See, What Had Happened Was…
by L. L. King
Late Saturday night, early Sunday morning, Content Holmes yawned wide enough to show the fifteen year-old silver caps on her back molars to the twinkling stars. Less than ten minutes ago, she’d had enough energy to run the New York marathon, but now as she slowed to a stop for a red light on Cobb Parkway in Marietta, GA, she felt as if all of the life had been sucked out of her body and she dreaded the thought of the thirty-five minute drive back to Riverdale.
The light changed to green and as Content accelerated across Windy Hill, Vanessa shifted her body. She turned her face toward Content and forced her eyes halfway open. The alcohol surging through her system wouldn’t allow much more than that.
Content could feel Vanessa’s eyes watching her right profile as she drove. They continued on in silence until she turned onto I-285 for the longest stretch of the trip home before Vanessa spoke. “My cousin is a tramp,” she said with a noticeable slur.
Content wasn’t completely caught off guard by the statement. She’d been waiting for most of the night for her outspoken cousin to say something. She knew exactly what Vanessa was referring to. “I hope that you’re talking about someone on your father’s side,” Content quipped.
“Nope. I’m talking about my mama’s baby sister’s oldest child. Don’t make me call any names.”
“Who . . . me?” Content said in mock shock.
“If the shoe fits—” Vanessa stopped and let Content fill in the rest.
“But I didn’t do anything wrong. I was just having fun.”
“He was married, Cuzzo. And you knew it.”
“I know that. We were just having a good time though. You know … the kind of good time that you had with ten other guys.”
Vanessa sucked her teeth and turned the volume of the radio down although it hadn’t been up very loud. “Neither one of them were wearing a ring in plain sight,” she said. “They could have still been married or whatever but at least it wasn’t advertised. And furthermore, I wasn’t sweating them nearly as hard as you sweated Mr. Married Man.”
“I wasn’t sweating him,” Content weakly argued. “We were just having fun and talking. That’s all.”
“Did you give him your number or did he give you his?”
Vanessa sucked her teeth again to show that she didn’t believe it. “Puh-lease. Like I said, you are a tramp.” She turned away and reclined the seat as far as it would allow.
Both of them rode in mutual silence for over a minute before Vanessa spoke again. “He did seem pretty nice. And he was nice looking.” She sighed heavily. “I’m not trying to preach to you, Content. Lord knows that I’m not the one to tell anybody what they should be doing. I just don’t want to be the one having to hold you while you cry your eyes out and then when somebody asks me what’s wrong, I have to say, ‘See, what had happened was . . .’”
Content laughed. “You don’t have to worry about me,” she assured her cousin. A humph came from Vanessa and nothing more for almost two minutes. Then, soft snores gave every indication that she’d fallen asleep.
Content was relieved that Vanessa was asleep. Not only because she was tired of listening to her cousin speak the truth—that was a small part of it—but because she wanted to think—alone.
She pulled her CD case from behind the passenger seat. She alternated looking up and down between the road and the case as she flipped through to find the CD that she wanted. Almost at the back she found what she was looking for: R. Kelly’s Happy People/U Saved Me album, Disc One. She threw the case into the back seat and inserted the CD, immediately skipping to track eleven when it had completely loaded.
Happy People began flowing through the car:
Ladies and gentlemen, this here is another one for the steppas.
DJ Wayne Williams, put the record on.
Content began softly singing along: “Whoa oh whoa oh whoa oh whoa yeah . . .” As she sang, she was transported back to a few hours ago, when the same song had begun playing in Vegas Nights, a club that Vanessa had been wanting to check out for some time. That’s when Michael had stooped down as Content sat at a table waiting on Vanessa to come off the dance floor. He’d asked Content—as politely as he could while trying to be heard over the music and at the same time still not be offensive—if she wanted to learn how to step.
- - -
Taken by surprise because he’d come from behind her coupled with the fact that the voice that had emanated from an caramel-toned man that she’d noticed earlier in the night, she had to blink a couple of times to gather her senses. He waited patiently, but expectantly for a reply. Content smiled and pulled him closer so that she could speak into his left ear and asked, “Now, what makes you assume that I can’t step?”
