High and Mighty
by Dell R. Lipscomb
"I'm gonna get his answering machine again," Latonya said after the third ring. The line rang a fourth time. Bobby's voice came on the line.
"Yo, it's Bobby. Gimme your name and number and I'll git back wit yuh."
The subsequent beep was a taunt to Latonya's ears. "I'm tired of listening to your answering machine," Latonya barked. "You need to call me back and you know why." She disconnected the call on her smartphone. She stood fuming in the living room of her third floor walkup apartment until feeble electronic sounds reminded her of what she was supposed to be doing. Damon, seated on his bed, was manipulating the controls on his handheld video game with dexterity she didn't possess when she was eight years old. "Time to go to Gramma's," she said to Damon.
Damon placed the game in the blue overnight suitcase at the foot of his bed. Latonya's dark-eyed, brown-skinned little man looked like her father. Damon didn't look like his father, and she was going to see to it that he didn't behave like his father. He clutched the bag's handle and followed Latonya out of the bedroom.
Latonya's smartphone rang. "Hold on, that's your daddy," Latonya said.
"Can I talk to him?'
"If he's in the mood to talk to you after I give him a piece of my mind." Latonya answered the phone. "About damn time you called, Bobby."
"Latonya, it's Selena."
Latonya realized she hadn't looked at the Caller ID before answering. "Oh. Hey, girl. Sorry."
"Still haven't heard from Bobby, I'm guessing."
"It's been almost two weeks. Why did I get mixed up with that no-good bastard?"
"Because Chris was unavailable."
Latonya and Selena guffawed in unison at the running joke they'd shared since they were thirteen. That was the year Latonya's family moved into the house next to Selena's family. Chris, the white boy who lived across the street, would sometimes cross the street to chat with Latonya when she sat on her front stoop. "He wants chocolate in his milk," Selena used to tease. Latonya kept saying they were just friendly neighbors, and that's the way things remained until the day Chris emerged from his house and looked away without saying anything when Latonya waved to him. A few days later a FOR SALE sign appeared in Chris' front yard. About two months later the word SOLD was plastered on the sign.
"Can you make it to dinner tonight?" Selena asked.
"Yeah. Damon's staying at his gramma's tonight. I was about to take him there. But I still don't understand why you and Ron want to celebrate your five-year wedding anniversary with a dinner party. Don't y'all want to be alone for your anniversary?'
"We want to celebrate our happiness with friends."
Latonya wanted to say, It's your and Ron's way of bragging about yourselves and showing off the house the two of you bought. "If that's what you really want to do, then okay," she said to Selena.
"It'll be just Ron, me, you and one other person. My friend Jackie had to cancel, she's going to some function with her husband."
"Should I be dressed up for this?" Latonya was wearing a red blouse and black slacks that hugged her ample, shapely hips and thighs.
"No, dress casual is fine. And don't bring us a gift."
"I'll be at your place soon. Bye."
"C'mon, let's go to Gramma's," Latonya said to Damon.
"Looks like Daddy's not gonna call or come over today," Damon despondently stated as Latonya closed and locked the apartment door.
"Doesn't look like it," Latonya replied. Damon followed Latonya down the steps to the first floor landing. The barrel-chested young man standing on the walkway adjacent to the landing was someone she'd seen at the apartment complex. She'd noticed him exiting a first floor apartment several times. He was chatting and laughing on his smartphone.
"You may not want to go on a beach vacation," the young man said to whomever he was talking to. "If you swim in the ocean a shark may feel you are encroaching on its territory and respond with vicious retaliation. If you walk on the beach a crab may feel you are encroaching on its territory and respond with a pinch from its claw. If you lounge on the beach and fall asleep a high tide might come in and you will find yourself in a waterbed that is very uncomfortable." The young man laughed.
Latonya stopped to listen to what the young man was saying with his big, fancy words. Damon, intent upon getting to his grandmother's house, continued down the walkway. "Damon, stop! Wait for me!" Latonya shouted. Damon halted near the point where the walkway met the parking lot.
