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Dancing To Ray Charles: Ch. 06, Cards and Cuddles pt 1 of 3




Hearts, as played by Amy, Mark, Willie, and Bob was as much a contact sport as a card game. They’d all been varsity athletes in high school, were still competitive, and hated to lose at anything, including cards. The current debate didn’t center on the game, however, but which album to play during the next hand.


“Okay, y’all,” said Amy, addressing Mark and Bob while collecting the cards, “we’ve played ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ for Bob, and endured Claudine Longet for Mark. Now it’s my turn, and I want to hear my new Simon and Garfunkle record.”


Mark was trailing and in a sour mood. “Look, we’re all amazed you bought something recorded in the ‘60’s. But that was the first one we played.”


“That’s right, but yours was next, and we just finished Bob’s. So now it should be my turn. Besides, if we play ‘The Look of Love’ anymore, you’ll fall even further behind." She concluded her argument by sticking her tongue out at him.


Bob finished tallying the score. “Now be fair, woman. After all that slow dancing with Bebe Boudreaux last night, he may have become addicted to French girls. Besides, the whole time the record was on you kept flashing the album cover in his face. Odds are that distracted the poor boy.”


Before Mark could think of a comeback, Willie broke in. “Don’t I get a vote in all this?”


The other three looked at him for a second, then chorused, “No!”

Willie was unperturbed by the negative response. “Well, I was just asking.” Pushing away from the table, he stood and headed over to the stereo. “Do you still have those albums you borrowed from me last Christmas?”

The question was directed at Amy. She had a well-earned reputation for being less than perfect when it came to returning borrowed items. “Uh, sure. I think. That is, they should be over on the floor by the stereo with my other, I mean, with my records. I was going to give them back tonight, honest.”

Waving away Amy’s guilt driven reply, Willie knelt and began flipping through the stack. Moments later he was brandishing a garish album cover. “Found it. Now I’m going to play this because it’s somebody we all like and besides, it’s my turn.”

Bob stretched, gave Amy a sly grin, and spoke to Willie. “You better pick a winner. Otherwise, Miss ‘Oldies But Goodies’ here might retaliate with her collection of Buddy Holly and Bobby Darin .45’s.”

Mark nodded. “That’d be rough, but I can handle them. It’s all those classics by Fabian that lay me in the shade.”

Amy responded with a bright expression like she’d just had a great idea. “Hey, what about some Connie Francis?”

Ignoring the groans coming from the table, Willie put his album on the bottom of the stack. After activating the changer, he headed back to the table. As he sat down, the sound of Otis Redding’s rich, emotional voice filled the Marshall’s den.

“You done did good, big guy,” said Mark.

Bob leaned over and patted Willie on the shoulder. “For a preacher’s kid, you do okay, sometimes.”

Willie was losing his struggle to keep a straight face. “Will you two stop it? All that praise will turn my head.”

“I still can’t believe he’s dead,” said Amy, as she began to deal.

“Only the good die young,” said Mark, picking up his hand. “And speaking of dead, you’ve once again dealt me a pile of warmed over death.”

“Glad I could help,” Amy smirked while arranging her own cards. A few minutes later, Mark returned her smirk as he, “shot the moon,” giving his three opponents the maximum number of points.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, treating your friends like that,” she grumbled.

Putting down his pencil, Bob gave her a consoling look. “Sweat it not. Old ‘Hands of Death’ was so far behind he’s still in last place.”

“But not for long,” said Mark, as he began shuffling the cards. “And while we’re on the subject of death, I want to ask my worthy opponent, Mr. Willie Carter, a question if I might?”

“Rave on, oh righteous one,” said Willie.

Mark stopped shuffling. “I hate to break into all this mindless BS with a serious thought, but we haven’t had a chance to talk about this, and I was just wondering when Dr. King was killed, what was it like for that white guy on your team?” The white guy in question was Jim Gregory, Grambling’s first white football player.

Willie appeared to be considering his answer. “It was a little tense for a while. A few guys did some talking, but that was about all. The thing is, for a white dude from California, Jim’s okay.”

“Don’t you mean for a white guy from California who’s a quarterback?” said Bob.

As the one member of the group to ever play quarterback, Willie was accustomed to quarterback jokes. In high school, he’d been named All-State at both quarterback and defensive back and had wanted to play quarterback in college. But when he arrived at Grambling, they already had a future NFL Pro-Bowl quarterback on hand in James Harris. Another future pro, Matthew Reed, was waiting in the pipeline. Seeing that talent, Willie realized what Jim Gregory was still learning. GSU didn’t need another quarterback, even if he was good. They already had two who were great.

“You two quit teasing, poor Willie,” said Amy.

“Why?” asked Bob and Mark.

“Because I want to bug him about something else.”

“Well, In that case--” said Bob.

“Yeah, be our guest.” Mark was dealing a new hand.

Leaning forward, Amy rested her chin in the palms of her hands and purred, “All right Willie Lee, now what’s the story about this new girl? I don’t want to pry into your personal life, so just give me the essentials. You know, stuff like who is she, where’s she from, how’d you two meet, is she a nice girl, and if she is, why are you interested?”

A short silence followed this demand for information. But there was no doubt Willie was going to talk. Everyone talked. This type of interrogation had become a ritual in the group. Whenever a member began dating someone new, dating being defined as three straight dates, they were expected to fill everyone else in on all the details.

Mark had undergone this three times while Amy and Willie had run the gauntlet twice. Bob was already dating Libby when the ritual started and thus avoided ever being in the hot seat. The practice began in high school as a way for everyone else to tease Mark. Now it served as one of the bonds that helped keep the group connected.

Willie heaved another sigh and then began to talk. “Her name is Naomi Jones. She’s from Alexandria. I met her last semester when we were lab partners. And, to save you the trouble of beating the information out of me, she’s a preacher’s daughter.”

Mark’s face broke into a grin. “Now the truth is revealed. Two preachers’ kids dating. Isn’t that some type of semi-incest?”

“Not in this case,” said Willie, pretending the statement made sense. “Her father’s head of the big A.M.E. church down there.”

“A Baptist dating an A.M.E.? Willie, my good man, now we’re also talking possible ecclesiastical miscegenation.”

Amy interrupted what threatened to become another one of Mark’s extended monologues. “I know I should know this, but what does A.M.E. stand for?”

“African Methodist Episcopal Church,” replied Willie. “And before you ask, don’t ask, ‘cause I’ve got no idea why they picked that name. All I know is that in comparison to us low church Baptist types, they’re a pretty high church crowd.”

Willie was saved from further harassment by the appearance of Amy’s mother who walked into the den carrying an overstuffed photo album. “You kids won’t believe what I just found,” she said with obvious delight.

Glancing at Bob, she explained, “These are all the pictures we took of Amy, Mark, and Willie back when they were babies. It was up in the hall closet. Someone must have put it there during all the remodeling.”

After sitting down on the leather couch in front of the empty fireplace, she opened the album. At the card table, no one but Bob was calm in the face of the approaching horror. A few seconds later, it struck. “Oh, this is too cute. Come on over here and take a look.”

“This is going to be bad,” mumbled Mark as he rose to face his fate.

“Wrong,” said Amy, turning to face her mother. “This is going to be terrible.”

“You guys are a bunch of sissies,” said Bob, with an untroubled grin.

“Just wait until you see these pictures,” whispered Willie, “then you’ll understand.”



  • To be continued --


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