A Taste Of Side Order

by Jhori Barksdale

“Girl, I’m just so disgusted I don’t know what to do. It ain’t even been a year yet and we act like a 28-year married couple. All we ever do is go to work, come home, eat dinner, look at TV and go to bed. Damn near seven days a week. I’m only 27 and am starting to feel more like 47. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to take this.” I whine to my girl Stacii about the status of my 11-month relationship as we sit in the Bridgetown Grill, having lunch.

Lately I’ve gotten very restless and despondent with the relationship between me and my boyfriend, Dre’. For about two weeks now, I’ve noticed myself flirting a little bit more on the elevator and while walking down the street. Not rebuffing the usual attention I receive from admiring eyes that tell me I’m a sista that truly has it going on. I’ve been thinking about things I know I shouldn’t, like calling up old friends to see what they’ve been up to and to see if they want to do lunch since I know anything else is out of the question considering me and my sweetie just moved in together.

“Well, have you talked to him about this? Did you tell him that you feel like the fire is fading and you two need to do something to fan the flames a little more? Maybe he doesn’t realize how unhappy you’ve become.” She offers while reaching across the table and grabbing a plantain off my plate, which is very irritating. I hate for anyone, including Dre’ to touch my food. My own Mama don’t even put her hands in my plate cause she knows how much I despise it. Anyone who does is liable to draw back a hand missing a few fingers.

While she munches on my fried fruit, I go into depth about my feelings. “I’ve brought my concerns up to him more than once to be frank. He’ll seem like he’s listening, thing will change for a few weeks and then the next thing you know—wham—everything reverts back to the way it was before. The funny part is that in the beginning, he was the one to say we should make sure neither one of us became complacent. Now look who sits in front of the TV every night content with ESPN and BET? Books and media are always talking about how to keep the embers burning and re-igniting the flames and all that other mess, but I always saw that as being years down the road. Not in 11 months.

Even so, I’ve done so much lately to try and spice things up but I can’t do it all by myself. There is only so many times that a sista can put on sexy lingerie, warm chocolate in a fondue, dip strawberries and run bubbled baths accentuated by the vocal massage of Will Downing. I’ve tried candlelight dinners, sensuous oil massages, exotic striptease and sex in awkward places. I even went to the freaky store and bought a few toys. Still there is nothing. I’m at my wits end.” I state. “I’m telling you Stacii, I really do love Dre’, but I’m truly starting to get impatient.” I say.

Popping the last piece of Jamaican burrito in my mouth, I wipe my face with a napkin and place it on the table then pick up my sweet tea to wash it down. I love this place. They have some of the best Caribbean food and a fantastic menu selection, unlike other island food places that sell the regular beef patties, jerk and curry, and stewed dishes. Their choices are very creative and diverse. I’ve been trying to get Dre’ to come here, but he doesn’t eat anything that’s not of southern descent. I’ve never met a man that won’t touch China Cafeteria’s Super Special or Royal Caribbean’s, oxtail rice and peas. He’s a straight pork chops, broccoli and rice kind of man. No in betweens or adventure meals for him. Hell, he doesn’t even like cheese grits. What kind of sick shit is that?

“So what are you going to do about it?” She pushes her empty plate to the side and then rests her elbow on the edge of the table. Stacii is such a pretty woman but she’s about 60 pounds overweight. Every day, all she does is sit in her office and munch on junk food all day long. That and downing soda after soda. She dresses nice but it still does not hide the fact that she would be so much more attractive if she laid off the junk and got in a lot more exercise.

There are a few of us that take 30 minutes of our lunch to walk around the perimeter of our office building. We use to invite her to with us come all the time but she did it only once and then began making up excuses every day afterwards until we just stopped asking. It’s ridiculous cause I’ve seen pictures of her only a few years back and girlfriend had a to-die-for shape. You can still see remnants of it depending on what she wears. She has this one picture of herself sitting on the shelf in her office.

She’s got on this strapless silver dress that’s some shit Lil Kim might try and covet as a part of her personal collection, and she’s rocking a pair of silver tie up shoes that has this asymmetrical shaped heel that looks like if you step down on it wrong, its going to pop off. When I saw that picture, I asked who the hell that fine ass bitch was and to tell her to stay away from any club or party I went to. She made Angela Bassett coming up out of that ocean water in "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" look like, as my mama use to say, wooly bully. Girlfriend was way too fine to even try and expound upon.

