Short Fiction – Varying Progress

*I wrote this story years ago.  It was a story that had been in my head since college.  I was working through some ideas as I was getting closer to my mid-20s.  This story was born out of those times.  I wanted to post this not because it is such a great story, but because it demonstrates a little of my writing style.  My writing has progressed a lot since these days. I hope it has!  Well, anyway, I really liked creating these characters.  I have even thought about centering other stories around 3 of the characters. I won’t say which ones.  A few weeks ago I had a post about how I created these characters – I have a link that connects to that post.  Please check out that post if you haven’t already: Varying Progress – Creating Characters

 

Varying Progress

by: Lisa R. C.

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Just Like Friends
Chapter 2 – What is Love?
Chapter 3 – Back To What’s Real
Chapter 4 – Having A Plan
Chapter 5 – This Much Is True
Chapter 6 – The Real Woman vs. The Real Man
Chapter 7 – Wish Upon A Dream

 

 

Chapter  1- Just Like Friends

 

Nia Davenport was in the coffeehouse busing tables. It was a humid July afternoon in Louisville, the home of the largest city in Kentucky. This particular Sunday was not busy considering it was Bardstown Road. Perhaps the summer heat kept people away from the overpriced coffee and cinnamon streusel muffins. She wasn’t sure why, but this one day of all days she didn’t mind the lack of traffic. School was on her mind. Nia couldn’t wait for the fall semester. The last semester of her college career . . . if she made it through. It took six years for her to get here. Six years of craziness to get to this moment in the coffeehouse contemplating her future with a degree in hand.

Her short story – Nia headed to college at 18 where she met Maquelle, Javonne, Derrick, and Gray but dropped out after a year.  College was not for her at that time.  She finally decided to go back and finish up at a different school a few years ago and now here she was.  A grin spread across her face. The sound of heels clanking on the floor eased her out of her fantasy world. She turned slowly around to see the uncomfortable look on her friend’s face. Javonne Taylor was average height with wide hips. She was dressed in a white tank top, knee-length denim skirt, and red heels. Her skin the color of maple was damp, but Nia wasn’t so sure it was because of Mother Nature’s warmth.

“It has to be like 110 outside,” Javonne said grabbing a single napkin from the holder sitting on a table in front of Nia. She was blotting around her forehead like she was careful not to wipe too hard.

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Nia smiled. She walked to the next and last table that still had crumbs on it. Nia continued wiping with the blue washcloth she had been holding the whole time.

“I tried calling you but you didn’t pick up. So I knew I had to come here and tell you.”

Nia gently slapped her forehead remembering that she left her cell phone on vibrate. She always locked her purse up in the office when she went to work.

Javonne started to pat her head noticing that it had become limp. After spending two hours getting her hair done that morning, it no longer had volume.  Her shoulder-length black hair was matted to her head.

“Damn, I didn’t pay $60 for my hair to look good for a few hours. I can’t believe this heat.”

“It’s the middle of July. This is normal, Javonne. You know what. I did leave my cell on vibrate again. I don’t like to hear it ringing in the morning when I get up. I turn it on vibrate and check my messages on my break.”

“That’s a good way for someone to always get a hold of you. What if I really did have an emergency?” Javonne plopped down at the nearest booth.

Nia watched as one of her male co-workers collected the garbage bags so he could take the trash to the dumpster out back.

“So yeah, as always, you are not focused on what I am saying.” Javonne grabbed another napkin. This time she started wiping the nape of her neck.

“I work here so I can’t have a real conversation right now and you can’t stay. I know you aren’t going to buy anything.” Nia rolled her eyes.

Javonne looked around the coffeehouse for other signs of life. She didn’t see one person. “You’re right. I forgot there were other customers here. I’m rude.”

Nia had wiped off the last table. She stared at Javonne blotting her face again with a new napkin. “What is so important?”

Once Javonne realized Nia’s was being attentive she perked up. She put the used napkins in her purse and sat up straight. “I might be going out of town on Thursday with Derrick. He is going on a business trip to Chicago and invited me.”

“I thought you didn’t like him anymore?”

“I don’t care about all that. I care about a free trip to Chicago. Magnificent Mile, baby!” Javonne laughed.

“Free trip?” Nia questioned.

“It’s not like that. I wouldn’t sleep with him. Consider three days. Thursday through Saturday in Chi-town.”

“It’s not a free trip. He will want something. You don’t think he will not want something?”

“This grown-ass woman is going because she needs this.   I need this for me!”

“Fine, Ms. Twenty-four-year-old. Do what you do.   Go use Derrick for his ‘free trip.’

“I thought you would think this was nice. I would definitely bring some stuff back for you.”

“It would’ve been nice except the two of you aren’t together. Actually, if I recall correctly, you broke up five months ago because he cheated. It would have been a romantic gesture. But, as you said, ‘it isn’t like that.’

Javonne grabbed her purse and stood up. “I know you. I know that the real Nia is in there somewhere happy for me. I was going to call him back tonight and give him my answer. I don’t know why I didn’t just say ‘yes’ to begin with. See, I got up at 5 a.m. ready for my daily run. Well, I got his call instead.   I mean, I still did my run afterwards, but this was something out of my routine. I need some fun, Nia. Derrick seemed to understand that. I think he can tell I’m nervous. In a few weeks I will be in my first classroom teaching history to these kids. It’s going to finally be my class. I need to have some fun before school starts. I need to release some tension.”

“I didn’t know you were nervous. It’s just that going on a trip with Derrick gives him the wrong idea. What will you be doing when he is in his meetings? Huh?”

Nia stepped out of the aisle so Javonne could walk out the door. There was nothing else to say.

 

Two more hours crept by and Nia prepared to clock out. She pulled her purse out of the safe in the office and walked to the restroom. Nia looked at herself in the mirror. Nia couldn’t help but touch her hair. She had big, soft curls sprouted all over her head. Jet-black ringlets surrounded her heart-shaped face. Her complexion was somewhat flawed. A dark brown girl with a few pimples stared back.

____________________________________________________

Derrick Young had to sit down on the bench after playing ball for nearly an hour straight. He wasn’t in the same good, physical condition he had been in while playing in college. Sweat poured down his bare torso. His basketball shorts stuck to his thighs. Javonne used to constantly joke about his chicken legs. He watched as his co-workers Ari Fletcher and Gray Allen went ahead and played one-on-one. It was a typical Sunday afternoon for the three friends. A pick-up game always relieved tension before returning to the hustle of Monday morning.

“Yeah!” screamed Ari when he hit a three pointer. It was unexpected. He wasn’t great at basketball, but liked the camaraderie with the guys. Ari was tall at 6’2, but a little shorter than Derrick who stood at 6’5 barefoot.   Soccer was his favorite sport and he played all four years in high school. Ari, who was white, appreciated Gray and Derrick’s friendship when he started at Phantom Advertising. He was used to being around black people. He always had a diverse group of friends.

“You too short for that shit!” Derrick laughed when he saw Gray attempt to dunk the ball. It was common for Derrick to joke on Gray’s lack of height. Gray’s afro helped him a little bit in the horizontal department. His caramel skin looked like it glistened from baby oil and not sweat.

“I do all right for myself.” Gray said. The ball flew through the air not even inching toward the basket.

“ Midget!” Derrick laughed as he slapped his knee.

“You’re crazy, dude,” Ari smiled at Derrick before running after the ball.

“Being 5’9 isn’t a midget, man,” said Gray.

“Only midgets say shit like that!” Derrick laughed again.

Gray shook his head and walked over the water fountain for a quick drink.

“What time is it, Ari?” asked Gray.

Ari was the only one who never took off his watch. He glanced at the face of his watch and yelled ‘7:50 p.m.’ The guys packed up their stuff and drove to their respective apartments in separate cars.

When Derrick got home, he checked his cell and noticed a voicemail icon on his screen. Javonne had called. He listened to the message that provided no details on whether or not she would accompany him to Chicago. She just asked for him to call her back as soon as he was available. Derrick needed an answer. He contemplated whether or not it was pushy to call back immediately and tell Javonne she had to make a decision right away. He didn’t have time to play around with her. Derrick Young was not a patient kind of person.

_____________________________________________________________

Maquelle Vincent had just gotten out of the shower when she heard her phone ring. She wrapped a towel around her petite body and tip toed carefully to her bedroom. She picked up the receiver with her right hand and held the towel at her chest with her left. She looked at the Caller ID.

“Hey, girl.” Maquelle sat on her bed while the towel fell alongside her.   “Javonne, can you hold on a minute.” Maquelle set the phone down on the nightstand. She dried herself quickly and put on panties and a purple nightshirt. “Okay, I’m back. Now, what were you saying?”

On the other end, she could hear a long sigh from Javonne. “Girl, I am so upset with Nia. I told her about the trip. She didn’t really want to hear about it.”

“The trip to Chicago you told me about earlier. I can’t imagine she would react like that.”

“Well, she did. She told me in so many words that I shouldn’t be going on a business trip with Derrick. I couldn’t tell if she had an issue with it because I was going to Chicago or because it is a business trip? Derrick is not a bad guy anymore. I think he has changed. I think he got all that crazy ‘I’m all that’ out of his system. Nia doesn’t believe that.”

“Javonne, have you really spent a lot of one-on-one time with him recently?”

“We talk every other day on the phone. No, we don’t see each other often because of his schedule. It’s funny because I know college is over. But, I miss how we all used to hang out. Everybody was cool with each other. Then Derrick and I had our three year relationship. It was all good then. But, now I’m starting to be suspicious of Nia. Sometimes I wonder if she wanted Derrick for herself. Remember that one party from freshmen year when we first met him and Gray. She kept saying Derrick was so cute. I definitely remember that.”

“She was commenting on his attractiveness. She didn’t say it like she wanted to take him home with her. I just didn’t like his vibe back then. At the time, I thought Derrick was just a player and Gray was a junior out for fresh meat. I was wrong about Gray; but not Derrick. I think Derrick looked at women as prey . . . like what he did to me. I wasn’t sure if you knew that he tried to talk to me at that party. I think you were in the restroom. He said I was ‘so beautiful and I had a great body.’ Then he asked for my number and I said ‘no’ and that was that.”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember that. I do know you were kind of standoffish. But, then you are standoffish a lot. I didn’t know if you were uncomfortable at the party or you didn’t like Derrick.”

“Now you know it was Derrick.”

“After thinking about all of this, I realize now why you were weird towards Derrick until junior year. Honestly, Maquelle I hope one day you start giving guys a chance. You don’t give anyone a chance. Derrick is a flirt. I know that. But, he is not a jerk anymore. ”

“The two of you should figure out what you want to be. It’s going to get weird if you keep going on trips together without knowing where you stand.”

“True,” Javonne said in a low voice.

 

 

After Javonne got off of the phone with Maquelle she knew she had to call Derrick. The phone rang twice before a deep voice answered.

“What up?” Derrick said.

“I know you needed an answer. But, I wanted to know something first. What did you think I would do while you were in your meetings?”

“What do you mean? It’s Chicago. There would be plenty of things for you to do. There are lots of places to shop and the Contemporary Art Museum. It’d be nice to have you with me. We haven’t spent any quality time together in awhile.”

“Quality time? Wait a minute. Do you mean have sex? That is not happening!”

“I didn’t say anything about sex, Javonne.”

“That isn’t going to happen. I am not going. This little conversation helped my final decision. You have not changed, Derrick. I wanted so bad…”

“Javonne . . . hold up …”

“No, no, Derrick. Forget it. This trip was a mistake. I got caught up. It’s my fault.”

“Javonne, you’re being real silly.”

“Fine, so the decision is made.” Javonne hung up.

 

_________________________________________________________________

Monday afternoon couldn’t have come fast enough for Ari Fletcher.   It was five o’clock and his day had been long. He had come up with a concept for a new Thai restaurant set to open in September. Ari had made posters ready to show his colleagues, and most of the group didn’t like his idea. He was tired and frustrated. He knew he needed to go out for a drink. Ari didn’t even want to invite Derrick because he was acting like he didn’t want to be bothered. He asked Gray, but Gray said he was going to hang out with his girlfriend. Once Ari got in his car, he called Nia. He thought she would be the perfect person to bounce ideas off of. He decided she could be a good person to have a drink with.

 

Nia walked into the lounge slowly, waiting to see Ari. She found him sitting at a booth in the left corner. He waved her over and a quick smile spread across her face.

“This is only the second time I have been here. It’s a nice lounge, but so expensive,” Nia commented.

“Don’t worry about the cost of anything because I’m paying. You can order whatever you want.”

“No, Ari. I couldn’t expect you to do that.”

“I want to because I invited you.”

“Well, I appreciate it. So, how was your Monday?”

“Not that great. That’s why I’m ordering a beer.”

