JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH
“So, this is how the night ends?”
“What were you expecting, Darius McRae?” Celina asked, her voice like a midnight tease.
Darius stood up and walked over to her. He didn't care if it was too soon. He had to taste her lips. “This,” he said as he captured her mouth with his.
Darius's swift move caught her off guard. But what surprised her more than anything was the way she responded to his kiss, melting against him as she rose to her feet to fully lose herself in it. She parted her lips and welcomed his tongue into her mouth. It was as if his kiss had awakened every repressed desire she'd ever had. No one had ever made her knees quake or her heart shiver the way Darius had with one kiss.
JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH
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Elmore, South Carolina
Eight-year-old Celina Hart tried not to eavesdrop, but her parents were arguing so loud that she couldn't help it.
“Who is she Thomas?” Rena, Celina's mother, yelled. “It doesn't even matter because I'm sick of this!”
“Woman, just calm down. It's not what you think and I get sick of coming in this house every night defending myself to you.”
Slowly, Celina crept from her bed and walked down the hall and stood outside the door of her parents' bedroom. Through the crack in the door, she watched her mother grab a big blue suitcase.
Thomas rolled his eyes. “You think you're gonna put me out of my own house?” he demanded with his arms folded across his chest.
Rena dropped the suitcase on the bed. “You can have this damned house, Thomas. This whole town looks at me like I'm some sort of fool because you're running around with that woman as if you're a single man without a family. How many women in church on the usher's board with me have been in your bed?”
Thomas shook his head. “Don't start this again. I made a mistake and you're holding on to it like a dog with a bone.”
“You're my husband, Thomas, not my boyfriend. You made a commitment to me and our child. I want a divorce.”
He laughed and watched as Rena began haphazardly stuffing her clothes into the suitcase. “Where are you going to go? You've never been farther than Columbia, South Carolina. What about Celina? What about all the friends she has here? You're going to just uproot her because you're mad at me?”
Rena stopped packing and glared at Thomas. “When's the last time you've been a real father to that girl? On the rare occasion when you
at home, you play with her like you're a damned eight-year-old.”
“I'm encouraging her love for art. That little girl has talent. A lot more talent thanâ”
“Shut up !” Rena roared. “It's just easier for you to play with her than to be a father. It's better when I'm the bad guy, right? I'm the one who makes her clean up the paint, come inside when it gets dark or care for her when she falls in a ditch and cuts her arm. I can be unhappy without you and, as I've been doing, I can raise Celina without you.”
“Then leave,” he said, flatly. “I am who I am and that won't be changing no time soon.” Thomas reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigar.
“Don't you dare light that thing in here,” she snapped.
“You're leaving, so why does it matter?” He bit down on the end of the cigar as he felt his pockets for his lighter.
Rena shook her head and began sobbing. “You don't even care if we leave, do you? I thought this would be your wake up call and you would love me like you vowed to do.”
“I love you, Rena,” Thomas said as he spat the cigar to the floor. “I can't excuse what I do. I've tried to do the devoted husband thing. I've spent my youth being a husband and a father and I guess I wasn't ready for all of this.”
“Then you should've never married me. It's been ten years and now you decide after we've started our family to say this was a mistake? You go straight to hell, Thomas Hart!” Rena continued packing. “Celina and I are going to Chicago.”
“Chicago? What are you going to do there? You're barely working here and you're going to be able to make a life for you and my little girl?” Thomas shook his head.
Celina's eyes grew wide from fear. She didn't want to leave Elmore and all of her friends. She'd just been awarded a first place ribbon for a picture that she drew in the Elmore Elementary School art competition.
Creeping down the hall, Celina silently prayed that she was in the middle of a nightmare. Chicago was a big scary place and she didn't want to go there. Elmore was her home and her parents couldn't get a divorce. Could they?
The next morning, Celina realized that the night before wasn't a nightmare. Her mother entered her room with red rimmed eyes and that suitcase. Celina tried to pretend that she was asleep, but Rena shook her shoulder until Celina opened her eyes.
“Mommy, it's Saturday. I want to sleep,” Celina said.
“I know, but we're going on a trip,” Rena said, smiling though her tears.
“I don't want to go.”
Rena frowned. “Neither do I, but we have to leave.”
Celina looked up at her mother with tears shining in her young eyes. “Did I do something wrong? I promise I won't get paint on the floor anymore. Please don't leave Daddy.”
Rena wrapped her arms around Celina, hugging her tightly and rocking back and forth. “Sometimes, we have to do things that we don't always want to do.”
