I hope that you enjoyed the Prologue — if you haven’t read it, you can find it here. Anyhow, we continue with Chapter 1! Grab a beverage, put on some music, and have a read.
So, my best friend Erica and her man?…boyfriend?…manfriend? decided to visit me. They were thinking of moving here to find great jobs, make loads of money and take advantage of all of what Toronto had to offer.
This was the first time I was meeting him, Raphael. And I didn’t like his black ass from the moment I laid eyes on him. Maybe it was the way he looked me from the top of my head to the sole of my feet or how he looked around my place and said, “why do you need such a big place? Is only you, right?” Or maybe it was all the stories that I had heard from the girls back home.
Oh, yes, it was when he grabbed Erica’s wrist when she went to reapply her lipstick and hissed, “I thought I told you not to wear makeup?”
What? Oh no, he just didn’t grab her! I put my hands on my hips waiting for my girl to give him a good tongue lashing. Erica didn’t take any crap from anyone – especially dudes who thought that it was ok to put his hands on people.
But there was a strange silence. A pregnant pause.
She looked at me and said, “What do you think, Nia? Should I wear it or not?”
Huh? This girl must have lost her so-and-so mind. I leaned against the wall, watching Raphael shooting Erica looks of pure evil.
“It’s your face, do with it what you want,” I answered. Raphael turned his gaze on me.
“Baby—” his voice hard like stone “—you know that I don’t like when you wear makeup.”
She looked at him. She looked at me. Then she giggled, “I don’t feel like wearing it anyway,” and put the tube back in her little black purse.
I was in shock.
What just happened — was it some kind of mind control? Erica is the type of woman who’d cast herself from a building if MAC ever went out of business. I hadn’t seen her in about a year, but dang, this was definitely a change.
After about 15 more minutes of me holding my tongue, Raphael got up to leave. He was spending the weekend with his cousin in the city’s north end because if he thought he was bunking down at my place–although I had the room, he had another thing coming. As soon as he left, Erica slumped down on my couch with a look of relief written across her face. Barkleigh jumped up on her and snuggled in her lap.
“What was that about?” I said sitting beside her. “He doesn’t like you wearing makeup?”
“Oh girl, you know how men get sometime.”
“Umm no, I don’t. How does he get?” All the men that I’ve ever dated — although they were never saints — didn’t treat me like a small child.
“It was a long drive from Montreal. He’s tired. It’s nothing major.” She grabbed the TV remote control and turned it on. “Want to watch something on Netflix?” she asked.
“Really? Erica, he grabbed you–”
She cut me off with a look. “Nia, you are taking this well out of proportion.” Her voice turned corporate – like the HR-professional she was. “He’s a good man. He is a software engineer. He mentioned maybe getting married next year.”
“So? That gives him the right to control you?” I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know their backstory. Erica had told me enough stories of him acting up in malls or clubs when she did something he didn’t like. Like smiling at the male cashier at the grocery store or saying hi to one of the guys we went to high school when they were downtown. Honestly, I’m sure he did worse in private, but I know she’d never tell me that. She always sounded like she put him in his place.
This time she didn’t.
“Girl, you don’t understand, you don’t have a man. Relationships take work.” And with that slap in the face, she turned her attention back to flipping through movies.
She said that like she hadn’t included me in all of her relationship drama. “No worries, girl. I’ve got some work to do.”
“Umm-hmm,” she said, already engrossed in the opening credits of a Nigerian drama.
I am a freelance writer. I’m doing pretty well for myself by picking up some corporate work when things get dry. A couple of nights ago, I went to the Toronto release party an up-and-coming singer named Kamara. No lie, the girl has a beautiful voice. She did some work with some hot producers in the city and sang a hook on one of Drake’s songs. I’m cool with a couple of the producers, so they invited me to the party and I was able to pitch it to the entertainment section of a major newspaper. Score for me! The deadline was Monday at nine am and I haven’t missed a deadline yet and I wasn’t going to let Erica and her relationship make this the first one.
