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Take Her Man
By Grace Octavia
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Grace Octavia
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI'm Not Crying ... It's the Wasabi in My Eyes
As I said, it all started with ...
"Troy, I need a break." That's what the love of my life said to me that sad March afternoon as we sipped sake over sushi in midtown Manhattan. For a minute, for one moment in my life as those dreadful words fell from my beloved's lips, I forgot everything-who I was, where I was, and how I'd gotten there in the first place. All I could see was his lips moving and the sad frown he was obviously struggling hard to keep on his face. It was like I was watching one of those sad breakup movies where some gorgeous guy breaks the girl's heart in slow motion ... over and over and over again.
"A break?" I managed, fighting my way back to reality. "What do you mean, a break?"
"I think we need to not speak to each other for a while." He took a sip of his sake. I could hear him gulp it down in a struggle.
"Not speak?" What the hell was he talking about? How can you be in a relationship and not speak to the person you're in a relationship with? And did I say that out loud?
"That's what I mean, Troy," Julian said, confirming my Freudian slip. "We're not in a relationship. We never were. I told you I didn't want that when we firstmet. Not right now."
The room went spinning. Raw fish was flying everywhere, waiters and customers were holding on to tables for dear life, and the sake in the glass in front of me was spilling over into my lap. I imagined that the world all around me was falling apart; the one I'd tried so hard to create was slipping away from me like the tears slipping down my cheeks.
"Oh, this is a fine time to bring that up. That was over a year ago that you said that crap. You didn't mention anything about not wanting to be in a relationship when you introduced me to your parents as your girlfriend. Hell, I don't remember you saying any of that when I was taking care of your ass last month when you had the flu or when I picked up your damn laundry last week or the week before that." I was getting mad. I knew it because I could hear my voice getting louder, feel my cheeks getting hotter, and see the other people sprinkled around the restaurant beginning to turn around to sneak a peek at us. Normally this kind of display wouldn't be accepted in the circles Julian and I traveled in, but I couldn't help myself. I wasn't about to just let my dream man get up and walk away from me. Not over sushi!
"And what about Pookie?" I asked, bringing up the cotton ball colored Chihuahua we'd picked up one day strolling in the Village.
"The dog is yours, Troy. You bought it. I was just there," he said. "Stop making this hard. Neither one of us wants to be embarrassed."
I pushed back from the table and exhaled. I was losing control. I tried to remember a passage, a line, a chapter title, anything from one of those Iyanala Vazant "self-help for sister girls" books to help me from making a complete ass of myself at my favorite sushi bar, but it was too late. Tears were chasing each other like track stars down my cheeks and so many people were looking at us that Julian was covering his forehead to hide his identity. I wanted to disappear my damn self.
"Stop crying," Julian said. "This is not about you. I just can't do you, and the hospital, and myself right now. Why can't you see that?" He reached over and snatched the last piece of dragon roll off of my plate. Eating at a time like this? Just then I realized that there was some kind of invisible wall between us. A wall between me and the man who had filled my apartment with nine bouquets of magnolias on my last birthday-one for each month we'd known each other. And I didn't know where the wall had come from or who'd put it up. I could only be sad that it was so obviously there.
I wanted to pick up a big chunk of wasabi and rub it in his eyes ... make his ass cry, cry like I'd been doing over the last three months each time he got frustrated with other areas of his life and asked for more and more space to figure things out. I wanted him to feel my pain and realize how much I loved him and that we could work through all of this stuff together if he would stop being so damn selfish. Sitting across from me with the wall between us, Julian seemed like a mean, coldhearted person, but I knew that he had the perfect heart. He treated me better than any man I'd ever dated in the past. During the year that we'd been together, he'd taken care of me when I was sick, helped me through my first year of law school at NYU, and remained a perpetual shoulder for me to lean on when I needed it. He was kind, and strong, and smart, and successful, and fine as all hell. And he listened to me. No matter how difficult I was being-and I could definitely be difficult-he always listened to what I had to say. Sometimes we'd sit up for hours on the roof at my apartment just talking about nothing at all. He was my best friend, my lover, and my confidant.
He was just going through a rough spot. It wasn't easy being a third-year resident at the hospital, and his family offered little more than stress. Sometimes it seemed that since he couldn't do anything about either of those things, I got all of the heat. But I was understanding, and like Julian did for me, I tried to be by his side and simply listen. Couples had ups and downs. It was a fact of life. They just had to see them through. As my pastor always says, as surely as we see good days, we'll see bad days-we just have to be willing to work through the bad ones to see the good ones. I mean, the only truly bad day we ever had, the only time Julian did something that would even potentially ruin our relationship, was when I caught him with that girl, Miata (yes, the trick is named after a damn car). She was some brain from Queens with no class and even less looks who Julian fooled around with a month ago. Julian came clean about the whole thing-the man shed tears-and we worked through it. Our bad day. So surely we had some good days coming. One, big, white-laced, good day.
