A Test of Time

First Love by Cheryl Faye
(Arabesque/BET, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-58314-117-0
Lena Caldwell has been a receptionist in the human resources department of a New York bank for three years. Despite her work in a very visible position in which she deals with scores of people each day, Lena is painfully shy. Her professional persona is “praised regularly by her superiors for the friendly and cheerful way she had of greeting visitors to the bank . . . and although she was well-liked by everyone in the office she still kept to herself.” She brings her lunch and eats alone.

Lena grew up as a sheltered only child by strict, but very loving parents. Her parents are both dead and Lena lives alone in the house where she grew up. She has no friends and only a nodding acquaintance with her neighbors. Lena spends a lot of her time sewing and reading romance novels. She only drives her late father’s 1987 Cadillac to and from the grocery store. At 25, she has “pretty much resigned herself to the fact that she would probably die an old maid.”

Quincy Taylor grew up as one of nine children in a close-knit family. He lives alone in a Brooklyn condominium. He is an outgoing guy who has good friends and a promising future. In his early 30s, he is beginning to look ahead toward “the big picture.” A better job and, someday, a wife and children.

When First Love begins, Quincy is preparing for an interview as assistant human resources manager at the bank where Lena works. She is the first person he meets when he arrives. The interview goes well and Quincy is confident he has the position. As he leaves, he encounters Lena again and playfully tells her that she has brought him luck. Two weeks later, when he starts his new job, Lena is there to greet him.

A friendship begins between Lena and Quincy - despite the blatant attention of other women at the bank. A clique of professionals there excludes Lena from their activities because of her shyness and her job status. But Quincy is steadfast in his friendship with Lena. His first instincts are to protect the vulnerable and sheltered young woman. Quincy, who is normally attracted to women who are “assertive and a little bit uninhibited,” is taken aback as his feelings for Lena intensify.

First Love is a coming-of-age romance. It is the story of opposites attracting. Cheryl Faye has created two very believable characters whose relationship is warm and sweet. While Quincy is more experienced than Lena, Cheryl Faye has restrained her hero’s approach to her heroine so that he doesn’t come across as a reformed cad. Quincy does not want to accelerate his relationship with Lena until and unless he can be sure of his own feelings. He carefully considers his actions and words so that there are no misunderstandings between them.

It is heartwarming to watch a new-school guy embark on an old school courtship. Quincy pursues Lena with telephone conversations, movies, a date to an amusement park and flowers. It is a tailor-made seduction of a young woman who had been prevented from partaking in such activities as a teenager. However, the author has created a hero with such finesse, his actions are always natural, never calculated.

Quincy matures through his relationship with Lena and she blossoms. She makes friends, develops a profitable sideline and returns to school. While Quincy is a great part of her life, Lena begins to grow independently. Major secondary characters offer wise counsel and love. A momentary distraction provides a bit of melodrama near the conclusion of the novel that is quickly resolved.

Cheryl Faye published two novels and a novella before taking a brief hiatus from writing. She returned last year with A Test of Time, a sequel to her second novel, A Time for Us. The author has begun to regain her footing with First Love.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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