“It almost seems funny to order a beer in a nice place like this,” Nia said looking around. There were multiple paintings of landscapes throughout the place. There were a few chairs, but mostly brown leather-padded booths. The lighting was intimate and there was jazz music playing.

“That’s why beer is great. You can get it anywhere.”

“So I am here to be your cheering up person.”

Ari chuckled. “That is an interesting way of putting it.”

“I made you laugh. Mission accomplished, “Nia said.

The waitress came to take their order. Ari knew he was getting beer and Nia ordered a strawberry blonde martini. When the waitress set their drinks on the table Nia gave her order while Ari decided on the shrimp fettuccini alfredo.

Ari chugged his beer and set the glass back on the table. He shifted a little bit in the booth before loosening his tie. “I don’t know what else he wants from me.”

“Who?”

“My boss. Today said it all. Apparently, I don’t know how to come up with good ideas anymore. At work, I was appointed as the person to come up with the concept for a new Thai restaurant opening soon. Well, it’s supposed to attract younger people, the under 35 crowd. So I decided we should have the ads focus on a multiethnic crowd hanging out in this new place eating bowls of noodles.”

“Just sitting there eating bowls of noodles? That’s it?”

“Yeah. That’s it. Because it is the best I could come up with. Your reaction is identical to that of my colleagues. I don’t know what I am supposed to do next. I don’t have a Plan B.”

The waitress brought out their food and Nia immediately ate a fork full of chicken and rice. Ari watched as Nia quickly gobbled up more chicken.

“I’m sorry. I’m hungry. I hadn’t eaten since eleven this morning,” she said after sipping her martini.

“It’s just funny to see you eat so fast,” Ari smiled at Nia for the first time that night. Ari had laughed, but not really smiled until that moment.

“Ari, I might be able to help you. I need an extra day. But, I think I could help you stir up some unique themes.”

“That would be so cool, Nia.” Ari continued eating his fettuccini.

“For me, I finally feel like my life is getting on track. I’m excited about my last semester. I feel like getting this art degree is one of the best things I could do for myself.”

“So, what would be your plans after graduation?”

“I don’t know. I want a job doing something with art, but I don’t know what I could do. My professors say there isn’t much for me to do without a graduate degree. I can’t even think about the next level right now. I just want to get through undergrad. I’m already behind all of you. I’ve been trying to play catch up the last few years. You have a great job at an advertising agency. Javonne is a teacher, and Maquelle is an assistant at a publishing company. Then there is me. No degree. Working at Calisto Coffee. Can’t you tell I had big plans? I’m living the dream right now!”

Ari laughed heartily, hands laid flat on the table. As he laughed, Nia instinctively laid her right hand on Ari’s left. Once she realized what she did, she slid her hand away. Ari cleared his throat while holding on to the tie that had been loosened. Nia looked at her empty glass. Her plate was almost bare. Ari had already eaten all his pasta, and the beer was all gone. When the waitress asked if they wanted more drinks both declined. Ari went ahead and asked for the check.

“Are you uncomfortable?” Ari asked.

“No, not at all.”

“That’s good.” Ari shifted again.

“Are you still seeing, Janet? I just know how much you liked her and you two were a cute couple.” Nia said. She spoke so fast the last few words didn’t quite come out coherent. Ari thought for a second so he could piece together her sentence.

“That’s been over for a year.”

“Hmm Hmm. Yeah…I forgot.” Nia said before finishing off her martini. “Guess that’s happening a lot. Just like me and Allen a month ago.”

“I should have got another beer,” Ari said seeking out the waitress. The waitress finally came, but he didn’t order another beer. He paid and the two gathered themselves to exit.

Ari followed Nia to her car. “It was nice hanging out.” Once he said that, he realized it had never been just the two of them. They had always hung out as a group.

“Yes, it was.”

“I will still take you up on your offer. Are you still OK with helping me out on a theme?”

“Of course.” Nia couldn’t help but glance at Ari’s body. He had an athletic build on a 6’2 frame.   His light brown hair, deep brown eyes and a strong jaw line made her think of Brad Pitt’s face. Ari had toned arms and legs. But his ‘good night’ snapped her out of her trance.

“Good night, Ari. Again, I want to thank you for paying.”

“Not a problem. It was nice.”

Nia got in her car and watched Ari walk slowly to his. She wondered if he was thinking what she was thinking.

 

Chapter 2- What Is Love?

 

Gray was on his twenty fifth push-up when Victoria Talbot caught his eye. Her green T-shirt was short enough that you could see a pierced belly button. The black biker shorts showcased her ample derriere. Gray hadn’t seen her work out at the gym in weeks. Victoria and her best friend, Rayna, were laughing about something. He was wondering if she had seen him. Gray finished up after eight more push-ups because he was anxious to speak to Victoria.

“Victoria, what’s going on?”

“Hi, Gray,” Rayna blurted out. She grinned so wide you could see all of her teeth.

“Hey, Rayna. I didn’t know you two would be here.”

“ You didn’t think we would want to work-out?” Victoria said wiping her face with a towel.

“You haven’t been here for awhile.”

“I should probably meet up with you later, “Rayna eyed Victoria.  She walked off in another direction.

“We didn’t even get to finish our work-out, Rayna.”

“We can finish up on Thursday,” she shouted back.

“Rayna’s right. Thursday is a good day.   You don’t want to overexert yourself working out tomorrow.”

“Why did you interrupt us?”

Gray grabbed Victoria hips and pushed her close to him. “Baby, I want to spend time with you.”

“We do spend time together, Gray. We always spend time together.” Victoria gently pushed Gray’s hands away. “You act like you haven’t seen me in years. I can’t believe you. It doesn’t have to mean something just because we don’t see each other every day like we used to.” Victoria circled to the opposite side of the exercise bike she had used. She placed the towel into her gym bag and threw it over her shoulder.

“You have plans for Friday night?” Gray asked.

She leaned in closer to whisper, “No, unless you have something in mind.”

“Yeah. Ben Jeffries is playing The Palace and the show starts at seven. I can get the tickets tonight if you want to go.”

“Is Ben Jeffries that guy that plays jazz piano? I think I remember him.”

“Yeah , the friend of Ari’s. Ari said the tickets are $40 a person but he can get them for me for $20 instead. “

“Sounds good.” Gray and Victoria held hands until they reached her car. He kissed her before she drove off.

 

Gray remembered when he first met Victoria at a local gym two years ago. She was a 20 year-old college sophomore studying health education. He thought she was Puerto Rican but she explained her color by simply stating she had a black mother and white father. He fell in love with her almost immediately. She later joked that she couldn’t understand how Gray could think she was Puerto Rican when she didn’t have the accent. Victoria had played volleyball in college and it was important for her to stay in shape. The two connected over athletics. She grew up on softball and volleyball and he ran track in high school and briefly in college. Victoria introduced Gray to a vegetarian diet and he quickly realized it wasn’t for him. Those were things he loved about her. But, Gray hadn’t seen her in the gym in awhile. He still wasn’t sure if she had an ulterior motive for being there. The two had been dating close to two years and lately Victoria was becoming elusive. They mostly talked on the phone now. He remembered a time when they only needed each other’s company. The last time they spent time together was three weeks ago. He was used to seeing her every day. Gray figured it was because she got a job after graduating that May. She now worked as a health mentor at a local elementary school and various health clubs. In the fall, she would attend graduate school so she could become a health educator. Victoria had been concentrating on her goals. Gray didn’t take it personal in the beginning. Now he didn’t know what was going on.

__________________________________________________________

 

Nia had a long day at work. There were several rude customers and she attributed it to the heat. It was July after all. She just wanted to get home. As soon as Nia stepped in her apartment she could smell the strawberries and crème candle. Nia didn’t like flames, so she used candle warmers. Occasionally she would leave the candle warmer on in her kitchen before heading to work. There was nothing greater than coming home to that wonderful aroma. Nia left her tennis shoes by the door and walked to her bedroom. Her feet hurt after walking around for seven straight hours. A bath sounded soothing. She quickly took off her clothes and ran in the bathroom. Nia felt her muscles relax as soon as she immersed her body in the water.

Unfortunately, Nia couldn’t stop thinking about Ari. The hope was that his face would disappear from her thoughts. But it didn’t. Ari had never occupied her brain like this before. She remembered when she met him. Gray had convinced her and Maquelle to meet him and a friend of his for dinner. Back then, Gray liked Maquelle but she didn’t know it. He wanted to get closer to her but was always afraid to ask her out on a date. Instead, he asked his new friend Ari to come with him and the four of them went out to dinner. Nia had heard Gray and Derrick talk about this new guy that worked with them. Ari had started working at Phantom Advertising right out of college three years ago. Despite the three gentlemen’s differences, they somehow bonded. Truthfully Ari was a handsome guy. No girl could deny that. He had light brown hair, deep brown eyes and a strong jaw line. He had the most toned arms and legs. He had the height that Nia liked in her men. Ari even dressed very Banana Republic which is how she liked guys to dress. But she never saw him as more than a friend. In Nia’s eyes, Ari was never more than Gray and Derrick’s friend.

Honestly, Nia did think of Ari as a friend. But usually it was always him and her hanging out within a group. It was either him, Derrick, Javonne, and her or it was all of them. But once Victoria came in the picture, Gray spent most of his free time with his new girl.

All of them had their relationships in the past three years. At one point, they were all dating someone. Derrick was with Javonne. Nia went out with Allen. Maquelle dated a guy named Chris. Gray was with Victoria. Ari had Janet. After all that time Gray and Victoria’s relationship is the only one still alive. After coming to this conclusion, Nia realized she mentioned Janet at dinner last night. If she hadn’t been uncomfortable she wouldn’t have ran her mouth and mentioned Ari’s fateful ex-girlfriend. Nia knew Ari and Janet hadn’t been together in a long time but her nerves got the best of her. She inadvertently blurted out that comment about them being a cute couple. Now she felt bad.

_____________________________________________________________

 

Derrick sat on his couch flipping from channel to channel. He hadn’t heard from Javonne since she hung up on him. He really thought she would call right back but she didn’t. Then he expected her to call early this afternoon but nothing happened. It was six o’clock and not one call. He wasn’t used to this. Derrick was always the one in control. Javonne always called.   She would even call to apologize after an argument when she didn’t do anything wrong. Derrick would have Javonne wrapped around his finger; but not this time. He wondered why this time was different. Derrick admitted to himself he did want Javonne to go on the trip because he thought they would have sex. They hadn’t had sex in two weeks. He missed her. Just then his cell phone rang. He picked it up off the coffee table in front of him. The name Larisa flashed across the screen.

“Hey.” Derrick said. The bass in his voice always got Larisa excited. His voice wasn’t as deep as Barry White but it was close.

“Are you busy?” Larisa asked.

“Nah, I’m not doing anything. You want to come over?”

“I can be there in thirty minutes. You want me to wear the red heels?”

“Hell yeah.” Derrick said before saying bye.

 

Larisa would do. She wasn’t Javonne, but she would do for the night. Derrick never thought he would get caught with Larisa. He thought he was smart and he could keep seeing both women. Javonne was smarter. The night Javonne caught him and Larisa together still burned in his memory. Javonne came over unexpected one night. He tried to tell her he had been sleep, but if she came back the next day they could spend time together.   Javonne didn’t buy it. She immediately pushed him aside so she could make her way inside his apartment. Sounds were coming from the bathroom. When Javonne walked toward the adjacent bathroom door she saw a woman. Larisa had just put on some underwear after drying off from her shower. The two women didn’t know each other before that encounter. But Larisa got acquainted with Javonne’s fist pretty quickly. It took Derrick almost fifteen minutes to kick Javonne out. Derrick was relieved that Larisa never filed any charges. He could see her face now: cut lip and a bruise under her left eye. It was almost like it happened yesterday instead of five months ago. In fact, they broke up the day before Valentine’s.

Derrick finally got back on speaking terms with his ex in May. It was Javonne that made the call. She apologized for beating Larisa. She was sorry about the way it all ended and she wanted to be friends again. That confession opened the Pandora’s box. The two were at each other again like rabbits.

_____________________________________________________________

 

Maquelle sat at the desk in her bedroom. She had only written one sentence of her report. It wasn’t like her to procrastinate on things. But something else was on her mind. It bothered her when Javonne dismissed her comment about the way Derrick first approached her years before. Maquelle couldn’t put her finger on why it would bother her when it happened freshman year of college. That was six years ago. She had gotten to know Derrick well over the years and she had believed he had changed. Why else would Javonne date him? Derrick couldn’t have been the same ‘playa’ he was in college. But then why did he cheat on her friend? Maquelle felt like if she had been a better friend, she would have told Javonne a long time ago that Derrick had flirted with her first. At the same time, she knew that that fact was no longer relevant. Maquelle started writing again until her phone began to ring. She was hesitant to pick up the phone when she realized it was Javonne.

“Hi, Javonne.”

