ater that evening, Renee awoke to the muffled sounds of roaring, hissing and beeping machines. As her hearing became clearer, she began to recognize the familiar voices of her family members. The head of her bed was elevated at a thirty-degree angle. She slowly opened her eyes to a dimly lit room, but was blinded by the bright lights from the hallway. Her vision was blurry, but gradually she was able to focus clearly on her sister on one side of the room and then her parents on the other.
Cheryl was the first to notice that Renee's eyes were open. “Look, Renee's eyes are open.” She stood up and moved closer and said, “Hey, girl. Welcome back. Look at you. You're doing just fine now.”
Renee's parents moved in closer. Her family tried to be supportive and acted as natural as possible, even though Renee looked like she was in pretty bad shape.
Mrs. Rhodes said, “Oh God, look at you ... so precious.” She kissed Renee on the cheek and said, “God can do all things but fail. I knew He'd bring you back.”
Mr. Rhodes said, “Hey, Renee. How you feeling, baby?” He smiled. “I know you're all right.”
Renee returned a blank stare. She realized where she was and became incredibly sad and frightened. She felt lethargic and momentarily confused. Her eyes watered and she began to cry. She didn't know what day it was or why she was in the hospital. She assumed that she had been in a car accident. This was a dramatic sceneâa profound moment that Renee and her family would never forget.
Mrs. Rhodes said, “Don't cry, baby. You're gonna make me cry again. You're fine. Everything is gonna be okay.”
Mr. Rhodes was about to break down himself. He acted strong and said, “I'm gonna let the doctor know that Renee is awake.”
Mrs. Rhodes answered, “Good.” She looked at Renee and said, “You're such a fighter. You know that?” Renee returned the same blank stare. Her mother smiled and said, “I know you know.”
Cheryl and Mr. Rhodes couldn't bear to see Renee looking so incapacitated. A big part of the problem was that they both had unrealistic expectations about her recovery. They assumed Renee would awaken and instantly be just like her old self. The two of them looked deflated, but tried to hide their real emotions. They quietly exited the room to notify the doctor of Renee's status.
Mr. Rhodes never guessed Renee would end up in a crisis like this. She was so beautiful that he had imagined she would be happily married by now and her strong youthful husband would bear most of her burdens instead of himâa burned-out, over-the-hill father of two overly dependent adult daughters. He had always wanted sons, but wouldn't trade his girls for anything in the world.
Mrs. Rhodes stayed by Renee's side. She felt as guilty as ever, seeing her child in such a compromised condition. She wanted to exchange places with Renee because Renee had inherited this unforgiving mental disorder from her.
Renee lay there, trying her best to assess her situation. She looked down at her toes and wanted them covered because they were cold. She tried to speak, but realized she couldn't because she had an endotracheal tube jammed down her throat. With every passing second she became more aware of her body and surroundings. She wanted to rub her nose, but couldn't because her hands were restrained to keep her from pulling on any of her tubes, lines or drains. She struggled to piece her thoughts together, but everything was a blur. She was sorry that her family had to see her like this because she knew that she looked awfully pathetic lying there.
One face that she longed to see was noticeably missing. She wondered where Joel was and why he wasn't at her bedside. In an instant her thoughts of Joel triggered an eruption of images inside her mind. It was hard to figure out whether the images were real or imagined.
Mrs. Rhodes noticed a panicked look in Renee's eyes and asked, “What is it, baby? Relax yourself and go back to sleep. You gotta get your rest.”
Mrs. Rhodes feared that if Renee remembered what happened it might hinder her recovery. She applied a cool compress to Renee's forehead. She held Renee's hand and stroked her face gently.
Renee was caught up in a brief flashback. She began to remember the bottle of sleeping pills, the cold wine and the unbearable feeling of worthlessness. She slowly pieced the main elements together and knew that she had done something to hurt herself. Everything else was a blur. At that moment she realized that she had survived a suicide attempt. She worried about what the future held for her, and wondered whether she had done any permanent damage to herself. Suddenly, Renee wished that she had died.
