I gazed out my window at the Atlanta skyline, staring at nothing in particular, just wishing I were somewhere else other than here. I was still feeling the familiar pangs of longing gnaw at my belly, joined in harmony with the growls from my missed appointment with breakfast.
I was too busy running on the fast track of my career path that I no longer had time for luxury, like food or love. All I knew were glad handing, hour billing, and being the first one at work and last one to leave.
I couldn't wait any longer, it was time to get my fix. I put my laptop to sleep, gathered my purse and felt around for my Jimmy Choo's under the desk.
I strolled past my secretary's desk and called over my shoulder, "I'm taking an early lunch, Susan. Hold my calls."
"Of course, Ms. Jones." Replied Susan, the steady tapping of computer keys never wavering.
I stepped into the elevator and pushed for the floor level. Giving myself a once over in the mirrored wall , I liked what I saw, to an extent.
Here I am, a 32 year old Black woman around the corner from junior partner within the law firm of Smythe, Crowe, and Sandstone. I've traveled the vast reaches of our nation and stretched out to the corners of Asia and Europe.
I was becoming well respected in the upper echelon of Atlanta society, dined with the mayor and his wife on numerous occasions. I attended the symphony and ballet with the frequency of most people going to the dollar cinemas on Buckhead Hwy, but I still longed for something that was denied to me ever since I was a little girl.
Male suitors came in droves. Educated, refined, and wealthy men in all shades, sizes, demeanor filled my social calendar through the end of the quarter with $500 plate dinners, urban fund-raisers, art gallery openings, countless other functions that were becoming increasingly boring by the minute. They were all nice men, definitely marriage material, but not what I wanted. Not until I scratched this itch of yearning.
I strolled down the block to the corner deli, buying a simple veggie wrap, kettle chips and a sweet tea. With my lunch tucked safely away in my messenger, I kept walking, strides purposeful. It was about that time.
"Candice. Stay away from them fast-ass boys, ya-hear?" screamed my mother through the the ratty screen door, television blaring another countless episode of General Hospital from the living room."
"Yes, Ma'am." I called back as I took a seat on the porch and set to trying to comb the tangles out of my Barbie doll. She was my first doll and I took her everywhere with me. I would rub dirt on her so she would look more like me and people would know that she was my baby girl. But I couldn't do anything with her snarled head of hair that became less and less as I raked the plastic comb through it over and over again.
"Get offa me, Punk"
I looked up from my pitiful salon duties to the commotion occurring in the front yard next door. Anthony, who was in my fifth grade class, was trying to disengage himself from his overly plump cousin, Raymond. Raymond wouldn't let up, pushing all his weight on Anthony's neck, smiling in triumph as he mashed his cousin into the gravely earth. After about a minute, Anthony wriggled free and rewarded his kinfolk with a punch in the lower back.
"Ow, Nigga. That hurt."
"That what you get for effin wit me."
They kept shoving each other back and forth, a machismo rite of passage, until Raymond noticed they had an audience.
"What you staring at, ugly?"
I jumped at the remark and went back to combing Barbie's hair with a renewed interest, hoping they would go back to fooling around with each other. The last thing I needed was another confrontation with Raymond. He was always up to no good, when he wasn't stuffing his face.
Before I knew it, Raymond hopped over the four-foot fence that separated our houses and was within kissing distance of me, perish the thought. His breath reeked of Funions and his armpits weren't faring any better.
"I said," he warbled, snatching my doll from my hands, comb going with it. "What you staring at?"
"Give her back." I pleaded quietly; hoping my momma wouldn't hear and think I invited him over. I already got a switching this week for accepting a quarter from the grocery clerk down the street.
"Or what?" Raymond held my Barbie by the hair just within reach of my outstretched fingers. Before I could reply, Raymond dropped the doll into my waiting hands, grabbing the back of his head, wincing in agony. A small stone rolled from between his legs and stopped at the bottom stoop. We both turned and found Anthony grinning and tossing another one in his hand.
"Leave her alone." He hefted the stone once more. "That's my lady."
"Yous a punk," said Raymond.
"Well, you a sissy" retorted Anthony, glancing my way for approval.