I was hunched over my computer for a good three hours trying to put on paper the atmosphere and vibe at the party for this singer, who thought she was the second coming of Beyoncé. The night of the party, she arrived two and a half hours late and then was upset when the newspaper’s photographer left because she had another assignment.
Guess who got an earful about that?
After being cussed out like a dog by Kamara and Kamara’s people, I had to interview her while she shot daggers at me, belittled the staff and was an all-around wretch.
“Some people only wish they could have this life. Even you wish you had this life,” she said as we finished the interview.
“And why would you say that?” I asked. I was genuinely intrigued by her pronouncement.
“I live the life. You write about it.”
I rolled my eyes. “Girl, I guess.”
As I typed the last line, there was a knock on my bedroom door.
“Come in,” I said. Erica poked her head in. “What’s up?” I asked.
“First, I wanna say I’m sorry. But you have to stay out of my relationship with Raphael. I love him and he loves me. You’ll find someone, but you can’t try to break up my relationship.”
I gave her a blank stare.
Seriously, what’s with the ‘you’ll find someone, but you can’t try to break up my relationship’ business? Whatever. I’ve had quite enough from men and I’m not interested in getting involved with any right now. Mr. Right Now has wasted enough of my MAC and my time.
And if Raphael – and Derek Robinson, who called me four times since our date – are any indication of the men who are out there, Barkleigh is the only man I need… unless he keeps chewing on my shoes.
“I’m not jealous, Erica. You are like my sister. If you want me to stay out of your relationship, I will.”
She looked shocked. I know, me, Nia Michaels — the one everyone wants to share their relationship problems with — was pledging to stay out of someone’s business. This was new, but I was serious.
It’s my new leaf — the one that I just turned over.
I’m tired of people asking for advice or doing stupidity in my presence, and then when I say something, getting offended. I’m also tired of seeing people put themselves in bad situations and then end up wanting me to analyze it ‘til all hours of the morning.
I need my beauty sleep.
Besides, I have my own issues. I can’t always be someone’s psychologist. I don’t mind talking about relationships, but dammit, sometimes it just too much.
“You’re serious?” she asked. I nodded. The girl didn’t seem to understand that I was no longer interested in having her cry on my shoulder about this simple man. But I’m a bit jaded. Maybe a touch bitter.
And I admit it.
I embrace it.
“Alright,” she said. “Well, I was wondering, Raphael, his cousin and I are going to our tonight, some party or something. I wanted to know if wanted to come with us?”
An evening with Raphael? My hard-earned makeup shan’t be wasted tonight. “I don’t think so. I still have to finish this and I’m trying to reach church tomorrow morning.” And my bed and Netflix was calling me.
“C’mon,” she whined, “how often am I in town? It’ll be like old times; we go out and have fun. C’mon Nia.” I looked at my phone; it was already quarter after eight. I was pretty much done the story. And, although Erica was acting the ass today, I still loved hanging out with her. And we haven’t seen each other in a year.
“OK, fine. What time are they coming?”
“Yay!” she said jumping up and down. “They said they’re coming around ten,” she said grinning. “Raphael’s cousin follows you on Twitter. He can’t wait to meet you.”
“Great.” Imagine that tinged with lots of sarcasm. If Raphael’s cousin is anything like him, I’m so not interested.
One bad date a week is more than enough for me.
When I go out to party, I go all out. I was wearing a purple romper and gold sandals. Two strand twists, properly untwisted and fluffed, big gold hoops and a chunky gold necklace. I was good to go.
Raphael and his cousin, Tony, rang up at a little after ten. I was not letting that fool up in my home again, so Erica and I headed down. Raphael had a nice little black Acura with shining rims — so what if he had a nice car, he’s still a punk. Erica got in the front and I got in the back with his cousin.
“Nia, this is Tony,” said Raphael pulling out of my complex.
“Nice to meet you.” I extended my hand.