The walls were closing in on her. She felt like she was suffocating and began to breathe against the ventilator. That caused an alarm to sound. Mr. Rhodes and Cheryl had returned to the room along with Renee's nurse. Her family panicked, but the nurse quickly reset the alarm. The problem had already been corrected because Renee was unconscious again. It was normal for a person in her condition to slip in and out of consciousness. Being awake in this condition was entirely too much for her to deal with. She was mentally and physically exhausted.
Renee reentered la-la land and soon began to relive vivid, sweet memories of being with Joel. She immersed herself so deeply into the memories that she created images of moments that had never actually happened. This was like a priceless form of virtual reality. The new images were so real and beautiful that they gave her an overwhelming sense of peace and calm.
he threesome had willingly gone into seclusion, away from the unrelenting and scorching summertime heat. They stayed inside Erin and Kenya's comfy apartment eating, sleeping, bathing and making love together almost all week. Nudity had become the norm, and spine-tingling sex had become a regular part of their daily ritual. They were temporarily cut off from the outside world that didn't really understand or appreciate a relationship like the one they shared. They seemed to feed off of each other's energy and showered each other with lots of affection. Being together like this confirmed that they possessed the power to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. The intense nature of the world they created on the inside changed their view of the outside world. To them everybody else was an outsider.
Although sex played a major part in their relationship, the emphasis began to shift more toward love and belonging. All three seemed to have found their niche. They welcomed the change and embraced it. More than anything, they began to develop a better understanding of the subtleties and nuances that went into making a successful polyamorous relationship.
Joel spent a couple of days planning what he considered a much-needed two-part surprise getaway.
On Friday morning the threesome woke up in Erin's snug queen-sized bed looking like they were in the middle of playing a game of naked Twister. They missed Joel's apartment and his king-sized bed. They had carried out a series of clean-up and recovery efforts in his apartment, but for the most part the place remained in a shambles. Joel came to the conclusion that it was time to give up his apartment. Since he had a month-to-month lease, Erin and Kenya planned to move Joel and his king-sized bed into their apartment.
The moment had almost arrived for Joel to reveal the first part of the surprise he had planned for Erin and Kenyaâwhat he called the ultimate date. He asked them to dress in evening gowns because a limousine was scheduled to pick them up later that evening. As the hours passed, Erin and Kenya knew that they were in for a treat. All that day there was something extra special about the way Joel looked at them, held them and kissed them.
A white Lincoln Navigator stretch-limousine arrived at five-thirty that evening. The driver was a heavyset middle-aged white guy named Chuck. He parked the limousine and made his way up to the apartment to meet his clients.
As usual the three were dressed to impress. Joel exited the building first, looking very formal. He was decked out in his fresh-to-death black Hugo Boss tuxedo with a crisp white dress shirt and an extra-thick black silk necktie. The two-button peacked-lapel jacket accentuated his athletic physique. Joel held the door as Erin exited wearing a stunning celery green silk gown with an embroidered bust and thin spaghetti straps. Kenya followed close behind wearing a sexy chartreuse silk chiffon gown with halter straps. Erin and Kenya purposely chose to wear shimmering summer-colored gowns with styles that showed off their individuality. Their gowns were made by a well-known African-American designer named Rudy Alston. His fashions were known to accentuate black women's coca-cola figuresâplump bottoms, ample bust and narrow waistlines.
A lot of their neighbors were just arriving home from work. They stopped and stared as Erin, Kenya and Joel got into their limousine. Ms. Benson stood frozen on the sidewalk simply admiring how handsome Joel looked in his tuxedo and how dazzling Erin and Kenya looked in their elegant gowns. The neighbors thought of the three as weird and very hard to figure out. In reality they were just bold, daring and different.
Joel made sure that there were two dozen long-stemmed roses along with a chilled bottle of champagne waiting for Erin and Kenya inside the limousine. They thanked Joel for their surprise, but had no idea where they were headed or what else he had in store. They just sat back, relaxed, cuddled up with their man and enjoyed the ride.