He smiled, gave a slight shrug, stood up straight, and held out his hand as if daring her to show him what she could do. Planning to meet his challenge and then some, she took his hand and followed him to the dance floor.
She met his challenge but he proved to be a better dancer than his average looks had suggested. After the fourth song, the beat changed to something with a tempo that was so fast that they both looked at each other, shook their heads in unison to mutually agree that they couldn’t hang, and walked off the floor together.
When they made it back to where her table had been, a group of three women had claimed it and there weren’t any more empty tables around.
“It looks like you got ganked,” Michael, her dance partner said as they looked around for somewhere to sit or stand. He’d introduced himself as they’d walked to the floor.
“It looks like it. I don’t see my cousin anywhere either,” Content said as she scanned the crowd. It wasn’t doing any good because at 5’3”, she couldn’t see very much at all.
“If I knew what she looked like, I could help you out. Or, if you want to, you can get on my shoulders,” he joked.
She looked up to see him smiling at his joke, “Funny, ha ha,” she said through a smile of her own. “She has on all black and is light skinned.”
A quick survey of the crowd narrowed it down to about two hundred people. Seeming to realize the futility of the situation, Michael asked, “Can I get you something to drink? We might run into her on our way to the bar.
“Okay, that sounds like a plan.”
As they made it to the bar, a provocatively dressed woman was accepting a dance offer from a man in a loud orange Lycra shirt, leaving an empty stool. Michael offered the seat to Content and she promptly accepted. She asked him to get her a glass of Riesling wine and began surveying the crowd again in an attempt to find Vanessa. She panned the crowd twice with no luck and turned her attention back to her new friend.
As Michael paid the bartender, Content noticed for the first time, the platinum wedding ring that was on his left hand and in its rightful place.
Her initial reaction was disappointment and she wanted to walk away, leaving him standing alone at the bar to look like the fool that he was. Her next thought was to accept the drink—it was seven dollars— and then walk away without a simple goodbye. The latter sounded better in her mind but to pass the time that it would take for the bartender to prepare their drinks, she decided to humor herself and listen to the game that he would try to run.
Michael turned back to her, flashing an almost perfect genuine smile. To Content, all that she could see were a dog’s canines but she managed to return a fake smile back up at him.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked her.
“Yes, I am,” she replied. She also wanted to add that her enjoyment had ended a few seconds ago. “And you?”
“Yeah, I am too. It’s been a while since I’ve been out.” They fell silent and people-watched. Content’s attention focused on a pair of multi-colored heels that another lady was wearing. She made a mental addition to her shoe wish-list.
The bartender returned with their drinks and placed them on the bar. Michael picked up Content’s drink, started to hand it to her but instead pulled it back and wiped the outside of the glass with a napkin. As he handed it to her, Content thought that the gesture was sweet and decided that she wouldn’t just walk away; she would say goodbye first.
Michael picked up his drink with his left hand and turned back to her. With that simple gesture—perhaps it was part of his act, perhaps not—he showed that he didn’t care whether or not she knew that he was married. He smiled down at her again and then took a sip of his dark brown liquid.
Instead of saying goodbye, Content asked, “What are you drinking? Coke and what else?”
“This is just Coke. I don’t drink alcohol when I’m driving. Not even a sip.”
Content looked down at her glass of club medicine. “Thank you for making me feel like a lush,” she replied. “You could have told me that you don’t drink before you ordered this.”
“I didn’t make you order that.” Pause. “And one drink doesn’t make you an alcoholic. Two drinks make you that.” He smiled and turned away.
Content cringed inside. She’d had two Long Islands already. She smiled sheepishly and said, “Well thank you very much for making me feel even worse.”
“No problem. I do what I can.” He laughed out loud at his joke and Content joined in after a moment’s hesitation.
Since he was able to be so straightforward with her, she decided that she could treat him the same way. “So, Mr. Michael,” she began, “how long have you been married?”
He gave a brief look of surprise before he realized that it was his wedding band that had prompted the question. He switched his drink to his right hand and looked at his ring as if seeing it for the first time.
“Over two years now,” he replied as he continued to look down at it.
