It had been two weeks since Ali invited me to go home with him to meet his parents. But, he hadn’t talked about it again, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d spent the first week angst ridden and fussing over what I’d wear, how I’d wear my hair and wondering if Lacey had bad mouthed me to their parents. Had she been saying things like, “She’s a cashier, her mom’s a piece of work who lives with her, she’s not good enough for our Lenny.” But the weekend came and went with no mention of the trip to Alabama. By Thursday of the second week, I was starting to feel like I’d been played, and I didn’t like it. I called Ali while on my break that Friday and I’d planned to just jump right in with my concerns. I was going to ask, “Are we ever going to go to Alabama or was that a ploy to get back in my good graces?” I was going to ask, “Are you ashamed of me? Did you flat out lie to me?”
But when I heard his voice pick up on the other end of the line, my script faded and with it went my new-found confidence. He was pleased to get my call, I could hear it in his voice.
“Robinson.” he answered.
“Um…Hi, Ali. It’s Cami.”
“Yeah Babe, I can see that,” he said, laughing. “What a pleasant surprise. You’re always too busy to call me during the day.”
I didn’t say anything because I was trying to call up some of my original indignation.
“Babe, is everything OK? Are you OK, Cam-.”
I could hear worry in his voice and put him out of that particular misery.
“I’m fine. Well, not fine.” I paused to ensure I was perfectly articulate. “Ali, did you ever truly intend to take me to meet your parents?”
There was an uncomfortable pause before he answered, “Yes.”
And then there was the silence again.
My voice shriveled.
“I don’t know,” he quietly answered.
His answer shook me to the core.
I said goodbye and ended the call.
I felt sick. I couldn’t focus on work. I regretted making the call and asked Oliver if I could use his truck to go home. He didn’t ask any questions, he just went to the back room where we kept our personal things and returned with his keys. He tossed to me with a wink.
As I drove home, I turned my phone to the OFF position and cranked the music. DeBarge’s classic, Love Me In A Special Way, came over the speakers and sent me into shoulder shaking sobs. I turned into my driveway and directed the Jeep to the rear of the house where my car was parked. I couldn’t face Camilla looking the way I was looking. I positioned the rearview mirror to see the reflection of my tear streaked and swollen face staring back at me. I smacked my cheeks and dabbed at my wet eyes with a Kleenex I found in Oliver’s center console, before I got out of the truck. I heard a car door slam and a knock on the front door. I walked around to get a look at the car in the driveway. It was Ali’s.
“How’d he know I’d come home in the middle of a shift?” I asked aloud.
Terror struck when I remembered my car was under the carport, which meant Camilla was home. I ran around to catch him before she answered the door, but I was too late. I stopped just short of their eyesight and pressed my back against the corner.
“What are you doing here in the middle of the damned day, Boy?” Camilla asked, striking first.
“Where is she, Camilla?”
“Uh uh, who you talking to like that?” Camilla snapped. “Why the fuck you think she ain’t at work?”
Ali’s voice softened and I could hear the pleading in it.
“I messed up. Please, I need to see her.”
I tried to see his face, but the ornamental shrubs I’d planted for privacy were doing just that, providing privacy.
I heard Camilla’s voice again, but not very clearly. I could only make out,
“...I warned you not to hurt her. You think she’s hurting, Ali?”
I didn’t like where this was going and came out from my hiding place.
“I’m not ready to talk to you.” I called out to him from the driveway.
Camilla stepped out onto the porch with her hands on her hips, making Ali take a step or two backwards. He came towards me with his hands raised, as if he were surrendering to the police.
“Please, Cami let’s just go somewhere to talk.”
Camilla shouted in my direction, but her comment was obviously to Ali,
“You’ve talked enough. You talked her into buying your bullshit. You talked her out of her good sense. You talked her out of her damned drawers!”
With every word she backed him up another step towards his car. I remained near my original hiding place at the corner of the house, but I never took my eyes off him. Although, I was crushed, the look in his beautiful brown eyes hurt as nearly as much. Part of me wanted to run to him and ride away with him. But, there was a newer, still unfamiliar part of me at the helm.
“You deserve better than this, Camisha Ann Robins. Do not move an inch in his direction,” it said.
I listened to the newer me, turned away and walked to join my mother’s side. She took my hand in her own and we walked in the house, closing the door behind us.
Once safely inside, I ran to my sectional tossing myself on it and let go of what felt like years of tears. I wasn’t even sure why I was crying. So many thoughts were swirling around my head. Was it all a lie? Did he lie about loving me? Did Camilla really love me? Was she somewhere gloating? I couldn’t get my emotions under control, but on some level, I think the newer me liked losing it and I settled into the crazy.
I don’t know for how long I cried, but when I was done, my eyes stung like hell and were nearly swollen shut. Everything looked blurry and I could hardly make out Camilla sitting in the armchair nearest the fireplace. I must have been asleep, because Camilla spoke softer than I could ever remember,
“How’s your head feeling?”
I struggled to an upright position and she came over to help me. She kept a hand on my back and handed me a glass of water and two pain relievers. Her steady gaze made me very uncomfortable. I’d felt less naked and vulnerable when she walked in on me and Ali having sex in the shower. This version of Camilla was motherly and quite frankly I found it unsettling.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “But let me take care of you for once.”
I collapsed in her arms and let her rock me. She sat quietly rocking me like a baby and rubbing my arm from time to time. When she spoke again her voice was tender and soft.
“Cami, I don’t know what happened, but I know that you’re hurting something awful. I also know that, that boy loves you.”
Her statement rocked me and I frowned.
