Shoes On The Otha' Foot
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A Novel by Hunter Hayes
Precisely four forty-seven p.m., and the damn beat-beat of my heart is racing to catch up with the tick-tock of my wall clock. That's got me going. My mind persists in telling me that he's gonna show. Hmph. To be perfectly frank, sometimes I just don't want to be bothered. But then I suppose, it's normal to feel that way. I mean, it's normal for me to feel that way. One thing's for certain; I'm definitely feeling the onset of a razor-sharp attitude coming on. Reluctantly, I glance up at the wall clock, whose thin-edged hands read 4:48 p.m. Over an hour late. Just where was he anyway? Walking to the full-length living room mirror, I took a peek. I still looked up to par, but the feel of my palms were abnormally sweaty. I yanked a Kleenex from a nearby marbled tissue box and dried my hands. Surely, I thought, the dampness couldn't be a physical sign of "a good thing."
I stared long and hard at my reflection. Well, my hair was intact. Not a one of its singled jet blue-black strands stood out of place. It lay parted straight down the middle and hung loosely blunt on both sides. I made a mental note to add a little something above and beyond Fifi's usual $31 fee on my next visit to the salon. She had done a hell of a job. Mouthing an "m," I gently pressed my two lips together refreshing the layer of terra-cotta bronzed lipstick that I'd applied only twenty minutes before. I turned, strutting my stuff to get a full-body view from the sides and back. If clothes make the woman, then my two-piece mocha-colored cotton pants suit with the top that criss-crossed over my open back was working just fine for me. Just fine. I'm simply mad about natural colors and the way they look against my mapled skintone.
Confirmed. The best thing was that I hadn't looked a bit like the way I felt. For the sake of all outward appearances, I needn't have worried. I was straight. But other things were crooked. About as crooked as the smirk I'm wearing on my face. What was it with men anyway? Is it all that hard to figure out? Two people, working towards building a strong life-long foundation based on a trust, a love, and a mutual respect makes it just that simple. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting that--- not a damn thing! I guess you already know that some mystery man has me stressed to the point of no return. Oh, I'm so sorry. Allow me to introduce myself... I'm so rude, just rambling on and on. You don't even know who the hell I am. My name is Leslie. I'm in my early twenties. Yeah yeah, I know I'm young. Young looking on the outside, but my soul, my soul it's old. As old as the Mayan Civilizations in a way that keeps me independent and strong minded... A strong mind that tells me that from where I'm standing, I'm about to be stood up. Funny thing is, you'd think I'd have been better prepared with the way I go on. I live alone and manage the building I live in as part of a city program that allows dumps like this one to become renovated and go co-op. My apartment's not a dump though; I put a lot of time and energy into making it resemble what I want it to be. I painted, laid down new carpeting, and furnished the place all by myself "a la Art Deco." Martha Stewart who? She's got nothing on me.
A college student I am, majoring in communications and working towards my Associates degree. Eventually, I'd like to be a television Producer/Writer. I've got a head full of ideas and an even stronger determination. I know I'll make it to the top. Oh, and I'm also a virgin. Well, I was. (I get so mixed up sometimes.) Actually, I'm not all that mixed up. It's just that my mind is always working on something. My mother swears in circles that I think too much. School, Video Production, something someone says or does...See, there I go doing it again. What I'm trying to tell you is that I was a virgin up until last year, around the latter part of August. Yes, I figured I was saving myself for that special man. I stand a statuesque, 5 feet 8 inches, and on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd probably rate myself about... a 9. As far as self esteem goes, I've got plenty of it, and even some to share if you're lacking. I think my best feature is... my eyes. They're deep set and dark. I've been told that I've got bedroom eyes; I now know why, though I've never known before. However, there seems to be a strong element of surprise hiding behind that theory. Well, Surprise. I haven't had a lot of experience being in the bedroom, or anyplace else sexually for that matter.
I do feel that I'm attractive and I've never had a problem with meeting guys. I've even had a few boyfriends. They were all good looking, come to think of it, but I got out of the relationships before they could ever get serious. Anyway, I was raised by a single parent for most of my life. Namely, my mother, another strong black woman. But she always had to have a man for that financial need. Used them, abused them, and somewhere in the mix I got caught up in it all.
