Come With Me #HolidayShorts

holidays“How long did you say the drive was?” Presley slipped from beneath the sheets as she spoke, and walked naked toward the bathroom. Nate let his eyes follow the side-to-side sway of her retreating ass.

Moments later, he heard water running. She was brushing her teeth. With his toothbrush, no doubt. He’d told her a million times that she could leave one here, but she always ignored him, preferring to use his, which he would have found borderline disgusting, if it were anyone but her.

“Twelve hours. Give or take,” he called after her.

“And you’re not flying, why?” She stuck her head out into the doorway. Just as he’d guessed, her mouth was frothy with toothpaste.

“Because the ticket prices are ridiculous.”

“No. You’re ridiculous,” Presley said. “You know what traffic is going to be like out there?”

“Shitty the whole way, probably,” Nate acknowledged.

“Exactly. Why would you put yourself through that?” She ducked back into the bathroom.

“Because I’m a masochist,” he mumbled under his breath.

“Huh?”

“I said I’m not paying almost a thousand dollars to fly somewhere in the contiguous United States.”

“It’s your own fault for waiting so long to book your ticket.”

“That’s not the point, Presley.”

In the bathroom, she made a scoffing noise, and then came the sound of the shower. “Are you coming in to join me?”

“What’re you doing for the holidays?” he called, ignoring her invitation.

“I don’t know yet. Get in here before the water gets cold. I have to make it over to the club by ten.”

When he walked into the bathroom, it was to the sight of Presley shoving aside the shower door and stepping under the rainfall showerhead, letting her head drop forward, chin to chest as the water drenched her, and her hair fell in curtains on either side of her head, obscuring her face. Nate watched her for a few moments, taking in her Rubenesque figure with a smile of appreciation. That ass was just unreal, and rivaled only by her beautiful, large, doe-like eyes with just the hint of a slant to them.

“Are you getting in, or not?” She flipped her hair back and turned to look at him. With the water streaming down her face and over her breasts, it almost looked like she was covered in honey, because of her golden-brown complexion.

“Yeah.” Nate joined her and purposely brushed his forearm against her nipples, grinning when they hardened.

“You want to get on the road tonight you’d better not start anything,” she sang.

“You didn’t tell me what your plans were for the holidays,” he reminded her as he pulled the shower door shut.

“I don’t have any. I’ll wake up on Christmas morning and see what the day brings.”

Nate heaved a deep breath and bit his tongue. It was cute at first, that Zen nonsense. But once in a while, an occasional plan wouldn’t hurt. Just once in a while.

“You’re not going to go see your family, or …?”

“No. My family lives in Hawaii, remember? Somewhere where a thousand-dollar plane ticket is the standard cost of admission, because it’s not in the contiguous United States. I told them I wouldn’t be making it home. Too expensive.”

“I would’ve bought you the ticket,” he said.

Clearly his impatience was audible.

“What’re you getting so bent out of shape about? I wouldn’t have expected you to buy me the ticket. Don’t be stupid. Especially since you don’t even want to buy your own.”

“To New Jersey, a thousand dollars is unreasonable. To Hawaii on the other hand …”

“I’ll be fine, Nate.”

“Okay, so what’re the options?” He reached across her for the body wash.

“What d’you mean?”

“For Christmas. If you’re not going home, what’re your options?”

“I told you. I don’t know.”

“Are you going to be alone?”

Presley didn’t answer, and instead stepped under the showerhead once again, dousing herself completely and making it effectively impossible to carry on a conversation.

“Pres, I asked you something.” Nate pulled her from beneath the stream and turned her to face him.

“I don’t know. Maybe, but probably not. I actually have a pretty rich social life, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Actually, he had noticed. Presley’s ‘rich social life’ was the reason they met in the first place. She and her friends were at a club he was at with his boys; the first stop on what was to be a long night of bar-crawling for a bachelor party. Presley had been in the same VIP area with a group of women, whooping it up and ordering bottle after bottle of champagne. Turned out they were having a divorce party, and Pres was at the center of it, keeping everyone animated and in the spirit of things.

