Stages: A Handbook on Men and Relationships – Chapter 13

Chapter 13
            “You look beautiful Janice.”
            “Thank you.  Your hairline is kinda crooked.”
            “No it isn’t.”
            “It is.  The right side is a little higher than the left and a little bit is still over the ears.”
            “For real?”
            “I’m just messing with you about the hair over the ears, but your line is crooked.  Come to think of it, I’ve never seen your line crooked.”
            “I tried a new barber.”
            “Who Stevie Wonder?”
            “You know that’s wrong.  Why you making blind people jokes when you wear glasses?  You didn’t think I noticed that little bifocal line in your glasses either did you?”
            “I do not wear bifocals.”
            “And Stevie Wonder didn’t cut my hair.”
            “I was just kidding.  You’re sensitive today.  Don’t blame me for your bad hair cut.”
            “Alright, alright, I didn’t go to the barber shop.  I just bought these new clippers-”
            “What?  Speak up I can’t hear you.”
            “I just bought these new clippers and I tried to give myself a line this morning and I took it back too far.  You’re the only person that noticed today.”
            “You sure no one noticed, or did they just keep quiet?”
            “No one noticed.”

            After Flip had given my number to Tina, it took a few days for Janice to call.  I expected as much.  When she finally called we cleared up that night at the bar.  I told her that I had wanted to speak to her all night, but I didn’t have the heart.  When I finally had the chance to say something to her, instead of taking the chance of getting turned down, I went ahead and played the hard role and shot her down first.  She said that I was right about her only wanting to talk to me because I kinda spurned her.  Once we got that out of the way we had a pretty good conversation.  We had been talking for a while and going out since Flip and Tina were going out, but nothing as extravagant as the zoo and the Wild Animal Park.  We had gone to the movies several times and shared dinner at a few restaurants, but that had been the extent of our relationship.  I was still seeing Laney and we were still hittin. 
            Once again I have to refresh your memories on something I said earlier.  I never cheated on any of the women I dated.  If I was with more than one woman, sexually, during the same period of time, I was either on bad terms with one of them, or they decided that we should take it slow. 
            At the time that Janice and I had started kicking it, Laney was beginning to grow weary of me not being able to make up my mind about friend or lover.  Which was perfect for me, this gave me a chance to finally put the moves on Janice.  But it would be somewhat complicated to pull away from Laney, it had been seven months.  I was moving into unchartered territory, a land that I had no intentions on exploring, the eight month land.  That land where everything said and done, was done in the best interest of the respected lover.  The day that Janice and I talked about my bad hair cut was the day after Laney and I respectfully decided to chill.  We had decided to chill once before, but as you know after you say let’s chill you still sleep with each other for four weeks, give or take five days or so.
            “Laney, I just can’t seem to find the right words to say.”
            “You never have the right words, until you want some ass.  Then you know just what to say.”
            “It’s never been about sex with me and you Laney, never.  We always talked, always listened.”
            “But you never gave me the one thing I wanted from you.”
            “Which was?”
            “Just you.  Not the stories about old relationships gone bad, or fear of making the wrong decisions, I just wanted you.  I never had any fear that I was making any wrong decisions. I always respected your honesty about the phone calls and your ex trippin, but how long does it take for you to move past all that?”
            “I don’t know but it seems that everything I’m doing lately is turning out bad.  I don’t wanna take you down with me.”
            “Are you sure that’s what it is?  Or is it just that you want your space?  You always seem to have something happening outside of me and you.  It always seemed as if you never told me the truth, although you never hid anything.  I just don’t get it.”
            “There’s nothing to get.  I’m not an easy person to understand.  I never said I was.  All I asked was that you try and bear with me until I could get over this shit.  Laney you are a wonderful woman, I just don’t have my shit together.”  This song and dance took a lot longer to pull off this time. 
            Stage Two will stretch you out.  It’s time consuming as hell.  It almost seems reasonable to just kick it with Janice, but nah that just wouldn’t be a smart thing to do now.  I had her all setup for anything I wanted.  If I pulled away it would take more time to get things right with her again.  I still have to get this stuff out of my system, yes, still.