“I knew I had to call you and tell you the news. Girl, I don’t know what to do now. It’s just…” Javonne tried to say before her mind trailed off.

“Are you talking about, Derrick? What happened?”

“I’m not going to Chicago. I was prepared to go until Derrick started talking crazy.”

“I’m confused. What did he say to you?”

“Maquelle… you and Nia were right. Damn. I was so stupid! I thought we were starting to connect again. He had been so nice lately.”

“But, you aren’t telling me anything…unless….wait….you lied!”

“Lied about what?”

“I can’t believe this. The two of you must have been seeing each other.   You told me all you two did was talk on the phone. But that can’t be true. I can tell because of the way you are acting right now.”

“Girl, you don’t know what you are talking about. Derrick and I are just friends. There is nothing more going on. No relationship. Nothing.”

“Why can’t you be honest?”

“There’s nothing to tell,” Javonne said softly.

“This conversation isn’t going anywhere. I don’t know why you can’t tell the truth.”

“I am tired of you being so self-righteous. Everybody can’t live up to Maquelle’s expectations. That is why you never have a man. “

“I’m not going to argue with you. What I know is that Derrick is not one of the good ones. I told you the other day that he tried to talk me before he ever said anything to you. I realize that was years ago. At the time, I thought Derrick was just a player and Gray was a junior out for fresh meat. I was wrong about Gray; but not Derrick. It surprised me that you brushed off what I said. You have always discredited whatever I said about Derrick that you didn’t agree with. That bothers because I thought we were better friends than that.” Maquelle voice’s started to crack.

“Maquelle, I’m sorry. I’m just so tired of being sorry. I made a mistake by letting Derrick back into my bed. Yep. I still love him. I still love him and I hate myself for it. And that’s my truth.”

“’I’m sorry, Javonne. I hate that he has done this to you.”

“I don’t like feeling like this. Derrick has been the only person in my life that has ever gotten the best of me. I didn’t know loving someone could hurt so much. Have you ever loved someone so hard that it hurt, Maquelle?”

“Yes. I know how it feels to love that much. But, it was different with Chris. Chris loved me so much he pushed me away. By the time I realized I missed him, he was gone. That hurt for a long time.”

“At least he didn’t cheat on you. “

“Do you want to go to Mall St. Matthews with me tomorrow? Shopping usually makes you feel better. “

“That’d be fine. What time?”

“I usually get done around 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. So 7 o’clock would be good for me. Is that OK with you?”

“That is good for me.”

“OK. Well, I have to go. I’m supposed to be writing a report for tomorrow.”

“Alright then. Thanks for the talk.”

“You are welcome. Talk to you later.”

“Thanks, Maquelle. Bye.”

________________________________________________________________

Ari walked around his kitchen thinking about his presentation. He had just gotten off the phone with Nia who gave him a new theme. She said it would look good if he focused on at least three people. He could have a white man, black woman, and Asian woman sitting at separate tables. There would be a picture that shows them ordering different meals. When they are done they all walk out together smiling.   The theme: Share The Experience. Ari liked it as soon as he heard it. The problem was that he didn’t know how his PowerPoint should start. He didn’t think to ask Nia about that. Ari had done plenty of presentations before. That is why he was asked to do this one. Yet, for some reason good ideas flew away from him like birds heading south for the winter. It was happening more frequently. Ari wondered if it was because he wasn’t where he should have been. Was there something else he was supposed to be doing? Phantom Advertising had taken him in when he was fresh out of college. After three years was it time to move on?

A ringing phone stirred Ari out of his trance. He immediately picked up the cell on his counter. Luckily, Nia was on the other line. He was hoping he could ask her for a suggestion on how to begin.

“Nia, you have perfect timing.”

“I do. I guess you have another question for me?”

“I don’t know how to start this presentation. I’m really stuck right now.”

“Ari, I can’t do everything for you. If I did they would have to give me a job.”

“They should give you a job. I bet they will have an opening coming up soon.”

“Right. Listen, the reason I called was because I wanted to find out if you really liked that theme? Now after talking to you I am starting to get worried. I wanted to believe you had the rest hanging around in your back pocket.”

“It’s not really working out that way.”

“It will all come to you. But, if you do get a chance, put in a good word for me at the agency.”

“I could do that if you came over and helped me with some posters.”

“I wish I could.”

“Just kidding. I’m talking crazy because I’m tired. Its 9:30 and I haven’t really done much. Plus, I only got three hours of sleep last night. I had you on my mind. I blame you for getting me off track.”

“You are crazy,” Nia snickered.

“I have everything under control.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s all good.”

“Now it’s ‘all good’ after you asked me to help you with your PowerPoint and your posters. Funny how quickly things change. I’m going to go so you can get back to what you started.”

“Sure.” Ari said quickly.

“Good luck tomorrow,” Nia said.

“I think the theme is good. I guess there can’t be much else to do.”

“That’s right.   You need to finish up. I will check on you tomorrow to find out how things went.”

“Alright. Thanks.” Then Ari hung up before he had to say anything else to Nia.

Chapter 3- Back To What’s Real

 

The kiss between Derrick and Larisa lingered for awhile. Her lips were so comfortable and familiar like the softest pillows. She came wearing her red heels like she said she would. What he didn’t expect was to see Larisa dressed in a short, black fitted shirt. The shirt was just long enough to cover her hips. Derrick could see nipples peeking out of her shirt. He figured a bra wasn’t necessary anyway. Larisa sat on the couch while Derrick poured a glass of red wine for them. As soon as he gave her a glass, she sipped quickly ready to feel the touch of his lips again. Derrick still had on his T-shirt and jeans. He saw Larisa eyeing his jeans and he leaned over to kiss her again. She draped her legs around his so she could sit on his lap. Larisa smiled at Derrick. He looked down once he noticed she was unzipping his jeans. Her hand was barely on his boxers when he gently pushed her off of him.

“What is wrong with you!” Larisa shouted.

Derrick picked up his glass of wine and guzzled it down. He walked back to the kitchen table and poured himself some more. He finished his second glass in one large gulp.

“Do you hear me talking to you?” She stared at him. He didn’t say anything which made her angrier.

“I think you should go.”

“What!” Larisa shoved Derrick. “I hate how you do me! I hate you!”

“Just leave.” Derrick tried to move away from Larisa but she wasn’t budging.

“Who is it? Tell me who it is. What bitch do you have on the side now?”

“Don’t start. I am not listening to this right now.”

“Tell me who else you been with. Tell me.” Larisa shoved Derrick again.

Derrick grabbed Larisa’s arm and led her to the door. He tried to open it, but she put her hand on the door. She was stronger than he remembered. Larisa stood in front of the door.

“I bet you sleeping with Javonne again. You can’t leave that alone, can you?”

“Leave her out of this!”

“If you want her so much then why aren’t you with her?”

“Stop shouting. Damn. You want my neighbors to call the cops.”

“I don’t care. I don’t give a crap about you.”

“Then just get the hell out of here.”

“You don’t know what you want. I know what you want. Right now you are confused. Tomorrow you will be wishing you had all this.” Larisa ran his hands past her hips. She leaned in quickly so she could catch his lips. He kissed her back with a hunger that hadn’t existed all night. Larisa wrapped her arms around his neck and the kiss continued.

Derrick eventually stepped back. “No. This isn’t what I wanted. It’s time for you to go.”

Larisa grabbed his T-shirt to pull him closer but he pulled her hand away. “You are really messing things up between us.”

“Why can’t you get the hint! I don’t want you anymore. I don’t have a need for you. Your time has expired.”

Larisa kicked Derrick where his most prized possession lay between his legs. He hunched over immediately. He couldn’t look up to see Larisa finally walk out the door.

_______________________________________________________________

 

The next day, Maquelle made a pit stop at Calisto Coffee during her lunch hour. It was unusual for her to come to the coffeehouse in the middle of the week. Nia was shocked to see her. Maquelle wanted her coffee black with a blueberry scone. She bought a newspaper from the rack beside the register. Maquelle eyed a small round table in front of the door and decided to sit there. There were several people at the coffeehouse today. Wednesday was the most popular day aside from Monday. Maquelle had been reading her newspaper for almost ten minutes before Nia had a free moment to talk to her.

“How is everything, Maquelle?”

“Fine.”

“I was kind of surprised that you ordered black coffee . Not that you can’t switch things up sometimes.”

“Today has been an interesting day so far. I got such praise on my report and even my boss loved it. But when I was walking back to my desk this guy, Sevon, whispered to me that ‘I’m expendable.’

“What does that mean?”

“That my position is not needed or that I’m replaceable. I don’t know which. I was too stunned to even question him further. But yeah, I don’t know why I ordered black coffee. Like you said, maybe to do something different. Something I don’t know anything about.” Maquelle took the second bite of her scone.

“Who is Sevon? Is he new?”

“No, he’s not new. He’s been there awhile. For some reason he doesn’t want to see me succeed.”

“He must be jealous of you.”

“No, he’s not jealous. There is something else going on. Every time I accomplish something, he has the nerve to say something negative. He is always mocking what I say. He tells me I don’t act like black girls he is used to. I don’t know what neighborhood he grew up in.” Maquelle sipped her coffee.

“I guess a guy like him isn’t used to strong, intelligent black women. Very sad.”

“I’m not sure it is that either. It’s more like when a person makes a back-handed compliment. He does things like that sometimes.”

“It sounds like he admires you. I think you have a secret admirer. Well, sort of secret.”

The two laughed. Maquelle couldn’t help but shake her head. She knew Sevon couldn’t be interested in her. There was no way. He had said so many idiotic things to her in the past.

“Nia, all I ever wanted was everyone at the office to like me. I have worked so hard to get where I am today. I can’t have some little jerk doubting my competence.”

“I could understand being upset if this was your boss. But, I wouldn’t concern myself with a co-worker. This guy probably likes your work but is too proud to admit it. Why is all this just now getting to you? You said he has been doing this for awhile.”

“I can’t explain that. I don’t know why. He just really got to me today. I have always ignored him in the past. Today, it didn’t happen.” Maquelle took another bite out of her scone. She looked out the door to see more people coming into the coffeehouse. One of those people was Ari.

Ari smiled at the two of them before heading to the counter. Nia couldn’t help but look back at him. He was dressed in a nice gray suit, white shirt, and pink tie. Nia had never seen Ari wear a pink tie before. She didn’t think he owned anything pink. But, it really stood out from the gray. Nia secretly appreciated him for taking chances with his style.

“Ari looks nice in that suit,” Maquelle noted.

“Yeah, he does. Well, I should get back to being a waitress.”

“Nia, I saw the way you looked at Ari.” Maquelle grinned.

“He does look nice in that suit. I like his tie.”

“I get it. I’ll stay out of it.” Maquelle gobbled up the rest of her scone before taking another sip of her coffee.

The two laughed again. Ari saw them still talking and thought he would head over to speak. He especially wanted to give Nia an update on his presentation.

“Hey, Nia. Maquelle, it’s nice to see you this early.”

“I know. I know. I don’t usually stop here on Wednesday. I’m out of my element today,” Maquelle joked.

“I didn’t want to interrupt. I just wanted to tell you that everything went very well this morning,” Ari said. He was staring at Nia as she smiled nervously. “Nia really helped me out of a slump yesterday. I let some craziness get to me. She helped put everything back into focus.”

“Nia always knows what to do,” Maquelle said.

“No, I don’t,” Nia said. She felt her right leg shaking and hoped nobody noticed until she remembered she was wearing pants. Nia figured no one could possibly see her leg shaking under her khakis. “I am glad it all worked out.”

“Me too. Once I got out there and did my pitch. . . . sold! What are you two doing tonight? Gray already said he wanted to go out for a drink. I don’t know about Derrick yet. I thought we could all meet up at Spike Bar & Grille.”

“I don’t know,” Nia said. She looked at Maquelle to see if her face revealed anything.

“What about you, Maquelle?” Ari inquired.

“Hmm . . . today isn’t a good day. Thanks for the offer.”

“Today hasn’t been a good day for you? Sounds like my Monday. Is there anything I can do?”

“No. I’m just a little tired. I will be fine once I go home and get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new day.”

“Yeah, sure. But, I really wish you two would come out tonight. We were going to Spike Bar & Grille .”

“Do you think Javonne would want to come?” Nia asked Maquelle.

“You would probably want to talk to her to find out. I would definitely suggest that,” Maquelle told Nia.

“OK. I just was thinking it sounds fun.”

“So, what exactly happened this morning?” Maquelle wondered.

“I had to do a presentation. There is a new Thai restaurant opening up soon and I had to come up with a good idea for the ad. I couldn’t think of anything until I talked to this girl.” Ari grabbed Nia’s hand.

“Congratulations. It’s nice to see people do well. I like to see people do well. I wish everybody was like that.”

“Yeah . . . Maquelle . . . it is nice,” Ari said. He slowly let go of Nia’s hand.

