Authors: Eric Jerome Dickey
When me and Twin went to college and rented an apartment in Leimert Park—I went to CSULA with Leonard, and Twin went to UCLA—I guess Momma and Daddy figured we were grown, on our own, could handle the rent and the truth that we, the neighborhood, and the church already knew. After being married on paper for thirty years, they moved out of their separate bedrooms, packed up separate U-Hauls, and went their separate ways. Without a quarrel or a kiss good-bye. He sold the stores, the house, pretty much sold out of our lives, and went to Nashville. Momma bought a condo in Diamond Bar, but went to Chicago for a weekend and didn’t come back. Twin fell in love with one of her law school professors—an older brother—and jumped the broom.
I’m still in Los Angeles. Wondering when I’ll start my own family … When I’ll do it right, like my twin has done.
That’s what I was thinking about this morning when my financial planner said she could finally meet me for lunch. Only today she wasn’t my financial planner. Lisa Nichols was the sister who had been avoiding me for the last two weeks. Which was fine. Because that two weeks had given me enough time to cool off. Enough time to play the message she’d left on my machine over and over. Gave reality a chance to waft in and thicken.
Hi, Tyrel. This is Lisa giving you a call. It’s 12:38, Tuesday afternoon. Awkward moment last night, yes. Ahem. Wanted to tell you, wanted to tell you, ahem, I wanted to tell you in person, that I was seeing Rick again and, ahem, didn’t get the opportunity to because you didn’t, well I guess I didn’t get to page you because I had to go to a possible meeting and, well, plan a briefing, so, didn’t get to talk to you and didn’t think I was going to hear from you last night, so, kind of awkward with, ah, huh, my husband right beside me, so, anyway I did want to tell you and let you know
and, you know, because you’re a friend and sorry you had to find out that way, so, didn’t meant to hang up on you. I dunno. I dunno what this does to our friendship. I mean not intimacy, but like friendship friendship. So. I dunno. If you don’t want me to call you let me know. Just talk to you later. ‘Bye.
I was at a Mandarin fast-food restaurant on Fairfax and Slauson. The place was crowded with blue-collar Mexicans and blacks and Asians ordering the three-dollar lunch special. Most people stuck their food in a bag and left. The booth I was in gave me a view of Home Base, LA Hot Wings, and a 76 gas station. I had been waiting since eleven fifteen. Lisa pulled up in her Volvo wagon a few minutes after twelve. Her first time being late. She parked facing me. We were eye to eye. I nodded. She nodded. She opened her door, sat there a moment like she was contemplating coming inside; then at last she eased out. Took a hard breath, shivered despite the heat, had a let’s-get-this-over-with attitude under her hard expression.
She stood next to her car like she was some sort of diva de jour, her back to the gas station and oil fields, dark shades hiding what I could already see. Uneasiness in her breathing. Mahogany skin, slender, pageboy haircut, blue pinstripe pantsuit, dark Ferragamos, diamond earrings, wedding ring.
I nodded. No smile. Just a nod.
She adjusted her jacket, moved her hair from her face, adjusted her purse on her shoulder, took a fidgety step in my direction.
Inside my head I heard her voice, echoes from the message she had left on my machine the morning after the incident. She didn’t have the nerve to call me at home. And I’ve never missed a day of work since I was old enough to work.
She had chopped her hair off since last we freaked and fled, had traded the Miata and bought a family Volvo wagon, changed her hair and the color of her nails. Lisa sat down at the table and smiled at me like I
was a customer at the DMV. The smell of her perfume sweetened the bitter taste in my mouth.
She said, “You order?”
“Yeah. Broccoli and chicken. I ordered you the usual.”
“I’m not really hungry enough to eat a combo.”
“Take it with you.”
She opened her purse and slid me a five-dollar bill. I opened my wallet and handed her a dollar.
Her eyes darted left to right. “Would you mind if we moved to a table not facing Slauson?”
“Back over in the corner.”
We moved where we couldn’t be seen from the streets. When we were settled, I said, “How are the kids?”
She cleared her throat. “Malik and Jasmine are fine.”
