Zurich ended the day of his NFL debut alone and in the dark where he felt safe and protected. The only light in Zurich's apartment came from the other buildings and the thin illumination of the moon hovering over the city. He sat on the blond floorboards, which slanted in different directions. The apartment's high ceilings made the room feel airy, but intimate. The air in his living room was warm and still.
After the game and the countless interviews, he turned down invitations to go out and party with his teammates and a dinner invitation from Mia Miller. Instead he came home and called his father and MamaCee. His father had watched the game on television and was quite proud. He talked about their upcoming game with Atlanta and how he had already made hotel reservations and how he was going to bring Rhona and her son. MamaCee was overjoyed to hear from Zurich. It was Sunday and she had missed one of her three church services to watch him on television.
"Your team won, huh...baby?" MamaCee asked.
"Yeah, MamaCee, we surprised a lot of people," Zurich said.
"MamaCee wasn't surprised. I told Mr. Thomsen, you know the white man I used to do day work for, that y'all were going to win. Yes, sir, I said, ain't no way my grandbaby goin' to be on a losing team. You member Mr. Thomsen, don't you, baby?"
"Yeah, MamaCee, I remember him," Zurich said. He knew if he said no, he would get Mr. Thomsen's entire history.
"You know last Christmas, he bought me a little twelve-inch color television with a remote control thing. I put it on top of my old black and white one, which is bigger than the color one, and I watched my baby run and throw that ball. I was so happy for once that Mr. Thomsen gave me that TV," MamaCee said as she paused for a second and took a deep breath.
Realizing this might be his only opening for a while, Zurich piped in, "I'm happy, too, MamaCee. I didn't know you still had that old black-and-white one."
"What am I going to do with it? Ain't nobody want to buy a black-and-white television. I started to give it to this old man down the road that's always collectin' junk and selling it to somebody. I don't know who," MamaCee said.
"I'm getting my television and furniture tomorrow. Gina, the lady who's been helping me, went and picked out all my stuff," Zurich said.
"Oh, that's good, baby. Who is this Gina lady? Is she pretty?"
"Gina's my publicist, and she's been helping me get organized. And yes, MamaCee, she's very attractive and very married," Zurich said.
"What 'bout them girls with the short-shorts? Pants so tight they look like they ought to hurt 'em," MamaCee said.
"Those are cheerleaders," Zurich laughed.
"What size kitchen do you have?" MamaCee asked.
"It's medium size," Zurich replied. He wondered where she was going with these questions but knew better than to ask.
"You got any big pots?"
"What 'bout a big black cast-iron skillet? You know the kind I fry my chicken, chops, and gizzards in," MamaCee said.
"No, I haven't had the chance to go shopping," Zurich informed her.
"That's too bad," she said.
"I'll be fine. With practice and all, I'll be eating out a lot," Zurich said.
"Well, you don't need to be eating all that junk food. Tell that Gina lady that your grandmama said to get you some pots and git somebody to come in and cook you some real food. Them folks don't think you got so big eating that junk food, do they?"
"Don't worry I'll be fine." Please no chitterlings in the mail, he thought.
"What if I cook you up some chitlins and collard greens and send them through that express mail thing?" MamaCee asked.
Zurich laughed at the thought of chitlins and collard greens going through the mail. "Naw, thanks a lot, MamaCee. Just save them for when I come for a visit."
"Okay, baby. I need to git off this phone. I got some mo scriptures I need to read with me missin' one of my services," MamaCee said. "And talkin to you done gave me a taste for some chitlins, you know what I mean," MamaCee laughed.
"Yeah, MamaCee, I know. Take care."
"You too, baby. You talk to your brothers? Call them and keep praying, baby," MamaCee said.
"I will. Love you, MamaCee," Zurich said as he hung up his phone and smiled. Moments later, his phone rang. It was Trey, his younger brother, calling to congratulate his big brother.
He had watched the game with his suite mates at Morehouse College. Trey told him he was really looking forward to the game against the Falcons and asked his brother for a couple of extra tickets and a check, since his Pell grant money was late. When Zurich asked why it was late, Trey admitted that he was a little late getting the form in. He said he was going to ask their father, but MamaCee had told him not to be worrying their father about money. Zurich said he would think about it, knowing full well that he would be putting a check in the mail the next day.
After talking with Trey, Zurich got up and walked to his bathroom, where he removed his jeans, underwear, and T-shirt and turned on the shower, turning the dial all the way to hot. He glance in the vanity mirror and decided his head and face would need a shave in the morning. While waiting for the water to get hot, he went to his bedroom and found some pajama bottoms and a jock. Then he stepped into the Plexiglas shower, which was just steaming up, and let the hot, pounding water spray his tense body. He enjoyed it so much that he stayed in the shower for over fifteen minutes before applying soap. After drying himself and putting vitamin E oil all over his body he looked at the pajama bottoms he had pulled out before his shower, but decided not to put them on. On some nights he didn't sleep in pajamas, but relished the coolness of the sheets against his naked skin. Zurich walked into his bedroom and got his compact CD player with Natalie Cole's Take a Look disc already inside, and returned to the darkened living room. He felt the coolness of the floor on his butt as he sat quietly against the wall for back support.
As he listened to the sweet ballads, Zurich closed his eyes and replayed the game in his mind. It had been everything he'd imagined. He fantasized about future games, with his family in the stands cheering him on. He thought how blessed he was to be living his dream. His heart raced again with excitement as he remembered throwing his first successful pass early in the game.