“The pleasure is mine.” He caressed my hand. I knew I shouldn’t scorn the man because he was related to Raphael. But, ugh, did I pack my hand sanitizer? “I was so excited when Raph said he could get me a date with you. Girl, I saw your pictures on Instagram.”
“Umm, thanks.” Date? Who said anything about a date? I removed my hand from his.
“You know, I have two business degrees.”
“Oh, that’s cool.”
“Yeah. But I still prefer working for UPS.”
“Really.” I raised my eyebrow.
“Yeah,” said Tony excited because he now had my full attention. “Yo, driving my truck is great.” So, he likes driving his truck, no sin in that. “Besides I’m really a rapper. A couple of my boys and I are in a rap group — we have a single coming out soon. Maybe you wanna write something about us.”
“Uh huh,” I said disinterestedly. A grown man in his 30s with two, hear me, two business degrees, is a really a rapper who drives a UPS truck. Interesting.
“Yeah. You should hang out with me. I know people. I was supposed to go to Kamara’s party, but we couldn’t get in. My boy — do you know him, Mark James? The party promoter – he was going to get us in. But, you know, the place was packed.”
“I know, I was there. I’ve known Mark for years. We went to university together.”
“For real? Too bad I didn’t know you then, you could’ve gotten me in.”
Really? We met 15 minutes ago and he’s already trying to get the hook-up?
“Hmm,” I said indifferently. We reached the club at minutes to eleven. I had already started counting down the minutes until I could get rid of this man.
Am I a wretch? Maybe a little.
You see, I’ve met guys like Tony many times. But the joke is that it doesn’t matter how much money they have or what kind of job they hold — these are the guys who aren’t confident with themselves, so they talk your ear off about what they do, who they know and what they can do for you. And you know what? They are as boring as hell.
When we got in, I headed to the bar before it got too crowded.
“I’ll have a Sprite,” I shouted to the bartender. She prepared the drink and handed it to me.
“That’ll be five dollars.” Lawd. I could buy a 24-pack for that. I opened my purse.
“I’ll pay for that,” said Tony sizing up to me. “You know you’re hot, right?”
I also know the sky is blue. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m not feeling you, homie. I know, I know. I’m mean. I’m just bitter. I can’t take the lines anymore.
“No. I can afford the five bucks, but thank you,” I said as I placed a five-dollar bill — and a toonie as a tip — on the counter and picked up my drink.
Was I being mean?
Yes. I was being a bitch. This I know. But, I agreed to go out to hang out with my girl, not her idiot or any of his idiot friends or family.
Let me explain something, I’m so disgusted with men – don’t get me started. You think Derek was bad? He was a king compared the last one. Hmmph, him? The ex? He’s turned me off from the opposite sex. Hell, people always joke about switching sides. He made me contemplate it, for real.
I stood beside Erica, who was wearing makeup tonight and an orange bodycon dress.
“Girl, that colour is gorgeous on you,” I said sipping my drink. We were going through a heat wave and I was sweltering already in the poorly ventilated venue.
“You think?” She pushed her long caramel weave behind one of her ears. “Raphael said it wasn’t appropriate.”
“Really?” I’m sticking to my promise of not telling her what an ass that man is. I slurped up the rest of my soda. “Well, I think it looks great. Let’s dance.” We got on the dance floor and were dancing to some old school Next song that took us back to university days. I felt something on my back. Tony slipping his arms around my waist. I felt his hot breath by my ear when he said, “Yuh look nice, yuh know.”
I turned around to face him. “Tony, let go of me.”
“C’mon girl,” he said moving closer to me.
“No. Back off.” I pushed him back.
“Don‘t be so uptight Nia, damn,” yelled Raphael into my ear. He was standing beside me holding Erica around the waist.
“Yeah, Nia,” she said smiling. “Tony’s only having some fun with you.”
This is fun? For them, maybe. For me? Not so much. I looked at all of them as if they had lost their minds and walked away. This was a bad idea and it was going to be a bad night. I sat down at one of the tables and prayed that this was a bad dream and that I was at home in my bed.
