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I had a thing for Usher back in the day. Any brother with his nose curvature or flat rounded face would get a second glance. Mark could’ve been his twin. Sans the purple silk shirts and skully caps, he stood at an arresting 6’5—beautiful and godly to all who dared to look.

We met the usual way, through a friend of a friend, and found ourselves chitchatting often and eventually going on dates. I found myself holding hands with a newcomer, listening to his every word and getting to know his depth.

Politics.

Ex-Loves.

Cartoons.

His momma.

My momma.

Religion.

I was a Christian and he was Jehovah’s Witness; his face slightly cringed at the news, but I dismissed it when he kissed my cheek and said he couldn’t wait to see me again.

Dismissing gets you nowhere.

We met for the third time at Bryant Park for an evening stroll.  It was the first time my lips found his own and a whirlwind grew inside of me. You know the questions that float through your mind when you’re tiptoeing close enough for his heart but aiming for his mouth: Is this it? Is this the one? Are you him?

We said nothing after the kiss. The silence was far from awkward, but too sultry to be broken. The pavement against our footsteps collided with the city’s hum and we found ourselves in front of the Virgin Megastore that once was.

“I really want Erykah Badu’s album.” He smiled in my direction.

I dug his affinity for music.

We clasped hands once more and headed for the long escalators. I turned to sneak a look at Mark as his brown beautiful eyes flew open with familiarity of a view in front of him. My palm was suddenly flung from his, he stepped two mechanicals stairs back, and his eyes wandered rampantly.

The hell?

Before I could call him on it, a security guard spoke. “Mark! What’s going on Brother Mark?” The two flew into an embrace once he’d reached the top of his ascent, as I stood witness from a nearby “New Releases.”

“I’m good Brother Anderson. Just checking out some tunes.”

The security guard quizzed him, “Alone? Isn’t that young lady with you?”

Mark stuttered, “Yeah….she’s a girl I go to school with. We…um….we’re working on this music project.”

The security guard nodded in naiveté, “Oh alright. Have fun now, but not too much fun.”

They embraced once more and suddenly Mark was back at my side. He insisted that we leave and he’d explain everything later.

When we were a block away, he spoke hurriedly on a blurred corner.

“Um see that security guard we just saw? He’s a brother in my church. Technically I’m not allowed to date women outside of the church. It has to be arranged and we have to start as friends—inside of the religious family. We’re not even allowed to date unless we’re set to be married.”

It was my turn to quiz, I asked in my best hypothetical-I’m-not-crazy voice, “So let’s say we got so deep into this that we wanted to get married, you’re saying you wouldn’t or couldn’t do it?”

He hesitated, “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that we should figure that out when we get to that level.”

And of course I stayed, like the young fool I was. Back then levels meant something. I was too immature to realize that every notch had its glory and consequence. If I was going to lay down with someone—I better be damn sure I could see him as a father. Accidents happen. If I was going to date someone—he better be worthy enough to bring home. Parents ask questions. Every level has a consequence.

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