#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Watermelon Season

I dreamt I ran him over, and the white women from work watched. Their eyes sought to spite me. I screamed to get help, but no one moved. “You’ll burn in hell for this, bitch,” the woman in the center sneered. Her face grew redder with the inflection in her voice.

Looking in the rearview mirror, I see his blond hair first, combed to the right, the sides buzzed a little too close to the scalp. He stands behind my trunk, and I think about my dream, how I stood before a lynch mob as he lay dying. I’m tempted to shift the gear in reverse, fulfill the prophesy and accept my fate, but I take the key out of the ignition, shoulder my purse, and step out.

“Hey,” he says, waving both hands.

I nod, glance over my shoulder at the eight-floor office building looming over the parking lot.

“So do you have any plans for the weekend?”

I shrug. A car pulls into the empty space beside me. It’s the woman from my dream. Her brunette hair is chopped short to her ears, with an inside hook curl at the ends all around, not a strand out of place. She cuts her eyes at me, and I quickly look down at my feet.

“Well, if you’re not busy, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the watermelon patch.”

“Seriously?”

He shakes his head, and his hair shuffles to the front of his face. He smiles, but I don’t smile back, and the loud door slam to the right turns our attention to the woman spying us over the top of her car.

I step closer and whisper so she can’t hear. “Because I’m black, you think I like watermelon.”

“No, no!” His eyes widen. He backs up and instinctively looks to the woman, who still stares. She’s barely taller than her own car; she has to stand on her toes to watch us. I wish she’d go inside already. My throat tightens at the thought of her lassoing a noose around my neck and stringing me up on the branches of one of the magnolias lining the walkway leading to the building.

“It’s watermelon season. My uncle owns a watermelon patch.” He slaps his chest. “I like watermelon. I thought…”

“You thought what?”

The woman finally leaves us, but not before casting a scolding look in my direction. She must be content that he’s in no danger. He’s completed his job in offending me, and now I will leave too, scurry off to my tiny cubicle in the back of the office, segregated from the rest of them, and do my work silently as I’m told.

When the woman is out of earshot, he shoves his hands into his pockets and sighs. “I’m trying to ask you out on a date. Obviously, I’m not doing a good job of it.”

I watch him as he looks everywhere but at me, and I wonder if he too is thinking of the consequences of my saying yes, if he’s dreamt of my death by his hand, of a mob of angry black women shooting curses, taking off belts, breaking off switches to whip him with—the same weapons his people used to beat our souls down into the ground.

“We don’t have to go to the watermelon patch. We could do something different, like the movies, or dinner—what kinds of food do you like? I just wanted to do something different, something out of the box. You’re special, you’re different. I just wanted to do something nice for you.”

“Just be quiet.”

He instantly shuts his mouth, midsentence, and I lean against my side mirror. He waits for my answer, but I’m lost for words. My mind is stuck on “You’re special, you’re different.” Is he referring to my blackness? And again, I fear this proposal will only lead to our combined demise, that I will again be reminded of what we are. I am black, and he is white, and the world will always hate us for what we mean together, for what we are about to do.

And so I tell him, “I like watermelons too.”


Originally published May 27, 2017.

Advertisements

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Roommate Horror Story

I fantasize about murdering my roommate every day.

When I wake up in the morning with a stuffy nose and a sore throat because she turned the thermostat down to fifty degrees in the middle of the night, I think about packing her body into one of those old chest freezers my grandparents keep in their basement. Since she apparently prefers to sleep in cold, dark places, she can pretend that it’s her own little ice coffin, and slowly perish next to ice cream, TV tray dinners, and freezer burned sausages.

When she uses my favorite pan to cook her nasty ass smothered beef cheeks and leaves the dirty pan in the sink for me to wash, I want to beat her over the head with it while it’s still hot from the stove, leaving red circular blisters all over her face.

When my sleep is rudely interrupted by her headboard ferociously slamming against my wall at three in the morning, I imagine taking a knife from the kitchen, slipping through the door she never closes, and plunging the knife through the skinny back of her boy-toy for that night and into her chest underneath.

Much to her dismay, we are not friends. I was desperate to find an apartment close to my new job, and she was desperate to find a replacement roommate before the next month’s rent, so we both turned to Craigslist for a resolution. Meeting her through Craigslist should have been my first clue that the girl was going to be a total pain in the ass. Anyone who has to resort to Craigslist for anything—a car, a job, a single white female, or in my case, an apartment—lacks a certain human quality that enables them to have normal relationships with others, myself included. Why else would I take pleasure in visualizing her infinite violent deaths? Of course, she drove me to it with all of her annoying quirks.

At first sight, Natalie seems like a nice girl. Cute, with olive skin, brown eyes, brown freckles, long light brown hair that she constantly flips and combs back with her fingers, and a tiny mouth with perfectly straight teeth—no doubt she’s had dental work done. She’s short, about five three, with a long slim waist, and she only wears sweatpants two sizes too big, and tank tops that she brings together to tie into a knot at the small of her back, showing off her curves, some midriff, and a pink thong underneath. From the outside you wouldn’t understand why I hate her so much, but outside appearances can often be deceiving.

Natalie is the type of person who intentionally does things to piss you off, testing you to see just how much of a pushover you are, then takes total advantage. She’ll pile dirty dishes in the sink and wait until you’re so fed up with the mess that you clean them yourself before she says, “Oh, I was gonna get that.” She’ll use the last roll of toilet tissue—conveniently, when you’re on your period—go to the store for some more, then hoard them in her room, saying, “If you really need some, you’d go buy it yourself.” When your boyfriend comes over for dinner and a movie, she’ll roam around the house stark naked, drawing his eyes from the movie and you to her perky tits, hard nipples, little round ass, and clean shaven cooch, and when you politely ask her to put on some damn clothes, she’ll say, “Can I not be comfortable in my own house?” and your boyfriend will say, while repositioning his pants, “Yea, babe. Let her be comfortable.”

Four months I dealt with this silently, expressing my resentment only to friends and my mom on our Sunday afternoon phone conversations. So many times I wanted to get back at her, but no matter how conniving my schemes were, I always chickened out. I’m not quite sure when my dreams of revenge—locking the screen door while she’s out on the balcony sunbathing, turning off the bathroom light while she’s in the shower, calling the next guy she brings home Dick, when his name is Jake—turned into elaborate plots of murder. I suppose the switch came the night I almost killed her.