“You’re still a newlywed. Congratulations.” Content held up her drink in a toast.
Michael tapped his glass against hers. “Thank you. But the honeymoon was over a long time ago.”
Uh oh, Content thought. Here comes the sad song about being unhappy. Instead, he surprised her by saying, “Everything is still cool though. Just not newlywed cool.”
“What does that mean?” She was inquisitive by nature.
“You know . . . things aren’t brand new anymore. We’ve become used to each other.” He paused to take a sip of his drink. “I don’t see a ring on your finger but that still doesn’t mean that you’re not married so I’ll ask . . . are you married?”
“No,” Content replied. “I would be wearing a ring if I was.”
“I was just checking. I wanted to see if you knew where I was coming from about things not being brand new.”
“No again. I can’t relate to you on that subject.” Pause. “I have to hand it to you though. You’re pretty brave to be wearing your ring around here. Most married men take their rings off when they go out.”
“I’m just out having fun.”
“What’s the fun in all of this?” She waved her free hand toward the dance floor. “You don’t drink and I hope that you don’t tell me that you just like to dance. That wouldn’t sound right coming from a man.”
“You’re right. I don’t drink and no, I don’t just go out to dance. I came to mingle with the beautiful women of Atlanta Content humphed. “So you were just mingling with me? No, you are just mingling with me.”
“Yes. That’s about the gist of it. I just want to have fun. Just like any other person in the world. Talking to attractive women, learning new things about them, and having them say yes to a dance . . . all of that is fun to me.” He paused and seemed to wait on Content to say something. When she didn’t, he continued: “I know that some women that I’ve asked to dance tonight have said no because of my ring. That’s cool. That’s their prerogative. I just move on until I see someone else worth taking the risk to ask to dance.”
Content’s initial thoughts of walking away were long gone from her mind. She had no idea when the thought had abandoned her but by the time that Michael was finishing talking, she was hanging on his every word. She asked, “And how do you judge who is worth taking that risk.”
Michael looked around at the crowd. “Looks. Attitude,” he said. “I don’t want to be shot down by just anyone. Every time that a man steps to a woman in a club, he has an invisible audience—men and women—whether he wants it or not.”
Content looked down into her drink and stirred as he talked. She was enjoying the conversation and the stirring motion accomplished two things; first, it gave her something to do and secondly, she didn’t want Michael to see her smile as he subtly gave every indication that there was something that appealed to him about her which was worth asking her to dance. Compliments, whether received from a single man or a married one, still felt good whenever they were received.
She still had to know whether it was her looks or her attitude. “Which one was it with me,” she asked.
“I just thought that you looked lonely sitting at the table by yourself,” he replied in a nonchalant manner.
Michael began laughing. “I’m just kidding. It was your looks. You’re a very attractive lady. You didn’t hear that from me though.” They shared a mutual smile and Content had to force herself to look away. She went back to pretending that the stirring of her drink required heavy concentration.
“How can you tell what’s up with a woman’s attitude just by looking at her?” she safely asked while still looking down.
“That’s kind of hard to explain,” he replied. “Sometimes a woman that a man wouldn’t normally look at twice can carry themselves in such a way that they are worth a second and third look.” An extended pause made Content look up at him. He was looking at something to his right. “For instance,” he continued as her eyes tried to follow his, “See that girl with the light green sweater on over there?”
Content’s first thought had been that his wife was coming. She breathed a sigh of relief and tried to locate the woman that Michael was referring to. It didn’t take her long to find the plus-size woman with the green shirt. She was about 5’7”, with a pixie haircut and a nice smile. That was about all that Content saw in the woman.
“You’re talking about the big girl, right?” she asked.
“Yes. She’s a little big but she carries herself in a petite way. She’s dressed nicely, pretty face, and you can tell that she’s confident in herself. I like that in a woman.”
“So did you approach her too?”
Michael gave a short laugh. “I did . . . earlier. The first thing that she looked at was my ring and gave me a flat no. She doesn’t look quite as interesting as she did before,” he finished, looking wistfully in the woman’s direction.
He had such a pathetic look on his face that Content laughed out loud. His countenance changed quickly and he returned his full attention to her with a smile.
