The Southside Stories – Chapter 7

The phone rang, rang…and rang. And just when I thought it would go to voicemail, I heard a “Hello?”

“Hi,” I said. “It’s Jazmine.”

“Jazmine!” he said, his voice full of recognition and authentic surprise. “I was hoping you would call. I wanted to call you but then I realized I didn’t have your number at all.”

“Yeah, I realized that too in hindsight.” And also realized that we were Facebook friends (or maybe I imagined we were?) and he could’ve contacted me that way but alas, Facebook is not the real world.

I thought I would be much more nervous but I was calm, cool, and collected. At least I felt that way while talking on the phone with him.

His tone turned serious when he said, “So, how are you doing?”

I didn’t want to tell him my whole life story about my relationship with my mother, so I vagued it up.

“I’m doing okay. Today is better than yesterday. She’s getting buried on Monday.”

“What cemetery?”

“I don’t remember but my dad knows. Somewhere deep in Brooklyn.” I wondered if I sounded callous because I didn’t know where my mom was going to slumber for the rest of eternity. He probably thought I was trying to be strong on the inside but all vulnerable on the inside. Ya know, like normal people dealing with grief. Was that what I was doing?

I had to switch it up with him; it was quite awkward considering I never actually had a conversation with him while in junior high school so this was strange. Plus, my crush and all.

I didn’t even know where to start. How do I ask him about his interests, how life was for him in junior high school, why he didn’t date girls in our school, where he went to high school, college, his major, did he like any girls at our school (i.e. me), and so on and so forth. I was so intrigued but mystified so I started simple.

“You know I barely know you, Mr. Perez. I have to say, this is quite strange for me, talking to you, years later as adults after never having spoken to you while in school. Is it just me?”

“I guess it’s weird but I always thought you were kool; you seemed confident yet quiet.”

No, did he? Nooo…did he? ‘Cuz if he did I’d feel really stupid that I misread any signals he threw my way.

“You thought I was kool? But we barely talked when were in the Yearbook club.” I tried to distract myself by picking at my nails so I could keep my composure.

“I was interested in getting to know you but I was distracted from graduating and the next step. I was always thinking in the future. I don’t think I made enough friends at John D. Wells because I was in such tunnelvision mode.”

And that’s why I thought he was so attractive because he was so studious and serious….

“I always wondered what you did after Yearbook or where you went after junior high because I didn’t really hear much about you from other people.”

I wish I were lying but I had to catch myself stalking him on Facebook; Facebook can be addictive.

“I went to Stuyvesant High School and then I got into UPenn. I studied Architecture even though I was Undeclared for a bit.”

Ooh, architecture is so damn sexy.

“Why aren’t you an architect?” I mindlessly played with my long-ish hair as the pale faces passed me on the bench. Then I looked at the bar behind me and had a crazy idea.

“I’m working on designs and trying to talk to firms as I work this Real Estate gig on the side. I can’t afford not to be unemployed.”

Oh and ambitious as well. He gets dreamier by the minute. I had to ask him before I lost my nerve.

“Listen, I know it may be a little early,” I glanced at my watch and realized happy hour was approaching, “but would you like to chat over a drink?”

“We could do that but not too late. I got work in the morning.”

“Oh of course, I understand. I’m actually on Grand Street and Havenmeyer. Meet me here when you can.”

“That’s a ten minute walk from me. I’ll be there in a bit. See you soon,” he said.

We hung up and I congratulated myself.

Did I actually ask the Carlos Perez out for a drink? The one and only guy that every freakin’ girl pined for in junior high school? Unbelievable! I couldn’t believe it myself.

Immediately, I took out my compact mirror, applied some lipstick and blush. Then I hand combed my straightened hair to make sure there were no flurries. I moved my head from side to side to make sure my makeup looked great. There was no way I’d forget makeup this time around.

I remembered the wasted makeup on a blind date I had from a female friend I’m not even friends with anymore. I think her name was Jennifer? Maybe? Anyway, she had a cousin who was fifteen. She had apparently told him all about me and he was very much interested. I was, even then, interested in smart guys so this guy had better at least enjoy or read a book sometimes.

His name was Danny; he was overweight, a smoker, and hairy like a gorilla. Why the hell would I like this?

When I first met Danny, it was underneath the Marcy Avenue stop on the JMZ line. His shape was in shadow as the cars zoomed on the busy Broadway Avenue two way street; I couldn’t make out how he really looked other than he was overweight and he could crush me.