Accidentally, of course.

I had cooked shrimp linguini alfredo for my dinner, and as soon as I turned off the oven, she came waltzing into the kitchen in a tank top and panties, singing, “Mmm, it smells so good in here! I think I’ll fix me a plate.”

Before I could even object, she was sitting at the counter with a plate overflowing with noodles. I watched her choke down my dinner without even pausing to catch her breath until suddenly, she dropped her fork and with wide eyes, demanded, “What’s in this pasta?” Before I could even answer, she was wheezing and clawing at her neck. I scurried behind her and tried to give her the Heimlich, but she swatted my hands away. She spun around in the chair, sticking out her swollen tongue and taking short, sharp gasps of breath that sounded like yelps for help. She clung to the front of my t-shirt and pointed a shaking finger towards her room.

Realizing she was having an allergic reaction to the shrimp, I took off to her room and scrambled through her purse until I found what I supposed was an EpiPen. When I returned to the kitchen, she was grappling on the floor, swinging her head back and forth, her hands clenched to her neck. I had never used an EpiPen before, only seen it done on TV, so I didn’t realize that I needed to remove it from the tube before I began stabbing her leg. She kept scratching my hand, shaking her head, and grunting at me like a gorilla. I was so confused, and her frantic wiggling terrified me more, keeping me frozen by her side squealing, “What do I do? What do I do!”

Eventually, she was able to pause her helpless thrashing and give herself the shot, seeing that I was of no help. When she was able to breathe again, she snatched herself from the floor. “God! I could’ve died!” she said before stomping off to her room and slamming the door behind her.

Could’ve is all that remains on my mind now.

Like I could’ve misplaced her EpiPen.

I could’ve cooked shellfish with my dinner tonight.

I could’ve offered it to her.


Original post published April 12, 2014.

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: A Love Affair With Jazz

From an earlier version of Love Poetry, here’s a Throwback snippet that will hopefully jolt me back into writing this novella, so I can finally, finally finish it.

To see how Love Poetry began, read my very first A to Z Challenge here. With the monstrous blog hop not even two weeks away, it feel  fitting to take you back to the beginning… 


A Love Affair With Jazz

Jessica didn’t know much about Eartha Kitt—only that she played Catwoman in the Batman television series and had an affair with Eddie Murphy in Boomerang—but she would’ve done anything to get out of her dismantled apartment. Her grandmother’s shattered china on the kitchen floor. The hole in the wall next to the photo of her mother. The front door, almost completely off its hinges after Whitmore slammed it behind him and kicked it with all his strength before finally leaving.

When Bruce called in the aftermath, Jessica said yes before he could ask the question, and now, as she sat at the table in the dimly lit restaurant, listening to the jazz musicians’ tribute to the late singer, she couldn’t help but feel intoxicated. Transcending the problems of her current relationship, she snapped her fingers, rolled her neck, and let out a deep moan.

“I knew you would like it,” Bruce whispered in her ear. He was suddenly standing behind her, massaging her shoulders. She hadn’t noticed him leave his seat across from her.

“You’re trying to seduce me,” Jessica said. “You know I have a man.”

“A man?” There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Jessica tried to laugh, but her weak chuckle pained her side. She knew this blissful moment couldn’t last. Even as she yearned for Bruce to wrap his arms around her and move her body with the soothing notes of the trombone, saxophone, and trumpet in harmony, every other man in the restaurant resembled Whitmore. She felt trapped, the walls closing in, the airways to her lungs blocked.

As if reading her mind, Bruce placed a hand on Jessica’s cheek. He wiped away invisible tears with his thumb. He nuzzled her neck and inhaled her perfume. “Lilacs,” he said smiling.

Jessica pursed her lips. “Dance with me.”

Bruce took her hand and together they glided to the dance floor just below the stage. The music had stopped, replaced with a rhythmic beat on a djembe drum. Jessica lifted the hem of her skirt, bounced and rocked her hips as the woman on stage sang into the microphone deep from the back of her throat.

Come oooonnnn-a my house . . .

Jessica danced and spun and let Bruce take her by the hips and pull her into him, his lips grazing behind her ear. She forgot about Whitmore. His unreasonable demands for affection. The tantrum he threw after she’d declined his third proposal. She threw her head back, wrapped her arms around the back of Bruce’s neck, pulling him closer to her. They danced for what seemed like hours.

The final beat on the drum sounded, and the piano, bass, and horns returned.

Oooooh, John, pleeease don’t kiss me. Ooooh, John, pleeeease . . .

Jessica rubbed her cheek against the coarse stubble on Bruce’s chin.

Oooooh, Bruce,” she echoed. “Pleeease . . .

And he kissed her.

—Nortina

Originally published February 12, 2015

 

2018 A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal: A Drabble about Tags

Almost three months ago exactly, I was deep in my 7 Things to Do Before 2018 list, on a mission to organize my blog before the new year. It was during this spree of deleting and restructuring that a gem fell right into my lap. Sadly, I had to wait until spring before I could tell anyone about it…

Despite being eager to reveal my 2018 A to Z Challenge theme since last Christmas, I come to you with my theme reveal a day late and a dollar short…

A 100-Word Story to Introduce My 2018 A to Z Challenge Theme

Delete. One page down. I think I deserve a pat on the back. Productivity score: 1. Procrastination: 0.

This blog clean-up will be a breeze! Only—I squint at the screen—173 more pages to go.

Procrastination creeping in. Why do I have so many tags? Half are for posts that don’t exist—wiped away in a previous purge—most have only been used once…

Like “100-word story.” Why? When I’ve written at least 100?

I select 20 more, drift the mouse toward “Bulk Delete,” when something catches my eye.

Accessory to murder… Only one story.

Hmm… How about another?

Have you figured it out yet?

The prompts are the tags!

Yes, from # to A to Z, I have literally thousands of tags in my blog archives, most of which have lost their companion stories over the years, others that have only ever had one…

Like “100-word story,” for which, before this post, surprisingly, only one story has ever made the cut.

So, starting this April, I’ll be giving some of my most interesting “lonely” tags another reason to shine on the blog.