Physical fights with my mother and the boyfriend. Mostly, that was the biggest drama. My cries of "leave my mother alone" were in vain. I guess it sort of just came with the territory because I knew that not soon after the fight the making up would begin. And as for myself, the only child? Oh, I was sure to be compensated in some way or another. A new pet, a bright shiny blue bike with painted flowers on the seat, or even just some extra spending money. Eleven years old and walking around with $20 in my pocket on a regular basis to do as I pleased (which wasn't even counting my allowance). I know it was only my mother's guilt. As far as mom's boyfriends go, they weren't all bad. A couple were like father figures to me, even up to this very adult day. But my whole problem was, Why did she ever need those men in her life? She had me, and I loved her. She was working, what did we need them for? And what it always came back to was that physical, emotional, financial need. The men she dealt with couldn't handle that, because she wasn't giving the same thing back to them. There it is! You have to give it to get it back. So really, she's never been "in love". What she's done is given up altogether. I still pray to God she finds it. Growing up I had known early on that when I started dating, I was going to go for the full package, and not settle for anything less. Iwas going to get, and give the same thing in return.
Then came that day, that hot-ass summer day when I was strolling home from a video-production class at my college. I didn't know it then, but that day was to become a part of my destiny, and there was virtually nothing I could do about it. It was burning up outside; it had to be at least 90 degrees, but the humidity made it feel more like 99. We had been on this heat wave tip for the past three days and I'd just about had enough of it. It was definitely gonna be a long summer, I thought as I wiped back the tiny beads of sweat which had begun to form along the base of my hairline. Fashion conscious, but burning the hell up I was, dressed in a simple white textured cotton A-line dress, and matching strappy thick-heeled sandals.
I couldn't get upstairs to my fifth-floor apartment soon enough to change into something cooler. Just getting buck naked would probably have been more like it. Unfortunately, before I could get there, my neighbor, who happens to also be my friend's uncle, had come up to me from across the street. He had probably seen me coming from the time I began walking down the block, since he's got nothing better to do. I knew it had to be something with my building. It was always something with my building.
"Leslie!" he called out, as he bustled up to me, practically knocking me down. I'd almost not recognized him, without the uneven short 1975 fro that had become part of his trademark. Someone had taken time to carefully part and plait long strips of neat braid alongside his head.
"Slow down," I insisted to him. I took a step backward. If he'd a been any closer to me, we'd have kissed. The mere thought made me cringe. I didn't care if he had a new hairdo or not.
"Okay," he swallowed hard, slightly pausing to catch his breath. "The dumpster from the city came today," he said. There was an element of excitement regenerating itself in each of his syllables. "And some men are dumping things into it!"
"Dumping things like what?" I asked, in a disgusted tone.
"I don't know," he went on. And on, and on, to give me a very detailed description of the dumpsters contents. "Let's see, there's a short rounded table with a missing leg, eight window frames, four armchairs, two brown, one rust, one army green... And a huge old brass floor lamp with no shade," he made sure to add, as he stared down at the broken concrete pavement beneath him.
I was glad that he was looking down at the pavement, and not at me, because I was laughing to myself. Hadn't he just said he didn't know what they were putting in the dumpster? "Well did you tell them that the dumpster belonged to our building?"
"Yeah, I did, but they said they didn't see any names on it, and how it's a City dumpster---"
"What?" I yelled, cutting him off mid-sentence. We'd waited three agonizing weeks for that damn dumpster. We'd planned on emptying all the old furniture and debris out of apartment #19, fixing the vacant space up, and renting it out to increase our Tenants Association's monthly rent-roll collection.
"Let me go see what's going on here. Thanks," I said, as I left behind my friend's uncle, walking down the block towards the dumpster and the guilty party at hand.
Just upon reaching my destination, I spotted them. Sure enough, sure enough, two men were dumping trash from the brown bricked building directly across from our dumpster like it was alright.
"What is it that you think you're doing here?" I asked as I walked up on them. My tone was a strong and assertive one, and my arms were folded tightly across the front of my chest. But it was like I wasn't even there with the way both men continued tossing those bags into that big metal bin.
