Stuck At The Light: A Short Story

"This doesn't really mean anything does it."

I kept cutting at my steak. Without breaking my concentration, I pulled a medium-well cube of meat from the tip of the fork with my teeth. It was a question I knew wouldn't end well. 

"You've asked that question before," I said, glancing up at him. He fidgeted uncomfortably across the dinner table, swirling whatever was left of his Riesling in his glass. He'd been doing that for the past ten minutes. 

"The fact that I still feel the need to even ask it is what's bothering me..." 

I felt bad. Chey was a nice guy. A great guy, actually. I met him at an internship luncheon two years ago and we clicked immediately, making sure to exchange business cards at the end. We kept in loose contact for about a year and a half, updating each other via texts and emails about our day jobs and occasionally grabbing coffee during our off days. He was a senior account executive at some hotshot advertising agency in the city, but you wouldn't be able to tell unless you asked for his resume. He was a natural jokester, and laughter came easy and often with him. Even when he clowned me for having flyaway hairs or tripping over the gaps in the sidewalk, I couldn't help but laugh before the embarrassment set in. 

Chey was a looker, too. He was tall enough for me to wear my favorite black pumps, tip toe in them and still not match him. He was sturdy without looking like a ball of muscle, but gave warm, gentle hugs that could make you lose track of the time if you nuzzled into his chest. His even, ceramic skin had a warm glow to it and his high cheekbones were peppered with freckles that seemed to dance around his glassy brown eyes when he laughed. 

"I just want to know where we stand," he continued, his eyes pleading with mine. His inquiry was a fair one. 

This was our fifteenth "date." His words, not mine. Outings were a more appropriate term. And this was an outing with a friend… who wanted to add "boy" as a prefix. I dodged his hints as often as he dropped them. 

My mother fussed over my lack of commitment the weekend prior. "Dionne. Are you blind? Chey is a keeper." She made it quite clear that she was pro-Chey. "Get with it. Or stop stringing this young man along if you're not going to take him seriously. It's not fair for him to be hanging in the balance while you get your act together."

Ma wasn't wrong. I mean, when was she ever? Chey was undoubtedly a great friend and fun companion for city explorations and fine dining. He even willingly listened along whenever I needed to talk my shit, which I did quite often. 

He was nice. But nice wasn't quite enough. He didn't thrill me. He wasn't like Dane, and for some reason, I couldn't look past that. 

I swallowed hard, put my fork down and took a sip of my water. The icy river refreshed my mouth, which felt parched from my absence of a suitable response. How I could I just up and admit that the mere memory of Dane washed Chey Chadwick right off my palate?

"I honestly don't know, Chey."

"What?" He cleared his throat. "You don't know what Dionne? You're nobody's fool and neither am I. You know how I feel about you. I'm sure I've made that clear, right?" 


"We've been out so much. Don't we have fun? I care about you, and I feel like you feel the same about me. Or you want to feel the same, but you won't just let it be. Am I doing something wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong with you, Chey. I promise you that. It's not you. You're a great guy and an even better friend and…"

He cut me off. "Then what is it, if it's not me? Or who is it?"

Dane's Hershey skin, wide smile and strong, enveloping arms flickered in my mind, and I couldn't muffle the evidence of his memory from my smirking face.

He quieted a bit. "So it's still Dane..."

I'd briefly mentioned my "ex-factor" to Chey on one of our earlier strolls around the city, but it was my mother who'd educated him on the "mistake" that was Dane Markman, divulging the fallout that happened between him and our family two years ago without asking me if it was okay to share it all. 

"He's no good for you," Ma had always pressed. I hadn't seen that. All I saw was the lover who recognized me as his Queen, who made me feel sexy with every cradle and caress, who left me a melted puddle after moments of intimacy. A man who wasn't afraid of spur-of-the-moment adventure, taking risks and veering off the designated path. "Life's a gamble," he'd always say to me with eyes lit up before one of our shenanigans. "And you can't win if you don't play." 

One night, my parents realized that certain valuables were missing from the house. All fingers immediately pointed to Dane. "Take that thieving pile of filth outta my house before I drag him out myself! " she yelled at us as we came into the house arm in arm after a night out. I clutched his hand tighter with each overly enunciated word. The venom coming from her scowling mouth stung even me. He assured me that none of the missing money and jewelry was of his doing. "Babe, look at me." He gently held the tip of my chin with his thumb and forefinger and turned my face towards his. "Why would I ever do that?" 

"Don't touch my daughter!" my mother snapped at him, lunging. "Get out of my house!"

"But mom he…" I started. I believed him then. 

"Dionne, don't you dare! Get rid of him. Or you can get the hell out of my house with him. Pick one!" I knew my mother, and I knew that she was dead serious. 

That was the last night we made contact. I technically broke up with him to appease my fuming mother, but within a few weeks I called him. Ultimatum or not, I was still in love, and hoped that we'd still have a future after the situation blew over. I was shocked to find that the number had been disconnected, and his apartment vacated. Our chapter was forced closed. 

"Now, Chey, I didn't say that…" My voice was so low, one would think that my defense was a secret to myself. 

He exhaled deeply, turning his head away from me. "You didn't have to." 

He pushed out his chair to stand and dropped the white napkin that cloaked his lap all night onto his plate. The brown stain of gravy spread from the center of the cloth outwards as quickly as a virus. He stuffed his hand into his pocket and pulled out a crisp hundred dollar bill, placing it down on the table and anchoring it with the unused dessert spoon. Then I watched him turn away from the table, away from me, and walk towards the front door of the restaurant, not looking back. 

The air was silent, and I could feel the nosey eyes of the establishment on me. They felt heavy. 

I eased my foot forward underneath the table, hooked the leg of the empty chair across from me and pulled it in. I cut apart another square of my porterhouse and idly pushed it around the plate with the edge of the steak knife, shaking my head. 

"Great. Just great." 


  1. love your stories, keep it up! the dopeness in ny thing also helps. the feeling i get while going to your site is very real, very urban and something that i like, that i relate to and that keeps me coming back!


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