Content patted him on his arm, conveniently ignoring that he belonged to another, as her laughter died. When she managed to catch her breath, she asked, “So how many dances have you had?”
“You were the first one.”
“Really? You’re kidding.”
“Yes . . . really. You probably would have said no too if you’d seen the ring first.”
Content thought about what he said for a moment and silently agreed. But when he’d approached her, he’d placed his left hand on the back of her seat as he knelt down to ask if she knew how to step. If she’d seen the ring beforehand, there was no doubt that she would have just as politely told him to go to hell with a broken air conditioner. She had been ready to tell him to go to the same place anyway when she’d seen the ring later at the bar.
“That would have been my mistake then,” she said. “You have been quite the gentleman. You didn’t try to dance too close or invade my space at all. I like that.”
“Well thank you. I like the fact that you didn’t try to invade my space either.” He downed the rest of his coke as Usher’s Yeah boomed through the club. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s see how you really move.” He took her free hand and plucked her drink out of the other. “This wine that you’re stirring to death can be bought again.”
He sat the half-full glass on the bar and led her toward the dance floor. They had to pass the big girl that had turned him down earlier. Content saw that she noticed them and saw the girl pay much more attention to Michael than she probably had earlier.
He’d grabbed her right hand with his left. Content looked down and the shiny metal reminded her that the man leading her through the crowd was not her own. She adjusted her hand in his soft grip and until she could no longer see the ring. That was better; it was almost as if she could believe that he didn’t belong to another.
Six songs later, they were leaving the dance floor again. They were laughing, talking, and touching much more than they had been when they first started dancing again. They’d danced fast. They’d danced close. She’d pressed her derriere against him and felt him grow rigid. She’d turned around and invaded his space as he tried to hold on to a remnant of gentility. She pressed closer, tipsy from alcohol and inebriated with the power that she knew her body wielded, dropping it like it was hot and trying to get lower than her cousin, Vanessa, who’d spotted her on the dance floor and had conveniently found a spot close enough to try to show off.
Content purposely teased him. She loved the way that he tried to remain a gentleman. She knew that she was forcing him to do things that he normally wouldn’t do and it felt good in a selfish sort of way. As the East Side Boyz lauded the sweat drooping off their balls, she gyrated her hips as her crotch melded with his thigh. His hand had been caressing her hip, resting firmly at the place where her pantyline would have been. She’d wanted him to know that there was something missing and she’d taken that hand and guided it to her sacred mound. He never missed a beat in his dance as he looked down at her. She didn’t have to do anything further to encourage him to squeeze the Charmin.
When they made it to a clear area, she pulled him down so that she could speak into his ear. “I’m going to the bathroom,” she said. “Meet me by the bar.”
“You drinking anything else,” he asked.
“Yes. Get me a Sprite this time though.”
He smiled. “Are you sure? Don’t let me spoil your fun.”
“I’m positive,” she said as she began walking away.
As Content waited in the perpetual bathroom line, her consciousness started to work on her. Dude is married, she told herself out loud. No one heard her and if anyone had noticed, they would have thought that she was just singing along with the music. He’s cool. We’re just having fun, she thought. After tonight, I’ll never see him again. That thought sounded much better to her and by the time that she handled her business, she’d mentally re-established her dignity.
As she waded back through the crowd to the bar, she saw Michael waiting as he’d promised, with a Sprite in each hand. The voluptuous woman who’d turned him down earlier was standing in front of him saying something. Men of all shapes, sizes, and shades of brown, tried to get her attention as she walked by but she ignored them and kept her attention on her new friend. She could tell by the look on his face that he desperately wanted to be saved.
She sidled up to him and surprised even herself with her boldness. “Hey, thanks,” she said as she flirtatiously batted her eyes and took one of the drinks. She turned to Michael’s friend and acknowledged her presence: “Hello, how are you.”
The girl replied with a nod of her head and perfunctory smile. She turned her attention back to Michael who extended his hand and said, “It was nice meeting you . . . Selena, right? Take care.”
Selena left his hand where it hovered in the air and Content led Michael to the upper level of the club.