It took about thirty-five minutes for the limousine to arrive at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. A crowd of well-dressed classical-music enthusiasts moved at a snail's pace toward the main entrance. A few black concertgoers were scattered throughout the predominantly white crowd. Chuck parked his limo and then made his way around to open the door for Joel and the girls. Joel stepped out first and took Erin on his right arm and then Kenya on his left arm. Heads turned, smiles gleamed, eyebrows raised and there were some double takes.
Joel had the pleasure of hearing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform live during a school trip, and had always promised that he would return. He just never imagined he would return and make such a grand entrance with a beautiful woman on each arm.
Erin and Kenya had never heard the BSO perform live. They had always dreamed of dressing up and attending what they thought of as a high-society cultural event like this. All their lives they had seen people on television going to operas and ballets. This was an exciting chance for them to dress up and rub elbows with some of Baltimore's elite. It definitely lived up to the hype.
Joel was different from any man Erin or Kenya had ever dated. Most guys they dated in the past would have been too intimidated to attend this type of concert.
The BSO created music that sounded like heaven on earth. No other venue in the area matched the Meyerhoff. Every instrument could be heard, and conveyed as much feeling as any vocalist. The music was dramatic, emotional and uplifting. Joel had achieved his goalâhe could clearly see that Erin and Kenya thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
After the concert Chuck drove the threesome around downtown Baltimore for a little while. Joel had him drop them off at a park called Rash Field where they could enjoy the breathtaking view of the inner harbor and the city's skyline. They stood atop a grassy hilltop on a wide sidewalk surrounded by lush greenery, watching Baltimore unwind from a busy week. The passing cars roared while the city lights created a somber glow in the darkness of night.
A warm gentle breeze began to stir and made the leaves on the trees shimmy. There were several couples sitting on benches or walking along taking in the romantic atmosphere. A saxophonist sat under a lamppost playing his heart out for dollars or loose change. The night sky was so clear that the stars looked like a million sparkling diamonds set against a coal-black velvet background.
Erin looked at Joel and said, “This is really nice and I'm all for strolls in the park, but I'm hungry.”
Kenya laughed and said, “So am I. As a matter of fact, I'm starving. We need food.”
Joel was calm and cool. He took off his jacket, loosened his necktie and said, “Just keep walking and I promise y'all a meal you won't forget.”
As the three walked along the sidewalk they noticed a white canopy set up next to a white truck with the company's name Ready-set Gourmet painted in fancy red lettering on the side.
As they got closer to the canopy Kenya said, “I smell something good.” She pointed toward the elegant table, took a deep breath and said, “Look at all this. God, this is so romantic.”
Soft glowing candlelight lit the scene. There was a large sterling-silver candelabrum in the middle of the table. Four mixed bouquets of white, yellow, pink and red roses sat on white columns at each inside corner of the canopy.
Erin exhaled loudly and said, “This sure is romantic. I wish this was for us.”
Joel smiled and said, “Yeah, this is nice. Somebody kicked out a lot of cash to make this happen.” He stepped in for a closer look and was very impressed. “One day I might surprise y'all and do something like this.”
A middle-aged black couple emerged from the rear of the truck dressed like chefs. They noticed Joel and the girls and walked toward them. The man looked at Joel and said, “Hello. How may I help you, sir?”
Joel chuckled and said, “I'm Mr. Davis and these are my lovely guests, Erin and Kenya.”
Erin and Kenya's eyes widened and their hearts skipped a beat. They blushed and then turned into two giddy little schoolgirls.
Erin looked at Kenya and whispered, “What's he doing?”
Kenya looked puzzled. “I dunno. Is this for us?”
Erin smiled and said, “I think so ... I hope so.”
Erin and Kenya were blown away by Joel and his extravagant surprises.
