Reese thought it would be safer to take the side streets rather than Vivian Lane. Vivian Lane is the main road that leads straight through to our side of town. She was afraid of being seen and so was I. Everyone’s parents we knew of worked downtown at the shipyard or the Naval base. And everyday they all took the colored bus back to the ghetto between 4pm and 8pm. It was seven o’clock. My heartbeat matched the rhythm of the clicking song our boots made against the concrete, heavy and hard. I looked at all the houses we passed. They were all shades of pink, yellow, blue or white. From the outside looking in, it seemed as if they had everything I didn’t. For those folks the better parts of my dirty little dream were real, it was their life. On the outside I stood in the cold, hoping my face didn’t bruise where Tommy hit me. I knew it didn’t make much sense, but I still wanted what was inside those pretty little houses for me and Tommy. I wanted nothing more in that moment than for him to come pulling up along the side of the road. I wanted him to place my hand inside his like he’d done so many times before. I wanted to feel like a woman again, his woman. Instead, we walked down the road with pouted lips like sad little girls with no one to play house with. And just like a child who realizes she can’t have what she wants the waterworks began. Waves of black eye-liner traced my cheeks.
“Come on, stop it, Cess. You can’t keep crying.” Reese stopped walking and pulled my arm.
I nodded downward towards her gold and white go-go boots.
“You just a big ole baby.”
When I get upset Reese teases me until she gets a reaction. Then we sit and shit-talk the motherfuckers who pissed us off. But I didn’t want to shit-talk Tommy. She snatched off her chocolate brown mittens that Jackson had given her for her birthday to match her tri-colored, tweed coat. She dried my tears with one hand, and rubbed away eyeliner smudges with the other. She rubbed just a little rougher than she knew not to be.
“Ouch, that hurts.”
“I didn’t even rub that hard.”
“I know.” I didn’t feel like telling Reese about getting hit. Reese had a funny disposition when it came to me. She was more than a friend. Even though I was three months older than her, she was like a big sister. Her curvy figure towered over me and most of the dudes at school. She had a look that had an appeal of its own. She was high yellow, or as the fellas would put it, a “Redbone.” Sometimes she’d joke saying that we had to be with grown men because we had grown bodies, like women. Reese’s eyes were brown but they sparkled like gold does when light hits it on an angle. Like tonight, the street lamps glowed above our heads and Reese’s golden specks blazed like fire, highlighting her face. You could say that we were complete opposites. I was more of a cinnamon girl. Mama says I’ll turn red whether I’m hot or cold. My hair comes down to about my shoulders but I mainly wear it up in a ponytail. I sweep my bangs over my forehead. It looks cute that way. I’m shorter than Reese. I got a small waist, and only a handful of tits, but I got ass and hips for days. Most of the fellas around here like our legs. Folks say me and Reese got nice legs.
“We gotta get our stories straight, Ree.”
“Yeah, I know,” Reese said. She tapped her lips with the tip of her finger like she does when she’s concentrating, “That’s what I been thinking ‘bout.” She looked down at her watch, yet another gift from Jackson, “Okay, it’s six-thirty now, we ‘bout halfway home.”
“Shit, I hope so,” I sighed.
“I was thinking we could say something like… ‘We were at the library working on a science project.’ We should get home in about an hour and thirty minutes. That’s just like fifteen minutes after the last bus.”
I don’t know why, but I sometimes liked watching Reese come up with lies. It was like watching a mad scientist in a lab fixin’ to blow up the world layering one devilment on top of another.
“So yeah, Cess, we gotta say we took the bus too. I don’t wanna get cussed out for walking home in the dark.”
“Okay, so where’s our science project? Our books, our…” I waved my empty hands in the air.
“I hear you.” She drummed her lips again. “What about a game? No, better yet what about tryouts?” Reese suggested.
“Tryouts for what? Or shit, who? Not me.” Reese knows I’m too bourgeois to sweat in public.
“Are you trying to avoid gettin’ beat tonight or what? Look we can say that we were trying out for the cheerleading squad if it makes you feel any better. Afterwards, we went to the library at school and did our homework there. And we just left our books in our locker because we missed our bus, and we knew we’d have to walk home.”
“Damn, Ree, that’s good. Cause you know they gonna wanna cuss us out a little bit anyway ‘cause we so late. Might as well give ‘em a little something to go off on. We should be cool.”
“Right!” Another kind of light brightened behind Reese’s eyes, then her face, and then our whole bodies became illuminated. I turned around to see what she saw. All I could see was someone’s head lights were slowly approaching us.
“Oh shit, Cess, let’s keep walking. Can you run in them boots if we have to, Girl?”
