Authors: Eric Jerome Dickey
“Learn to vent.”
“See ya later, alligator.”
“After a while, crocodile.”
I hung up. My smile dropped; brotherly laughter faded in the winds the way smog did after a sweet summer rain.
I didn’t want to go home because of the man who was sleeping in my bed. But Bryce should be sound asleep. Maybe I could crash without him putting his hands on me. Damn shame when a sister hated to go get in her own bought-and-paid-for bed.
The last leg of my flight was delayed big-time because of thunderstorms back east. It was about two in the morning in L.A.
So when the L1011 screeched and bounced on the runway, I gave all the passengers one generic bye-bye and kicked them out before the plane came to a complete stop. I grabbed my luggage-on-wheels, sprinted through the airport with my low heels
with each of my impatient strides. All I wanted to do was yank off this blue monkey suit they called a uniform, let my hair down, and kick my heels into a corner. Couldn’t wait to get into my four-year-old 300ZX with the T-top, zoom home, crawl into
bed and crash on
But like I said, there was a man sleeping in my bed. A man I wasn’t too fond of. I could tell Bryce the same thing thrice and he wouldn’t remember when I had told him the first time. A few months back we started off as platonic roommates, but we slipped and crossed the line known as physical attraction.
Trust me, physical attraction and a couple of wine coolers at midnight is the perfect formula for regret. Once he was privileged with a sample of the juicy, it was obvious that was all he wanted. Juicy had him crazy. I never thought I was in love with him, but he told me he was falling in love with me. I know the only thing he was in love with was the act.
I should’ve cruised over to Debra’s crib, but it was late and she went to sleep around eleven and woke up at five to do whatever people do that damn early in the morning. She was one of those people who woke up happy for no damn reason, reading the Bible, reading
Don’t Block the Blessings
, music on, listening to social issues on
on KJLH, bouncing around all chipper and sipping on hazelnut coffee. That’s why I stopped rooming with her. Eight years of living with Ms. Happy-Go-Lucky had worked my nerves.
So the home I had for the moment was the only place I had to go. Back to Bryce’s apartment on the other side of Fox Hills, right off the 405 and La Tijera. It’s a nice gated damn-near-all African-American community of about five hundred about ten minutes from LAX with built-ins, high walls, a couple of eight-foot-deep swimming pools, Jacuzzi, beaucoup stuff that made the place cost an arm and a leg.
When I passed by the guard shack, the security sister in the booth was knocked out, sitting up, her peanut-shaped head tilted to the side, deep-deep-deep in her twelfth dream. I could have used my passcard and been through the automatic gate without her knowing it, but I stopped, tooted my horn, let my window down, belted out “Hey, girlfriend” a time or two. She didn’t wake up.
I sighed, cussed to myself, and went over and tapped on the window. She still didn’t move. So I grabbed the
door handle and shook it as hard as I could. Kicked the base of the wooden door so hard the metal ID REQUIRED FOR ALL RESIDENTS: ALL VISITORS MUST SIGN IN AND OUT sign on the glass fell off and danced a jig on the floor. That scared her ass good. Sister-girl screamed so hard her braids went side to side and upside her head. Her eyes popped wide open, and she slipped off the stool and staggered left and right, like she’d woke up in the middle of an earthquake.
I said, “All right now.”
She caught her breath. Held her jacket where her heart was. Talk about a drama queen in training.
Sister had to be all of twenty. She was under five feet, brown-skinned, with a thin nose that turned up. She adjusted her blue security jacket and looked around. Her petite size made me wonder what the hell her frail butt could do in case of emergency.
She said, “You scared me.”
“Better me than somebody else. You know people are complaining about you guys falling asleep.”
“I don’t know when I nodded off.”
“Most people don’t. That’s why it’s called nodding off.”
She let out a few nervous laughs. “It’s boring down here.”
“Don’t you have a radio or something?”
“Nope. The one we had broke. I was reading
, and I guess I nodded off.”