"But we were doing so good," I said, sounding completely pathetic-I'd regret I said that later as I lay in bed crying to my Mary J. Blige CD. "We got over that girl you were seeing from the hospital. We can get through this, too. I know the hospital expects a lot from you and you need to be there around the clock. We can just see each other less."
I was beginning to feel guilty for all the complaining I'd been doing about not seeing him enough lately. I even felt bad for making him come meet me for sushi. He'd been awake for three days straight. What was I thinking? He was a damn doctor. He didn't have time for my drama. As one of my girls who had been married to a doctor for five years put it, if I wanted a man of that caliber, I had to find a way to live with him and his demanding job.
I needed to calm down. I was pushing him away. Julian was a good man and he was out working hard for a good cause. He was worth waiting for. I just had to be patient and more creative. There's nothing wrong with bringing the sushi and sake to the hospital.
I reached under the table and patted his leg to assure him that I was ready and willing to change.
"I love you, Dr. Julian James," I said with all of my heart inside those words. "And I am not willing to lose you. I mean, just think"-I cracked an uneasy, well-intentioned smile-"we just exchanged keys to each other's places. We're official." I batted my eyes like my grandmother taught me and blew him a kiss.
Julian looked down at his lap and slid a little silver key onto the table. It was apparent that it had already been taken off of his key ring. Had he planned all of this?
"What about my keys to your place?" I asked, realizing that I'd put my foot in my mouth as soon as the last word came out.
"Hand them over." He didn't even pause. His voice was so cold and distant that I felt as if I didn't even know him anymore, like he was someone else, a ghost of himself who had caught ebola or the bird flu during his last stint in the emergency room. The wall between us was growing.
"What do you mean, hand them over?" I was in complete disbelief. I sat back in my seat and looked around the restaurant. Everyone seemed to be having such a great time. There was the couple in the corner cooing at each other, and the sister with long blond dreadlocks feeding her baby sticky rice. Everyone, even the damn waitress who couldn't speak a word of English, seemed happy, except for me ... and I was sitting across from the man I loved.
"What did I do to deserve this?" I looked back at Julian, feeling as desperate as I sounded. I could feel my heartbeat change from fury and shock to just plain sadness. I was fighting a losing battle and I knew it. Even the waitress, who was now standing next to Julian with our bill, looked like she was about to bend down and give me one of those big church-mother hugs. "What did I do?"
"See, I knew you would try to make this about you. Everything revolves around you, doesn't it? No one else can dream or speak unless it fits into your little script of what life is supposed to be about." He paused and handed the waitress his black AmEx card before she walked away. "I just can't take it anymore. You're just too spoiled."
"Why are you being so cold? How could you treat me like this?" I asked, wondering how the waitress got back to the table so fast with the card. Without answering me, Julian signed the check and handed it back to her. He leaned toward me, smiled sweetly, and reached across the table for my hand. Was he playing with me? Was he about to propose marriage? I wiped my tears and gave him my left hand. He squeezed it-clenched it like he was Dr. Phil and nodded his head in this therapy-ish way he could have learned only in medical school.
"Look, just put the keys in the mail," he said as coolly as if he was setting up our next date. He kissed me on the forehead and smiled. "I've really got to go, darling."
Just then, as he turned his back on me, the clock struck 3 p.m., his pager went off and my Prince Charming walked out of our favorite sushi bar and into the streets of New York-alone.
So that's how my sad situation started. Walking out of that restaurant that Wednesday afternoon with every eye fixed on me, I was sick and nearly suicidal. It's funny how losing your man, more than any of the other things in your life, can make you like a woman on her deathbed. You feel like you'll never see the sun rise over Manhattan again.
I felt like I was on some silly candid-camera show. While Julian and I definitely went through our share of "I need space" drama, that didn't separate me from any other woman who was dealing with any other man-especially a successful man. I never would've thought that he would really split up with me-not for real, for real. Inside, I couldn't even believe he was serious this time. He was just as feisty and nervous about commitment as all of my other friends' boyfriends-turned-husbands, and everyone had assured me that if I stuck it out, he'd come around and realize that he was supposed to be with me. So what the heck was happening? As I said, Julian was one of the good guys. The man visits his ailing grandmother every Thursday night. He's no heartbreaker. Julian was just heaven-sent-at least that was the way it had seemed when we met just over a year ago at the bookstore at NYU.
