Mitchell Crawford attends his high school reunion--and is reunited with his "first love."
In If Only For One Night, as in his other novels, Hardy turns the dominant cultural gaze around. Here black masculinity has been centralized and valorized,and whiteness is relegated to the margin.
[The book] is a humorous, assaultive and sexy song about young love and experience that is provacatively not so much about coming out as it is about coming in- to a richer sense of belonging and self-acceptance.
- Alyson Books
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- 5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Read an Excerpt
Have you ever had a crush on a teacher? I'm sure we all have. From the first day, the first moment you meet them, you're...
My very first crush was on an English teacher named Mr. Weatherspoon in the second grade. He was fresh out of college and looked so fresh (uh, young) that, after meeting him on parent-teacher conference night, my mother just knew she was on Candid Camera: She thought he was a student masquerading as a teacher. He just took her observation as a compliment and flashed that smile. Lord, that smile. He had what you would call a baby-grand grin. Whenever he flashed it, I would hear them ivories and ebonies being tickled (notice how most forget to mention those black keys). And I don't know what tune was being played, but whatever it was, it was hypnotic - just like him. He always came to class dressed down in a shirt, jacket, slacks, and tie, and his scent was an aftershave lotion called Blue Musk (yes, I had the gall to ask; there was a reporter in me at that age).
I looked forward to when he would hunch over my desk, give me one of those smiles, reach out with that big, brown hand, and crown me the winner of our weekly spelling bee by brushing my head and saying, "Outstanding, Mitchell. Just outstanding." And I earned that reward every week: I studied an extra hour each Thursday afternoon to ensure that I held on to my title. When he smiled at me, when he touched me...I don't know, that button was pressed. Yeah, it was an innocent gesture and in no way sexual, but it had the opposite effect: Those homohormones really kicked into gear. I didn'tknow at that age what it was I was feeling or why I was feeling the way I was, but I knew that I loved the feeling.
But I was fully aware of what I was feeling and why I was feeling it this time. And I was truly enjoying what those homohormones were doing to me. I was in a daze, a haze over Mr. Reid: I just stared into space in all my classes, daydreaming about him. And at night? My wet dreams were so wild that I found my pillow and sheet on the floor in the morning and my underwear soaked. In a sense I had my art teacher, Ms. Yearwood, to thank for that. I dreamed of Mr. Reid totally naked, glossed in oil, posing as if he were Michelangelo's David. Naturally I wanted to do more than just dream about him, night or day, naked - and secretly hoped that he did too.
I have always believed that everything happens for a reason, that people come in and out of your life for a purpose. So I just knew that our finally meeting was fate, a happening that was supposed to be. How else can one explain our being in the same school five days a week for two years and never having a class together, never even seeing each other in the hallway? Well, maybe he had seen me before, but I didn't know he existed. I didn't think there were any Black male teachers at the school. There was only one female: Ms. Dawson, who was, for lack of a better phrase, the mammy of the place: a short, stout woman who was one grit away from being on a box of pancakes. She was definitely a "good Negress": She cheesed it up so much, it turned my stomach. To think that Mr. Reid had been here all this time, and I didn't know...? Yeah, I felt cheated.
And yeah, I wanted to make up for lost time.
So, as you can imagine, I had never been so eager to get to gym class. I raced from my Spanish class on the first floor to the locker rooms on the second, changed into my shorts and T-shirt, and was on the third-floor gymnasium in a record six minutes. I was usually the very last person to make my entrance (no, I was never in a hurry to get there), but today - and every day thereafter - I was the first. I stood in the spot we first met, hoping he would reenter my life through the same doors he came through. The door opened two dozen times - and every single time, a white face or faces came through (no, I was not pleased). Then...
"All right, folks, let me have your attention, please."
He emerged from the other side of the gym. Damn! I didn't want anyone to see him before I did (how about that: I was already being possessive when he wasn't mine to possess). As I made my way toward him, I gasped when he was finally in full view. He had on a gray sweat tank and pants. Such an outfit clings to everything - and boy, oh, boy, did it cling to Mr. Reid. He filled in that outfit, and I would love to have been there when he poured his body into it.
"We have a lot to do today, so I just want to take attendance quick. As I call you, count off and create eight rows, five people in each row, back to front. These will be your assigned places for the semester."
When he got to me, I ended up being first in the second row. You know I was just too happy. I had a ringside seat to watch him exert every part of his body. Just thinking about it was making me hot.
He finished attendance, bent his body forward, and placed his clipboard on the floor, but his body was curled, as if he were doing a curtsy.
Good God, what grace.
"Now, we're going to do a basic exercise routine. This will be the warm-up you will warm up with every day. But in order to exercise right, you have to breathe right. Notice how when most people inhale, their stomach goes in." He demonstrated, but I didn't see anything go in. "Well, that's not the way to breathe. When you inhale, your stomach is supposed to come out..." He attempted to show us this too, but I didn't see his stomach move outward. It was clear that he didn't have a stomach. The only thing pushing out was his chest. His shirt lifted along with it, outlining those curves even more.
