phone was ringing but the apartment door wasn't cooperating.
Courtney shifted the oversized duffle bag on her shoulder,
trying to keep it in place as she wiggled the key in a lock
that was as old as the turn-of-the century dwelling. One
day she would demand that the landlord replace the antiquated
lock with a modern one but tonight it didn't matter. The
fun she'd experienced over the weekend overshadowed any
small inconveniences. So long as she could get inside and
hop into bed, all was well with the world. A few more jiggles
and the door was finally open. When she entered her starter
apartment, the caged heat lashed out at her. The humidity
wasn't showing any mercy on August. Before she could get
situated, the phone rang again. She dropped the bag in the
middle of the floor and snatched the phone up from the table
located in the dining area. She wasn't shocked to hear Paul
on the other end.
"Where have you been?" he blasted through the
Courtney pulled the phone back and rubbed the temple of
her ear. "You knew that I wasn't getting back until
"Yeah, but you were supposed to come back this morning.
You had me sitting around here waiting for you all day."
Her original flight was scheduled to get in around noon
but two of her college friends, Ashley and Larry, had talked
Courtney into going standby on a later flight so she could
stay until the very end of the weekend with everyone else.
She could have left early Sunday morning, but there was
more fun to be had in the afternoon. Being among peers that
she related to on multiple levels made the decision an easy
one. If only she had more friends like that at home, ones
who looked like her, thought like her and had the same idea
of fun. "I'm sorry if you were waiting around for me
but I called and told you that I wasn't getting back until
"So, being with your friends is more important than
coming home and being with me? I guess you don't care if
we spend time together anymore."
"You could have gone if you wanted to Paul." She
stood with her feet planted, eyes rolling towards the ceiling,
and lips perched. "I asked you to come with me."
"I haven't lost anything in Chicago. This is where
we live and you need to remember that sweetheart. School
days are over. Philly is home and this is where you and
I live, not halfway across the country with your so-called
friends that you keep trying to shove down my throat."
"I can't help it if my friends are important to me.
Why do you make such an issue about my friends?"
"How am I supposed to feel about you putting your friends
ahead of me all the time? You messed up this weekend and
I deserve an apology."
"This is crazy. I am not going to apologize for having
a good time this weekend. If you didn't want to go, that's
on you." Courtney waited for Paul to respond but nothing
came so she jumped back in. "Paul, it's after midnight.
I need to go to bed so I can get up for work in the morning."
"What's more important, me or your job? Don't get me
wrong, I'm glad you have that job, but it's not all that.
I should come first. Courtney, you really need to get your
"One of us needs a real job in this relationship,"
she blurted out.
"Ever since you came home this summer, we've had nothing
but problems," he told her.
"Huh, you think it started this summer? Well, I can
go back a lot farther than that." She tilted the phone
away from her mouth and let her eyes span the room with
her teeth clinched so tightly that a nut would have cracked
under the pressure. "I'm really tired. I'll have to
talk with you later." She set the phone down and rested
one arm on the back of the chair and the other on her hip,
shaking her head in the process.
Absence over the weekend hadn't made her heart grow fonder.
The relationship with Paul was still limping. Maybe she
could find the spark they needed. Then again, it would take
more like a bonfire. Whatever the problem was in the relationship,
it would take more than a five-minute analysis to solve.
At the moment sleep was her priority. She kicked off her
shoes, shed her clothes along the short walk to the bedroom,
threw on her gown, and jumped into bed. Sleep swooped in
as soon as her head hit the pillow.
wasn't as tired as she had anticipated when morning came.
With a burst of energy, she wasted no time getting dressed.
Paul was probably expecting a call, but why take a chance
on ruining a perfectly good morning. She was already running
a little late. It would be better to let the day get started
and touch base with him later. She grabbed a piece of fruit
from the counter and headed to work.
The office was already hopping when she arrived around nine,
taking full advantage of the flextime policy. She walked
along the row of window offices that were reserved for management.
One day she expected to be sitting in her own plush office.
She jockeyed through the maze of cubicles and administrative
stations, greeting the secretaries and the security officers
as part of her normal routine. For now she had to be content
with her walk-in closet-sized cubicle.
She set her apple on the desk and retrieved her messages.
The voice of the first message was familiar but she couldn't
place it right off.
"I got your number from the alumni association. Looks
like I will be in Philadelphia this week to check out Penn's
law school. If you're in town, I'd like to take you up on
the offer that you made at graduation. If you're free Friday,
I'd love to have you show me the sights."
"Oh my goodness," she said sifting out the New
England accent in a few of the words spoken. "Sebastian!"
she mumbled with her heart picking up tempo. "Law school,
"I don't know any other Northwestern alums in Philadelphia.
If you know of anybody else, maybe we can all hang out together.