"Naw, you a dicksucka," spat Raymond causing all three of us to slap hands over our mouths, looking around for the offending ears of grownups. Cussing in front of adults meant a spanking and being around someone who cussed was just as bad.
"Oooh, I'm telling." Anthony ran around the unkempt hedges to the back of his house with Raymond hot on his heels, trying to keep his pants from falling down. I grinned; Anthony became my knight in shining armor and I had a boyfriend, even though he still threw clumps of dirt at me on the way home from school every day.
The park was only four blocks from the office, but the warm Atlanta sun quickly pushed the beads of perspiration onto my forehead. My Donna Karan suit was fine for the air-conditioned confines of the office hallway, but no place for a downtown trek. I contemplating removing the jacket, but left it on to keep up appearances until I got where I was going.
I heard them before I saw them. First it was the reverberations of a car stereo, pounding out the latest misogynistic track from whichever hip-hop artist was hot at the time. The vocals were unintelligible due to the raised pitch of the bass, but the words weren't meant to be heard anyway. This was the drum, warning outsiders to keep their distance. Most of the downtown workforce heeded the advice, avoiding the park, leaving most of the benches unoccupied even on the nicest of spring days. I was also an outsider, but curiosity and avarice overpowered judgement.
The grinding of rubber on granite, the errant shouts, sounds of clanging metal became my signal beacon. I headed for my usual spot, which was thankfully empty, and after finally removing my restraining jacket, took a seat. From here I got a view of the court lengthwise, but was far enough away to keep my presence minimal.
It was the middle of the day, but the court was full. Shirtless Gods filled my view, banging against each other, working up a lather, chasing a ball and each other up and down the 94 by 50 Ft. Arena.
This is what I watched the clock for. This was my getaway. Most of the men in my social circle join a gym or work out at home. They watch their carb intake, avoid fast food at all costs, and groom themselves more than the rules of masculinity should allow.
Here on the courts, it is chiseled down to the lowest common denominator, on display for all to see.
I've found myself drawn here for the past year, whenever the weather was warm and time permitted. It was a vice I couldn't shake. For some people, it's the glass pipe or the brown bottle. For me, it was thugs.
Now, my definition of a thug may differ from most peoples. They think they see thugs on the evening news or primetime on Cops, but they are confused with hoodlums.
These men that I adore are constantly suspect, because of their appearance and demeanor. These are the kinds of men that cause car doors to automatically lock at stoplights, purses clutch a little closer to one's self when they saunter by. They have a walk and talk of their own, always changing a step ahead of the status quo. They may not work down the hall from me, but more likely in the dungeon of the mail room.
Besides, the only hoods I associate with were on "Oz" which I would TIVO daily just for a glimpse of Adibese, fingering myself to teeth grinding orgasms thinking about a conjugal visit with that fine African gangster, that I developed acute carpal tunnel. Only after he got killed in season 5, did I work up the nerve to buy myself a vibrator, which I aptly named after him.
I recently moved on to D'Angelo's video, "Untitled" where he bares his soul and so much more, I can't even wait until he reaches the bridge anymore before I'm shaking with release.
Back to the present time, I scoured the court looking for familiar bodies. Since I was never brave enough to approach any of them or dumb enough to stretch lycra over my form to the breaking point like my "competition" on the other side in hopes they come to me, I had my own nicknames for the regulars.
I saw " The Runt" first. He is the smallest guy on the court, has the biggest mouth and the tinest game. He was always jawing about what he was gonna do, what he did last week, and the ever repetitive story about his ankle breaking move on Dwight Howard, the Atlanta born phenomenon. For all his talk, he was welcomed back week after week even though his contribution to the games was minimal at best.
Then there was "Old School". He was a graying veteran that played every game like it was his last. There was no flashiness in his game, just smart fundamentals. He still relied on the pick and roll and had a killer set shot if you gave him the room. I swept the court with furtive glances, pretending that I was engrossed in my lunch when I saw him.
His was the only name I knew for sure. He was on the court almost every day, his team usually winning their "runs". He was the Alpha male, he knew it, and so did everybody else on the court. Utmost respect was paid to his person and his game; even Runt kept the jabber to a minimum when he held court.