            “Look Laney, I understand if you never want to see me again.  I respect that, but-”
            “Let’s stay friends?  I remember those words.  Do as you please Tee, I need to get over your tired ass anyway.”
            “Hold on, why I gotta be tired?  I mean all I ever did was be upfront with you.  I have always wanted to work everything out, but I guess I’m still a boy trying to find a place in this man’s world.” 
            Self deprecation is always the key when you’re losing an argument with a woman.  That’s one of the things you discover when smoothnicity comes down upon you.
            “You are a boy Terrence, and you’re right I don’t need a boy, I need a man.”
            “Laney, I truly hope every man that you meet will be as honest as this boy.  Remember I never told you a lie or tried to cover things up.  I’ve just been unsure.  I don’t know if you’ll ever forgive me, but when the next smooth talking brother comes along, watch what he does and what he says.  I guarantee you he will never tell you the things I’ve told you.”
            “Maybe you’re right, but I’m going to really be alone for a while, really.”
            “I still care for you greatly and I will miss you, but this is for the better,” I said.
            “I love you,” Laney said before she hung up the phone.  I sat and turned my radio back up and looked at TV for a while.  We had been on the phone for a long time and I needed to take a nap.
            After I finished with Laney I knew that everything was falling in order with Janice.  She was ripe.  We had covered all of the phone sex territory, the ones that go into the early morning.  She had come to my house a few times and I had gone to hers.  I even broke down and bought her flowers.  I knew she would be a little harder to sway.  I told her about Laney and how we were going through a few things.  The day of the Laney break up, I talked to her later that night.  I had gone to buy a pair of clippers and I cleaned the house some. 
            After I showered I called her up, “If you’re busy I can call back?” 
            Introducing a minor philosophy in the world of a brother that has found his smoothness, after calling it quits with Laney I knew I could use sympathy with Janice, simply because she had gone through everything with me.  I had kept her informed about what was going on with Laney.  Even when Tina was questioning if I was playing Janice, I hadn’t even told Flip that I hadn’t had sex with her.  But it was all a part of making what I was starting with Janice ours.  A private little relationship that revolved around us sharing everything, without other people knowing what was happening until we wanted them to know.  Privacy, a skill a lot of brothers lack, is not only the act of remaining closed off to the public, but it also entails a strong will to not tell your best friend everything that happens, which is a lot harder than you would think.  Another thing, whenever you call a woman make sure she wants to speak with you.  Always ask if she’s busy.  If she is, then you aren’t doing something right.  A woman should never be too busy to speak with someone that she wants to make her man.
            “No, I’m not busy at all.  In fact I was about to call you,” she said to me.
            “I guess you read my mind.”
            “Why do you say that?”
            Here it comes the best thing you can ever do in a friendship that you want to make into something else.  The sympathy role.
            “I just finished talking with Laney earlier.”
            “Are you okay?”  She asked.
             Genuine concern, the tell all sign that a woman is listening.  Now if she would’ve said, “Oh.”  That would’ve hinted at jealousy which is a sign that she doesn’t give a damn and that she doesn’t really trust what you’re about to say.  The follow up to ‘Oh,’ is, ‘What happened?’   This addition is a cover-up.  Just a little bit of info to help you understand some things.  Janice gave me a, “damn,” which was a good sign.
            “Yeah I’m fine Janice.  I’m just unsure of why things turned out like they did.  I had to let her know I was uncomfortable.  I told her that I cared and that I wanted things to work, but we needed to cool off with everything.  I never wanted me and her to be just sex, you know what I mean?”
            “Is that all you guys really had?”
            “Well, you know how I went out with you and we ate dinner and then went for a walk through the Gaslamp?”
            “If I went to dinner with her it never ended with talking and listening.”  These are the small white lies that I mentioned you have to tell at Stage Two.  They aren’t really lies though, they’re more like stretches of what really occurred.
            “When things get like that you have to pull away.  All you do is end up hurting each other,” she said.
