I was already awake when the alarm when off at six, because like every other member of my family, I can’t sleep much past five-thirty. I sat up in bed, and after a very deep and satisfying stretch, I got out of bed and headed toward the bathroom.
“Good morning,” Lloyd said as he rolled over.
I mumbled the equivalent of a good morning and kept it moving. We were having yet another “Natasha didn’t act appropriately” argument. It seems that at the wedding, at my friend’s wedding, I wasn’t appropriately interested in the conversation that he was having about real estate development, nor was I the slightest bit interested in the “Oh, how great it is to be me” conversation I was having with his wife.
I went in the bathroom and closed the door harder than I needed to, but so what, I was still mad and that was just my way of repeating the last words that I said to him last night.
You’re an asshole.
After I showered, did my hair and makeup, dressed in a black and blue color block, cap-sleeve dress and some Stuart Weitzman pumps that I got off the last chance rack at Macy’s, I left for work.
I’m a risk management analyst for Reese Group Insurance for my quote, unquote, rabbi, Olivia London. She is the vice president of risk management. I’ve worked closely with her since I started as a customer service rep at this company ten years ago.
I graduated with a degree in mathematics from the University of Florida, and quickly found out that despite being assured that my career outlook was bright, because according to the US Bureau of Labor, employment for mathematicians was expected to increase 23 percent faster than the average for all occupations, I couldn’t find a job in my field. I couldn’t even get an interview for the first seven months after I graduated. And after over a year of looking, I got off the high-and-mighty horse I was riding and began looking for a job—any job—as long as it was a job. So I was thrilled when I got the call from Olivia, who at that time was customer service manager, saying that I could start on Monday.
I remember that during the interview, after I got finished promising to be the greatest and most-dedicated employee that ever lived, Olivia sat back in her chair and smiled.
“No, you’re not. The first time somebody offers you a job that remotely relates to mathematics, you’ll be gone.”
I was about to deny it and promise to be as loyal an employee as I was going to be great and dedicated, when Olivia held up her hand.
“No need for you to deny it. We both know it’s the truth.”
Which is why I was shocked when she hired me. But on my first day at work, she explained why she took a chance on me.
“I see a future for both of us at this company and a future where you may actually get to apply that big-brain degree you got. Besides, I remember how damn depressing it was looking for a job, after I graduated from the University of Florida—Go Gators!—with my big-brain degree in philosophy.”
When Olivia transitioned into this department as VP, I came along as her assistant. In that position I liaised with brokerage firms and insurance companies, creating risk models and assisting in renewal information, gathering data from internal sources, analyzing historical insurance documentation. But since I had all the prerequisite positions and experiences, I had my eye on the analyst position. You know, finally getting a real chance to apply that big-brain degree I have.
And after awhile, I got it.
Every once in awhile when things get tight, Olivia will drag me back into doing my old job. She says it’s because I’m the only one she can really depend on. Since I’ve had a chance to work with her new assistant, I know what she means. It’s become a minor point of contention for me, because that’s not my job anymore. I really just want to be an analyst. Now my job is to interpret business requests from the risk management and insurance departments and respond promptly within twenty-four hours. Sounds exciting, right? But I gotta tell you, I’ve never been happier at work than I am now.
Once I had gotten settled in at my desk, I got to work. But throughout the day, I was continually mentally dragged back to the argument that I’d had with Lloyd. At this point, it was becoming one long argument because it doesn’t ever get resolved. The truth is that it will never get resolved because he doesn’t like me.
Not the real me.
It wasn’t always like that. When I first met Lloyd, I thought that he liked me. In so many ways he was like me: self-confident, self-aware, and happy and comfortable with who he is. And he is. But he wasn’t looking for me. Lloyd was looking for somebody that looked like me, but acted the way he wanted me to be. At first, the fact that I was beautiful, smart, and able to talk politics, current events and culture when we went out, seemed to make him happy. He thought I was all-that, so I didn’t realize that I was a trophy.
The beautiful dress he sent when we first started to date, wasn’t just a way of saying you’re beautiful and you’ll be beautiful in it. But in fact, it was a controlling way of making sure that I looked the part. The baubles and other fine gifts that I was happy to receive because I thought it was affectionate, was really compensation for being his trophy. The fact that I not only could keep up with the discussion, but could actually lead the discussion when talking to his peers, and the compliments that followed, wasn’t really about him being happy that I was bright, smart, and cultured. No, it was because I, once again, fit the role of trophy.
And the hot sex we used to have wasn’t about it being so good, because I was so sexually desirable and freaky. It was all about his need to be pleased regularly and my freaky-ass was more than willing to satisfy his every desire. But for me, it was about me wanting to connect on that level with the man I had fallen in love with, not just get off.
