"Okay, lovers, time to switch."
At the sound of the voice, I grabbed my belongings: a handbag, a sweater, a half-drunk soda, about fifty percent less patience, and shifted to the table on my right. The gentleman I left, didn't have the chance to register my exit before I was off, and the next dater was firmly in my place.
I pulled the chair out from underneath the next table. It scratched against the floor, emitting a shrill screech. I flinched and plopped down onto it, weighed down by the evening, and the realization that I still had hours left to go. The sounds of clinking glasses, chitter-chatter, and softly playing music encircled me as I sat. I took a deep, readying breath and faced the man in front of me.
I watched as he settled in—stowing away a simple, black leather jacket at the back of his chair. Once he got comfortable, he looked up at me and smiled. The smile reached a pair of soulful brown eyes.
He was attractive. He had skin the color of tree bark, a trim beard, and a close-cropped haircut, that just barely showed off the curl of his natural hair. There was nothing distinct about him, but he was easy on the eyes.
He stretched his hand out for me to shake, and I obliged.
"I'm Jeremy. Nice to meet you—and you are?" Our hands remained embraced and hung suspended over the table while he waited for me to respond.
Swallowing, I offered a halfhearted smile. "Makayla," I slipped my hand from his; swiping the palm of my semi-clammy hand across the top of my skirt.
He beamed, "Nice to meet you, Makayla."
I voicelessly agreed.
"What do you do, Makayla?" He motioned towards me, urging me on.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and groaned internally, the dreaded work question, a vocal admission of how far I had to go. Why did people always have to talk about work, anyway? I took a gulp of my drink, moved a wayward curl of hair behind my ear, and answered, "I'm an admin' for a sales company downtown."
"Do you like the job?"
I shrugged, uncommitted to give a detailed answer. "Pays the bills." Hardly.
"I hear you." He lifted a glass to his lips when finding it empty, he set it down and frowned; an awkward hush fell over the space.
I cleared my throat and had another swallow of soda, "What about you; what do you do for a living," I questioned, as I rested the glass back on the tabletop.
Before he replied, he glanced around, likely looking for the exit or a refill, it was hard to tell before he looked at me.
"I work in IT." His eyes shined with pride. "I run my own IT business," he stated proudly.
"What made you get into IT? Was it a lifelong dream?" The stories of how people came to be in their careers had always fascinated me.
Jeremy shoved up the sleeves of his gray henley shirt and leaned back before he continued, "It kind of just happened. As a teenager, I loved tinkering with computers taking them apart and putting them back together." He waved his hands when he spoke. "Used to drive my mother crazy," he confessed, chuckling, his eyes bright with the memory. "She grew tired of being unable to use the computer because it was always out of commission."
So, she sent me to a school for computer programming and technology, and it took off from there." He used his hands to mimic the incline of an airplane. The joy he emanated while talking about his job was infectious, and I felt myself smiling along with him as he spoke. He hunched forward and rested on his forearms, "I graduated from high school, attended college, and the rest is history," he finished.
"That sounds amazing," I chirped.
"It is," he admitted. "I enjoy what I do." His face glowed, I wanted that feeling for myself one day.
He rubbed his palms together, "It's jumping tonight; he said, glancing around. "I'd love another drink," he grabbed and shook his empty glass, "I don't think I'll be able to grab the attention of a server right now." He swiveled his head around in search of a waiter. While many servers were circulating the room, he would have difficulty pinning someone down.
I scooted my chair backward and rose, "I can grab it. I'm empty too," I shook the glass, and the ice rattled around, aside from the water from the ice that had settled at the bottom, it was otherwise bare.
"I can't ask the lady to get it," he declared and jumped to his feet, reaching for my cup.
I moved it out of his reach, "It's not a problem," I assured him. "I know the owner," I quipped with a wink.
"Really?" he piped, his voice climbed an octave, and he sat back down.
"Yeah, I'll tell you about it when I return. What do you want?" I ambled over to his side of the table with my hand outstretched for the glass.
"I'll take a light beer," he stated matter-of-factly. At the word light, I furrowed my brows and peered down at him nonplus. Noticing my expression, he chuckled and raised his hands, palms up in mock surrender.
