The night my alma mater won the men’s basketball championship, I was in the dorms with Sabby. We drove as we could to Route 1, then ran across campus headed to the makeshift bonfire on Frat Row screaming “Fear the Turtle!” at the top of our lungs for hours. The next day at work, I had no voice, barely a whisper. As my job was in DC, and half the employed city graduated from my school, my college spirit was smiled upon. (Half the office had abandoned business attire for the day and showed up in university para) I was a team player. My supervisor was so proud in fact, that she recommended to her boss that I be made full-time (ie, get benefits just like my father wanted.) A hardcore Terp goes a long way in DC.
I’d forgotten about my voice, when my cell phone rang just before lunch. I recognized the 212 number. It was The Source. Must be Anslem calling with an assignment. I called the number back on the landline.
A woman answered. She gave her name, but I didn’t catch it. She wasn’t a receptionist.
“Hi,” I croaked. “This is [Belle.] Um… did you just call me?”
“Hello?” She sounded irritated like she thought someone was playing on her phone.
I had to patiently explain that I lost my voice. And why I was calling. When she finally got it, she was much nicer.
“Oh, okay," she said. "I wanted to know if you were still interested in the job.”
The job? Huh? I said as much.
“Yes. You sent your clips in, right? [The ENC] saw them and wanted to interview you if you’re still interested.”
It was an associate music editor position. Whoa.
I told her I could come in the following Monday and promptly e-mailed my boss to tell her I wouldn’t be in.
I called my editor friend from Oneworld, the one who used to take me around parties by the hand and introduce me. I wanted a rundown of who the woman was, what she was into, and what would impress her.
Turns out they were old friends. Before I could even ask him to put in a word, he told me he’d call over to her and sing my praises.
I promised him drinks on me when I got to New York on Monday.
I stayed with my girl from Pfizer. I got up 3 hours before my interview because I was too nervous to sleep. I washed and diffused my hair so it would be extra fluffy. I spent an hour on my make-up. I put on my interview/ I need to impress and feel confident dress (the red DV wrap dress that I’m wearing in my Twitter profile). I showed up 15 minutes early, fresh clips in hand.
It went… okay. I couldn’t get a real read on the ENC. But the meeting lasted an hour and I’d done my absolute best. I was witty, funny, informed. I felt like I was on. I’d studied the magazines in my closet going back many years so I could pull a reference to some random obscure story so she knew I was more than a casual reader. I studied the reviews and stories she’d written so I could mention them back to her so she’d know I did my homework. I told her about all the ideas I’d had and the ones I’d recently pitched to Anslem. I pulled out all the stops I knew.
That night, over the drinks I’d promised, I asked my editor what she’d thought of me. I knew they’d already spoken.
He shrugged. “She said you were pretty.”
I scrunched up my face. “That’s it?”
He shrugged again.
Back in DC, I waited a month for her to call. Got jumpy every time the phone rang between 10 and 6 on a weekday.
She never did.
I was working two jobs still— the main one, and People— and freelancing for magazines back in New York. By then Black Enterprise and ESPN too. I was exhausted, but that didn’t stop me from hitting up the club every weekend. I may not have been depressed anymore, but old habits die hard.
It was during my weekend ritual that I was shaking my thang in VIP, one of those DC multi-level. mega clubs that has long since closed when my boy, Tariq, pointed out a gentleman in the corner who'd been watching me do what I do. I hadn't noticed. But I looked over, and sure enough, I was being checked out. He was fine— 6'4 easy, broad shouldered, clean cut, a bit too light for me and a wearing a blazer and jeans long before DC men dressed for the club.
Dude didn't even grin or flirt when I turned my head his way. He just stood there nodding, looking me in my eye. I looked away. But he kept staring. Every so often I'd look over and he was still watching. It was so obvious that another one of my boys noticed, and pointed it out to another one, Jamie. Funny, Jamie knew him. (As we all know, there are no more than 2 degrees of separation between all Black people who went to college.)
Jamie heads toward Lite Brite to say what's up, and I watch. While Jamie's speaking to him, Lite Brite is staring at me still. Finally he smiles at me over Jamie's shoulder. A big, broad, beautiful beam of light.
I think 'wow', but my face says, hmph.
Weirdo. I look away again.
When Jamie comes back to our group, my curiosity gets the best of me. I just have to ask, "Who's that?"
The rundown is impressive. Light-Brite played b-ball and football for [Ivy League school], has a business degree from said school, and is from [upper-middle class neighborhood.] "Good dude, good people," Jamie assesses.
Where's the ‘but?’ There was always something even back then. "That's it?" I query.
"That's it. Really good dude. I went to jr. high with him and he grew up around the corner from me. I can vouch for him."
I look up, back to where Lite Brite was standing to give him a once over again. Now I'm really curious about him.
I scan the room from my vantage point, looking over the crowd for a head bobbing above the others (with rare exception, DC men tend to top out around 5'9). No sign. I look over by the bar in case he's gone for a re-up. Nothing. This club has 4 levels. I'll never find him... Not that I'm really looking for him, of course.
Just then, a gentle but firm pull on my elbow turns me around.
It's Lite Brite. I'm about to get all feisty over being grabbed by a stranger until I look up into beautiful blue eyes. I immediately pipe down like he's glamoured me or something (you gotta watch True Blood to get that.)
"I want to introduce myself to you," says Lite Brite. "My name is Peter Francis." It comes out strong. Even. Bass-y. Assured, but not cocky.
He extends a hand for me to shake and he clasps it firm like this is business, not pleasure. Wowzers.
We exchange names, then after a brief chat, numbers.
Him: "Is it all right if I call you sometime? I want to hear everything you say and I can't over the music."
Me: (dumbstruck) Um, ok.
On my first date with Peter, he wears slacks to take me to a fancy restaurant and apologizes for being late because he couldn't decide on what to wear.
Him: "Sorry. I wanted to make a good impression.” [mega-watt smile for emphasis.]
I asked him where he'd eat if he wasn't taking me out cause I wanted to go there. (I didn't want him to be nervous.) He took me to Ben's Chilli Bowl. I loved it.
We were both on a budget so we did Blockbuster nights, if not at his people's house, at mine. We'd go to record shops and he'd play 60s & 70s music on records for me (Ohio Players, "Sweet Sticky Thing" was his song). We'd also drive to parks, and sit on benches for hours talking about nothing and watching squirrels play.
He'd walk me to my door at the end of a date. Open my door at the beginning. When he met my mama, he introduced himself by his full name, "Peter Francis III" letting her know he came from a long line of good Black men who were responsible and proud of their sons.
And although I cuddled close enough to realize he was like made of steel, he never tried a thing. I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart and I adored him for taking it slow (that and almost any man who cares about you will tell you that when a man hangs out with you and tries nothing, he really likes you and not just um... your goods.)
Peter was a great guy, great catch from great people. Good character, great manners, family-oriented, considerate of others. You could take him to a watering hole and the White House, too. And when you live in Maryland with no ambition to leave, he’s the type of guy you date for three years, marry at 27, and pop out a kid for before you turn 30.
Maybe that should have been my dream instead of New York.