Monday, March 20, 2017

Fiction Series: Saturday:Chapter 4


If you've been under a rock and need to catch up, lol: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

I'm from the generation of "you good?" text messages. Two words crammed into a gray bubble, wrapped in a prayer that you don't really need shit. Because if you do...they won't be available until 3 pm, next Sunday, because it's the best time for mimosas, "I know you're going through some stuff, but you can use a drink right?"

This. This is how I receive people these days. People I have climbed mountains for, put my rep alongside their resumes, watched their children, edited their college personal statements, loaned money to, let have my shoulder, and more. It's in your moments of weakness that God casts a light on those that are truly in your corner.

& my corner, be filled with ghost-like bodegas, front store apparitions, dominoes and Heinekens suspended mid-air, because we'll get around to getting down. Eventually.

Mask your flaws with adulting or whatever millennial word you've discovered to disguise that we all got some shit to work on, but don't wear your mask around me.
May stared at me like I'd lost my mind, from across the conference room table. 

We'd just finished our morning meeting and our coffee was still hot, swirls rising to the dimly lit teachers' lounge ceiling. 

"You're overreacting. I was with a maaaaaaan, last night," May stuck out her tongue, as she said this, to emphasize that she'd had a good time. 

I rolled my eyes at her excitement. 

"Listen, I'm here now. I'm listening. What happened?" 

"Everything I didn't want to happen." 

May leaned back in the reclining chair and folded her arms across her hot pink blazer. May could dress her behind off. I was analyzing her pinstriped button up underneath and green pants, trying to figure how she'd pulled it off. 

I almost didn't catch that her body language implied that I'd been up to no good. 

"Uh, not like that." 

"So what was it like?" 

"Oh, so you want to hear the aftermath? If you'd have picked up your phone when I called you, this all could've been prevented." 

I grabbed my original documents and stormed to the copy room. 

May followed me, "I would have told you to leave him alone and you would have done what you wanted. I would have told you to go and you would have done what you wanted. Sounds like a lose-lose to me." 

I slipped an excerpt from Chimamanda's short story "Apollo" into the Xerox and requested 20 copies.

May refused to accept that I'd finished speaking, "You ain't mad at me. I'm always here for you. You're mad at your other wack ass friends." 

She was right. 

I was mad at Ebony who only checked in when she wanted to do something "cultural." 


"Bih, where the open mics, jazz clubs, literary thangs, any-thing-I-can-take-a-honey-to at?"

I was annoyed with Ray that always sent me to voicemail and texted immediately after, "What's up?"
I was fed up with Deonna's blabbering, in which she only heard about my life in small spurts.

"Girl. Why you ain't tell me you were sick? I would've brought you something."
"I did tell you."
"I had a rough week. It must've slipped my mind. I got you, next time."

I was frustrated with Ella who was so madly in love with her new beau Evan, that nothing else existed.

I had every right to be upset with these friends. They were flaky, inconsistent, and undeserving of the title. Your late twenties start to feel that way--busy and rushed. In order to slow down, we cut off items that aren't priority and turn our attention solely to our careers, significant others, and children. Although we don't set out to diminish our friendships, they find their way down the totem pole and eventually get lost.

But May was right. It wasn't them, this time. It was me. I'd always sought approval from the folks in my life, before making romantic moves. I didn't consider their own romantic situations or how smooth they'd been in prior relationships. I was a non-believer in my own security and I needed someone to tell me how to maneuver in love, considering I'd never mastered it.

I sighed, "I'm mad at myself, May."

"Why?"

"Because I never trust my instincts. I need everyone to tell me how to move because I've f-ed this up so many times."

"It can't be them, over and over again."

"Why not? Maybe you're just so much damn light in all this darkness, that they can't handle it. Blind mice."

May was always able to make me smile with her wit, deep southern accent, and tell-it-like-it-is tone.

I smiled and she leaned across the copier and whispered, "So, what happened?"

