"My, you're very opinionated," she noted, withdrawing somewhat.
"I'm sorry." Doug relaxed then changed subject. "Mahogany tells me you're leaving late tonight."
"Yes, I have to punch in early tomorrow morning."
She felt the question coming, but she still had no idea what her answer would be. What were Doug's intentions?
"I know you don't know me, but your brother-in-law is one of my very best friends. Both he and your sister can vouch that you'll be safe with me."
"Okay, I believe you," she said with an inner chuckle. "My sister did speak very highly of you."
"Really? What did she say?"
"She said that you were a nice guy," she related.
"See? So with that in mind, I was wondering if I could take you out for a bite to eat this afternoon," he went on.
"What do you like to eat?" she asked.
"Mexican, Italian, Chinese. . . "
"What about soul food?" she wanted to say.
"…soul food," he went on.
"Now you're talking!" She broke in, suppressing the laughter.
"Really? You want soul food?"
"I'll leave it up to you." She smiled and then said seriously, "But why?"
"Why?" He was caught off guard, she noted. "Because, because I saw you, I heard about you for years and I would like to talk to you, get to know you," he recovered.
There was total silence.
"Hello?" he called.
"I'm thinking," Copper announced. And she was. She felt that de-bonding herself from black men was essential if she was going to have a meaningful relationship with someone white. But it didn't mean she couldn't have black male friends. This guy seemed nice, she mused. She didn't know what he wanted, but she knew what he wasn't going to get.
"Hello?" Doug re-called.
"Doug?" she asked.
"How soon can you be here?" she queried with a smile.
"I ain't there yet?" was his rejoinder as they laughed and hung up.
Scent of an Angel by Darn Oldham
Available October 2007