"Don't judge me. I'm trying to maintain my physique." He rubbed his stomach in circular motions; drawing my eyes there.
I eyed him from head to toe as much as the table before him, would allow. His shirt fit tight against a pronounced set of muscular arms. His jeans covered a prominent pair of well-muscled legs. It was clear even through the rough material. I dipped my head once in appreciation, "Fair enough."
I grabbed the glass and sauntered away. Before I could get far, Jeremy stopped me with a hand to my arm.
I stopped and looked inquisitively from his hand to his eyes. "Thanks, Makayla," he uttered softly. His eyes sparkled with something, something I couldn't place and didn't wish to decipher.
I simpered, unsure of how to respond, and he let his hand drop. I walked off towards the bar. I squeezed between the tables, angling my hips left and right, dropping an excuse me here and there like breadcrumbs behind me as I went. I held the glasses raised above my head and tried my hardest not to bump into anything or anyone. It was swarming. Jordan must have been proud, probably prouder than when she convinced me to come here tonight. That had been an uphill battle. Year after year, she begged me to come, and year after year, we fought about it. This year, however, after threatening to get my mother involved, I caved. My mother was worse than she was, continually asking for grandbabies she should realize by now, I presumably would never have. I shyly spied on the tables as I went, trying not to be nosy. Still, couples or future couples intrigued me. Varied shades of brown of all shapes and sizes greeted me. Despite my skepticism, my lips rose in a smile. Black people falling in love was something that I loved to see, even if I didn't think it'd ever happen for me.
Once I reached the bar, I leaned against the wooden countertop using both the bar and the stool beside me for balance, looking for Joe, the bartender who usually handled the bar. Instead, there was a girl back there; I didn't recognize. She bustled back and forth, shifting between drink orders and their respective patrons with ease. Even though she moved efficiently, it would be a while before she made it to me. There were at least five or six people with empty glasses and hungry eyes in front of me. I set the glasses down on the bar, turned and leaned my back against it. I searched the room for Jordan, who I knew would work the room. Though this round with Jeremy was going well, and he seemed friendly enough, I was feeling both skeptical and anxious. He appeared to be a gentleman, but there were no sparks. I believed in sparks; I needed sparks. I also needed my best friend.
The exposed brick of the walls of the bar gave off an industrial yet comfortable vibe. The soft hanging lights spread throughout the space gave it an intimate feel. An intimacy usually hard felt under the sound of sports playing on the many TV's, scattered around the bar. Waitresses and waiters, donning their Sit and Sip logo t-shirts, circulated the room, moving between tables in a choreographed dance.
When I was about ready to give up the search, I spotted Jordan's hair, a kinky curly batch of penny-colored curls that had a life of their own. It was her marker; it was how you knew she was coming. She was of the mind frame, the bigger the hair, the better.
She headed in my direction, so I resisted the urge to wave her down. She held a tray of empty glasses and beer bottles over her head while she moved between the tables with ease, a grin firmly in place as she smiled and nodded at various patrons. She was very much in her element.
I lifted from the bar and stood to block her path before she could pass by me. She reached me and stopped with an "Oof." She just barely missed crashing into me, somehow still holding on to the tray. She lowered it down to her side and rested it at her waist. A scowl stretched across her heart-shaped face. She was ready to give me a piece of her mind before she realized who it was.
Her face battled between a smile and a grimace, "What are you doing?" she admonished, grabbing my arm with her free hand, leading me the rest of the way to the bar. I let her drag me and sat in one of the abandoned stools.
"I don't know," I really didn't know. I shrugged, checking for the glasses, I left behind but finding them gone.
"I need a drink, babe." I raised and wiggled two fingers. "Two, actually."
She placed the tray down and looked at me full-on, the corners of her mouth lifted, and her eyes crinkled on both sides, "Don't you mean one drink and a soda?"
I smirked, "You know what I mean." To this day, it amused her I came into a bar and never imbibed in spirits or any liquor of any kind.
"I do," she affirmed teasingly and pinched my cheek.
I waved her hand away. "My makeup." I dabbed at my face with my fingers where her hand had been. "Sorry, babe," she apologized with a wink. She walked to the sink that's tucked in the bar's corner and washed her hands. Familiar with her routine, I observed her, as I'd done frequently. Sit, and Sip was home, as much as Jordan was.