Halfway through the evening, Nate realized that his eyes kept returning to her, the voluptuous dark-haired beauty with the red, red lips in the black cat-suit and impossibly high heels. About the third time she looked up and caught him staring, she had smiled, walking up to him as bold as you please.

Was there something you wanted to say to me?

“What’re Celeste and Stacy doing for the holidays?” he asked her now.

“I have no idea.”

Celeste and Stacy were her closest friends, her partners-in-crime among the notorious party-girl set Presley ran with. Nate’s boys ribbed him about her sometimes, telling him that he had managed every man’s dream—having a beautiful woman use him as a booty-call. And yeah, sometimes that was what it felt like, because by necessity, Pres worked pretty jacked-up hours and often showed up at Nate’s only after she was done in the wee hours of the morning.

Very well-known on the club circuit as a one of the hottest party planners and hostesses, Presley managed events that were so hot, she didn’t even need a celebrity’s name on the marquee any longer. Presley Paine had become a name in her own right. The women at the divorce party where Nate had met her hadn’t been her actual friends, he later learned. Pres was just there to keep them happy, liquored-up and prone to spending more and more on the overpriced club cocktails.

Her surname wasn’t even really Paine. She just had a theory, she’d once explained to Nate, that people were more likely to remember names that were alliterations. Her last name was actually Kahele. Her father was Hawaiian Native, and her mother was Black, and they both still lived on the Big Island with her three siblings, all boys. In addition to being the only girl, Presley was the eldest and the most rebellious. She rarely went home not only because it was expensive, but because she and her father fought a lot. He didn’t approve of her “club lifestyle”, she had said, making air quotes with her fingers.

“I feel like we need to do it one more time before you leave,” Presley said, turning and grabbing Nate in her soapy hands. “Just to calm you down. Reassure you that I won’t be here crying into my egg nog or something while you’re home with your family.”

“So what will you be doing?” Nate asked, trying not to be distracted by the slow, back and forth motion Presley was making with his member grasped in her fist.

“This and that.” Presley’s voice sounded dreamy. She released him, and Nate opened his eyes just in time to see her drop to her knees.

~~~

“Pres?”

Nate sat up in bed and looked around. It was dark now. Glancing at the clock he saw that it was just past eleven. He had allowed Presley to lure him back to bed after their shower, and then once she’d worn him out, she had slipped out. He wasn’t surprised she was gone, but he wished she wasn’t. Their relationship, which she preferred to refer to as their “arrangement” was unconventional to say the least. Pres didn’t expect dinner dates or daily phone calls; she didn’t squawk when he went out with his friends, or disappeared out of town for work without telling her in advance. She just popped in and out of his life on a whim—sometimes he’d see her every day for a week, and then she’d be gone for a month. And she might spend two nights with him over a weekend, and then not call or answer his calls for two weeks.

I was on the road. That was always her explanation. She did parties in different cities, and people paid her for that. Sometimes handsomely, sometimes just by comping rooms and drinks for her and a few friends. She had a BMW x5 that she barely made the payments on most months, and a shitty apartment in a ramshackle house in Cabbagetown where she paid next to nothing because the building wasn’t up to code.

Nate never asked her whether she met guys when she was at the clubs. Because of course she did. And he never asked if she hooked up with any of the guys. Because he didn’t want to know.

He planned to hit the road around midnight, or one a.m., when traffic was light, with the intention of making it to New Jersey by noon or so on Christmas Eve. His sister’s house was sure to be a zoo, with her two little ones, her three stepchildren and his brother-in-law’s extended group of friends with their kids, all of them under the age of six. The only saving grace was that the house was so doggone huge, Nate was sure he could find some quiet if he needed it.

He would call Pres when he got there, just to see what she was up to.

He was packed and ready to go by midnight, right on schedule. Nate dumped his leather duffle in the passenger seat of his car and backed out of the driveway. Atlanta was alive tonight, everyone getting the non-wholesome partying out of their system before sitting at their momma’s Christmas dinner table. Nate’s own mother wouldn’t be with them this Christmas. She was heading to Paris to spend it with her … boyfriend. Nate almost cringed at the word, associated with his mother. But hell, she was entitled. Robyn had tried to enlist his help to persuade their mother not to go, but he’d refused.

Let Carolyn live a little, he’d told his sister. I mean, live for herself for a change. Not for us.

Fine, Robyn said. He heard the pout in her voice. But it won’t be the same without her.

Robyn was definitely a momma’s girl. After her divorce, she had returned home and clung to their mother’s apron, just like when they were kids. Nate remembered those days, seeing his sister sink into a deep, dark and lonely place when her marriage ended. And he remembered how skeptical he’d been at first when she took up with the notorious Chris Scaife. But he was happy to be proven wrong. Chris, music mogul or not, turned out to be as bowled over by his sister as she was by him; and now, two babies and a few years later, they were as close as ever. Nate almost didn’t mind the noise and chaos at their house during the holidays because it was all about family—and what else should the holidays be about if not that?

The route out of town took him past Concourse, the club where Pres would be working tonight, and as Nate drove by, he took in the convoy of flashy cars and flashier women outside the main entrance. Even with his windows rolled up to ward against the cold he could hear their voices, loud and excitable and they prepared to go inside and get their party on.

Pres would be in there somewhere, wearing a short skirt, something sleeveless, arms in the air and dancing up a storm. He didn’t often go to the clubs when she was working, because now, that woman seemed like someone else entirely. Pres was to him the sometimes-goofy girl with her hair in a sloppy ponytail, wearing one of his shirts, legs bare and stretched into his lap, eating from a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and interrupting Game of Thrones, asking, ‘wait, who’s this guy again?

Grinning at the thought, Nate swung over into the right lane and hooked into an underground garage. Since he would be gone for a week, what the hell? One last quick goodbye, one last kiss, one last look at her goofball face before he hit I-85.

