IT WAS 1965. I was a senior at Benjamin Wells High. I fell in love with Tommy Michaels that year. I snuck smokes from my mama’s purse, and stole weed from my Daddy’s stash. Reese lived in the city housing development in a two-bedroom apartment with her Mama and “Auntie” Gale. My mama didn’t really like Reese’s mama. I’m pretty sure it was because Reese’s “Auntie” wasn’t really Reese’s Aunt… if you know what I mean. They together like a man and woman. Mama calls that “Strange”. Mama would say, ‘Uh-uh, Cecily, you can’t stay the night over at Reese’s. Them peoples over there strange.’ Or she’d be like, ‘Don’t be over there messin’ with Reese’s Mama and ‘nem. They’ll have you acting strange.’ But the funny thing about it was that they weren’t strange at all. Pearl and Gale were just like everybody else’s parents. They worked long hours in town, took four buses home, and didn’t take no shit off their kid. I know my folks ain’t take no shit off me. Pat and Gene wouldn’t hesitate to take a break from arguing and fighting one another to stick a foot to my ass.
Vivian Courts, Virginia wasn’t the bad side of town, it was the horrible. On every God given day, a man would be stabbed, a girl would be raped, and the pimps and hoes would roam the boulevards more frequently than the police patrolled them. You had to watch yourself around these parts. That’s why Reese and I went everywhere together. Folks would see us and address us as one person, ‘Hey Ree-Cess,’ they’d say.
We stood in the middle of Adams Avenue near the corner on West. Across the street was our finest of the local drunks moseying into their final destination for the evening, Clark’s, the neighborhood hole in the wall.
“Look at that Bitch,” Reese said while smacking on her wad of Clove chewing gum. “That hoe stay up in the tavern, but she don’t ever pay me for watching them bad ass kids. I can’t stand her.”
We watched Charlene hanging from the arm of some old man as she entered the tavern.
“She’s wearing that dress though, Reese.”
No one could deny that even after having four kids, Charlene’s coke-a-cola bottle shape could turn the heads of the blind to the preacher-man. With the exception of a few missing teeth from bad relationships turning for the worse, Charlene still had it.
Reese rolled her eyes at me.
“Only whores wear satin in the daytime, black satin at that! Ain’t your mama ever taught you nothing, Cess?”
“Hey, that’s your cousin, and don’t be talking bout my Mama.”
The doors to Clark’s are never closed. James Brown’s ‘Pay Back’ spilled through the graying streets. Reese and I stood there popping our fingers while we waited in the reserves of the day’s sunlight. We locked arms and let ourselves be warmed by the sun that showered us through the naked branches of Ms. Mable’s oak tree.
We were waiting for our boyfriends Tommy and Jackson to pick us up after school. We might’ve been fast girls, but we were still girls. So, we tried our damnedest not to be confused with the prostitutes that frequented the tavern looking for dates. Yet and still, the pimps in big flashy Cadillacs honked and shouted for our attention. Ricky Red was the finest man of them all. Even my mama’s back would quiver when he passed by. Ricky wasn’t all that tall, but he had smooth fair skin, and a smile that puts diamonds to shame. He was a pimp no less, but we school girls and grown women alike just couldn’t resist him.
He was wearing tapered red slacks with a cocoa brown satin shirt that he wore unbuttoned down to his navel. He was always showing off his smooth chest and gold chains. Looking at him you’d think it was June and not November. He tipped the edge of his hat, and even that black feather on the side wiggled and flirted with you. I mean he was so fine that if he asked, I’d have his babies, cook his dinner, smack my mama, and drink the bath water.
It was like voodoo, making a sane girl act crazy ‘bout a man. When you see pimps with they hoes and wonder why any woman would give their bodies and their money to someone like that, well there it is, voodoo. Even with my mama and daddy, although my daddy ain’t no pimp, he’s still a lady’s man and my mama would just about cut a hoe for looking at him twice or for too long. Some folks say it’s the sex. But I don’t believe that. It’s voodoo. They possess you with a hypnotic spell, with just one look. Every time I saw Ricky Red he had me wrapped up.
