Keith recalled how Lesli had thoroughly cussed him out for stepping on her foot the very first time they’d ever set eyes on each other at an L.A. party. Midway through a loud exclamation about what he did with mothers in general, she stopped and looked around the room.
In pin-dropping silence, the guests, well-to-do, mostly White, gawked. It dawned on her, on him, too, as they looked around, that they were acting out age-old stereotypes that Black women basically were loud, uncouth hellcats, and Black men, especially after enough to drink, beat them as a matter of course.
Never all that impressed by upscale trappings, Keith didn’t give a flying figure-8 what these lames thought. He hadn’t liked, though, that she looked bad, swearing like a sailor, clearly than in less than full control of herself.
He held out his hand to help her up. She gave him a glare that would scare Medusa. He waited. He could play it off to this crowd. Shrug, turn his back and be held blameless. After all, she’d raised all the hell. He could step away, mill about, even pour himself another round and strike up a fresh chat with the Asian chick.
She, on the other hand — wild-eyed, tight skirt accidentally hiked up to near indecency, frustratingly trying to shove herself up off the carpet — was not in nearly as good shape. He still waited. Her contemptuous stare gave way as an expression of bewildered embarrassment formed on her face. He’d be damned if he’d leave her there alone like this. As a matter of principle.
Besides, she was good-looking as hell. If he had to hold his hand out all night, that is what he would do. Lesli looked again at the wide eyes and open mouths and what now began to be whispered chatter. Then, grudgingly, she took his hand.
Gathering her to her feet, he help to her across the floor — truth be told, not all that steady, himself — as on-lookers stepped aside not altogether unlike the Red Sea parting. Keith wasn’t even sure where they were going. To the other living room, to one of the dens. They were just getting away from there.
He’d pointed out to her that she swung first. And added an apology: He’d never got physical with a woman in anger in his life.
Smoothing her skirt, shifting her blouse, gingerly favoring the foot on which he’d stepped, she said, “Well, yeah. I did. Dammit, you stepped on my foot. Right on it. Had you hit my corn, we would still fighting.” She also, somewhat sheepishly, admitted she’d been tipsy as well as stoned. They both got a good chuckle out of that.
They’d stayed a few more minutes, long enough for people to go back to minding their business. Then he’d called for a cab, dropped her off and gone to the hotel. Next day, he had a sugar-eating grin and Kool-Aid smile spread across his face while checking his bags at the airport.
On the flight back to the Apple, he’d read and re-read her phone number until he was surprised he hadn’t looked it off the back of his business card. Keith had no idea at all when he’d be back in California. But, something about her… He’d find a reason. If it meant taking a road tour, as long as it included a date at a club or theater in Los Angeles, he’d find a reason.
Here he was all this time later, in love. Frozen stuck staring out the window, listening to her running shower water. Their ritual, pretty much, was stirring themselves in the morning — not infrequently in the afternoon, depending what time they’d rolled in Friday night and how much of the weekend they’d spent holding the bedroom furniture down — for a tryst under a warm spray.
The noise of the water, her shoving the shower curtain back and moving bottles around, receded. She’d closed the bathroom door to keep all the hot moisture in and was padding her way into the living room in a pair of his slippers — she loved wearing his things, shirts, sweatshirts, you name it. He finally pulled himself away from the window, struggling to be, or to at least seem to be, calm. And knew he was failing in that attempt.
Lesli, smiling, stepped into the room. Keith, push having come to shove, hadn’t the first idea or notion what to say or do. “Hey, sexy,” she grinned, “wanna get wet?”
Next week: No more stalling.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.