“Excuse me, is anyone sitting here?” I looked up into the dark brown eyes.
“Nope,” I said and turned my head back to the dance floor. I expected him to drag the chair away to one of the other tables.
“Do you mind if I sit with you?” I stared at him as if he were crazy.
“Umm, no. Go ahead.” He folded himself into the chair and extended his hand.
“I’m Trevor Carver.” I shook it.
“Nia Michaels. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said smiling and exposing the whitest, straightest teeth I had ever seen. His full lips covered them when he asked, “Are you here alone?”
“I wish I was.”
“Is that why you’re looking so down?”
“Yeah.” He looked so familiar, like I had seen him before. He was good-looking, with a goatee and a low fade.
“What’s the the problem?”
I looked him up and down. I mean, really, who are you and why are you asking me questions? “I’m here with my girl and she’s here with her man and his idiot cousin. I am now party to all of their foolishness and I’m not impressed,” I said and sighed. He laughed. “It’s just been a long week and it’s turning into an even longer weekend.”
“And it’s only Saturday night,” he said. I smiled. We continued talking, every now and then I’d see Tony slink by watching us.
Trevor was actually cool in an ‘-just-met-you-at-the-club-and-I-don’t-know-anything-about-you’ kind of way. “Do you wanna dance?” I asked after about an hour of talking about blind dates, friendships and drama in general. He was an American from Cleveland here on business. He was different from the guys here: chatty, in a friendly way – but still, I was never a fan of American guys… just too shady for my liking. They always have lyrics and smooth talk and six girls waiting for them in different cities.
“Nah. I’m good.”
He smiled. “Well, maybe we can continue talking.”
“Really?” I said with a hint of doubt. Men’ll say anything if they think you want to hear it.
“Really. I don’t meet people I take to very often. When I do, I like to stay in touch.”
“This isn’t exactly the best spot to have a conversation.”
“Well, on our next date –” Did he just say ‘date’? “– we’ll have to go somewhere quieter.”
I looked into his smiling eyes. “Definitely.”
The next two hours flew by. Trevor and I talked basketball, relationships and everything in between. It had been years since I met a man who was funny, interesting and good-looking — all at the same time. But I wasn’t getting too excited – he can’t be perfect. No one is.
“Excuse me, Nia?” Erica appeared. I didn’t see her, I was listening to Trevor tell me about his trip to Jamaica last month.
“Uhn? Oh, hey Erica,” I said looking up and cussing her in my mind. Man! Why did she have to come by now? I checked my watch — it was only 2:20 am, I still had a good 40 minutes of talk time left.
“Raphael and Tony are ready to go.”
“Oh, OK,” I looked at Trevor. He smiled.
“I’ll take you home,” he offered. He was fine. Sweet. Smart. But I wasn’t trying to get into his car. Listen, when white girls are kidnapped, they have search parties, stories on CNN and Amber Alerts. When Black people get stolen, life goes on.
“No, it’s OK, um, Erica, I’ll meet you outside in five minutes.”
“Alright.” She looked at Trevor, ran her hand through her hair and sashayed away.
“I’m sorry you have to go,” he said. He got up as I stood. “But I want to see you again Nia. I like you. You’re cool.”
I smiled. “You’re cool too.”
“So, can I have your number?”
“Yeah, you can have my number.” He pulled out his iPhone and tapped in my 10-digits. “Great. I’ll message you..”
You know, usually, I doubt when a man tells me he’ll get in touch, but not this time. I knew this one was going to. He bent over and kissed my cheek and held my hand. He smelled like so fresh and so clean. “Can I walk you out?”
“I’m alright. Erica’s waiting for me.”
“Alright.” He was still holding my hand and smiling.
“Trevor, can I have my hand back, please?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” He laughed and let go. “Here’s your hand.”
“Thank you. I’ll talk to you.”