“My poor friend is definitely tired. Can’t you tell by the way she is talking,” Nia rolled her eyes. Maquelle saw it and turned away.

“I have to go. It was good talking to you two. Let me know if you want to meet us at the bar. We were going to meet around 6:30 p.m. Happy hour ends at eight.”

Maquelle and Nia waved Ari off. Nia was disappointed that Maquelle once again denied herself an opportunity to have fun. Maquelle was always so straight-laced, but Nia really thought she would want to do something tonight. After having such a bad morning, Nia thought Maquelle would jump at the chance to hang out with her friends.

“You know I don’t drink.” Maquelle told Nia. It was almost like Maquelle already knew what Nia was thinking before she said anything.

“Everybody knows that. You can still go and have fun without drinking. ”

“Actually, I didn’t want to say anything in front of Ari. But Javonne and I already made plans to go shopping later. You can come if you want.”

“When did you all make plans?”

“Yesterday. I think bad days are popular this week. She had her own bad day yesterday so I thought shopping would be good therapy. It helps that I need my own pick-me-up.

“I guess I will go out with you two. I don’t want to be the only girl at the bar.”

Maquelle looked at her watch. She had ten minutes left to get back to the office. “I told Javonne 7 o’clock. We were going to Mall St. Matthews. Is that OK?”

“See ya at seven.”

Maquelle smiled. She threw her newspaper in the trash and walked out the door.

_____________________________________________________________

 

Ari and Gray went out to Spike Bar & Grille without Derrick who said he had other things to do. They hung out there for awhile. Ari wasn’t ready to go home yet so he drove past the local video store to see what new movies were out. It wasn’t unusual for him to stop by at least once a week to check out a movie. He was a huge movie buff. He preferred action movies and his favorite was Die Hard. He searched for something really exciting to watch on the weekend-when he would have time. He didn’t notice that a brunette with long legs had found him engrossed in the details of a new Jack Black movie. She walked leisurely, scared at first to even approach her old friend. Ari felt a tap on his shoulder and quickly turned around. The brunette smiled so hard you could see her teeth but also the unease in her shoulders. Ari was in awe of her ceaseless beauty. He could tell she must have put on her typical strawberry lip gloss because he could smell it.

“Ari . . . I saw you come in but I didn’t know whether to say something to you or not. I thought you wouldn’t want to see me.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to see you? That’s crazy.”

“I don’t know. It’s been a long time. “

Ari put the Jack Black movie back on the shelf.” “I don’t think this was the movie I thought it would be. Janet, what movie do you have? You have any suggestions for me?”

Janet showed Ari the movie she had picked up. It was Office Space. Janet and Ari loved that movie. Ari had bought it and they had watched it together numerous times. Each time they would laugh as hard as before.

“Ok . . . yeah . . . that’s definitely a good one,” Ari responded.

“I always come back to this one for some reason. It’s probably about time to just buy it. But, I was also looking for a drama.”             Ari’s mind wasn’t even on the movie anymore. It took him a moment to realize that Janet was wearing an engagement ring. He didn’t see it until she showed him the movie. He sort of saw it when she extended her arm out to him with the movie in hand. Yet, it didn’t register for another few seconds what it was on her finger.

“Hmm . . . that’s a nice ring,” Ari stammered.

“My ring . . .oh . . .my ring . . .yes it is nice.” Janet extended her hand again so he could see it better. “I got engaged three months ago. I’m getting married in September.”

“This September?”

“Yes. I know it seems sudden but it feels really right. Everything feels right this time. Nothing against you at all, Ari.”

“I don’t take offense. I’m happy for you. Congratulations to you and . . .” Ari paused.

“Brian. Brian studied economics and is on his way to becoming a professor. We met the day before Thanksgiving last year. I went to a conference and he was speaking. We clicked.”

“Good. It is good to see you happy.”

“Are you dating?” Janet asked.

“No. I’m not with anyone.”

“I know you will meet a nice girl soon. If you ever . . . Oh god . . . I’m doing it again . . . trying to be pushy.”

“The point is that you are happy.”

“Thank you. I’m relieved. I needed to hear you say that.”

“Are you about to cry?”

“I’m holding it in the best I can.”

Ari grabbed her and gave her one long hug. The hug was symbolic for him. He was letting Janet go for the final time; but this time he was at peace.

Janet helped Ari find a recent movie with Seth Rogen that she found funny and he suggested one of the Woody Allen movies with Scarlett Johansson to her. They walked out together smiling and then went their separate ways.

______________________________________________________________

 

Gray called Victoria when he returned from the bar. He had a lot on his mind that night. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was tipsy or because he missed his girlfriend. Victoria hadn’t said anything to him since they talked at the gym. He was hoping she still wanted to see the pianist Ben Jeffries on Friday. Ari had handed him the discounted tickets while they were out. He dialed her number the first time and no one picked up. He dialed a second time and it went straight to voicemail. He waited almost five minutes before trying again.

“Hey, Gray . . . I was trying to sleep. Can I call you back tomorrow?”

“I won’t keep you up long. Did you still want to go see Ben Jeffries on Friday? I got the tickets from Ari.”

“That’s fine. I still want to go.”

“I didn’t mean to wake you up. I am sorry about that. I just keep getting a bad vibe.”

“What bad vibe?”

“Something’s up, baby. I can tell when things are not right between us. I need to know if you got another dude up in there.”

“Are you drunk?”

“Hell . . . I mean . . I just need to know what’s up. You act like you don’t have time for me anymore. I know you needed to get used to your new position and stuff. . . .” Gray was cut short.

“No, Gray. We are not discussing anything tonight. I’m going back to bed. We will talk tomorrow.”

“This is stupid! My girl don’t want to let me in on things. I can tell you don’t want me in on what you got going on.”

“Gray . . . you aren’t even making sense.”

“You got another dude. You trying to be with me and some other dude.”

“I don’t have anyone else. You are the only one I want to be with. I am going to bed now!”

“Wait . . . baby . . . I’m sorry. I don’t want to lose you.”

“You aren’t going to lose me. But, I do need some space. Now is the time to do some things for me and I want the same for you.”

“I can do that! I can give you space.”

“After the Friday concert I think we should give each other a little breathing room. You can hang out with your boys and I can do some things with my girls. Give it two weeks and then things will be back to normal. Don’t you think that sounds good?”

“I can do that! I’m good.”

“Can I go back to sleep now?”

“I love you.”

“Are you picking me up, Friday?” Victoria whispered.

“I will pick you up at six . . . alright?”

“That’s fine. I love you. Good night.”

____________________________________________________________

 

Maquelle went to bed thinking about the last thing Sevon said to her before she left for the day. She was careful not to reveal any of it to Javonne and Nia while they were out at the mall. Maquelle didn’t want anyone trying to put their two cents in until she could get a better reading on Sevon. He told her that he didn’t like that she had it so easy. According to him, she had always gotten what she wanted and never had to work hard to get it like others. She wasn’t sure where he was even getting his information. His exact words were: ‘It frustrates me that people like you don’t even have to go the extra mile to get to the next level. You have it too easy. When was the last time anyone ever challenged you? Never! Those words could puncture anyone and it did just that to Maquelle. It cut even deeper as her mind looped those words with his voice attached to it. She looked at her clock for the tenth time before turning over in her bed wishing herself to sleep.

At the same time, Javonne was also lying in her bed begging for mercy. She was tired in so many ways: tired of Derrick, her own selfish desires, and just physically exhausted. It was actually more about Derrick than anything else. She still loved him and it made her angry. It was time to end it all. She needed space from him. For the first time in her life, Javonne realized she was worth more than what Derrick could ever give her. This new insight made her sad. She cried under her pillows.

 

 

When Nia returned from shopping she took a long bubble bath. She cracked open a new book but couldn’t concentrate on the words. All she could think about was how good Ari looked in his suit earlier. He even held her hand (maybe accidently). She wasn’t sure of his intentions anymore. It bugged her that she had no idea what he was thinking about her. She wanted to call him, but it was almost eleven. It wasn’t something she would normally do, but she wanted to know something. She needed to know if he felt what she felt. Apparently, he wasn’t going to talk without some persuasion. Nia gathered up enough gumption to finally make the call. She was shocked that Ari answered the phone after one ring. That was not something that never happened.

“Hi, Nia . . . it’s kind of late.”

“I know it. I wouldn’t normally call you this late on a weekday. But, I have to ask you something important.”

“Real important?”

“Sort of. First off, you are a really intelligent guy-one of the smartest I know. But what was up with you wanting my help with your presentation?”

“ Because you are a very artistic and creative person. Nia, you have the ability to see things the way no one else can. I’m an analytical type of person. ”

“So that answers my question,” Nia sighed.

“Is that all you needed to know?”

“Were you asleep when I called?”

“No. I was lying here watching ESPN.”

“Ari, I’m not that creative. It’s nice to hear, but it’s not really true. Listen, I called for another reason. I’m nervous and . . .”

“Wait a minute . . .” Ari tried to interrupt.

“          “Please, Ari . . . I have to get this out. Please.”

“Fine . . .” Ari sighed.

“I like this friendship. I can’t tell if it is headed in another direction or not.”

“I also like this friendship. I would like for it to stay that way.”

“That means you only like me as a friend?”

“I don’t want you to think you are not a great girl. You are a great girl but I like what we already have. There is no reason to mess with it.”

“I feel the same way.   I’m glad to get that all cleared up. I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.”

“Page 12, right?” Ari joked.

“Yep. Page 12. Well I need some sleep and I know you do too.”

“You can call me anytime. I didn’t mean to make you think it was too late to call.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t call past nine. I didn’t mean to bother you.”

“Nia, you don’t bother me.”

“Again, I’m sorry. I know you have to go to work in the morning. Have a good night. Bye.” Nia hung up abruptly

Chapter 4- Having a Plan

 

Maquelle had arrived at the office a little before 8 a.m. She walked in slowly with her head hanging down. Co-workers asked if she was doing OK because they noticed her puffy eyes. Lack of sleep kept her from ironing her slacks this morning. It was now 10:15 a.m. and Sevon hadn’t made an appearance. He didn’t sit near her desk. Maquelle’s cubicle was right across from the break room. She would see him occasionally when he would drop in to get candy. Sevon’s comments had hurt her feelings so much. He didn’t even know her. How could he say such things? Maquelle was fine with being an assistant. All through college she made straight A’s. In fact, she had never made less than an A all through school. In college, Maquelle worked as a staff writer for the newspaper her junior and senior years. She had researched several publishing companies before choosing Brooks Publishing. Maquelle was the type of person that recorded and planned her whole life. Things don’t just happen to people who have a plan. Her mind went straight to Nia. Maquelle met Nia and Javonne freshman year. It took her awhile to get used to Javonne. She bonded with Nia quickly. It was hard on her when Nia dropped out after the first year. Maquelle and Javonne hung out with other girls but it wasn’t the same dynamic without Nia. Maquelle understood Nia had to leave college to discover who she was. It took Nia two years and working at a coffeehouse for her to figure out her next step. Maquelle was so excited when she found out Nia was returning to school in pursuit of a degree. Everyone should have a plan, she thought. She was fine with being an assistant for now. In a year she wanted to move up. She was only 24, but by 30 she wanted to have her own publishing company.

 _____________________________________________________________________

           

Derrick was irritated by the old black man with stank breath sitting next to him on the plane. All Derrick could think about was that it was supposed to be Javonne sitting next to him. This dude talked incessantly about his job as a car salesman. He now lived in Atlanta with his wife but was going to visit his brother in Chicago who was having major surgery. He wanted to be with him as he recuperated. Derrick was so ready to land and head to his hotel. He glanced at his watch. It was a good sign that he was set to arrive in Chicago within the next thirty minutes. His first meeting was supposed to start at two that afternoon. That would give Derrick plenty of time to get settled in his room, take a quick tour of his surroundings, and get some lunch. He was kind of nervous about this meeting. He was supposed to meet and discuss a new magazine ad. It was a new client and he had to be persuasive. Derrick had come up with all the concepts himself and needed to make sure everything was going to go just right.