She grabbed a towel that relaxed on a rack at the end of the bar and dried her hands. She snagged a fresh cup, dumped ice into it, and poured me a glass of soda straight from a newly popped can. She topped it with a lemon and one of those small cutesy straws and slid it in front of me.
She watched me while I drained half of it. "So…" She wavered; her voice timid. "How's it going?"
I audibly sighed.
"Kayla." Her eyes went from bright and hopeful to something that looked akin to slack-eyed disappointment.
I sighed again, heavier this time—unprepared to argue, again. Jordan and I once shared the same pessimistic attitude towards love. We dated with a devil-may-care cynicism, dating multiple men at a time, expecting nothing but heartache and unexpecting of love, a result of a shared history of heartbreak. That is until she found, Jamal. Jamal turned our fuck love, two-some into a threesome, and she never looked back. Now she wanted that same wide-eyed, wide-nosed love for me, and we fought about incessantly.
"The guy I'm sitting with--," I faltered. I shifted in my seat, fussing uncomfortably with my skirt. "He's nice. But—I don't feel sparks. There's hardly a fizzle. He's—"
"We talked about this, babe," she scolded, cutting me off. "Sparks are for romance novels, not actual life." She regarded me pointedly. She spoke in that motherly way I'd grown used to from her.
I snorted, "So, you don't feel sparks with Jamal—ever?" I abandoned the straw, lifted the glass to my lips, and took a generous gulp of the soda, and waited.
With hardly a pause, she answered, "Every day," she confirmed with a faraway look. Her eyes glazed over. She wiped at the bar idly lost in thought; visions of her and Jamal in various venereal positions likely danced behind her eyes.
"Exactly." I spat and dipped my head, assuredly. "Yet, you want me to settle for a barely-there fizzle." I rolled my eyes playfully.
She remained quiet for another moment before she tossed the towel haphazardly to the side. She leaned towards me from the other side of the bar and grabbed both my hands that lay outstretched in front of me.
"Babe, I want you to be happy," before I could interject, she stopped me when her eyes cut at me, "In love, happy. You deserve the happiness that love brings. You are worthy of love, and I feel like--," she stalled and pulled her hands away. She brought a hand to her mouth and nibbled on her thumbnail.
"You feel like what?" My voice grew rigid. I wasn't sure what she would say, but I felt anger rising in my belly. I didn't want to fight about this again.
She exhaled and dropped her hands, grasping mine again, "I feel like, you don't think you're worthy of love because of what happened to you."
"I got my heartbroken, Jo. It's not nearly as catastrophic as you're making it out to be."
"Heartbreak can be catastrophic, Kayla." I thought about the validity of her statement and groaned. "You're right. I'm sorry, Jo. I just—what's the point of all of this," I questioned emphatically, waving my arms gesturing around the room. I wasn't as eager as Jordan, to rid myself of the cynicism that protected my hardened heart.
She smiled wistfully; the corners of her mouth lifted slightly and dropped. If you weren't looking, you would have missed it. "The point is love. I believe you will find the love of your life here; I did."
"Yeah," I laughed. Jordan laughed along with me, her mouth wide, and her eyes bright. "And it was by accident."
"Accident or not, I found it, and you will too." There wasn't an ounce of doubt in her voice.
I scrunched my face up, "But, speed dating, Jo?"
"Why not speed dating? You know we have a 35 percent success rate."
I hushed her with a raised hand. "Don't feed me statistics, Jo."
She lifted her hands, relenting, "Look, I know how you feel. I felt that same thing. But now it's different," her voice and her posture softened. Her shoulders dropped, but she didn't look sad, she seemed blissfully content. "It's different, Kay. I feel all whole and shit."
We laughed together at that, loud guffaws with heads tilted back. I remember a time when Jordan was as passionate about not falling in love. "I want that for you, babe, so bad. I love you, and I can't be the only one that does." Though her words were loving and gentle, they violently seized a part of me that secretly wanted to be in love, despite the risks.
A traitorous tear fell, and I wiped it away. "Okay, I'll try," I said conceding.
"See," a smile appeared on her face, bright and toothy. "That's all I'm asking. Now, hurry." She bugged me off. "There's not much time left to this round."
