Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fiction Series: The Villa, Part 3

We'd been back in the villa for less than five minutes when the FaceTime calls began. Damn automatic wi-fi. My ex, Robert, was incessant; he was not going to let the day pass without talking to me. I excused myself from the living room, where everyone was playing dominoes and throwing back Heineken. I walked out to the patio and answered the next incoming call. 

Robert smiled the moment we were able to see one another. His background was a stark white, there was music playing, and I could hear women in the background. He was in his studio, probably just wrapping a shoot.

"Just finished a shoot, baby. Excuse the noise."

He was so predictable, "Congratulations, what's this one called?"

He gestured his hands to emphasize the title, "It's called sex and sand."

"How original. Also, don't call me baby."

Robert ran his hands through his curls, "Baby, I said I'm sorry."

"You were late to my graduation. I've had my head in a book for this entire year, and I finally get to the finish line, and you missed it."

"What do you want me to do? How can I fix this?"

"You can't. You can't even tell me where you were."

"I was at a shoot! I told you that."

"No, Robert. You said that you were out to dinner with your boys."

"What day was that? Was it Wednesday? Maybe I have my days mixed up."

"You were with one of your models."

"Those girls on my IG are clients and the ones who comment are fans. They don't mean anything to me." 

I pressed the end button. I could no longer listen to any of his lies. Everywhere I went, someone had something to say about Robert's indiscretions. I worked in the marketing department at a major magazine, that he took photos for. When Robert arrived, the women in my office would straighten their dresses and fix their hair. We never disclosed our relationship to anyone, so I was privy to conversations that pertained to him. During our lunch break, women would squeal and gossip about the man I went home to every night. 

"I hear he has a girlfriend."

"Robert is tied to nothing. He's with every model we've used for a shoot. I've even had some of that."

"They say he never leaves the studio. He probably sleeps in there."

"Exactly. What woman would put up with those hours?"

I'd sink my teeth into a tuna sandwich and act as if I couldn't hear them while they went on and on about what they deemed to be true. 

Robert and I planned to come to Jamaica together, but a month before the trip I finally worked up the nerve to check his phone. I'd told my mother and friends about my concerns and they all said that if I searched through his personal items, I was bound to find something. They weren't encouraging me, they were trying to point out our trust issues. I took the advice, literally.

As soon as I put his passcode in, I went straight to the messages. I spent the next five minutes scrolling through half-naked photos of women, a few more wincing at Wink emojis sent alongside "come and see me at the studio." I spent the next half hour packing my things to leave. 

Robert called the next morning after I left. I wondered if he'd noticed my items were gone: my pajamas, my books, my toothbrush. Instead, he called to inquire why I hadn't made breakfast like I usually did. 

"Babe, you left so early. No breakfast, this morning?"

"Robert, I left last night."

"Oh, you did. I slept on the couch; it was late, and I didn't want to wake you."

I didn't even bother to tell him I wasn't coming back. It wasn't until I failed to send his itinerary for the trip that he truly realized that I was gone. 

Netflix, Tyler Perry, and all those small budget stand-by-your-man's-side movies can go to hell. We're often shamed for not being a ride-or-die or helping to hold things together when it's falling apart. We're force fed monologues of sistas not wanting to be the spine when a brotha is broke.

But what are we to do when he's not just broke...
What do we do when he's broken?

Alphonso spent three months on our couch when he lost his job. He'd come to work, one day and his desk was cleaned. He was laid off, without notice or severance and came home with a sullen face and pockets full of lint. 

He never saved. We often talked about this, while dating, but he shrugged if off. He felt like he'd always have a check coming in and had nothing to worry about. 

At the time, I was staycationing at his home, staying there three days a week, while he did the same at my place. We were content with snuggling in front of movies, spending hurricanes inside with hot cocoa, ordering in sushi, joining his friends for drinks at all the local hotspots, and thumbing through individual reads while the fireplace crackled. We took this comfort for granted, sprawled out into our luxury, never thinking any of it would be torn away.

It started with the phone calls. 

Alphonso was ignoring his phone, quite often. He'd look at his phone, worried, and then press ignore. At first, I thought he was cheating. I would ask him who was calling and he'd shake his head and explain that it wasn't important. He used to check the house voicemail in front of me and play the messages out loud. He stopped doing that too. 

We went on a date night together, one that I thought we could do without, that he insisted on and we fought the entire time. He hadn't found a job, but we were still going to elegant restaurants, keeping up appearances with his friends. 

On the way home, he couldn't contain his disappointment, "Why can't you just appreciate when we go out? Why must you complain about everything?"

"Because you don't have it!"

"You don't know what I have. You don't know my situation."

"Okay, Alphonso. I'm just the random person who's been by your side for years."

He pulled up to the apartment building and got out of the car, "Oh, since you know me so well, you should know not to embarrass me like that!"

"You offered to pay the whole bill! Everyone at the table has a job. You didn't need to do that."

"I'm going to get a new job. We're going to be fine. I'm keeping my commitment. We still have our date night, every week. I don't care what it costs."

We walked past Alphonso's doorman and said goodnight and stepped into the elevator. The short ride was quiet. I knew we'd sleep in separate places for the evening. When we got out of the elevator and up to the door, Alphonso a few steps ahead of me, I watched him snatch a piece of paper off of it and stick it into his pocket.

"What was taped to your door?"

"It doesn't matter. Can we just go to bed?"

I nodded yes, watched him disappear into his walk-in closet and looked over at the house phone that glared red with fifty-five new messages. 

I left the villa's living room, to check on him. He was still where I'd left him, snoring away. I slipped into bed with him and he instantly wrapped his arms around me, a reflex born of familiarity. I wanted him to be just as open to talking about his troubles.

I whispered into his ear, "Let me in."

I was headed back into the living room when Jasper made his way out to the patio. He'd been real friendly since I got here. We'd met informally, a few times, at birthday parties and mutual outings. He was handsome, the type of good-looking that you might miss if you didn't give him a thorough glance.

"Everyone still inside?"

"No, everyone went up to their rooms."

"Oh. Why aren't you upstairs, with Kimani?"

"She's in one of her moods. I honestly just wanted some peace and quiet."

I looked out at the stillness of the pool and could hear the ocean in the distance, "Well, you're in the right place."

He smiled and sat down on the patio chair, next to me, "Are you? I thought this was a couples only wedding."

"Ha. You're just going to call me out about my nonexistent plus one?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Robert and I are over. He's no good for me. I'm here to soak up some sun and never look back."

"I hear that. How are things at the magazine? Your cousin tells me you're in the big time."

"Yeah. We're a pretty solid household name. I'm just a humble marketing servant, though."

He placed his hands on the armrest of my chair, "You're unbelievable. No need to be humble, for me."

I couldn't tell if he was flirting. His close proximity made me extremely uncomfortable, "So, when are you and Kimani getting married? I feel like you guys have been together, for an eternity."

He sat up straight, in his chair, and turned his legs towards me, "I don't think that's going to happen. Kimani and I aren't exactly together..."

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