Step

Even over the dull roar of the other patrons I can hear the snare drum of my heartbeat. If I were to sit still, I’d probably start to tremble a little. But I can’t sit still. I shift, I rake my fingers through my hair, I pull at my hoops, I sip my drink. I can feel sweat starting to prickle on the back of my neck, sliding down my spine, pooling in the sharp curve at the small of my back. I clear my throat. Shift, hair, hoops, sip.

I see him hit the entrance and I gasp just slightly. Now that I’m not trying to be all hardcore and shit, I can admit it; the man is just gorgeous. Beautiful. Head to toe. All 10 feet of him. I take a minute to watch him before he sees me and I have to stop outright staring with my mouth slightly open. I take in the changes I see in him just over the last few weeks since I saw him last; the ceasar has been shaved and even the skin on his head is smooth and flawless. The facial hair is gone. For once, he’s not in a suit, just a polo and jeans, but for some reason his shoulders look even more broad than I remember. He smiles at the hostess, his dimples like caverns and I watch her giggle. It makes me laugh. Half the women in the room, even the ones who are not alone, have turned to watch him once the sheer magnitude of his prescence reached their table. He sees me. Gives me a slight smile. I flush from head to toe, every inch of me heated up from the inside. I smile, probably too hard. We look at each other from across the room for a minute. I can see his fans looking back and forth between us wondering what the hell is going on.

I avert my eyes first because, well, I’m a punk, and I’m pretty sure my face is about two seconds from bursting into flame. I look at my feet and without looking up, I feel him moving into my orbit. Before I can stop myself, I’m tugging at my shirt, pulling my wide leg pants, wishing I’d worn my hair down instead of in a ponytail, wondering if I put on too much makeup or not enough, lamenting the fact that I shoulda worn my diamonds instead of these obnoxious ass hoops, kicking myself for not wearing pink or red or blue instead of all black. He stops in front of me and I know that at some point I’m going to have to look up lest he have a conversation with the top of my hair.

I look up at him and his eyes go soft. He’s smiling at me and I want to hug him, to kiss him, to do something other than stand here with my mouth slightly ajar.
“I just KNEW,” he starts, “that I would have something clever to say once I got here.”
“And?” I prompt him.
“Shit.”
We burst out laughing, too hard, too loudly probably but I can feel the ice crack beneath our feet.
“I got you a drink. Hennessee on the rocks, 2 olives.”
“You remembered. I’m impressed.”

We sit down, our eyes never leaving each other and I’m afraid if he keeps looking at me the way that he is that I’m gonna just throw up on myself.
“You look different,” he says, his eyes sliding down over me.
“Its just my hair.”
“Yeah, you never wear your hair back.”
“Head’s too big.”
“But that’s not it. You look… settled.” I smile at that.
“I’m working on it.”

We small talk each other some, yadda yadda yadda, work, friends, sports, and I take advantage of the shift in atmosphere after the waitress leaves for the fourth time… of only serving him.
“So I wanted to talk to you-“
“Oh God you’re pregnant.”
“No fruit loop shut your face.” More laughter, and not that polite kinda laughter you give up because you don’t wanna be rude, but more like that deep inner laughter you have with someone you truly feel like you around. I try to start again.
“I owe you an apology. I’m sorry for acting the way I did. I shouldn’t have treated you the way I did, whether I made my intentions clear in the beginninng or not-“
“Look La-“
“Shut UP goddammit and let me talk.” He sits back. “You are,” deep breath, “the kind of man every woman should be smart enough to want. And I hate thinking that I could have damaged any of those qualities just because I was going through shit I wasn’t grown enough to deal with in any real way.”
“You know all I heard from that is that you wanted me.”
“Oh nigga you are THE WORST.”

We laugh and I’m loving his smile, the way his shoulders bounce when he hangs his head to chuckle. Praise God for any man he ever made like this. Chuuuuuuuch.

“K.B. you already knew that though,” and I let the implication hang in the air long enough that he knows something is following it.
“But…?” he prompts me.
“You’re not ultimately who I wanted to be with. And you didn’t deserve to be a seat filler.”
“You still love him?”

