I must have come on a super busy day. The struggles-of-a-baby-mama and I-hate-my-job chatter around me and the static-ridden television set showing an old episode of All My Children were hard to drown out. The smell of acrylic was making my head hurt and the short Asian man scrubbing the bottom of my feet tickled like all hell. My phone had been buzzing for damn near ten minutes and I couldn’t dig into my pocket to answer it for fear of ruining my French mani.
None of that could keep my mind from retreating to one thought and stirring up a week’s worth of worry. The only thing on my mind was how, ultimately, one word had turned into a life sentence. How could I have let that happen?
I scooped up my purse, tucked it under my arm and blew at my fingernails while being led to the nail drying station. “Careful! No touch!” my manicurist snapped at me. “Sorry, sorry,” I said, clearly distracted. Couldn’t knock him for making sure his work didn’t smudge. He pulled the chair out for me to sit down and placed my purse in my lap. That was grounds for a tip. But his efforts didn’t impress me for too much longer before I tumbled back into my conflicted thoughts.
“T! You ready?” My thoughts were yet again cut off. A man with a 6’2” frame, freshly re-twisted shoulder length locs, tamed facial scruff, deep Hershey Symphony bar skin, bright eyes and a line of pearly whites affixed into a beaming smile walked into Hui Ja Nails’ lobby. Every woman under the nail dryers (no matter how old) snapped their heads in his direction and tried to stifle the vocal demands of their hormones. “Oh, God…” I heard someone whisper.
“Give me like ten minutes under the dryer,” I answered him.
“Okay, hun.” He took a seat by the door and pulled out a rolled up copy of GQ from his inside jacket pocket, as if he expected me to not be ready. I laughed to myself at the thought. He knew me all too well.
I never thought in a million years that tomorrow, I’d be marrying Ray.
2002 was one hell of a year. It was my freshman year at Hillman University and I remember almost everything that happened as if it happened two days ago, unless of course the memory was wiped out by a hangover. I especially recall one day about three weeks before spring break. My dorm hall was running rampant with foolishness as usual. The heat in the hall was on high, and my some of my floormates were clad in cheek clenching shorts, crop tops and high heels, partaking in sporadic “fashion shows” and twerking contests. City locals with back home boyfriends checked in their men and brought them to their rooms until visitation ended at midnight. My roommate Desiree and I were idly sitting on the floor in the center of our room, making a list of places we’d visit during spring break if we actually had the money. In reality, I’d be bussing it back to my New Jersey home and she’d be visiting her cousins in Virginia.
“Venice! Or maybe London,” I’d suggested.
“You’re aiming too high, Tamera. That’s a senior year trip,” Des countered. “Maybe Cancun?”
“That sounds nice,” I said. “But what about the Bahamas? Girl, I’m trying to see Atlantis.”
“Or Vegas!” interrupted one of my floormates who poked her head into our room while shaking her behind to “Drop and Give Me 50.” We left the door open because the hallway commotion never failed to entertain. She hadn’t broken her body’s cadence since she spoke. “You know, what happens in Vegas… stays in Vegas!”
Des and I held our stomachs in laughter at the talk we were engaging in. All of a sudden, Soulja Boy’s “Donk” resonated throughout the hallway. Someone had some mean speakers. Nonetheless, this was the freshman girl’s party anthem. There was no way Des and I could sit this one out.
The beat pulsed and made the walls quake. We joined in on the signature bouncing dance that usually accompanied this song until I heard an unfamiliar voice in my room.
“Um, I’m sorry, but is this Liz’s room?” it boomed.
I froze mid-twerk. I turned around to see a fairly attractive young guy with neatly braided dreads, nicely fitted jeans, a plain white tee and sneakers, holding a denim jacket in his hands. His face was familiar. I’d seen him sitting with the football players in the cafeteria from time to time. Charm aside, I was pretty annoyed to be walked in on like that. “No,” I said flatly. I saw him look up at our room number above the doorway. He looked genuinely confused and visibly uncomfortable after my reaction. Des, who hadn’t stopped dancing, continued with the conversation. “Naw hun, two doors down!” He thanked her and said sorry to me again. I flashed a fake smile at his apology before turning my back to him. He hesitated one more time before walking down the hall.
Des lightly punched my shoulder. “Aw lighten up, T,” she said. “Don’t front like he wasn’t fine.” I laughed but didn’t answer her. She was right, though.
After that day, I started seeing him at random school events. At each one, we never caught eyes, and I didn’t try to make that happen. We just kept passing each other by, although I always felt like he noticed me every time. One warm day while I was sitting outside of the student center doodling in my notebook to kill time, someone blocked my sun. I looked up. It was my room intruder.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I returned.
“Can I sit here?”
I moved my things over to make room.
“I just wanted to say sorry for walking into your room that time. I know it happened mad long ago but I just wanted to say sorry again.”
I laughed. “It’s cool. No biggie.”
He smiled, relieved. “Ok, phew. We never really met or anything like that. I’m Ray,” he said, sticking his hand out.
I shook it. “Tamera Wayne.”