“Camisha, now I know better than anyone that you can jump to conclusions, you run away and come up with your own versions of shit.” She explained. She tilted my head and looked in my eyes. “That boy has not left this driveway for over three hours, and I can tell from the car he drives and the hard bottom shoes he wears, that he has business to tend to. So, I’m going to advise you to get up, go wash your face, and brush your teeth.”
She waved a hand back and forth in front of her crinkled nose and smiled.
“Cause your breath ain’t fresh. And when you’ve got your wits about yourself, come out here to talk to him. Listen to him, Camisha Ann.”
She gave me a little shove to my feet and I headed down the hall to freshen up. When I got back to the family room, Ali was standing facing the fireplace with both his hands in his pockets and holding his head down. He looked so handsome. He was growing his beard out again and wearing it neatly trimmed around his masculine jaw. He was wearing a tailored blue suit that hung effortlessly around his athletic build and was seriously testing my resolve.
I didn’t see Camilla.
“Where’s my mom?” I asked.
“I fixed y’all something to eat and I’ll be downstairs watching TV if you need me.” she answered from the kitchen. I never did see her, but I heard the basement door close and her footsteps descending the bare wooden stairs. When Ali was sure we were alone, he walked towards me, reaching for my hands. I winced. He smelled so good. I walked away putting the sofa between us. I didn’t speak, I just watched him from behind the sofa.
“Oliver called. He was pretty pissed at me.” he said.
He rubbed his brow and shook his head. “He had some pretty choice words for me, too. And he’s right, you are too good for me.”
He appeared to wait for me to say something. I didn’t. And he went on,
“He told me you’d left the shop pretty upset and said you felt sick.”
Still I said nothing. Camilla had advised me to listen and that’s exactly what I did. He sat down on a part of the sectional that allowed him to continue facing me, even though he kept his eyes downcast.
“Cami, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m a pussy. But, I didn’t lie to you.” He said looking directly in my eyes, “I do want you to meet my parents. I want them to meet you. I just don’t think I’m ready to…” he stammered a bit, “to share you...to share us, what we have, with anybody else.”
He put his head in his hands and I saw his shoulders sink. I walked nearer to him and placed a hand on his sunken shoulder, but I kept the sofa between us.
“I don’t like feeling like your shame.” I said.
My words startled me, but emboldened my spirit and I went on from my spot behind the sofa.
“You come here and hide out. Your sister’s not welcome here. You don’t take calls when you’re here. I notice it all.”
He stood and turned to me, I was still astonished by his full height.
“Is that how you see it, Cam? Really!” he exclaimed, more than asked. “Lacey can be a snob and she wants so badly to discredit my feelings for you. She wants to scare you off. And I don’t take calls when I’m here, because I want to spend as much time with you as possible. I know my real life is waiting to monopolize my time, so I’m claiming this time,” he said pointing to the floor, “for me and you to get to know each other with no distractions.”
He reached for me again, and I didn’t move away.
“Cam, I swear you’ve got it all wrong. We can leave first thing tomorrow morning. I’ll call my mom now. Just say the word.”
His eyes pleaded with me to say, yes. I considered everything he’d said and walked around to join him on the couch. I wanted to believe him. I wanted to meet his family and see where he grew up, but it had to be on his terms and I told him just that. He took his phone out of his pocket and dialed.
“Hey, Mommy. How are you?”
He kept his eyes glued to me.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m doing well. Mom, do you remember the lady I told you about?”
He’d told his mom about me? I thought to myself.
“Yes, Cami. I want you to meet her.”
“Tomorrow. Will you make a hummingbird cake?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I think so.”
“I love you, Mommy. Oh! Can you please ask Daddy to be on his best behavior? And Lacey, too.”
“She’s here, in Atlanta again.” he asked.
Anger washed over his face.
“Did she come alone?”
“When did she get here?”
“No, Ma’am. I haven’t heard from her.”
“OK, I’ll have her call you.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I Love you. See you tomorrow.”
He turned to me his eyes cold.
“Have you seen Lacey?” he asked coldly.
I had not and answered, no.
“But, she can’t be with Oliver. He’s working all weekend.” I added, but then recalled him requesting the earliest shift, which he absolutely hated.
Ali must have noticed the recall on my face.
“What is it, Cami?” he probed.
“Oliver’s been getting off by 2:00 every day this week. How long has she been here?”
“All week.” he answered, thoughtfully and stood up.
He hastily kissed me and told me to pack for 2 days and was gone.
I reached for my phone to call Oliver, and remembered I’d left it in the car. I ran out the backdoor to get it and dialed the number to the shop, but he’d already left for the day. I dialed his cell next, and he answered on the first ring.
“Hey, Boss Lady! You feeling better? Ali came by the shop.”
I cut him off.
“I know, Ollie. Is Lacey with you?”
He didn’t answer right away.
“Yeah.” Was all he said.
“Ali knows and he’s looking for her. Have her call her brother ASAP!”
An unexpected knock on the door startled me. I looked out of the window first and saw Ali standing on the porch. I opened the door, completely confused.
“Did you leave something?” I asked.
He showed a sheepish little smile.
“Yeah, I left you. Like you said, ‘they are adults’,” he said with a shrug.
I returned his smile and widened the door opening to let him in. I disconnected the call with Oliver.
“Let’s get you packed up, Ms. Lady.” he said and led me down the hall to my bedroom.
Ali didn’t stay the night. He needed to pack, too. He didn’t ask me to stay over at his place either, which I feared he would. I truly didn’t want to stay at his cold, impersonal condo. When I was last there, it felt like an efficiency motel room—the ones where you could stay for an extended period of time for a low weekly rate. The only personal items I could identify were the picture frames. I’d never asked him about the guys in the picture and he’d never offered much information about friends, but the picture told a story and I wanted him to share it with me.