Sister waved, looked embarrassed, yawned, rubbed her right eye, sat back on her bar-stool. I hopped in my Z, bounced over a couple of speed bumps, headed down into the garage. You know what? I love the way my tires
when I make a sharp turn. Loved it so much, I backed up and
Bryce’s Toyota truck was parked in our double space, but he hadn’t pulled his truck all the way to the wall. We parked bumper to bumper facing the storage bins on the cinder block walls. That meant I had to get out of my car in the musty and dusty garage, and move his
car up about three feet so nobody would clip the end of my car when they passed by. I’ve told him about parking like that over and over. Another one of life’s inconveniences brought on by the inconsiderate.
I touched his truck’s hood before I took out the extra keys and started it up. It was cold. He’d been home for a while.
Bryce is about five-nine and works at Northwest, loading planes, and part-time at the gym. LAX Family Fitness. He’s a trainer-in-training, has an exciting body, but is boring as hell. I’ve given this living together thing three months—which was three months too long. It’s almost like we don’t live together because I’m flying city to city to city most of the time. So we only see each other a couple of times a week, less if I can help it. The bottom line? He ain’t the one, the two, the three, the four, or the five.
When I walked in, Bryce was sitting up in his plaid boxer shorts, scratching his genitals, with the television on ESPN. His ass would probably be up half the night with the TV blasting. I was gonna say something to him about his car, but he always made me feel like I was making a big deal out of nothing.
I said, “You been home all evening?”
He was in the front room sitting in the leather lounge chair with his size-twelve feet stretched out on the ottoman. I didn’t get a decent hello. He didn’t bother to get up to give a sister a hug. I know he saw me struggling and didn’t help me with my luggage. Guess that would be too much like right.
I repeated myself, “Anybody call?”
Bryce said, “Didn’t you call and check the messages a few minutes ago?”
“Then you know who called.”
I heard one of my nerves
But like I always did when I was upset, I ran my fingers through my hair, twisted the mane on my neck by the roots like I was
trying to pull tension out of my body, and counted backward from ten.
I said, “Bryce?”
He stood and strutted over to me. “Yeah?”
“I think it’s time for me to move.”
“When you leaving? You still have to pay for next month.”
“Damn. That wasn’t exactly the response I was expecting. Not at all. I thought you might at least ask how I was doing.”
“You’re the one who keeps saying that this isn’t working.”
“Then when you leaving?”
“Bryce. Can I ask you something?”
“You’re gonna anyway. Why you always ask if you can ask me a question?”
“Because when I do, you get that what-the-hell-does-she-want-now? look on your face. Like the one you have now.”
“It’s how you say it. Ask the stupid question.”
I cringed when he said the s-word. That subtle insult had become part of his abusive vocabulary a bit too often. I have a degree in secondary education from USC, and this community-college-going bastard called me
? It took me two seconds to swallow my attitude and not go off. Part of my face smiled, but most of it didn’t when I said a nasty, but not loud, “Why do my questions have to be stupid?”
“If you would think before you asked, then they wouldn’t be.”
I went into the bathroom, took a quick shower, washed my face with Noxema, put on some Ambi, tied my hair back. Felt pressure in my temples. Closed my eyes for a few and held onto the edge of the counter. Counted backward from one hundred. Tapped my nails on the counter a few times. Tapped and thought and tapped.
When I went into the bedroom and clicked on the
lights, I saw the bed was made up, but not the way I had made it up. I made a better bed than they did at the Hilton. Bryce would straighten out the green paisley sheets, pull the red-flowered comforter up so you couldn’t tell how messed up the sheets really were. That was some improvement from what he used to do—nothing.
Then I checked the alarm, made sure it was set, and crawled in bed on my side. Closed my eyes. Took a deep breath. Inhaled like a bloodhound, over and over and over. Didn’t believe I smelled what I smelled. Opened my eyes so wide it hurt my head. Took another deep breath and madness took over. All of the stuff that I was pissed off about didn’t compare to what I was about to get pissed off about.
I smelled my pillow. Then I sniffed another pillow. The one I was on, the one on my side of the bed, reeked like some damn perfume. And the shit wasn’t mine.