That has a lot to do with why I have little interest in doing it. And believe me; not doing it is hard for me because I like to do it.
A lot—I like to do it a lot.
Anyway, over time, I started to realize his motives, because when I attempted to share myself with him, my sometime goofy sense of humor, my love for unconventional things, my desire to sometimes do nothing and have mindlessly, stupid conversations about absolutely nothing, I found that he wasn’t the slightest bit interested in her. The real me. Lloyd wanted no parts of that chick.
It took me some time to get there, but I finally realized that his resistance to me actually being who I was made our relationship a sham. I was a damn trophy and I don’t like it one bit. Every so often I push my way out of the Natasha-box that Lloyd put me in, and each time, it causes a fight like the one we’re having now.
It was the end of the day and I had worked my way through it, mostly based on my enthusiasm about going to the Ritz Theatre tonight. They were having a series of old movies, and tonight it was Carmen Jones starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. It’s one of my favorite movies and I’ve seen it more times than I can count, but never on the big screen; so I’m beyond excited about going.
And no, Lloyd is not going with me. When he asked who was in it, I said, “It stars Dorothy Dandridge.”
And he said, “Who’s that?”
“You never heard of Dorothy Dandridge?”
“You’re kidding. In nineteen fifty-five she became the first African-American to be nominated for best actress in a leading role.”
“Nope. Never heard of her.”
I didn’t even ask him if he wanted to go with me, which now, in retrospect, turned out fine. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy watching one of my favorite movies with him sitting next to me fidgeting all night, checking his text messages, and bugging me about how much longer the movie is going to last.
As I expected, seeing Carmen Jones as it was intended, on the big screen, was magnificent. After the movie was over, I picked up my empty popcorn and soda trash like a good movie citizen, and got ready to leave the theater. I had just placed it in the garbage when I turned and bumped into somebody.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and I recognized the voice immediately.
When I first heard his voice, my heart began to beat faster. It was beating so hard that it felt like it was going to burst through my chest.
Since my breath was caught in my throat it was hard to say anything, so I just nodded my head. I was excited to see him again and I was nervous all at once. Even though I knew it was wrong because I had been there with Lloyd, I wanted to talk to him more at the reception. But now here he is.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, and once again his voice shook me to my core.
And once again, I shook my head like a dummy; but this time, I managed to speak actual words. “You didn’t scare me. I just wasn’t expecting to see anybody that I knew.”
What I was, was shocked. Shocked to see him there and extremely curious to know what movie he was there to see. For some reason, I didn’t figure him as the “I’m going to see Carmen Jones” type. But you never know.
“What did you see?” I asked.
“Carmen Jones. It’s one of my favorite movies.”
I wondered whether it was a sign.
I mean, really. What are the chances that I would bump into him at this place, at this time? Especially when I’m starting to tire of Lloyd and this trophy nonsense?
“I know what you mean. I wasn’t expecting to see anybody I knew either; especially you, Natasha.” When he smiled at me it felt like I’d known him all my life; and his smile was the most familiar and satisfying thing I had ever experienced.
That’s when I noticed that he seemed to be looking around for somebody. Probably the woman he brought with him. She probably went to the ladies room while he took care of their trash. I was curious about it, so I asked, “What are you looking for, Victor?”
“Honestly?” he asked, and looked around again before leaning closer to me.
“I was looking around for your man.”
I laughed a little. “No, I’m a solo tonight.” I looked around in the same manner that he was.
He smiled. “What are you looking for, Natasha?”
“Honestly?” I asked, and looked around again.
“I was looking around to see if you were a solo tonight,” I flirted, and wondered where it was coming from. I had a man. One that I was about tired of; but still, that is not the way I like to do things. I was in a committed relationship and that meant that I didn’t flirt with other men.
“No, I’m a solo too.” He folded his arms across that hard chest of his. “But now I’m curious.”
“What are you curious about?”
“Why would—what’s his name?”
“Yeah. Why would Lloyd let you go to the movies by yourself?”
“When I told him that I was going to see a movie starring Dorothy Dandridge, he said he’d never heard of her.”
“No point in asking him then.”
“I came to the same conclusion,” I admitted, and now I was curious. “What about you; why are you alone?” I asked, and started inching toward the exit with him walking next to me.
“Pretty much the same reason. Most people I know aren’t into old movies, so after awhile I stopped asking people to go with me.”
“They never understand it and don’t quite get why you do,” I said, as he opened and held the door for me as I exited the theater.
“So, since we are both alone, would you like to get some coffee or something? There’s a Brick Coffee House nearby.”