~~~

He couldn’t find her. Nate checked out all the usual places in the club where Pres was likely to be – the VIP area, the private party rooms and behind the bar. Then he went up to the balcony to look down at the dancefloor.

It was stupid to think he would be able to spot her in this crowd, he thought as he headed back downstairs, being jostled by people who were heading up. So, he’d text her or something. Tell her he was thinking about her, and wish her Happy Holidays. Not that she was likely to respond.

“Nate!”

It was Stacy, among a group of women at the foot of the stairs, a glass in hand containing a strangely bright pink liquid.

“You here for the Ho-Ho-Ho?”

Nate squinted. “The what?”

“The party!” Stacy laughed, shouting to be heard over the music. “It’s called the …”

“Nah, just looking for Pres,” he said, shaking his head.

“Oh. She’s not working tonight,” Stacy said. “Sorry.”

“You sure? I’m pretty sure she said …”

“What?” Stacy yelled. “I can’t …” She indicated her ears.

Holding her by the forearm, Nate nodded an apology to her friends and steered her in the direction of the alcove behind the stairs, and the corridor there that led to the restrooms. It was somewhat less noisy in that spot.

“She isn’t working tonight,” Stacy repeated.

“Maybe somewhere else?” Nate suggested.

Stacy shrugged. “Nope. She stopped in. Said she wasn’t feeling well and went home.”

Nate considered for a moment. “What’re you doing for the holidays, Stacy? You and Pres hangin’ out, or what?”

“Flying home tomorrow. My folks are in Florida. Lucky me, huh?”

“And Presley?”

Stacy shrugged again.

“She didn’t even try to make it to Hawaii, huh?”

“Why would she?” Stacy looked confused.

“Because that’s where her family is from.”

Stacy’s face fell and she pursed her lips.

“What?”

“Pres doesn’t have family in Hawaii. Not anymore,” Stacy said. “Not that she can find anyway. She has a brother in prison there, and her mother’s dead. She lost touch with her father ages ago. That’s how she and her brothers wound up in foster care.”

Taking a step back, Nate leaned against the wall. “Wait. What? Foster care?”

“She’s a former foster. Doesn’t talk about it much, but yeah. So there’s no family in Hawaii to go back to for the holidays. Don’t tell her I said anything, okay?” Stacy was already angling her body away from him, ready to go back to the party.

