Time for a new manicure…
I held my left hand in the air against the beaming sun.
I wonder if Amanda will let me drive this time…
My housekeeper knew I wanted to drive each time I could since I’d gotten my permit a few months ago.
“Shi,” Becky called over to me. Her naturally red-stained lips puckered in a gesture, directing my attention toward Shizu. “You think she’s gonna do it?” she asked while flapping her arms and legs beneath the water to keep afloat.
“Keep up!” Becky hissed. “Make out with the new guy. How do you pronounce his name again, Shizu? You guys all have those difficult names.” She giggled, looking my way to have her back.
Not this shit so early on…
The summer had begun, and we were three days fresh out of Bishop John Yancey Christian Academy. I invited my friends over for a dip in the pool, not a clowning session over names. I rolled my eyes.
“First of all, Rebecca,” Shizu carefully enunciated. “My parents are from Mori, which is within the vicinity of a place called Shizuoka. Hence my Japanese name, Rebecca. The guy you speak of is Aisake. He’s Polynesian. Grab a fucking map before we start eleventh grade, why don’t you?”
When a hard snicker escaped my tight throat, Becky smacked my float, almost knocking me into the water. Laughing, I tried explaining, “She’s got a point, Becky!”
“No, she doesn’t.” Becky’s face turned red and tightened. “Shizu, you’re always trying to belittle everyone. Isn’t that a lonely place?”
“No, Becky. I just call you on your bullshit and sound good doing it. Maybe Shi-Shi should do it more often, but nooooo,” Shizu intoned, rolling her eyes over her low-hanging heart-shaped sunglasses.
“So not true!” I laughed impossibly harder as Becky turned apple-red.
“Even your mom says so, Shi,” she grumbled, then her attention drew to Becky. “I’d question this one if I were you.”
I gasped, still unable to stop laughing.
“I think you’ve blown the whole conversation out of proportion,” Becky argued. “What does you making out with the new guy have to do with you lowkey calling me racist?”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, god!”
Shizu sat up on her floatie, getting near Becky. “Maybe the fact that you assume I have an interest in a guy in school just because you think we’re the same—”
“What the hell?” Becky yawped from her throat as her eyes grew wide.
Following her line of sight, I peeped my dad with four young guys. My Dad kept it stylish in khakis and a polo shirt with boat shoes. Sadly, the guys with him were in button-down dress shirts, dress pants, and shoes. One towered my father while two were his height—give or take an inch or two—and the other was shorter.
“Who are they?” Becky demanded.
“Interns.” I could tell by the way they were dressed alone. The bright sun obstructed my vision as they trailed after Daddy along the veranda of the back of the house. They must have been reporting to our home today.
“Mr. Witherspoon sure knows how to keep with diversity,” Shizu observed out loud.
Of the four guys, one was white, one Indian, another of Asian lineage, and the shorter one Black.
“That orange head is so fucking hot,” Becky groaned beneath her breath.
Shizu and I both turned to her.
“Shocker!” Shizu whispered mockingly, and I knew why.
Becky had a head of beautiful red curls with lips to match. When I was having a lazy hair day or wanted an edgy look, we’d walk the halls of Bishop John Yancey Christian Academy with my voluminous, moisturized bouncy fro and her red curls. My mom showed me how to express my rich ass Black pride in a predominately white school.
“Fuck you, Shizu. I’m not racist,” Becky’s tone was low now that the guys were within earshot.
“It’s my job to keep you from it.” Shizu lifted her sunglasses. “I spy two hunky ass fellas I wouldn’t mind wrapping my legs around and tonguing down,” she growled like an animal.
Becky giggled at her as I locked eyes with the Black guy. He was the shortest of the bunch. His shirt was oversized and belted pants hung lower than anyone else in the group.
Oh, my god…
Those were sneakers. The kid wore a fresh pair of Concord Air Jordans beneath the loose khakis. My heartrate spiked, body suddenly dialed up to a scorching temperature as I inched up the floatie.
I heard the warning, but couldn’t look away.