 

After about an hour, Derrick was finally able to check out his hotel room. The accommodations were decent. The room had a full size bed, nightstand, 32” inch television, mini fridge, and a table and two chairs. The comforter had green, white, and brown stripes. He guessed they used very neutral colors on purpose, which was better than the typical ugly flower patterns. The nightstand had a Bible, phone, Yellow Pages book, and a notepad and pencil.   He had to look inside the first drawer to find the remote and list of television stations. All he could think about was Javonne. It was supposed to be Javonne with him. She was really the best girlfriend he had ever had. Javonne was pretty, smart, attentive, a great sex partner, cook, and friend. Damn! I had it good and fucked up, he thought. Larisa got in the way. But now she was out of the picture for good. Derrick looked out the window at all the people walking around the city. He hadn’t been to Chicago since he was thirteen. He had an aunt and three cousins that used to live there. His Aunt Haley raised her three boys by herself.   Her husband had walked out on the family early on. When his aunt passed away twelve years ago he lost touch with his cousins.   His cousins were a little older than him. James was closest to his age. He was only two years older and they would play basketball all the time.   James was the better player, and he was one of the reasons that Derrick was able to get so good. ‘It is always good to play people better than you, because you can learn from them’ his aunt used to say. At eleven he didn’t understand that. He was just jealous of James’ ability.   The sad part about James was that he wasn’t a good student. Truthfully, James hated school. He never really got over his mother’s quick passing from breast cancer. James dropped out not long after her death. He was only in tenth grade. Derrick didn’t know what happened to Thomas or Jason who were James’ older brothers. He had heard from another cousin that Jason was homeless and possibly on drugs. His memories of Thomas were scarce. Thomas was seven years older than him and he was cool. He was like the cool older brother that got all the girls and everybody liked him. That was all he remembered-he didn’t recall if he was particularly smart or athletic. He just had a lot of girlfriends. Derrick didn’t want to fall hard like any of his cousins. His aunt would be so upset if she knew that her death caused so much pain for her sons. It would be good to know if one of them had turned out OK. Thomas was the most likely of the three to maybe have done something good with his life. But, really, Derrick was afraid that he may have become Thomas. Maybe Thomas was some kind of pimp and tossed girls away like trash. Derrick really wasn’t sure who he was anymore. He just continued looking out at the people crossing streets and hailing cabs outside his window.

______________________________________________________________

 

It was a breezy Thursday with the temperature in the high 60s. Nia was excited about it. She was also happy because it was one of her off days. It was 10 a.m. and she had just gotten out of the shower. It took awhile for her to find some perfume in the top drawer. A new art exhibit was opening and she wanted to check it out. The conversation she had with Ari the day before was still her main concern. She wanted to believe he couldn’t tell that her feelings for him had increased gradually over the last few weeks. It wasn’t like Nia to want to call and ask Javonne about this pressing issue. But part of her wanted to hear what her best friend had to say. The other part of her didn’t want anyone to know anything. When Nia found her perfume she sprayed a little on her neck, wrists, and rubbed a little behind her ears with her index finger. Her main thought: Ari was her type except that she had never dated a white guy. His personality matched hers and he was smart. Ari had made it known he had never dated a black girl (based on a conversation with Gray she overheard). The closest girl he had ever dated that would be considered ‘ethnic’ was a half Italian-half Mexican girl from his early college years. Ari had spoken fondly of her. They dated briefly but Nia knew she was beautiful because she had seen a photo of her and Ari frolicking on the beach. The girl had on a tiny two-piece showing off her freshly tanned skin and slim waist. Nia couldn’t compete with her or Janet. It seemed as though Janet was the love of Ari’s life and yet he broke up with her without much explanation. Ari always had pretty girls. She wasn’t one. Nia always found herself rubbing more concealer on her skin and putting on heavy foundation when going out to nice events. Acne was a real issue for her as a teenager and it still cropped up when she was stressed. The only thing guys ever told her they liked about her was her hair: natural, long black ringlets and her curves (wide hips and thick thighs). Some of them even stayed around to realize she had a nice personality before breaking up with her because she was celibate. Nia looked through the clothes in her closet for an impressive outfit. The intention was to find a look that incorporated sophistication, cool, and business-savvy. Her attendance was not just for fun but to network.

__________________________________________________________________

 

Gray was still tired after being at work for close to three hours. Ari tried to speak to him but he just waved him away. That was very unusual for Gray. Ari didn’t think too much of it and went on back to his desk. The last thing Gray remembered from the night before was having a few beers before going to sleep. It wasn’t his protocol to do a lot of drinking during the week, but for whatever reason last night was an exception. He couldn’t recall why. Apparently, he had a hangover that morning but he drank a lot of coffee when he got work. Gray was supposed to be working on a new website for the agency but he couldn’t get his ideas together. He went through his desk looking for the sheet of paper he used to brainstorm four days ago. Even though Gray looked like he didn’t want to be bothered, Ari couldn’t escape the blank look on his friend’s face. He looked like he was lost in space. He stepped over to Gray’s desk to see if he needed anything.

 

“You need help?” Ari asked. He stared as Gray tossed over piles of paper in his drawer.

“I don’t know, man. I can’t find the paper I put my ideas on. You know the deadline for this new website is tomorrow. Mr. Underwood said he wanted it done by Friday, so tomorrow is it.”

“You know how Mr. Underwood is. He gets agitated when things are not finished based on his time table. But that’s why he is the boss,” Ari sighed.

“Right. I mean I normally have my stuff together.”

Ari continued to watch him search another drawer. “I know you’re the IT and graphic design guy and that’s not my position but just let me know if you need anything.”

“You’re right; you are not the IT guy.”

“I already said that.”

“Look, man, I don’t have time to talk.” Gray slammed the drawer shut.

“Alright,” Ari said before walking away. Ari shook his head as he walked back to his own area. Normally Ari wouldn’t get in someone’s business but it wasn’t like Gray to come to work unprepared. He just wanted to see if there was anything he could do. Ari knew how Mr. Underwood was and he remembered when he told Gray he wanted him to develop a website to attract new clients. Gray was slipping because he was given a month to get his ideas together and then build the site. Now he only had one more day left.

Gray’s knew he had to get it together so he could finish the website. He knew he had a lot to do to get it done by tomorrow. Gray knew how Mr. Underwood was, he would really be in for it if he didn’t not only get his work done on time but do it well. He was the information technology guy after all. That was his job. Gray wasn’t so sure he even liked his job anymore. Building and programming computers was his thing back in high school. He was a computer geek. It was the only type of ‘geek’ he could ever be because school wasn’t really his forte. He was good at computers and physics and nothing else. He struggled to get his college degree. He struggled to find people who believed in what he could do until he met Victoria. Victoria had always been encouraging of his endeavors. But lately she was becoming suspicious. Gray didn’t know who he could depend on anymore. Work used to be where he felt validated but he didn’t necessarily feel that way with this new project not going well. It might go well if he could just get motivated. Motivation was not something that came natural to him, but it was something he would need to acquire to get this website done. Gray needed internal encouragement but was too pessimistic to be his own cheerleader. What happens when you don’t believe in yourself anymore?

 

Chapter 5- This Much Is True

 

Nia chose to wear a purple short-sleeved blouse with a knee-length ruffled skirt and heels. It was exciting to see a new exhibit at the Speed Art Museum. The new exhibit focusing on the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat was helpful. There were lots of people at the exhibit, far more than she had expected. She stopped at a piece called Obnoxious Liberals created in 1982. There were abstract figures of men and the word Asbestos and Not For Sale written in odd places. Nia couldn’t stop staring at it. Who was not for sale…the poor, minorities? She wasn’t sure. Nia spaced out to a time when Basquiat was just another young man in Brooklyn doing graffiti. Who could know he would die at 27 and his work be immortalized.

“Is this real to you?” a baritone voice came from behind.   She turns around and a man built like a footballer and around six feet is smiling. A nice cocoa-colored man with shiny white teeth extends his hand. She shakes it. Though he has just given his name Nia is fixated on his smile. All she sees is his lips move but his voice is muted.

“Real? Real to me?” Nia whispers.

“This piece by Basquiat. Obnoxious Liberals…a man who knew some things,” he continues to speak in his lush baritone.

“I am not real familiar with his work. I am here to learn more,” Nia’s voice begins to crack. She steps further from the artwork.

“He died young so people wanted to care about his stuff.”

“You don’t think he was any good?”

“What the hell do you think?” he snickered.

“I don’t know what to think right now.”

“Right.” He begin to walk over to the next piece “Untitled (History of the Black People) .

Nia stared back at Obnoxious Liberals. She didn’t understand and she thought she would. She would stare at the painting and then stare over at the attractive cocoa-colored man.

Finally she thought she should ask him what he knew. He obviously had more knowledge of this man than she did. She strolled over to the next piece where the gentleman was still standing. He was now chatting with an older white man. Nia would not interrupt but simply wait until their conversation looked over to speak again. She stood behind them as they laughed. At that moment she wondered about leaving. She had only been there twenty minutes. Yet, when she scanned the room she noticed it was only about a dozen black people in a sea of possibly sixty. The rest of the crowd was older white people. Most of them looked liked professors or famous artists from bigger cities just visiting for the day.

Nia adjusted her blouse and looked down at her heels. She looked presentable and classy, but felt insignificant. The men pointed at certain spots on the painting and gave their analysis. Nia couldn’t comprehend their words. It was apparent she was either being ignored or they really did not see her. Eventually she walked closer to the men so they could catch her within their peripheral vision.

The white man saw her first. “What do you think young lady?”

“I’m sorry. I’m just here to learn.”

“Here to learn, huh. Young lady, Basquiat was an interesting character. I lived in Brooklyn myself in those days. It was the early 1980s. I’m from Cleveland. But I moved to New York in 1979. I was a silly 29 year-old at the time. I thought I was going to be a movement within myself.”

The three laughed. Nia felt eyes burning a hole through her blouse. It was not the old man because he was too busy viewing the painting.

“He was young. But he had deep ideas about all the inequality of the time,” the old man continued.

“I was telling Dr. Aldridge here that my mom explained this one to me years ago. He examined the painting. “She said this piece was about how black people were proud of their African heritage. The beginning of civilization was in Egypt. This piece retells the story of the beauty of Egypt,” said the young black man.

“Yes, yes. Well, I hope you learned some things in my class too, Joseph, “ said the older man. Nia should have known he was a professor just like the others in the room. She didn’t expect the black guy to have been his student. Joseph had been Dr. Aldridge’s student. It all made sense now why they were so chummy and didn’t see her standing behind them.

“I learned a lot from you, Dr. Aldridge. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you.”

“Joseph was a sponge. He picked up everything so quickly. I haven’t had too many of those since.” Dr. Aldridge said. The professor looked straight at me.

“I’m Dr. Herbert Aldridge. I teach Art Education at the University of Louisville.” Nia gave him a firm handshake.

“ Nia Davenport. I’m a student at Bellarmine getting a degree in Art with an emphasis in painting.”

“And then what are you going to do?” the professor quizzes Nia.

“Umm…I’m going to paint. Well, I also have some background in digital art as well. I just won’t have the degree in it. But I have some experience.”

“When do you graduate?” Dr. Aldridge inquires further.

“I graduate this fall. December.”

“What do you really want to do with it?”

“With it?” Nia was confused. Her nerves were getting to her.

“With your degree? What kind of career do you want?”

“Oh, I want to be an art therapist.”

“Yes, okay….that was the answer I was trying to get out of you all along. Art therapy is a great field. We offer a graduate program at U of L. Were you aware of that?”

“No.”

“Well, I would suggest looking into it. You need that graduate degree. Please look into it.”

“I will. Thank you.”

The professor looked at his watch. “Time is my new trouble” He shakes his head. “It was nice meeting you, young lady. Joseph Begley. It was nice to see a former student. You have my card with the new contact information. Please stay connected.”

Yes, Dr. Aldridge. Thank you,” he nods.

The older man walks away as Mr. Cocoa wipes his forehead with the back of his head.

“The coast is clear,” he chuckles.

“I felt like I was being interrogated,” Nia said adjusting her shirt.

“That is how he always is….so don’t let him ruffle you. Self-important motherfucka.”

Nia laughed a hearty laugh. The ice had broken and it felt good.

 

________________________________________________________________

 

Maquelle saw Sevon walk briskly to the vending machines in the break room at 3:00 PM. It was her first Sevon sighting all day. It was unusual became he usually picked up candy twice day – once around 10:30 am and then again around 2:00 pm. She could never figure out why he had to go through twice to pick up candy. Why couldn’t he just pick up everything he needed at 10:30 am? Once he picked up his candy he walked toward her desk. Maquelle was so sure he was going to stop right in front of her.   Maquelle’s eyes met his but he kept walking in the opposite direction. She focused back on the work in front of her. She had five manila folders spread out across her desk. She was trying to sort and label paperwork. Just as she had picked up a pen to write on one of the labels, she felt some wind in front of her face. Maquelle couldn’t help but look up at Sevon and his bald head. He straightened his black-rimmed glasses.

“Have you finished the editing yet?”

“Yes, and now I am organizing all the manuscripts into these manila folders.” Maquelle picked up one of the folders and showed him.

“Quincy said he needs those copies right away.”

“Quincy never said that to me. Besides, I am almost done. I will give it to him momentarily.”

“If you are almost done I can wait and give it to him.”

“That would not be necessary. His office is just down the hall and I have no problem with my feet.”

“Why do you have to make this such an issue? I was trying to be nice.”

“I never make an issue out of anything.” Maquelle looked back at her folder and starting to write on the label again. When she was done she handed over the manila folders to Sevon. “Here. Thank you for taking them to Quincy for me.” Maquelle opened a drawer and pulled out some paper. “You can do that and I will start on this.”