“No,” Nate said quietly as Stacy walked away. “I won’t say anything.”

~~~

“Thought you were working tonight?”

Nate pretended not to notice that Presley’s eyes were a little puffy and pink, and skirted around her at the front door of her apartment, looking around once he was inside. It was only a cut above his senior year apartment when he was in college, with mismatched furniture pieces that had more likely than not been reclaimed from the side of the road. It was obviously a place to lay her head, and no more than that. Except that, incongruously, there was a state-of-the-art television against one wall. Some stupid VH-1 reality show was on. Women wearing too much makeup were swearing and swinging at each other, their hair weaves whipping in wide arcs, the only dialogue a cacophony of bleeps interspersed with the word ‘bitch’, and for variety, ‘low-rent ‘ho’.

“I changed my mind,” Pres said. “Decided to stay in for a change. I think I might be coming down with something.” She sniffled for effect, which Nate figured was her alibi for the swollen eyes.

“Seemed fine earlier at my place.”

You probably gave it to me,” she said.

He smiled, and rather than look directly at her, which he sensed she wouldn’t want him to do, Nate perused the books on her sad little lopsided bookshelf. There were lots of celebrity biographies, tell-alls by B-listers, and one by an infamous former video vixen.

“If I gave it to you, it’s only fair that I stay here and look after you,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Pres asked the question slowly.

“I mean …” This time Nate did turn to look at her. “You can’t be here, sick and alone over the holidays. So I have to stay and look after you.”

Presley’s lower lip wobbled. “No, you don’t.”

“Yeah. I kinda do.”

She shook her head, but didn’t try to speak again. Nate pretended he didn’t see the tears pooling in her eyes.

“Yeah,” he said again.

“If I thought …” She was forcing each word out, obviously struggling not to cry. “If I thought you were feeling sorry for me, I would be … infuriated.”

Nate smiled at that—the thought of Presley infuriated. He couldn’t imagine she would ever be any more threatening than an angry poodle.

“And besides, you have your family thing to go to.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, as though he’d only just remembered it. “There is that.”

“So, you have to go.”

It was probably meant to be a statement, but it sounded somewhat like a question. That was when Nate knew for sure.

“You’re right. I do have to go,” he acknowledged. “My sister would kill me if I didn’t show. So … you’re just going to have to come with me.”

Presley’s eyes opened wider. And it was that that did it. The tears finally spilled onto her cheeks. She ignored them, so he did too. Glancing down at his watch, Nate feigned impatience.

“C’mon. Pack a bag. We’ll be gone a week.”

Presley was slowly shaking her head. “You can’t just bring … strays to your family’s Christmas.”

“You’re not a stray,” he said, his voice sharper than he’d intended.

He took two steps toward her. Presley’s head fell back and he leaned in, touching his forehead against hers.

“You’re not a stray,” he said softer. “You’re my girl. So where else should you be at Christmas, other than … with me?” He leaned in closer to kiss her, but Presley pulled back,

“My nose is dripping,” she explained, wiping it with the back of a hand.

Nate smiled. “So … wipe your nasty-ass drippy nose, get packed and let’s roll.”

A look crossed her face then, a mixture of excitement and trepidation, and then outright fear.

“Nate, your family though? I mean …” She shifted her weight from one leg to the other and then back again.

“Come with me, Pres,” he said. “Please.”

“Are you su…”

“You know why I didn’t buy a ticket sooner?” he interrupted. “Because I always wanted you to come. I was hoping I would be buying two tickets. And then I chickened out on asking.”

Presley’s beautiful large eyes grew larger still, and she managed a tiny smile. “Is that … true?”

“Yes,” he said honestly. “Come with me.”

Nate pulled her close once again, and with drippy nose and all, he kissed her. The tension in her shoulders subsided, and her body relaxed into his. He felt, rather than heard her sigh.

“Okay,” she said, her voice a whisper. “Yes.”


Hope you enjoyed this visit with Robyn’s (aka Mrs. Chris Scaife’s) brother.

Happy Holidays!

N.

Begin Again #HolidayShorts

holidays 

Nah. Hell nah.

He was being punked. That was the only way to explain this. Out of the almost one hundred thousand students at Penn State …. No way.

Deuce took a deep breath and stood as Zora approached his table at the Hub. Wearing a scowl with her grey sweatshirt and jeans, she was obviously just as surprised and dismayed as he.

“Wow,” she said, her tone sardonic. “Small world.”

“That wasn’t your name,” he said. “On Zimride, the person who responded wasn’t you.”

“I had a friend post for me,” Zora said, referring to his inquiry on the campus rideshare system. “I didn’t know it was you either. Obviously.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?” he asked sourly. “Of knowing exactly who you’re letting into your car? Of knowing exactly whose car you’re getting into?”

“Look,” Zora said. “We don’t have to do this. If you’re uncomfortable, I’m sure I can find someone else.”

“Like who? It’s five days before Christmas. And didn’t you tell me last week you were leaving the next day? But I guess that wasn’t true either.”

“Either? When did I ever lie to … whatever, man. For your information, I planned to leave when I said I would. But then my car died on me. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, being that those are poor people problems and all.”

Deuce ignored the jab. “So, we doing this or not? I want to make it to Jersey before nightfall.”

Zora shrugged. “Then let’s go.”

It was only then that Deuce noticed the heavy duffle she had slung over her right shoulder, along with the smaller weekend bag and pocketbook in her left hand. He reached for it and after a moment’s hesitation, Zora surrendered the weighty bag.

Without a word, Deuce headed for the exit, sensing her presence just behind him.

Three-and-a-half hours. That was how long it would take to drive from State College to Short Hills, New Jersey. He could endure almost anything for three-and-a-half hours. Even the company of the one girl on campus he least wanted to see.

What he’d been hoping for when he posted the rideshare was just someone to kill the miles and hours with, someone he could shoot the breeze with about music, or if it was a dude, football. Maybe they would share some mutual hatred of the New England Pats, or talk about how overrated Cam Newton was … The last thing he wanted to do was relive his brief misadventure with the campus revolutionary.

When they got to his car, Deuce disengaged the locks and tossed Zora’s bag in the backseat of the Range Rover with his stuff and turned to face her again for the first time.

“Here,” he said, reaching for the smaller bags. “Lemme put those back here as well, so you’ll have some legroom.”

“Thanks.” She handed them over willingly.

Once he’d tossed that in the backseat as well and straightened up, Deuce was surprised to find that she was still standing there, next to the passenger side door, moving her weight from one leg to the other, as though trying to keep warm in the frigid air.

“It’s open,” he said inclining his head in the direction of the door.

Zora looked at him blankly, and Deuce rolled his eyes, opening the door for her, waiting for her to get in and then shutting it. Taking a deep breath, he walked around the rear of the car and got in on his side.

“Your tank is full,” Zora noted when he started the engine.

“Yeah. So what?”

“The deal on Zimride was that the passenger pays for gas, you pay tolls.”

“I don’t need it,” Deuce shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter if you need it. It’s the principle.”

“And we know you’re all about principles,” he said as he pulled away from the curb.

