The cashier is giving her the stink face. Rita checks the time on her phone. Screw you, bitch, she wants to say. Home Depot closes at ten, it ain’t ten yet. She flashes her a fake, “I wasn’t aware of the time. I promise I’ll be quick,” smile, but the woman’s not buying it one bit.
“Painting supplies?” Rita asks in her sincerest dumb blonde voice. She was blond once, for a season. Dated a blond too, for a few seasons.
The cashier points to her left behind her. “Aisle nine,” she says in a low, heavy accent. It comes out like a wet burp. Rita curls her upper lip. No wonder she has an attitude.
And her directions are of no help. Paint is all the way in the back corner of the store, hidden behind Home and Décor. She almost missed it for the bright ass brass light fixtures in the aisle ahead of it. She wonders how high their electric bill must be to keep an aisle full of lights on. And do they stay on over night? No workers around to start cutting them off, and it’s ten minutes til closing.
Standing in front of the rows of paint cans, she flips through the paint chart for the perfect color. Nothing white, or off-white. She won’t even look a beige, or pink, which is what she calls her co-workers in the office. Not to their faces of course, racial slur and all, and she needs her job, even though she hates it.
“Can I help you?” It’s the first face she’s seen since walking in and being rudely greeted by the woman up front. At least this one has a smile. It’s a cute smile too, revealing a pair of diamond-shaped dimples at the bottom corner of his cheeks between his nose and mouth.
And his mouth is the shape of a perfectly quartered melon, though not in a way that it’s tragically comical, like a minstrel performance, or that it pains him. His teeth are perfectly straight, too straight. Probably wore braces as a teenager. They’re a pearly white, not a yellow stain in sight. Rita likes this; it shows that he takes care of himself, believes in proper hygiene. At the very least, his breath smells fresh, and Rita finds herself leaning in a little closer to catch a hint of mint when he speaks.
She likes the fullness in his lips. Most guys she dates are flat. It feels too much like their knocking teeth when they kiss, like she’s swallowing their faces whole when she opens her mouth for something deeper. It makes her self-conscious, the big-lipped black girl sucking face with the poor, defenseless white boys. Duck-bill bandit, they used to call her in grade school. Kids are fucking assholes.
His upper lip rolls back slightly to show a sliver of gum. A plush pink. His gums, not his lips. His lips are brown. Brown like her. A light brown, but brown all the same.
She exhales a sigh. “I need to paint my room.”
“Tonight? So soon?”
He stares at her, flashes that signature grin again, this time from the side. Dammit, he really is attractive . . . for a black guy.
“Just sick of the sight of it.” Rita’s eyes drift down to the name tag attached to his orange apron. “Hank,” she adds. Such an old name for someone who looks barely out of college. His eyes so wide and innocent, like those of a new born baby seeing the world for the first time. The thin strip of hair that curves down from his sideburns, across the bottom of his chin is perfectly trim. She’s not one for facial hair, prefers the smooth, razor bump-free skin, but this suits him. It outlines his structured jawline just right. Rita imagines how his face would fit in the crook of her neck.
She shakes her head. No, Rita, she reminds herself. You’ll just corrupt his innocence with all your baggage.
“Well, we have a lot of colors to choose from. I could even mix something up for you. But you seem like the type to just grab a can and go.”
Rita cringes at the type. She doesn’t want to be the type anymore. The smash and dash kind of type. The side chick kind of type. The type that’ll let a man swing by and hit, no strings, on his way home to the wife and kids. The type that’s never good enough to be a wife, to have kids with, because she’s too unstable, too crazy, good enough to brag about to the guys but not enough to introduce to the family, the 20 but not the 80, not the . . . type.
But she’s so used to the label, so she shrugs her shoulders and says, “It is close to closing time.”
“We can stay open a little longer for you.”
Is he flirting with me? Rita wonders. Please don’t. I’m already lonely. I just might let you in.
“What do you want?” His lips pucker when he asks. He says it like it’s pillow talk, like he’s already made love to her and now he wants to give her the world. It makes her want to stick around. She can see herself ten minutes from now, waiting in the dark parking lot after having made her purchase, watching for him to come out, to find her car, to get in the passenger seat and reach across the dash, cup her face in his hand, touch his lips against hers, the perfect ratio, pull her over onto his lap, not to take her clothes off for a cramped quickie, but to swallow her face whole, to touch and reawaken her numb body parts worn from abuse, from being prodded by the hands of too many eager men, to breath deep into her lungs and ignite a passion that has long lain dormant.
“What do you want?” he repeats. He’s nearly on top her her. They stand side by side, shoulders touching. She feels the heat coming from his flannel shirt. She glances down at his lips again. Full. Firm. Brown.
“Anything but white.”