She had long legs and wild, dark hair with sunglasses keeping it from her deep-bronzed face. Even from a distance, I could see the twinkling gold bracelet on her ankle. I ain’t never see a white, Black, and Chinese girl in close proximity, unless in a store at the mall or something. The Chinese chick was pouting her lips my way. The white girl tried hiding her smile like she was shy or something. But the Black one? She just stared at me. Maybe she was mean as hell. She damn sure was corny with wack ass 80s pop music bumping from the speakers.
A grown lady came out of nowhere into the lounge area of the pool. She dumped her robe on a lounger, leaving her in a sexy ass bikini. I watched as she sat on the ledge of the pool without flinching from the cold water then grabbed the Black girl from behind her floatie and smiled with affection painted on her beautiful face. Her every move, from kissing ol’ girl on the head to whispering something in her ear, felt like… love.
Is that what that shit look like?
It looked cool and foreign to me at the same time. It was something I never had and didn’t feel like I needed until this very moment. I wanted that. I wanted safety and touching and belonging and power—
Bobby, another intern for this stupid ass summer program, tapped me on the arm. I turned to Mr. Witherspoon, the builder my guidance counselor had hooked me up with. I swiped my nose with my thumb, a little embarrassed from having all eyes on me. Mr. Witherspoon’s face was balled tight as hell.
“Maybe one of these days—in the distant future and by way of a rare miracle—you can have what you apparently like watching over there. Until then, why don’t you focus on learning something today to possibly better your circumstances, because I can guarantee you none of those girls out there or my wife want the likes of what you’re turning into.”
I swallowed hard, jaw tightening.
I ain’t need this shit. I knew I should’ve stayed on the block with Man and Juggy. Could’ve made some dough lifting cars or playing stickup. But no… I had to pacify my father’s attempts at “raising me right.” Raising? Shit. I’d been a man for years now. A man I could show this corny ass, fat ass, punk ass, wanna-be boss, Witherspoon.
“And what am I, sir?”
He took a step closer to me. “A lucky son-of-a-bitch to be on my roster this summer after the seedy shit you did during your school year. A smart kid with a world of opportunities at his feet, but wants to be a street nigger. You give us a bad name, Sinclair. I know this—knew this—but still tried giving you a chance. So, the least you can do is act like you fucking belong here, even though you don’t.”
My throat went dry. The nigga tried to play me. On a normal day, I’d tap his chin and knock his big ass out in front of his interns and old lady. But for some reason, his words hit harder than anyone’s before them trying to break me down.
“Yeah,” he grunted, shaking his head. “Let’s go.”
Two of the dweebs with us shook their heads as we all turned to walk off. My heart was banging in my chest and my head spun as I widened my nose to breathe.
But I said nothing. I promised Ms. Greene, my guidance counselor, I wouldn’t blow this opportunity after the shit I found myself in last school year. So, yup. I just ate it. And that shit burned like fucking acid.
One day, I’d show him. I didn’t know when, but I’d show niggas like Witherspoon and my father I could play their straight-laced, corny ass, legit game and win my own fucking way.
“You’re excited,” my mom whispered near my ear.
“Am not,” I ground out, deeply annoyed.
“Your nipples are hard, baby.” I’m gonna die! I gasped, quickly folding my arms over my chest. “Is it the shorter one with the baggy clothes?”
“It’s no one.” I was seething. “What are they even doing here?”
“Your dad’s showing them the addition to the side of the house,” she answered sweetly, as she always did when amused by my torture.
I didn’t think about that. “Why does he have to bring his work home?” He had plenty of projects in development.
“I don’t mind.” Shizu winked. “They can stay for lunch if they want.”
My mom’s breathy teeter annoyed me. Why was she entertaining Shizu? “Which one would you sit next to, sweetie?”
“The one with the dark, silky fade.” Shizu rubbed her hands together.
I wanted to laugh, but was still confused by what I saw and felt at the sight of the guy in Air Jordans, and embarrassed by my mom’s observation.
“The Japanese guy!” Becky blurted. “Okay. Then what’s wrong with me thinking the red-head is hot?”
“The fact that you think the guy I find hot is Japanese. Girl…” Shizu rolled her eyes and picked up the magazine she’d been reading.
That made my mom and me laugh.