He was a 6'9" dark chocolate wet dream and I salivated at the feet of Pavlov whenever I stared too long. His hair was close cropped with long, but tapered sideburns that connected into his thin goatee. He wore a simple silver chain that encircled his neck in a taut choker, glistening in the noonday sun. His broad chest was devoid of hair; chiseled black marble.
He never wore a shirt or jersey when he was playing, just a wristband placed high on his forearm and a twin headband; matching colors. Today they were white. I would give anything to use those sweat absorbed pieces of cotton as a loofah. His abs twitched with each stride he took up and down that court, quickening my breathing in an instant.
He wore the same Carolina blue shorts, baggy enough for me to see the band of his Phat Farm boxer shorts peeking out. He hitched them up when on defense, drying his palms on the seams and exposing scrumptious thigh in the process. His white Nikes were always clean, no scuffs or tears. When I first laid eyes upon him, D'Angelo got put on pause and Adibese gathered dust in the nightstand. He had a hunger in his eyes that transferred to his game. He would stare at his opponents as if they were fresh prey and bark "Ya'll aint ready," before proving it to them.
I forgot about the hunger in my belly and concentrated on the other one between my thighs. Crossing my legs only heightened the sensitivity and I bit my lip lest someone hear the moan escape when he hitched up his shorts. I took a sip of tea and watched him kill.
It seemed that there was a new group of victims up for slaughter on the court and Jarel showed no mercy; he was Caesar in his heyday. With Runt keeping up the trash banter and Old school setting picks stronger than prison walls, Jarel was in rare form. The game was to 21, but he already single handedly scored 15 before the other team threw up a prayer outside the arch and got two on the board. I silently cheered from the sideline as I always do, trying not to attract too much attention, getting my fill before trekking back to the office to daydream and home to stir the soup in my personal pot.
This game was pretty much over but the losing team didn't want to go without a fight. Runt was the first victim when he received an elbow to the chest trying to push past a late screen. Out here, the only fouls were called due to blood or contusion. I could see the little man try to suck it up and for the first time in a long while, he didn't have anything to say. Old School was next, a nasty shove under the basket when he leapt for a rebound, sending him crashing into the cast iron support beam.
I could only hold my breath as the sorry ass players tried to zero in on my thug prince, but Jarel was too smart for their tactics. Cutting tight swaths through the elbows and feet with flawless crossovers and reverse dribbles had the defense running into each, using the asphalt to wipe up their sweat. Then there was his man; the only one there in truly need of a shirt and a shave, trying to use body on him to no avail. Jarel used his forearm and stamina to keep him at bay. The score was 19-2 and Jarel had enough of the roughhousing.
With his opponent, whom I aptly named " The Belly" slobbering like a Mastiff in heat, Jarel pulled up beyond the arc for a three and before the ball reached it's apex, yelled, "Next!"
The ball swished cleanly through and because of the lack on net ricocheted off the pole, bouncing over the patch of concrete and rolling towards me. Inwardly I smiled, thinking about something clever to say when all hell broke loose.
Jarel was jogging in my direction for the ball, the players on the sideline forming the next crew when I saw the Belly lope to a rusted out Buick and retrieve something. When I saw the silver glint in his hand, matching the color of his mouth jewelry, I knew that shit was jumping off.
"Next this, Nyaagah!" spittle flying from his mouth as he drew out the last word, raising the pistol at the same time.
"Look out," I screamed as the first shot broke the noonday chatter. Players jumped out the way as he waved the pistol back and forth screaming obscenities. Jarel looked back and broke into a sprint right at me as I stood up like a fool, pointing. I think everyone knew what a gun could do. All my street instincts went right out the window when I started law school. Legs churning, Jarel was almost upon me as the grass behind him exploded in chucks of turf as he dug in. In all the chaos, all I could do was watch the sweaty detail of his pectorals as his arms pumped up and down like pistons; hazel eyes ablaze with adrenaline overload.
I stood there, paralyzed, until I felt the full weight of his body slam into me, taking me up and over the hard wood and concrete bench. We somersaulted to the ground, my knee taking the brunt of the blow. It finally hit me that this was no dream as more shots cracked through the air. I closed my eyes and prayed for what seemed like minutes, hoping I would escaped this ghetto drama.