“But, don't you love Daddy anymore?” Tears ran down her cheeks like rain.
Rena wiped her daughter's tears away with the edge of the sheet. “Sometimes, love is not enough.”
Sniffing, Celina defiantly said, “I'm never going to fall in love!”
Rena pulled her daughter's covers back. “Don't say that. You have a bright future ahead of you and you don't know what's in store. Now, get out of the bed and help me get your things together.”
“Are we going to at least tell Daddy good-bye?” Celina asked as she climbed out of the bed.
“Well, if your father gets here before we leave, then yes. Otherwise, we'll call him when we get to Chicago,” Rena said.
Celina began gathering her favorite toys as her mother packed her clothes. Then she spied her watercolor set that her father had given her a few weeks prior. She wrapped it in her Barbie pillow case and stuffed it in the bag with her dolls.
A few hours later, Celina and her mother were climbing into the family's Buick and headed down to the Elmore bus depot. As they drove, Celina looked for her father's beat-up Ford truck. She never saw it.
Rena parked the car and left the keys in the ignition. “Mommy,” Celina said. “What are you going to do with the car?”
“Someone will tell your father where to find it, I'm sure,” Rena said as she lifted their suitcases from the backseat of the car. She handed Celina a couple of small bags for her to carry. “Keep your head up and come on,” Rena said as she noticed people staring at her.
Celina heard a few women who were walking by say, “About time,” or “He'd be the one getting on the bus.”
That day, Celina was proud of her mother. She ignored it all and walked like a queen as she carried those bags. But even as an eight-year-old, she promised herself that she'd never find herself in this predicament because love wasn't enough.
Paris, France, Twenty Years Later
The crisp smell of roasted coffee beans wafted through the air, tickling Celina Hart's nostrils. Mornings in Paris had become her favorite time of the day. As the sun cast a golden glow over the city, shopkeepers lazily swept their storefronts, preparing for the throngs of tourists who would flock to the outdoor cafÃ©s as soon as the noon sun rose high in the sky. Celina liked to blend in with the locals and rise early. Blending in wasn't easy, though. Her French was more than a little rough, since she'd only been speaking the language for a short time.
Celina was one of the few American artists who had been chosen to take part in the celebration of Hector Guimard. Her trendy work that hung in some of New York's most popular galleries and the mural she'd created in Harlem featuring Zora Neale Hurston had caught the eye of the right people. But Celina knew it was Bill Clinton that had gotten her to Paris. When the former president commissioned Celina to paint a portrait for his Harlem office, she had been fast tracked as a hot artist to watch. And the world was watching, much to the dismay of her mother, Rena Malcolm, who would've been content to have her daughter stay in one place and teach art.
Celina had tried it and it didn't work out for her. She had to move and see the world. That's just what her art allowed her to do.
Dressed in a pair of white capri pants and a pink tank top, Celina headed for what had become her favorite table at CafÃ© de la Paix. It sat on the end of the rows of tables, nearest to the road. She watched as the city began to come alive and Paris visitors spilled onto the streets seeking coffee before they began a day of sightseeing and a night of partying.
“Bonjour, mademoiselle,” the slim waiter said as he set a steaming cup of cafÃ© au lait in front of her. Every day for the last two months, the same raven-haired waiter had been serving her coffee and a chocolate croissant.
“Bonjour,” she replied through her smile.
“Croissant?” He held an ivory plate out to her with a flaky piece of bread on it.
She shook her head no as she blew on the steaming cup and stifled a yawn. The waiter nodded and walked away. Celina reached into her brown saddlebag, retrieved her sketch pad and began drawing the landscape, its rolling hills and flat-top cafÃ©s. Some people drank coffee and read the newspaper, but she sipped java and drew. Since being in Paris, she'd been inspired. Celina was never one to draw landscapes, but how could she not commit Paris to paper? Though she was enjoying her work inside Castel Beranger, she hated that the morning was the only time she saw the outdoors. Her mural was nearly finished and there was talk of her creating ones in some other places around the city.
By the time she finished her sketch, the cafÃ© was filled with sleepy tourists speaking in broken French and sucking down black coffee.