"What does it look like?" A tall thin man slurred out from an open window. "We're using this dumpster!"
"That's funny," I smirked. "I don't recall putting down a Mr. Skinny Man and his partner on the order for my building's dumpster. Now, I'd like to know who's in charge here."
"Your looking at him," the tall thin man said, pointing a hardened finger into his own chest.
I knew damn well that he wasn't in charge. A smarter person with any kind of authority would have had good enough sense to know better than to be sarcastic with the person who owned the dumpster they were throwing things into.
At second glance, a short browned Dizzy Gillespie look-alike said, "That man over there, he's in charge."
As I turned to look over my shoulder, I saw another tall man, but this one was quite handsome, of medium build, kind of rugged looking. He had a smooth butterscotch complexion, the kind that you make sure to take in with the first mouthful, leaving nothing to desire on the spoon. His hair was well groomed, dark and curly, with a mustache and beard to complement. And he was coming towards me like he'd just been elected the head of the local Southern Hospitality Welcoming Committee. Caught up in that particular moment though, only left me to wonder just who this man thought he was. Had he been aware that he was using our dumpster without any say so from anybody? Shucks, smiling and grinning the way he was at me. Matchmaker...matchmaker, make me a match..... I quietly hummed inside my head.
"Hello. I'm the boss, what seems to be the problem?" he'd asked me politely.
Darn, there was no melodramatic southern drawl. Somehow I'd hoped for more. "I'll say there's a problem. Who told you that you could put anything in our dumpster!"
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I tried to ask who's dumpster it was, Miss. Nobody knew. So I figured why not use it? I really thought it was a city dumpster. They order them all the time to gut out old buildings."
Oooh, he was so sincere.And informative too! I thought to myself, with fingers of mine that clenched up to form a tight fist. I wasn't gonna hit him, but I sure felt like it. "It seems to me that you didn't try asking around enough. Now what you should have done was found out whose dumpster it really was before you figured out that you were going to start throwing things into it!" I was yelling now, unwilling and unable to maintain my composure, but he remained calm, giving me that old tired puppy-dog look that screamed out; I'm so innocent and regretful. DAMN. It worked. I was a lover of the four- legged breeds, and so what if he only had two. Perhaps we could work something out. It really was much too hot for this nonsense.
"I'll tell you what," I said. "I'll make a deal with you. I've got an apartment that I'm trying to empty out, so if you and your guys can help clear it, then I just might consider sharing this dumpster with you."
His eyebrows arched up in surprise. "You've got business savvy, I see that right now. And I'll tell you what," he said as he tugged on his chin, "me and my guys will clear out the whole apartment and do anything else that you need us to do inside."
Finally, a negotiation had been reached. A sort of meeting of the minds, camaraderie at its best. I pulled together a few strands of hair from the front of my face and tucked it ever so sexily behind one of my ears. I knew I was holding the cards now. All I had to do was play my hand right, because I knew I had him right where I knew I could get him; OPEN.
"No, just empty out the apartment, thank you. It's apartment #19 on the fourth floor, and the elevator doesn't work. You can start now, since you've already started taking up space in my dumpster!"
He let out a hearty laugh and I swear his eyes sparkled as he went to go get his men and start the job. I'll probably remember that moment forever...
I went upstairs to my top floor apartment and started doing some things. Now I don't remember what I was doing exactly, only what I was thinking. I thought, this complete stranger had just walked into my life and I couldn't stop thinking about him. I wondered if his men had finished emptying the apartment. It should have been by now, because there really wasn't all that much in there to begin with. A little "friendly investigating," that's what I'd do, I said to myself turning up the corners of my face to form a devilish smile. Besides that, I wanted to know who this man was because I didn't know a thing about him. I knew that he was easy on the eyes. What was his name anyway? Well, it was time to find out. I put on a new coat of lipstick and changed into my favorite Gap jeans and a short sleeve tee from Victoria's Secret, appealing yet intriguing. I didn't want this man to think I was trying to be all about him. Because I wasn't.
