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Cynique

The Only One Chapter 9

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It was Monday, a new work week and maybe a new beginning Carole thought as, spotting an opening, she decided to go for it. Why not? Troy Briggs had no problem invading her space during break-time. So, she’d return the favor, using the occasion to try and smooth things over between them.

Glad she had decided to glam-up while getting dressed that morning, she was an appealing sight in her black leather knee-high boots and the snug little red skirt that was set off by a flower-printed blouse with frilly sleeves and scooped neckline. Strutting her way through the congested cafeteria, she approached the table where her antagonist sat reading a newspaper, looking rather spiffy, himself, in a brown tweed sports jacket, open-collared white shirt and tan slacks.

Hoping her 24-karat opportunity wasn’t fool’s gold, Carol stopped short, momentarily unnerved by the Sun-Times headline that screamed: “ANOTHER DUMPSTER VICTIM AMONG WEEK-END MURDERS”.

“So, you think the Bulls are going to take tomorrow’s game?” she greeted as Troy Briggs looked up from the Sports pages, and gave her the once over, his stare stripping her bare.

“What do you think?” he asked after a pause.

“That they’ll be victorious, of course,” she answered, feeling deliciously naked as she slid into a chair.

“Any given team can win a game on any given night in the NBA,” he contended.

“Well, the odds do favor the better franchise,” she replied.

“Better at what?” he challenged. “Basketball is about match-ups and role-playing, adjustments and shot-selection. It’s not just an exhibition for arm chair groupies pulling for the cute guy to do a slam-dunk.”

She flinched. “What a - chauvinistic thing to say.”

Chauvinistic,” he repeated and chuckled.

“When I made my prediction, I took into consideration that the Bulls have a well-balanced team, a deep bench, and - an MVP point guard!”

He raised an eyebrow. “Is that right, - Charlene Barkley?”

“Not only that, their opponents will have to deal with fatigue because they meet the Lakers tonight.”

“You don’t say, Phyllis Jackson.”

“I happened to have played a little basketball in high school,” she informed.

“Forward?”

“Guard.”

“Bet you were you a ball hog.”

“You’re just dribbling with repartee, aren’t you?”

Repartee,” he echoed, and smirked.

“How about a little friendly wager on tonight’s game,” she tried.

“OK, Michelle Jordan,” he yawned and tossed his newspaper aside. “If the Bulls win, you buy me lunch. But if they lose, - you invite me over for a home-cooked meal.”

She could hardly believe her ears but, then, realizing what he had actually proposed, she laughed. “Talk about a free throw!”

“That’s the way the ball bounces,” he taunted, the look in his eyes both a dare and a promise.

Nearly mesmerized, she managed to speak. “Alright. It’s a bet.”

Quickly he stood up. “Bet,” he agreed, and took off.

Watching as he maneuvered through the crowded cafeteria, arriving just in time to walk out the door with Debbie Marlowe, Carole regained her senses. For a fleeting moment, the possibility of having dinner with her heart’s desire had elevated her spirits. But the way Troy had just broken his neck to catch up with Debbie brought everything crashing to earth!

On the way back to her work station, there wasn’t much pep to Carole’s step, and she felt like kicking off her stiletto-heeled boots.

What was this - vampire up to she wondered, bruised from the way Troy had just sucked her in. Was keeping her off balance a deliberate ploy? If he wasn’t her supervisor, would he be less devious? As if it would make a difference. The whole office was a hotbed of hanky-panky where everybody was sneaking around with somebody. Under ordinary circumstances, she could’ve brought sexual harassment charges against Troy Briggs for the provocative remarks he was always making. Except, who’d ever believe he would need to sexually harass his single co-workers, any one of whom would’ve welcomed his advances!

Crossing over to her pod, Carole sank down in her chair, discouraged. The least she could now do was to ignore the ‘dip-shit’ who had just breezed in from break, looking all invigorated after his stroll with Debbie Marlowe. Or at least only observe him out of the corner of her eye…

That evening Wanda had done the phoning, checking to see what was up since Carole hadn’t called. “What were you doin?” she asked her girlfriend. “Reading a stalker’s manual?”

“No, a cook book,” Carole answered tersely, not ready to reveal anything more, not wanting to hear Wanda go on and on about how Troy had played her again.

“A cook book!” Wanda exclaimed.

“Yes, my mother gave it to me when I first moved out and I was just thumbing through it. It was actually rather interesting.”

“You’d find the label on a can of beans interesting. So, does this mean I’m invited to dinner Sunday?”

“No.”