I looked at my watch. “I don’t think so. Not tonight anyway.”
“Well, at least let me walk you to your car,” Victor offered, and I was instinctively about to say no when he said, “How can a lady walk alone.” Paraphrasing a line from “Dere’s A Cafe On De Corner” from Carmen Jones. “A lady oughta have a man to escort her to her car.”
I melted. “Sure.”
Not for the first time did I think about how much he dwarfed me in size. I’d often been described as tall, compared to most women at five foot six, but walking next to Victor, who looked to be at least six two with broad shoulders, I felt petite, feminine, and protected. As we walked from the theater toward the parking lot, I noticed how relaxed he was, how fluid his movements were. The intensity of his gaze a week ago and again today; the way he moved. How good he looked right now made me conjure thoughts of how good he’d be at touching me the way I liked; making love to me the way I liked. My face got warm just thinking about what I shouldn’t have been thinking about. I was taken, so Victor should not be on my mind right now.
“What are you thinking about, Natasha?”
His words took me away from my delicious thoughts. I stopped and told him a lie. “Nothing at all. Well, maybe about all the things I have on my agenda for tomorrow. What were you thinking about?”
He looked away before pinning me with his intense brown eyes. “You.”
I swallowed hard before trying to end this before it started, but he wouldn’t let me. “I know you were at the wedding with your man, so I know you shouldn’t go out with me; but there is something about you that I can’t shake. So even if I can’t have you now,” he paused before continuing, “I would at least like to be your friend.”
I looked at him, and when I felt that same pull that I felt at the reception I turned to get to my car, but he grabbed my hand. With anyone else, especially a man, that would have alarmed me. It was dark outside and there weren’t many people around. I didn’t know him but his touch ignited something inside of me. It made me want to be closer to him and never leave again. He almost made me want to take him up on his offer and invite him over for a cup, which would have been problematic since I live with Lloyd.
“How about you give me your number and I’ll call you?” It was all I could offer. I couldn’t commit to something I wasn’t even supposed to be doing.
He smiled like that was enough . . . for now.
And I smiled back.
I knew this should be the moment where I leave, but again, there was that pull, and admittedly I wasn’t quite ready to end this. So I made a lame attempt to start up a conversation. I asked him whether he was going to see Stormy Weather. He was on to me, if his smirk was any indication, but he went with it and I got so caught up in his almost childlike enthusiasm for finally getting to see the Nicholas Brothers dance on the big screen, that I thought maybe I’d like to go with him.
When we got to the car, I unlocked the door but I didn’t get in. Considering what I was doing and how I was feeling, I wasn’t ready to go home. So Victor and I talked at the car for the next hour. I leaned against the car and he leaned on the car next to me, shoulder to shoulder. Standing this close to Victor excited me. Every fiber in my being wanted to say it doesn’t have to end. I wanted to keep talking to him, and I could tell that he wanted to keep talking to me. I thought about what it would feel like if he were to kiss me right now.
And then we both chose the polite option.
“But I have to go.” I open the car door and got in.
Victor closed the door and stepped away.
“Can I call you sometime?” he asked again.
“Under the circumstances”—me having a man and all—“I think it’s best if you give me your number.”
He reached in his wallet and handed me his card. “And that’s my personal cell number. Feel free to call at any time.”
“Banking analyst at First Integrity Bank,” I said out loud. I paused because now there was something else that we had in common. “I’m a risk management analyst for The Reese Group.”
“I know that you work at The Reese Group.”
I looked at him strangely for a second and then I realized. “Vanessa told you that?”
“Actually, it was Paul; and he just mentioned it.” Victor paused and kind of looked down and away.
I smiled. “Out with it.”
“When I remembered Paul mentioning where you worked, I googled the company and tried to find you. I was gonna send you flowers or something, but I couldn’t get access to the employee directory.” Victor shrugged his shoulders. “So I gave up, because I knew in my heart that I would see you again.”
Wow. What could I say behind that? I thought, so I didn’t say anything. But inside I was glowing.
Victor smiled at me like he knew what he was doing to me. “So you’ll have dinner with me tomorrow?”
“No, Victor,” I said, and watched all the enthusiasm drain from his face. “Not tomorrow. Thursday.”
His face lit up like I had just given him the best news he’d ever received.
“Are you familiar with Seasons 52 in the St. Johns Town Center?”
“I am.” His smile broadened. “I’ve been there before. The food is excellent.”
“I look forward to it.” He took a step away from the car. “Good night, Natasha.”
“Good night, Victor.”
© Roy Glenn 2015
Find Chapter Three in next week’s edition on December 1st.
For Sale at major e-tailers including here on Amazon.