Life becomes a habit if you don’t start doing something in your spare time to keep you sane. I had continued with my music, but I’d picked up another trade in my spare time, something I’d come to enjoy thoroughly, writing.
Flip had added more speakers to his house and bought a new amp for his system. He even bought a four track machine to record some stuff he and Tina had started doing. She played the piano and sang. Flip played the guitar, not well, but he was getting there. We would spend our Saturdays going to the beach or barbecuing in Flip’s backyard. Oh, Janice learned how to shop more efficiently and less over the course of the year, which was a really good thing for her. I guess clothes had become her hobby. She had even begun designing some skirts and other things. She hadn’t done anything with the designs, but she really got into it. Some of her stuff was really flyy.
Anyway December 3rd, Flip and I went to the mall to start looking for Christmas gifts. He had to buy things for his folks and I was looking for another gift for my sister and something for my mom who has everything already, except me at home.
“How much money you plan on spending this year?” he asked me.
“Not much, I’m looking at a house.”
“Get the hell outta here. Are you looking at a house or are you both looking at a house?”
“We’re looking for a house.”
“That’s alright man. Oh snap let’s go look at those.”
I don’t know if it’s human nature or just plain ol guy stuff, but we could never go to the mall without hitting the sneaker store and checking out the new stuff. It wasn’t that I minded, but I had a budget and hell, Flip was still bringing his lunch to work. We stopped anyway and I walked out with another pair of gym shoes I didn’t need. I knew I had to hide them though. Janice was already complaining that I had almost as many shoes as she did.
“Man I shouldn’t have bought these,” I said. “Why come you always let me do that man?”
“It ain’t my fault. I didn’t put a gun to your head and walk you to the counter to spend a hundred and fifteen dollars. You know Janice is gonna trip.”
“What, I’m the man. She ain’t gonna say a word.”
“That’s cause you’re gonna hide them,” Flip said. We laughed and continued walking around the mall.
“So where do you wanna look first?” he asked.
“Let’s run down and put these shoes in the car.”
After walking back up the ramp we went to a couple of lingerie stores. I saw this sheer bodysuit that had a hole in the crotch area.
“I should buy this for Janice. What do you think?” I asked poking my finger through the hole. Flip pushed me to the side.
“You a hot ass.”
“Like you wouldn’t want to see your girl in this.”
I felt compelled to ask him how the whole thing with Tina was going.
“Flip, how is Tina really doing man?” I asked as we walked towards another woman’s store.
“What do you mean?”
“You know I ain’t prying, I’m just wondering.”
“She still talks about it sometimes. I listen mainly though. I know she’s happy now. That’s all that matters. Every now and then she’ll wake up sweating.”
“It’s like post traumatic stress or something huh?”
“I don’t blame her though. She’s lucky to have met you a Stage Three brother.”
“Tee, for a while now you’ve been talking about this stage stuff, what the hell are you talking about?”
“I’ll show it to you one day. I’m still working on it.”
“Whatever. Let’s go down to the jewelry store.”
“For what,” I asked.
“Earrings. Women love earrings, you can’t go wrong.”
Inside of the store I looked for something simple my mom and my sister could wear at any time. I didn’t want to overdo it with some humongous hoops or those ones that look like doorknockers. Flip bought his mom and dad matching watches. It took me a little longer cause I was trying to be cheap. I stopped at the thirty-nine dollar earring section, but that’s where the doorknockers were.
Flip walked over with his bag in his hand, “You just spent over one hundred dollars on your sneakers, but you’re in the cheap ass section in a nice jewelry store?”
“Shut up, I’m trying to pick something here.”
“I’ma call your mama. I ain’t lying. I’ma call her and tell you bought a pair of kicks that cost more than both of their Christmas gifts.”
I didn’t acknowledge him. I just walked over to the more expensive jewelry. I wasn’t gonna let Flip call my mom and get me in trouble. Ain’t nothing worse than being a grown man and getting argued at by your mom. I bought my sister a small tennis bracelet with three small diamonds in it and I got my mom a pair of white and yellow gold, diamond cut earrings. The woman behind the counter wrapped the gifts as we stood and continued to look around. There was a section for wedding rings towards the front of the store. I grabbed Flip by the sleeve and took him up to the case. There were matching his and her wedding bands and separate engagement rings inside of the sparkling case. A little Asian woman walked up.