~~~

In the normal course of things, Zora Diallo wasn’t someone he would have crossed paths with. Even though Penn State was only about six percent Black, their social circles couldn’t have been more different. Deuce ran with the jocks – guys on the football team, and his best friend Kaleem who was on a full ride for track and field. And Zora was part of the group that was always protesting something. Deuce remembered her from his freshman African American Literature class though. Much had been made of the fact that she was named after the famous writer; and he remembered that she was one of the few people who hadn’t just read the books they were assigned, but seemed to have spent a lot of time thinking about them too.

He recalled her voice when she spoke up in class. Warm and husky, low but at the same time very feminine. And later, around sophomore year, he started seeing her occasionally on campus, sometimes with a bullhorn, sometimes on a stage, talking about obscure injustices that didn’t seem to have much to do with his life. Until a week ago, when he and Kaleem had gotten stopped in the Range Rover. The stop—which in the end had wound up being little more than an inconvenience had shaken him more than he wanted to admit. Because it had been the third time in as many weeks, and coincided with delivery of his new car, which his father had grudgingly gotten him after some cajoling from his mother.

After the traffic stop, he and Kaleem headed to an off-campus bar. Kaleem, unfazed, tore into a plate of buffalo wings while Deuce sat fuming about the indignity of being made to sit on his hands on a cold-ass curb while two cops verified that he was entitled to drive his own vehicle.

A few minutes into their meal, across the room Kaleem spotted Zora sitting at the bar with two of her girls. She had a wild natural that looked like she woke up and yanked at it by the handful until it stood on end like the hair of that little Black character from that old show with all the kids, Little Ragamuffins, or something like that, Deuce thought it was called. Zora was the kind of chick that made you stare, if only because her skin was dark and smooth as stone, and she had high prominent cheekbones and full, plump lips that made her look like she was always on the verge of puckering up to bestow a kiss.

Deuce remembered thinking when he looked at her that night that she didn’t need the foundation that her two friends had plastered on because her complexion was dark enough to appear completely uniform. And there were few shades of lipstick that would successfully compete with the apparently natural dark plum hue of her mouth. Her eyes were almost catlike in shape, but large and dark. Her nose small but with flared nostrils that gave her a look of fierce determination.

She couldn’t have been further from Deuce’s type. He was into Spanish chicks. Long dark hair, caramel skin and just enough African blood in them to give them ass for days. He liked that they were emotive and a little wild, that they fucked as hard as they fought … all stereotypes, it was true, but in his experience, also based in a little bit of fact.

Kaleem had his eye on Zora, so they invited her and her friends over. Deuce wasn’t in the mood to make small talk with a gaggle of girls, but for his boy Kaleem, was willing to be the wingman for the evening.

Zora hadn’t spoken much, but when she did, Deuce almost felt the vibration of her voice. Something about it stirred his interest; that, and the fact that she couldn’t have seemed less interested in either him or Kaleem. That shit was new. Kaleem tended to attract chicks in droves. Rich dusky skin, along with the movie-star white teeth and his lean runner’s body got him lots of play. He was handsome enough probably—Deuce didn’t feel equipped to assess other dudes’ looks—but there was something about Kaleem that drew mostly blondes, a good number athletes themselves. Kal often partook of those delights, as did Deuce, but his friend had a definite and strong preference for the sisters.

In college, anything goes, man, Kal had told him once. But once I graduate I’m marrying a queen and building a Black nation. Four, maybe five little Kaleems. Nah mean?

So maybe that was what Kal was looking for in Zora—his queen.

But she was cool as ice all evening, until Kal finally turned his attention to her girl Mia instead. And without knowing when or how it happened, Deuce’s attention turned to Zora. She was squeezed next to him in the booth, and at the end next to her, Mia. Her friend Sophie sat with Kal on the opposite side.

Excuse my man for being so quiet over there, Kal said at one point. But we got pulled over tonight on some bullshit, so he’s all shook up.