It'll be a blast. Give me a call." He rattled off his
phone number. "Talk to you later buddy."
She had made a courteous gesture at graduation, telling
him that she would show him around Philadelphia if and when
he came to town. She was stunned that he had gone through
the trouble of getting her number and had actually called.
She couldn't forget how his smooth skin wore a tan like
drizzled molasses on a gingerbread cookie.
If she agreed to go with Sebastian, what would they do?
She had pushed the envelope so many times with him over
the four years at Northwestern. They often ran into one
another at the fitness center, spent hours talking afterwards
and had lunch together on a few occasions. Nothing serious
ever transpired. It couldn't. She was Black and he was White.
Eating lunch together had been challenging enough. How many
times had she been on pins and needles trying to avoid running
into her friends with Sebastian and having to explain an
innocent lunch. The impending grief from her close friends
had been one of many deterrents keeping her from really
getting to know him. Paul was another factor. Most of the
time they were on shaky ground, but he had still been her
boyfriend of record the entire stay at Northwestern.
"You're back. It's about time." Brice teased when
he found Courtney sitting in her office.
She turned towards the entry of her cubicle and couldn't
speak past the bite of apple in her mouth. The average height,
medium built co-worker came in and took a seat.
"How was your little weekend and don't even try to
pretend that you had a real party."
She swallowed hard and wiped her mouth with a napkin.
"I had a good time and what if it was a 'real' party."
"Oh, PLEASE! A school like Northwestern doesn't know
anything about partying. What you had was a little reunion."
"Oh, so what are you saying, that your alma mater is
the only place that can have a party?"
"No, I'm not saying that Howard is the only place.
There are a bunch of Black colleges that know how to do
it too, like FAMU and Jackson State. Now they know how to
Courtney knew she was headed for a no-win Black power session
"Anyway, my reunion or whatever you want to call it
Mr. Militant was fun."
Brice held up the closed fist Black power sign and tucked
his head with his eyes closed for a second.
"One of these days, you're going to get busted doing
that in here," she told him.
"I'm not afraid of these people. I'm Black and I'm
"Keep it up. I'm going to see how proud you are standing
in the unemployment line."
At times she found his perspective confusing given the complexion
of his skin. He wasn't just 'high yellow' as her aunt used
to describe a lighter-skinned Black person. His skin reminded
Courtney of December, when color drained from the plants
and didn't return until the sun came out in the spring.
Add his tight short curly locks of hair to the package and
European blood sang from his veins.
He flopped his hand up and down. "Enough with all of
that. Did you hang with the peeps or did you blend in?"
"Peeps, you know, the folks, the brothers and sisters.
Come on now, you're from Philly. I know you can talk the
talk, I don't care how many degrees you get. You know what's
"I'm sorry, but I can't keep up with your slang. I
don't know how you can be an assistant manager and get away
with so much slang. It's unbelievable how much street talk
you do around here."
"I might be down with the Black folks in here, but
I know how to be straight laced with the rest of the group."
"Oh, so you change up," she asked.
"Noooo, don't say that." He waved his hand frantically.
"I'm true to myself and my people," he said, slamming
his closed fist into his chest, "but it's better for
the cause if I keep this good job. Another unemployed brother
on the street isn't my idea of a rebel."
"So you're fighting the revolution from your BMW."
"No doubt. Better a BMW than a Pinto and I did see
one of those on my way into work this morning."
"You remind me so much of somebody that I know from
Northwestern. Neither one of you has any sense."
"You like us and what does that say about you?"
He gave her a wink.
"Anyway, what did I miss on Friday?"
"Nothing, not a single thing. Oh yeah, that's right,
except for Joe Bob checking out your cubicle every couple
of hours. He was crying because you didn't come in Friday,"
Brice said sniffling and pretending to wipe tears from his
"You know who I'm talking about, the guy with the four-inch-thick
"Who, Wally, the new co-op student?"
"Wally! You have got to be joking. Now you know he's
not Black. No self-respecting brother is going to use a
name like that. That would get changed with a quickness.
He'd get called something like Big Wal or B.W. or anything
but Wally. Please."
"If that's what his mama named him, that's what he
"Nah, nah. Brothers have enough troubles. Can you imagine
being in the 'hood' with a name like that!" Brice stated.
"He's a nice guy. You should leave him alone,"
she said, unable to hold a straight face.
"Nice! Forget that, he just better find someone around
here that's more up his alley. You're off limits."
"Who says so?"
"I say so. You don't have any brothers, so I'm looking
out for you the same way they would to keep you out of trouble."
The phone rang displaying an outside number. Courtney answered
"Hey Paul," she said loud enough to be heard in
her cubicle but not to spill over into the aisles.
Brice got the hint and waved goodbye before departing.