“Double marriage or double engagement?” she asked.
“Neither,” Flip and I both answered.
“We’re just looking,” I said.
“If you’re looking then must be thinking about it,” she replied.
“Maybe,” Flip said looking at her name tag. “Ahn may I see that one?” he asked.
I was thinking about getting engaged. We looked at each other and began really looking at the rings. I spotted a beautiful carat and a half ring with two sapphires around it set into a braided white gold band. Flip picked up a two carat, traditional gold ring.
“You two have very good taste,” Ahn said. She pulled out the rings and let us hold them. We laughed and just stared at the rings.
“What do you think bro?” I asked.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I mean we talked about marriage once or twice, but Tina didn’t want to seem pushy about it.”
“I tried to talk about it with Janice but I punked out. I figured what’s the point in messing up something that doesn’t have any problems?”
“I think maybe.”
“What do you think?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think.”
“Look, if you’re gonna do it, then do it. I personally don’t know,” I said.
“Then why’d you drag me over here?” Flip asked.
Ahn was looking at us, back and forth, like she was watching a tennis match. She interrupted us.
“How long have you boys been with your ladies?” she asked.
“Bout a year and a half,” Flip answered.
“You guys met them at same time?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“There is something called destiny. You heard of it right? Don’t answer, let me finish. You met them at same time, been together for the same amount of time-”
“Well, not exactly-”
“Ah tut tut,” she said holding her hand up, damn near making me speak to the hand. “Perfect thing would be to propose at same time. That’s very romantic. You two think about that,” she said taking the rings from us. We walked back to pick up our packages.
We left the store with what we came for, but we also left with a sensible suggestion that really made sense. As we walked down the ramp towards the cars we talked about the whole thing.
“Flip, I kinda, wanna, maybe, you know?”
“Me too, but if neither one of us can say it then you think we’re ready?”
“I wanna get engaged to Janice. Now, I said it.”
I pushed the button on my keychain to open the doors and we climbed inside the car. We pulled out of our space and I stopped.
“I really wanna get engaged man,” I said.
“Me too, but I don’t wanna do it just cause you’re doing it.”
“That’s not what we’re doing. I love her and you love Tina so I say we get the rings.”
I’d backed halfway out into the driving lane and was blocking traffic. People started blowing their horns and shouting. I sat for a second longer before pulling back into my spot.
“You better hope they don’t key your car,” Flip said.
“It’s just a car.”
“Hold up, did you just say that it’s just a car? I thought it was a Legend?”
“Just a car man. It’s a nice one I will admit, but if somebody messes with it I got full coverage,” I said climbing out of the car. Flip sat inside and didn’t move.
I looked down and mouthed the words, “You coming?” He climbed out and walked beside me without talking for a while. Then finally he spoke.
“Looking at an engagement ring, not caring about the car, thinking about buying a house, damn, my boy done got X Filed.”
“You ain’t Tee, you’re an alien. Where’s my boy, what did you do with him?” he said looking in my ears.
“Stop buggin man.”
“I’m just surprised that’s all. Just surprised. My man done finally grew up.”
“I know, it’s strange huh?”
“You didn’t see it coming,” Flip said as we laughed. That was like our little inside joke. We didn’t see it coming came from this incident that occurred when we went to the park one day to shoot ball. Check this out right:
Flip and I were just shooting around, playing a little ball. When this big muscular brother walked up with this pit bull. He tied the dog up to the fence that surrounded the basketball court. Then he walked over to us and asked,
“What’s up cuz, can I hoop with yaw’ll?” I looked at his big ass and then at Flip.
“Yeah man,” I said. I sure in the hell wasn’t gonna say no to this San Diego Charger disguised as a crip. I threw the ball to him and let him shoot first. Flip just stood looking. This brother had C’s and street numbers tattooed on him and what looked like a long knife wound on his back, that might not’ve been too old.
“How long yaw’ll been hoopin homey?” he asked his voice husky and rough.
“Not long,” Flip said. I guess Flip didn’t want to say that we wanted to leave. Homeboy probably would’ve kicked our asses. So we kept shooting and playing with, “Lil C.”
Why big dudes always wanna be called ‘Lil Something?’