When she told me it was her, I pulled the frame so close to my eyeballs that when I blinked my lashes grazed the glass. “I don’t know. What else can I do? I don’t want to go out looking for, a taste of side order so to speak, but right now I’m not very happy with how things are.” I sigh and signal our waiter, Dexter, for the check. He comes right over, smiling that sexy Jamaican smile smelling up the area with my favorite, Issey Mikayi men’s cologne. I hand him my debit card and he walks over to the other side of the restaurant to a computer terminal. He has on a pair of Garibaldi jeans that don’t hang off your ass like they’re wearing them now, but not ball crushers either like the Guess jeans back in the 80’s. They’re fitting his tight round masculine body just enough to let you know he has a nice ass in the back and a beguiling bulge in the front. On top of that he has nice neat shoulder length twists in his hair with a couple of shells hanging from the tips. I’m feeling a little like a young Stella up in this camp. Too bad he ain’t Dre, cause we definitely need to get our groove back.

I come in here at least twice a week and he’s the only one I allow to wait on me. Last week I was really at a low point and he bought me a Calypso Breeze. If I wasn’t so dedicated to Dre’, I would probably give him a little bit more than my customary tip. I’ve noticed more than once the way he eyes me when he’s taking another tables order and thinks I’m not looking.

I watch him cash out my ticket and then walk back over to the table for me to sign the receipt. As usual, I tip him 25% because he always does such an excellent job of taking care of me. After he leaves, we gather our purses to head back down to the office. Allowing Stacii to waddle in front of me, I look back one last time catching Dexter’s eyes in return. He smiles and nods then refocuses his attention on the young couple's order that has just been seated.

In the car, I turn on the radio cause I really don’t want to talk about my problems anymore. Stacii seems to feed off my drama because now that she doesn’t have the social life she used to, she kind of lives vicariously through mine. As soon as we pull off, she reaches over and turns the A/C to full blast. I know it’s hot outside. Atlanta’s heat index can be outrageous in the summer. But it’s only 84 degrees and the air conditioner was midway to maximum. She picks up a magazine from the side of door and starts to fan. Beads of sweat are already pouring down her face and neck leaving wet spots on her fuchsia colored cotton shirt, not to mention the circles forming under her arms. We’re only 5 minutes at most from the office so I don’t see how one person can create that much perspiration in such a short amount of time.

I drop her off at the front of the building before going into the deck to park. She always complains about climbing the steps. I get out and secure my car with the alarm and start walking towards the stairs leading up to the building. A green 750i BMW comes flying around the corner nearly running me down, making it’s tires screech from hitting the breaks.

“Oh God. I am so sorry.” The dark tinted windows roll down to produce a handsome looking brother with big round dark eyes shaded by heavily lid lashes and thick Al B. Sure eyebrows. “Are you ok? Please forgive me for my stupidity. I’m running late for my first appointment with an important client and was in such a hurry, I wasn’t looking.” He says with genuine contrition showing in his facial expression. “Please forgive me. I’m really sorry.” He practically begs, making me feel guilty for almost cussing him out a few seconds ago.

“It’s ok. But you do need to slow your roll. Had you hit me you would have missed your appointment and been up shit creek without a paddle.” I reprimand.

While I’m talking he looks down at his watch and then across the parking deck. “Hey, there’s a space. Can you wait until I park? I really don’t know much about this building and would like your assistance in helping me find the suite I’m meeting in.”

“Sure. Just hurry up.” I look down at my own watch, which tells me I’m already six minutes late for my 1:30 appointment. The lady I’d been talking to had a real smart attitude the last time we spoke so I was in no hurry to get back to see her. Let her wait like she had me waiting over the past two weeks to get the information I’d requested. It took her two days to return phone calls and just as many for emails. I knew she was getting my emails because it tells me when they are read. I was damn near finding someone else to handle our needs. No sense in forcing a $25,000 furniture sale on someone whom was not too enthused about receiving the commission. The other day I’d finally had enough and asked to speak to her boss. She called me right back, apologizing all over the place stating that she hadn’t intended on coming off not being interested in our needs but she was having some personal problems at home and wasn’t as focused as she should have been. Like I care about all that. You leave your problems at the door. She got problems. I got problems. Everybody on God’s green earth got issues. That doesn’t mean you shuck your responsibilities.

He parks his car and gets out putting on a suit jacket then opens the back door to pull a briefcase from the seat. As he walks towards me, I take inventory of how the suit, which I assume is either Brooks Brothers or Armani, appears to be tailor made by the way it folds and sways with every step and noticeable muscle on his tall well defined body.

Reaching where I am, he opens the door to the building allowing me to pass through first. He is certainly a sight for sore eyes. I can’t tell how old he is but looks to be about my age and has to tower over me but almost a whole foot. “I’m looking for Two Midtown Plaza and suite 1600.” He reads from a piece of paper in his hands. I put the brakes on at hearing my company’s suite number.

“Network Teleco?” I ask with raises brow wondering who this fine ass piece of meat was going to see in my office. Our President and VP were out of town on a team building effort in Cozumel, and the Marketing Director was gone to a two-day trade show in Fort Lauderdale.