__________________________________________________

Saturday, February 4th, 10 am
He texted me almost immediately.
"Where and when?"
I smiled once I saw Langston's name on my phone. I guess he wasn't mad after all.

There was a small coffee shop down the street from my school and it was heaven. It was called "Library" and it was stocked with large mahogany shelves and books. The coffee was horrendous, but they had muffins that melted in your mouth. They were also the bottom floor of an apartment building, a terrible location, so they didn't really get as much foot traffic. The tenants of the building kept them afloat.

After making my copies for the following week, I made my way to the coffee shop to grade. Langston said he didn't know the exact time he'd be free, but he'd try to make it over in an hour or so. I played it off casually, telling him that I'd be there for the rest of the evening getting work done and it was "whatever."

It had been an hour when the waiter came over to ask me if I wanted another Americano. I nodded yes, also making a firm decision that if Langston wasn't here in a half hour I was headed home. The moment I had this thought, he was walking through the door. He'd changed. He was wearing a white tee, a hoodie draped over his shoulder, and a pair of jeans.

Before I said hello, I blurted out, "Aren't you cold? Where are your clothes?"

He laughed, "Dang. Hello to you, too. I parked right out front. I ran right in and I have my hoodie, just in case the temperature drops."
It was not hoodie weather. I shrugged, "It's your health."

He smirked and asked the waiter for a latte.
"I guess I'm just reckless all the time, huh?"

"About that...I'm sorry. It's not my place and it's truly not my business.."

"You're absolutely right. It's not your business."

This is the moment I usually clam up. I have an issue with men that exert their masculinity in the middle of my vulnerability. I waited for my body to react, for my tongue to take everything I'd just said back. It didn't happen. Instead, it was replaced with a softness and even worse an excitement. His tone was firm and his chiseled face hardened. He had a look of disappointment on his face and all I wanted to do was wipe it away.

"Again, I'm sorry."

"You were right. I did kiss the woman I stepped out of the car with. She's someone I was seeing, but she couldn't handle Zora being back in my life."

"Wow. That's kind of selfish."

"Exactly. The other woman was a new client. She has a day and time for her appointments, but she refuses to follow the schedule. She shows up whenever she wants. It's people like her that make me want to move my practice out of the house."

"Sounds like a good idea. She was at the school the other night. She's one of my student's parents."

"And she has a child in Zora's class? Yeah, that's a little too close to home for me."

"Well, at least you're rectifying it. Progress is all that matters."

There was a pause as soon as the waiter brought over his latte but it wasn't caused by the service. We'd created it before the cup hit the table. The last five words that left my lips hinted at us. He was thinking the same thing I was, I could see it in his eyes.

Us.

"Indeed. Did you just come to apologize or are you feeling the kid?"
"You're cool, but I did come to apologize. I also came to grade this huge stack of work," I pointed to the mountain of papers that sat on the chair next to me.

He stood up, walked around the table, took half the stack of papers, and sat back down. He was so audacious. I wanted to yell at him, but he always made me laugh.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm helping you grade. Pass me a red pen."

"Sir, we use green pen. Red does something to the student psyche. Also, you don't know anything about citing evidence."

"Oh really? Did you read it in high school?"

He licked his lips, while smiling, and brought the papers back down to the table, "Trick question. This story was in the New Yorker a few years back. I most certainly was in high school then, but I do have a psychology degree and some common sense. Trust me.
I gave in, "I'm trying."

We spent the next hour talking smack about Brooklyn's evolution, how the blocks where we had our first kisses had turned into millennials, beers, and expensive bodega sandwiches. He made fun of the fact that I had a rubric for every assignment I graded, while I poked fun at his hairline. He touched his scalp and acted offended, while I packed away my papers. I finished at a much faster rate, considering I had help.

We were building, effortlessly. When I can interject, without offense, finish the sentences of a prospective lover, and I cannot stop the lines of my face from curving upward, I am stuck.

Like a fly to wallpaper, I watched him throw out our items, grab his things, and pay the bill, without missing a beat. He told a story of Zora falling off of her skateboard and his pride when she jumped right back up.