Jennifer accompanied me for support because I was only thirteen and I didn’t know him; plus, he was fifteen! Almost a teenager – well, for me at the time fifteen was a huge deal. I was still a pre-teen, or at least considered myself to be one then.

He crossed the street to where Jennifer and I stood and he greeted me with the kiss on the cheek as Latinos do. I obliged him one on the cheek as his hairy cheek caressed my hairless one. I almost shuddered from disgust. I was utterly Unattracted to this guy. I wanted this blind date to stop instantly but to be nice, I stayed on the date.

Jennifer said, “I’ll give you guys some privacy. I’ll come back for you in an hour.” She had flashed me a devilish grin, winked at me, and left me standing at the corner.

Great, an hour with this big galoot and I never had a conversation with him prior to this meeting. Oh god, what had I gotten myself into. I was looking cute too.

I had on the cutest gold hoop earrings, light brown eye shadow, a little bit of blush, and of course, the glossiest lip gloss I owned. Yeah, I was bangin’.

Feeling his eyes on my curves and ass as we walked toward the closest park by the subway station, I asked him the pleasantries and the like. The conversation was so fuzzy because I was completely filling the space with nothing  because I was clearly not interested in this dude.

Whatever he said came out of his mouth as television static. I nodded in all the right places and smiled at others.

Since I was a big reader at the time, I paid acute attention to the vocabulary of my peers. In hindsight, I realized that was pretentious of me but that was how I rolled back then. I make a lot of allowances now but back then, I was a stickler for being around smart folk.

He said, “You are so beautiful. Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“Most guys are superficial and I’m not willing to settle for any guy that finds me cute.”

“What does superficial mean?” he said, looking at me strangely.

I rolled my eyes but covered my face with my hands. Then I turned my attention back to him. Definitely not my type.

“It means that guys are only interested in the aesthetic; girls who are cute and nothing else, like no decent personality or the like.”

Oh God, I used “aesthetic,” is he even going to know what that means? I don’t want to explain that to him either.

“Oh, I understand,” he said. Although I know he didn’t but I could care less.

We sat down at one of the park benches and conversed about something and nothing at the same time.

At one point during the conversation, he put his arm on the back section of the bench and inched himself closer to me.

Oh I don’t think he’s trying to do what I think he’s trying to do.

Just as I thought the thought, he leaned in toward me slowly; I could smell the cigarette smoke and Winterfresh from his mouth as I abruptly turned my face to the other side. His lips landed on my right cheek. I shuddered in disgust.

I looked at my watch. Fifteen minutes left to the hour. I wish I knew where this chick went.

“Why did you turn your face?” he said.

I faced him and braced myself. Should I be mean or nice? Fuck it.

“I didn’t invite you all up in my face with your Winterfresh and cigarette breath, thank you very much.”

His head jerked back as if I slapped him.

“Dayum, girl. You ain’t gotta be like dat.”

“I’m just sayin’,” I said.

“If you didn’t like me, why did you agree to this date with me?”his eyes searching mine.

“I was being nice.” I shrugged my shoulders.

Then I stood up. “It’s almost time. Let’s go meet Jennifer.”

Reluctantly, he followed me the three short blocks to the subway stop.

His silence meant he understood I wasn’t in the least interested in having more conversation.

When Jennifer showed up ten minutes later and asked, “How’d it go?” her cousin’s expression was enough.

He kissed her goodbye and said, “I’ll call you later,” as he abruptly took the stairs to the elevated subway platform station above us. Why he waited until Jennifer returned still boggles my mind until this day. Did he want to purposely give me the cold shoulder as he said goodbye to her? Totally unnecessary.

When he left, she turned to me. “What happened?”

“Nothing. I wasn’t into him. He so wasn’t my type.” I made a face as we walked to my home.

“You are so picky,” she said. She always said that when I turned down any guy that was interested in me.

She knew I was crushing hard on Carlos Perez but thought it would be good to expand my horizons. How my horizons were open enough to date her cousin, didn’t register with me at all.  If she weren’t related to Danny, would she date him? I wonder if she ever had that thought in her head.

Years later, I saw Danny waiting on the L subway platform. I recognized him immediately. He was still overweight and hairy; I made sure I walked past him as if I didn’t know who he was. I’m sure he recognized me too but I’m glad he didn’t try to greet me.