“Yes, that’s exactly it. I have an appointment there with the Regional Office Manager.” He nods. “ A Mrs. Tangela Knowles.” He affirms.

I begin to laugh. He twists his mouth up slightly at the side cause he more than likely does not want to seem rude but wants to know what is so damn funny. I extend my hand. “I’m Tangela. You can call me Tangie and its Miss.” I smile.

“Oh damn.” He blurts out then apologizes quickly for his outburst taking my hand. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m Johnathan Gregory of Universal Furniture Consortium ”

“No problem.” I say. “I was thinking the same thing. I thought I was meeting with Linda Milner. She’s who I’ve been communicating with for the past two weeks.”

He clears his throat as we reach the elevator and I press the number 16. “Yes. Well, Brad told me that you had a few problems. He redirected your account to me and put Linda on a two weeks leave until she can clear up her outside problems. I have all the catalogs and information you need in my briefcase.” He touches the black leather attaché he pulled from his back seat. “I’ve been brought up to date on your wants and needs and have included samples for your viewing as well.” He instantly takes on a more professional demeanor at finding out I am his client.

“Excellent.” I match his mannerism though I had less than professional thoughts when he first rolled down the window. We reach the office, where he again opens the door and we step inside the lobby. Tiffini our receptionist is on the phone as usual probably on a personal call but whispers something and hangs up quickly when she sees us standing there. I don’t miss the fact that her eyes perk up from their usual bored looking state upon fixating on the handsome gentleman in the Men In Black suit standing beside me. “Tiffini, will you please call one of the admin staff to bring in some water and coffee into the conference room.” I direct. “And also, get Jackie Grayson from the North office on a conference call and send it in to the conference room as well. If she’s not in the office, call her on her cell. She said she wanted to be in on this too since a lot of it involves that office as well.” I say. Tiffini is slow in reacting. Too busy looking at Johnathan. “Tiffini, I meant now.” I stress. “Come on in the conference room.” I turn to Johnathan and begin walking towards the glass room behind the reception station.

Johnathan asks if I mind him taking off his jacket again. Of course I don’t. “No, go ahead. It’s hot in here anyway because all the glass holds a lot of heat.” Walking over to the far wall window, I start closing blinds while he begins to pull out catalogs and spread them out on the table. I have to order new furniture for the corporate office and a few odds and ends for the other one out by Northlake Mall, which will get most of our old stuff. Five minutes later, I see Stacii coming down the hall with a glass pitcher of water in her hand and roving eyes on her face. It’s obvious that Tiffini told her that the guy I was meeting with was fine because she’s not a part of the admin staff and works in the accounting department way on the other side of the office. She taps on the glass and holds the pitcher of water up like I can’t see it and don’t know the real reason she’s there which is to get a peek at the gorgeous and sexy man that is going to sell me the hell out of some furniture.

Without waiting on me to respond, she comes right in and walks over to where Johnathan is bent over the table flipping through a book. “Hi, my name is Anastasia Wilson.” She offers her hand looking at him like he’s tonight’s dinner.

He smiles and shakes it. “Johnathan Gregory. Nice to meet you.”

“No honey. The pleasure was all mine.”

I can’t believe how she so brazenly flirts with men she doesn’t know. She does the same thing with Dexter ever time we go. She’s always complaining about not having a man and blaming it on her weight when I truly believe she runs them away with her forcefulness. I’ve seen plenty of brothers give her admiring glances and a few do approach but once she opens her mouth, she sends them flying right on by like a gust of Chicago wind. Just like now as she stands out in the reception area chatting with Tiffani and making all kinds of gestures that could alert a blind person as to what or shall we say whom she’s talking about. In all modesty, Johnathan simply ignores the obvious and concentrates of putting together a collage of brochures based on my previously discussed ideas with Linda.

We spend the next two hours picking out various selections of contemporary art deco furniture. The previous tenant was a lawyer and we’re trying to get as far away from judges panels, cherry wood and mahogany as we can. I’d already decided on a color scheme of tans, varying shades of purple, blues, and turquoise with a splash of peach, pink and mauve thrown in for shock value. Hey. We’re a software development company on the cutting edge of technology. A lot of our employees are 20 and 21-year-old techno heads that skipped college and went straight to training for their C++, JAVA and full Microsoft certification. We were paying these kids $80,000 a year to come to work dressed in worn out Levis and t-shirts that says Britney Spears Rocks. As long as the results proved positive, affective and profitable, all the other stuff was simply decoration.