Would you like to read more stories about becoming an accessory to murder? Or maybe you prefer to get lost in the Bermuda Triangle? Hell, let’s be serious here— you’re just waiting on the impending doom of a zombie apocalypse!

Well, all of those and more are coming to you in just 100 words (so the tag will have even more posts)!

See you in April!

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: After the Wedding

Seven days. Seven days, my period lasted, and each day was a heavier than usual flow. I went through an entire 36-count box of tampons, bought extra panty liners when I realized my tampons weren’t holding—but I would not go a size higher—and I had to toss three pairs of panties that I didn’t feel like scrubbing. It was so unusual, in fact, that I even made an appointment to see my doctor first thing in the New Year.

But this morning I woke up (Hallelujah!) dry, and I wanted to pounce on my husband right then and there!

Yes, my husband. The butterflies still flutter in my stomach when I think of it—I am married. I sit up on my elbows and watch him sleep, study his steady breathing, the slow rise and fall of his chest, how his nostrils sometimes flare when he inhales.

Does he know how much I love him?

I lift my left hand to caress his cheek, and my eyes are immediately drawn to the gold band around my ring finger—I am married. I feel like I’m floating, swimming in the love that is desperate to flow out of me and into him. I don’t want to touch the ground.

But I do come down, tip toe across the cool hard wood of his (our)—I am married—bedroom floor to our bathroom to freshen up.

I find myself giggling hysterically as the steam rises from the shower. The last time I was this giddy was ironically when I had my first period. I was nine years old and so excited to finally be a woman, to be able to make a baby. I saw the blood between my thighs and squealed in delight. I washed my panties in the sink while my mom talked to me about the difference between tampons and pads and which one would be more comfortable for me to use. When I changed my first pad, I wedged my finger underneath the sticky lining an slowly peeled it back from the cotton, like peeling an orange, and the sound, like Velcro, was music to my ears. I rolled it in up in toilet paper, tossed it in the waste basket attached to the stall, the only one in Lincoln Elementary School bathroom.

It lasted three days, and those three days I walked about nose in the air, shoulders drawn back, flat chest perked up and out, as if I had grown boobs overnight. No one could tell me anything. I had surpassed all the other girls in my class. I could do something they couldn’t. I was like my teacher who dressed in prim pressed white blouses and pencils skirts, like my principal who wore her shiny, blue-black hair in a low bun and stomped down the halls in Stiletto heels. I was a woman.

And when my period didn’t return on its scheduled 28-day cycle, I knew I was pregnant. I made that announcement to my mom over breakfast that she would be a grandmother, and she cocked her head at me and asked, “Have you let a boy touch you?” which confused me, because while our class was the guinea pig for the new sex education program, the instructors only taught us about out parts, how they worked, not how to make them work.

But I know how to make them work now. And tonight, I will touch a boy, and he will touch me back, and as I put my hands in my hair, tilt my chin toward the shower head and let the hot water cascade down the curves of my body, I hear the door creak, a light tapping on the frame.

“Tash,” Mitchell says, “what’s so funny in there? You woke me up with all that laughing.”

I peek from behind the shower curtain, call him in with the curl of my index finger. He follows, like a cartoon character that is lured by a sweet-smelling aroma. When he is in front of me, I grab his hand, my eyes locked only on his lips swooped in a side smirk, and whisper, “Take off your clothes.”

—Nortina


This concludes Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans! Thank you so much to those who stuck around (through this month, last month, and even last December when the first nine chapters were originally posted) to the very end! I have truly fallen in love with this story and this cast of characters, and while I plan to take a break from it for a little while, I do hope to return soon to edit and possibly self-publish it just in time for Christmas next year. Thank you so much for all the likes, comments, shares. It means the world to me. I wish you a wonderful, wonderful New Year, and a successful, productive, and prosperous 2018! ¡Besos! 🙂

——
Previous: First Date
Read from the beginning: Before the Wedding

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: First Date

Rita gathers her thick mane of hair to the top of her head, analyzes her profile in the mirror from the left and then the right. Deciding against an updo, she lets it fall back down to her shoulders, the corkscrew curls bouncing into place. Only the cluster of springs at her temples and along her edges remain resilient, trying too hard to imitate bangs but appearing like an 80’s mullet gone bad instead. No amount of curl control gel will tame them, so she lets them spread out wildly across her forehead.

It looks cute—in a chic throwback rock sort of way. She hates cute, hasn’t been cute since her first training bra. But cute beats sexy, and the last thing she needs to be right now is sexy. Sexy always leads to her panties being tossed in a corner somewhere, her knees being separated for a temporary houseguest, and since her New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to be celibate, sexy is no longer an option.

She can literally feel herself drying up between the legs as she thinks about it. It was only a month ago that she gave up smoking weed, but this, this is much harder, because she’s getting ready to go on a date with Hank, and Hank has touched places, kissed and licked parts of her body most men don’t get to see on the first date.

And it’s not only the date with Hank that’s got her anxious. What if it goes bad? She doesn’t want to fixate on whether or not he could be the one. She’s not even sure if she wants that now with so much change happening in her life. She isn’t the same person she was a week ago when she slept with him an hour after meeting him. If that’s what he’s hoping to get tonight, she hates to disappoint him, because she likes him, a lot, definitely more than just a one-night-stand.

She’s not a slut. She knows how it looks, with the way things started with Hank. But she doesn’t sleep around; it’s always with the same guy over and over again, until he grows tired of her. True, it’s usually some random guy she met at the bar, or online, or, when she’s really feeling low, Jerome. The affairs never last long, but they quell her of her temporary loneliness, and however brief, she can hide her pain underneath the pleasure she feels when that man, whoever he may be—a bar hopper, a Tender suitor, a weed dealer, a Home Depot employee— clings to her, pushes deep inside her, breathes heavy on her tongue.

She likes to be filled, wanted, needed, useful for something, even if it’s just a quick nut. Sex does that for her. It gives her a purpose, a release, an escape. She doesn’t know what she is without it.

Actually, she does know. Alone—that’s what she is—and she has a vague memory of a sad, stupid girl who quit medical school because some idiot broke her heart, left her in the dust his rear tires kicked up after he dropped off her clothes and $300 for an abortion.