***

Still sitting on the bench mindlessly checking my Twitter and Facebook updates on my Crackberry, a person approached me. Without squealing too much in excitement internally, I slowly looked up, only to gaze right into the eyes of my cousin, Jesse.

Deflation. Where was he? Am I getting stood up? I collected myself. No, no, no. I need to relax.

“Y que?” Jesse said, leaning over and kissing me on the cheek.

“Aqui. E’perando alguien. Y tu? Que hace?”

He told me he was on his way to CTown to go grocery shopping but had stopped by the Laundromat to check on his clothes.

“Y tu papi?” he said.

“El ‘ta con Tio Victor.”

I didn’t have the energy to engage in superfluous conversation so I had to stop him.

“Listen, I’m meeting someone soon here,” I said as I trailed off.

“Oh ‘ta to’,” he said. He kissed me on the cheek and walked off.

I hope I didn’t come off as too cold but I’m honest.

I checked my watch and then the time I called him. It’s been at least twenty minutes.

It’s going to be okay. He’ll show up. He’s going to show up. Right? Yes. Why wouldn’t we? No, why would he?

What was I thinking that he was actually going to show up?

I looked around and stood up. As I turned the corner, I bumped right into Carlos.

“Wrong way?” he said, puzzled.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was actually going to wait in front of this café just in case you didn’t know where I was talking about.”

“Oh, I’ve been to this bar,” he said. “It’s okay.”

“Oh, do you know of a better bar? I wouldn’t know. I haven’t lived here for years now.”

“No, it’s fine,” he said, leading us to the bar. “Good happy hour specials.”

“Great,” I said.

We walked inside and I realized this was a sports bar. Ugh. Which means he might be distracted by sports things in here. I better be damn entertaining enough for him to only have eyes for me.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, as he found a table in the back of the bar. We slid into a booth. It was quiet for a Sunday. But then again, the sports season didn’t really start up until the fall. Unless I was wrong but I didn’t know anything about sports anyway.

“It’s okay,” I said. As long as this didn’t become a common occurrence but he was probably busy at work or something or other. I’m sure there was a valid excuse.

“I’m sure you had a perfectly executed reason why you were a few minutes late. It’s fine.”

“Well, actually, I have a problem with tardiness.”

“Is that so?” I said. I hope he wasn’t being serious.

“I’ve always had a problem with lateness since as long as I could remember. It started when my mother had me. I was one month late.”

“You’re joking,” I said.

He looked me in the face and started laughing.

“Okay, I don’t have a problem with tardiness but I was one month late.” He lightly punched me on the arm. “I’m just messin’ witcha.”

A punch on the arm? No, no, no, no, no. That’s not a good sign.

“Ha,” I said. I felt so stiff. What’s the matter with me?

“Lighten up, it was only a few minutes. I honestly got caught up. I was on my way here and got stopped by some folks from around the way. You know how that goes.”

“Oh yes,” I said. “I know it very well. Whenever my dad is in town, we get stopped by like five people and it takes it a half hour just to get to the corner grocery store.”

I coyly looked at him from the corner of my eye. “It’s okay,” I said. “You made it. That’s what counts.”

“Alright then,” he said. “So what are we drinking?”

“Whiskey and coke. What’s your poison?”

“Same.” He grinned. My eyes had to seek solace elsewhere as I felt my cheeks get red with heat. I focused my attention on the TV screen in front of us. There was a basketball game on. I think it was college. Or not. I wasn’t sure.

“I’ll get our drinks,” he said.

“Great,” I told him, as I flashed a meek smile with no teeth, just lips.

I already felt awkward doing this with him, being weird for no apparent reason. I had no idea what I was going to ask him, how to react to him…what the frak was I going to do with this guy? I needed to relax. I know it is the Carlos Perez but at the same time, he’s also just a guy. Oh god, what if he ends up being absolutely awful and not the person I always thought he was. Inflation big time. But what if I’m right and he’s even more amazing than I could have ever imagined?

How about I take it slow. This wasn’t a movie. It’s not like he’s going to be that douchebag from Pretty in Pink and all.

I took a deep breath and exhaled. I closed my eyes and did this again. When I opened my eyes, Carlos was sitting down with our drinks.

“Rough day?” he said, sitting on my left.