At that, Zora seemed to notice him for the first time. Turning in her seat to look Deuce directly in the eye, she said, I’m sorry that happened.

~~~

“I could’ve sworn you said you lived in New York,” Zora said now.

She had removed her boots and curled her feet beneath her. Deuce tried not to look at her legs in the close-fitting jeans. Unless he was mistaken, they were the same jeans from that night. That dumb-ass night that he couldn’t stop thinking about.

“I do. Upstate. My father lives in Jersey. I’m going there first to see him, my stepmother, my baby brother and sister, and to spend the night with them.”

“How many siblings do you have?”

Deuce looked at her, and Zora shrugged.

“Is that something I should know?” she asked.

Maybe not. Some other chick, maybe. But not Zora. Of all the girls unlikely to have followed his complicated blended family’s exploits on the entertainment blogs, Zora was probably the unlikeliest.

“Four. Two brothers, two sisters.”

“And you’re the eldest?”

“Yup.”

Zora breathed a deep sigh. “Chris …”

“Deuce. I don’t like to be called Chris. That’s my father’s name.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Deuce saw her take another breath. “Sorry,” she said. “I get it. Your father is a big presence. You want to be your own person.”

“Zora, don’t … psychoanalyze me.”

“Sorry,” she said again. “Look …” She touched his thigh. “Can we just … clean the slate and …?”

“Clean the slate?” he repeated.

“Yeah. I mean, look … it’s not as though it wouldn’t have always gone down exactly the way it did. It’s just that I was the one to put it into action, and …”

“You’re doing it again. Trying to head-shrink me. You don’t know how it would’ve gone down, Zora.”

“Of course I do. Do you even know your rep on campus?”

“Nah,” he said sarcastically. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“I could,” Zora said. “But I don’t want us to start fighting again.”

“You don’t think I can take it?” Deuce, switched lanes, heading toward the I-80 on-ramp.

“I’m sure you can take it. I’m just not sure I want to be the one to dish it out.”

“Go ahead. We have three hours to kill.”

“Okay … but don’t say you didn’t …”

“Just spit it out.”

“You’re Chris Scaife’s son. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and grew up in a little post-racial bubble. You’re from that crowd who says color doesn’t matter because the only one that matters where you grew up is green. You date White chicks almost exclusively and pretend that doesn’t matter either, and sisters like me you hardly ever give a second glance. Which might be insulting, but for the fact that you treat even the White girls with nothing resembling respect, and are pretty much done with them after a week. So … there you have it. Truth.”

Deuce shook his head, and shook off the pang in his chest as well. “Wow … now that was some angry Black woman bullshit right there.”

“See what I mean? White chicks don’t get angry too? Or is it just us you don’t like to see mad? But come to think of it, the ones you mess with don’t get angry, do they? They just line up, one after the other to get their turn with Christopher Scaife Jr.”

“You forget what happened between you and me that night? I didn’t see you walking away from your … turn.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But I chose it, Deuce. You didn’t choose me. I wanted you. But it was sexual curiosity, that’s all. And that’s all it was for you, too. Admit it. I’m probably the blackest chick you’ve seen naked since … ever. You’re just mad I was the one to shut shit down afterwards.”

“That’s one fucked up double-standard. You see that right? And I ain’t about all that color-struck nonsense.”

“Really.”

“Yeah. Really.”

“And how is what I said a double-standard?”

“Do you like to be dismissed, Zora?”

“I don’t know. I can’t say it’s ever happened.”

“Well that’s what all that mess you just said is—dismissal. You don’t even know me. And that night I thought …” Deuce stopped talking abruptly, realizing he was on the brink of sounding like he was begging. And that was something he would not do.

Zora said nothing for a long while, and when she finally spoke, her voice was different. “You thought what?”

“We started talking about the traffic stop,” Deuce said. “Remember? That’s why we started talking. And then when I went to your dorm, we talked some more. The shit that went down later in your room …”

“The shit that went down later in my room …” she prompted. “Go on.”