I could no longer hear the shots or the neighboring shrieks from the scantily dressed chicken heads or tires squealing from escaping vehicles, just my hurried breathes matching his. Then I heard nothing but my own heartbeat. After what seemed like an eternity, I opened my eyes.
Jarel was no longer here, protecting me in that sweaty embrace and the park was still. I carefully peeked around the stone legs of the bench and saw the Belly was gone as well as everybody else. I tried to stand and felt sparks of pain stabbing me in the knee, taking a scenic route up my thigh. I looked down and saw my hose ripped; blood seeping through the tear. My Jimmy Choos turned to Gummy Chewed.
I spun around on my good leg and Jarel was standing there, a construction belt hanging of his shoulder.
"My leg, I can't walk." I managed to squeak out.
He looked down, frowning at the cut, and without word hoisted me up in his arms and began to carry me to the parking lot.
"Where's your car, lady?"
"Candice. I walked... from work."
I leaned into him as he strode across the grass, each step making my cheek bump against his shoulder. I gorged my olfactory senses on his musk and CK1 potpourri. We approached a beat-up Chevy Blazer and he set me down against the fender so he could open the door. We were truly the only ones left in the park. I put some pressure on my knee and found out I could stand comfortably. The trickle of blood slowed , but my hose were done for and I don't know if dry cleaning was gonna save my skirt.
"I don't think I need to go to the hospital; damn that hurts." I put as much weight as I could on my leg. How am I going to explain this at work.
Jarel looked at me again and reached inside his SUV for a t-shirt.
"I have a med kit in the back." He walked to the back of the Blazer and lowered the door. I hobbled over and he lifted me up into the back to get a good look at my knee.
"What if he comes back?" My thoughts suddenly flashed back to why we were here in the first place.
"He got what he wanted, to fuck up the game, he ain't coming back."
Jarel grabbed a tiny first aid kit and cracked it open. Finding the gauze, he tore the package open with the whitest teeth I've seen in a long time and unrolled it. He also grabbed a used tube of Neosporin and uncapped it. Applying it to his finger, he began to dab it on my cut. I flinched, not from the pain, but from the thought of him touching me. If this is what it took, I would have jumped in front of a Marta bus.
He took his time. Cupping his other hand under my knee for leverage, he began to wrap the wound with the tender care of a private physician. I bit my lip, not from the pain but in hopes he wouldn't notice how moist he was making me. I felt my panties dampen when he blew a blade of grass from the bandage.
Jarel looked up at me with just his eyes and damn if my love didn't almost come down.
"You a fan?"
"Of the game or something else?" He gave my calf the slightest squeeze as he let my knee down. A quick glance down confirmed what I assumed. I watch a thickness slowly creep down his thigh making me lick my lips in anticipation of what could happen next if I were a weaker woman. Hell, who am I kidding? I wanted to feel that cocoa stick against the swell of my lips; both of them.
"You want that ride?"
His question shook me from my trance and I quickly crossed my legs in attempt to regain my senses.
"I'm not far from here, but I'm...." My words trailed off when he licked his lips.
I scooted off the back bumper and hopped as quickly as I could to the passenger side where Jarel had the door open for me. He pushed some books off the seats and gestured for me to have a seat. I slid in and tried to still my heart, while waiting for him to get in.
The door slammed with authority as Jarel hopped in the drivers seat and shook his keys until he found the right one. As old as the Blazer was, he kept it clean enough. The leather seats were shiny from hand detailing, floormats free of debris, spare coins filled the ashtray instead of butts. Cherry scented kisses wafted at me through the vents when he started the engine. Jarel turned in his seat and stared me down with those smoky eyes.
"Where am I taking you, Shawtee?"
I melted when he called me "Shawtee". I knew I had to have him. I couldn't find my voice, so I just pointed in the direction of my office. Jarel backed out the parking space and rolled smoothly out into traffic.
On the way there, we didn't speak, I didn't know if I could without blurting out my intentions.
I was so moist and I knew he could tell what he was doing to me. He reached for a peach that was sitting on the dashboard and took a hefty bite, the juice escaping from the corners of his mouth. I watched him devour the fruit, throat working overtime as he didn't bother to chew that much.