There were a few empty tables on the balcony. She led him to a table that was close enough to the edge where they could look down at the crowded dance floor. He pulled a chair out for her and waited until she’d completely sat down before he took a seat adjacent to hers; that granted him an instant ten chivalry points in her book.
When they’d settled in, he said, “Damn, she had a sudden change of heart. And she was aggressive with it. You would have thought that I was the woman and she was the man.”
“It looked like you wanted to scream and run away like a woman too,” Content said. “Anyway, she was like that because now you look better to her.”
“What? I look the same as I did before.”
“Then, you weren’t with another woman. An attractive woman—you said it—to boot. Now that you’ve been seen with one, your stock has increased.”
Michael’s brow furrowed in confusion. “I don’t get that,” he said after a brief hesitation. “What does my being with another woman mean? Can you explain that to me?”
“First of all, an attractive woman accompanying a man is almost the same as if he were wearing a nice suit. The nicer the suit or the better the fit, the more appealing he is.”
Michael nodded his head slowly in understanding. Content continued: “Secondly, being with a woman means that you like women. That means a lot to us ladies these days.”
“Please don’t start.”
Content laughed. “I won’t . . . but you know what I’m talking about.” She paused to take a sip of her drink. “And last of all . . . I guess . . . women are just trifling like that. They want to know if they have what it takes to steal your interest. She saw me with you earlier. If I wasn’t a lady I would break out some Judo on her.”
Michael looked Content up and down and snickered. “I can’t see you fighting anyone,” he said. He leaned back in his chair and looked down at the dance floor. “That’s stupid,” he continued after a short while. “I can’t believe that women would be like that.”
“That, my friend, is the truth. Do you think that you get a lot of attention from women even though they see your ring?”
Before he could answer, Content looked up and past him so suddenly that he turned to also see what she was looking at. Vanessa was coming their way with a “Girl, I thought that you had left me,” Vanessa exclaimed when she was within shouting distance. She came and stood behind Content. She looked at Michael and leaned down to whisper into Content’s ear. “Where did you find him at? He’s nice looking and he can move. Ask him if he moves like that in the bed?”
Content reached down and lightly pinched Vanessa on the calf. Being polite, she made the introduction: “Vanessa, this is Michael. Michael, this is my cousin Vanessa.”
“Nice to meet you, Vanessa.” Michael switched his glass from his right to his left hand and offered a handshake. The strobe light glinted from his ring. Content could feel Vanessa’s body stiffen in surprise.
Reluctantly, Vanessa took the hand that was offered. “Likewise,” she halfheartedly said. Content knew that she would hear about it sooner or later.
“So, how is your new Santa Claus suit working out?” Content asked to attenuate her cousin’s mood change.
Vanessa rolled her eyes and shook her head; that was all the answer that Content needed to know that the attention had been less than flattering. Content asked her, “You ready to go?”
“I didn’t say all that,” Vanessa replied. “I’m still having a ball. Are you two enjoying yourselves?” She looked back and forth between Content and Michael, who was preoccupied with looking over the balcony at the crowd on the dance floor.
The question didn’t fall upon deaf ears, however, and he turned around to give Vanessa his full attention. He flashed the smile that had temporarily erased Content’s memory at Vanessa, who seemed to force a smile in return. Content just watched: she knew that Vanessa’s question had a hidden meaning. She didn’t know exactly what meaning it was but it had something to do with the fact that he was married and she knew it.
Michael replied, “I am enjoying myself. Thank you for asking. Would you like something to drink?”
Before Vanessa could answer, a man tapped her on her shoulder. Content watched as Vanessa slowly turned around and saw the type of man that she always went after in physical appearances: tall, dark, and handsome. Big feet were something that she always mentioned too, but at that moment Content couldn’t see the man’s feet. She knew that Vanessa would probably tell her how big his feet were when they made it home however.
He said something in her ear and the smile that Vanessa gave the man was flirtingly genuine. Waving goodbye to Content over her shoulder, she was gone as if she’d only been an apparition. Michael and Content watched as she followed the man to the stairs.
“Santa Claus suit?” Michael inquired when they’d descended out of view.