That’s not why I was there, he wanted to but did not say.

He was there because when he and Zora talked in the bar, their voices slightly raised so they could hear over the din, he’d forgotten that they weren’t alone. Kaleem and her girls Mia and Sophie might as well have not been there. And then when Zora said she had to go back to pack for her drive home the next day for Christmas Break, Deuce hadn’t wanted her to go, so he went with her.

The idea of ending the evening at yet another party with Kaleem and some girls who were pretending they didn’t care who he was, but clearly did, seemed intolerable. He just wanted to hang with Zora, to talk some more, to listen that warm voice of hers, to smell that unidentified fruity scent in her hair, to have an excuse to examine her dark-as-night skin and stare into her cat-like eyes.

He just wanted to be with her.

And that was something in his entire time at Penn State, Deuce could not recall having happened before—that he wanted to be with a girl just for the pleasure of her company.

Then in her room—her messy-as-hell room—Zora had jumped him.

There was no other way to put it. As soon as the door was shut, she turned and kissed him, and he went with it. How could he not go with it? Her lips were soft, full and tasted like the illegally-consumed beer they’d been drinking all night. Her chest was soft against his, and she grabbed his hands to place them on her ass, pressing her pelvis forward and reaching down to stroke his hardness.

This girl wants me? he recalled thinking. This girl … wants me.

The thought was surprising only because if anyone had asked him before then, he would have said that few were the girls who did not. But Zora wasn’t just any girl. She was the girl Kaleem would have called a queen; she was a warrior. She had consequence and purpose. She was not the kind of girl who generally wanted him.

Except that night, she did. And no lie, that shit was off the chain. He grabbed handfuls of her thick, coarse hair in his fists, and they screwed with the lights on, her eyes locked with his, her powerful, firm thighs gripping his hips, holding him tight against her. This wasn’t some fumbling, grappling half-drunken college dorm encounter. This was grown-ass lovemaking, like a man and woman were meant to have. Deuce was present for every breath, every groan, every kiss, and the ultimate collapse of their damp bodies against each other.

And afterwards, he fell asleep. He slept hard and deep until Zora shook him gently awake and he sat up, dazed and momentarily unsure of his surroundings. Her room was clean and she was completely packed.

It’s almost dawn, she said. I’m leaving today.

You sure you have to? he’d asked her, grinning and looking down at his crotch significantly.

That’s the plan. She smiled at him. But that doesn’t mean we can’t, you know, get it in one more time for the road.

And then she’d shoved the sheets aside, lifted the hem of the long t-shirt she was wearing and revealed that there was absolutely nothing underneath.

Deuce left after that, in a daze, exhausted and idly considering whether he might look her up while he was home. Zora had kissed him goodbye at her door, told him to enjoy Winter Break. All the way to his dorm, walking in the cold, he couldn’t stop licking his lips, like some of her just might be there for him to taste.

The very next day, he ran into her girl Sophie, and when he asked her if he could have Zora’s number, she looked confused.

Why do you need her number? she said. She’s on campus. Go see her.

Confused himself, Deuce did exactly that. She was on campus? Whatever happened to driving home for Winter Break? She said she had no finals, just final papers so could leave early. She’d cleaned her room, she’d packed …

As luck would have it, Zora was in her dorm’s common room when Deuce walked in. She was sitting on a sofa with her feet up on a coffee table, and next to her was a brother with shoulder-length locs. Zora had a bright orange scarf tied in her hair, the color accentuating her complexion in a way that was almost breathtaking. She, and her companion were laughing about something, something that was obviously very, very funny. Mid-laugh, Zora turned and spotted him. A momentary look of surprise crossed her features, her eyebrows lifting for a second. And very casually, she lifted a hand in a wave. Then Zora returned to her conversation, never giving him a second glance.

