Aria watched her mother from the doorway; Helen Jackson was standing in her backyard restaurant. There were four card tables with four chairs each and a picnic table. All the seats were taken and there were a few who stood, eating from the takeout containers. There were businessmen and laborers, blacks and whites, men and women. Ever since Aria was a young girl, Helen had cooked and sold dinners, it was her thing. Even as a child, Aria was embarrassed by it but now at twenty seven with two degrees, she was horrified. She loved her mom but everything about her made her cringe. The bootleg business she was witnessing, her thick and curvy body and her boisterous laughter. She turned to leave but heard her name.
"Aria, stop hiding in there and come out and mingle."
Flinching at the deep voice of Saul Rathbone, she opened the door, strolling out. Saul owned the house next to her mother's and half the houses on the avenue. He bought them, fixed them up and rented them to people who were from their neighborhood. His motto was, Let's Own Ours... He was Howard University educated but hood in his heart and everyone loved him. His eyes drank Aria in. She was a little thin but still as pretty as ever with her soft hair and pouty lips. She blatantly ignored Saul.
"Hey baby, do you want chicken or fish?" Helen asked in her boisterous voice. A huge smile covered her smooth walnut colored face and her eyes twinkled. Aria made her way to where Helen stood, not looking around. She kissed her mom's cheek, declining a plate.
"Come on Aria, you know no one fries fish or chicken like Ms. Helen. You are looking kind of skinny and hungry."
Saul said in deep, dry tones. A few of the people chuckled but Aria was furious. She turned on Saul but was rendered speechless by the way he stood, looking at her, his legs apart and his hands in his pockets. Saul was tall and dark brown skinned with a penetrating gaze. His lower face was covered in a short beard that did nothing to cover his amazing lips. He was as handsome as it was possible to be. Handsome devil ran through her mind.
"Saul, leave my baby alone. You know these educated girls eat healthy nowadays. Aria, it's good to see you. Hey y'all, this is my daughter Aria, she got a master’s degree in finance. She works at the bank."
Pride was clear in Helen's voice and some of the patrons murmured congratulations and went back to their overfilled plates. The air was redolent with great food scents.
"Baby, there's a big salad inside and some fruit. I'll be in there after a while."
Nodding, Aria made her way inside, exhaling. Opening the refrigerator she pulled out the bowl filled with salad. She was actually starving and would have loved a few wings. Turning to grab a plate, her heart caught in her throat when she saw Saul standing inches from her.
"Are you still ashamed of us Aria or are you finally home?"
His voice was low and melodious, sending a thrill up her spine.
"I'm in this town but I'm not going to live in this neighborhood. Left up to me, my mom wouldn't either." She snapped. She hadn't seen Saul in years and they were already in combat. He was a few years older than her but had always taken pleasure in teasing her. She was once good friends with his sister.
"Why not Aria? This is a great neighborhood. It's chockfull of professionals with white and blue collars and it spawned us, you and I, college educated and upwardly mobile."
"This is you Saul, not me. It also spawned crack addicts and the like and I want nothing to do with that!" A slow smile covered his face.
"It did, like my sister and your former friend but Sandra is clean and sober and working as a counselor and you know why?"
"I'm sure you're going to tell me..."
"It's because of this place and people like your mom. They were never ashamed of her. They loved on her and chastised her and never gave up on her. This neighborhood is famous for that."
"Well good for them and you but this is no longer me. If my mom weren't here..."
"You would never come this way... That's too bad Aria because it's you we need. The girl born to the single mom who worked cleaning hotel rooms and selling dinners to allow her to live in her own home instead of an apartment or the projects and to go away to get an education. Those checks she mailed you were mailed from the hood post office. So instead of being ashamed of all this, you should be thanking God, Ms. Helen and this hood... But do you. By the way, you look good but you really do need a couple of those wings."
He leaned in close to her, placing his forehead against hers before strolling from the room, leaving his words hanging in the air... and her insides in turmoil.