“Does it mean you’re going to stop calling yourself a – ‘jazz aficionado’ and become a gourmet cook?”

“No. As a matter of fact I got a call from Albert tonight. He was checking to see if I wanted to catch Jill Scott who’ll be in town this week end.”

“And?”

“I turned him down. ‘Told him I’d just rather wait for Esparanza Spalding’s upcoming engagement.”

“What was his reaction?”

“I don’t know. I told you how strange he is. You can never tell what he’s thinking, but he did have some flattering new observations to make.”

“Such as?”

“He said the memory he has in his head of me was how my face had a mysterious - Mona Lisa quality.”

“Oooh, shit,” Wanda groaned. “Be serious! Instead of Cleopatra and Mona Lisa, why the heck can’t you represent for - Helen of Troy!”

“The same reason you can’t represent for the Sphinx and - just be quiet!” Carole rebutted.

Later, climbing into her empty bed, Carole’s head was a jumble of thoughts, all about the same subject: Troy Briggs - so unlike the other guys in her history who, although jerks and losers and jive-assed niggas, had at least pursued her, told her how fine she was, and were frantic to get her into bed. As a challenge, was Troy really worth her effort? It was so frustrating and, with all due respect to Ralph Ellison, suffice to say that she was the victim of an invisible seducer; her imagination had gotten the best of her, and - out of sight was not out of mind! Emotional involvement could really be a bitch – in more ways than one. Was it now time to apply everything she had read in her collection of spiritually-correct, self-help books? When it came to getting her wishes, she was supposed to visualize and energize and think positive! If only this secret formula worked. If only it was Troy Briggs, instead of Albert, who was envisioning her face. On the other hand, why the hell was she letting that “dick head” rape her self-esteem?? Oprah and Tyra and Iyanla would be ashamed of her!

So much to process. So much to ponder.

But tomorrow was another day…

…and nighttime could be the right time!

Kneeling in front of her bedroom TV watching the Bulls play, her fists clenched, her shoulders hunched, Carole was a nervous wreck.

“Go, baby!” she yelled as D-Rose drove to the basket extending the lead to 6 points.

“Way to go!” she hollered seconds later as the visiting point guard sped down the court and answered with an outside shot, and was fouled.

Heaving a sigh as the first free throw went in, Carole threw up her hands, wondering how she could be rooting for both teams. Troy Briggs was turning her into a complete idiot!? He was nothing but a ‘conceited con-man’! Wanda was right when she called him this after hearing about the stupid bet Carole had made!

Behind their backs, some people referred to Wanda Ewing and Carole Everly as “the odd couple”. Hearing about this, Wanda had simply snorted. So damned what? Although she and her best friend had a few things in common, with her moon face and hefty body Wanda had never fooled herself into thinking that she had Carole’s grace and flair or charm and tact. So if contrasting personas made her and Carole a strange twosome, then - so damned what?

Unlike her girlfriend, having never known a mother or a father, just a wise and loving “granma”, Wanda had been raised to be a survivor. And a survivor she was – a strong, street-smart sista with attitude to spare.

It was as high school Freshmen that she and Carole had hit it off when the same first letter of their last names regularly paired them side-by-side in classrooms. Carole had appreciated Wanda’s down-to-earth feistiness and dry sense of humor, and Wanda had immediately taken to Carole, trusting the instincts that had always enabled her to spot phonies. In Carole, she had seen a sincere, intelligent, personable young lady, - the sister she had always wanted.

Staying bonded after graduation, the two of them were once again in sync when, after a series of false starts, they had both ended up working at different branches of City-Wide Utility, handling customers by day, confiding in each other by night, shopping at the malls and hanging out at the spots on week-ends, partners in a unique relationship where the good-humored ridicule they heaped on each other was their special way of showing affection, knowing that at the core of their friendship was the understanding that they would always be there for each other, and when her phone rang just then, Wanda knew it was Carole.

The Bulls game had been close, - gone right down to the wire, and Wanda had mixed feelings about the final…

…result didn’t really matter, the figure coiled there, watching TV decided. The action was enough to satisfy him, it being as exciting as the frenzy of a be-bop solo by Charlie Parker! And he really liked it when things turned rough, - really got off when the players became violent, pummeling each other with their fists. Hockey could be brutal, and scoring required you to slap a little object around with a big stick! He could identify with that.

Just thinking about all that mayhem gave the jack-off an erection and set his hand in motion.

Tonight, he didn’t need music. His week-end had been productive and inside his head, he could still hear the solo performance of a screaming loser!

- to be continued -

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