Having outlined a complete ensemble of over priced angular but snazzy furnishings, Johnathan stood to gather his catalogs and materials. It was going on 4 o’clock; around my usual quitting time. Walking him out to the reception area, we discuss him getting a price quote to me on tomorrow and how fast we can get the things from the manufacture and into the office.

“I’ll be downtown tomorrow around 11, visiting another client so I can drop those quotes off to you around 12 if it’s ok with you.” He says.

“That’s fine. If I’m not in, just leave them at the desk with Tiffani.” I say taking notice of her appearance where lipstick, mascara and a tightening of hairstyle have taken place. She’s also pretending to do some work for a change. And that’s exactly what she was doing cause as soon as Johnathan steps back out the door, I’m fending off questions like a dual assault at a Venus and Serena Williams doubles match.

“Oooh. Who was that? He was too fine. He’s coming by tomorrow? How old do you think he is? I know you won’t talk to him cause you got that fine Dre’ at home waiting on you. But I’m too young to be tied to one man, so I can play all I want. What did you say his name was?” I don’t think she takes a breath not one time.

“Tiffani, he ain’t going to want you.” I try to keep a straight face to her surprised one.

“Why you say that?” She sucks in a breath and pokes her lip out at the same time.

“Cause a man like that wants a woman with a job and you ain’t going to have one if you don’t have those Curriculum Vitaes perfectly typed, finished and on my desk by 8 am, tomorrow morning.” I tap her monitor laughing. She’s a good person, just young and whimsical sometimes. When she first interviewed with me she had two gold fronts, big blonde weave, black lined lips and a skirt on that barely covered her Tampax string. But I saw a lot of potential in her attitude and mannerism plus she never wavered from looking me straight in the eye the whole time I interviewed her. Our company was in its start up phase and I wanted someone that was not set in their ways and would constantly be talking about how they did things at their old company.

Tiffani was in her second year of college majoring in Mass Communications and helping her drug-recovering mom take care of her two little sisters and brother while her mother was going to school at night to get her nurses assistant certificate. I admired the spunk and tenacity she had being that she was coming from such a cruel and dysfunctional background. We discussed her opportunities and options as well her career goals that day and afterwards I offered her the job on the spot. It ’s been almost a year and I haven’t regretted it yet. Once her year anniversary hits, we’re going to begin picking up 85% of her tuition which is really next to nothing since she maintains a 3.0 grade point average and HOPE pays for most of her schooling.

Before I can reach my office, Tiffani pages me over the intercom. I have a call holding. Reaching my office, I plant myself in the chair behind my desk and reach over to press the buttons to pick up the call.

“This is Tangela Knowles speaking.”

“Hey.” Dre’s deep voice licks my eardrum.

“Hey you.” I smile. We might be having some issues but my baby is still my boo boo.

“What’s up? You getting ready to leave yet?”

“Yeah, I’ll be walking out in 30 minutes. I just got out of a meeting with the furniture salesman. He had some really nice stuff. I picked out a leather captains chair with gold buttons for myself.” I boast. “All my hard work around this place—I deserve to be pampered a little.”

“I ain’t going to dispute that.” He concurs. “Listen, I probably won’t be here when you get home. The boys and me are going down to State to shoot a few games. Don’t fix dinner for me. I’ll get something while I’m out.” I listen and don’t say anything. He can get all fired up about playing basketball with his boys but he can’t muster any gusto where we are concerned. Each day I find my mouth watering more and more for that little taste of side order.

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly so he won’t hear before I speak. “Ok. I’ll just stop at Royal Caribbean and pick me up a dinner. I’ll see you when you get home.”

“Great. Love you.” His enthusiasm doesn’t rub off on me. As a matter of fact, it irritates me even more.

I drop the phone on the hook and lean back in my chair tapping a pen against my lips. I am truly fed up with this bullshit. All my girls say that I changed when he and I got together. That I didn’t have time for them cause I was so damn caught the fuck up. Couldn’t say one freakin sentence without his name popping up somewhere between the beginning and end. Everything we discussed somehow got diverted back to him. They say women are so good at allowing a man to completely overshadow them and make them lose their own identity. Each day I’m realizing just how true that is. I don’t go out with my girls any more cause they want to hang at the clubs and Dre’ doesn’t think that it’s good for his woman to be out on the meat market like that. If we go to Applebee’s, it can’t be the one on Memorial Drive because that one is too much like a club as well. So much so that they call it, Club Applebee’s.

Hanging in Buckhead on the weekends is out cause all men do is cruise the streets trying to get their mack on. Dugan’s on Ponce Deleon is definitely a no no cause that’s where he and I met. He knows everyone up in there. I know everyone too. And most def, everyone knows we’re together. It would be too much drama. Someone I know could simply come over to my table to speak and Dre’s cell would be ringing five minutes later stating his girl was up in there getting her swerve on and disrespecting him and he’d be peeling tires tearing up tread, not able to get down there fast enough.