            “I know and I’ve hurt too many women in my past.  I just couldn’t deal with it again.  I want the next time I start settling down to be after I’ve at least talked to the woman for a while.  I don’t need the kind of problems I had this time and honestly, I’m just tired,” I said.
            “I hear you.  Are you sure you’re okay.  You need anything, ice cream, potato chips, any kind of depression food?”
            “No thanks Janice.  I appreciate the offer though.  I think I’m gonna chill out tonight, clear my head a bit.”
            “Call me tomorrow okay?” 
            “I will.  Hey thanks for having an open ear and for not judging me.  It’s nice to have someone to talk to other than Flip.  He would’ve been making silly comments and stuff.”
            “Don’t mention it, I don’t mind listening at all, not at all.”
            “Later Janice.”
            “Sleep well Terrence.”
            In the grand scheme of how everything has worked out up to this point I think the way I handled the transition from Laney to Janice was handled with tact and grace.  I think it was, yep you guessed it, smooth.  I never led anyone on a string and Janice accepted me with all of my flaws.  That night I felt confident, so I decided to play with my new clippers.  I stood in my bathroom mirrors and pushed the switch up on the clippers and decided to give myself a clean up around the front.  I really didn’t need it, but everything seemed to be so good that I thought this would be simple too.  That’s when it happened; the clippers kind of slipped and my line went to shit.  I went to work the next morning after repairing it, I thought, pretty well.  I noticed everybody looking at me weird, but I didn’t think anything of it.  If Flip didn’t say anything, then no one else could’ve noticed. 
            Now, when Janice came over and started talking about my hairline, I wondered how she noticed it so soon.  I called Flip after I gave Janice a wine cooler and turned on the some music for her.
            “Can you excuse me for a minute,” I told her picking the phone up off of the base and carrying it into my room.
            “Flip did you talk to your girl today?”  He started to laugh.  “Flip what’s funny?”
            “Yeah she’s over here right now,” he said.
            “Word, as a matter of fact Janice left here to go to your house.”
            “So what did you all talk about over there?”  He continued to laugh.
            “Nothing just work, music, TV, hair, clothes.”
            “Man, why didn’t you tell me at work my line was fucked up?”
            “I said we talked about hair, not your hair.  Why you questioning me?”
            “Cause Janice came over here and started clowning.  That’s alright Flip, I got this shit on file.”
            “Whatever,” he said hanging up the phone.  I walked back into the room and caught Janice running back to her seat.
            “What, you eavesdropping?”
            She turned around walked back towards the room, “No, I was coming back from the bathroom.”
            “With your wine cooler?  You guys think you’re funny.”  I sat down on my chaise and kicked my feet up.
            “So, are you feeling better?” she asked.
            “I’m okay.  I haven’t really thought about anything today.”
            “Let’s keep it that way then.  You wanna go for a ride with me?” she asked.  “Grab some of those funky jazz CD’s of yours and let’s go.”
            “My jazz CD’s aren’t funky.  You just don’t know good music.”
            “Tee, I don’t know music?  You think so.  Alright, I got one for you.  Third track on Birth of the Cool is Moon Dreams.” 
            She kind of shocked me with that one.  I guess she had more music sense than I thought she had.  But then again I had to see if she had paid any attention to our conversations.
            “Who’s my favorite artists?” I asked.
            “Old or new?”
            “Coltrane, old and Joshua Redman, new,” she replied.  “Your turn.  What’s my favorite CD right now?  If we walk down here to the car and turn on my CD player what’s going to be playing?”
            I replied, “Maxwell, if you’ve had a stressful day.”
            “Which I haven’t, so?”
            “Sade then.”
            “Which one?”
            “Love Deluxe?”
            “Greatest Hits,” she said.  “But that’s pretty good, I guess we’ve been paying attention to each other.”
            “Yeah I guess.”  I stood close to her and looked her in her eyes.  It was too soon for a kiss of any kind, but I knew it could’ve happened.  She grabbed her purse.  I slipped on my shoes and grabbed some riding music.
            “How about something upbeat?”  I asked.
            “I’ve got Joe in the car and I’ve got OutKast.”
            “I can listen to OutKast anytime.” 