Sevon took that as his cue and walked off in the direction of their assistant manager, Quincy Cable’s office.

____________________________________________________________

 

Gray loosened his tie a bit. He glared at the nameplate on Mr. Underwood’s door. Paul Underwood, Manager in nice bold letters. He knocked twice before Mr. Underwood carefully opened the door. He asked Gray to sit in the leather chair directly across his large desk. Paul Underwood was a man in his late fifties with wrinkled and pasty skin. He had been a long time smoker who quit just a year earlier. His hair was the only thing that had some vitality. It was still thick but completely white.

“I know why you are here. You want an extension for the project.”

“If I could get another week, Mr. Underwood, I would have a great website. We can launch it in three weeks.”

“My problem with you, Gray, is that you were given a month to begin with. What have you been doing all this time?”

“I have been working on this. I started to make a lot of changes…”

“Gray, you are making a lot of excuses.”

“I really did have a lot of ideas. Things just weren’t happening the way I thought they would in the beginning.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”

“I don’t know. I regret that I didn’t.”

“You already know we have a lot riding on this new site. We told everyone it would go live in two months. We just lost a month, Gray. How do we make up for that lost month?”

“I can make it up. I will make it up to you and everyone else involved.”

“You know what would have to happen for you to make it up. You would have to work seven days a week for two weeks. Ari Fletcher and Jillian Harris would also have to work seven days a week for two weeks. Would you like to tell your co-workers what they will be doing these upcoming weeks?”

“Sounds like I don’t have a choice,” Gray whispered hoping he wouldn’t be heard.

“I think you would be right. Please go tell them now so we can get the new plan together.”

Gray was just about to open the door when Mr. Underwood spoke again.

“Gray, this cannot happen again. If it does there will be a different action taken against you.”

Gray turned to face Mr. Underwood a last time. “I understand.”
_____________________________________________________________

 

Derrick finished off the day with a great presentation. He shook hands and fake smiled his way through three hours. He was exhausted. It was close to 5:30 pm and he wanted dinner. He chose a small café across the street from his hotel. He ordered salmon with rice pilaf and steamed broccoli. He knew he had a long day tomorrow so he drank water instead of alcohol. A woman the color of desert sand with toned legs under her blue shorts sat down at a table next to Derrick. Her shoulder-length sandy brown hair was in loose waves. Derrick watched a waitress stop by her table and then collect her menu once she ordered. A moment later the waitress came back to set a glass of water on her table. The woman pulled a book out of her large black tote. Derrick couldn’t hold his enthusiasm much longer.

“Hey, hey, what are you reading?” he shouted a little too loud.

She looked around nervously at the other customers. She was not sure whose attention the guy at the next table was trying to grab.

“I was talking to you. I’m Derrick.” His eyes met hers and he winked.

“I don’t care.”   She shrugged and was back to her book.

Derrick couldn’t help but notice her green eyes. He had to get her attention again.

“I’m here for a conference. I work for advertising agency.” He waited patiently for her to respond but she kept reading. “I will be here until Saturday…two more days.”

He scanned her legs again. She had to work out, maybe even a former athlete in high school or college. Derrick guessed her to be about twenty-one or twenty-two. He ate a few more bites of his salmon and sipped some water. He wondered what he would have to do to get her to look in his direction.

The waitress came back with the woman’s club sandwich and fries. She ate slowly as she continued to read.

“I just thought you could suggest some places to visit while I’m here. I haven’t been to Chicago in a couple years.” Derrick hoped this would make her curious enough to talk.

“I wouldn’t be very helpful. I’m new to the area,” she said.

“Really? I’m from Louisville in Kentucky…and you?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of Louisville. I’m from Cincinnati.”

“Cincinnati…okay….not too far from me. So are you visiting family or a boyfriend?”

“I’m here for school. I’m a transfer from UC…University of Cincinnati.”

“Good, and what are you studying?”

“Journalism at Northwestern.” She sipped some water and ate a couple more fries.

“I’m keeping you from eating…I wasn’t thinking.”

“I get the impression you do that a lot.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t think…too busy focused on yourself.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“Yes, I do. I knew you as soon as I saw you staring at me when I came in. You didn’t even make eye contact with me…staring at my legs. So I thought I would ignore you.”

“You think that’s who I am?”

“I know all of you. You guys are all the same…so predictable!”

“Alright….who do you think I am…for real…tell me exactly who I am right now.”

She shook her head and giggled. “See…this is who you are….already trying to demand things…telling me what to do. You haven’t even asked me my name. You know why? Because you don’t care what it is. I could be April, Erica, Susan, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether I will sleep with you tonight. Then tomorrow…nothing will matter. All that will matter is that you got what you wanted.”

Derrick smiled. “Damn, you’re bitter. What dude did this to you!”

“You are a superficial ass is what you are. A selfish man-child.” She closed her book and placed it back in her bag. She waited until she saw the waitress again and asked for a box so she could take her leftovers home.

Derrick had already finished off his food. He watched as she waited uncomfortably in her chair until the waitress came back with a box. She paid and stepped out of the café. Derrick quickly followed after her.

“Now you are following me!” she shouted.

“I’m not…I’m not going to hurt you or anything. My hotel is across the street. I’m just here for a conference until Saturday.”

“You already said all that.”

“I thought you had been ignoring me.”

“I ignored you, but I’m not deaf….Derrick.”

“See…..I did make an impression…you remembered my name.”

“Whatever,” the woman rolled her eyes. “I don’t care that you are here until Saturday for some conference. I wasn’t going to sleep with you. I’m not a prostitute.”

“Shit…..I know….I wasn’t trying to say….”

“What? What were you not trying to say! You are so used to dumb women that let you have your way. You’re a tall guy…probably played basketball at some point…right? You had girls fawning all over you….I’m not your groupie.”

“Why the hell am I even still talking to you? You are one bitter chick! “ Derrick shrugged. “You was cute until you opened your damn mouth!”

“Goodbye, Mr. Basketball,” she turned to walk away.

“That’s cool…..you didn’t matter that much anyway…”

“Exactly! And you still don’t know my name…..” she said before turning the corner.

 

_______________________________________________________________

 

Javonne’s cell phone kept ringing so she finally decided to answer it. She picked up the phone off her kitchen table and answered a little annoyed. She felt bad once she realized it was Nia.

“I’m sorry I caught you at a bad time, Javonne.”

“Girl, don’t even trip. It’s me. I’m still pissed off at Derrick.”

“What do you mean?”

“Derrick fooled me again, but that’s it. No more messing around with him. I was thinking, Nia. I think one of things that really kept us connected was the sex. It was good sex, girl. But that’s not everything. I always thought sex was supposed to be a big part of a relationship. I like sex so it wasn’t a big deal to me. I never waited around. Yeah, I don’t think I have ever let it get past a month….I just never expected any of them to wait and I didn’t want to wait.”

“Oh…wow….hmm.,” Nia stammered.

“No, it’s not what you think. I have only been with eleven guys… period. That’s nothing, girl.”

“I guess it’s not.”

“No, that number is low. We are in our mid-twenties…so that number is low. At our age anything under fifteen is low. I want to keep my number low too. No more sex until I find my future husband.”

“That is how I feel. I have been celibate for almost three years.”

“Three years…you didn’t mean three months? You really meant three years?” Javonne snickered through the phone.

“Why are you laughing?”

“I still don’t believe you. You have to be lying. Who can go three years…damn!”

“Yes, Javonne, it’s been almost three years. I told you I had been celibate for awhile.”

“You said ‘awhile’. When people say ‘awhile’ they mean weeks or months! Not three years!” Javonne was really laughing aloud now.

“I’m glad I made you laugh. You are so mean,” Nia giggled.

“Girl, you know I am telling the truth! You must have a vibrator or something…” Javonne whispered before another laugh erupted.

“Okay, that’s enough. No more about my non-sex life.”

“On a serious note, Nia, I want to be celibate like you. I want to see what it feels like. I have made this too much of an issue in my life. I need to know what it is like to be on my own. I have to start thinking about Javonne and not Derrick or whatever guy may come into the picture. I have never not been somebody’s girlfriend. When you are always somebody’s something…you end up taking a backseat. I’m not taking a backseat anymore. Now it is going to be about what Javonne wants.”

“I’m happy to hear you finally say that, Javonne. I have been trying to get you to see your worth for years. But, it doesn’t matter now, because you finally get it. Please don’t ever let another man determine your worth.”

“Not ever again. So, what’s up with you?”

“I went to an exhibit this morning at the Speed. Well, I met a nice guy there.”

“Black guy?”

“Yes, black guy. Does it matter?”

“No, I was just curious. A fine brotha hanging at the Speed Art Museum. I’m just trying to picture this.”

“Anyway, yes, a fine black man was at the art museum.   He was smart and funny. I didn’t know what to think of him at first, but he was real cool.”

“What did he look like?”

“He was cocoa-colored. He was around six feet, really built like a football player or something….and he had a fade.”

“Hmm…nice…real nice…” Javonne said before slurping.

“What are you drinking??

“A cherry ICEE…sorry back to your story.”

“He was really cute. We talked for about ten minutes. He told me he got a master’s degree in Art Education from U of L. In fact his old professor was at the museum too. That professor of his was going around interrogating people. But, I learned a little about Joseph Begley. He graduated five years ago, so I guess he would be at least 29 now. Plus, he has been an art teacher at Manual for two years.”

“Did you get his number?” Javonne inquired.

“No, but I gave him mine.”

“Why didn’t you get his number, Nia?”

“Because I don’t do that. I don’t do the calling. I’m old school like that. I believe if a guy likes you he will call. Even if I had his number I wouldn’t call him.”

“I thought I taught you better. This isn’t 1950.   Women are allowed to be aggressive and go after what they want.”

“I don’t care, Javonne. I don’t feel comfortable in that role. “

“Alright, that is fine. I hope he calls, you need to get you some.”

“Some of what? You were the one saying earlier you wanted to be celibate just like me.”

“That’s different. I’ve had some lately. You are the one that hasn’t had any in three years. Get you some and repent later….just for one night and then no more. You can go back to your no-sex diet.”

“Shut the f-u-c-k up!” Nia shouted in the phone.

“There you go spelling words out…you are allowed to curse from time to time.” The two giggled like little school girls.

__________________________________________________________________

 

Ari was lying on the sofa after eating pizza he had ordered for dinner. He flipped from channel to channel searching for some game to watch. His landline phone began to ring and he jumped up. He was always careful to check the caller ID before picking up the receiver. Ari had only given family members and select friends his home number, but sometimes he would get random sales calls.

“Hey, Mom. How are you?”

“Good, thank you for asking son. I wanted to know how everything is coming along. Your father and I wanted to know.”

“It’s fine. I’m sorry I haven’t called in awhile.”

“That is why I called. We have been worried, Ari. You don’t call anymore. Your father and I didn’t expect to not hear from you just because we moved back to Chapel Hill.”

“I know, Mom.”

“Ari, North Carolina is not too far to visit. You should come visit your parents.”

“Are you or dad sick or something?”

“Ari. Son, do either of us have to be sick or dying for you to come visit. It is the summer and we know you have vacation days. We have been here since January and it’s almost August. Everyone asks about you.”

“Tell them I say ‘hello’.”

“Why can’t you do it yourself…come see us next weekend.   I will send you some money for a plane ticket.”

“Mom, I have a project I have to work on. I am going to be busy for at least the next three weeks on a project. I will get back with you tomorrow.”

“Will you please call me back tomorrow? It will be nice to hear from you. Though I would really like to see you in the next month or so.”

“Yes, I will call. Where is dad now?”

“He is in his office. He has such a nice office upstairs with all of his books. He enjoys working and reading in there. He would love to show you when you come to visit.”

“So he doesn’t know you are on the phone with me now?”

“No, he doesn’t know. But I will tell him I talked to you and you will call back tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Mom. I will call tomorrow. How about around seven o’clock? Is that a good time?”

“Yes, son, that is a good time. I will be waiting until then. Have a good night.”

“Have a good night, Mom.” Ari slammed the phone down.

_______________________________________________________________

 

Chapter 6- The Real Woman vs. The Real Man

 

Javonne Taylor had just left the nail salon. She glanced at her watch and realized it was close to noon. Friday’s weather was in the low 80s and Javonne felt comfortable in her long, orange summer dress with gold wedges. Her pedicure was perfect and she was feeling sexy. But she remembered what she told Nia the night before and she wanted to stick to her word – celibate. A very unfamiliar word in her vocabulary but she would make use of it. She was happy she had not heard from Derrick since he left for Chicago. Javonne was finally ready to move on from Derrick Young. A bell sound escaped from her purse and she knew she had a text message. She saw a message on her screen from Maquelle. It read: Meet me at downtown Panera Bread at 12:15. Maquelle didn’t expect to see a message from Maquelle this time of day. Usually Maquelle would pack her lunch to save money. Javonne was on the east side of town and only had ten minutes to get to Panera Bread by 12:15 pm. She would be late, but at least she could still meet with Maquelle.