Content laughed. “That’s an inside joke between us. Kind of like code. What saying is Santa famous for?”
Michael had to think about it for a few seconds. “Ho ho ho?”
“Yep. That’s her ho suit.”
His eyebrows rose noticeably before he smiled again. “I will let you two keep that between yourselves.” He looked back down in the direction of the dance floor.
Content looked in the same direction and saw Vanessa and her new friend finding a spot to dance. Content looked back up at Michael and asked, “Did you like her outfit?”
He looked back at her before he answered: another few points for him because she loved when a man gave her his full attention when talking to her. “It was nice,” he replied.
“Nice. I won’t tell Vanessa that you said that. She wouldn’t want to hear just nice.”
“I like when women are conservatively dressed. She looks nice but I wouldn’t have approached her. It would have seemed as if all that I wanted was the body that she was showing me.”
“And all that you want is to have fun, right? Nothing more, nothing less.”
“And if I were wearing the same outfit, you wouldn’t have approached me at all.”
“If you were wearing the same outfit, I would have thought that was country. No one dresses alike any more unless they’re in high school.”
“I wasn’t talking about wearing the same outfit at the same time and you know it. Answer the question.”
“No, I wouldn’t have approached you. The way that you are dressed makes you more appealing to me. It leaves more to the imagination in a way.”
Content looked down at her outfit—a pink blouse, white slacks with flared legs that hugged all the right places from her thigh upwards, and a pair of pink heels—that she’d chosen only because her own Santa Claus outfit had been mistreated at the cleaners and was no longer wearable. She said, “I guess that I can respect that. It really doesn’t matter anyway. All that a woman needs is a big butt or breasts.”
“We all aren’t that simple. At least I would like to think so.” The conversation paused as he took a drink. “I noticed you when you walked past and I didn’t see you again until just before I asked you to dance. I thought that you looked nice…and lonely.”
“I did not look lonely!” Content exclaimed and to accentuate her point, she threw a playful swipe at him. Instead of hitting him on the forearm, she struck his glass of Sprite, sending it toppling over and spilling the contents into his lap before he could move out of the way.
It all seemed to happen in slow motion and when it was over all that they could do was freeze in place. Content’s bottom hung in mid-air a few inches above her seat. Her mouth was hanging open and her hand was clapped tightly over it. His eyes were opened wide in shock from the cold liquid. Michael dumbly looked down at his lap where it had flowed through the thin material of his pants and had thoroughly chilled his baby-makers. His mouth hung open also and his hands were raised at about the level of his eyes.
It was a comical scene but hardly anyone paid attention to either of them. After a few seconds, they managed to move their heads enough to make eye contact, which sent them into a fit of hysterics. Between laughs, Content was apologizing and Michael was saying that it was okay. Finally, they calmed down enough to gauge what had happened and what could be done about it.
“How bad is it?” Content managed to ask.
Michael pushed himself away from the table and looked down again. “It’s pretty bad,” he said. “It looks like I peed on myself.”
“Is it obvious?”
“Ooh. I’m so sorry.”
“Quit apologizing. It’s okay.”
“Well, you can’t walk around looking like you can’t hold your alcohol.” Content managed to hold in her laugh but the smile on her face was a snitch.
Michael laughed. “Very funny…I can’t remember whether or not the men’s bathroom had a hand dryer or not. I could have gone in there and tried to dry my pants faster.”
“The ladies room has one. Take off your pants and I’ll take them in there for you.” A huge smile was plastered on her face.
“This isn’t one of those comedy sitcoms. The only strangers that I take my pants off for are doctors and nurses.
Content cleared her throat and raised her eyebrows.
“What?” Michael asked, confused.
“I am a nurse. A respiratory nurse at Grady Memorial downtown.”
“I’m still not taking my pants off.”
“But I feel so bad.” She unconsciously patted his hand to comfort him.
“It happens. Don’t worry about it.”
“I still feel bad. I’ll stay here with you until you can walk around again.”
“I wouldn’t mind your company but you really don’t have to.”
“I know but I want to. I would hate to leave you here looking lonely.” Content bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing out loud.
Michael smiled and said, “Good comeback.”