It terrifies her that she could still be that girl.

But just as she’s about to give up on her vow of celibacy before the New Year even starts, she is reminded of something Reverend Murphy said to her—that she has so much God-given potential bottled up inside her. Taped to the upper left corner of her mirror is a list of scriptures he gave her to read, to guide her through the beginning steps of salvation. She’s read a few of them. Jeremiah 29:11 —God has plans you. Romans 12:1-2 — Renew your mind. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 — Your body is a temple for God. She’s heard Renee say that once. She thinks she’ll call her about it after her date with Hank. And she knows Tash has been through it—the struggle to be as perfect as you can yet still falling short. But she recovered. She got back up. She and Mitchell are happy, and married, and Rita would like to think their love is even stronger.

Even though they fell.

She checks the time. If she wants to meet Hank at the arcade by seven, she should be leaving now. He says he has a ride—a relief for her—it’ll be less tempting not having him in her car. It feels kind of childish, that he’s chosen video games as their first date over dinner, or a movie, reminds her again that he’s not yet old enough to drink, which might not be a bad thing since she’s given that up too.

Will this date end in something serious, or fizzle out like all the others? Rita can hope, but whether it’s Hank or any other man, she knows before she can consider a relationship, she has to discover her new self first, figure out who she is in Christ, which Reverend Murphy calls the most meaningful pursuit in life.

Tash is doing it, and Mitchell. Renee’s the best at it, and maybe one day she’ll get Bryan there as well. And Antonio, even Antonio is trying. Rita must try too. Fellowship, Reverend Murphy says, it’s the best thing any new Christian can have, Rita’s got that in her amazing group of friends who drive her crazy and inspire her all at the same time.

If things go south with Hank, she knows she can count on their support, that they will help her to get back on her feet and back on track in the direction she needs to be.

—Nortina


The final chapters of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

——
Previous: Bedtime Story
Next: After the Wedding (Epilogue)

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Bedtime Story

Ryder’s head feels like five pound weights lying across Antonio’s lap. His breathing is slow, constant. It didn’t take much to put him to sleep. Antonio had barely finished chapter one before the snoring began.

Snoring. His eighteen-month-old son snores. Nothing too loud and obnoxious, like the Chewbacca noises Elise swears she doesn’t make. It reminds Antonio of the sound a small handheld fan makes when the motor is about to go dead. The rise and fall of the boy’s breath sooths him, and he imagines it could be recorded as a sleep track for people who suffer from insomnia. It even starts to lull him, and for a brief moment he forgets that this is the first time he’s ever heard his son snore.

His eighteen-month-old son.

As much as he wants to, he can’t make himself hate Elise for this. Even though she’s tried so hard to keep him exiled from their lives, and for a split second at the wedding, he feared Ryder wouldn’t even recognize him—it’s been that long.

But when he walked into the Fellowship Hall, one of the first people to arrive after the ceremony, and spotted Elise and Ryder sitting alone at a table toward the back corner of the room in front of the “bar” that only served sparkling cider—though he’s pretty sure Bryan and some of the other guests were sipping on something a little stronger—Ryder jumped to his feet, ran—more like wobbled, he’d only learned to walk a month ago, another milestone Antonio missed—arms outstretched, screaming, “Daaaaaddddy!”

And for the third time, Antonio ugly cried, standing there in the middle of the Hall, holding his son as wedding guests filed in looking for their assigned seats. He wouldn’t credit that to Elise, but to Ryder, how much he loved him, how much he missed him.

“I will always fight for you,” he whispered in Ryder’s ear, squeezing him even tighter, as if he feared the boy would slip out of his hands.

Looking back on it, Antonio realizes he didn’t let Ryder go that entire day, not until he strapped him into the car seat to take him home. At the reception, he sat Ryder in his lap as they ate boneless chicken wings and red velvet cake. He held Ryder’s hand on the dance floor and taught him how to slide. He even took the diaper bag from Elise and changed Ryder in the bathroom, which proved tricky to do since men’s restrooms don’t have changing table.

It was the first time—yes, the first time—he’d ever changed his son’s diaper, and it was the stinkiest, wettest, fullest diaper if ever there was one. He wouldn’t doubt that Elise intentionally skipped a few changes just to spite him, but he didn’t care. He sat Ryder in the sink and wiped him down with a smile on his face, a pained smile, but a smile nonetheless.

With Ryder nearing two, he knew he wouldn’t have many more moments like this, and no amount of dirty diapers could make up for the eighteen-months worth he’d missed. So if this was the most disgusting diaper he had to touch, if his pinky finger accidently grazed the soil, if Ryder peed on him will he tried to get the new diaper on, if it resulted in a diaper rash, he’d welcome it all.

And when it’s time to potty train him, Antonio will show him how to aim, teach him to shoot from a distance, be a man. Elise can’t take that from him. He thought she could, but now he knows she can’t. And she can’t teach Ryder to be a man either, not like a man can, not like Antonio can. Now that he has Ryder, he’s always going to be there for him, won’t let months lapse between seeing his son again. He can’t be lazy anymore, blaming Elise for everything he doesn’t have with Ryder. There are enough lazy fathers in the world, who blame the mother for why they don’t have relationships with their children, when they themselves won’t make an effort.

Antonio lightly pets the back of Ryder’s head, and Ryder snuggles closer to his leg. Antonio knows now he’ll always make an effort for Ryder, because he wants more nights like this—lying in bed reading bedtime stories.

And what better story than the original Christmas story? As many times as he’s heard it told, in movies, in songs, every Christmas Eve at Renee’s, he’s never actually read it himself. Now, though Ryder sleeps, he continues reading, fascinated by the whole thing—the virgin birth, the proclamation of the angels, the prophesy of the Messiah who came to save all people, His name, Immanuel, which means God with us.

Antonio’s only been saved a few weeks, has made a mess of it most of that time, but in the peace of his bedroom, Ryder by his side, the Word in his lap, he holds onto hope. The same hope of the shepherds, the wise men, the prophets, all who witnessed one little baby, born in a manger, who grew to change their lives, forever.

—Nortina


The final chapters of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

——
Previous: Jesus is the Reason for the Season
Next: First Date

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Jesus is the Reason for the Season

When Renee hired DJ Milly Beatz for Mitchell and Natasha’s wedding reception, she made it clear—no secular music, period.