As I locked my apartment door and proceeded to walk down the stairs, I stopped to hear the muttered voices that were coming from behind the closed apartment #19. I knew one of those voices belonged to him. Now I was paranoid, wondering if he was talking about me. So I carefully leaned in pressing my ear against the door to hear whatever the heck I was gonna hear.
"No, Jimmy, move that out!" I heard a voice say.
"Man you crazy! I ain't moving no refrigerator down those stairs by myself!"
"Oh yes you are! I wanna clear everything from outta here. Let CJ help you with that!"
Mmph. Such a commanding voice. I liked that power factor. If a man is a spineless wimp, then I don't want him. Pushing the unlocked door open slowly, I walked inside the apartment towards the voices coming from the back room.
"How's it going in here?" I asked them. He had every man in the place working, and to my surprise, almost everything completely taken out.
"Pretty good so far. Listen baby, do you want us to move that stove out too?" he asked me.
I rested the weight of my hand on my hip and replied, "First of all, let's get one thing straight. I am not your baby, so don't refer to me as that. Just give me that respect, okay?" Then he gave me that smile again, that familiar smile that let me know his response would be a real good one.
"Well you never told me your name. Maybe if I knew it, I could have called you by it. Please allow me to apologize, I'm very sorry if I offended you, and..."
"Leslie Williams. That's my name, now you know it!" I said abruptly, with eyes that darted all around the room.
"Okay, I'll address you as Ms. Williams," he tells me.
He was being fuckin sarcastic, but I was loving every minute of this conversation. I can't really say what it was. Maybe it was the play on words, or the battle of wits, or maybe it was just the way his lips moved when he spoke. For some odd reason, my eyes were transfixed there.
"Leslie will be fine, just fine," I told him. I didn't want to be too mean to him because after all, I felt drawn to this person in a strange way that I'd never felt before. While he shoveled debris from the kitchen, I acted like I was looking around the apartment, but I was really watching him.
"You know that's a coincidence. I had a girlfriend in California with your name," he said from out of nowhere.
Well who the hell had asked him all that? He wanted to know my name and I told him. Who me? Jealous? Hmph.
I managed to let out a very monotone:
"Yep," he said.
Yep? What the fuck was a yep? Was that all he could say? By now I'd had my fill of this man. All I wanted to do was go back upstairs to my apartment and have an ice cold drink, and maybe a slice of that peach cobbler I had stood on line for 15 minutes at Wimps Bakery for the day before. So I walked out. I walked all the way out of the room, down the hall, and straight out of the front door remembering to yell out an, "Oh yeah, and you can get rid of that stove too!"
Damn. I hated myself for wolfing down those two helpings of cobbler and that large glass of iced tea. I rubbed my stomach. I was really upset, but I didn't know why. It had also just dawned on me that I still hadn't found out what this man's name was. I decided to give my friend Patrice a call to see how she was doing. Patrice is... to describe in a few words...simply, UNPREDICTABLE. She lives by the motto "do as I say, not as I do." It is for this very reason that I try to avoid telling her any of my personal business, because she is highly analytical, and too damn critical. Still, I always wind up opening up my big mouth. It's like the words just bust out with no damn warning. This time would be different though. This time I promised not to talk about myself, but about any, and everybody, else.
"Hey girl, what's up?" I asked.
"Who is this?"
"Who the hell do you think it is? It's me, Leslie."
"Ohh...whatsup?" Patrice answered upon second realization.
"Nothing much. I just finished stuffing my face," I told her as I undid the top button on my jeans. Good, at least I could breathe now. I'd take it easy on the peach cobbler the next time around.
"Man problems, huh?" Patrice asked. The question born to be a statement undoubtedly.
It was, basically, all I had to say.
"Well there's no problem on this end. Girl, let me tell
you," Patrice went on, "I met this guy, he's got it going on! The body on this guy is like booming. Well, I went to his house...Honey, one thing led to another, and....."
Somewhere in between the story I had to tune Patrice out. In fact, I'd had enough time to actually contemplate wrapping my spiraled telephone cord around my neck. It was the same-o-same-o. She met a new man, he looked good, probably didn't have too much going on for himself, but she just had to fuck him. Ecetera, Ecetera...