They sat together and began talking. The conversation was strictly platonic. They kept to the basics of life with no sexual innuendos. Her comfort level rose another notch with each song as she learned more about Married Michael.
He told her: that he was thirty-four, his birthday was on Valentine’s Day (which made him an Aquarius and incompatible with her sign of Leo according to astrology which she held no faith in), he had a nine-year old daughter that lived in Memphis, owned a dog (breed unknown), hated cats, listened to hip hop only in clubs, wanted to be a break dancer at one point in his life, he preferred Mercedes over BMW (neither of which he owned), he drove trucks for a living, he liked to bowl but wasn’t very good, and loved science fiction movies.
He told her enough about himself for her to know that he was someone that she could possibly date. She had to say could because there were a lot of men who painted colorful frescoes of themselves and turned out to be only imitations.
Somehow their conversation fell on computers and the advantages of having a desktop over a laptop. The conversation about the subject was short but it was also sweet. Content somehow knew in her mind that she would have never discussed the same thing with any other man in the club.
The lights suddenly came on in the middle of Michael saying something about needing cooking lessons. It was the signal that it was time to either go home or to someone else’s place located away from Vegas Nights’ property. They both looked up and blinked in confusion at the time that they’d seemed to have lost. It was as if time had leapt forward in keeping with the change of time in spring. Over an hour had gone by and neither one of them could say where it went.
Content looked at Michael, who was slowly rising from his seat. “Wow, I can’t believe that time went by so fast.”
“I know,” Michael replied. He looked down at his crotch. “My pants are almost dry so I guess that we’ve been sitting here for a while.”
“Funny how time flies when you’re having fun, right?” she said sarcastically.
He smirked at the remark. “That is very true.” He let some people pass by before he came to her side and lent his hand to help her get up. “Have you seen your cousin?” he asked.
“Yes. She waved at me from the dance floor and pointed toward the door. I’ll meet her there.”
“I’ll walk with you. . . . That’s if you don’t mind.”
“I was hoping that you would. Right about now, the hunters are out in full force trying to catch any stray that they can.” She looked around her and saw the men—the hunters—spread out in small packs waiting to see which females hadn't been taken during the night. It was a sad sight. Michael silently agreed as he moved in closer to her for extra security. Another ten points was gained; he made her feel safe.
They exchanged small talk as they moved toward the door. Vanessa was standing at the entrance with a guy on each side trying to talk to her. Content could tell that she was trying to be as polite as possible while trying to hold two conversations at once. A look of relief came on her face when she saw Content coming toward her. Vanessa ran to her side and grabbed her by the crook of her arm. Both of her suitors looked at each other and then looked at Michael, sizing him up. Some less dressed women passed through their line of sight and their attention was swept away from Vanessa—the more difficult prey—as they gave chase.
“I don’t know how you talked me into this,” Vanessa said as she leaned in close to Content’s ear. “These men in here are too bold for me.”
“Too bold for you?” Content asked in surprise. “That’s a first.”
“Well, maybe not too bold.” Vanessa replied and laughed drunkenly. She looked around Content and up at Michael. She sucked her teeth and looked ahead again. Content pursed her lips and felt a little smaller. Michael seemed as if he didn’t notice.
When they made it outside, Michael asked Content, “So where did you park?”
“In the back,” Vanessa replied. “Why, did you valet your Escalade or Navigator?”
“Nope, it’s not that serious.” He seemed unperturbed as he stifled a yawn. “I parked in the back too. Can I walk you to your car, Content?”
“Yes, you can, you big strong man you,” Content said, teasing two birds at once. Vanessa sucked her teeth in protest and began walking ahead of them. The chill of the air became ten degrees colder.
Content and Michael started walking after her, neither one of them quite knowing what else to say. It didn’t take but a few steps for a man in dreadlocks to offer Vanessa his company and begin walking with her. Content heard him ask her how she was doing and she immediately tuned them out.
She was opening her mouth to tell Michael that she was sorry about the spilled drink again when he said, “I’ve always heard that for every new friend a person makes, an enemy is made somewhere else.”
Content let his comment digest. “She’s just overprotective of me. We are of each other. We’re cousins that probably should have been sisters.”