When he passed by, he gently caressed the side of my cheek, winked, and said softly, “Hey there, Gorgeous.” My body felt like a bowling pin rocking back and forth, from side to side in my patented leather go-go boots. He smelled spicy like black pepper and sandalwood. His scent filled my head and quenched a thirst my body had not known was there.
“Damn it if he ain’t fine! Did you see that shit?” Reese shouted to me as if I weren’t just standing there. Had she not been holding me up, I might have just fallen over into his arms. “I know you need a new pair of panties. Hell, I do!” Reese lost all composure, “Girl, he must wanna make you his woman!”
At that I snapped out of his hypnosis.
“Ricky Red wants some Cess!” she teased, singing over and over again, bumping me with her round hip to shame me.
“Well he can’t have any of my Cess. My Cess belongs to Tommy.” I lied. I loved Tommy, but Ricky possessed my Cess… if you know what I mean. Our conversation ended abruptly when Tommy and Jackson pulled up to the curb.
“Tommy!” I squeaked like a young girl, but made me feel like a woman, because he was a man.
“Get your sweet self in this car, Girl!” Tommy yelled for me.
Reese jumped into the back seat of Tommy’s Deuce and a Quarter and started in on a sloppy make-out session. The car sped off down the street leaving a cloud of smoke behind us. The car was moving just as fast as our childhood and girlish ways. We zoomed down the street and around the corner to Main before we could blink. Tommy had introduced Jackson to Reese shortly after we started seeing each other. All four of us had been like hand in glove ever since. We went out on double dates and even covered for each other when we needed to.
“Tommy, Baby, where we goin’?”
I caressed the back of Tommy’s thick chocolate neck and gave him little sweet kisses on his cheek. When I rested my head on his shoulder, he turned his bronzed cheek and replied with a sly smile, “We gonna check out Jackson’s new pad. Is that okay with you?”
Tommy was sexy as all hell. It was hard to deny him anything, especially if it had anything to do with me spending more time with him. He’d look at me with his droopy eyes and lick on those bulbs he called lips, and I was all game. Being with Tommy was like having a nasty dream; it was sexy, fun, exciting and sometimes even scary, but never something you’d tell your Mama about. And just like all good dreams, you mostly feared that they’d have some strange twist somewhere in the middle or be over too soon.
“Jackson, I didn’t know you were moving? Where you stayin’ now?” I asked.
Jackson took a moment to pry Reese’s lips from his.
“Yeah, I wanted to surprise Baby Girl. I got a little spot over on 12th. Tommy helped me move in yesterday.”
Reese snatched her lips away from Jackson’s neck.
“12th, as in Downtown 12th?” Reese stated more than questioned. “Oh uh-uh! My Mama and my auntie work up on 12th Street. I can’t have them seeing me all the way downtown. Not with y’all on top of it!” She waved her index finger between Jackson and the back of Tommy’s head. I got her point. Because all I needed was for Pearl or Gale to tell my parents that I was there too. It would definitely be a beating going down in the city tonight Jack! The guys blurted out in laughter.
“First of all, Baby, Gale ain’t your auntie, she your mama’s ‘ole lady,” Jackson revealed in his as-a-matter-of-fact tone. Tommy snickered before I pinched the back of his arm. “Second, Pearl and Gale on the bus, we in a car. You think they looking for your ass in every car that passes by? Hell naw! If they ain’t expecting to see you then they won’t.”
He knew by the expression on her face that her apprehension had not been eased by his input. He nibbled on her earlobe, but she winced and turned her head away. “Baby, if they see you, I’m your man, I’ll protect you. What you think they gonna do?”