None of my girls like to go bowling or shoot pool except one but her baby daddy will beat her ass if she so much as forms her lips to say she wants to go somewhere he ain’t. After sitting there pondering my plight, I pack up my briefcase, cellular and laptop then press the forward button on my phone. I don’t know where I’m going but I’m going somewhere that ain’t home. Twenty minutes later I find myself seated at the bar in the Bridgetown Grill. The place still has a nice amount of customers though it’s that time after the lunch rush but before people get off work and happy hour begins.

Looking around, the wait staff has changed except for he bartender, Mathew. He’s a cool ass white dude with a slight accent. I can’t tell if he borrowed it or if it’s genuine. All I know is he mixes the best Kamikaze I’ve ever tasted.

Sitting the drink down on a napkin before me, he asks. “So what brings you in here twice today? Especially right after work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here in the evening. I would think you’d be rushing home to a husband and kids.” He winks stepping away to take a drink order from one of the waitresses at the other end of the bar. He serves two more customers before he makes his way back down to where I’m seated. I push the empty glass to the edge of the bar indicating to him without words that I would like another one. His eyebrows furrow slightly then one raises upward. He doesn’t say anything but simply puts ice in a tumbler and starts to pour liquid from various bottles eventually setting the glass down in front of me on a new napkin.

“I hope you’re catching the train home.”

“Nope. But it’ll probably have worn off by the time I leave here. I’m sticking around to hear this great music I heard you guys have for entertainment on some nights. No sense in going home to an empty house.” I start to feel the hurt and pity making its entrance into my conversation.

“I can’t see a fine sista like yourself going home to a cold bed. You should have someone there waiting to take you in his arms and tell you all kinds of sweet things. If he doesn’t, he’s a fool.” He says before walking away to take another drink order from the same waitress. I guess he’s a fool then.

I stick around until a little after nine and then instead of going home, jump on 75 N and take it to the 285 perimeter. Getting off at Windy Hill Road, I pull over at the BP and make a phone call. I can’t call from my cell because Dre’ and I share the same bill and I don’t want any suspicions or evidence leading back to my little dalliance. Women ain’t like men. We know how to do shit right the first damn time. “Hey. You busy?” I ask nervously when the person answers.

What in the hell am I doing out here? Am I crazy? Don’t I have a man that I love and now live with? Yeah, but where is he now? Probably somewhere still getting sweaty running up and down a funky ass court with his homeboys.

“No. Surprised but happy to be hearing from you though.” The voice on the other end says. “Where are you?”

“I’m at the BP on Windy Hill. Can I come over?” Excitement begins to fill me within and my voice kind of cracks a little on the last sentence.

“Of course. I always told you the door you closed would always be open.” The voice says. “Do you remember how I first told you to get here?”

“Yeah. Get off and make a right. Take Windy Hill until it dead ends on Powers Ferry and make another right and take Powers Ferry until it dead ends and then make a right. Your complex is down on your right. You’re in 1999, just like Prince right?”

“That’s it. My truck is parked right in front of my door and I’ll have the light on.”

“Ok.” My nerves are almost forcing themselves through my pores. I feel like I’m dancing with the devil. Too close to the damn flames not to get burned.

“Ok. See you in minute.”


I hang up the receiver and stand there for a good three minutes trying to decide if I really want to do this. I’ve always prided myself on being faithful and talking out any problems I have in my relationship. But now it’s come to a point where my words are bouncing off like bullets on Keanu Reeves in Matrix and I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to leave because I sincerely do love Dre. At one time you couldn’t tell me he wasn’t the best thing to ever happen to me. We use to have so much fun.

Going places and doing all kinds of things from hopping in the car at a minutes notice and driving down to Miami to getting a bus and riding over to gamble on the boats in Mississippi. We were constantly on the go and never got tired of, nor scared to try new things. He has been my first in so many ways and that’s because I just knew that I’d found my forever and ever. But now my forever and ever appears to be a for the moment kind of thing. I refuse to believe that we’ve run out of things to do and places to go. Still, I can’t make it work by myself and he shows not interest whatsoever. There’s got to be more conversation within us than---how was your day and what do you want to eat for dinner.

Still at this moment I’m standing on a busy street around the corner from my old job going on 10 at night contemplating going to see another man that I know can burn the hell up some sheets but not give me the same warm feeling inside as the one that has my heart. But I can’t help feeling like a delinquent child thirsting for attention like a Hawaiian in the Mojave Desert. I just need to feel wanted right now. To feel like someone really cares. That my presence excites someone and really matters. Most of all, what I need right now is to feel deep gut burning passion.