We walked to the door and then it happened. It's the way we all want it to happen, but don't wait for our mind to catch up with our hearts. I kissed him back, before I realized what I was doing. His arms were suddenly around my waist, he'd opened the front door and as I walked out he pulled me in. I didn't have time to protest. It was only the cough of someone that needed to enter the cafe that halted our lip lock.
"Excuse me."

We separated and I walked out into the cold, but I was warm everywhere.

"It was good seeing you. Can I take you home?"

He lived right next door. Of course, he'd ask to drive me back, "I...I'm going to walk back. I like to walk and think."

He laughed, "Don't we all?"

I said goodnight and he opened his mouth to say something else, but my feet had already moved me to the corner and into the crosswalk.
__________________________________________________

"Momma, I met someone."
She held her two fingers close to her lips as if she held a cigarette in them. She rocked back and forth to a memory I couldn't get her to divulge.


"He seems nice, but I don't know if I can go through this again. I'm so sick of heartbreak.

My mother rocked back and forth in her chair, ignoring me or listening intently. I couldn't tell, she wouldn't respond when prompted. I pushed my hands through the rails of her headboard. I peeled the blue paint of the wall, revealing that it's last caot of paint was green. The hole was larger than it was the last time I'd been there. Momma must have been picking at it too.

I peeled things when I was nervous. When I was little I would intentionally put glue into the palm of my hands, just so it could dry and I could peel it. Other kids did this too, but my habit wasn't born of boredom. It gave me a sense of control. Dried glue soon became the cuticles around my fingernails, fingernails became the skin under my feet. One day I'd been so anxious that I peeled my feet raw. When my father saw me limping, he made me sit in a chair and lift my feet.
"Bessie, you've been peeling again?"
"I'm sorry. I can't stop. I don't know how and sometimes I don't even know when I'm doing it."

I often caught my momma peeling things too, back then: wallpaper, the leather on her belt, healing scars.

When she was sent away, I tried to fight the urge to peel. I didn't want to end up like her, but I was rocking Langston's kiss in my mind and the sway of my abdomen and peeling the wall all at once. I was her mirror, in this moment.

"His name is Langston, momma."

Momma stopped rocking in her chair and responded, "Langston...me and the girls talk about him sometime."

"Momma...what girls?"

"They think I'm crazy and stupid, but I'm not. I read Langston all through school. He had a way with words and he believed in us simple folk. The girls in this hall read him too."

"Momma, you have friends?"

She slapped my arm and laughed heartily, "Hell yeah I got friends. Don't you?"

I thought about May, Ella, and a few others. I wondered what the interactions were like with her "girlfriends" in this place. I wondered if they'd ever grow apart like we'd begun to, or if they were able to grow together in a place that was all concrete.

"Mary stays right across the hall. She got a little girl waiting on her at home. Donna used to be down the hall and she batshit. I don't know why the hell anyone would let her out of this place. She's a good actress, though. She might end up in a movie."

I smiled, "Wow. You're not alone in here. I'm glad to hear that."

Momma was quiet. She stared out of the window, as if I wasn't there, once again. Her rocking chair started to move. I yearned for the days that she was lucid. I missed the mother that slipped between the cracks of her high, the one that would decide to make pancakes every now and then, the one who tucked me in and whispered poems about strong black beautiful girls, in my ear.


I felt my eyes fill with tears and I knew it was time to go. I got up to leave when I noticed that the room across the hall was wide open. I walked up to it and peeked in. A young and beautiful woman was painting on her bed. Her skin was so dark it seemed like it glittered when the sunlight pushed through the blinds. She had a canvas laid out in front of her and was pushing gold paint forward with a small brush. She didn't even notice me.

"Hi."

She was focused on her art and didn't even look up. The room looked exactly like my mother's, blue paint and all. The only thing that was different was a small bulletin board next to an easel with another blank canvas. The bulletin board was filled with quotes, pictures, and what seemed like letters. A familiar face popped out from the collage of photos. It was a small round face, almost identical to the woman that painted in front of me: a little girl, with multicolored bubbles in her hair, smiling and looking toward the sky. It was Zora.

