Charming, ruthless, and very good-looking are all easy descriptors for Jeeter Sarno, a small-time hustler and enforcer with grandiose dreams. Jeeter’s edge in life had always been his innate ability, even in the most dangerous circumstances, to not only survive, but to thrive. What he didn’t know or care about was how much he was missing in his life until he met her.
Dina Styler is a half Black, half Greek, inner-city public school teacher by day then graduate student and would be playwright by night. A real firecracker whose drive, ambition, and upbringing always leads her in the inevitable direction of doing something with her life she can be proud of. The attraction Dina and Jeeter have for each other starts as an ember but quickly smolders into something more when they realize each has something the other needs.
When Jeeter receives an unexpected blessing from an incredible source, whether he can transform himself from small time to mainstream or something else completely different, and hold on to Dina at the same time, tests his mettle in life and in love.
Chapter 1: The Proposal
Dina was in a zone, far away from this dance floor, and even farther away from this dude who kept his hands low and tight on her waist like he was afraid she might fly away. It was so hot in the club but the pulsing beats were hypnotic, compelling her to dance, to forget.
Opening her eyes to ask the dude to get her a drink and then give her a break, she spotted Jeeter, walking purposefully towards her. His hair looked different, she’d asked him a million times to cut it and he finally had. It made him look older, but it was him – the fierce, crazy eyes, the swagger – grabbing her close then speaking to the dude, but only looking at her “Excuse us, I owe my woman a dance.”
“This woman.” Dina corrected. “Don’t you mean you owe this woman a dance?” Dina said. Her heart was beating very fast but she managed to keep her gaze on him steady.
“No, I meant what I said.”
“You don’t always mean what you say.”
Jeeter’s eyes closed as he inhaled deeply, opening his eyes on the exhale he whispered,
“Hey fella, we were dancing.” Dina’s and Jeeter’s heads whip around simultaneously. The dude. He was still there.
The dude looked like he lifted lots of weights, all the time. Jeeter noted, looking him up and down. The dude was not insignificant. And to boot, he was a few inches taller than Jeeter. He decided to try to end this amicably. Leaning toward the dude smiling conspiratorially, Jeeter spoke just loud enough to be heard.
“Mister, trust me. I wouldn’t lie. You are superfluous.”
“Ha!” Dina laughed.
She didn’t mean to humiliate the dude, but she couldn’t help herself, when Jeeter spoke like he’d just been reading the dictionary it cracked her up. Jeeter turned back to her, still smiling.
“Maybe I should just settle this for both of you.” Jeeter said pulling a small, turquoise velvet box out of his pocket and opening it.
He noticed Dina’s beautiful brown eyes widened, then darken, as she gaped at the ring. It had taken him forever to pick it out, all the while the prissy sales person watched him like a hawk, Jeeter thought even with all the pressure he’d picked a good one. It was a simple 1.5ct. platinum solitaire, oval-shaped diamond – it was classy, but solid – like her. Dina’s mouth was open, her hand covering it. He waited until she looked up at him.
“I want to be with you Dina, all the time, EVERY day. Marry me, baby. I promise I’ll work so hard to make you happy, you’ll never regret it.”
“Aw sheeit.” The dude said, arms akimbo looking back and forth at Dina and Jeeter like he just found out somebody stole his wallet. But nobody was paying any attention to him so he stomped off, muttering to himself.
Moving her hand away from her still open mouth, Jeeter began kissing her softly as he put the box in her hand. He stopped the kiss reluctantly but he was anxious to see her face when he took out the ring and gently placed it on the ring finger of her other hand.
“Hmmm…,” he said still looking for her reaction, “perfect fit.”
Dina shoved the box back at him, then holding her own hand stared, dumbfounded, at the ring on it.
“D…I need an answer. I need to hear it.”