Nothing to him, she knew. Last time she got caught with a boy, Gale beat Reese like she was a boy. Then her Mama chopped off all her pretty, long hair. Reese grabbed the back of her neck where her hair used to rest and slid off Jackson’s lap. She looked out her window, still hearing her mama say, ‘Them little niggas won’t wanna mess with you if you ain’t got all this hair.’ I don’t know what it was about men they hated so much, but it seem like they’d rather her be strange like them. Seeing how they get talked about all the time, seem like they wouldn’t want Reese to be that way. Reese was no more like her folks than I was like mine; that was a pact we made when we were still in braids and bows. The veins in Reese’s neck popped out, she placed her hand on her upper shoulder to rub the tension loose. When Jackson heard the lump she swallowed he stopped trying to kiss behind her ear to ask, “You scared?”
I decided to intervene.
“Yeah, Tommy, I don’t know, we should go someplace else. What about your uncle’s basement?”
“Naw, Baby, I promise we’ll be extra careful. Y’all can duck down if y’all really that scared.”
"What do you think, Reese?” I reached over the back of the front seat to hold her hand. It was clammy so I knew how she felt.
“Okay, Cess, but if I get caught, you already know,” she pointed her finger at me.
I knew. I let go of her hand and we slid down in our seats.
We were all low on conversation until we got into Jackson’s place. Jackson unscrewed the champagne bottle and dropped two candied cherries into each of our glasses. Cherries in our glasses made us feel special. The backs of our thighs were sticking to the plastic-covered orange couch. We poked fun at all that mess he’d thrown around and called ‘decoration’. He had an orange shag carpet mat that sat under the coffee table. It looked more like a dog rolled under there to die. Then he insisted that we had better not step on it because he hated raking the ugly thing. I said I wasn’t even gonna act like I was gonna step on it. I knew people who caught rabies and died from better looking animals. I ain’t really wanting to die from no rug. Then there was the wood print wallpaper in the kitchen, and the green linoleum floor that was just all over the place, including the living room.
The sun had set, and we were all still in the living room that was dimly lit by the reflection of the television-set that went unwatched. The cherry ‘pagne had gone to my head. I felt light as a feather that was falling, drifting back and forth. In one direction it felt good. In the other, my head quaked, and I knew what we were doing was dead-wrong.
Tommy pressed his lips hard against mine while his hands roamed my body.
“Tommy, don’t be touching on my titties in front of your friend. Besides, we need to talk.” I could only murmur through our tight lip lock.
Tommy stood up as if he had taken a cue by my words, and placed my hand in his.
“We’ll be in the back, Jackson,” Tommy said for announcement purposes only.
Reese and Jackson were getting down so hard, I don’t even know if they heard him.
"Reese, you okay?” I asked.
I couldn’t hear Reese’s response over Jackson’s moans and slobs. With hers to match I figured she was right where she wanted to be.
Jackson’s bedroom was small and decorated in what I’m sure Jackson thought was a sexy design. Leopard print, zebra, tiger, bear, and even cow prints, were all over the room. Just looking at the walls alone made me dizzy. Tommy took no pauses for causes. When I turned around Tommy was already coming out of his periwinkle blue, Morton Milkman uniform shirt. First his shirt went down on the floor, and then he pulled his undershirt over his head.
“Tommy, wait!” I was nervous. I’d never seen him naked before. I mean I had let him touch me by now and I’d touched on him too, but I hadn’t exactly seen nothin’ yet. “I just wanna talk a little bit. Okay?” I stood with the backs of my legs against the foot of the bed, and my arms stretched out in front of me. Pointing my fingertips to the ceiling, I pushed him away with my hands. Tommy took my hands into his, kissing them softly. Then he coerced me down on the bed with the weight of his body.
“Baby, we’ve talked about this.” Kiss. “And talked about this.” Kiss. “I ain’t got nothing else to say.” Nibble.
“What about your wife? You think she got something to say?” With his stomach pressed into mine I could feel him become heavier as he took in a deep breath. Except for the tears that slid down into my hairline, probably getting my edges all nappy again, I didn’t move.