The young man ended his call and noticed Latonya standing in front of him. He acknowledged Latonya's presence with a nod and a smile.
"You were joking about being attacked by a shark and a high tide washing somebody away?"
The young man chuckled. "I was talking to a college buddy of mine. He's going on a beach vacation next week. We subject each other to good-natured joking when we talk."
College boys. That figures, Latonya thought. "You shouldn't," Latonya replied. "You don't know what might happen in the future. What you're joking about today could happen, and that wouldn't be funny."
"Well, yeah, it wouldn't be funny if any of those things were to actually happen," the young man responded. Latonya's words had swept the mirthful expression from his face.
"That's the point. Don't joke about your friend that way. You could end up regretting it." Latonya kept the reproachful stare of her honey brown eyes on the young man until his jaws became slack and he nodded. The high and mighty college boy had been taken down a notch. Latonya resumed her journey to the parking lot.
"Do you know him?" Damon asked his mother.
"I don't know him well, but I'm sure he'll remember me. Let's go."
Latonya chatted with her mother for a few minutes before saying goodbye to her and Damon. When she arrived at Selena and Ron's house she positioned her car behind a car parked in front of the house. The gold paint on the other car's body was faded & chipped in many spots. The sun was setting, but there was enough daylight for Latonya to be able to read the sticker on the car's rear bumper: THESPIANS GIVE YOU THE KIND OF DRAMA YOU WANT TO HAVE IN YOUR LIFE! Latonya didn't have to ring the doorbell. Selena, dressed in a peach-colored blouse and blue slacks, greeted her as she stepped onto the front stoop.
Exactly five years ago Selena was dressed in a wedding gown, radiant because she'd just married her college sweetheart two months after graduation. Damon, three years of age and very adorable, was at Latonya's side throughout the wedding and reception. Bobby was elsewhere on that particular day and Latonya didn't care where he was. Bobby's cool style and way of talking could no longer make her overlook his rottenness. She sure as hell wasn't going to marry him, so she definitely didn't want him at her side at a wedding.
Selena flashed a toothy smile. "Now we have our complete quartet," the slender woman stated as she closed the door behind Latonya. The aroma coming from the kitchen was appetizing. Selena had informed Latonya they were having chicken cordon bleu and had confidently stated Latonya would like it.
"My baby knows how to count!" Ron exclaimed.
"Start bringing the food to the table," Selena said to Ron.
Ron flashed a grin at his wife before disappearing into the kitchen.
A gangly young man rose from the living room couch. He approached Selena and Latonya with a reserved smile on his face. Selena stepped a couple of paces to the side to allow Latonya and the young man unobstructed views of each other. "Latonya, this is Trevor, a coworker of mine. Trevor, this is Latonya."
"Selena has told me quite a bit about you," Trevor said in a mellifluous voice that was deeper than Latonya would have expected from somebody as slender as him. "You have an eight-year-old son, and you and Selena have known each other since the two of you were thirteen, right?"
"Yeah, that's right," Latonya replied.
Selena motioned towards the small nook adjoining the kitchen doorway. "You all have a seat."
Trevor pulled out a chair for Latonya before seating himself at the nook's octagonal table. Selena emerged from the kitchen with a salad bowl. Trailing Selena and carrying a large glass dish was the mustachioed Ron, two inches taller than his wife and handsome. Selena and Ron almost always looked like they were in sync with each other. Latonya had often felt like she and Bobby weren't connecting on any level when they were together.
"There is a concern," Trevor stated.
Selena, in the process of placing the bowl near the table's center, gave Trevor a puzzled look. "What's the concern?"
"This is a breakfast nook, correct?"
"That's what it's called."
"We can't have dinner in a breakfast nook."
Selena smiled as she realized Trevor was playing a game of semantics. "There's no law requiring breakfast nooks be used exclusively for eating breakfast."
"He has a valid point," Ron commented. "If we had a couch in the bedroom instead of a bed it wouldn't be a bedroom, it would be a couch room."