Hopping back in my car, I think twice about what I’m about to do one last time and then slam my car in gear pulling out onto the street. Following the directions in my head, I pull into the Tudor designed condominiums and follow the signs around to number 1999. Seeing the silver 4-Runner, I pull into space marked GUEST. Taking a deep breath, I open the car door and get out.

Walking up to the door, it opens just as I am stepping onto the WELCOME mat. “Good evening.” He kisses me on the cheek with the lips I remember oh too well. It’s been almost two years but not much has changed. Still carrying that tall, dark and handsome cliché to the extreme, I notice a smattering of gray hair in his well manicure beard which only adds more virility to the man that once had my mind so wrapped up in him my eyes crossed from the mention of his name.

“Good evening Justin. Long time no see.” I say, stretching upward to place a kiss on the salt and pepper.

“Your choice not mine.” He proposes, returning the favor.

Following him into what I assume is the den, I sit on one of the berry toned leather couches while he takes a seat in a matching chair. The TV is one but the volume is on mute and Ella is flows from the music system.

“Would you like some wine?” He asks. I say yes, taking in the décor of the room. Not exactly a hard bachelor pad look but obviously without a woman’s touch. While he goes into the kitchen to get the bottle and glasses, I have the opportunity to look around without appearing suspect. No pictures of another woman. The flower is dying so either there is not a steady or the one he has must have a purple thumb.

No Essence, Today’s Black Woman or Honey magazines on the table. Nothing but ESPN, Money, Jet and Ebony, which he was getting back when we were together.

What am I checking the scene for? I’m over here for one purpose and one purpose only. To release some of this pent up tension. I know I can count on Justin to do that. He knows my body top to bottom---backwards and forward. He once took it and molded it so much so, that we never ever lost our rhythm during lovemaking and would match one another stroke for stroke. I could stop and move my hips the other way and he would be right there never missing a beat. He once tried to give me everything but I took nothing.

Back then I didn’t want to be tied down in the kind of relationship he wanted. Funny how woman are always complaining about the lack of love and respect amongst our black men and I find one only to turn him loose cause I’m not ready to commit. Then once I decided I want to settle down and be that one-man woman, I end up in an unfulfilling, stagnant relationship that appears to be getting worse with each passing day. You love the ones that don’t love you and the ones that love you, you don’t love. Funny how life works.

And here it is, years later and he’s still welcomes me back in as if it was only yesterday that I watched tears fall from his eyes from the hurtful words of good-bye. I’d told him two days before Christmas because I wanted to spend it with someone else. He wouldn’t even take back the watch he’d bought me though I insisted it would be not be right for me to take something so precious and expensive considering the circumstances. He being persistent, he said it was a token of his love and that just because you love someone does not mean that they have to love you back. Those words haunted me for so long and now I’m the one singing that sad song.

“Here you are?” He passes a goblet to me. “I believe this is your favorite cheap but elegant wine----Ballatore. I’ve always kept a bottle for special occasions.” He says, not losing me on the connotation behind his words.

“Your new condo is beautiful. I see you everywhere.” I suggest. “No touches of femininity anywhere to be found. Especially looking at that tired looking fern over in the corner.” I point with glass in hand.

“If you are wondering is there someone special in my life, I will say no—not really, but there is someone that I take to a movie every now and again. She’s a very beautiful person but we’re satisfied with the way things are right now.” He maintains a steady stare to judge my reaction. “I guess it’s just my fate to run into the non-committing type.

It wasn’t too long ago that he told me he would wait until the day I came home. That he knew no other man could love or take care of me the way he did. That if sowing my female oats was what I needed to do to realize that, then so be it. He had no problems knowing the reward would be his in the end. But that wasn’t my reason for being here. I still very much loved Dre’ and wanted things to work for us. I just needed to feel cared about for a change. To know excitement and passion like I once knew not so long ago. To have a man show that he desired me and wanted to do everything possible to make me happy knowing that I would do the same. I wasn’t getting that at home right now. Nowhere near. But I did know where I could get it. I was going to be upfront with Justin cause I didn’t want him to get the wrong ideas. I wasn’t coming back to him. I wasn’t there to try and rekindle old flames. Too busy trying to re-ignite the ones that were still sort of brand new.

What I did want was for him to take me to his bedroom and make me feel like I was the best a man could ever have. That I was beautiful. That I was wanted. That I knew how to please a man and he wanted to do all that he could to please me. I knew me and Dre’s problem had nothing to do with sex; but it was something that I needed right now. I wasn’t trying to lash out or get back at him for our troubles. That was the last thing from my mine---I think. I couldn’t explain it if I tried. Most would deem it crazy to say that you were not trying to somehow punish him for what you felt he was doing or not doing; but in all honesty I wasn’t. I just needed this brief fling right now. Like I said---I just needed to feel like a desired woman.