_____________________________________

-->
Erica B., formerly “Rivaflowz”, is an author and arts educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Erica writes fiction and memoir that elaborates the experience of the millennial woman of color. She’s written/published three books: (Intention, Boroughs Apart, and Of Micah and Men). She’s an HBO Def Poetpoetry slam champion, and content & arts education strategist for bloggers/writers/companies.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Fiction Series: Saturday, Chapter 3





Haven't read the first installments of this story? Read chapters ONE and TWO.

"You've got to be kidding me."

Langston wore his famous crooked line, across his lips, and sat in the chair in front of my desk.

"It's a small world. I'm Zora Hughes' dad."

I laughed, "Your name is Langston Hughes?"

He smiled, "My momma was eccentric."

"Mine too."

He took off his large coat, to reveal a suit. I'd always seen him in casual attire. This decorum was new. It was jet black, a starched white shirt underneath, and a black and white striped tie.

He noticed me staring and looked down at himself, "Yeah, I was at a mental health conference all day."

I raised my eyebrow and decided not to pry. I put my hands on the paintings and writings of his daughter and smiled, "Zora is one of our star students. She's a brilliant kid. She's always got her hand up, super attentive, and quite creative."

He teared up as he took in her work, his strong hands fiddled with the corners of each paper and held some up to the light. I gave him time to take it all in. Parents needed time to assess who their children were in the classroom. Sometimes they'd become different beings altogether.

After a few minutes, I leaned across my desk and whispered, "You must be so proud."

Langston coughed, trying to push the tears back and smiled, "She reminds me so much of her mother."

I raised my eyebrow once more, but Langston caught it this time.

"Her mother wasn't always like this. She’s changed over the years. We met at a bookstore. She was painting for someone’s reading and she was so talented.”

Langston’s eyes reminded me of my own, on the days when I could not fathom what my mother had become, “What happened to her?”

He wiped something from the corner of his eye and brushed it on to his suit jacket, “Drugs. Zora stays with her grandmother, now. Nessa used to drop by and take her out on the weekends, but we stopped that because she wasn’t bringing her back in time for school. The last time she left, she took Zora for a year. We filed a missing persons report and scoured the city, until Nessa walked through the brownstone gates one morning. Zora seemed fine, but Nessa looked horrible. I couldn’t even press charges. Zora had so many stories to tell me of Las Vegas and California, but all I could think of was how I’d never let her out of my sight again. I’m fighting for full custody, while her mom is in rehab. Zora’s grandmother has been taking care of her, while I work. Zora is with me on the weekends.”

“Wow. I’m so sorry to hear that Mr. Hughes. I had no idea…” 

Langston’s tears disappeared and he suddenly reverted to a business tone, “Don’t call me Mr. Hughes. I’m quite sure we’re the same age. Call me Langston. You wouldn’t have had any idea. I’m sure you’ve only been in contact with her mother and grandmother, up until now. Her mother is incredibly smart, despite…and her grandmother is a retired principal. I let them have the academic piece, but I’m all involved now.” 

“Well Zora seems to be adjusting quite well. She paints and writes about the desert and the palm trees of the west coast often, but she often draws the park sprinklers and the sidewalks of Bedstuy, too.  She's got balance and she’s definitely going to be an author.”

“Yeah, she makes little books out of the legal size paper in the house. I know that. If you ask her, she wants to be a teacher too.”

I smiled. I didn’t know if he was trying to flatter me or if she’d genuinely said that. 

“If it helps, I understand your circumstance. My mother was an addict and she ran away with me for several years. I was raised by my father, for the most part. My mother’s love of language is certainly embedded in me, but my father’s patience, meticulousness, and virtue are a huge part of who I am too. Your daughter is going to be just fine.”