I took one last emboldened sip and turned to leave before remembering I promised Jeremy a drink. I turned back, "Jo, the drink!"
"Right," she exclaimed and turned towards the tap, empty glass in hand. "What was it again?"
I blushed and rushed out, "A light beer."
Jordan slowly lowered her raised hand and turned towards me, the Sit and Sip logo shirt tight across her chest. "Light? Okay," she blurted, "maybe this isn't the man for you. What kind of grown man drinks light beer?"
I swallowed down a laugh. "Hey! Stop judging." Her brows raised. "He's watching his physique." Her eyebrows arched higher. "His words, not mine."
She waggled her eyebrows at me, "Is it a nice body?"
I covered my face with both hands and mumbled, "We're sitting, Jo."
"Okay, but you're not blind. Do you like what you see? I mean, if you don't like this guy vertically, maybe you'll like him horizontally."
I glared at her. "Jordan, the drink." I was not ready to talk about him sexually. We probably wouldn't even make it past the 30-minute run at the table.
"Fine, fine," she turned to fill the glass. Once it was full, she handed it over. It was cold to the touch, and a bit of the foam got on my hand—I wiped it on the side of my skirt.
"You're welcome," she said tenderly. "Go, make love," she shouted to my back as I walked away. I stopped mid-stride. I turned my upper half back towards her, with widened eyes, suddenly thankful for the noisy bar.
"I meant to fall in love…. Whatever, do both."
"Jordan, we're in a bar."
"I'll close my eyes," she assured me, covering her eyes with both hands peeking through her pointer and middle fingers.
I shook my head and chuckled. I turned and continued back to the table. The walk back was easier to navigate, and I reached the table quickly. I approached slowly, hoping to avoid a spill, and rested the glass in front of Jeremy, and made my way back to my seat.
I sat, and he took a healthy sip of the beer before he spoke, "I got a little worried there."
"I'm sorry," I asked, my head cocked to the side. "Worried about what?"
"I worried that you weren't coming back. You were gone a while," Jeremy confessed.
"Oh," I laughed wearily. I ran into Jordan, the owner, the one I was telling you about before I left."
"Jordan, huh?" He sat back, letting the top of the chair hold the bulk of his weight, his lips tightened. "How long have you known him?"
"Jordan, the owner," he used his hands to make air quotes around the word owner and folded his arms across his chest. His brows were downturned, his lips were the same.
"Jordan," I ground out through gritted teeth, treading softly, for me, not for him. "Jordan, my best friend, is a woman."
He leaned forward and let loose a breath. "Oh, okay. I thought you ran off to be with another man or something."
I leaned back and crossed my arms across my chest. "You know we're not actually on a date, right? It's speed dating, I will be in the presence of other men, like every other woman here," I gestured towards the surrounding tables.
He looked up, "Yeah, I know, but you're mine right now. "This is my time, and I won't take too kindly to a woman disrespecting me." His words shot from his mouth like splashes of water to the face.
"Disrespecting you," I questioned. Barely bridled anger tinged my voice. I clenched my fists, my freshly manicured nails digging into the skin of my palms. I leaned forward and rested my arms and my chest across the top of the table. Jordan's eyes followed and lingered on my breasts. Typical.
"I don't know what you think is going on here." I waved my pointer finger between us. "But I don't belong to you, not for thirty minutes, not at all."
He leaned back and scoffed; his nostrils flared. "You women are all the same. Can't handle a dominant man, always looking to be in control."
I wasn't sure how we got here, but I wasn't staying. "I don't know what you mean by, you women, but we're not doing this. Not here, never."
He waved his hands as if to dismiss me. "Typical Black woman. You want the strong Black man, but you don't want to yield to his dominance." The words fell from his mouth like harsh cuts. "Let me guess, you don't cook either, do you?" He pursed his lips and glowered at me like I'd offended him.
My eyes became slits, and it tempted me to jump over the table and throttle him. I flattened my palms against the countertop and leaned all of my weight on them fully prepared to let into him, "I know damn—"
A ringing bell interceded the building argument. "Okay, lovers, time to switch."
I sat back, and my body sagged with relief. Saved by the bell. I scooted the chair back and stood to grab my handbag and the sweater that rested on top of it. I wasn't bothering with salutations.