So, we kept playing, although we were tired as hell from being out there for about an hour by ourselves. The sun was starting to come out and I was beginning to get what felt like a heat stroke, but I wasn’t leaving until this brother got enough shooting in. About ten minutes into playing a game of 21, his dog started barking. We turned around to look at what was coming. It was this sister with a nice looking Labrador retriever. She let the dog go and the first thing the lab did was walk towards the pit bull. I knew this was gonna be bad. Lil C walked over in front of his dog to stop the lab from getting ate the hell up. So there was Lil C hovering over the Labrador. This sister walked up behind her dog. I guess she didn’t know much about pit bull’s.
“Let them dogs play,” she said to Lil C. Lil C knew what would happen if the lab got closer. The goofy Labrador was jumping back and forth as if Lil C was playing with him.
“Lady, get yo dawg away from my dog,” Lil C said once.
“Let them dogs play.” The lady said. I kept trying to play ball, I didn’t want any part of it. Flip kept being nosy.
Lil C requested once more, “Lady, get yo dawg, away from my dog,” he then pushed her dog away. The lab thinking that this big ass dude was playing, kept jumping back and forth darting in between Lil C’s legs. He continued to push the dog away. The lab continued to play.
“Stop pushing my dog. This is a park, let the dog’s play,” she said.
Lil C raised his arms up like he was about to box and told the lady, “Lady, get yo dog, or on my mama, I’ma bomb on him.” I stopped shooting and looked at Flip.
“Bomb on him?” I asked Flip. I thought to myself hell no, he won’t do it.
“You ain’t gonna do nothing. Let them dogs play,” the lady said.
Lil C lifted his arms up higher and said it one last time, “Lady get yo dog away from my dog, or I’ma bomb on him.” The dog, still thinking Lil C was playing, kept darting between his legs. The whole time the pit is trying to get off of the fence to rip the silly little lab apart. I looked at Flip, we both looked over at the scene. Before you could say, “Move little doggy,” Lil C pulled his hand back and caught the dog smack dab on the side of his face. The dog stopped bouncing and dropped. The lady screamed, “You motherfucker you crazy.”
Lil C looked at her and said, “I tooold you, I was gon bomb on him, I toooold you.”
I dropped the ball and watched the dog lying still on the ground. About ten seconds later, the dog tried to stand up. The dog propped his front legs up, then the back, then he just fell to the side again. The dog finally stood up and started running sideways. The sister shouted, “You crazy bastard, I’m gonna get my husband.”
Lil C untied his dog and walked away. The lady held her dog and walked him back to the car. Flip and I stood in disbelief.
“The dog never saw it coming,” Flip said.
I repeated, “Never saw it coming.” We walked to his car and drove home. Every since then we always said that phrase, “He never saw it coming,” like if a brother got smacked or someone tripped up on something.
Here was Flip applying the phrase to me and all I could do was laugh. It was funny though, I was a self-proclaimed bachelor, like Ginuwine, and I was the one rushing to pick a ring. Go figure.
We made it back to the store and asked the lady to engrave something on the rings. As we stood in front of the counter, I heard a voice that sounded familiar. It was Manny, he was in the ring section getting a small ring for Hilda. He saw Flip and I, and walked up.
“Boss, I didn’t see a thing,” he said laughing and patting me on my back.
“Damn Manny can’t we go anywhere without you being there?” Flip asked.
“I don’t know, can you?” he said laughing.
“You guys shopping for rings huh?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Bout time, I’m tired of catching you two hugging all the time. That was starting to get gross.”
“Whatever Manny,” Flip said.
“Just kidding boss. I’m just buying a little something for the Mrs. Excuse me sir,” he said speaking to Flip. “I never thanked you for what you did.”
“What did I do?” Flip asked.
“You don’t have to say, but I know what you did, gracias, vaya con Dios.”
“God be with you also Manny,” Flip said extending his hand. Manny shook it and walked back towards the saleslady.
“You are blessed man,” I said to Flip.
I felt like I was in the presence of one of the chosen. Flip definitely had Air, and as usual he seemed to be wise beyond his years. I broke the peace by asking him what he was going to have placed inside of his ring.
“I don’t know. Let me think, what about December 3rd?”
“I guess.” I had December 24th and Janice placed inside. Flip wrote December 3rd inside of his as a personal statement towards when he decided to make the jump to Stage Four. My date represented the date that I would propose.
Buy Stages now if you want to read it at your own pace, or just check back to keep reading it here.