If there was one person on campus that I considered my foil, my competition, it was Jason. Of the limited number of black guys on campus, Jason was the one most like me. He was about my height, I might have had an inch, but he outweighed me by about 10 pounds. He trumped me in fashion points, but I was definitely smarter and a lot funnier. When I first met him, he wore a Chicago White Sox hat that I was envious of, but wouldn’t acknowledge of course and refused to buy because I didn’t want anyone to say I was trying to be like him. I didn’t say much to him outside of the basketball court, but on a campus with so few of us, we shared a friendship built on the circumstances, so we all were the best of pals.
I had never been envious of another person or spiteful until Alex deflated my feelings for the second time that school year. Things fell apart. The nightclub venture went belly up when we couldn’t keep a steady crowd week over week. The mismanagement was so bad, we paid ourselves in beer the last week because we knew we’d be selling the bar and cooler soon after. I found myself struggling to keep my 3.5 GPA and no interest in learning anything new. I needed someone to be the scapegoat, and that someone was Jason. I am not sure if he was my nemesis or archenemy, but I lived to prove I was better than him.
I had nothing to keep me busy with the deejaying gig gone kaput. I avoided Alex for a while. I didn’t want to share any of myself with her. I didn’t want to open up to anybody. And I didn’t want to hear about her new relationship. I silently prayed that she didn’t like him, so that I could believe she might still be mine one day.
Was I depressed? Not yet. Not like my first year there in Tahlequah, when I suffered in room with six packs and sappy music. If anything, I was happier, but not joyous. I won’t deny I was still discontent. I was angry, tired of feeling like the last kid picked to play, the old man who never got to yell bingo. If the semester weren’t nearly over, I might have slipped back into a morose and melancholy state. As god’s grace in my life, only eight weeks of class remained when Jason and Alex began dating.
I was strolling around the campus just before the night went silent, counting light poles and lanterns I passed them. I created little games, mostly counting games like this, to keep her off my mind. On that night, it was the lantern game. The game was silly and neurotic and as author I have the right to withhold these details, but you need to know this. You to need to know how deep in my mind and my in heart she dug herself in. Burrowed deep, like a stranded soldier in a foxhole behind enemy lines. I’d given her the keys to my spirit’s ignition a long time before. The diversions were created because I wandered about campus thinking of her more than I thought of anything else, and I didn’t want to anymore.
On that night as I strolled past lanterns and light posts, I saw a figure standing on the back stoop of the dorm. Haskell Hall was on the far end of campus and usually the turnaround point for journey. As I neared the steps, a face appeared and a familiar voice spoke to me.
“Hey stranger. How you been.” I hadn’t seen her in weeks. “Where have you been hiding at”, Yessica asked.
“Hey girl, what u out here smoking a cigarette? What? I’d have never suspected it”, I joked. “How have you been?”
“Fine. Ryan, I am not an angel! I don’t know why you think I’m so innocent.”
“Haha. Naw its just you play basketball and all. I know you’re a bad girl. I heard your reputation”, I said coyly.
“Well its been a long day and I need a cigarette.” She broke a smile as she exhaled and her face with blush. “Do you want one? You walking in the dirt like you need it.”
“Well if you insist. But don’t put it on me if your coach catch you.” I walked the steps and sat on the stoop next to her. She handed me the cigarette and the lighter. It was my first cigarette I’d smoked that entire year. In that depressed moment, the cigarette was the elixir to my lovesick mind. With each inhale, I was less tense and with each exhale, I was more hopeful. Before I knew it, we were on our second and then third cigarettes. The nighttime sky dropped before we decided to call it a night.
As I sprang to my feet to leave she pulled my shirt tail back, I turned, and she leaned in to kiss me. It would have been a great kiss if I were not worried about the lingering taste of smoke in our mouths. She didn’t seem to notice though, sliding her tongue between my teeth and sucking on mine as if it were to melt. She released me and with a soft exhale, she asked “How come you never called me? I really wanted to have a boyfriend this year and I thought we were gonna talk. I’m sorry for blurting that out but really why didn’t you call me?”
“I, um..I just wasn’t sure if you liked me. I was a bit shy. And then I heard this rumor that maybe you were into girls so I just figured that was reason enough not to chase after you I guess. Trust me after that kiss, I’m regrettable.”
“Wait. Somebody told you what? That I’m a lesbian? Why would anybody think that? Who said it?”
“Naw. I can’t even say it. You know I’m not a drama starter. I just asked them if they thought we made a good couple and she told me it might be hard because you might like girls. Nobody is running around calling you a lesbian or nothing.”
“That’s not cool though. I promise you can trust me. I’m not a lesbian so I don’t care to prove that to anyone. How could I anyway- fuck guys in public? But I do want to know who got my name on they lips. I promise you I’ll never say nothing to them, but I need you to tell me.”
“Well don’t say shit. And let me ask, who do you think said it?”
“Bingo. I don’t think she meant no harm by it, so keep your promise and don’t say shit.”
“I won’t but I’ll tell you, its funny that she is the one who said it.”
“Yeah, why is that?”
“Because. She is the one who came on to ME! She was right there on that step at the start of the year asking me all these dike ass questions and if its okay if she rub on my legs. Then she asked if she could kiss ME! She came back the next day and said she was drunk and asked to keep it secret and all that. Ooooooh. I tell you.”
“So she tried to kiss you?”
“Yes Ryan. Her ass is the gay one.”
“Damn, that’s shocking”, I said as I hugged her goodbye. “I guess I’m sorry for bringing it up. I’m glad we got to hang though. I’ll catch up with you soon.”
I walked away and all of me wanted to immediately go to Alex and ask if it was true. How could it be I thought? She’d been a tenant in my head for nearly a year- I knew her! I’d considered every notion when it came to Alex and my relationship (or the lack of one), but never did I consider that.