“I have a proposition.”
Asha opened the door and smiled. “He lives.”
“Barely. But yeah. Got some rest and now I feel much better.” Kal moved around her and entered the apartment without waiting for an invitation.
She hadn’t seen him in a day and a half and more than once, wondered whether she should go over to knock on his door just to check that he was okay.
But that would have felt pushy. Kaleem Carter did not need her to be his babysitter, and as it was, she was getting too used to his face, too excited at the thought of just being in his presence. It was ridiculous.
“Good. Glad to hear it,” she said. “And the ankle?”
“Still sore. But getting better. Since I was on my back all day yesterday, that helped.” He collapsed on her sofa.
He was getting super well-acquainted with that particular piece of furniture. Like it was his spot whenever he came over. Asha wondered whether he would come over once school started again, and once his regular female visitors resumed. More likely, she would recede into the back of his mind—as if she had ever been in the forefront—and they would wave from their front doors or say a brief hello on the stairs when they ran into each other.
“You said you had a proposition?” she asked, lifting an eyebrow.
He said the word in a slow drawl, and was eyeing her from where he sat, his gaze running over her from head to toe. Asha took mental stock of her appearance— her hair was in a ponytail, and she was wearing tattered cut-off denim shorts frayed at the hems and a grey NY Giants baby-tee.Nothing remarkable, but Kaleem sure seemed to find it interesting. It was probably just his way, making girls feel so visible. Like he missed nothing about them and liked it all.
Asha felt her skin flush and damned her fair complexion. Every tiny blush was visible.
“You know Deuce Scaife?” he asked.
“Not personally, but I know who he is,” she said.
She wanted to sit, so he wouldn’t be on eye-level with her bare legs. She didn’t hate her legs, but sometimes wished they were less gamine, and had more muscle-tone. She looked great in jeans, she knew, but sometimes, unclothed, Asha wished there was more there for a man to appreciate.And a man to appreciate it.
“His father has a place in Jersey and every Thanksgiving the whole family is there, some friends … a whole mess of folks.”
Asha nodded, wondering where this was headed.
“Deuce invited us to come stay with them.”
She shook her head, wondering if somewhere along the line, while she’d been distracted she had missed a step in their conversation.
“Deuce wants us to come to Jersey for Thanksgiving.”
“Why would he want me to come to his house for Thanksgiving? He’s never spoken a single word to me. I don’t even think he knows my name.”
“He knows my name. And he knows that I’m not leaving you here.”
Asha opened her mouth but didn’t know what to say. She took a step back and lowered herself into the armchair opposite Kaleem. Biting her lower lip, she chewed on it for a few moments, buying time.
“Ahm … You … Why would you …? We don’t even know each other,” she said.
“You looked after me when I was sick.”
“I gave you two Advil and some soup.”
“FourAdvil. And you let me sleep off my fever, and drool on your sofa,” Kaleem corrected her. “In my book, that means you don’t get to claim to be a stranger.Not anymore.”
Asha was touched. But she shook her head. “I can’t. It would be …”
“You know Zora Diallo?”
Asha nodded. “Yeah. I used to be a member of the BLM chapter, before … Before.”
A question flickered in Kaleem’s eyes. The obvious question. Asha hoped he wouldn’t ask it aloud.
“Zora is Deuce’s girl. She’ll be there, too. So,if you’re worried about being a third wheel, don’t. You’d be saving me from being the third wheel, for real.”
Asha said nothing.
“And you have a more than fair chance of meeting a couple of celebrities.” Kal squinted, as if making a last-ditch selling point.
“I’d be terrified to meet any celebrities,” Asha said quietly.
“Bullshit,” Kal said, just as quietly. “You don’t scare easy.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know how I know. I just do.”
Their eyes met, and Asha didn’t want to look away. His were an impenetrable shade of brown that was almost black, and their shape when he squinted a little, as he was doing now, was almost feline.
There was a time when Asha had been obsessed with ethnicity. It was the kind of obsession a kid with no idea of who her father might be developed. She searched faces on the street for clues, thinking, ‘That woman looks like me. She looks like we could come from the same place … And him … And her … and him.’ It was futile, and exhausting, and she had eventually given it up, but now she had a largely useless stockpile of information, and the uncanny ability to identify people as Haitian versus Jamaican, Argentinian versus Colombian. She was practically an Ethnic Studies savant.
Kaleem reminded Asha of pictures she had once pored over, of Fulani men, long, but strong neck, narrow nose-bridge with flared nostrils, and thick lips, balanced by a strong, square jaw. And the body. Coiled strength, in a deceptively long and lean frame.
Did he know he was beautiful?
“Come on, go with me,Snowflake,” Kaleem said, his voice low and hoarse. “Let’s you and me have a winter adventure.”
COMING IN 2018.