“You met my mom at my parents’ engagement party, right?”
“Yeah, Seliah… at their engagement party,” and he eeks out the words, out of breath.
My step-father is bed-ridden now. He gasps for breath more than he should.
“Tell me about what it was like?”
His exhalation sounds like a balloon losing air. And smells like whiskey.
“Your mother… was a beacon… of light.”
It’ll paint a better picture for you if you can see my mom through his eyes. And I’m afraid that maybe I waited too long to ask him.
She stood to greet me. Roy’s girl. And her steel colored eyes swallowed me. Ever fainted? Lost consciousness? The whole room circles out around you – and you’re sucked into a tunnel before you hit the floor? It was like that.
I’m not stupid. You’re not supposed to feel like that about your best friend’s lady. Wish I could tell ya I didn’t mean it. I did. My life is divided into two parts: before Toni, and everything after.
Did Roy see it? I don’t think so. He’s a good man, that Roy. Where his soul is a shiny red apple, a ready gift for your favorite teacher, I am the worm that rots it from the inside out.
“Harold,” the crowd greeted me with overlapping voices. A deck being shuffled. Every card with my name on the face.
“When Harold walked in the room, people noticed. He was a force of nature.” ~Roy Henry
The room greeted me. I was the rising sun and they were plants reaching out to touch me. She stood. Everyone stood. I think I knew right away that she was my asteroid. My lips were magnetized to her outstretched hand. My gods.
“Harold, this is my fiancée, Toni.”
“Pleasure,” I think I said.
I stood by his side when he married her.
Lost count of how many pints of liquor I used to numb the sirens in my throat. Drunk, I faded my demand to speak now or forever hold my peace. Roy married his girl, but she was mine.
I liked to pluck up her hand, like picking a daisy, when I would greet her. And she thanked me with pools of longing. To kiss her cheek – what awful torture to smell her neck. Breathe in deeply, Harold, because she’s untouchable. This queen of Egypt.
Had to get closer to her.
“So, Roy, you’re having another dinner party this weekend?”
Roy was suggestable. Not being one to be told no on anything, I made sure of an excuse to come over every week. It was as easy as, “See you on Saturday, Brother,” and inviting the crew.
We brought booze, and Roy and my Toni provided the venue. I brought the treats, and the Crew partook. Easy. Do you know who I am?
Actually, it was kind of an accident the first time I found her in the hall unattended and intoxicated. She smelled like wildflowers and stood on one foot, the other leg bent like a flamingo.
My buzz was pinging pretty good then. I couldn’t stop my cheeks from a smiling burn. There was my girl. My Roy’s girl – no, mine – there she was. And no confusion. She was drunk, too, and flirting. With me.
I pushed her up against the wall, I wanted her to feel my need for her. I needed her to feel my want. I lifted her hair from her neck and inhaled. The most tempting drug I’d ever tasted.
“Fuck, Toni,” I gasped.
Her hot breath singed the skin on my chest.
I let her go. And she snuck away from me. She didn’t want to.
I was a seeded man. I couldn’t have the woman I needed from the deepest part of my soul, but I sure as hell tried. Ladies liked me. I liked the ladies. Figured I should make the best of my situation and enjoyed the women of the Crew. It was always a party, after all.
The Crew must’ve been a dozen or so folks. Single, coupled, we made no distinction. The weekends were an invite only party and I was the list master. We had one requirement: only the prettiest ladies and laid back guys were invited. We had some great times those first five years.
Music makers: also on the list. We jammed and smoked and drank and danced. And there was Rachel.
You want to know about Rachel? She was an angel. A dark-haired, sweet mouthed angel. You wouldn’t believe the hell she’d been through. She didn’t like to talk about it, but you could see it in the skin below her eyes.
I liked to kiss her in the crease below her eyes.
It wasn’t love, but it was something.
Oh man, the times we had were somethin’ else. Those were some amazing years.
No lie, that was my favorite. The secret helped. A little excitement for the times I couldn’t have her. The times I slept on Roy’s couch and my heart followed him into his bedroom.
If I could convince Rachel to take me home, that was a good distraction. If I left, I didn’t get to see Toni in the morning. I guess that was a good thing sometimes. I could smell the sex on her. And it wasn’t mine.
Something evolutionarily wrong with finding a pregnant woman erotic. Probably.
Toni and Roy didn’t say anything until she started showing. My woman was carrying my best bud’s baby. It hurt. But in those shoes, ya just smile and distract yourself. Don’t say a thing to the contrary about it all. That’s about when I decided I needed to take things up with Rachel.
Because I wasn’t sure my chest wouldn’t fall apart seeing her belly grow. It wasn’t so much that she carried another man’s child – she was beautiful. And there was no mistaking the apologies in her eyes.
Words don’t always need to be spoken in those kinds of situations. I knew Toni regretted her condition.
Baby don’t worry. I wish it was mine.
We all loved Seliah.
Even-tempered, smart. And she looked so much like her mother.
When Rachel picked her up, I wrapped my arms around the two. And spots in my eyes nearly convinced me that everything was different. Mismatched puzzle pieces.