But after he replayed every down of the game, a bout of melancholy descended upon him. Part of him felt lonely. Despite his success on the gridiron, he was missing something. Someone. His life was in a very strange place, unexplored yet familiar, and while the music piped into his ears, a warm wave of the blues washed over him. He thought of all the fears he carried alone, the words unspoken and the stories untold.
Mia Miller sat on a kelly green chaise longue in her bedroom and finished her third and final glass of white wine. She was feeling a little light-headed, not drunk, but not entirely sober, either.
Already in her nightgown she crawled into bed, first arranging the pillows very carefully and then sliding between her satin sheets. She picked up her portable phone and dialed Los Angeles. LaDonna picked up after the first ring.
"Talk to me," LaDonna said in her casual California tone.
"Hey, girl," Mia said.
"Oh, just sitting here in my bedroom all alone," Mia said.
"What time is it?"
"Almost midnight," Mia said softly.
"Are you all right, Mia? You sound depressed," LaDonna said
"No, I'm fine. But I do have a problem," Mia said.
"What type of problem? I thought they were treating you right at the station."
"Oh, everything is great at work," Mia assured her.
"Man trouble," Mia sighed.
"Man trouble. That fool Derrick isn't messing with you, is he?"
"No, I haven't talked with him. He did leave a message, but I didn't call him back. Besides I'm not worried about Derrick. This is about someone else," Mia said.
"Okay, I'm glad to hear that. So tell me about this new man and what's the problem?" LaDonna asked.
"The problem is this guy I'm interested in doesn't seem to be taking my hints," Mia lamented. She could not think of admitting that Zurich had not fallen under her spell.
"Who is he? Does he have a name, and what's the matter with him?"
"I met him through work. He's the quarterback for the Chicago Cougars," Mia said.
"Oh yes...yes. I saw him on television earlier today. Homeboy might be blue-black, but he is fine. And I almost fainted when I saw those teeth," LaDonna said.
"LaDonna, that ain't the half of it. I actually saw him naked," Mia said.
"Where? How? When?" LaDonna quizzed.
"Well, as a member of the sports press, I get to go in the locker room the same time as the men," Mia said.
"What's wrong? Is he married? More important, honey, how was the beef?" LaDonna asked.
"No. I just think he's kinda shy. And the beef, well, he's got that and some more," Mia said. LaDonna let out a squeal of delight.
"Calm down, LaDonna. I know you've seen some big beef in your day," Mia laughed.
"And you know it. So what are you gonna do? I think you need to go on and tap it, you know, see if he can use his equipment the way he throws that football."
"You are a fool, but you have a good point," Mia said.
Mia confessed that she was going to suggest to the station manager that Zurich would be a perfect candidate for guest commentator on their Sunday sports show, which she was going to co-host every other week. The other anchor was using one of the Chicago Bears and Mia thought it would be fair if she used one of the Cougars. That way, she said, she and Zurich would have to spend time together and somehow he would get the message.
"He has a degree in Communications or something and he wants to be a sports play-by-play man when he's through playing, so this would be perfect for us both," Mia said.
"Well, I wish you luck, girl. But you might ought to do what I do," LaDonna said.
"What's that?" Mia asked.
"Invite homeboy to dinner at your place and then make him an offer he can't refuse," she suggested.
"I couldn't do that," Mia said.
"What if he says no? I would be embarrassed beyond belief. Besides, I invited him out to dinner tonight after I interviewed him, but he said he had to go home and call his folks," Mia said. "I've got to come up with another plan."
"Oh, that's great. He's close to his family. That's a good sign, that is, if he's not too close with his mother. You know how mothers can be. But somebody should warn homeboy you're working on a plan," LaDonna chuckled.
"You think so?" Mia laughed.
"Hello...hello, Miss Thing, this is LaDonna and I know you. If I were you, I would get off this phone and call him right now. Invite him to dinner, and if you still can't cook, get a caterer or take him to some fancy restaurant. Believe me, men like it when women take control. Then you will see how shy he is," LaDonna said.
"For one thing, I don't have to worry about his mother," Mia said.
"Why not? I thought you said he was close to his family."
"He is. But his mother is dead and his grandmother raised him," Mia said.
"That's too bad. But at least grandmothers aren't as bad as mothers can be," LaDonna said.
"I hope you're right. Well, I'm going downstairs and make me some coffee or tea. Maybe I'll put a taste of brandy in it," Mia said.
"You know that sounds great. I'm going to do the same thing. Night, Mia."
"Good night, LaDonna."
Mia hung up the phone and threw off the covers on her bed. She sat up, then stopped suddenly. A vision of Zurich standing in front of his locker nude flashed across her mind. The thought caused a warm and welcome rush of pleasure between her legs. She thought how she had been surrounded by all those men in the locker room, yet amid those male bodies and voices she had noticed only Zurich Robinson.
She could be falling in love with him, if love meant thinking of someone all the time. Zurich could love and protect her. She spent 99 percent of her time daydreaming of him taking her away, traveling around the world, maybe skiing or making love on sand-swept beaches.
She decided against the drink, and lay back down, after turning off the tiny lamp next to her bed. She chose to follow LaDonna's advice and ask Zurich to dinner late in the day, after practice. Mia fell asleep and began to dream. And in her dream he said "yes."