I let my feet lead me to the door without a glance back. I was done. I might have been a little overzealous cutting the night short, but I wasn't in the mood to play nice anymore this evening. I wanted to go home, tie up my hair, get into a pair of PJ's and gorge on my ice cream, and forget about dating, possibly forever. I would call Jordan later; she'd understand once I thoroughly explained what happened. But I wouldn't ruin her night by telling her before the event was over.
I made it to the door, hand poised to exit.
"Leaving so soon?"
I wanted to ignore the voice and whoever it belonged to. I just wanted to get home. But the velvet, masculine baritone slid down my shoulders like fingers across my skin and caused me to shiver—like I'd been a victim of a gust of frigid wind. It was probably the sexiest sound I'd ever heard. I clenched my jaw, wholly affected. I pulled my extended hand back and spun on my heels. I hadn't realized how close the voice was to me because when I turned; I knocked into him and stumbled backward in my heels. He steadied me with a hand to my waist. His fingers rested across the small of my back, there wasn't any material at the back of my top; it was made of chiffon material and had a mock neck. It had bell sleeves that flared outward when it reached my hands, but the back of the shirt was open and exposed.
"Whoa. Careful," he said.
His eyes pinned me in place. He had inescapable eyes, eyes you didn't want to look away from. They seemed to sear through me, accessing me, appraising me, undressing me. I took a careful step back, using a hand to his chest, creating some much need distance. The movement caused his grip to loosen, and his fingers grazed my back as they fell. I shivered once more.
"You good?" He regarded me like I might fall at any moment, like he wasn't with just a stare, wrecking me. Hell no, I wasn't good. I was something: aroused, beguiled, confused, but I wasn't good. I needed to go. I wanted away from whatever magic he was throwing at me.
"I'm fine. Thank you. But if you'll excuse me." I turned towards the door again, ready to kick dust.
"I was hoping to have time to sit with you."
I halted and turned towards him that ethereal voice pulling me back.
"Sit with me," I asked.
"Yeah, you know, ding, he made the motion of the ringing bell, do the speed dating thing?" He shrugged casually, and the sweater he wore bunched under his broad shoulders. Then he smiled; the smile lit up his entire face.
I turned then, full-on, unable to resist. I tucked my clutch under my arm and regarded him. He stood casually, hands tucked into a pair of black loose-fitting slacks. A camel-colored cashmere sweater tucked into the pants. It was startling against his skin, which was the color of winter nights. He was dark, not quite onyx, but brown adjacent and every inch that I could see was unblemished and beautiful.
"So, can I?
I angled my head to the side, "I'm sorry, can you what?" I'd already forgotten what we were talking about.
He laughed a soft rumbly sound. It made goosebumps rise on my skin. "Can I sit with you for a bit?" He motioned to the tables behind him. "I promise I won't take too much of your time."
I watched him with narrowed eyes. I wanted to, but I'd already had one unpleasant experience. I wasn't eager to have a repeat performance.
So, I did what any rational woman would do; I got an attitude. A man as good looking as him had to be up to something.
His brows scrunched in confusion, but he was quick to school them back.
"I want to get to know you."
I folded my arms against my chest, forgetting about the handbag, and it slipped from beneath my arm and hit the floor. I let it stay there. "What if I don't want to get to know, you?"
"I can respect that," he said, stepping forward until we were mere breaths apart. Puffs of his warm, minty breath caressed my face. I stood stock-still and held my bottom lip between my teeth, holding his stare. I was too afraid to look away. I didn't think I could look away if I wanted to. He drank me in, first my eyes, and lingered there. His eyes were hungry, no they were greedy. They looked as though they were ready to devour me, and would come back for second and third helpings. Then he rested his gaze on my lips. It felt like he was kissing me, and we weren't even touching. I licked my lips in response.
He smiled then bit his lip like he held a secret. I instantly rivaled his teeth, wanting to replace them with my own. Who was this fucking man?
He leaned down, startling me, and my breath caught. He grabbed my handbag and reached to hand it back to me, but his face was inches away from my most private place. I throbbed beneath my skirt from the proximity. He looked up at me with a devilish tilt of his lips. I clenched my fists at my sides. I willed them to move, but they were unresponsive. His grin widened, and he grabbed my hand, pulled my fingers loose, and wrapped them around my clutch.