It was definitely an unlikely meeting. It was the beginning of my second semester at NYU Law and I was there to pick up a book ... and maybe even a man if one crossed my path. I spotted Julian as soon as he walked in because he looked like a lost mountain man. His beard was completely overgrown, his shirt was all crooked and crumpled, and his hair was in desperate need of a cut. Before I got a good look at him, I thought that he'd just escaped from the city jail, but the closer he got, the more I knew this wasn't the case. Even a lesbian had to admit that beneath the rough edges, there was a fine-ass black man.
Looking at his calm hazel eyes and roasted-pecan skin, I just wanted to have his babies and play in his thick, jet black hair for the rest of my life. While I was sure he wasn't a good fit for me socially (seeing as how he was an escaped convict), within the two seconds it took for me to squeeze past him in the doorway, I rationalized that we could live off of my salary after I graduated from law school and settle down in one of my father's properties in downtown Brooklyn. I could clean him up a bit, show him the high-society ropes, and help him get back on his feet. Squeezing by only made my interest grow. My hazel-eyed, ex-con/future-husband smelled like a cloud and his stomach was completely solid when I stood on my tippy toes and brushed my bootie up against it-don't be jealous, I said excuse me.
When I turned to put my school bag in one of the free lockers, I decided to drop my book and prayed he would notice. He'd pick it up, I'd smile and say, "Thank you. Let's go home now, fine-ass man." I thought it was a pretty solid plan. I pulled my torts book from my bag and looked toward him to make sure he would notice the drop and have no choice but to acquiesce.
That's when I saw the scrubs. The blue freakin' scrubs. My heart started racing. I felt sweat beads forming on my forehead. I reached for my compact; I needed to check my makeup. I reached for my two-way pager; I needed to text my girls. I reached for my phone; I needed to call my mother. A doctor, I thought, feeling my Gucci bag fall to the floor. He's a doctor. Did I say that aloud?
"Yes, I'm a doctor," Hazel Eyes said, looking at me. "Can I help you?" He reached down and picked up my bag.
Dumb ass, dumb ass, dumb ass. I silently cursed myself for letting "doctor" slip out. Now I was looking like a gold digger-thank God I don't fall for that label. Seems like every time a sister reveals that she's trying to have a successful man by her already successful side, folks start calling her a gold digger. I say it's bull. I'm not a gold digger. I'm a gold sharer; I have mine and my man had better have his own.
"Are you okay, sis?" Hazel Eyes asked. I couldn't say anything. I was stunned. My future son's father was a door-opening panhandler when I first walked into the store and now he was a doctor. I needed time to work it all out in my head. I needed a new plan.
"I'm sorry. I was just trying to remember my professor's name," I managed to say. Good catch. Good catch.
"Oh, I thought you were talking to me," he said. "I was wondering how you knew I was a doctor." He smiled and I do believe I witnessed the cutest white teeth I'd ever seen. I couldn't help but to return the favor. By the time he handed me my purse, we were exchanging names and numbers. It's amazing what a smile and a growing concern over the irregular heart palpitations I only experience in bed will do. Hey, I just needed some advice.
A week later, while walking through Central Park, Julian would tell me that he knew I was lying about not knowing he was a doctor, but he thought it was cute that I was so fast on my feet. He was doing his residency at NYU Medical Center and that day he'd stopped by the bookstore to pick up a book for a new recruit. He was glad he did. He'd noticed me as soon as he entered the bookstore. He said my skin that was just a few shades darker than the sweetest vanilla bean ice cream was striking. Right away he noticed the thin spray of light brown freckles that swept across my nose from cheek to cheek-a genetic gift from my mother I was always trying to hide with makeup-and thought he'd like to kiss each one of them as he made his way to look into my dark brown eyes. Plus, he'd always had a thing for sisters with a little extra shape to their derrières, and mine was looking like a perfect size ten in my fitted black slacks. I was definitely his type and he was trying to find a way to introduce himself when he heard me say "doctor." It was music to his ears. And listening to this description of me as we walked through Central Park with snow falling all around us and kids laughing and playing was certainly music to mine. I do believe I was already falling in love with Julian.
With a romantic beginning like that, who ever would have thought that we'd end up breaking up over sushi? I kept asking myself that question over and over as I drove home from Shimizu. That was just not how love stories went-not in any of the romantic movies, fairy tales, books, songs, poems, or limericks I'd ever laid eyes on. It was supposed to be happily ever after like it was for Cinderella and that green girl in Shrek. It was supposed to be a happy ending. For once, it was supposed to be my happy ending.
Excerpted from Take Her Man by Grace Octavia Copyright © 2007 by Grace Octavia. Excerpted by permission.
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