"I'm still waiting on my apology," Paul stated
over the phone.
"For what? I'm glad that I went to Chicago. You should
have come with me." She twirled her pen and pressed
the receiver tight to her ear, letting no words escape.
"I keep telling you that I don't need to hang around
uppity people who think they're better than I am."
"My friends are not like that. They are simple, down
to earth people who like having fun."
"What do you think, I'm stupid? I know they talk about
me behind my back just because I didn't go to college."
"Why would they spend time talking about you?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out, but they can
say whatever they want to about me. It doesn't even matter.
I'm happy with who I am."
She was quiet briefly before attempting to move to another
subject. "One of my college friends is coming to visit
Penn's law school. They want us to show them around the
city Friday. I know Thursdays and Fridays are our nights,
so maybe we can take them Saturday." She gave Paul
time to respond while squinting her eyes nearly shut.
"That's fine. I'll go by myself."
"I knew that you would," he fired back.
She should have told him the friend she was talking about
was a guy. Maybe it would have made a difference. After
all, Sebastian was at most a friend. There was no reason
to keep him a secret from Paul, but she felt the need to
be evasive and didn't know why.
"Have fun with your little college friends."
"I am so sick of your attitude about Northwestern and
the people I went to school with. None of them have done
a single thing to you." She spoke with a heavy voice,
drilling the words into the mouthpiece. "Look, I have
work to do. I'll talk to you later."
She dropped the phone into the cradle, rested her forehead
in her hand and sighed. So much stress for so little contentment
in return. No sense praying for wisdom. God had already
answered that request. Eventually she'd get around to doing
what needed to be done. The presence of someone nearby shocked
her back into the confines of the office.
"Oh," she turned and said, "Cara, I didn't
hear you come in."
A vanilla candle-colored woman with bright red lipstick
accenting her round lips stood in the cubicle, fumbling
with the hair clip that held her tightly drawn kinky blonde
hair in place.
"I'm sorry. You were so deep in thought that I didn't
want to say anything. I should have announced myself."
"It's okay, come on in."
"You sure, because I can come back later. I didn't
want anything really. Just wanted to chat for a minute before
my meeting." Cara took a seat and crossed her legs.
"I looked for you this morning but you were nowhere
to be found."
"I got in a little late this morning. You know that
I met a bunch of my friends back at Northwestern over the
Cara tapped Courtney on the knee and raised her voice level.
"That's right. Oh, that should have been so cool. What
did you do?"
"I spent most of the time running around with a couple
of my close friends. You name it and we squeezed it into
Courtney didn't think Cara could relate to her kind of entertainment.
There was no need to tell her about the mini-reunion party
at Ashley's, where the gang of eight people watched movies,
played cards late into the night while embellishing every
racial issue that they could collectively discuss. It didn't
help change the state of affairs, but they all seemed to
feel stronger, more empowered sharing their thoughts in
a humorous way with those who could relate.
"Did Paul go with you?" Cara asked.
As far as the people at work knew, Courtney's relationship
with Paul was perfect. No need to divulge personal information
to co-workers who sat on opposite sides of the social train
tracks and didn't try to develop a friendship that oozed
outside the Monday through Friday corporate bubble.
"No, he couldn't go. He had to work."
"Oh well, welcome back." Cara stood up and took
a brief stretch. "I better go. I have to print off
the agenda for the two o'clock meeting. You going?"
"I'm going to pass. I have enough other work to do
since I was gone Friday."
"Okie-dokie." Cara stopped before she got all
the way out and said, "I keep forgetting to give you
the invitation to my art party. I finally agreed to host
one for my sister-in-law. It would be great if you could
come. The party is Saturday, but I'll drop the invitation
off with the directions sometime this week."
Saturday. Courtney was relieved to already have an out,
thanks to Sebastian. Close call. She enjoyed talking to
Cara and going to lunch and breakfast with her but socializing
after work would require too much sifting in her everyday
life. The restaurants they went to were good but every now
and then Courtney wanted a good old-fashioned platter of
smothered chicken over rice with two sides and a dessert.
That was out of Cara's league. Whenever people from the
office wanted to go out for lunch, it was to the mainstream
restaurants. When specialty spots serving Thai, Indian,
Greek or Japanese were selected at times, Courtney went
willingly with the group. No one offered to go with her
when she suggested soul or Caribbean food. For once, she
wanted to take them to a restaurant where she could get
a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce and not have to settle for
a bottle of Tabasco sauce. When it came to venturing out
into the ethnic waters, she was on her own.
Work had its moments, but nothing like personal life. Constantly
arguing with Paul was draining but she refused to let him
penalize her for going to college and making friends outside
of West Philadelphia. She would call Sebastian and confirm
their meeting for Saturday. Why not? It would be something
to do in an otherwise empty weekend.