again. (excerpt, 2019)

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

again.

excerpt of a working piece

After Grace had fallen back to sleep Connie did what most twenty-somethings who struggle with connecting and disconnecting do, she grabbed her phone to surf social media. Instead of logging into Facebook, her go-to, Connie saw that she had 3 missed text messages. She giggled to herself thinking how old house rules of not calling or coming by after eight o'clock in the evening never applied to cellphones. In fact, the text messages came through twenty minutes after ten and now that it was quarter to eleven, Connie wanted badly to text back, but she didn’t. 'Hazel- I hope this is still your #. I don’t know why you haven’t called or texted me back since summer. I will be home this weekend. I want to see u.💖' Connie closed the text and scrolled backwards through selfies she'd never post trying to get to the pictures of Rudy dancing with Granny at the Juneteenth block party. Grace felt like a schoolgirl in Rudy’s arms. She looked up at him, smiling almost with tears in her eyes. He hugged her, resting his bearded chin on her grey crown as she patted him on his back. Afterwards, they all sat down on the front porch drinking lemonade and laughing at the kids dancing in the street until the fireworks display began. At the first spark, Rudy stood up from his rocking chair and knelt on one knee in front of Connie, taking her hand inside of his and looking into her beautiful eyes. “Hazel, you know I’m no poet. I can only tell you how I feel, and I feel like you are the perfect person for me. You’re a perfect person to me.” With his free hand, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small red Cartier box revealing a platinum, 2 carat, oval shaped diamond engagement ring. “The only thing that I can think of that’s missing from you is this ring and my last name. Connie, will you be my wife?” Connie looked over to Grace who stood to her feet clasping her hands together. Connie had known Rudy her whole life. They were nothing more than life long best friends until just 6 months ago. They went to kindergarten together, studied together, fought other people together; when they were 16 years old even though they had no plans of being boyfriend and girlfriend they made a conscious decision to lose their virginities together. Rudy’s hectic football schedule, and her class schedule as a double major drew a separation during college that lasted for what seemed like the quickest eight years of their lives, touching bases only a few times a year. After Rudy didn’t get drafted into the NFL he felt like such a failure that he couldn’t return home and face Connie. Instead of coming home, he spent his time going back to school to study sports medicine, and eventually became a physical therapist for the Dallas Cowboys. He only returned to Chicago when his grandmother fell ill. Beyond his greatest imagination he found an even more beautiful Connie, now a nurse taking care of his sick grandmother Ms. Abraham who lived next door to Grace and Connie until she died last winter. It was as if they never skipped a beat. To outsiders, Connie and Rudy were the quintessential examples of introverts, but together they lit up like the Daley Center Christmas tree. To be able to give each other the comfort, confidence, and companionship during such a vulnerable time for the both of them felt like love. A special kind of love that was old but instead of dying, it was living, thriving and growing. Seeing them together just made sense, and to Connie, it felt good, it felt right. “Yes!”

Rudy lifted Connie from her chair with hug, nuzzling a kiss into her neck. Grace clapped her hands to celebrate and then reached out to embrace them both. Looking at the picture of Rudy and Grace dancing at the block party with tears in Grace’s eyes made Connie realize that she must have captured the moment he asked Grace for her blessing. Connie didn’t like remembering. She often wished her memories would fade so the feelings attached to her memories could also fade. Connie couldn’t look at that picture without being overcome with the warmth that was attached to that memory. The only thing that did fade was the comfort she received from that warmth, which quickly turned her cold standing in the reality of no longer being engaged to Rudy only six months later.