Jeeter put his hand on her chin lifting her head and noticed to his surprise that her eyes were watery and her lips were quivering. Just then the music changed and like magic, there it was, the first chords so familiar. Dina gasped as she recognized the revised version of I’ll be Missing You by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans. She and Jeeter had bonded over the song on their very first date. They’d both lost a good friend that year to the streets, to life. They knew some people thought it was exploitive the way Diddy had reworked the song and made it an homage to his friend Biggy. But they both agreed it touched them every time someone played it and they loved it anyway. Dina was sobbing openly now.
“Y…you… got th…them to play this.”
It wasn’t really a question. So Jeeter didn’t bother answering her instead he started to dance slowly, the tempo steady, mellifluous. Moving closer, he put one arm around her back, pulling her to him, leading her into the rhythm. Chest to chest, hip to hip, her face buried in his shoulder, they danced together. Dina couldn’t remember ever feeling so connected to anyone. Moving her hand to his chest she thought she could feel his heart beat and it was in time with hers. Their steps synchronizing two by two, to the music, to the beat. Oh my God, Dina thought, I love this man so much I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Jeeter took her chin in his hand again so she would look at him, as though he heard what she was thinking out loud.
“You’ll never have to miss me again, baby, I’ll always be right here. For you. Promise. But woman, please, you gotta say something. Give me an answer.”
“Not here, Jeeter, not here. I’ll tell you everything I’m feeling but first, take me home, okay?”
Jeeter nodded his assent and took her hand leading her swiftly through the maze of dancing bodies and straight out the main exit. There were a mass of people outside too, standing in front of the club dressed to the nines and looking like they were ready for anything. Jeeter kept walking ignoring them and crossed the four lane street, holding his hand up once to silently and authoritatively ask the right of way from an impending motorist. He stopped at the curb in front of a brand new black Kia Soul and she heard the distinct sound of the cars lock and alarm disengaging.
“You bought a car.”
“Correction, I bought us a car. It will come in handy when we get out of the city on weekends.”
Jeeter opened the car door and was waiting for her to get in but she just stood there looking at him. She looked so flabbergasted he was suddenly concerned.
“Are you alright?”
Dina looked at the ground for a moment, shaking her head.
“No Jeeter, I don’t think I am alright. But I will be…,” her hand moved up and caressed his face, “promise.”
Jeeter drove carefully and things remained quiet between them for the duration of the ride. It would take him about 20-25 minutes to get to Riverdale from Washington Heights in weekend traffic. He was still a little worried. It was unlike her to be this quiet for this long. Dina always had something to say or that she wanted to discuss with him. It was usually something interesting too. It use to bother him sometimes because he would just sit there listening, trying to keep up with whatever she said, even when it floated way above his head and his skill set. He used to suspect if he didn’t say much she’d find him boring but eventually he stopped worrying about it because she never seemed to.
The way she sat so serenely, looking out the window at the passing streets, he thought maybe she was still overwhelmed by his proposal. If he dared to ask her she would have told him yes, she was full up — raw with something, a feeling she might never get used to because it was incomparable to anything she felt before. She sat in the car, pondering what the feeling could be then just as they pulled into the driveway of Jeeter’s aunt’s house — now Jeeter’s house – she knew what it was she was feeling. It was joy, pure and unsullied.
Dina got out as soon as the car stopped and before Jeeter had even turned the engine off. She walked towards the front door, put her hand in the third hanging plant from the left, the one with the purple lobelia, and found the key. Unlocking the door she left it open and walked in with Jeeter still in the car staring after her.
Following her inside, Jeeter closed the door and looked around. Dina hadn’t turn on any lights. The house was still dark but he could see well enough to notice her gold high-heeled sandals on the steps. It looked as if she’d taken them off one at a time as she walked upstairs, because further up he could see a garment. On closer inspection he was pretty sure it was the gold dress she’d been wearing. He thought for a moment, he’d seen this stuff happen in the movies all the time but he couldn’t recall it ever happening to him. Jeeter swallowed heavily as he carefully walked up the stairs; picking up everything Dina had dropped one by one. Each shoe, her dress, her lacy bra, and then finally, her matching thong on the very top stair. Jeeter, wide-eyed, swallowed again, then dropping all Dina’s breadcrumbs on the floor, he stalked towards the bedroom.