"It's going to be a chilly room if you keep siding against me," Selena warned.
Ron acted like he was shivering in subfreezing temperatures. "I get chills when I think about my bedroom being chilly."
"The English language is a confusing array of words with multiple meanings and similar-sounding words," Trevor continued. "Utilizing areas for something other than their named purpose increases confusion."
Here's another high and mighty one with a lot of big, fancy words, Latonya thought to herself.
Selena leaned across the table in Trevor's direction. "If you're uncomfortable with the dining arrangements you can get in your car and leave." She pointed her thumb at Ron. "And you can take that thing with you."
Ron stuck out his tongue at Selena. Selena responded in kind. Trevor smirked as the mock conflict escalated, his smirk seemingly tempered by ruefulness.
"Is that your car in front of the house?" Latonya asked Trevor.
"You used to be an actor?"
"I played small parts in some Westwood Theater productions. I also wrote a one-act play the theater considered using as a project for at-risk kids interested in the performing arts. My ‘regular job' with the theater was in its promotional department. I used to help put together ways to publicize the theater and its productions." Trevor sighed. "Enjoyed what I was doing but it didn't pay well."
"So what if it didn't pay a lot of money? If you like something you stick with it."
"I wish I could have."
"You could have. You could've stuck with what you were doing instead of chasing money."
Trevor's face had the strained expression of someone trying to remain tactful while attempting to negotiate a difficult reconciliation. "When I said it didn't pay well I meant the pay was inadequate."
"No amount of money is too little if you're doing something you like."
"Um, we shouldn't be discussing salaries during a celebration," Selena interjected.
Latonya, now in full preach mode, disregarded Selena. "You focused on material things instead of spiritual satisfaction and lost sight of what you ought to be doing with your life."
The look of a tactful conciliator vanished from Trevor's countenance. "You must think you're wise because you expelled a baby from your womb when you weren't even old enough to legally drink alcohol. Well, that's hardly the case."
"At least I have a kid. You ain't got a kid, do you?"
"You're right, I don't. My wife passed away before we had a chance to start a family." The back of Trevor's chair banged against the nearest wall as Trevor rose from his seat. He turned to Selena. "I'm leaving. I'm sorry. Thank you for inviting me."
"No," Selena replied. "Latonya is leaving."
"No." Trevor's voice faltered as he spoke. "Sorry. Thank you."
Selena turned to Latonya after the front door closed. "Trevor's wife had lupus. It caused a lot of medical complications for her. Westwood Theater doesn't provide health insurance to its employees, and the insurance she and Trevor could afford covered only a small amount of her medical expenses. The theater did some fundraising to help—she also worked for the theater—but even with fundraising Trevor was left with a huge stack of medical bills after she died. Local theaters can't afford to pay people much money. It's not the same as Broadway."
"Why didn't he explain what happened?" Latonya asked.
"Latonya, it's difficult for Trevor to talk about his wife. It took nearly a year for him to open up to me."
"I told you this wasn't a good idea," Ron said to Selena. "Trying to play matchmaker with Trevor and Latonya…"
"You were right." Selena turned her attention back to Latonya. "Maybe you can finally get in touch with Bobby and argue with him."
Latonya took Selena's words as her cue to leave, and she did so without saying anything else to Selena or Ron. She wanted to do something that would take her mind off what had just gone down. She stopped at the first Burger King she came to and ate a Whopper with fries and a Coke at one of the small tables in the dining area. Her next stop was the new nightclub on Darren Street. The line at the entrance was long, and as she waited in line she kept thinking about Bobby until she was too upset to stand and wait. She went home and dialed Bobby's number as soon as the apartment door closed behind her.
Bobby's phone rang four times before his voice came on the line. "Yo, it's Bobby. Gimme your name and number and I'll git back wit yuh."
"Bobby, it's Latonya again. I know you're getting my messages. Damon needs clothes and shoes and I don't have a money tree growing in my apartment. You'd better call me back..." ###