~~~

“Deuce.”

He looked at her. She was chewing on her lower lip and looking away from him, out the window.

“What?”

“I have an idea. And I don’t want you to shoot it down. I want you to think about it, okay?”

Deuce mumbled something unintelligible.

“Will you think about it?”

“Yeah.”

“And before I tell you my idea I have a confession.”

At that Deuce looked at her again.

“I knew it was you,” she said. “That was offering the ride. I knew it was you, and I asked Mia to respond because I wasn’t sure you’d want to ride with me.”

Deuce forced himself not to smile. “So that look you gave me back at the Hub …”

“Best acting I’ve done all year,” she admitted.

“It wasn’t all that good,” he lied.

Zora punched him in the arm. “Shut up. You didn’t know.”

“Nah, I didn’t know,” he said. Their eyes met and held for so long that Zora blushed, her gaze dropping to her lap. Good thing too, since he might have run off the road otherwise.

Deuce wanted to ask her why she’d pretended, but he knew. As much as she was outside of his comfort zone, he was probably way out of hers as well.

“What’s your idea?” he asked instead.

“I was thinking that maybe …” Zora sighed deeply. “That we could pretend that night didn’t happen. And just … begin again.”

“I don’t want to pretend that night never happened,” Deuce said right away. “But, I do want to …”

“Begin again?” she said, that warm husky voice of hers lowering even more.

Damn, she was sexy as hell.

“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s do that.”

Zora turned in her seat and extended a hand. Deuce took it. It was small and warm. He didn’t want to let it go.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “I’m Zora Diallo.”


Read more about Deuce and his “complicated blended family” in ‘Afterwards‘ and ‘Afterburn‘.