Marriage is a holy sacrament, created by God, and with it being Christmas also—Christmas, she made sure he heard her emphasis on Christ—it’s important that they remember what they’re really celebrating, that without Him, none of them would even be here. There’d be no wedding reception to plan. Shoot, there’d be no wedding either!

Of course, Beatz rolled his eyes, claimed she was limiting him, and she retorted that there were plenty of gospel artists who sang about love, about God and marriage. She asked him had he ever heard “Alabaster Box” by CeCe Winans. He shook his head. She liked to’ve slapped him, but she kept her composure.

She could only blame herself for waiting until the last minute to find a DJ. Music was the least of her worries when she still needed to confirm the menu with the caterer and go over again with the photographer the correct time he was to arrive at the church, especially after she’d read all those bad Yelp reviews online—couples who paid for four hours of service and only received two.

If it’d come down to it, she would’ve just hooked someone’s iPod up to the loud speakers, but a week before the wedding, Rita gave her a name: Milly Beatz, a hip-hop DJ.

All Rita listens to is mind-numbing rap—nothing but drugs, money, and women. She claims she can vibe to it whenever she’s high, it calms her down.

Hopefully that’ll change, now that Rita’s changed.

Renee on the other hand, has never liked rap, not even when she was unsaved, and figuring that Milly was a play on the word “million,” she wondered how many of his “million beats” were appropriate for a “church” wedding. If the row of bejeweled gold teeth in his mouth was any indication, Mitchell would want his money back before the guy could even play the first track. But Renee teaches her own children never to judge a book by it’s cover, and in any case, it was too late to try to find a Christian DJ. She had to make due with what she had.

So she handed Beatz the latest William Murphy album, circled track four in red Sharpie on the casing, “I Have Found,” featuring Tasha Cobb. “Play this the moment the newlyweds enter the Fellowship Hall,” she instructed. When he asked her about the “turn up,” after everyone’s had their first dance and all the slow songs are over, she gave him a playlist she wrote up, all of her favorites, artists who could crank things up to another level better than any rapper, turn the reception into a true Holy Ghost party—Tye Tribbett, Travis Greene, Fred Hammond, Tamela Mann, Kierra Sheard, Israel & New Breed, Hezekiah Walker, Casey J.

And yet, after all that hassle, the wedding party and guests still found a way to do the Electric Slide to Kirk Franklin’s “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season.”

“My people, my people,” Renee sighs.

Bryan takes her by the wrist, pulls her up to her feet. “C’mon, babe, you’re the only one not dancing.”

She looks around, spots Melody and Rita in a corner behind the buffet table. Melody follows Rita’s lead in the four-count step. To the right, to the left, take it back, step forward, step back, pivot, turn, skip, step, repeat. Melody catches on pretty fast, and Renee notices, thank goodness, that the white skirt of her dress is still void of spilt food. How much longer would the reception continue; could she make it another hour spotless?

Renee lets Bryan drag her to the dance floor, which is just a small, empty section of linoleum between the head table, where the wedding party sat, and the DJ both to the left of it. They squeeze into the crowd, move in sync so as not to disturb the flow. They make the next turn to face the DJ booth, the head table behind them.

Bryan raises his knee, gives it a slap, bites his bottom lip, and half grunts, half barks at Renee. He’s always so over the top, but it loosens her up, and she starts to add a few extra moves of her own to the basic line dance. She shimmies her shoulders, claps her hands. When they step forward she bends over, smacks the ground. Bryan sticks out his tongue, leans into her, whispers something incoherent over the music but most likely filthy in nature. She has to remind him this isn’t their wedding. And as if, just to convince herself of that, she looks over the sea of heads on the next turn, scanning for the happy couple.

Instead, she catches a glimpse of Antonio and Elise, together, dancing, holding hands–well, Ryder is between them, on his tippy toes, feet barely grazing the floor, swinging as he holds onto his parents. It’s the first time she’s seem them cordial toward each other in months, and not just cordial, but, dare she say it, having fun, smiling, laughing. It’s a Christmas miracle.

Bryan whispers in Renee’s ear again.

“Stop it!” She swats at his chest. Now he’s just teasing her. He misses the cue for the next turn, and facing him now she notices his tongue loose, his eyelids low. He’s drunk! Where on earth did he get the alcohol? He wraps his arms around her waist, and while everyone is stepping back, he hauls her off the dance floor, to their table, sits her in his lap.

“And what do you want for Christmas, little girl?” He breathes heavily into her ear, nibbles on her earlobe, curling his tongue around her dangling chandelier earring. His hand on the small of her back is warm, makes her sweat.

She’s got to hand it to him. He’s managed to seduce her without saying a single four-letter word. She kisses him, and he puts his hands in her hair, slips his tongue between her lips. She tastes the champagne. He had to have snuck it in. She’ll get him for that later.

She turns her attention back to the dance floor, drawn in by the beam on little Ryder’s face. He’s so happy that his parents are getting along. If even there’s no chance of them getting back together, Renee believes that they’ll find a way to co-parent peacefully, for Ryder’s sake.

At a distance now, she finally sees Mitchell and Natasha. Tash looks shorter—she must have taken her heels off—and Mitchell, poor Mitchell, they’re on their sixth turn and he hasn’t conquered the dance yet, still tripping over his own feet. Renee guesses now the reason why he never wanted to go dancing with them in college—he has no rhythm. Tash knows it and laughs at him, hugs him, kisses his cheek tenderly, the entire left side of his face red with her lipstick. Whatever happened in that choir room earlier today, it’s good to see that it’s helped them to overcome this recent testing of their faith and find forgiveness. Now pure euphoria gleams in their faces, and Renee can’t wait to see how these two grow together as a married man and woman of God.

As for Rita– oh, Renee is still in jubilation! Her heart leaps in her chest as she remembers those three joyful words, “I got saved.” It gives her hope that the same could happen for Bryan one day, and for this, she must celebrate.

She takes his hand, leads him back to the dance floor. Seeing the good time everyone is having, the DJ has started the song over again, and she has a few more dance moves up her sleeve.