I don’t want to answer for fear he’ll call me stupid, but in my heart I know he’s not that kinda man.
“Yes. Of course. I probably always will,” and I offer up that ruefull smile and shrug that usually comes with speaking your heart even when it isn’t saying the words the general public wants to hear.
“I’m actually glad to hear you say that.”
“Why?”
“Because it means you’re closer to getting back to you. I see you settling nicely into your skin. And I like what I see.” I smile at that, every bit of me on display, but not caring a bit.
He says, “You know it’s just-“
“Something about me. Yes I know. And if I ever come any closer to figuring that something out myself, you’ll be the 1st to know.”
“The first?”
“Absofuckinlutely.”
I let him digest that.

“You still wish you’d met me first?” he asks me, his voice dangerously low.
“No. I don’t. Because then I would have never been with him. And I don’t regret loving him. I think it was the first time I’ve ever loved someone with my whole and complete self. And I’m proud of me for having the balls to do it.” He nods over and over, his eyes suddenly shifting to the window overlooking the parking lot.
“But,” I start and his eyes shift back to me, “I wish I’d met you later.”

He smiles that smile at me that a million orthodontists wish they could take credit for and takes my tiny hand in his.
“So what now?”
“Now I move.”
“Literally or metaphorically?”
“Metaphorically. Been standing still too long. It’s not until your life falls apart that you realize that you are the one who holds the power to arrange the pieces.”
“Mmm that’s deep.”
“Yeah well, I got it like that.” We laugh and then fall silent, looking at each other, no doubt both of our minds travelling to What If even if we know we don’t live there.
“You’ve changed. Just since I’ve met you, you’ve changed. It’s beautiful to watch.” I smile at his words and feel tears form behind my eyes. He touches his hand to my face and instinctively I nuzzle my cheek into the curve of his palm.
“I like your hair back,” he almost whispers and I know on some level he’s trying to let me know he’s liking the changes I’m going through.
“So,” he says tracing his fingers down to my collar bone, “is this where you go back to black?”
“No. But I have work to do.”
“Need some help?”
“In some ways. But you know I’m nothing if not a solo star.” He laughs at our inside joke. “I think this is work I’ve gotta do on my own.”
“I’d love to see the finished product.”

By now full tears have started to slide down my face. After a moment, I clear my throat.
“I really am sorry. That… that’s not who I am. That’s not the kinda person I am.”
“If I didn’t know that already, do you think I’d be sitting here?” I smile so hard through my thin veil of tears, appreciative of him not judging me as harshly as I did for the way I acted.

“So, am I ever gonna hear from you again?”
“Probably not,” I reply. “But I know better now than I did if I ever run into you again. And DAMN I’m gonna be so jealous of the chick you end up with.” We laugh and it’s much needed right now.
“Well what are you gonna do about it? You let me go.”
“I know!” I consider it a moment. “If I’m sober, I’ll probably be quite charming and graceful and wish you the best. And hopefully you’ll catch me on a day when I’m looking fabulous.”
“And if you’re not?”
“Then I hope that bitch can fight cuz I might drag her outside and beat her ass in the parking lot.”

He laughs at me, long and hard, mostly because he knows I am SO sincere. I laugh too, but mostly, I’m studying him, so if somehow this journey I’m about to take brings me back across him, I’ll know to stop.

He pays our tab and we make moves to leave and he says, “You know, I knew you’d come back.”
“And how did you know that?” I turn and take in the full affect of his smug smile.
“Because,” he says all drunk on himself, “I laid it down.”
We both laugh, him laughing because he thinks it’s funny, me laughing because he’s such a nigga and because, you know, it’s true.

We get outside and he kisses my forehead, either side of my face in his hands. He says a few words that I’ll probably never tell another soul and he makes me tear up yet again. I turn and walk away from him once again, but this time I look back because, well, I want to. He’s still standing in the same place watching me leave. I wave at him and give up my most genuine smile, able to hold my head up a little higher, my spirit a little lighter.

Sometimes when a good girl goes bad, she isn’t lost forever. Some of us, if she’s truly a good woman, find their way back on their own.

Later that night my phone lights up. His message is simple;

Travel well

I intend to.

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