Connie jumped up and walked quickly into the bathroom. She eyed her figure from every angle in the full-size mirror that hung on the back of the linen closet door. She knew she had tried eating herself out of heartbreak. After packing fifteen pounds onto her ass and thighs she realized in the long run Harold’s Chicken, and Red Velvet Cheesecake from Magnolia's would hurt her more than heal her broken heart. Having just made this realization a week ago after struggling to stuff her new ass into her old pants she was in no way comfortable with Rudy seeing her this weekend. Connie stood even closer to the mirror looking at her skin, and combing through her hair. There wouldn’t be enough time to get into the salon for a Friday hair appointment. Connie threw her hands to her hips and looked her reflection in the eyes. “Fuck it,” she said to herself feeling no more or no less confident about her appearance. She settled her mind on knowing that it didn’t matter what Rudy thought about her. He really didn’t want to be her husband anyway. Connie hit the light switch and climbed back into bed with Grace. The next morning, Cleo the home health aide arrived before Grace awoke giving Connie the chance to run to her house, nextdoor, shower and change clothes. While Connie was choosing between sweatpants and Jordans versus jeans and boots she rehearsed possible conversations she would have with Rudy. Not fully knowing why he wanted to see her, she thought it was safe to have planned several variations of what she thought her response should be if he proposed again. The rebuttals varied from flattered, to unbothered, to get the fuck out.

Once Rudy’s flight landed at O’hare airport mixed emotions raced through his body. His excitement to see Connie quickened his heartbeat. The fear of what she might say or do bounced pulsating tension from one temple to the other side of his head. Though he was in no rush he walked fast through the terminal keeping up with the pace of the other travelers coming and going, he almost missed an old Hispanic man in a tuxedo selling flowers near the escalators. “Flowers for you Wiess! Ten-dollar bouquet! 20-dollar bouquet! 30-dollar bouquet!” The old man shouted his advertisement. His display of roses, iris, tulips and hydrangeas in various colors perching out of the bucket were a magnificent vision.

Rudy stared at them pondering which bouquet Connie might like. He never knew her to fawn over flowers and candy, he really didn’t know if she liked flowers at all. The scent of the roses reached his nose. He picked up 3 dozen, but the roses alone didn’t look as grand as they did sitting in the large bucket with the other flowers. “Your wiess, she like. Lady like roses.” “I don't even know if my lady likes me, let alone roses?” “Oh, she’s a stubborn one eh?” The old man laughed. “Stubborn, uncompromising, fine, smart, got an attitude, you get what I’m saying?” “Here,” the old man handed Rudy the bucket. “That two-fitty, I give to you for two. You get you wiess happy, and I feed my wiess, she happy.” Rudy laughed, “Cool,” he reached in his pocket and handed the man two hundred and fifty dollars from his wallet.

“Take your wife out for dinner, man.” Before Rudy walked away the man reached into his jacket, “You say she fine right?” “Yeah, man,” Rudy’s shook his head. His facial expression looked as if the thought of Connie’s beauty hurt him physically. “You gonna need this,” he handed Rudy a card with an illustration of a man with flowers falling out of his robe. “That is Saint Anthony of Padua. You pray to him, he return lost love. Even if she don’t know she is lost, she come back running. If she’s yours, she come back, yeah?” The old man smiled at Rudy. Rudy shrugged his shoulders and shook the old man’s hand. “Thanks, man.”

After picking up his luggage and rental car, Rudy headed straight to the Southside. He thought about not wanting to send Connie mixed messages. After all, the purpose of his visit wasn’t necessarily a social call, it was business. Still, excitement to just see her again pumped in his chest and drew sweat from his brow thinking about her smile, and those eyes. He knew he couldn’t just hit her with, ‘Hey, I still wanna marry you, but in the meantime, can you move your shit out of my Grandma’s house cause my cousins and I wanna flip it.’ Rudy pulled up to the corner of 45th and Forrestville Ave. It was only 30 degrees at high noon, so the block was fairly empty. JJ, Lawrence and Buck were standing out in front of Ms. Shepard’s house just like always. Even when they were kids, those guys would ditch school to hang out in front of JJ’s grandma’s house and do nothing. Back then, they thought they could be dope boys, but really, they were just lazy punks. It takes a certain amount of intelligence, hustle and dedication to sell drugs, and they just didn’t have it. It was sad to see them doing the same damn thing almost twenty years later. Rudy saw Connie’s red Honda Civic parked out front and his palms got sweaty. He looked at his passenger seat full of flowers and felt bad that he didn’t bring anything for Grace. Rudy pushed the gas and rode around the block to Philip’s gas station to buy Grace a few scratch-off lottery tickets. He loved how she used to cuss while she scratched at her luck. ‘Come-on-you-funky-mutha-fucka’ she sang while she scratched at the grey film. ‘You coulda at least gave me my money back, ya stingy bitch.’ Rudy grabbed two twenty-dollar tickets for Grace. He remembered her saying, 'You gotta spend money to make money, so don’t be cheap!' He never saw her work a day in his life, and he knew she was the baddest lady on the block, so he believed in what she said. On his way back to his car he heard a woman’s ratchet voice call him by his nickname loudly.