“Justin.” I utter, trying to get his attention again since we’d settled in to a comfortable respite, listening to the melodic tunes flowing from his surround sound.

“Yes sweetheart.” He turned his attention to me still allowing his head to remain rested on the back of the leather chair and his eyes closed.

“Um. I want to be honest and upfront with you,” I kind of stammer, not knowing how he will react to my next words. I refuse to toy with his emotions or lead him astray. I hurt him so bad the last time and it took me a while to get over it myself.

“Yes.” He brings himself forward and opens his eyes allowing them to slowly take me in from top to bottom and then back up to my face, settling on my mouth.

“I uh.” I try to find the right words. “I uh.”

“Yes.” He reaches for his glass and takes a sip, setting it back down on the coaster and planting a wicked smile on his face. “You what? Are having a hard time formulating your vocabulary?” He continues with his slight grin.

He use to always do that when he knew I was nervous and wanted to say something but just didn’t know how to say it. Oftentimes, he already knew and would coax it out of me by starting off and allowing me to finish the rest. He knew me so well.

“Well, I ah. I ah don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my being here.”

“I see.” He leans back against the soft leather chair. I can’t gage what he’s thinking by his facial expression. His eyes don’t waiver from where they last landed. He just looks at me as if to say he’s listening and waiting for me to continue. Then he says. “And?” I fidget a little in my seat and take the glass dangling in my hand and put it to my lips and take a large gulp. This is not going to be easy at all, but here goes.

“I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about my reason for being here. I want you to make love to me but I don’t want to come back to you. I’m having problems in my relationship and just need the comfort of your arms right now. For only just one night.” I sputter seemingly saying it all in one sentence without stopping or pausing to take a breath. I empty the glass of wine and reach for the bottle. Justin reaches over just as my hand grabs hold of the neck and stops me.

“If I do decide to make love to you. And that’s exactly what I would do, “He emphasizes. “I don’t want you to be drunk when I do it.”

Slowly he removes his hand and I do mine. For a few moments we stare at one another and I begin to feel uneasy—trying to decide if I am making the right decision and also will I regret it later.

“What about me?” He picks up the remote and turns the TV off and then walks over to the stereo and removes Ella from the player putting in another CD. Pressing the play button, Earth Wind and Fire’s Reasons comes flowing from the speakers. Walking over to the sofa, he holds out his hand. I pause before sitting down my glass and then taking it. He pulls me up and leads me to the space between the entertainment center and coffee table. Taking me into his arms, we begin to sway to the words that was once our song. A song we use to make love off of often allowing it to repeat itself over and over again until our bodies were sweaty and spent.

With each sway, I feel him growing against my thigh telling me that he wants me just as much as I want him. Gradually his hands slide from its place on my back and down to the swell of my bottom and then onto my hips. He caresses me with gentle measured movements that are familiar yet not so familiar to me. Yes, he knows every nook and cranny of my body plus all the things that makes me sizzle above and below the waist. He can manipulate my body to the point of cummin without so much as removing my clothes or touching my bare skin. He knows what I like and what I don’t like. He knows how to heat me up and cool me down. He knows what pace to use at the exact time. He knows when to go fast and then when to take it slow. Where to nip, lick and suck. Where to massage and probe. He knows it all because at one time, it was all his playing field. He had free reign. It was his territory.

“Tangela.” He whispers with restrained desire.

“Yes, Justin.”

“Let me take you up to the bedroom and make you feel good.”

“Please.” I sigh.

Taking my hand, he leads me into the foyer and up a set of stairs. At the top, we make a right and then another sharp right. His bedroom is incredible. It alone is almost the size of the living room and dining room downstairs combined. In the middle of the floor is a huge four-poster contemporary black bed adorned with a forest green comforter set and at least ten pillows in shades of burgundy, green, and gold. On each side of the bed are matching nightstands holding candles, books and matching gold lamps.

Beginning to feel nervous and needing to put some space between us one last time to think about what I’m doing, I walk over to his dresser and pick up the Movado clock I gave him the Christmas before the Christmas that I left him. Inscribed on the bottom are the words, “We’ll Be Together Until The End of Time”. Placing it back on the dresser, I smile at the pictures of him and his two nieces and nephew taken at the family reunion the same year. On that day after we left, during the whole ride back to Atlanta from Florida, all he talked about was the day when he would get married and start a family of his own. He subtly tried to imply that I was the one he had in mind as being that person. I brushed by it not feeling comfortable with the thought at the time.

He comes up behind me and puts his arms around my waist and kisses the back of my neck then guides me over to the bed and slowly directs me down on the soft mattress. First he kisses the top of my forehead and then each eyelid from there trailing kisses down to my neck. Pausing from his ascend, he pulls me up by the arms and lifts my shirt and then pushes me back down on the bed. Next he unbuckles my belt followed by unzipping my pants and sliding them off.