Langston leaned back in his seat and gave me a half smile, but he sat up with a different air. He seemed more relaxed now, like something had lifted from his shoulders with the last word that I’d uttered.

“Come have coffee with me, Bessie.” 

I was shocked by his request, “Coffee? That sounds great, but I have…”

“Parents coming up until 8 pm? I know what time this ends. That’s only 15 minutes from now.  How many parents have you seen all day? Do you think any more are showing up in the last fifteen?”

I looked down at all the booked appointments for today and was disappointed when I saw that I’d only checked off three. I knew the parents that’d missed their appointments would show up all week unannounced or try to reschedule when it was most convenient for them. 

I hesitated, “You’re asking me out on a date? How? I see a different woman on your steps every day. Aren’t you polyamorous or something?”

Langston threw his head back and erupted in laughter, “Seriously? I just said that, the first day you paid me any attention, to mess with you. I knew why you were snickering at your door.” 

“And why was that?”

“Because the minute you see a man with more than one woman, he’s instantly trifling.” 

“You kissed the woman that you got out of the car with.”

“You’re right. Not that it’s any of your business, but we were dating. All that’s over now.” 

“So soon? I guess she wasn’t okay with being one of many. I would have dropped you too, after seeing the multitude of women on the steps.”

“I’m not dating anyone right now. I wasn’t asking you to date me, either. I’m just asking you if you’d like to get coffee.” 

Langston seemed annoyed. He was staring straight into my eyes, awaiting an answer I was too scared to say. 

He stood up and grabbed his coat, “You know what? I’m good on the coffee. I’ll grab a latte on my own. Maybe I’ll grab a few more for my other women, too.”

_________________________________________________________________________________

One day, you wake up and you whisper to yourself, “No one is ever going to love you.” 

You feel like you’re taking up space. You feel it in the way you rock on the yellow line of the subway, close enough to be dangerous, but far enough for your momma. You carry Bernice McFadden’s “Loving Donovan” with you, at all times. A co-worker laughs at this and says you’re obsessed with love stories. She doesn’t know you’re obsessed with just a few lines. There’s a scene where one of her closest friends jumps to her death, in front of a train, after they enjoy an evening together. It was sudden and the protagonist didn’t see it coming and saw it coming all at once. You feel as if you’re on this boundary often and so you cling to these words. They are the only terms that remind you of yourself. 

There are notebooks all over your apartment. You compartmentalize:

You keep your weight loss goals in one, 
a screenplay in another, 
poems about one lover in the red one, 
the tattered and stained one with a piece requested for a wedding that didn’t last, 
a moleskine that always felt too pretty to write in, 
too pretty to lie to, 
to pretty to tell that you felt beautiful, 
when you never really have, 
“If you were beautiful, someone would want you.”
This last statement is scrawled in a large notebook you found at a
discount store. 

& sometimes you feel that way. 
Half. 
Depleted. 
Like you ain’t whole. 

Your defense mechanism surrounds you in material items: your monthly wine subscription,  a Chase alert that you’re still financially stable at 3 am, blog gurus' mailing lists alerting you to:

Self-love.
Self-care. 
Be selfish. 
Love yourself. 
Care for yourself. 

At first, they come at the end of the rough days of work. You take them to task, immediately. You find the nearest nail salon or spa, you binge an entire season of something, you leave work early three days out of the week. 

Bad habits die hard. 

You crawl back into them, hoping they’ll rectify whatever seems to be splitting open in your chest. You stuff yourself, like a ragdoll with the words: 

Self-love.
Self-care. 
Be selfish. 
Love yourself. 
Care for yourself. 

You keep on whispering,  your tongue a needle and words the thread, as society starts to apply pressure, “No one… “ 

When the Thanksgiving table starts asking when the baby is on the way, before they’ve made the acquaintance of a good man. 
When your uncles make jokes about you coming-out-of-the-closet, saying you-done-filled-out, at the same damn time. 