Reluctantly, she put her pad away when she realized that another reason she had gotten up so early was to beat the rush at the American Express. She dropped her colorful money on the table to cover the cost of her coffee, then headed down the block. Her stomach rumbled as she sniffed the fragrance of bread wafting through the air. Paris was no place for a low-carbohydrate dieter and Celina was glad she didn't deal with fad diets. She kept her svelte figure by running three miles a day and maintaining a healthy obsession with martial arts. Her mother had suggested that she learn how to protect herself when she moved to New York. Celina enjoyed karate; it stimulated her creativity and kept her edgy. She hadn't been able to find a karate class since she'd been in Paris. Celina walked into the post office, known as the American Express, to pick up what she was sure was a letter from her mother and to cash in some more money.
, mademoiselle,” the postal clerk said, smiling at Celina. She returned his greeting. The man opened her box and handed her a stack of mail.
,” she said as she took the mail from his hands. Flipping through the letters that followed her from New York, she stopped when she spied a South Carolina postmark. The shaky handwriting on the front of the wrinkled white envelope was unmistakably Thomas's. Celina dumped her other mail in her bag and ripped her father's letter open.
Baby, I'm sick.
The words stabbed her in the heart. She continued reading, fighting the tears welling up in her eyes.
I don't mean to dump all of this on you while you're in Paris, but I need you more than I've ever needed anyone before. It may not be fair for me to ask this of you, but I want to spend time with you before it's too late. Your mother tells me you're quite the artist and that you're spending the year in Paris.
I'm so proud of you and I wouldn't ask this of you if it wasn't important.
Celina's breath caught in her chest and the tears fell from her eyes. She couldn't remember the last time she'd talked to him, since they hadn't been close after her parents' divorce nearly twenty years ago. Celina had only been eight at the time and she'd never quite forgiven him for letting them leave Elmore, South Carolina, all those years ago. His eye for other women had led to the demise of his marriage.
While Celina was growing up, Thomas did his best to be a good father, spending every holiday, summer vacation, and school break with his daughter. Rena had remarried two years after she and Celina settled in Chicago. John Malcolm had been a good stepfather, never trying to take Thomas's place in her heart. It had happened anyway. Thomas had taken on the role as a distant uncle to Celina, but John was her father figureâthe one who did the heavy lifting, like doling out discipline and other things that fathers were supposed to do.
Still, Thomas was family and she knew what she had to do. Celina ran out of the American Express in search of her boss, Monsieur DuPont.
Celina walked into Le Palais Garnier, the old opera house where the Foundation's headquarters was housed. Monsieur DuPont had set up an office in the basement of the historic building. Dashing down the rickety stairs, she frantically knocked on the man's door.
“Ah, Mademoiselle Hart, what can I do for you?” he asked when he looked up and saw Celina standing in front of his desk. “Your mural is shaping up very nicely. I love your style.”
“I have to leave,” she said, her voice shaky and barely above a whisper.
Monsieur DuPont offered Celina a seat when he noticed the paleness of her face.
“What's wrong?” he asked as he buzzed his assistant. “Did something happen stateside?”
Celina tried to form the words to tell the art director why she was throwing away one of the biggest opportunities of her career. “Um, my father is . . .” Her voice trailed off. Should she go home to her father? Where was he during the last twenty years of her life? When she'd been sick, it had been her mother and her stepfather, John, who'd cared for her and comforted her. Thomas had only been around when it suited him to be or when he'd been expected to be around. Why couldn't he have been a better husband? Then he and Rena would've still been together and she could've taken care of him.
Celina felt like a bitter twelve-year-old as those thoughts floated around her head. She didn't realize she still harbored resentment over her parents' divorce. She was a well-adjusted adult and she had no thoughts of her parents someday reconciling. But, like every other child of divorce, subconsciously she wanted mommy and daddy together.
“Your father isâ?” Monsieur DuPont asked, then he spoke in French to his assistant, asking her to bring water in for Celina.
“Dying.” The word spilled from her lips like a rancid sip of milk. “I have to be with him and I know . . .” Tears began spilling down her cheeks like a summer rainstorm.
“Mademoiselle, I understand. If you must leave, you must. Your work here has been wonderful and you will be welcomed back in the future.” Monsieur DuPont walked over to the chair where Celina sat sobbing. Her eyes looked like wet black diamonds as she looked up at him. He placed his hand on Celina's shoulder and stroked her gently. “Family is very important. I understand that you have to leave.”
She nodded and, in the back of her mind, wondered how often she had taken her family for granted. Celina hadn't seen her father in two years and she hadn't made a huge effort to talk to him before she left the country. It was past time for her to go to South Carolina and spend time with him. She had to forgive Thomas and allow him into her life in a more significant way before it was too late. And if his letter was any indication, the clock was about to strike midnight.