“He loves me—he loves me not.
“He loves me—he loves me not.
“He loves me— he loves me … not?”
No way that’s right, I tell myself somewhat aghast; but there are no petals left on my daisy, so it must be true. In fact, it’s pretty damn accurate because in reality I love him—not the other way around.
Indeed, in a perfect world, this he and I would be mutually exclusive and open to expressing our love via mutual reciprocity, but that is currently not the case and unfortunately begs the question of whether it will ever be in the near future.
A girl can always dream, though, and “Marquiis” Benjamin Peters is my perfect male fantasy. Three cuts in his left eyebrow, a low shave and mocha-coloured skin not only make this man aesthetically pleasing, but I feel a connective passion behind his artistry that speaks to the multileveled layers of my soul, and it gives me a deeper understanding of who he is below the surface.
Or so I presume.
Thing is, Marquiis just so happens to be a world-renowned R&B sensation, so we haven’t actually met yet—a detail that could be minor in the grand scheme of things. I’m almost positive the “idea” of who I am lingers somewhere in his subconscious—he just hasn’t found me yet and therefore doesn’t know that I – Starr Amber Lawrence, devoted poet and true lover of everything artistic – am his female counterpart!
Anyway, as much as I’d love to go on and on about all the great things Marquiis does for me through his music and his career, I’d like to keep the crazy at a minimum tonight and instead, get back to the task at hand.
Every Tuesday night, my two sisters and I have dinner at various restaurants around the city, and right now they are on my tail because, for the second week in a row, I am more than a half an hour late!
To be clear, I do words, not numbers, so time management has never been my strong-suit—particularly, recreationally. There was a lot of work left over at The House today, so I took it upon myself to get it done. My siblings may be bitching now, but they’ll thank their lucky stars when they don’t have to do it tomorrow. And so it always goes.
The House – or “The House of Rugrats” as it has officially been named – is a hulking, 4,000 square-foot structure in which my two sisters and I run a full-day JK/SK program. We actually grew up in this house, but when our parents split and moved out my big sister Brooke came up with the idea to make it what it is now: A learning and childcare facility for eighteen kids, ages four to six. We all have our degrees in Early Childhood Education and we’ve taken the necessary steps to make everything about The House legal, sanitary and up to code. We get yearly check-ups from Government Ministry departments, but we put a lot of effort into making sure every detail is up to par, and we’ve had no complaints since its opening.
With the neighbouring houses not quite measuring up, The House is an orange-brick monstrosity made up of six rooms that we’ve renovated and renamed to suit our clientele. There’s the Arts and Crafts Room and the Learning Room which used to be the family room and the living room but now support our kids in their creative and cognitive development. There’s the Play Room, also known as the den, which is a mediocre space filled with toys and gadgets for recreational play; something we do one group at a time. We still make meals in the kitchen but serve them in the Eating Room, AKA the dinning room. We’ve split our kids into three groups of six, depending on their birthdays, and have three separate tables to accommodate them with different coloured placemats to distinguish who goes where and from what group. We also have our own in-house cook, Meea, who spends six hours a day with us five days a week, providing our kids with one hot meal at lunch and two snacks in the morning and afternoon.
Upstairs, we’ve knocked down a few walls to combine two bedrooms into the Sleep Room for nap time and turned my parents room into the Teacher’s Domain for my sister’s and I, leaving an extra bedroom intact in case we’d like to nap on breaks or have “private time.” The basement is now the Show Room where the kids watch movies, educational videos and where puppet or clown performances take place on special occasions. There are two bathrooms which we’ve adjusted with four small toilets and lower sinks both upstairs and downstairs to accommodate the tiny bodies that use them, but kept one adult bathroom in the Teacher Domain and another on the main floor for parents or visitors. Then there’s the backyard; a huge grassy terrain almost the size of The House for the kids to run around and play on, complete with swings, slides, monkey bars, climbers, sprinklers, a sandbox and a blow-up pool.