“Take care.” I picked up my purse and wound my way through the crowd to the exit. Actually, I floated through the crowd to the exit and into the night air. I always said, you can’t meet a good man at a club – it’s all about rubbing up against women, getting guys to buy you drinks, ray ray ray. But tonight – tonight was different.
“Hey,” I said walking up to Erica. There was a group of people hanging outside just chilling. The weather was hot and there were vendors selling food and drinks at half the price they were going for inside.
“You had us waiting,” said Raphael coldly. I ignored him.
“Erica, you had fun?” I said as we started walking to the car. The crowd had thinned out near the lot we were parked in.
“It was alright,” she answered. “I had a good time, but you disappeared for most of the night.”
“Yeah,” said Tony. But wait, why is he chiming in with his commentary? Did someone ask him a question?
“I met someone really nice. You were busy dancing, so I just chatted with my new friend.”
“New friend, my ass,” Tony grumbled. “Women would kill to spend time with me and you talking to a next man?”
“Excuse me?” I mean, really. What’s wrong with me talking to someone? I thought I was going to have a terrible evening and it turned out amazing? Why should I be apologizing?
“We were on a date–”
“Date? Tony, we weren’t on a date. I was out with Erica, not you.”
“Whatever. Women like you are always looking for the dude with money. You don’t want to be with the good guy.”
“I don’t know you. What I saw tonight did not encourage me to get to know you.”
“Forget her. She’s stush,” said Raphael, putting his arm around his cousin to pull him away from me. ‘Stush’ meaning snobby and stuck up. That’s fine by me – I prefer be a snob than get involved with another fool.
“She who has low standards has no standards,” I said. That is my mother’s favourite line.
“So you’re saying I have no standards?” said Erica.
“Like I told you earlier, your life, your choices.”
“You know what, Nia? You’re jealous,” declared Raphael. “You can’t be happy for Erica because you want a man like me.”
Like him? This was too much. Things were getting outta control. “I’m supposed to be jealous of this nonsense?”
Raphael got in my face and said: “I will put you in your place.”
Put who in whose place? A who dis bwoy think him is? Duppy know who fi frighten and I was not the one. I turned to Erica. “Is this the kind of person you want to be with?”
I’m saying, I may not have had the best luck with dudes, but this is plain ridiculous.
Raphael grabbed my upper arm. “Shut your mouth. I’m tired of you.” I was in shock, why are his hands on me? I twisted out of his grip and pushed him away.
“Nia! You promised!” Erica said, pleading with me.
“I promised? He just put his hands on me.”
“Raphael was right: you are jealous of my relationship. You always have been jealous of my relationships–”
This situation was getting entirely too messy for me. I was so over it.
“Are you kidding me? You honestly think I’m jealous of this”—I stretched my arms out—“mess?”
“Test me, Nia. I’ve heard enough from you!” Raphael bellowed. This guy thought that he could scare me into being quiet? Did he think I was some mealy-mouthed woman he could screamed down in the middle of the street? This negro was showing his ass in the street, like we had no sense or no upbringing. I think a crowd gathered to find out if blows were actually going to be dealt.
“Try it.” I said. I wished he would.
“What? Are you a lesbian or something that you’re so interested in Erica? Are you planning to turn her out or something?” Wait, so just because I care about my friend I must be a lesbian? I can’t just want the best for her?
“Is that all you can think of? That’s an insult?” I asked angrily, “I’ve known her for 20 years! She’s my best friend—“
“She’s my woman!” Raphael screamed in my face.
And Erica just stood there.
Wow. I finally knew my place in this dysfunctional relationship. And, you know what? This was so not worth my time.
I turned to Erica. I was so mad, I wanted to drive my stiletto nail into her throat. “I’m done with all of you. You can do better, but if you like it, I love it. It’s on you.”
“Erica. I’m leaving. You can come with me or stay with her,” said Raphael waving his car keys. She looked at me, with tears in her eyes, and hurried behind him.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” I said. The crowd dispersed – no fight for World Star Hip Hop – and walked myself back to the club.