Javonne didn’t arrive to Panera Bread until 12:25 pm. Maquelle didn’t mind, she was just happy to see her friend.

“Maquelle, I assume your lunch is over at 1:00?”

“Yes, but you are right on time. I wanted to talk to you specifically about my issue. It has to do with Sevon.”

“Who is Sevon?”

“Sevon Knight is a colleague of mine. Haven’t I mentioned him to you before?”

“I don’t recall….he doesn’t sound familiar.”

“He is trying to sabotage me. I am sure of it. I just don’t know what to do. You know how to handle situations like this.   He is trying to do whatever has to do to make me look bad. He is not my superior. He wants to think he is, but he is not.”

“Calm down. I got you. You just need to take him to the side and tell him what’s up. Let him know you are not going to be bullied.”

“When do I do that? Should I do it today because I want to do it today.”

“Do it away from work. Ask him if he would like to meet up somewhere after work.”

“Meet somewhere after work. Where?”

“I don’t know…a coffee place or a deli or something. I wouldn’t do it at a real sit-down restaurant. You need to go to a place where you can say what you need to say and run out.”

“Run out? You don’t mean literally run out. I am sure you didn’t mean that literally. I think you have a good idea though.”

“Of course it’s a good idea. Go on ahead back to work and tell him you would like to meet with him later. But don’t let the meeting run too long.   There would be no reason to stay more than thirty minutes. Just remember that.”

“Thanks, Javonne. You are a lifesaver. “ Maquelle picked up her purse. Javonne followed her out the door.

The two stood outside on the sidewalk as people walked around them.   An attractive white guy with dark hair and blue eyes stared at Javonne. She stared back. He took a double take and walked away.

“I hate this!” Javonne murmured.

“What?” Maquelle asked. She didn’t hear what Javonne had just said.

“I’m horny…I’m mean….nothing. Good luck with your meeting. Call me later.” Javonne walked off without saying another word.

 

_________________________________________________________________

 

Ari stomped over to Gray’s desk. He had waited until after lunch before confronting Gray. He was writing in a notebook and hadn’t noticed Ari. Ari had been carrying stacks of files and dropped them beside Gray. The sound from the files falling on his desk shook Gray.

“Jillian and I talked about some things this morning.”

“I’m sure you did.” Gray sat back in his chair and folded his arms.

“How could you be so smug? Are you happy about this situation? Seven days a week for two weeks, Gray. How am I supposed to be excited about that?”

“I sent you an e-mail last night. I explained myself.”

“Yeah, an e-mail. A cowardly way to handle things. Why didn’t you come to me. I had asked you on several occasions if you needed some help. Why did you brush me off? Are you trying to get yourself fired?”

“I don’t know. But, please get out of my face. I want to get back to work. If you got a question regarding the project then ask. Otherwise I only want to communicate via e-mail for a few days. Please tell Jillian the same thing.”

“I thought you would tell me the truth. You were supposed to be working on this website and you weren’t doing anything. You kept telling me and Jillian that you could handle it.”

“I’m not happy about this situation. It’s not cool. I made my mistakes and I’m trying to fix some things. Can you help me out this one time? I won’t ask anything else from you again. Okay.”   Gray extended out his hand.

“This is not you, man. You always do your job. I don’t know what happened. But I trust it won’t happen again.” Ari shook his hand.

________________________________________________________________

 

Derrick sat down in the last empty chair in the lobby. His meetings were over for the day. He didn’t know what else to do since he was free. Derrick observed a black man and woman likely in their forties holding hands. They kissed before entering the elevator. The thought of Javonne popped into head for the first time since he arrived to Chicago. She was so adamant about not coming here and he wished she had changed her mind. Larisa took her turn occupying his brain as well. She was good for sex and nothing else. He couldn’t hold conversations with her like he could Javonne. A white man with a Japanese woman walked past him. They had smiled at each other oblivious to those around them. Derrick figured they were late twenties and newlyweds. He shook his head. This was not Derrick, he didn’t watch couples and their public displays of affection. He was man. A man’s man didn’t do this shit. He wasn’t sure if he was lonely or needed the body of a woman for a couple hours. Then he recalled the day before. What was that chick’s name? It finally hit him that he really didn’t ask. He didn’t ask because he didn’t care. Derrick exhaled on that one. She was right. She could have been a Sheila or a Maya and I wouldn’t have gave a damn. I just wanted a quick piece for the night.

            Derrick needed fresh air. He walked down one block full of stores with expensive shirts in the window.   It was Friday afternoon. People were having lunch at various cafes and restaurants. Cabs were picking up or dropping off people all around him. He thought of his cousins James, Thomas, and Jason. He took his cell out of his pants pocket and dialed his mother’s number. He asked her as much information as he could. She didn’t remember as much as he had hoped. She had one address she could remember from almost seven years ago. It was a shot. Derrick wanted to believe Thomas still lived at this address. He hailed a cab and was off to find his long lost relative.

__________________________________________________________________

 

Nia handed a customer her medium iced coffee. She peeked at her watch. It was 5:30 pm on the dot. She took off her black apron and clocked out. Nia said goodbye to her co-workers and supervisors and walked out the door. Her cell phone made a beeping noise. She stopped to fish the phone out of her purse. A text message was on her phone from Javonne. It read: This is hard…joking…lol!. Nia laughed to herself. Before she could take another step someone bumped into her. She looked up and it was Ari.

 

“Ari, what are you doing here?”

“I came to see you. I didn’t know you were just getting off work. Where are you headed?”

“I was going home. “

“Were you hungry? I was thinking we could get a hamburger or something.”

“I’m a little hungry. We can walk down the block to Wendy’s.”

The two walked the block to Wendy’s. They both ordered their food and sat at a booth toward the back. They both sat quietly to eat for about five minutes before Ari opened his mouth.

“Nia, I have to tell you something. I wanted to tell you after we had dinner on Monday. I just didn’t know how.”

Nia took the last bite of her hamburger and gulped hard.   Ari fidgeted with his tie and she looked away briefly.

“It’s that whole thing with Janet. You made me remember what happened. I never told anybody what really happened with us.”

“You don’t have to ….” Nia stumbled.

“I loved her. I really loved her and I didn’t want it to end.” Ari got quiet. Nia didn’t want to say anything but hated the silence. She sipped her Cherry Coke until it was all gone. Then she shook the cup to hear the ice rattle. The two sat at the table with no words between them. The silence may have lasted close to two minutes.

“Ari…you don’t have to explain anything to me.”

“Janet was the one. I messed up because I got scared. She wanted to get married and I wasn’t ready. It was easier to convince everyone that it was a mutual break-up. There wasn’t anything mutual about it. Neither of us wanted it to end. I couldn’t get married at 24. If you aren’t ready, you aren’t ready….right? I didn’t….I didn’t think it had to all end because I wasn’t ready to get married right then and there.   She wanted a wedding within a couples months of an engagement. It was going to happen so quickly. I couldn’t do it.”

“Not to be rude, but why are you telling me this right now?”

“I don’t know,” Ari sighed.   He gulped down some of his Sprite.

“I know you loved Janet very much. You will find the person that is meant for you when the time is right. They say it’s all about timing.”

“That’s what I hear.” Ari coughed and sipped the last of his Sprite. “She’s engaged to someone else now. I’m happy that she’s happy.”

“Are you really happy that she’s happy?”

“I’m over Janet now. I really am happy for her.”

“I’m not so convinced of your statement.”

“I like somebody else now,” Ari grinned. “I kind of feel like things are starting to work out. Everything is working out except with my parents.”

“What happened with your parents?”

“Oh, yeah. I didn’t tell you. They moved back to North Carolina in January.”

“Back to your hometown?”

“Yep. They are back in Chapel Hill. I knew they would move back there when they retired. They always talked about it. My parents wanted to be close to family again. They are pissed off at me because I haven’t visited since they moved back. They haven’t even given me a chance to take some days off. It’s only July.”

“I thought you were close to your parents.”

“I am or I was. I don’t know which one anymore.”

“What’s really going on, Ari? You led me here to talk about more than just Janet.”

“This is the deal. My parents wanted me to go to grad school. I was supposed to get my bachelor’s. Then I was supposed to go straight on to law school or grad school and become a professor. Everyone in my family is one or the other. Both of my parents were professors at UNC-Chapel Hill for several years. Then we moved to Louisville when I was 12 so they could teach at Bellarmine.   Naturally, I had to go to UNC-Chapel Hill for college. I got degrees in Economics and Communication Studies. But I didn’t get that coveted master’s degree. In my family, I’m a failure. I didn’t care…or maybe I did. Whatever, I decided to move back to Louisville after college and then I got the job at Phantom Advertising. That’s my whole story.”

“Sounds like you were tired of living your life for your parents? Did they ever ask you what you wanted?”

“Ask me what I wanted? Seriously? You really don’t know my parents.”

“When are you going to tell them you are happy with your life?”

“That’s what it is like being the only child. The pressure of being the golden child falls on you because you are all they have. My mom had a hard time. She didn’t have me until she was 36. She was happy to finally have a kid. My parents had money but I wasn’t a brat. Education was always numero uno in our house.”

“Just tell your parents how you really feel. I’m sure they are fine with the choices you have made. You are doing well for yourself. Why would they be disappointed?”

“My mom called last night. I haven’t talked to my parents since late March. My mom’s birthday is in March so I called to wish her a happy birthday. That was the last time I talked to her. So she called me last night to find out what is going on.” Ari shook his head in disbelief.

“I can’t believe you would go that long without talking to your parents?”

“ It was nice not hearing their rants. You make me sound like a bad person, Nia.”

“I’m not here to judge you. I’m listening to your story.” Nia glanced at her watch. It was 6:50. “Ari, I really do need to get home. I’m tired.”

“Yeah, I did catch you getting off from work. I’m sorry about that.” Nia waved goodbye to Ari and the two went their separate ways.

_______________________________________________________________

 

Maquelle and Sevon were sitting at a small table in a coffeehouse. The Starbucks location was convenient because it was in the same building as their office. Their office was on the fifth floor and the coffeehouse staple was in a corner of the second floor. Maquelle always forget about it because she would just stop off at Calisto Coffee if she needed anything. She liked to chat with Nia from time to time. It was actually Sevon’s idea to meet there. He made a pit stop at that location almost everyday. The two had been there for nearly fifteen minutes sipping coffee and commenting on articles in the newspaper.

“It’s Friday night so I am sure you have somewhere else to be. I won’t keep you much longer. I realize it’s close to seven and I believe this place closes at eight.”

“So why did you want to meet me here?”

“Listen, Sevon. I don’t want any trouble with anyone at the office. We are the only blacks there. I was hoping we could get along.”

“Why should we get along? Because we are the only blacks there… that is your reasoning? I have had an issue with you since day one, Maquelle. I have been at Brooks for a year. You barely spoke to me the first month I was there. Why was that?”

“I was used to being the only black person there. I like to stay to myself and do my work. I don’t bother with people.”

“You don’t bother with black men. Is that what you are saying?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I see how you act around the white guys in the office. You don’t seem to have an issue with any of them. You are quite friendly.”

“No, Sevon. Your conjecture is wrong.”

“My ‘conjecture’ is wrong. My ‘inference’ is incorrect. What the hell! I can play that game too.” Sevon waved his hands in the air with laughter.

“You are mocking me. I have an extensive vocabulary.”

Sevon leaned in closer to Maquelle. “You know what my word of the day is? Ersatz! What does that mean, genius?”

“You are making me feel like this is a compulsory question and it’s not. I’m not going to answer.”

“This is necessary…you have to answer the question!”

“No.”

“Because you don’t know the answer, Maquelle. Why should anyone bother Maquelle’s pretty little head with nonsense! You are a beautiful woman, Maquelle. A very beautiful woman. You don’t want anyone to notice that. You want people to focus on what’s between your ears. I get that. I do.”

“Then what is your problem with me? Sevon I want to like you as a person. I know all about artificial things…and I am not one. I answered your question.” Maquelle’s shoulders slumped down.

“This isn’t a war. You don’t have to act all defeated,” Sevon’s voice trembled.

“I guess you are trying to tell me I am not approachable.” Maquelle lowered her head.

“I’m attracted to you and it bugs the hell out of me.”

Maquelle looked up briefly and then back down to the table. She picked up her purse and pushed objects around.

“That wasn’t supposed to come out like that. Yes, it was. I knew I wanted to say it. I wanted to ask you for a date, though. I’m not an asshole for real. I just get a little awkward around you. I’ve never met someone as attractive as you that was intelligent too. You really are the whole package. I wish you would stop me from making more of a fool out of myself.” He took a deep breath and exhaled.