—Nortina


The final chapters of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

——
Previous: The Big Day (Part 3)
Next: Bedtime Story

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: The Big Day (Part 3)

Natasha

“I’m so bloated,” I moan. “Look at how my stomach is poking out!” I frown at my reflection in the mirror as my mom zips me into my dress and pats my non-existent hips. Meanwhile, the chocolate diamond-studded gold mermaid dress she wears perfectly hugs her, making her look twenty years younger that her actual age, and making me wonder who was really getting married.

“Well, honey, if you had just let Marinette adjust it for you–”

“So I can look like I’m dressed in a tent on my one-year anniversary?”

“Oh, honey, wedding dresses get smaller as the years go on, not bigger.”

Easy for her to say, she shrinks with age too. If I had been in my right mind at the fitting—not hungover, thinking about the morning with Mitchell, and the night before—I probably would have said no to the idea of her buying a new dress. Not to say that the first dress wasn’t hideous, that ruffled tail attached to her behind made no sense whatsoever, but it was appropriate for a mother-of-the-bride. Now I feel like I’m being one-upped by my own mother. Even her boobs look bigger than mine!

Still barefoot, while I am in my three-inches to keep from tripping over the front of my dress as I walk about the choir room that we’ve temporarily converted into a changing room, she curls her fingers around the back of my neck and pulls me down level with her eyes. With her other hand, she twirls one of my ringlet curls—courtesy of Renee’s longtime stylist, who also did my make up earlier that afternoon—around her index finger, tucks it behind my ear, then lightly pulls part of it out to loop down the side of my cheek and shape my face.

“Maybe you should have checked your menstrual calendar before setting this date, hmm?” she says smirking.

“I thought I did!”

We both laugh, because we know how ridiculous we sound, how much I’m overreacting. Mitchell has loved me drunk. He’s loved me sober. Even through our moments of shame and unworthiness, we have stuck it through for each other. And while last night didn’t end they way I wanted it to—only a kiss on the hand and a see you at the altar—I know Mitchell would do anything for me.

He’s the very embodiment of Christ’s love. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church an gave himself up for her,” Scripture says. And I have no doubt that Mitchell would lay down his life for me, that he would sacrifice anything to make sure that I am the best reflection of his love and God’s. And after tonight, when we are united in holy matrimony, nothing will ever separate us. As with the love of Christ, I’m convinced neither death nor life, angels nor demons, present nor future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth.

And certainly not a dumb period.

“This is just great! Of all the days to be late!” Renee stomps down the raised platform of the choir stand, blows past us, and flops with a huff on the stool pulled from underneath the piano that has been pushed against the wall, along with all the other instruments and furniture to make room for the dresses, shoes, curling irons, make-up kits, and everything else spread out all over the room. For it to be just the three of us, we’ve created quite a sty. And here I thought the choir room would be too big.

Renee plants both elbows on the black and white keys of the piano with a harsh, crashing chord never to be played again, and groans even louder.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, though I’m nervous to hear her answer. If it’s anything but, “Mitchell is waiting patiently for you at the altar,” I’d rather tune her out. I have enough on my mind already.

“My husband,” she starts, and I breathe sigh of relief. Bryan doing something crazy to give Renee a panic attack? That’s nothing new. But then she continues. “And your groom. They’re missing.”

“What!” Now it’s my turn to freak, but my too-tight dress stiffens my movements. I feel like I’m going to pop. I reach behind me, clawing for my zipper. My arms are suddenly too short, like a T-Rex. “Help me,” I say to my mom. I need to breathe, I need to scream, I need to change my freaking tampon!

My mom puts my spirited hands at my side and tells me to inhale. She gulps in the air with me, then lets it out. We do it again. And when my heartbeat is back to normal, I ask Renee, “Where are they?”

“I’m sure they’re on their way,” Ma says. “Probably just stuck in traffic.”

“The wedding is in twenty minutes!”

Renee stands and starts to pace. She comes back to the piano and drums her fingers on the polished wood of the lid, which is almost level with her shoulders. “Apparently, Mitchell had to make stop first. It couldn’t wait.”

“What is so important?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know, but if this is some kind of bachelor party crap Bryan is trying to pull, I’m going to kill him.”

“Not if I kill him first,” I say, especially since Mitchell and I had an agreement— no bachelor or bachelorette parties.

“Ok, ok. Let’s try to real in our emotions. No death threats on your wedding day,” Ma pleads. She guides me to a chair not covered in clothes, garment bags, or foundation bottles, and again urges me to breathe, as if we’re practicing for labor pains. This wedding will be a pain if Mitchell and Bryan don’t show up soon.

Meanwhile, Renee is still pacing about the room. She looks up, spins around, as if noticing something else amiss. “Has anyone talked to Rita!”

“No need to send out a search party.”

Talk about speaking someone into existence. Rita stands in the doorway leading out into the hall. She wears only a pair of jeans and a fleece jacket, and waves awkwardly as Renee and I rush to her, dragging her inside.

No one has seen her since she left Renee and Bryan’s last night, and Renee unfortunately had to take poor Hank home when it became very obvious that Rita wasn’t coming back. It bothered Mitchell the most, her leaving, because she left believing a lie, that Mitchell and I had been celibate this whole time. It should have bothered me too. It did, eventually, when he dropped me off at my apartment, not wanting to come inside to tempt fate again. And I was left alone to my thoughts, and the conviction brought on by the Holy Spirit of everything I’ve done wrong that I’ve tried to convince myself is right and good, and not for my own selfish pleasures.

But how do I tell her that? So I look down at the box she’s holding, wrapped in red paper and tied with a golden bow. “What’s that?”

“Oh,” she says, as if she’s just noticing it. She hands it to me. “It’s for you. Actually, for Mitchell. Call it a Christmas present, wedding present, whatever. I saw it in the store and thought of him.”

“You thought of him?” Renee says. Repeating it doesn’t make it sound any more believable to either of us.

Then Rita takes the gift back, puts it down and grabs both my and Renee’s hands. “Guys,” she says, her voice low, in an excited whisper, “I got saved.”

We stare for several minutes, trying to comprehend what she’s just said, if we heard it correctly, what exactly it means, did she know what she was saying.