I didn’t know why I asked about her children, especially since I’d never met them. I knew that question, that dose of reality would make her uneasy. She acted like her children were her shame. They were with her husband. When she left him six months ago, he kept the kids and the house in View Park. Their place was right next to the Ray Charles mansion. She moved into the condo overlooking the Pacific in Hermosa Beach.
The Asian man who ran the business brought our trays to us.
He gave a brief bow and said, “How are you, Tyrel and Lisa? Nice to see you.”
We spoke. He left. Smiling, rushing to the next customer.
Like me, the food was silently steaming. Lisa grabbed her chopsticks and started eating at a hundred miles an hour. Head down, shoulders square and forward. Kept her eyes on her plate.
I said, “Thought you weren’t hungry.”
Neither one of us said anything for a while. Ate and
thought. Made me wonder if everything to say had already been said. Or if what needed to be said wasn’t really worth saying.
The first thing Lisa said when she finished was, “It’s best for my children.”
I nodded. That was a tired line. Damn tired.
She said, “I hate it when you shut down like that.”
“Hard to talk in a fucked-up situation.”
“How do you feel about it? Don’t shut me out, Tyrel.”
“Oh. now you want to be a therapist?”
“I’ve never been in a situation like this.”
“Ball’s in your court. What do you feel?”
She shifted. “Lonely. I have to make this decision myself.”
I said, “Actually, since you’ve got your husband in your bed, you’re already out the door. I just want to know what happened so I don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Her tone was lean when she repeated, “Mistake.”
“What would you call it? Or was I just Mr. T?”
“Mr. Transitional. The transitional man.”
“No. It wasn’t like that. Everything was going fine until we had that scary incident two weeks ago last Monday.”
“When I left work early and met you at the Hilton?”
“Yeah, when I rented the room. When your damn condom came off.”
“And you freaked out.”
“I didn’t freak out. Reality of what I was doing hit home.”
“You screamed, fell on the floor, kicked the wall, ran around the room, locked yourself in the bathroom, and cried ‘Why me?’ for a while.”
“Okay, I freaked out. I was upset. I mean, you’re nice and I care about you, but I could’ve gotten pregnant.”
“Would that have been so bad? You know I want to have kids.”
“And I don’t want to have any more kids.”
“You’re only twenty-nine.”
“Twenty-nine, with two children, and I’m done having babies. And I don’t want to have a house filled with babies by different daddies. That’s ghetto. I don’t want to have to explain to my five- and seven-year-olds why their mother is having another child by a man other than their father, a man I’m not married to. Shit, I have a daughter. That could change her value system.”
“What about your son’s value system?”
She blinked. Mouth was halfway open. She swallowed. Tapped the table with the tips of her nails. A don’t-do-this-to-me gaze was in her eyes. She said, “It’s already hard enough explaining to them why their father and I aren’t together.”
“How did you end up back with your husband?”
“It wasn’t planned.”
“But it wasn’t as out of the question as you made it sound.”
“I was mad then.”
“He’d fucked me over with seeing the kids. He’d tell me I could see them on the weekend, and when I got there, he’d be gone all day, then say he forgot I was coming to get them.”
“I’m talking about you and him re-consummating the night after you were consummating with me.”
“You know how I feel about him. I don’t need a man who feels threatened every time I do a little bit better for myself.”
“But you’re going back.”
“You know how it is.”
“I wouldn’t know. Monday you’re telling me how you despise him because of custody. Tuesday you’re hanging up on me.”
“That moment the condom came off put things in perspective. I have a family, and I don’t think it’s right for me to not give it a second try.”
“A third try.”
“Okay, a third try.”
“Do you love your husband?”
“He’s my husband. I don’t have to love him.”
Lisa asked, “What’s funny?”
“That put things in perspective for me.”
All I needed was closure. And this relationship that never was a relationship was closed. If she never wanted to have any more kids, then this was a dead end. Now I needed to move on to single, sane, and stable sisters.
She said, “How’s your friend Leonard doing?”
“I think I heard his name on KJLH. He’s supposed to be at the Color of Comedy or something.”