Your uncle treats his wife like a distant memory. She worked as a home aide, while he finished his degree at Howard and gave birth to two sons. When it was time for her to go to nursing school, it was time for his promotion. She soon decided that she wanted to open a restaurant and he received word about a fellowship, across state. After her first son received his first scholarship, following in his father’s footsteps, she decided that she would finally do something she’d been practicing for the last eighteen years. She filed to open a nursery in the living room of their home. It was then he decided they should retire to Florida. 

“…Is ever…”

When your friends start pretending as if their wedding plans aren’t supposed to get in the way of your friendship. 
When movie scenes with folks making mad and passionate love seems like an alternate reality. 

I cringe at kisses that are too tender. Everything placed upon my lips has been rushed,  paced as if my lover had somewhere else to be. I have never known the pleasure of being lifted on some raised surface, hands wrapped around my chin, a silken caress sending a shiver up my spine. Any man that has slowed his pace, I ended up with via might-as-well or boredom. These scenes are usually reserved for folks that are mad for one another, drenched in fairytale. I learned too late that I am a sabotaeur, with heaven high expectations. 

“…Going to…”

When your exs start using your singleness to prove that they were right about you, before asking what you’re doing tonight…with a whole wife at home. 
When you start to imagine the hum of children in your home, bereft of a man who thinks he’ll own your solitude.

Your ex tells you that life isn’t black and white. He can still have feelings for you and his wife. I-still-love-you tastes like charcoal, as they leave his blackened lips. He’s only found the courage to say this when he’s drunk or high and away from her. You block his number, but he finds a way to reiterate the sentiment: through a mutual friend, a Google voice number, and his teeth. 

“…Love you.” 

You sew yourself up tight with the words, because if anything dares to come out, every seam will come undone. 

Unravel.
_________________________________________________________________________________

I watched Langston’s back as he left my classroom and I hummed, “No one is ever going to love you.” 

The sound of the door closed something that’d briefly opened within me. 

Langston was trouble. I didn’t need an ounce of him in my life. 

I packed up my things to leave the job and was putting on my coat, when another parent walked through the door. I looked at the clock. It was 7:59. I sighed, took off my coat, and greeted her. She looked familiar, but she wasn’t a parent I’d met before. She looked like a kid, dressed in jeans, a tee, and sneakers. Her physique was tiny and it made me self-conscious at 5’11. The lines under her eyes gave away her age. She looked at the student work on the wall, while I apologized and took my files back out of my bags and sat back down. 

She walked across the room, as I motioned for her to sit across from me, “I’m Kareem’s mom, Lily.”

I shook her hand, “Great to meet you! We have so much to talk about. Kareem is quite a handful.”

She threw her hands up and laughed, “Girl, I know. We’re working on him.”

I paused to study her face, “Did you go to high school in Brooklyn? You look so familiar.”

She shook her head, “No. I grew up in Jersey. Ms. James, right? How old are you? Where did you grow up?”

I was startled by her request for personal information, but I’d started it, “I’m 29 and I grew up here and in Harlem. My parents were…”

She cut me off, “That’s nice. So Kareem…how’s he doing?”

Lily moved around uneasily in her chair. It was in that moment, as she perched her legs to the side of the chair, that I realized where I knew her from. She was the woman on Langston’s steps, on New Year’s Day. I wouldn’t dare remind her.

I spent the next ten minutes telling her about her son and packed up again, while she went on and on about her relationship with his father. She was talkative, but incredibly sweet. She walked me to my car, as she finalized her thoughts, “We were in love once. We’ll get back there. We’ve got to, for our son.”

I spent the drive home thinking about Lily. Was she one less woman that I needed to worry about? 

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I scolded myself for it. What did I want with Langston and his lifestyle? Was I that desperate? 

_______________________________________________________________________

Saturday, February 4th, 10 am

Our students had state exams coming up and they would be spending the next few Saturday mornings practicing. I signed up, because even though I hated working on the weekends I needed the extra money. My class was settled in and working on independent practice, while I graded work from the week. 