Finally Renee breaks the silence, her facial expression slowly morphing to elation until she’s through the roof. “Oh. My. God– Praise Him!” she shouts to the high heavens and pulls Rita in for a bear hug, nearly strangling her as she hooks her boney arm around Rita’s neck. “I knew that fast would work!”

“Congratulations,” Ma says, resting her hand on Rita’s back, her lips curled into a distant, gratified smile, as if she’s looked into the future and has seen how much Rita’s life will change for the better and is now content. Since college, she’s been like a surrogate for Rita, especially since her real mother lives so far away, and to this day none of us have ever met her. But today, a mother is proud. She’s been praying for Rita, for just as long as I have.

And yet, here I am, my jaw still hanging when I say, “How? When?”

“Here. Last night.” She reaches up to hug me. I’m still in shock. What could have changed in that time after she left the party last night? And is it guilt I feel that her salvation may have something to do with her false memory of my and Mitchell’s first night together? But then, who am I to judge the power of God? Only He knows just what Rita needs to turn her life around, right? If He could use a talking donkey, nothing should come as a surprise.

Still, I’m lost for words. In my heels, I’m nearly half a foot taller than Rita. I kick them off, wrap my arms around her waist and hold her tighter. Renee drapes her arm over both of us. Rita’s joy is contagious. Her wide grin making a mold into my bare shoulders as she clings to me, beings to cry. For the sake of my make-up, I tilt my head back to hold the tears.

If anyone could steal the thunder from my wedding day– But it reminds me what and who is truly important on this Christmas. “I love you,” I say, to Rita, to Renee, to my mom, to God, and I thank each of them, my heart pounding in my chest—but there’s something else I need to do.

“Good, you’re both here.”

The tears in my eyes blur my vision, but I don’t have to see him to recognize his voice.

Mitchell

Either he’s interrupted a private moment, or he’s come just in time. Either way, he’ll take the risk, but Renee looks like she could murder a cat. Eyes bulging, cheeks inflated—if she were a cartoon, steam would be coming out of her ears.

“Mitchell! Don’t you know it’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding.”

Mitchell rolls his eyes at her. She of all people should know they don’t believe in luck, only the favor of God, and God’s favor comes by being obedient to Him. Nonsensical wedding traditions and superstitions go out the window; there was something more important he needed to do before walking down that aisle.

“Renee, do you mind if I talk to Tash and Rita for a minute? Alone?”

As if wanting to make sure she’s the only Rita in the room, Rita points to herself, “Me? What would you have to talk to me about?”

Mitchell doesn’t answer, keeps his eyes on Renee. “Please?”

Renee throws her hands in the air. “Oh, alright,” she says.

Natasha’s mom follows her out into the hall. She looks dressed for the red carpet instead of her daughter’s wedding. Mitchell mouths, “Sorry,” as she passes. She shakes her head.

“Make it quick. We have a wedding to attend.” She winks, squeezes his arm, then shuts the door behind her.

Both Rita and Natasha wait for Mitchell to speak. He’s silent for a moment, noticing the amplified acoustics of the mass choir room, how he can hear the echo of his own breathing, his heart beating through his tux. Even with the three of them standing there, amongst the instruments, the folded metal chairs, the clothes and shoes spread about—too much for four women, and Rita looks like she’s only just arrived—the room feels empty. The silence strips the room bare, just as this secret, he feels, will do to him.

But he who covers his sin will not prosper, so Mitchell closes his eyes and repeats the word God gave him to say the night before. “Rita, I need you to forgive me.”

“For what?” There’s a hint of a laugh in her voice, which surprises him. He looks up, but still ashamed to meet her eyes, lowers his gaze to her feet instead, sees the rectangular gift box on the floor. Rita bends over and scoops it up. “Here,” she says. “For you.”

He shakes his head. “I can’t take this.”

“Please, I insist.” She shoves the gift into his gut, but he blocks it with is hand, pushes it back to her.

“Rita, I’m not the man you think I am.”

“What does that mean?” Her tone changes. She puts a fist on her hip, shifts her weight to one leg, lowers her head waiting for clarity.

Before Mitchell can answer, Natasha steps in. “Rita, we have a confession to make.”

“It’s about last night,” Mitchell interrupts, finding his voice again. “Before you left. When you were saying how you admired me for not taking advantage of Natasha while she was intoxicated.”

Natasha slips her hand into Mitchell’s. With a squint of the eyes and a nod, she tells him all he needs. This is something they have to do together, how they will start their marriage off right. They interlock fingers and he holds tightly to her hand until the whites in his knuckles show, siphoning her strength, her resolve, so grateful that he doesn’t have to admit to his short comings alone. She truly was created to be a helpmeet just for him, his better half, and he thanks God for her.

“The truth is,” Natasha says, “that night didn’t end the way you think it did.”

“Oh my god.”

Mitchell winces, prepares for a barrage of curses, or worse. He waits for the insults. Rita’s never held back on him before, never sugarcoated her disdain toward him. He expects nothing less now. He holds Natasha even tighter. But Rita only laughs, and again he has to open his eyes to be sure he’s not imagining it.

“Oh my god,” she repeats, grinning from ear to ear. “You guys are too cute.”

Mitchell frowns in confusion. He almost wants to ask what’s wrong with her. This friendlier, happier Rita is something he’s never experienced, not even on the first night he met her. He’s not sure if he should welcome it, or be afraid.

“I know you two had sex.”

“You know?” Mitchell and Natasha say in unison.

Rita scoffs. “Is that really a surprise? I know the after sex look better than anybody.” She smiles, opens her arms, and Natasha lets go of his hand,  now hugging and laughing with Rita again, as they were when Mitchell first entered the room. But he’s still not convinced that all is forgiven.

“So why did you say those things if you already knew?” he says.

Rita exchanges glances between Mitchell and Natasha. She looks down at her present, holding it with both hands, and stretches out her arms to give it to Mitchell. This time he accepts it.

“It wasn’t about you having sex, or not having sex,” Rita says, “but what happened after.” She doesn’t elaborate. She walks out of the room, saying nothing more, closing the door behind her and leaving Mitchell and Natasha by themselves to linger on her words.

What happened after?” Mitchell asks, more to himself.

“Oh sweetie.” Natasha holds his face in her hands, pulls him down for a light kiss. “I love that you’re so naïve.”