“I’m uncomfortable right now,” Maquelle murmured.

“What did you say?”

“I don’t know what to say to your revelation.” Maquelle stoop up from the table. “It’s time to go. I need to go home.” She picked up her purse. She started to back away from the table when Sevon stoop up. “I really have to go. I’m sorry.” Maquelle scurried out the door.

Sevon left his tip on the table and headed out the door. Maquelle was not far ahead of him. “Do you need me to walk you to your car?”

“No, thank you,” she yelled without turning around.

“Are you sure?” he called to her again.

“Yes.” She stood still. Her feet wouldn’t allow her to move any further and Sevon took advantage of this opportunity. He was able to catch up to her quickly.

“You can walk me to my car if you like,” Maquelle slowly uttered.

 

_____________________________________________________________

Gray and Victoria enjoyed their time together at the Ben Jeffries concert. It was the first event they attended as a couple in months. Gray was relieved that Victoria seemed relaxed. In the car on the way back to her apartment, she was quiet. He figured it was because she was tired. It was after eleven and she had a long day at work. When they arrived to Victoria’s apartment door Gray sneaked a kiss. Victoria kissed him back and it lasted much longer. Victoria turned around to open her door. The two almost fell on the floor once the door had opened. They ended up on the couch. The kissing began and Gray started to unbutton Victoria’s blouse.

“Not now…..baby…sorry….not now.” Victoria sat up a bit.

“Why…what’s wrong? You on your period?”

“No, babe. It’s just that I’m tired. You can stay the night and then maybe in the morning.”

“Whew…well I am glad we didn’t get too far tonight,” Gray laughed to himself.

“In the morning I will make it up to you.” Victoria kissed Gray again.

“Oh, shit. I forgot.”

“What’s wrong?”

Gray sat up on the couch and hung his head. “I can’t stay tonight. I need to go home and get some sleep. I have to be at work in the morning.”

“But tomorrow is Saturday. Since when do you work on Saturdays?”

“I didn’t tell you I screwed up at work. The website I was supposed to build. I never really got around to it. There are a couple of us that have to work the next two weekends.”

“Wow…Gray…you did screw up.”

“Yeah, thanks for the reminder. Trust me….. it isn’t fun to have Ari hate me right now.”

“So Ari has to work the weekends too?”

“Yeah, Ari and a girl named Jillian. Jillian is actually in a different department but she told Mr. Underwood that she didn’t mind helping with the project when I started. So, yeah, she is still expected to keep to her word. I am a loved dude right now.” He shrugged.

“You sure you don’t want to stay. I can make pancakes in the morning before you head out.”

“No, I can’t stay. If I stayed I would never want to leave. I better go.”

Victoria scooted closer to Gray on the couch. She hugged him. “Gray, I wasn’t expecting you to have to leave already. I thought you would stay until morning and I would make breakfast. You know you love my pancakes and strawberries.”

“Hold onto that for another day. I love you.” Gray kissed Victoria on the cheek.

“I hate that you have to work these next couple weekends. You are going to be so busy. I hate that so much.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine in a couple weeks. Then we can do a lot of making up all over this couch and all over that bed back there.”

“You don’t understand, Gray. I really hate this.” Victoria covered her face with her hands.

“Vic…everything’s going to be alright. Calm down.”

“No, it’s not going to be alright.” Victoria inhaled and exhaled several times.

“Are you okay?” Gray wrapped his arm around Victoria.

“I need space.” She released herself from his arms.

“Are you sick? You need some water…do you feel like you are going to throw up?”

“No! Gray…stop…listen for a minute. I have to break up with you. I’m suffocating in this crazy relationship.” She threw up her hands.

“Huh?”

“I didn’t want to do it this way. I thought we could sleep together one last time. I was going to make you breakfast and then tell you. That way I wouldn’t seem so bad and look like a complete bitch. I didn’t know you would end up having to work the next couple weekends. I’m sorry to break it to you like this. But I can’t hold off any longer.”

“What? Are you serious, Vic?” Gray held his head in his hands.

Victoria and Gray sat on opposite ends of the couch. Gray lay his head on the arm of the couch. He felt his head swimming. He wasn’t sure if he was going to throw up or if this was just a dream.

“I love you. But, I’m not sure if I am in love anymore. We spent so much time together. You were my first everything Gray.” Victoria began to cry. “It means a lot to me that you were my first and you have always been patient with me. You have meant everything to me. But, I’m scared.   I told you I can’t be my mother. I just can’t.”

“And I told you I wouldn’t do what your father did to your mother. I am not your father. I want you to have your own career. I’m not demanding a lot of stuff from you. I just want to love you.”

“You say that now. My father said it too. The next thing you know my mom was 21 and married with two kids.   He made my mom drop out of college. He wanted her to be a wife and mother and that was it. He didn’t care about what she wanted for herself. I’m glad they divorced so she could move on.”

“Why are you comparing us to your parents? We have been through this before…we are not them. We will never be them. I still want us to get married someday.   I already know you’re the one. On the real, Vic, you know I had only three girls before you…that’s it. I’m a 27 year- old dude that hasn’t had a whole lot of girls. I think I’m a good guy. You said you always wanted a good guy….you have him. I’m here. I’ve been here for two years.”

“Please give me some space, Gray. I can’t stand spending almost every waking moment with you. I’m tired of that. You started questioning me about going to the gym again. What is that about? It’s crazy. Gray, I need this time for myself. You are the only boyfriend I have ever had. Our relationship was always intense and I just need a break. If you give me a month I will probably end up coming back on my own anyway. On Wednesday you said you were OK with taking a break.”

“What happened to two weeks? Whatever! I hope you get out of this what you want.” Gray slammed the door behind him without letting Victoria say another word.

Chapter  7- Wish Upon A Dream

 

Rain poured through the streets of Chicago. The forecast predicted sixty percent chance of precipitation. Derrick woke up around 6:30 a.m. so he could take a shower and head down for his last meeting at 8:00 am. He was set to board his plane at 4:15 that afternoon. Derrick was grateful the meeting would be a quick wrap-up of the past two days and last an hour. He was not sure what he would do until it was time to depart. Yesterday had been an adventure. He made sure he followed all the directions to the address his mother had provided. He found the address but no Thomas. He knew it had been a long shot, but he tried. He spent the rest of the day driving around the city taking pictures. He hailed cabs and spent money on lots of food. He made sure to drive past the United Center where the Bulls play. Derrick was one of many who grew up watching Michael Jordon. Lastly, he stopped by the Navy Pier where he spent two hours. The conference went well and he met several executives who knew he would reach out to in the future.

He just wished he had found one of his cousins. At that moment, he decided to look up the White Pages on his cell phone. He called around hoping one of his relatives could offer more suggestions on how to contact Thomas, Jason, or James. He finally ran across the information of a cousin he hadn’t spoken to in three years. Christie was the same age as Derrick’s younger half-sister. There was a five year age difference so he didn’t grow up talking to her too much. But he forgot his sister was close to her when they were little. Derrick found Christie’s number and dialed. He was happy to hear her voice again. She sounded like she had just woken up and he felt bad. He also heard childlike voices in the background. She excused herself for a moment to yell at the kids.

“Those are my kids. Whew! I had just dozed off for a minute while they watched tv and then you call. I’m sorry for the disruption.”

“How many kids do you have now, Christie?”

“Three kids. You remember lil’ Kev.   He just turned five last week. I’ve had two more since I last saw you. I got two girls now. Unity is two and Sierra is six months. I’m doing good though. Me and Kevin finally got married last year. I told him it was about time. We been together since we were 14 and I gave him three kids. I told him it was time. We had to because I just turned 21 a month ago and I want to start setting better examples for the kids.”

“Yeah…OK. I am glad to hear that. So, uh, I was calling because…” he was interrupted by more yelling on the other end.

“Sorry. Unity hit lil’ Kev. She is mean sometimes. Her terrible twos are driving me crazy. How’s your sister doing? I haven’t talked to Dedra since probably right before I had Unity.”

“Dedra is good. She got a track scholarship and she is at Tennessee State. I don’t know what her major is because she changes it.”

“That was my girl back in the day! But I’m glad to hear she is doing good. It’s nice to hear about you too. I remember when you got that good job. Your mama was so proud.”

“I’m still there. I’m here in Chicago right now for a business trip. I was trying to get in touch with Thomas, Jason, or James. I would be happy if I could get in touch with one of them while I’m here.”

“Oh, yeah. I can tell you right off Jason is locked up. He was stealing and stuff. I don’t know about Thomas. I’m trying to remember about James. I know somebody said he was working at a place….what was it called…hmm. I just need a minute. I think I wrote it down somewhere because I was going to call him. I was looking for a job and I was told he found his job through a temp agency. I forgot to call him when I got caught up with this new baby. I got busy with these kids and forgot to call.” Christie excused herself to go find the paper she wrote James’ number on months ago. She was gone longer than he anticipated. He timed her and it was eight minutes before she got back on the phone.

“I had to change the baby. But I did find the number.”

“For real…I appreciate this, Christie.” He thanked her again before hanging up. He couldn’t believe his luck. He wished he had thought of calling her a lot sooner.

 

Derrick dialed the number Christie gave him. He heard a busy signal at first. He dialed the number again and a raspy voice answered.

“Is James Dupree there?”

“Who wants to know?” the voice yelled.

“This is Derrick Young. I’m his cousin from Louisville. I got this number from Christie.”

“What the hell! Is this really Derrick?”

“Man, stop playing. It’s me. I’m in ya city. “

“Ain’t this some….I can’t believe it’s you. I don’t even remember the last time I saw you.”

“It’s been some years. I’m in your city. I’m in Chicago for a couple more hours. We have to meet up. Where you at?”

“I stay with my girlfriend and she’s at work right now. I just got off myself.”

“Where you work?”

“Well, me and Thomas just started a cleaning business. We have a couple employees who clean the big executive offices downtown. It’s doing alright so far. I’m in school. I went back for my GED a couple years ago. When I graduate next year, I will have my bachelor’s in business administration.”

“Nice. I’m happy for you, cousin. What else is Thomas doing?”

“Thomas is working two jobs. He has four kids with all different mamas. But he’s working. We have the cleaning business and he fixes computers.”

“That’s real. I like that. We have to get together. I’m staying at the JW Marriott. There is a place across the street we can eat. I only have about three hours left before I have to head to the airport. Can you get out here in forty-five minutes?”

“Yeah, I know where you are. I’ll be there in less than an hour.” The two hung up and Derrick packed the rest of his suitcase.

 

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Ari spent four hours on the phone with his parents the night before. He felt bad that he hadn’t talked to them in so long . The only way to make up for it was to spend extra time on the phone. He hoped that they would forget about him visiting. His father did not. He insisted Ari fly up to Chapel Hill and he would pay for everything. Ari couldn’t say no. He told his parents he would come up at the end of August and that satisfied them. Ari finally explained his reasoning why he had not called or visited. His mother felt so bad that Ari thought he had disappointed her because he didn’t go to grad school. She told him she was always proud of him. It was more important that he would be happy. She wanted him to be happy, and she knew he was happy at his job in Louisville.

Ari called Jillian next. He asked her out on a date scheduled for exactly two weeks from Saturday. They both joked about that one because Gray actually brought them closer together whether he realized it or not.

______________________________________________________________

 

 

Nia got the call she had been waiting on from Joseph Begley that Saturday morning. He wanted to take her to a new gallery that had opened up. He had some work that was going to be featured there and he wanted her to see it. They agreed to meet up that afternoon. Nia immediately called Javonne and Maquelle to tell them the news.

 

__________________________________________________________________

 

Javonne also got an interesting phone call – from Derrick. He wanted to call before he left Chicago to apologize for his bad behavior over the years. He wanted to learn how to be a real friend. She told him they could never date or be intimate again – and he agreed. She decided to stick to her celibacy diet. She was already feeling better about it. Javonne stayed in on a Saturday for the first time ever. There was no club she had to be in and she didn’t need male attention. She invited Maquelle to come over to her apartment to eat pizza and watch movies. It was the best Saturday she had in a long time.

_________________________________________________________________

 

Maquelle and Sevon didn’t go out but became friends. She knew she wasn’t ready for a relationship and she definitely didn’t want to get involved with a co-worker. Maquelle felt good about the environment at work now that Sevon and her communicated – and that was all she needed to feel good about herself.

 

_______________________________________________________________

Gray drove around all Saturday afternoon to clear his head. There really wasn’t a place he could go that didn’t remind him of Victoria. He didn’t call her and he was sure she wouldn’t call him. Ari felt bad for Gray and invited him to a sports bar with him and a cousin that night. Just before eleven that evening, he got a text message from Victoria which read simply: Can’t wait to see you in a week – miss you and still in love with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Short Fiction – Varying Progress

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