Zora was working hard in the front of the room, her pencil moving frantically across the page. We were writing an essay, comparing two Nikki Giovanni poems, and I knew she was excited. On her first day of school, she strutted in with her favorite book in her arms. It was Giovanni’s “Spin a Soft Black Song.”

I was grading a narrative about role models. I searched frantically for Zora’s, excited to read it. Her narrative was about her father.

“My dad is my role model. He helps people get to where they need to be. I am so proud of him and all his endeavors. When folks aren’t feeling their best, in their minds, they go to my dad to get help. I want him to know…”

I smiled at Zora’s use of the weekly vocabulary words. I flipped the page to glance her comic she’d drawn to go with her narrative. In the first panel, she’d drawn a picture of a woman sitting on the steps. There was a cloud over her head. In the second panel, the same woman was sitting on a couch while her dad sat across from them. In the last panel, the woman was leaving the home with a sun over her head. I waited until it was time for her to leave to ask her about her assignment. 

She was grabbing her book bag and lining up, when I walked over to give her her paper. She had huge brown eyes, that easily lit up like her father's. She was obsessed with the color yellow. Today she wore bright yellow sneakers and a yellow sweat suit. 

Another student made a joke about her being a banana, when they arrived, and she took in his all black and asked promptly, “I surmise you’re headed to a funeral.”

I smiled at this usage of one of our vocabulary words, too. I would’ve jumped in, but she had it under control. 

“I got an A! Awesome! Thanks, Ms. James!”

“You earned it, kid.” 

“You’re right. I did. Thanks, again. I’ll see you on Monday?”

“Hold on. Can I ask you a question about your narrative?” 

“Sure!”

“What does your dad do?”

“He’s a therapist.”

“Who’s the woman in the picture?”

“One of his clients. He works out of an office in his house.We have clients to our house, all the time.”

“Wow. That’s so cool.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty awesome. Why did you want to know?”

I felt guilty for asking, “I…it wasn’t really clear in your work and I just wanted to be clear.”

“Oh okay. Yeah, I didn’t actually say what he did. I have to work on that. That’s how I get an A+, right?”

I smiled and walked her to the door, “Right.” 

“The class already walked downstairs. Do you mind walking me down?”

“No problem.” 

Zora led the way down the stairs, her yellow sneakers hitting each step like a ray of sunshine. When we got to the bottom, Langston was standing there, with a matching sweatsuit, and I had to do everything to keep from laughing. Zora hugged her father and I turned to head back to my classroom, hoping I could make an exit before he looked back up. 

“Ms. James! Don’t you see my dad and I are matching? What do you think?”

Langston laughed, “It’s okay. You can say how you really feel.”

I snickered, “You guys look great. Very…um…bright.”

“We’ve got this daddy daughter skating thing today and my board is yellow. I just wanted to make sure we matched all around.”

He rolled his eyes, so Zora couldn’t see, “Yep. We definitely match all around.”

Langston was such a great dad, from what I could see, and I felt like a complete jerk for how I’d blown him off. Zora tied her shoes and got her headphones out for their walk, as he asked me about how she’d done in Saturday school. As he was talking, I wrote a small note on a post it and put it into the palm of his hand. It was a rash decision and I really didn’t have time to think it out, but I needed a forum to apologize for my assumptions. He crumpled it quickly, so his daughter wouldn’t see, and when Zora was all set she walked through the school doors. 

“Bye, Ms. James!”

He did not look pleased with my actions. He forced a smile and set off, behind her.
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Langston opened the crumpled post-it, as Zora sung Mario’s “Just A Friend” for what seemed like the millionth time. He regretted introducing her to it. 

The note read:

Coffee?

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Erica B., formerly “Rivaflowz”, is an author and arts educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Erica writes fiction and memoir that elaborates the experience of the millennial woman of color. She’s written/published three books: (Intention, Boroughs Apart, and Of Micah and Men). She’s an HBO Def Poetpoetry slam champion, and content & arts education strategist for bloggers/writers/companies.