On the whole, we’ve went above and beyond the best to make The House an ideal second-home and schooling zone for our kids. That, pooled with our exceptional care-giving and our inventive teaching techniques, assists their parents in making the decision to place their kids here, and we make a very decent living off of it.
Essentially, I’d love to pursue my poetry full-time and have the world know me for what I do best, but following that road takes a lot of effort with minimal income, so because I do love kids, being a daytime provider for them while making good money isn’t so bad, and if I’m ever given the chance to make my dreams come true, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Speaking of which, I need to get out of here! My sister’s are blowing up my phone and ignoring their calls isn’t shaking their persistence.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I answer my phone quickly and hang up. I’m only a half-hour behind schedule so I don’t see the big deal – but I lock up The House anyway and race to my white Nissan hatchback which is resting peacefully in the three-car garage. I startle it awake as I press my car key, simultaneously starting the engine and unlocking the doors as my hatchback purrs to life.
Once I’m inside, I search my purse for the loose piece of paper containing the restaurant’s directions, and punch the address into my GPS system.
Agnes, as I call her, highlights my path with a pretty purple and then vocalizes it in a voice I find clear-sighted and celestial. She never steers me wrong, and where most people have a name for their car, I’ve abandoned that tradition and passed one over to Agnes. I’d literally be lost without her.
The restaurant, called Attaché Taste, is closer to the city than it is to The House in Suburbia—but I still arrive there in record time despite the fact that I’m already so late. I step inside the establishment and am met by a jazz-infused and aromatic ambience that does not seem as French as the name would suggest. The tables are uncloaked black wood, with a majority of booths lined up on one side, and the walls are red and picture-less. Rather than framed art, a single dim bulb with a ceramic cover sits centred on the wall by each table. I see my sisters sitting near the back and make my way over to them. Even after working a full day together their expressions brighten with my tardy appearance, and now I feel bad for keeping them waiting. My being late for our weekly dinners is nothing new, but I did push it this time by being this late, so I shrug my apologies as sincerely as possible and smile politely as I make my way over to their table.
My two big sisters, Eboni and Brooke, sit patiently, looking flawless and clean in their casual clothing—which means they’ve had showers before coming tonight. I forfeited my personal hygiene to stay back and tidy up, and now I feel like a bum in comparison. Brooke, who is the eldest, looks dazzling as her long red hair shines in the soft light of the room. She’s wearing a long-sleeved brown top with dark blue skinny jeans and studded pumps. Her skin is creamy and spotless, and her emerald eyes complement the contrast of her skin and hair—identical features she inherited from our mother.
Eboni is a beautiful female version of our dad, owning dark chocolate skin that is shimmering beneath her lime-green tank top and she looks quite comfortable in her baggy light-blue jeans and fluorescent pink flip flops. Where Brooke is deemed a sophisticated bombshell, Eboni is more of a stylish rocker. Her black hair is cut pixie low around the sides, but has straight bangs that flow from the crown of her head, down the front of her face and off to the left side. Her right ear has five diamond studs with a silver loop at the tip of her cartilage, but her left ear only has three and she has three small tattoos; a rose on the back of her neck, two coupled cherry’s on her inner right wrist, and a star on her left ankle—in homage to our sisterhood. She’s been thinking about getting another on her lower back, but she can’t figure out what she wants yet.
I, on the other hand, look like a certified childcare worker in a gray hoodie and sweatpants. Being the product of a White mother and Black father, I have inherited latte-coloured skin, brown-green eyes, curly brown hair (that I always keep out of my way with a headband or scarf) that spirals to the nape of my neck and my most random feature, cinnamon coloured freckles that cover my nose and cheeks. I’m the plainer sister with no piercings, no tattoos, and – to complete the magic – black thick-framed glasses that I have to wear at all times. Some might say I’m “cute,”—but what is a housecat to a tiger or a panther?
Luckily, there is no competition whatsoever between my sister’s and I. We grew up very close, love each other unconditionally, and only have words of advice and encouragement for one another. Brooke is the headmaster at twenty-seven years old, Eboni is in the middle at twenty-six and I am the baby at twenty-one. Our parents met when Eboni was four and Brooke was five, and conceived me a year before their wedding—but that’s another story.
