So it all started with a pair of mismatched socks and an esoteric Cosby Show reference. I made said reference expecting an indifferent shrug at most. But he immediately got it. I had long before crowned myself the queen of all Cosby Show trivia, and I announced as much. But he countered anyway. The duel was on.
It was all playful at first. What was the special ingredient in Cliff’s secret sauce? What color was Clair’s shirt crooning next to Stevie? What song did Placido sing as a guest star?
Then it turned vaguely flirty. Or was I just hopeful? It’d been a while.
When he offered to sing me the answer to one of the trivia questions via phone – which slickly required me to give him my phone number – I tensed up. God, I always did this. Was he being friendly? Was this all part of our play? Rakia, he doesn’t go for girls like you. He’s just being cool. Chill out.
But he did call. And he did sing. And against his shaky baritone, I did sing too. At the top of my lungs, in fact. Suddenly I was 15 years old again and every bit as nervous.
Rakia, don’t be silent for too long. Say something smart but don’t be dorky. Ohmigod, say anything. Was that a joke? Don’t laugh to hard. Yeah, like that. Giggle.
This was the high school quarterback with Dwayne Wayne’s brain, Jon Stewart’s humor and GQ’s closet. What was I going to say? What did I want to say? Rakia, don’t play yourself. Wait, is he trying to have, like, an extended conversation now? Chill the fuck out. Be funny and cool. Don’t emasculate him. My goodness, he’s interesting.
He caught me off-guard with his next proclamation. I had to repeat it back: You’re saying good-looking, smart, fun guys get stereotyped as what? Get the fuck out of here. Not true. Totally not true. Yeah, I’m listening. No, for real, I’m listening. Uh huh. But that doesn’t make sense. (Don’t emasculate him!)
He took his time and explained again: Those guys, okay, guys like me, it’s assumed that we’re these Casanovas that a lot of us aren’t. If I say, you look really beautiful tonight and she says, I bet I’m not the first woman you’ve said that to this week, where can I go from there? Or if I say, how about dinner Friday night, and she says, Oh doesn’t a guy like you already have plans? I’m already in a hole. She thinks I’m something I’m not. And I may or may not try to change her mind.
I was listening hard now. Hard, I tell you. I’ve been that woman. I’ve said those things.
Flabbergasted by this new information, I tried a rebuttal: There are guys like that who I was smart to stay away from, though.
I knew his words before he said them. He knew he was right: But Rakia, how can you know how many? I bet there were some good dudes in there.
I nodded slowly and was still shocked at this revelation. Hearing it from a man makes a difference.
I felt self-conscious then. What was he thinking? Was I the stuck-up bitch type who hated all men. I knew I wasn’t. But was I terrified of most of ‘em? Probably.
Then I had a better thought: Fuck it, I’mma be myself. Maybe he’s not even interested. Maybe none of this matters. Goodness, has it been an hour already?
Suddenly I felt myself being charming and grown. Not I’m22andhavemyownapartment grown. I mean lookathowcutethat22yearoldthinkingshesgrownis grown. I said what I thought. I was open.
He made another random, pop culture reference. I didn’t get it. But we were playing again. And laughing. I blushed for the second time and felt another twinge of terror.
This made me nervous. QuarterbackMr.Populars, they don’t go for women like–. Then I remembered. Chill. The fuck. Out. I’m a confident woman. Stop trippin’.
He asked me what I was doing that very night. After everything that was happening, he said, the perfect way to end all of this would be to show up at my doorstep.
I thought a million thoughts before I answered. What would I wear? Must be casual but cute. Not too conservative. For the love of God, not too conservative. And what would he expect? Hell, what do I expect? How do I feel? Butterflies yes, but something else too. Oh right. Fear.
His interest was clear now. But he heard my hesitation and asked teasingly, didn’t you think I was interested in you when we first met all that time ago? Uh uh, I said, shaking my head in disbelief.
Rakia, he said back, I walked across the room to talk to you.
I thought you were just being polite.
I could hear him smile on the phone again like, Is this woman serious?
I was serious. His theory about why single, eligible brothas were really single hit home then. I had never thought I was that aloof, but damn.
We laughed some more at the signals I missed.
Well, what about tomorrow? he tried again. I grinned hard. He was really trying to see me. Terror again. Thank God I had plans.
I’m sorry, I began. A friend of mine who lives in D.C. has been in New York for six weeks on assignment. He’s heading back home this weekend and is having a drinks thing.
Then I worried. Was friend too ambiguous? I should’ve said homeboy.
You should come through if you’re around, I added casually.
He paused. I could tell that he saw me. I mean, he really saw me.
You know what, he said. You enjoy your night with your friend. And when you get home, get washed up and into your comfy clothes. Then call me and we can talk. I kind of want you all to myself.
Thought I was gonna die! Thought I was gonna die! Thought I was gonna die!
That sounds lovely, I said, faking my calmness. I’d like that a lot.
I really enjoyed this, Rakia.
Me, too. This was really lovely. (Dammit, find a new word!)
Okay, so I’ll talk to you later? Absolutely. Okay, bye. Bye.
Afterwards, I stood alone in my apartment reliving the whole thing. I needed to tell someone! No, no, too premature. Nothing had happened really. Just the beginning of a connection. I’d blown those before. I didn’t give myself time enough or chance enough to actually feel what I was thinking. Must remember to move slowly this time. Must move slowly. Must move slowly. And don’t overthink it.
I was astounded at myself and astounded by him. Euphoric, confused, scared shitless. But mostly excited. All kinds of excited.