            See, as much as I love jazz, I also love hip hop.  I’m an eighties child.  How would it look if I denounced the music that made me wear parachute pants, Kangols and Pumas?  I just didn’t play hip hop in the house that often.  I kept that for the car, when I wanted to ride out and kick it.
            “You ready to roll Tee?”  Janice asked lowering the top to her 325i.
            “Yeah let’s roll.”
            One day removed from Laney I had found a new lady.  We hadn’t made it official, then again I never make it official, but we both knew where we wanted to go with it.  We took off up  Interstate Five and creeped our way over to the coast highway.  We rode and enjoyed the air brushing over our heads.  The ocean was beautiful beyond the cliffs.  We stopped at one of the viewpoints and looked out.  The breeze, the music playing and her standing next to me was a serious aphrodisiac.  I wanted to hold her.  I’m sure she wanted the same thing.  We sat on the hood of the car and looked out.
            “Do you ever get in the ocean?” she asked.
            “Nah, never had any desire to.  It’s not like the pool or a lake.”
            “That’s right you’re not a Californian.  You’re a transient, a person passing through.”
            “No I’m not.  I’m here for as long as the job keeps me here.”
            “That’s kind of sad that you’re only here because of your job.  The weather isn’t a factor.  L.A. being right up the highway isn’t a factor?”
            “Never thought about those things.  I have too much to do.”
            “There is never too much to do.  You can always make time if you want to.  You’re here with me now.”
            “Janice that’s by choice.  I could be working on schematics from the job right now.”
            “By choice?  Everything’s by choice.  What kind of statement is that?”
            “I’m here with you because you make me feel good.  You have Air.
            “Excuse me?”
            “I’ll explain that to you one day.  It’s a good thing.”
            “Thanks for getting me out of the house.”
            “Thanks for letting me get you out of the house,” she responded.
            “Look out over the horizon.  Do you see that?” I asked.
            “The clouds all seem to be turning purple and red.”
            “You really don’t pay attention do you?” she said.
            “What do you mean?”
            “The sunset is always like that, unless it’s raining.”
            “But it never rains in Southern Cali,” I said being silly.
            “I guess it hasn’t rained much in the last month or so has it?” 
            “No, but it has looked pretty gray out.”
            “But it hasn’t rained,” she said walking towards the rail overlooking the ocean.  I walked up behind her and then I stood to her side.
            “No it hasn’t rained in the past month and a half.  I wonder why?”  I said looking into her eyes.
            “I think I know,” she said walking back towards the car.  She sat down in the car and turned the car back on.  “You coming?” she called to me.
            “You’re ready to leave now?”
            “The breeze isn’t strong enough, I need a little air,” she said smiling at me.
            We drove off down the highway to a small seafood restaurant that served you by bringing out this humongous wok-like bowl filled with crab legs, lobster, and potatoes.  The waiter brought the food and left four small containers of butter sauce and two mallets.  He placed a bib around our necks and let us have at it.  We sat there and smashed the crab legs with the mallets and pulled the meat out with our fingers.  The juice was popping all over the place, everyone in the place was having a blast.  I couldn’t believe I was sitting there cracking crablegs in a restaurant with a mallet with no other Black folks in sight and I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.  I even laughed at this old guy with stringy, silver hair hanging from under a captain’s hat, sitting on stage karaoking to “Sittin On the Dock of The Bay.”  I felt at ease.  Janice was looking beautiful.  Her blue jean shirt had butter on the sleeves, and so did her jeans.  I attempted to stay clean because I had a pair of lounging pants on that were silk.  Janice fixed that by reaching over and taking her mallet to one of my crab legs.  I could see down her shirt and for a moment I kept trying and then I stopped.  We were having fun, I didn’t need to fuck it up by getting caught being a pervert. 
            We eventually allowed ourselves to really let our hair down by singing “Rolling on the River,” the Ike and Tina version.  Why in the hell she chose a song that forced me to be Ike bugged me for a minute.  We got a standing ovation from everybody inside.  A few people outside had stopped to listen.  The day turned out great and we drove back with the top still down, although it was kinda chilly out.

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