Even with the loud noise of patrons shouting, commenting on the game on the TV, the flashing lights of the changing shots on the screen reflecting on Carlos’ face, he was absolutely immaculate and untouchable. I had to catch my breath.

“It was an okay day. I hung out with my dad and I always enjoy that,” I said. “How was your day?”

“Long and dreary. I have been trying to seal the deal on this one condo by the East Side River on Kent Avenue but even now, it’s been hard.”

“Why’s that?” Like I even cared what he was saying. He had such a sultry and soulful voice. I could fall asleep to his voice, in his arms, as he talked about something passionate.

“The market hasn’t been good for buying and even though Williamsburg is still an up and coming neighborhood, not many people are willing to buy or can afford to spend the retail price for the property. It’s quite frustrating but I’m probably boring you with this real estate nonsense. I don’t know what’s been going on with you since middle school. Lay it on me. What’d you study? Where’d you go? Where are you living?”

For what felt like the umpteenth time this week, I told him my story but the more abridged version. After I was done he said, “No men in your life? Ever been married? Kids?”

“Kids?” I said. Then I laughed. The thought of kids at this time in my life was not even a thought or had a section in my life.

“No offense but I’m way too busy for kids right now. I don’t even have a boyfriend.”

“None taken. Why no one special in your life? You have everything to offer a good man. Are you too picky?”

“Oh god, that’s what my friend used to tell me. I’m not picky, I’m just not willing to settle for anything less.”

“What are your expectations? Could they be too great that a guy cannot measure enough for you?”

I wanted to blurt out, “because all I want is you and no one else! You have been in it for years and I might be in love with you (oh god am I?) but I don’t know how to tell you this because you might think I’m crazy!” but instead I said, “I haven’t met the right guy, is all.”

“What are you waiting for?” His eyes bore into mine and I held his gaze, trying hard to really focus on saying something that wouldn’t sound ridiculous and have the semblance of a cogent stream of thought he might actually understand.

“I want to meet someone who’s wonderful in all the right ways, who’ll have quirky things that are imperfect, smart, educated, can take care of himself –meaning cook, clean, work, and everything in between. Is that asking too much?”

“It might be. It might not. Have you been looking?”

“No. I’ve been too wrapped up in my writing and work to date really.” Other than the fact that I get my sexual fix from that boy back home, yeah, I’m pretty much too busy to date.

“But if you want to find someone, you have to seek him out. He’s not going to magically appear at your place.” Still, he intensely searched me, trying to dig deeper and see into my soul.

I wanted to say to him, “But can’t you see all I want is you and you alone?” but how unrealistic does that sound. I don’t even know him for crying out loud!

“I know what you mean. I’m not lonely. I go on dates sporadically,” I told him, almost defensively. Yeah, if you call Booty Calls dates.

“I’m sure you will find what you’re looking for when you seek him out.” He smiled at me. Oh that beautiful smile!

“What about you? You been dating after the divorce?”

“Not really. Like you, I’ve been too caught up in work.” Maybe a little booty call or residue action with the ex though, I’m presuming. I know how that goes.

“But you have so much to offer a woman.” I slyly grinned at him.

“Ha, but you see I’m a divorced man. I’m not seeking to jump right into a relationship with another woman. I do have ‘friends’ though.”

“Of course, you do. Carlos Perez, the hottest guy at John D. Wells was never lacking in the girl department.” I said this looking elsewhere, avoiding his eye contact. Then I had to land back down to Earth.

“What is that supposed to mean?” he was half-grinning because he knew what I was going to say. Little cocky bastard.

“Don’t act like you didn’t know you were secretly pined for during middle school.”

“Me?” he said, feigning innocence. Then he looked me in the face. “Oh I know the way some girls acted around me. Even you.”

Pause. I blushed so hard I had to cover my face.

“That is so cute,” he said, as he put his arm on my shoulder. I felt even hotter. Oh god, did he feel the heat emanating from my body? I was burning up.

“How could we resist? You were so kool.” I took off the light sweater I was wearing, burning up underneath. His arm rested on the booth.

“I just wanted to see you blush,” he said.

“I hate you,” I said, not looking at him as I finished my drink. I needed another.

“Another drink?” he said.

“Yes, please,” I said, averting his eyes.

“Same?” he said.

“Yeah, thanks.”