The guy who was talking to Joel said, “All right, Mr. Davis. I'd like to welcome the three of you. I'm Lawrence Connors and this is my wife Lori Connors and we're the co-owners of Ready-set Gourmet.”
Lori smiled and said, “Good evening everybody, and welcome to Ready-set Gourmet. Come right this way.” She directed them to their table.
It was a round table, so quite naturally Joel sat with Erin on his right side and Kenya on his left.
Joel had contacted Lawrence earlier in the week and reserved everything. Usually a dinner like this had to be planned weeks in advance, but there was a last-minute cancellation and Lawrence was able to accommodate Joel. Joel pre-selected shrimp cocktails for their appetizers and jumbo steamed lobster with a steamed vegetable medley and seasoned mashed potatoes for their dinner entrÃ©es.
Within a few minutes their appetizers were served. Their entrÃ©es followed and the three talked and joked around while dipping their lobster in warm butter. They spent about an hour eating dinner and drinking champagne.
After dinner Joel looked at Erin and Kenya and said, “I kept saying that I wanted to do something special for the two of you and this is it.” Though he already knew the answer, he asked, “How did y'all enjoy everything?”
Erin said, “Thank you so much. Everything was beautiful. All I can say is that you're a man with a lot of style.”
Kenya said, “Thanks so much for showing us a different side of life. The concert was nice, but having dinner out here like this is absolutely incredible.”
Joel smiled and said, “I wanted to do something that was a little over-the-top and I'm nowhere close to being finished.”
Erin said, “This is enough. I'm sure you put out a lot of money to make this happen.”
“I did, but the two of you are worth every penny.”
Kenya said, “I keep asking myself, all this for us?”
Joel said, “You're worth it.”
Kenya laughed and said, “We know it, but the fact that you know it means everything.”
“I told y'all it doesn't stop here. We're all interested in an exotic getaway, right?”
Erin said with a giggle in her voice, “Yeah. We can leave tonight if you're ready.”
With a straight face Joel asked, “How does next week sound?”
Kenya's eyes widened. “Oh my God. Are you serious?”
Erin said, “He sure looks serious.”
Joel couldn't hold back his smile. He pulled out some paperwork. He unfolded the flight confirmation and reservation information for the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.
Erin looked at the dates and confirmation numbers and said, “He is serious. Awww, I can't wait. Thank you ... thank you ... thank you.”
Kenya said, “Thank you, Joel. You're so sweet. What would we do without you?”
Joel asked, “What would I do without the two of you?” He paused for a second and said, “I've had a lot on my mind lately. I've been through a whole lot too. The good thing is that the two of you have been by my side the entire time and I love y'all for that.”
Out of nowhere Erin said, “I love you, Joel.”
Kenya added with sincerity, “I love you too, Joel.”
Joel appeared to be blown away by Erin and Kenya's affectionate words. “This is wild. Hearing those words come out of your mouths is mind-blowing. I love you, Erin.” He gave her a long, slow, passionate kiss. Then Joel looked directly into Kenya's eyes and said, “And I love you, Kenya.” He gave her an equally passionate kiss. “There's so much going on inside of me right now. I keep hearing my mother's voice. She's guiding me ... leading me closer to God. I've been praying like crazy, asking God to help me make a change in my life. I wanna do things the right way without compromising who I am, but honestly it's hard trying to lead a Christian lifestyle living in this sexually charged world that we live in.”
With a worried expression on her face Erin asked, “What exactly are you saying?”
Kenya noticed that Joel seemed to have had trouble finding the right words. She said, “Go ahead and just say exactly what's on your mind.”
“Okay. I feel like God is watching me ... every little thing I do. I'm trying to find a healthy balance between spirituality and sexuality without feeling guilty. I want us to get closer to God even though people think that He won't understand or approve of a relationship like ours. But I think He will ... I pray He will.”
Kenya smiled and said, “We're spiritual beings and we know God. We don't need any religion or any hypocritical people telling us how God wants us to express our love for each other. No matter what, God is inside of us. Trust me, we're already close to Him.”