He stood and stepped back. "I don't think you want that though, do you, Peaches?"
I squinted at him, "Did you just call me, Peaches?"
One side of his mouth lifted. "Yeah, you smell like them." He stepped forward.
"Whoa, stranger danger." I pushed him back, though there was little strength in the push. With him there, so close, it felt odd but precisely right.
He stepped back, laughing with his hands raised, "Sorry, sorry. You smell so good."
My narrowed gaze followed him. Fine or not, I didn't know him.
"I'll keep my hands to myself from now on. Scout's honor." He crossed his fingers in front of himself and rested his other hand against his heart.
"You crossed your fingers. Doesn't that negate the promise?"
"You crossed your fingers. Doesn't that negate the promise?"
He winked and said nothing.
I glared at him.
His smile fell, and he stood taller, seriousness etched in the tightness of his stance, "I won't. I would never want you to feel disrespected. I'm sorry. I'm normally an upstanding citizen and a gentleman."
I pursed my lips.
"I give to the homeless. I volunteer at an elderly home some weekends." He used his fingers to tick off each good deed. "I rescue stray cats. I have two, see," he said this and reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet and opened it. He leaned the wallet towards me so I could see. In the portrait pocket, was a picture of two cats, one white, the other black. He told me their names were salt and pepper, and I damn near swooned.
I looked at him, unable to connect the story with the man before me. Not because I couldn't believe it, but because it was fucking unreal, too good to be true. He restrained a grin between tightened plump lips as if he could read my warring thoughts.
He put his fingers in his hair — kinky, tightly coiled curls that shone like they recently moisturized and gently tugged at them. He looked boyish.
I gnawed on my bottom lip. He was fine and had cats. I clenched my thighs together, which was practically dirty talk. I could still say no, I wasn't weak. I was a strong black woman with willpower. So what, I hadn't slept with a man in what felt like forever. I had a pint of untouched, vegan, coconut ice cream in the freezer waiting for me. That was almost the same thing.
I turned and eyed the door. The sky was clear, and if I left now, I could avoid the rain the weatherman forecast us to get. I sighed and turned back to him. He watched me with eyes that were hopeful and expectant—and very fucking inviting.
Damn him and his cute ass cats. "Okay," I held up both hands. "Ten minutes, that's it."
"That's all I need, Peaches." I side-eyed him.
He grinned, and it seemed to cover the entire span of his face. He gestured for me to walk ahead of him.
"Makayla is fine," I said, stepping forward to pass him. I unintentionally brushed against him as I passed. I felt the connection of the touch from where we connected to the tips of my heel-covered toes.
"Okay, Ma-kay-la." He enunciated every syllable against my ear as I walked by. I shivered under the verbal assault.
Yup, he was trouble, and I was walking right into it.
We headed towards a table, and it felt like the longest walk of my life. My heels crunched on imaginary dirt. The sound coming from the wood of the flooring. It felt like my heels were pulling through sludge, but I felt his eyes on the back of me as I walked. His gaze burned hot on the back of me. I was suddenly having doubts about my choice of top. I still felt the ghost of his fingers at my back. It tempted me to put my sweater on to cover up, but I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
When we reached an empty table, he pulled the chair out for me. I thanked him, and he stood there until I was neatly tucked under the table. He had to be putting on, but I was allowing him the opportunity to prove me wrong.
I watched him as he walked to his side of the table. His hand gripped the top of the chair, ready to pull it out, but I stopped him before he could sit.
"What's your name?"
He grinned. He seemed to do that a lot. "We'll get to that, Peaches. Don't worry."
He sat and flagged down a waiter; it was quieter now—as the evening was winding down. Conversations hummed at a low level around the room. His eyes never left mine, even while he ordered, also while the waiter jotted everything down, and even when he finally walked away. His gaze burned hot against mine like he thought I might disappear if he bothered to look away. I heard and saw nothing and no one else; it was like his eyes on me, tuned everything out.
I rested my elbows against the table and sat forward. I placed my face in my hands, holding his unrelenting and piercing stare. He was trouble, but little did he know he just met his match.