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The Hearts of Men

A Novel

The Hearts of Men by Travis Hunter
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Tall, dark, and handsome, Prodigy Banks was once a playboy. Now he’s a man any mother would be proud to call her son, and when he meets Nina, the mother of the young boy he mentors, it seems that life is going to get even better. But when his past threatens his newfound respectability, Prodigy has to act fast to protect his new relationship.

Bernard Charles is haunted by childhood memories of abandonment and poverty. His workaholic ways frustrate his wife, Diane, and leave her vulnerable to another man’s advances. After her betrayal, will Bernard move on or move out?

Winston “Poppa Doc” Fuller has a fix for what’s ailing the younger generation. Married for more than forty years to his beloved Ethel, Winston brings healing to everyone he touches. Yet despite his best efforts, he hasn’t been able to reach his own thirty-three-year-old son—a situation that soon requires urgent resolution, because as Poppa Doc tells his son: “I love you, but I’m not proud of you. Make me proud of you before I leave this earth.”

In his marvelous debut novel, Travis Hunter has crafted a tale that is funny, sexy, and touching—revealing what it truly means to have the heart of a man.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group; July 2001
ISBN 9780375506611
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: The Hearts of Men
Author: Travis Hunter
Caught with Your Pants Down

It was Friday morning, and Prodigy Banks was running just as late as he had the other four days of the week. After hitting the snooze button for the fifth time, he reluctantly arose at 7:20 a.m., pulling up his tired body and sitting on the side of his honey-oak sleigh bed. He then placed his head in the palm of his hands and proceeded with his morning ritual: trying his best to come up with a good lie to let his supervisor know he wouldn’t be in the office that day.

It was not like he was ill; he just didn’t feel like going to work, and now he was running out of excuses. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d said his grandfather died. In fact, his grandfather did die, but that was in 1978. After realizing he had already used all of his good excuses, he conceded. He forced himself up and into the bathroom.

Prodigy had never been a morning person, which was why he had to get out of the Army. He realized Uncle Sam’s boys really did do more before nine a.m. than he planned on doing all day long. Plus, Simone, his manager and lover, spoiled him. She always covered for his tardiness.

Right now, she was the only one he was kicking it with, sort of. Slowly, Prodigy was trying to minimize his workload of women. He’d been with so many that it wasn’t much fun anymore. Plus, he discovered that more than half of the women he dealt with didn’t have anything going for them anyway. After sex, there wasn’t much left for them to talk about.

Now he was shifting gears by trying to focus on a single relationship that was mentally as well as physically stimulating. His new motto was to screw up, not down, which meant he would bypass the rank and file to focus on kicking it with a woman of power and status. Rich women need love too, he thought. He didn’t want his intentions misinterpreted, though. Just because he wanted a person who fit his definition of completeness didn’t mean he was looking for a serious relationship. He relished his carefree bachelor life, but whoever it was who would be taking care of his physical needs had to bring more to the table than a cute face and a fat butt. And right now, Simone was bringing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a fat butt.

Maybe that was why, whenever women around the job inquired about him, Simone’s name always came up in the conversation. It was as if he was her property. Lately, though, she’d been getting on his nerves. She acted as if his sole purpose in life was to sit around and wait for her to get a moment away from her husband.

Damn that, he thought.

As he stared in the mirror, contemplating whether to give his already bald head a fresh shave, he noticed a white envelope that had been kissed by a set of juicy lips. He opened it and read the contents: I think it’s time that I get a key to your place. Love, Simone.

“What!” Prodigy said aloud. “She’s gotta go!”

He wasn’t having it, because not only was she married to some psychotic, pro-football-playing dude who could probably lift a Mack truck, she was becoming a bit too attached.

A key to his place?

Out of the question.

She must be on that crack pipe, he mused.

After deciding he would try to make it to work on time, he showered but opted against shaving his head.

He felt that if he was going to rid himself of Simone, then he’d better not put himself in a position where he would need her assistance to cover for his perpetual lateness.

He remembered his grandmother saying, “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” And after some of the women that he had dealt with, he now knew what she meant.

After completing his morning grooming ritual, Prodigy decided to wear his tan tailor-made suit. To complete the ensemble, he added a white cotton shirt and brown ostrich-skin shoes with a matching belt.

Since, as usual, he didn’t have time for breakfast, he grabbed a Little Debbie snack cake, jumped in his black GMC Yukon, and headed north on Interstate 285. As he bore down on the accelerator, burning rubber along the way, he ran into gridlock traffic on the Atlanta Expressway. From the looks of it, there was no way he was going to be sitting at his desk by eight-thirty.

