I was awake but frozen in place when Drake lyrics started to play.
I reached for my vibrating phone. Off.
I lay there with my eyes closed while the anxiety crept up. Breathe, man, remember to breathe. It's just another day.
I got up. Blurred vision, slightly dizzy. Bathroom. Pills. Kitchen. When did I get up?
Took a sip of the Joe. Laptop on. Signed into my email. Scanned a list of unread messages. Mom, Mom, forward, spam, boss, Mom, boss. Sigh. Right click, new tab, opened The Forum. I've got 3 private messages. Someone wants me to visit their blog, I don't know that person. Delete. Rita1313 wants me to know why I haven't replied to her previous message. Next. Jayseon85 wants to know why I hate him. I smiled, glanced at the clock and clicked reply.
Hours later I'm at a desk at work, writing someone else's report. My boss is a dick. I swear to God, he is a bonafide sociopath. I tell myself I'm only here to pay off my grad school tuition. Working as a research assistant for the rest of my life? I think not. Not me, no-ma'am. I wagged a finger at the computer monitor and smiled.
"Trey-boo-boo," a sing-song voice said.
I looked up at my friend and co-worker. She's dark, petite although somewhat plump, and she has a pretty smile. She claims she's part of a royal family somewhere in Africa but every time she brings it up I tease her about the arranged marriage waiting for her wherever she's from. We usually have a laugh.
"Hey, girl," I said.
"So, have you decided yet?"
I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I wrinkled my eye-brows feigned confusion.
"Oh, don't tell me you forgot!" she shrieked, hands on hips, "The club tonight? Compound? Boy, you better tell me you're coming."
I looked at my computer screen and pretended to read.
"I'm sorry, I have to stay and do this," I lied. "You know how he is, he wants this done today and it's going to take all my time." I could be done with the report in 30 minutes.
"You always do this, Trevon. Every time you promise then…" she ranted as she walked away, swinging her arms in the air in exasperation. I would have gone but I don't know her friends and I didn't want to be the odd one out. Plus I felt a strain in my neck and I knew I'd be out with a migraine. I just couldn't do it.
On the train home I listened to that Lonny Breaux Collection I had downloaded the night before. In a melancholy mood, I started thinking about how different things are from what I expected them to be when I was younger. Back then, everything looked brighter. The sky was bluer, the air was cleaner, mornings were easier…
A sudden wave of movement brought back my attention. I looked up. This was my stop.
Back at the apartment I signed on, glanced through my inbox. Five new e-mails from my mom, one with my name as the subject. I popped a yellow pill.
Logged on to the forum. No new messages.
Okay, off to sleep. But I never sleep.
As we laughed about tales of my sister's boss I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I took it out and looked at the text I had received: It was the address of place I'd heard of but never been to. I felt a knot in my stomach. This felt daring and adventurous and being the romantic, naturally, I had fantasized about moments like this before. I wondered about the details: Was it going to be what I expected? What would he look like in person? What would he smell like? I had seen his face in the pictures he sent but common sense told me that photographs don't always tell the story.
"What are you thinking about, baby?" my mother asked across the round dinner table.
I looked up to notice the conversation had dried-up and my sister and mother were looking at me inquisitively.
"Tonight, me 'n T going to the club tonight. Just thinking about where we're gonna go, that's all."
"I really don't know how I feel about you going out, baby. You know it would make me happy for you stay home and talk with me, I haven't seen you in months…"
My sister interrupted. "Besides, who is going to pay for you? You were laid off, Jay, and in this climate…"
I felt the blood rush to my face, "Momma, it's Friday. I've had a rough week and I don't go to the club regularly..."
"Didn't you just go out this Wednesday, Jay?"
I ignored my sister, "… and I have a right to treat myself."
My mother sighed as my sister stared at me harshly. I don't have to justify myself to anyone, I thought to myself, these people don't know me. They don't know what I've been through.
Later, my friend T and I met three other friends up outside a popular open-air club. Anxious about meeting my later meeting, I felt distracted and bored. Minutes after I decided to leave I received another text. A surge of adrenaline went through my body as I hailed a cab. As the cab pulled up to the address, I started to have doubts about what I was doing. I recognized a dingy strip-club that had been in the news weeks before. I took a gulp of air as I stepped out onto the side-walk and into the bar we had agreed to meet in.
After ten minutes I checked my phone and got up to leave when I heard, "Jay-Shawn Nine-Teen-Eighty-Five?"
I spun around in shock and looked for the source of the voice. Left, right. I tried to hope it wasn't who I was seeing.
I closed my eyes for what felt like five minutes then opened them up again.
He was older than he said he was. Shorter too. And his online pictures must have been from years ago because his hairline was certainly not in the same place. He wore a patterned muscle-T underneath a black blazer with faded-blue Jerry Seinfeld-tight jeans. I thought, Damn, the Eighties called… I hesitated as he looked at me yearningly.
Finally, I stepped forward and extended my hand.