Then it clicks. What happened after, and what is still happening. That he’s about to marry Natasha, a woman who wasn’t just a college fling, or a one night stand, but who quickly became the love of his life, who will soon be the only woman in his life.

There was only one thing keeping that from happening…

As he did eight months ago when he proposed, he holds the tips of her fingers in his hand, like a manicurist evaluating his work. “Natasha,” he says, “do you believe that prayer is the answer to everything? That a family that prays together stays together?”

“I do.”

Mitchell drops to one knee, then lets the other leg go from under him. She looks radiant from down here. The ceiling lights hit the rhinestones outlining the bodice of her dress in a way that they sparkle like diamonds, the color spectrum reflected in her eyes. Angelic. She is his angel. He lifts the hem of her dress and searches underneath through the ruffles and tulle until he finds her legs, smooth like cool porcelain. He cups his hands behind her knees, beckons her down. “Pray with me,” he whispers.

She balances herself on his shoulders, rises on her toes, and his arms trail further up her legs, curl behind her thighs, pick her up, hold her close to him, pull her down to the floor, as her dress billows around them.

They clasp hands, bow their heads until their foreheads touch, and Mitchell begins, “Our Father in heaven…”


Reverend Murphy

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, on this Christmas day, a day when we celebrate the birth of a King, to witness the union of this man and this woman in holy matrimony before God…”

—Nortina


The final chapters of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

——
Previous: The Big Day (Part 2)
Next: Jesus is the Reason for the Season

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: The Big Day (Part 2)

Rita

She’s so late. Good thing she’s not the matron of honor. She left that burdensome title all on Renee’s shoulders. Renee can handle it—mom of three, and all. Besides, Rita felt no ill-will toward Tash when she made the offer to Renee without considering her first. They both know how irresponsible Rita is– was.

But maid or matron, old Rita or work in progress, how tacky would it be for her to be late to he best friend’s wedding? Especially after the way she left last night. She’s sure everyone’s still worried. But they don’t need to be, not anymore, not when she tells Tash the news. Renee too. When they see her, they’ll understand, and she can’t wait.

Rita remembers, when she was growing up, how her mom used to warn her against making faces at people, said her face would freeze in that expression, and she would forever look like her own cruel, mocking joke. Now she glances up at her reflection in the review mirror. She hasn’t stopped smiling since leaving the church. Her cheekbones high and pronounced, a touch of natural blush on them. At the dress fitting, Tash mentioned she was glowing, now she actually sees it, her skin radiating like a light bulb is shinning from within.

It is.

“I hope it always feels like this,” Rita says, and as she speaks, a single flurry drifts across her windshield. She’s felt it all morning, in the brisk, chilly air, the sting in her cheeks, the overcast cloud cover—the Christmas snowfall she’s prayed for since childhood has finally come, not the foot she was after, just a few swirling specks in the wind that could easily be written off as dust in the eyes, but she’ll take it!

Rita turns into the Macy’s parking lot. It shocked her at first, when she heard on the radio that Macy’s would be open for Christmas. But then, the chain practically invented the holiday—Miracle on 34th Street, and all—at least the shopping part of it, and as she skips over the threshold, parting the sliding doors, she’s thankful that Macy’s is the only store open, because right in front of her, hanging off a men’s wear mannequin, is the only thing she came in to buy. Burgundy red, ridged fabric, crisp lapels. It’s almost identical to the one likely tossed in a landfill somewhere, still smelling of Skittles, stomach fluids, and beer.

She swipes a size large off the rack in front of the mannequin and rushes to the check-out counter. There’s not a soul in sight. Did they really think many people would be out shopping on Christmas Day? Or maybe they opened just for her. She lifts her head to the ceiling, mouths a “thank you.”

“Would you like this gift wrapped?” says the cashier, surprisingly chipper despite being at work on the one holiday most people have off to spend with family.

“Absolutely.” Rita matches her attitude, and with a smile adds, “Merry Christmas!”

Antonio

“Hey.”

Antonio is almost tempted to ask, “Who is this?” The voice too calm and rational to belong to Elise, even though that’s what his screen said when he picked up the phone to answer.

“I was thinking you can have Ryder for Christmas.”

Now he knows he’s talking to someone else, because Elise would never willingly give him Ryder, not even for a day, not without a fight.

“What do you want?”

He hears her lips smack, there’s a long pause, and then she says, “Look, do you want him or not? ‘Cause I can change my mind.”

It still feels too good to be true, but he fears if he says no, he’ll never get an opportunity like this again. There’s only one problem–

“I have a wedding today.”

“I know, dumbass. I’m going to the same wedding.”

And just like that, that calm feeling is gone. He hates to see it leave, that it was so short-lived. He almost enjoyed talking to Elise without her voice raising two decibels. It briefly reminded him how he first fell in love with her— what seems like ages ago—but nasally, filter-less, snarky bitch Elise is what he’s used to now. A nicer version of her is just too cynical, too unpredictable, scarier, even for Elise.

He’d rather not see her at the wedding. Sometimes he forgets that she was once part of his circle of friends—the perks of dating him for seven years. She and Natasha are still pretty close, even after their breakup, though not close enough for Natasha to invite her to be in the wedding. Then again, if he wasn’t one of Mitchell’s groomsmen, he wonders if that would have changed.

“I’m bringing Ryder with me. I packed him a bag. You can keep him for a couple days. That’s if you want to,” Elise continues.

He’s still waiting for a catch. He knows one is coming. Like she’s expecting some guy over, and she doesn’t want to be tied down with the baby. Or she wants Antonio to buy new shoes for the guy he’s still not convince is her brother, after he throw up on old ones. Or he’s not allowed to come to her house unannounced anymore. Or he has to stop drinking and show her proof that he’s taking AA sessions or she’ll file a restraining order so he can’t be 1,000 feet near her or Ryder again.

But she’s quiet on the phone, and something tells him that he should accept this unexpected gift. This is all he’s wanted since the day Ryder was born—the opportunity to be a dad, to be allowed to be a dad.

“We’ll talk at the reception,” he says, and hangs up before she can change her mind.

—Nortina


The final chapters of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

——
Previous: The Big Day (Part 1)
Next: The Big Day (Part 3)