Sitting back, he takes time to admire the sight before him all the while shaking his head. He use to always call my body a work of art no matter how much I complained about how big my thighs were and that I really could stand to do a few more crunches. He wouldn’t hear of my complaining always telling me that everything was perfect just as it was.

Turning me over onto my back, he says he’ll be right back and leaves the room. What in the hell am I doing? Here I am with my ex when I should be at home trying to work things out with Dre. What was I thinking coming over here asking to be made love to like a bitch in heat. Maybe if I get up now and put my clothes back on and leave, no harm will be done. Just as I’m contemplating this, Justin walks back in with matches and Karma Sutra oil. He lights all the candles in the room and I notice that the music from downstairs has been turned up enough to set a nice romantic mood without being so loud as to disturb the neighbors.

After he lights all the candles, he comes back over to the bed and pours some of the oil into his hand, rubbing them together vigorously until they are nice and hot. Placing them on my back, he begins to work the skin sensuously kneading it like precious dough, taking time to get all the knots and lumps out as if hoping to bake a fine and scrumptious bread. He manipulates from my shoulders down to the section just above my buttock, rubbing and massaging alternately.

“What happen?” I ask groggily, turning to see Justin sitting quietly in a chair on the other side of the room. He’s just sitting there staring over at me.

“Nothing happened. I gave you a massage and you feel asleep.” A slight smile plays at the corner of his mouth and I can’t tell if he’s being facetious or serious. Lifting the covers, I see that I still have on my underwear. Reaching up, I run my hand through my hair at the same time wincing from the bad taste that’s in my mouth. “I’m serious. What happened?” I ask again, feeling somewhat ashamed about getting up and letting him see me in my underwear.

“I am being serious.” He gets up and comes to sit on the bed beside me. “Nothing did happen.”

He reaches over and pushes a strand of hair from my forehead. “I gave you a massage and you fell asleep. That’s it.”

“Really?” I feel my eyes swelling like golf balls. “We didn't...we didn’t?” I can’t say the rest.

“Nope. I just gave you a massage and you fell asleep.” He smiles. “I knew what state you were in when you came over here and felt like maybe you just needed some time to try and think through your situation. Us making love would have only complicated things even more. I knew when you walked in the door that whatever we had was long gone and I was only a pawn under the circumstances. I’m not going to sit here and lie and say that the thought was not tempting.” He chuckles a little.

“It was tempting as hell. To have you back in my arms would have been like a dream.” He says, his mood changing to serious. “But I love you too much to let you do that to yourself. You would have regretted it later and hated me for taking advantage of you while you were vulnerable. Yes, the thought would have been ideal for most men who would be satisfied with a one-night stand or a short fling of sorts. But you know me well enough to know that it would not have been enough. I’d rather deal with the memories I have of us when we were together and happy.”

I leave Justin around 2 in the morning. As soon as I pull out of his complex, I take out my cellular and check the Caller ID. Dre’ has called eight times. I know he’s probably frantic and going out of his mind. I’ve never just left and went somewhere without telling him. Of course, I never really go anywhere without him anyway. Instead of taking the shortest path home, I decide to go the long way by taking the full circumference of the perimeter. I know he is probably so mad he can spit bullets by now, but don’t care anymore. I need to think and I can’t do that with him yelling and carrying on. Seems to be all we do lately anyway. I guess I’ve been holding on so long hoping that eventually things will change. Telling myself that this was a growing pain. That after a while, all would be ok. I wanted to be able to say that I had given my all. Had done everything humanly possible to make it work.

But now I must come to face the truth. We’re both just coexisting in a house that’s not truly a home. He’s not happy and neither am I, and no matter how much we pretend; things are not going to change. It hurts to know that when I finally decided to settle down and give someone my all, it didn’t work. How do you start over? How do you get back on that road again? How do you open yourself back up to try and accept someone else into your life again knowing that the ramifications are not guaranteed to be favorable. I wonder what Justin did when I left him. How did he move past what we shared? He told me that he still loved me and yet, he didn’t take the opportunity laid out before him.

A fitting song comes on the radio and I use the controls on my steering wheel to turn it up and then press the button to drop the top. Have you ever loved somebody so bad it made you cry? Have you ever needed something so bad you couldn’t sleep at night? Have you ever tried to find the words but they don’t come out right? Have you ever? Have you ever?

As I listen to the song, I wonder how someone so young can sing my heart to me as I swim in so much pain. Headed home—the night is not yet over. In fact—It’s only just begun.

A Taste Of Side Order by Jhori Barksdale

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