He walked away and I chewed on the ice cubes from my drink. I was so embarrassed. Of course he knew I crushed on him and his effect on me publicly. Great, he was probably going to exploit that for his own gratification. I should’ve known he was like all those other guys. I didn’t think. All these years. He was a player this whole time. A fuckin’ player.

I shook my head to myself as I called myself “stupid” over and over again.

He returned with our drinks.

“You okay?” he said.

I lifted my head, hoping he hadn’t heard the many “stupids” I had muttered to myself under my breath.

“I’m fine,” I said. “You were in the middle of gassing yourself real good. Go on.”

I sipped my drink. “Thank you by the way. I’ll have to get the next round.”

“Gassed? I made you turn beet red just a minute ago,” he smiled to himself.

“Yeah, whatever. You knew everyone crushed on you. Why didn’t you date anyone at the school?”

I had to ask!

He shrugged. “I didn’t want to deal with the aftermath of breaking up with a girl that went to school with me. Do you know how awkward it is to have rumors flying around about what happened between you and someone else and have that get back to you? I didn’t ever want to deal with that. So I dated outside of school.”

He went on to tell me about his exploits, not his sexcapades because I didn’t ask and I didn’t want to know. But the fact that he didn’t tell me about his sex adventures maybe meant there was potential for us to be a little bit more than friends. But wishful thinking is my best friend, after all. Don’t know if that was the main culprit in me thinking that. Or the fact that his hand would occasionally, touch my shoulder, knee, or back. Physical contact is very integral to one’s attraction to another. I wanted to kiss him. I stared at his lips as he spoke and pictured us locking lips so many times. Even though I wanted him to kiss me, I know today would not be the day that happened.

During that whole back story, I ordered us a third round, knowing it would be our last. He had work in the morning.

As I started my third drink, the ballsyness took over and I asked him, “Why didn’t you ever ask me out?”

I felt stupid asking him that because he said he didn’t date girls at his school because of the aftermath. But if we would’ve dated after he graduated, we wouldn’t be in the same school anymore.

“I thought about it,” he said. My eyes lit up.

“But like I said, I was in tunnelvision mode and I wasn’t that interested in dating someone from my school. Girls from other schools were more interesting; they were from different neighborhoods and backgrounds. I found you attractive then but I wasn’t really interested in the John D. Wells girls as a whole. I was into more exotic chicks.”

“Like white girls?” I said, quizzically.

“Well, yeah. They were fun.” He smiled to himself.

“Oh, I bet,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Listen, don’t hate. It’s not like I rejected you or anything.”

“Oh whatever,” I said, drinking my drink. “Drink your drink.”

“Why are you getting upset?”

“I’m not. It drives me crazy how some Latinos seek out the white chicks when they got sexy ass chicks from their ethnicity, is all.”

He rolled his eyes. “And you haven’t dated white guys?”

“I tried but they just couldn’t do it for me. I need some flavor with my men.”

“Everybody has a preference,” he said.

Suddenly, part of his mystery lifted. Maybe I wouldn’t be seeing him again. Did I want to see him again?

It was my turn to shrug my shoulders. “I guess so.”

The energy was thick; did I open a can of worms I hadn’t meant to? Talk about passive aggression.

“Wow,” I said. “Look at the time. I think I should go.”

He looked at his watch too. “You are right. It’s kinda late.”

“Time flies when you’re catching up,” I said, putting on my sweater. If I would have had one more drink, this night would have been a lot more awkward.

He gave a tight lipped smile. “Yeah, definitely.”

We both stood up and walked outside of the bar.

“We should do this again sometime,” he said, looking down at me. He was practically towering over me. He was so tall.

“I agree,” I said. “This was fun.”

We hugged briefly.

“Sorry it got weird in there,” I said. “I can be a bit much when I drink.”

“It’s not a problem,” he said. He flashed me his famous smile. Goodness, what was I going to do with him?

“We’ll hang out again. Let’s keep in touch.”

“Sure,” I said.

We hugged again and then he waved to me as he walked off in the direction of the BQE. I walked toward the subway station.

I didn’t quite know what to make of our whole interaction. Perhaps more time would make things better? Maybe not as much alcohol (for me at least)? He was still a kool guy to me but maybe I should be seeking for love elsewhere. He wasn’t impressing me too much. But I’ve only skimmed the surface anyway.

I’ll sleep on it. Then think about his hotness. I can’t believe I was in the company of Carlos Perez’s hotness! Sigh. Still dreamy after all these years. The cocky bastard.

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