I hopped up and went back to the living room.
Bryce looked up from the television. He said, “What?”
“You’re wrong, Bryce. Damn. I don’t believe this.”
“You want me to come to bed and hook you up, boo?”
“You my boo, right?”
I stared at him for a few, then I went back into the bathroom. All of my brushes were in the same drawer, and I looked through each one of them. Found one with strands of hair that didn’t match anybody’s who lived in this house. Long hair. I plucked out a strand of mine, put them side by side. Not as dark or as thick as mine. And it felt like it had been disconnected from a weave. Either that or it wasn’t from a sister.
I looked up.
You know how hair floats and gets stuck to the walls and ceiling and shower? Some of the same long black hair I had yanked out of my brush was on the ceiling.
Bryce was standing behind me. I kindly put four or five strands of the stray hair into his palm.
All I said was, “Not my hair, Bryce.”
I turned the bedroom light on and yanked my comforter back. There was a dried up crusty patch of leftover love smack-dab in the middle of the sheets.
Bryce said, “It’s not what you think—”
By then I had walked by him. I wasn’t storming or being rude; my stride had a gentle stroll, kind of the way my girlfriend Debra always walked. I went to the kitchen, microwaved some hot water, mixed it with vanilla coffee, put it in a thermos, went to the closet and pulled out the CD boom box Bryce had given me a while ago. I had on boxers and a ribbed CK T-shirt. No shoes. My body was warm from the inside. The back of my neck was cranking up sweat. I grabbed my keys and headed for the door.
Bryce said, “Where you going in your pajamas with coffee and a radio?”
“To do some research.”
I shuffled down three flights of stairs, across the complex, and went back to the guard’s shack. The security sister was awake, but struggling with her eyelids. I tapped on the door; she jumped. She was scared as hell, probably because it was dark and I had crept up on her blind side. When she saw it was me she turned into bubbling brown sugar and opened the door.
She yawned and said, “I wasn’t sleep—”
She stretched and laughed.
I said, “Brought you something.”
“Oh, girl, thank you so much.”
“Can I step in for a few?”
“Yeah. Girl, what are you doing half-dressed like that? You could get raped walking around here like that.”
“I’ve already been raped. Most of us have.”
“Me, too. When I was twelve my uncle—”
“Not like that. What I’m talking about is that if you’re sleeping with a man who is deceiving you, you’re being raped. If a man misrepresents himself to get inside your shit, it’s rape.”
She was too busy with the thermos and plugging the radio in. I was too busy flipping through her log book, looking to see who had been let in the gate to come visit apartment E313—my unit.
The security sister said, “What you doing?”
I winked. “I didn’t see you sleeping then, and you don’t see me peeping now.”
She turned her back and sipped coffee while she bobbed her head to rap coming from 92.3.
My fingers walked down every column. Date. Time. Name. I had left three days ago at noon. Nancy Zi had signed in around two p.m. the same afternoon. Signed out at nine p.m. tonight. See, that’s what my butt gets for taping my work schedule to the front of the fridge. If a brother knows where you are and when, he will take advantage of it.
Nancy taught hip-hop, step aerobics up at the gym. Me and Debra had been to her class a time or two. I flipped back to the last few times I was working. Nancy Zi had been signing in and out for a while. At least a month.
Ten minutes later, I was walking back into my apartment, gritting my teeth and thinking up new ways to kill a man. Bryce was hanging up the phone when I walked in. More like hung up midsentence when I slammed the door. I know that noise had to wake up a neighbor or two.
I said, “Who were you talking to this late?”
He said, “I was calling Debra to see if you went over there.”
“Sure that wasn’t Nancy from up at the gym?”
Bryce didn’t say anything.
I breezed by him and picked up the phone.
Bryce said, “Who are you calling this late?”
I said, “Debra.” I lied and pushed redial. When a wide-awake female answered I said, “Hello, Nancy.”
She said, “Who is this?”
“Shelby. From the gym. From Bryce’s bedroom. The
one you popped your coochie in all week. Why didn’t you at least change the sheets?”