“No harm in that. I’m not mad at her. I just have this complex about anybody not liking me.”
“Welcome to the real world, Mr. Michael. Not everyone is going to like you, no matter what you do for them.”
“I said that it was a complex.” They turned down the rear alley. Clusters of tired black people trudged like nomads heading to a new home in the dim light. They walked close—Content was the closest—to the darkened shrubbery along the fence. She purposely moved to the other side of Michael for extra security. He chuckled.
“I have a hypothetical question,” Content said. “If someone jumps out of these bushes right here, could I hide behind you or would you use me as a shield?”
Michael chuckled. “I would handle my business . . . that is if the situation wasn’t too big. If I don’t think that I can handle it alone then I’ll tell you to run so that you can get the head-start while I create a diversion, which would probably be screaming.”
Content laughed out loud and Vanessa looked back and rolled her eyes. She cut her laughter short and resorted to chuckling in her throat. “At least you’ll be considerate enough to give me the head start. Some men wouldn’t even do that.”
“Since we’re asking hypothetical questions, I have one. If you had seen my ring at first, what would you have done? You never really answered earlier tonight.”
Silence stood in the gap between them as Content tried to figure out a way to get around answering his question truthfully. Michael seemed to have read her hesitation and he said, “Give me an honest and direct answer.”
“Let me just say that I doubt very much that we would be walking together right now,” she promptly answered. “But—“
“No buts. I kind of knew that anyway.”
The arrival at her car, a silver Malibu interrupted their conversation. Vanessa stood at the passenger’s door sharing final words with her new friend. Content had known as soon as the guy started walking with her that Vanessa wouldn’t see him after that night—he was at least six inches below her height requirement of six feet.
Content stopped at the driver’s side door and pushed the button on her remote. The locks made a dull click and the interior light came on. She leaned against the side and folded her arms across her bosom. Michael stood a few feet in front of her looking down as he toed small bits of gravel on the ground.
“Well, I had a very nice time tonight, Mr. Michael. I enjoyed myself more than I have in a very long time.”
He looked up at her and replied, “Ditto.”
They stood in silence. Content waited for him to say something and it seemed as if he were doing the same. The passenger door opened and then slammed shut—a cue that the night was almost at its end.
Content pushed herself off the car. “I guess that this is goodnight,” she said. She opened her arms just enough to show that she expected a hug. Considering the lubricious dancing that they’d done earlier, a hug was quite mild.
He stepped toward her and slipped his arm around her shoulders, squeezing her tight just before he let go as a final exclamation point and said, “I guess that it is.” He broke their short, but sweet, embrace. “Goodnight, Ms. Content.” As he took a safe step away, Content grabbed his left hand and lifted it. She turned the hand until his palm was facing down and the parking lot light directly behind her glinted off his wedding band.
The sharp point of light seemed to accuse Content for her covetous thoughts. “You know,” she said in a soft voice, “I would give you my number . . . but I can’t.” She touched his ring with her index finger to show him exactly why she felt that way.
Michael got the picture. He replied, “And I would take your number . . . but I can’t . . . because of this.” He nodded down at his ring.
She grudgingly let his hand go but he let it hover in midair before it fell back to his side. “It was really nice meeting you though,” she said. “A man like you gives me hope.”
He seemed a little embarrassed by her remark. He took another step away from her. “It was nice meeting you too. Goodnight . . . again.” He didn’t address the second part of her statement; he just waited for her to get in the car.
“Nite.” She moved to the door and gripped the handle. He remained motionless and watched her: chivalrous to the very end.
Content tried to will him to say something else. She wanted him to make some sort of advance so that she could reject him and sleep better because he was no good. And another part of her wanted him to say nothing at all so that she could dream about him and what it would be like to be his other half. Just by being himself, he hadn’t quite swept her off her feet but he’d almost made her stumble.
She opened her door and quickly got in. When she closed her door and checked the driver’s side mirror, Michael was already gone, as if he had been only a dream all along.
As Happy People repeatedly played in the background of her thoughts, she smiled and hummed along.
See, What Had Happened Was… by L. L. King
© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. No portion of
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