The headlights gathered into one big spot light, closer and closer, bigger and wider, hiding the car’s make and model.
“I can if I got too.”
“Hey, Sweethearts.” A familiar voice rang out. I wanted it to be Tommy.
“Cess, don’t look,” Reese whispered, knowing it was too late.
“I wanna see who it is.”
“Girl, it’s Ricky Red.” She’d already caught a glimpse.
“Damn, Girl, you right.”
“Hey, Gorgeous, y’all in need of a ride? It’s getting kind of dark out here. I wouldn’t want nothing to happen to such lovely ladies like yourselves.”
“What you think he wants?” I asked Reese. I was momentarily being more naïve than usual; but I wasn’t the only one.
“Girl, I done told you what Ricky Red wants. But right now he’s offering us a ride and we ‘gon take it. Shoot, he’ll save us some time on our alibi.” Reese paused her stride and tugged my arm, practically throwing me towards the car.
“Come on ladies, jump on in. This Cadillac red but it won’t burn you.” I faced him and yet again my mind was blown away.
“All we need you to do is drop us off a block away from Cess’s pad. You know where Cess stay?” Reese was confirming the itinerary before officially accepting the lift.
“Of course, I know where Cess lay at.” Reese looked over at me. I was locked into his trans. “I mean, I know where she stays. Y’all come get out the cold.”
Reese cuffed my arm under hers and led me to the red and white leather back seat.
“I don’t bite either, Gorgeous.” I could see him smiling at me in the rear view mirror. “For future reference, you can ride shotgun. You can come on up here right now if you want. Take the front seat.” He pet the empty passenger seat like it was a purring kitten.
“Thanks. We’ll keep that in mind.” Reese went ahead and answered. We both knew by the stroke of his jeweled hand what he was really meaning to say.
“What y’all doing this far out at this time of night, any how?”
“Long story, big mistake, ‘nough said.” That was Reese’s kind way of saying ‘Tend to your own business, and stop being so damn nosey.’ Ricky Red caught her drift and decided that he’d grown tired of talking to her anyway.
“You don’t talk much, do ya, Gorgeous.”
Reese caught his drift as well. She nudged my ribcage and rolled her eyes at his nerve.
“Uh no, I don’t talk… much.” I sucked in my first breath since leaving the sidewalk.
“I see. I see.”
So here it came. That game I was talking about, the shit that women nationwide needed to prepare their pretty, little daughters for.
“So, you and your man must’ve gotten into a pretty big fight tonight for him not to bring you back home, huh?”
Stevie Wonder’s ‘Hey Love’ belted from the radio and Reese got lost between the swaying of her head and finger popping.
“Excuse me? My man?” As far as I knew, whatever I had with my man was with he and I, and no one else except Reese knew about it. I didn’t quite know how to respond.
“Yeah Tommy. ‘Ole Tom Cat.”
My mouth hung open.
“Look, Sweetheart, you ain’t gotta play house with me. I stay deep in the streets. Not knowing about shit around here is what I calls an occupational hazard.”
I wondered who else had been clued in if Ricky Red was on to us.
“So, about this argument…?”
“There weren’t any arguments okay” I snapped.
“Okay, Gorgeous, I didn’t mean to pry. I just wanted to know what a pretty girl like ya self was doing walking home at a time like this. I know ya man got a vehicle, so I was just wondering why his lady walking?”
I sat silently, feeling like twice the fool wanting so bad for Tommy to rescue me from Ricky Red and from the questions.
“I wouldn’t let you walk in the cold if you were mine, I couldn’t.” Ricky Red put his hand to his chest as if to stop his heart from breaking.
“And you say all that meaning what? Where is all this coming from? And where exactly is it going?” I was exhausted from struggling in this conversation and from always losing.
“I believe we’ve arrived,” was his response.
“Arrived to what?!”
“Home, Girl, come on.” Reese said, excitedly sliding across the back seat and out the door. I tried to follow quickly behind her, but was stopped by Ricky Red’s hand reaching over the seat grabbing onto mine. His touch was heavy, in the way of a man knowing his own strength. It reminded me of Tommy.
“Cess, I think you may have the wrong idea about me. I’m sorry if I came on a little too strong tonight.” He flashed his winning smile that was as good as gold to me.
“Thanks for the ride, Ricky.”
“Cess, come on!” Reese rooted for me to hurry.
“I know you gotta run, but I don’t know, if you get a little time, maybe you wouldn't mind spendin’ a little on me?”
“I can’t, really. I love Tommy and besides you’re a…" I decided it wasn’t the time to open that can of worms. "Good night, Rick.”
“Goodnight, Gorgeous, I’ll be here when you need me.”
The tone he used sounded more like an omen rather than a well wishes