I shrugged. “Haven’t talked to him in a couple of weeks.”
“I saw him on some sitcom. He’s still on the road?”
“Yeah. Comedy is keeping him busy. He’s back from D.C. and doing a show on Sunset this weekend.” I paused. “You know I had already bought tickets for me and you to go to the Playboy Jazz Festival this week.”
“And I had bought us box seats. One hundred a ticket.”
She rubbed her neck and let out a weak, nervous laugh. “This means we won’t be going. Not together anyway.”
“Yeah. Me and my husband are going.”
“Oh. You two have tickets already?”
“Uh, yeah. We’re taking the children. You still going?”
I shrugged. “If I can hook up with Leonard. Maybe I’ll get him to go so I won’t be throwing my money away.”
“I could reimburse you.”
“You’ve done enough already.”
Before she could adjust her tense mood, or reach for her tan-colored Coach handbag, I flipped to a business tone and talked about who was going to handle my finances.
She said, “I can still handle your portfolio. I have no problem dealing on a professional level. That’s how we
started out. It could work. We wouldn’t have that much contact.”
“I’m not comfortable with trusting you right now.”
“Business is business.”
“And the rest is bullshit.”
“Right. I handle my business. I’ve never mishandled yours.”
I took the trays to the trash, emptied them. We headed for the door. Outside in the heat, she put her shades on. I put mine on too. L.A. felt small today.
I said, “I want you to know, I don’t have a problem with your being responsible and putting your children’s welfare in front of your social life. I just don’t like being the last to know what’s going on. I don’t like decisions being made without me.”
“What you’re saying is you like to maintain your control.”
I didn’t answer. The underlying accusation pierced and stung. Looking at my watch gave me a moment to ease my mood.
She touched my hand and asked, “You want to get a room?”
“One for the road?”
“No. I mean, we can go on seeing each other off and on. When it’s convenient for the both of us. When we can get away.”
“Sounds like you’re trying to maintain your control.”
“Not control. I’m not controlling. Just me missing you.”
“Asking for a sperm donation?”
“That a yes or a no? We’re good together like that.”
“Jury’s still out on the booty call.”
She licked her upper lip, glanced at her shoes. Looked like she was about to go into a
routine. She said, “You seeing somebody already?”
“Not your business.”
I didn’t answer. I just said, “What about your kids?”
She shifted, pursed her lips. “Can I have an hour today?”
“I’ve gotta get back to work.”
“Yeah. Another corporate tryst.”
“Think about my offer. I’m free after six.”
I moved my hand from her life. “Thanks for the offer.”
“You’re right. I don’t know why I did that.”
The pissed-off mood I had held back the entire lunch meeting seeped out as soon as I left. Coolness changed to fire. All around me were carloads of women. I drove like a demon, top down, shades on, necktie swinging in the winds. My charge to some kind of resented freedom was slowed by a red light by Pepperdine University and the 90 expressway.
A Range Rover stopped next to me. I peeped and saw a bucktoothed sister with a crooked weave, smiling like she was in nirvana. I pushed a button and let my convertible top up.
It was almost one. Leonard should be awake. I flipped open my cellular and called my buddy.
The first thing Leonard said was, “How did it go?”
We’ve been ace-coon since elementary. Outside of Twin, Leonard was the only person who knew me so well he could pick up my true mood from the first tone. I gave him the details.
He said, “You should’ve known that shit when she didn’t call you back. How you feel about it?”
“Serious.” I chuckled. “I’m cool.”
“You know I’ll snatch that weave out of her head and break both of her knees for you. She’ll come crawling back.”
We laughed. His phone beeped. It was the brother who books the Color of Comedy calling him about a show next Friday.
I said, “What are you doing later?”
“Speaking for a few minutes at one of those survivor
of drug-abuse programs, hitting the Comedy Store to try and get on. The usual. Got time for the gym this eve?”
“Cool. Handle your business. See you at six.”
Leonard said, “I’ll check back with you in a couple of hours to make sure you ain’t gone postal and hurt nobody.”