“I know that ain’t my nigga Ru-Ru!” Rudy looked up to see a heavyset woman with acne riddled honey complexion, wearing a bonnet, black leggings 2 sizes too small and a fresh pair of '97 Nike Air Max heading in his direction. “Shakita?” A what-the-fuck-happened-to-you drew lines of confusion and sad disappointment across his face. “Hey, boy!” She leaned in to give him a hug. “Damn, you smell good. What you doing here? I heard you moved to Texas.” “Yeah, I’m just home visiting. Holidays coming, you know. I figured I’d try to see everybody before schedules and plans got too hectic.” “Everybody like Connie?” Shakita smacked her lips. She wasn’t about to miss the magic of the moment by pretending like she didn’t have all the tea and wasn't ready to spill. Rudy laughed and stroked his beard. “I heard she left you at the altar or some shit.” “Not at the altar!” Rudy scratched his chin feeling embarrassed and a bit above having this conversation with her. He tried to avoid direct eye contact while he faked a smile. He didn’t want to send Shakita mixed messages either. Shakita was the first girl he had sex with after Connie. In high school, Shakita was considered the "fine light skinned girl", and Connie was the fine dark skinned girl. Back in the day niggas used to run hard at Shakita. Now she looked every bit of ran over. She still had almond shaped brown eyes, but they were practically squeezed shut now that her cheeks had gotten so big. Her lips were black, and her teeth had brown cigarette stains on them. Worse than all that in Rudy’s opinion, Shakita had a nigga’s name tattooed on her neck. “Aye, you and Terry still down?” “Hell naw!” Shakita yelled and flung her arm at the absurdity, even though the neck tattoo read, ‘Terry’s Girl’ in cursive. “He just my baby’s daddy. He really ain’t even that, nigga stay in and outta jail too much to be somebody damn daddy.” Rudy figured such was the case, but he put his hand to his heart to express remorse for picking at the scabs of her love life. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” “That’s why er’body wondering what the fuck is wrong with Connie. Gotta good man, gotta job, got good dick, and she wanna act like she got Beyonce's pussy. She don’t wanna fuck around and see a bitch like me pull up on yo fine ass.” Shakita batted her lashes so hard one lash got loose and tried to crawl away from her face. Rudy extended a flattered chuckle, “You wild, Shakita.” Inside, he felt embarrassed for her. Watching her shoot her shot was like watching someone without talent audition for American Idol. “Shit, I’m for real,” She said aggressively to make clear that she wasn’t flirting, she was straight up asking. Before she could beg, Rudy looked her in her eyes for a second to appear as if he was seriously considering her offer. “Hang on right here for a second, Shakita.” Rudy ran to the car and came back holding the flowers he bought for Connie. “Here, I want you to have these. You deserve this and a whole lot more, and if shit don’t work out with Connie, I’mma have to come find yo ass and take you out to dinner or something.” Shakita blushed. She wasn’t ready to receive such a romantic gift. The flowers smelled beautiful and she felt more than beautiful holding the bouquet with both arms. Feeling overwhelmed and intimidated by his gesture, she didn’t know what the appropriate response was. She just did what she usually does, and said exactly how she felt, “Awe, you just made me feel so special. Thank you.” Shakita couldn’t wait to get home to share the vision with her daughter.




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