We practiced inhaling and exhaling for a bit and then got to the warm-up. Now, the exercises were basic - jumping jacks, sit-ups, leg lifts, even jogging in place. But I wasn't taking a chance in this area: I prepared by practicing these and other basics at home. Being the only Black male in the class, I knew that I was expected to have all the right moves - I didn't have the luxury of looking like Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin, barely able to do a push-up. But, of course, I really wanted to impress my instructor - and I did. While he complimented me twice on my stance and execution, he lovingly criticized several others, becoming somewhat flustered at one point and declaring, "You folks can't be that rusty after two months. You should be able to do these exercises in your sleep."
I was pumped up after the workout but not because of the workout itself: I worked up a sweat watching him work up a sweat. Instead of paying attention to my own moves, I kept my eyes on his. I could feel his every bend, his every crunch, his every reach, his every thrust. After he had us shake out the kinks (and, yes, I zeroed in on that bulge, which was shakin' quite nicely), he began the lecture.
"There are four things you need in gymnastics: balance, flexibility, strength, and spatial awareness. They will help you plot and perform to the best of your ability." And he proceeded to test us on all four with the trampoline. This scared me to death. I've always been afraid of heights. I can remember crying my eyes out on class trips to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. I was afraid I would fall over the railing or out the window and that the whole structure would come tumbling down on top of me. So I didn't look forward to tramping on the trampoline, even if Mr. Reid was helping and guiding us through. I decided I would be last so that I could study the others and not make the same mistakes they did. As he gave us pointers on technique and control, I made my way to the back of the crowd.
When my turn came I was less tense, and whatever fear I had disappeared as soon as he took my hand. Even though it had been touched up with the sweat of thirty-nine other students, it was dry yet smooth. He gripped my hand; his swallowed mine. Our flesh molded, smoldered, as the electricity traveled up my arm and into the rest of my body.
I was still a little apprehensive, but he calmed the fear, looking deep into my eyes. "Don't worry. You'll do fine." He smiled.
I smiled back, climbed up, positioned myself in the middle, and started to jump. I kept my eyes on him, making sure he knew that every move I made depended on him. If he said to land on my knees, I did. If he said to land on the right side of my rump, I did. If he said to land on my back, I did. If he said to do a split or flip in the air - things no one else was asked to do - I did. It was easier than I thought it would be but only because I, as Mr. Reid observed, remembered the instructions: Keep your balance, stay loose, rely on your body weight, and be aware of where you start, where you have to go, and where you have to finish. Oh, and don't forget to breathe correctly. Yeah, I really impressed the instructor this time.
"Great form, Crawford, great form!" he praised.
As I came off the trampoline, to the applause and shouts of some, he helped me as he did the other students. But unlike what he did with the others, when my feet landed on the ground, his big brown hand landed on and completely covered my butt.
My knees knocked - and locked. And I gasped.
"Now that Mr. Crawford has given us such a splendid routine on the tramp, we'll see if he can repeat this on the mat," he announced as his hand traveled slowly up my back and he ushered me over to the middle of the gym.
At that moment I experienced what they would call a chill up my spine. And I gawked.
"All right. Now we're going to do one of the elementary movements in gymnastics: the cartwheel."
Uh-oh...another frightful flashback came back to haunt me: my younger brother, Adam, attempting this in our very compact bedroom, hitting his head on the edge of a desk and ending up with fourteen stitches. While the chances of that actually happening to me were slim - there was nothing but space around me - I wasn't so sure I would be able to live up to Mr. Reid's expectations.
But he was.
Once again he demonstrated, movement for movement, and did a few for us. Ah...the way he stood, the way his whole body folded and followed his lead, springing up and into the air, the way his hands palmed the mat, the way he brought it on home. Even the way his toes pointed toward the ceiling...yes, it turned me the fuck on. I was enjoying him so much that I forgot I was next.
He stood behind me. He took me by the waist - his palms were rather warm, and that warmed me up - and pushed forward into me with that. We had never been this close, and no man had ever been this up close and personal with me before. It was hard and...was it my imagination, or does it not like what it is brushing up against? My dick got happy too, and I was lovin' this press and mesh so much that he had to tell me to assume the position - i.e., throw my hands in the air and spread 'em, along with my legs - three times before I heard him (yes, it's a position I would be in many, many, many times).
"All right, slant..."
He slanted along with me.
He gave me a little push as he let go of my waist but stood by. Good thing my shirt was tucked inside my pants - it would've blocked my view. Standing on my hands, I got a different view of him - and he was a fine specimen upside down too.
"...and over, and down."
With his arms out to catch me if I fell, I completed the cartwheel, landing in the position I started in.
"Very good, Crawford. Now let's see if you can do it by yourself."
Yeah, this was the ultimate test. I walked back to where it all began. I assumed the position. I drew back (or, rather, out) a breath.
"Really, really good, Crawford. Okay. Let's see if your classmates can wheel it like you."
Only a few could come close, and they had taken the class before. I was proud of myself. But I was even more proud that I had made him proud. During the rest of that period, when we would happen to glance each other's way and make eye contact, that nod, that wink, or that smile, gestures I knew were meant only for me, said it all. And it made me wonder...
Where have you been all my life?
Excerpted from If Only For One Night by James Earl Hardy. Copyright © 1997 by James Earl Hardy. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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