“There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to a man with the same features as you, ladies. In fact, I’d find it strange if you weren’t. Beauty comes in all colors and features. I tell my Shi-Shi here to just be sure her heart beats for the color and features of her daddy, granddads, and uncles especially. If that ain’t happening, we have a problem.” She squeezed me around the floatie, forcing me to draw in her flowery scent that I loved.
“See, Shizu!” Becky’s arms swung into the air. “That’s all I’ve been saying about the Japanese guy—”
“POLYNESIAN!” Shizu and I shouted at the same time.
I’d just breezed through the doorjamb when a distinct scent tickled my nostrils, and a zapping energy awakened in me. A shiver coursed the back of my neck and head, leaving me vulnerable. I glanced up, hyper-self-aware and there he stood. He leaned into the wall on his shoulder. One hand was pushed into his pocket, the other on a toothpick hanging from his mouth. And he looked damn good. Jeans, white cotton t-shirt, and blazer was a deliciously disarming costume on him tonight.
Bizarrely nervous, I swiped the back of my neck with my hand. “And you’re here,” I murmured dryly, unable to look him in the face while saying it.
“You look beautiful, Witherspoon.”
My inspection rolled down my body. “That was the intent. Bad bitch status.”
“Forever that.” He nodded.
When I had to move to make way for a woman leaving the ladies room, he reached for me, enlivening goosebumps all over. “Look.” I swallowed. “I need to go. They’re waiting on me.”
“Hold up a minute.” His touch on my arm was electrifying. I peered down at our connection with disdain. “I wanna be cool with you.”
“For what? To continue to play on my naïveté?” I snorted. “I have real friends. They don’t do that.”
Beneath the mocha shell, the full pillowy lips, the naturally dark shaded beard, and bushy brows was a fire peeking through his irises. It felt dangerous. It was narrowly specific and exclusively for me. The magnetic pull was cove-molded and akin to what I felt last weekend at his place. My emotions suddenly shot to my throat, threatening to spill. The shit made me weak in the knees, hella vulnerable.
I needed to go. Jas didn’t deserve my nakedness—in bed or in emotion. But the way he pinned me with that searing gaze made it hard to speak. Jas felt determined and anything but indifferent, something I’d never seen from him. I tried thinking of my escape route.
“What’s your name?” my chords so deep, they hurt. My nostrils spread as the disgusting feelings I left his place with resurfaced, eclipsing the vulnerability. “Your full birth name. What’s your name?”
His spirit deflated visibly. I saw it in the narrowing of his eyes and the slight dipping of his shoulders. “Say less, Witherspoon.”
The waitress who served our table drinks was headed toward us. “You’ve done enough of that already. Excuse me.” I pivoted to get her attention. “Could you send the entire bill for my table to this gentleman here? He’s seated over there, just over the plant display.” I pointed.
With a faint smile, she peered over to Jas for clarity or direction.
“You read the letter yet?”
I shrugged. “It’s in the purse I wore yesterday. Bad bitch move.”
Jas pushed, “Could you at least just read the letter?”
“The entire bill,” I repeated to the waitress.
Jas’ eyes swung from her to me and before a while, he nodded softly. That’s when I took off.
Angry, I kept my head down, struggling to switch out of the nasty mood he’d just put me in. When I arrived back at the table, it was quiet.
“Well, damn,” Corinne scoffed. “I thought I’d have to come snatch you from that passionate conversation. Peach told me to chill.”
My attention went to Peach. Her brows were peaked, head cocked to the side, and she slowly peered down at her phone.
“Yeah. What was that about?” Shizu asked.
I cleared my throat. “I was securing the tab. Eat up, ladies. Order whatever you want. Try as much shit as you want on the menu—hell, get an extra meal for lunch tomorrow. We’ve secured the bag for this culinary excursion.”
Corinne grabbed her glass and turned around. She raised it to Jas as just sitting back in his seat. She giggled, with Frenchie and Toya following her. Jas’ piercing gaze was on me when he lifted his glass of water in return.
Photo & cover credits:
Photographer Mae Rhymes of Indelible Images
Jas: Leo Watkins
Ashira: Eriel Davis
*Release date subject to change without notice