“Hello ladies,” I comment and join them by sliding into my seat.
“Ah, so glad you could join us,” Eboni teases. “Don’t tell me Agnes got you lost again …”
I gasp and feign horror. “Agnes? Never!”
Eboni laughs and passes me a menu while Brooke eyes me expectantly. It was her turn to pick our dinning spot and since she’s the chef in the family – and an incredible one – she takes finding quality places very seriously.
“It smells great in here,” I tell her, glancing around. “The set-up is impressive. How did you find this place?”
“Through a friend of a friend,” she beams. “The owner was in the military and decided to capitalize on his love for food after he got discharged.”
I scroll up and down the mixed menu and then ask what she recommends.
“The Creole jambalaya, hands down. It kind of hurts me to say this, but … it’s almost a good as mine!” Brooke bows her heads reluctantly and pretends to wipe a tear.
“’Almost’ doesn’t count,” Eboni comforts her with a small pat on the shoulder.
“Yeah,” I concur. “No one’s anything is as good as yours … Well, except for dads’. But he’s getting old so I’m sure you’re on your way to out-cooking him anyway.” And that’s because all she did when she was little was follow our dad around the kitchen. Other than a variety of women’s beds, that was his favourite place to be, and Brooke spent a majority of her time in there with him learning the tricks of the trade. Eboni would spend a lot of her time in the garden with our mother when she wasn’t drinking herself into oblivion over our father’s infidelity. On the days that our mom was happy and sober, she and Eboni would tend to the flowers for hours at a time. And while everyone was enjoying family bonding time, I could usually be found under a tree with a notebook, content in my own little world.
“Nice save,” Eboni snaps her fingers and points at me.
I giggle and shrug off her sarcasm. “I was just being honest. But anyway, because I’m starving and absolutely trust your choice Brooke, I will have the Jambalaya. Eboni?”
“I’m going to try the roasted chicken penne. Brooke?”
“I like the sound of the walnut shrimp and white rice. So we’re ready to order?”
Eboni and I nod and close our menus. Brooke follows suit and a good-looking, brown-skinned waiter approaches our table. There aren’t too many patrons here tonight, so he comes over from the table behind us and asks if we’re ready to order. The answer is yes and he pulls a small notepad from the pocket on his apron.
“What’ll you ladies have?” He asks, and does a double-take upon seeing me. At first I assume he just wants my order because he did ask, but when I finish giving it, he fails to remove his gaze. Maybe I should be flattered but I just find it odd and proceed to stare back at him with scrutiny. He sees the look, quickly catching himself, and appears to pry his line-of-view away from me and over to Brooke, who is already telling him what she wants. He now fixes himself on getting my sisters orders, scribbling in his pad non-stop. I expect that to be the end of it but he finds me again, seeming stuck.
“Anything else?” He asks, and when I tell him no, he nods, reluctant to take his eyes off of me again, and disappears through the stainless steel doors.
“What was that about?” I wonder aloud and pick up the dessert menu. Brooke smiles broadly, ready to elaborate, but I give her a look that stops her before she can start. I should have known better than to say it out loud because, of course, there are two gossipmongers at the table.
Eboni nudges me slyly. “With the way Mr. Googly-Eyes was just watching you, I’m sure your dessert will come with an ’extra topping’, if you know what I mean.”
“Right?” Brooke falls in with an amused giggle. I roll my eyes and slide my glasses up the bridge of my nose—clearly not as amused.
“Okay ladies, I think we’re about done with the ‘adolescent’ teasing now.”
“Oh, c’mon, Starr. You can’t not-date forever! You’ve been not-dating since the first day Jimmy Rogers chased you from under your special tree in the front yard! Remember? He was trying to kiss you, and you smacked him with—”
“My journal until he ran away, yeah, yeah, yeah. I already know this story, Eboni. I was there.”