And Erica, I hope she had vex money for a hotel or she was planning to stay with her man and his cousin, because she made it very clear that my friendship meant nothing to her.
I was grumbling under my breath as I walked back to the club, saying things I knew I was going to have to repent for. Erica better not think she’s coming up into my house after letting her so-called man try to abuse me. Me, her friend of 20 years! Are things that bad that we’re hanging on to worthless men just to have a man?
“Nia?” There was Trevor sitting on the driver’s side of a silver Lincoln Navigator. I walked across the street to the car.
“I thought you left.”
“Change in plans. I got left.” I smiled and pulled out my phone. “Gonna Uber it home tonight.”
“You’re not taking an Uber this time of the night. Why would you want to get into a car with a stranger? Get in the truck.”
“You’re not a stranger?” I smiled. “I mean, really, I met you three hours ago.”
“True, true.” He smiled. “But I’m less strange than a random Uber driver, right?”
“Get into the truck. I promise you: I will get you home in one piece.”
“Are you sure?”
“Very.” He stepped out of the truck, took my hand, walked me to the passenger side, and opened the door.
What else could I do? I got in. My mother would have a heart attack if she knew that I was getting into a car with a strange man, but somehow, I felt safer with Trevor, who I’ve only known for a couple hours than with Erica and company.
He started the ignition and he had jazz fusion playing on his satellite radio.
“I thought you said were a hip hop lover,” I said buckling my seat belt.
“Ha, don’t get it wrong, girl, but I like all types of music,” he said. “I’m saying, we just came out of a party, I need something quiet.”
“I hear you. I love me some old school hip hop. I like today’s stuff, but my heart is in the ‘80s and ‘90s.”
“You like hip hop?” he asked as he pulled into traffic.
“What? I don’t look like someone who’s into hip hop?”
“Maybe… a little bit. You look like you prefer Erykah.”
I laughed. “So, a woman can’t enjoy different types of music? I like Jill Scott, but Nas ain’t so bad either.”
“A little. What were you thinking?”
“A friend told me about a late night spot that’s not too far from here. You wanna check it out?”
At that precise moment, my tummy growled. Trevor looked at me and started laughing. “That’s all I needed to hear. Let’s go.”
We talked non-stop the entire two hours we were together. It was like we knew each other for years. I mean, I didn’t share my deepest secrets with him, but I didn’t feel embarrassed or shy around Trevor, I just was. By the time we pulled up to my place, the sun was coming up and I was yawning.
“You’re home safe and sound,” Trevor said, putting the car into park.
“Thank you.” I said, digging around my handbag for my keys.
“My pleasure. I will consider this our first date.”
He rubbed his hands together. “So, when are we going do this again?”
“When are you free?” I was thinking next Friday is good.
“I’m serious. I want to see you. I don’t want you to leave now. But, you gotta to go church in” — he checked his watch — “six hours.” Nice, he remembered.
“No, later is good.” I couldn’t believe I said that. My rule was always that last minute dates are for damn fools — but, then again, I only met him tonight. “Anything in particular you want to do?”
“Just hang out. Get some more food. Nothing major… Is that OK with you?” Now, normally, I would side-eye him. Why? Well, from my experience with the opposite sex, thing never work out how we expect them to – meaning, talking and food end up meaning trying to get me into his bed and then getting angry when that doesn’t work out. But, even though I was bitter and mean – you know that I’ve already accepted that about myself – I had a good time with this man… so maybe a quick date is what I needed to stop me from being sick and tired of being sick and tired of men.
“That sounds great.”
He grinned and nodded. “Sounds very good.”
I unlocked the door. “Three o’clock work?”
“Three is good. I’ll meet you here,” he said. I opened the door.
“Good night. Uh… good morning.” He laughed. “Bye, Nia.”
I got out of the truck and walked the few feet to my front door. When I looked back he was still waiting. He waved, I waved back and I went inside.