"Leslie, are you still there? Girl you haven't been listening to a word I've been saying," Patrice said in her usual high pitched voice. It was the voice she was destined to squeak out for the rest of her natural born life. A voice, nonetheless, that I had grown to get used to throughout our eight-year since-we-were-kids friendship.
"Yes I have been listening. It's just that I've had so much on my mind lately. Girl, I just don't know sometimes...," I said.
"Talk to me Leslie."
Here I go again, me and my big assed mouth. I could have kicked myself. "Well," I began, "I met this guy today, actually he's a man. I don't even know his name. He's older though, very good looking, and I think he's into real estate, or contracting or something."
"Yeah, and that's it, that's just it. There is no more. But I find myself somehow feeling kind of drawn to him."
"You are?" Patrice's squeaky voice went down an octave, a tell tale sign of trouble. "Well, how old is he?"
"He looks to be about thirty-something."
"Hmph," Patrice muffled under her breath.
Then I think to myself, oh great, here comes the stupid advice.
"Girl watch out for those older men, you're only twenty something and he's thirty-something. He's more experienced, he might try to take advantage of you. I don't want to see you get hurt. Girl...that's a messed up feeling," Patrice said with a heavy high sigh.
I was just thankful that we didn't have to go back to her first-love/ first-hurt story. "Patrice, I am not stupid. I know how to handle my own relationships."
"What relationships?" Patrice asked me sarcastically, you've never had a real one. For God sakes girl, your still a virgin, and at your age! Girl, he'll have to blow it open with a time bomb!" She chuckled. "Take it from me, you still gotta lot to learn!"
Then I think, time to tune Patrice out again. I love her, but what kind of person was she to talk? All of her relationships were dead, and I sure-nuff didn't see her with no Mr. Right. And another damn thing, we're the same age, I grew up with the girl, and I'm just a little sorry about that, because maybe then she wouldn't have known that I was a virgin. Always rubbin shit in. (No pun intended.) Don't get me wrong, I don't feel bad about having been one, but I don't need anyone to throw that virgin shit in my face like it is "THEEE" ultimate sign of maturity. I pressed a button on my cordless telephone to resemble the sound of a click as though it was my call waiting, because I could see that this conversation was going nowhere fast.
"Oh that's my other line girl, let me see who this is. Are you going to be home? It's probably my mother, let me call you back."
"Well no, I'm not going to be here," Patrice said. "I've got a date with that cutie I was tellin you about, but I'll give you a call tomorrow to let you know how it went."
"Can't wait," I said, lying. The things we do and say in the name of friendship, I thought to myself. "Alright now, don't do anything I wouldn't do!" I said.
"Are you trying to depress me? I do want to have some fun tonight."
"Ha, ha, ha," I said, and with that I hung up the phone.
I lay down on my Italian custom navy leather couch with the stereo on, with the sounds of the brown sugar babied D' Angelo floating in the background which finally drifted me off to sleep. I rolled over onto the other side of the bed to take a look at the time on the nightstand. It was still dark outside, and the absence of the sun's usual bright presence in my bedroom led me to think that it was earlier than it really was. It looked like rain, all clouds and no sun. A quick time check revealed that it was 9:30 a.m., the next day, and time for me to raise up and haul myself off to class.
Why couldn't I just stay home? Technically I could, I'm grown. And not to mention that it was, after all, the perfect sleeping in weather. I was going to be late again. My history class was scheduled to start at 10:00 and I knew I wouldn't reach school until at least 10:30. Why didn't I remember to set the alarm? School was the place to be. School was the place where I would get my damn degree, so that I could get on with my life, and do what I had to do. That's just how I saw it. I showered and slipped into my favorite summer dress, added shoes, a quick touch of lipstick and earthtone eye shadow, grabbed my bag, and dashed out the door on my way to class.
Bang,clack,clutter,bang,bang,clack,clutter, almost a tool quartet. Those were the sounds I heard coming from across the street from the building "He" was working in. I decided to walk really fast, pretending not to hear or see him. A sure way of keeping things uncomplicated. I passed each building as though it were a hurdle. So far so good. Maybe he doesn't see me, I said to myself, seemingly unnoticed. Passing each building I began to count one...two..three..four
"Leslie!" he called out...
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