Eboni holds up her index finger to shush me and continues. “Little one, you are forgetting the most important part of this story, and that is that ever since that frightful day, you’ve been smacking boys instead of dating them, which is not exactly healthy for your love life.”
“Which is why you don’t have one,” Brooke adds, and now I want to die. I’m aware that my sisters say these things in jest, but do you hear me poking fun at Brooke’s most recent affair? Or the fact that Eboni is being stalked by her boyfriend’s long-lost baby-mother? No, because I have etiquette, and no time to waste on petty banter.
Not-dating – as Eboni so eloquently put it – is a beneficial choice I’ve made for the greater-good of my plan. I’m not interested in seeing a ton of different guys because my heart is already set on one. Even before Marquiis, I always wanted one great love, with one special guy, so what would be the point? I’m not dying of loneliness or sexual deprivation, therefore I see no reason to entertain a mass of unknown gents just to “experience” them. I know who and what I want, no matter how ridiculous the circumstance, and as my poetry takes off, I’m sure everything will work out. Then I will have the career I want and the man I want, and the wait, that seems so excruciating to my nosey sisters now, will be well worth it.
Until then, though, I guess I have one of two options: I can either argue my plan with them every time this topic is brought up, or I can swallow my irritation and tolerate the teasing with total silence. Being the etiquette-having, mature and time efficient person I am, I just drop my head onto my arm, which is already resting on the table and exhale an audible huff.
Brooke carries on: “Seriously, Starr, you can’t not-date anymore. How will you really know what you want if you don’t see what’s out there? Like Dad says, ’You can’t sail a boat ‘til you test the waters,’ right?”
And look at how well that motto’s worked for you, I think, but quickly remove the thought. I have no right to judge, and I swear I don’t, but Daddy and Brooke are not the examples I want to follow in the mating department. I love them more than anything, but the line between right and wrong is still as bold as it’s always been. At least to me.
“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s say I promised to think about it, could I then have a hall pass for the rest of the night?”
I look at Brooke, who looks at Eboni, who looks back at Brooke to confer the outcome of my proposition. Eboni looks over to me, then back over to Brooke and gives a light-hearted shrug. Brooke then nods her acceptance of Eboni’s consent and looks back over to me, nodding again. I’m ready to jump for joy, but Brooke imparts, “Under one condition.”
Oh boy, I sigh. Will it never end? “What is it?”
“You have to schedule one date by the end of the week, as an ice-breaker to your ‘thinking about it’ stage.”
“What?” This cracks me up. “You can’t blackmail me into dating!”
“Oh, but we can,” Eboni sips her drink.
“And we will,” Brooke finishes.
“And if you don’t then we’ll hook you up with someone of our choosing.”
“Which may or may not be for the best. So whaddaya say?”
“Alright,” Eboni shrugs. “Then I guess we’ll be talking about little Jimmy Rogers for the rest of the evening and reminiscing about all the ways he got smacked with your journals …”
I see them suppressing laughter and can’t believe the behaviour of these two grown women. It’s conniving, yet comedic, and I still want to shut them down, but then I recall that the offer is to “schedule” a date by the end of the week, not “participate” in one; so – realizing I can get this over with sooner than later – I accept the challenge and allow Eboni to make a toast on my behalf.
“To Starr: May your love for not-dating end this week!”
“Cheers,” I grumble dispassionately. I let the moment pass and before you know it, we’re chowing down on delicious gourmet food—a meal perfected by loud, sisterly chatter that gives the patrons in the room the impression that we own the place. I make sure to avoid eye contact with everything breathing when the waiter makes his rounds, but I do take a quiet peek when no one is looking, and to my amazement, realize how good-looking he really is. I don’t get to take in all of his features, but he has a genuine and friendly air about him, so he may not be so bad.
Then, without warning, as our dinner is coming to a close, the waiter hands me a piece of paper from his notepad with his number on it. He smiles nicely and says, “Yuh know; if you choose,” And bids us a pleasant farewell.
“Looks like it was meant to be,” Brooke notes, with underlying satisfaction. I see it in Eboni, too, but keep my mouth shut and we leave the restaurant without another word.