“Damn! Who taught these nuts how to drive? I’m about to commit road rage.” Prodigy turned to his left and witnessed a driver in the far left-hand lane reading a newspaper and talking on a cell phone, with nothing in front of him but highway. Prodigy was infuriated, but all he did was smile and shake his head.

God, give me strength. Good thing today is Friday. I hope Simone is there to cover for me. I guess I’ll have to fire her another day, he said to himself.

He knew that if Simone weren’t there to cover for him, today could possibly be his last day at GMAC. Because of his habitual tardiness, he was already in the last stages of the company’s disciplinary chart, and even that was with Simone’s protection. Otherwise, he would have been out the door a long time ago.

Prodigy really liked his job, once he got there. It was a far cry from the type of work he used to do. The salary wasn’t all that great, but there were fifteen women to every guy. With a ratio like that, he’d almost be willing to work for free.

For now, the most important thing was getting to the office. So, after some creative driving (on the shoulder of the road, tailgating, passing on the right, and dipping in and out of traffic as if he were a fugitive on the run from the Georgia state troopers), Prodigy approached his destination. He steered onto the Dunwoody exit, and shortly thereafter swerved into his office complex. After entering the employee parking deck at 8:25 a.m., he hopped out of his truck and, much to his chagrin, ran into “miserable” Brenda, his ex–booty partner and current supervisor.

“Good morning, Mr. Banks. I see that you’re running late, as usual,” she said, looking at her watch.

“Calm down, I got this,” Prodigy said dryly but boastfully, because today he had arrived to work on time.

“I’m gonna calm you down,” she shot back.

He quickened his pace to pass her in an attempt to get to his desk. He knew that Brenda was still upset with him for leaving her hanging after Simone was hired more than a year ago. She was livid when he and Simone started kicking it.

Given half a chance, Brenda would torpedo him with all sorts of foul words. She reminded Prodigy that every day she saw him was a day she might snap and break his neck. The threat really amused him, considering she was only about four feet five inches tall and lucky to be one hundred pounds. And that was soaking wet.

She had a habit of asking anyone who would listen why someone such as Prodigy would play second fiddle to another man over a piece of high-yellow butt, reminding him and everyone else that Simone could never really be his, because of her marriage.

Prodigy just considered Brenda a hypocrite who would often get ghetto on him, calling him everything except the child of God. She would usually say something like: “Ya black ass is gonna burn in hell for all that sinning. But that’s the bed you made, and one day you gonna wake up to some hot grits.” Or “I hate you, you black bastard!”; that was her favorite one.

He would normally just listen to her, shaking his head. He’d sometimes reflect on their time together, letting her know that what she and he did was also a sin because they weren’t married either.

Prodigy could never figure out why she was tripping, because he never thought they had a relationship.

That’s just like a woman, trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. We never went to dinner or the movies. As a matter of fact, the only place we ever went together was to bed. She never even knew my home phone number. But to hear her tell it, I was her man. Get outta here! he thought.

Despite how wacky Simone was turning out, Prodigy still thought she was more of a woman part-time than Brenda could ever be working time and a half.

“We had sex, no more, no less, and that was all there was to it,” he would tell her, trying to avoid belaboring the issue. “Get over it.”

The factor that really drove him away from her, other than her being as cuckoo as that damn bird, was she was too much of a fanatic. In the two years he had been with the company, she had been a Christian, a Jehovah’s Witness, and a Muslim. Now she was in some new cult that didn’t allow her to show her skin on Tuesdays.

“Prodigy! You think that you can do whatever it is that you wanna do, don’t you? Keep it up and you’ll be looking for a job. You can’t keep showing up here whenever you feel like it. This ain’t church!” Brenda said snobbishly to his back.

Prodigy knew that Brenda spoke mostly just to hear herself talk, because she knew that he didn’t pay her any attention. He reported to Brenda, but Brenda reported to Simone.

Prodigy strolled through the glass doors leading to the mirrored high-rise, acknowledging Brenda with only a wave of the back of his hand. He was thinking that girl needed to lie on a couch and talk to someone with a Ph.D.

It was a good thing that his department was on the first floor, because if he had to wait on those slow elevators he would have met his corporate demise a long time ago. Whenever he did make it to work on time it was usually with only a minute or two to spare.

After arriving at his quadrant and signing in at eight-thirty, he made his daily rounds to greet everyone. It was his charismatic personality, not to mention drop-dead looks, that made many of his colleagues treat him as if he were a celebrity.

He never really thought much of his coworkers’ reaction or opinion of him, but it felt good, so he basked in it. Even so, he never let it go to his head, because he still remembered a time when, as a young man, he was teased about his dark complexion and full lips. Bullies in his North Philadelphia neighborhood had given him nicknames such as Smut, Blacky, and Tar Baby.

Now, as an adult, his looks had matured and the names had changed for the better.

From the Trade Paperback edition.