At King and Western 

~Now~

Some Fridays, Amani made plans to meet her work colleagues at one of Downtown L.A.’s overpriced rooftop bars. For a city native like Amani, the words “Downtown” and “nightlife” sat uncomfortably on the tongue. The Downtown L.A. Amani remembered consisted of two extremes: pristine office buildings and makeshift tents inhabited by the city’s overwhelmingly Black and brown homeless. But the transplants at her office didn’t know—or didn’t mind—that so many impoverished people had literally been removed from the cityscape to make way for their favorite bars and clubs. No, the transplants only knew glitzy downtown, a gentrified space full of vibrant lounges, upscale shopping, and fancy lofts.

Even though Amani committed to these Friday meet-ups, she never failed to cancel because Friday evenings were reserved for her grandfather. Always.

It didn’t matter if Amani had seen her grandfather earlier in the week to accompany him to a doctor’s appointment, and it didn’t matter that she’d likely return to his home at the end of the weekend for Sunday dinner. If a few days passed without her seeing him, she’d become anxious and nervous. She’d find herself popping over late at night, using her key to let herself into the house, and quietly making her way to his bedroom. She’d have to wait for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, and, as soon as she could make out his form, she’d listen for light snores or narrow her gaze to observe the slight rise and fall of his chest. She just wanted to make sure that he was still breathing, that he was still there.

One night she’d slipped—literally—and gotten caught. Her grandfather must have mopped before going to bed because the kitchen floors were wet, and the unexpected dampness caused Amani to lose her balance. As soon as she hit the ground, she saw his bedroom light switch on. To inform him of the fact that she wasn’t an intruder (and stop him from reaching for the small revolver he kept in his closet), Amani immediately called out, “Papa—It’s just me. I just came to see you.”  Her grandfather entered the kitchen in his flannel pajamas. Glancing at the digital clock on the stove, he questioned, “You comin’ over at one thirty in the mornin’ now? What happened?”

“Nothing, Papa,” Amani returned. “Nothing happened. I just wanted to lay eyes on you. Just needed to see you.”

And so, instead of creeping in like a thief in the night, Amani began to save her Fridays, even if just informally, for Papa.

***

On Fridays, Amani ordered fried catfish from a hole-in-the-wall type shop at the intersection of King Boulevard (as in Martin Luther) and Western Avenue. It was the only shop her grandfather trusted because, as he told it, “They still got Black folks at that one. Koreans don’t own it—not yet, anyhow.”

Amani’s grandfather technically wasn’t supposed to eat fried foods. Since he’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Amani and her mother had become more careful and deliberate about the foods they brought into his house. Old habits died hard, however, and neither Papa nor Amani could stomach eating baked catfish. No, if it wasn’t covered in cornmeal breading, dropped in hot oil, and fried in a heavy cast iron skillet, then it simply wasn’t worth eating. But these days, Papa rarely had the energy to cook, and Amani lacked the skills. Nonetheless, she wanted him to have the food that reminded him of home.

She happily made the short, weekly drive from her Lemeirt Park apartment to the Louisiana fish market sandwiched between the beauty supply store and the pawn shop. Pulling into a parking space right in front of the market, Amani listened as her grandfather’s voice reverberated through the car on speakerphone.

“Now, don’t get no hush puppies with jalapeños ‘cause my doctor said I’m not ‘posed to have none of that hot stuff.”

Shifting into park, Amani laughed as her grandfather reminded her of his dietary restrictions. “I know, Papa. I was at the appointment with you.”

“And you remember that it’s one order of catfish and one of red snapper? Don’t do two orders of catfish like we usually do. I want something different. Gotta change it up every now and then.”

“Yeah, Papa. I got you,” Amani responded before exchanging goodbyes and ending the call.

As she turned off the engine and engaged the emergency brake, she briefly glanced into the shop and noticed a man at a counter. Something about him seemed familiar. His back was facing her, so she couldn’t make out any of his features. She  just couldn’t shake the feeling that she knew this man. Despite the distance between them, she felt his presence.

As the man turned to the side and revealed his profile, Amani’s stomach dropped in recognition. “Of all the fucking—Shit!” she quietly screamed as she hit the palm of her hand against the steering wheel.

She contemplated running. “What if I just leave,” she thought aloud, “And tell Papa that they ran out of fish?”  Gradually, logic returned to her. “But what fuckin’ fish market in the ‘hood runs out of catfish and red snapper?” Driving to another shop was out of the question. Papa was particular—picky, even—about his food, and no matter how slight, he would notice the difference in the texture of the batter, the firmness of the fillet, the taste of the fish…

But here Amani sat in front of the market, incapable of a task as simple as going inside and ordering two fish baskets and a side of hushpuppies simply because she’d seen him.

Clay. Clayton. Clay.

She hated that looking at him from afar had affected her so deeply, that his very presence exerted a power over her that he didn’t even know he possessed.

In moments like these, moments in which she felt that she was creating the opportunity for a man to make her come unhinged, Amani would ask herself, “What would bell hooks do? What would Lil Kim do?” She hoped that calling upon the greatest of feminist thinkers would give her guidance, a clarity of sorts. She imagined they would tell her, “Get your ass outta that damn car because you’re hungry as hell and promised your grandfather you’d bring all this food home.” 

So she did just that. She got out of the car and stood at the shop’s entrance for a moment.

Clay’s hip was leaned against the counter. A ball cap was pulled low over his eyes, and his arms were crossed against his chest. As the dude at the register gestured excitedly with his hands, Clay tossed his head back and laughed. Chillin. If he was at ease, then Amani decided that she would be as well.

“Breathe,” Amani told herself. “Just breathe.”

As she entered the market, the chiming of the bell above the door prompted Clay and the cashier to turn and peer in her direction. Her mouth twitched with the beginnings of a smile, all signs of her internal battle imperceptible. Her steps were firm and certain. Her neck, slightly extended, held her head that much higher. As Clay’s eyes widened in recognition, Amani’s smile deepened. She approached him with her arms open, hands extended.

“Long time, no see, Clay.”

***

~Back Then~

They met at Christmas time.

Kiara, one of the few high school friends Amani remained close to, invited Amani to a small family gathering. But, as was true for any Black family with Texan roots like Kiara’s, “small” was relative; at least thirty people were there.

The party was at Kiara’s parents’ home in View Park. The gumbo was incredible, and Kiara’s aunts and cousins were charming and sweet, but by the third hour, Amani had grown tired from socializing. Had she driven herself, she would have left, but Kiara had given her a lift and promised to drop her home afterward.

Amani escaped to the kitchen, hoping to hide away and relax in solitude. As soon as she entered the kitchen, however, she found Kiara’s father standing at the island, pouring a marinated mixture through a meat grinder, making boudin. Kiara’s brother, Julian, was at the sink cleaning greens. They greeted her as she came in, and Amani waved at both men before walking out of the room.

Instead of returning to the living room, Amani went to the den where some of the older relatives were playing a game of spades. Amani moved towards the bar in the corner of the room, fixed herself a rum and coke, pulled out her phone, and began scrolling through her Twitter feed. She’d become so engrossed in a lengthy, hilarious thread that she didn’t notice the man who approached her.

“You alright? You been over here for a minute now,” an unexpectedly close voice called out.

She looked up at the stranger and smiled—something she typically wouldn’t have done—because the alcohol had made her a little looser, a little more open to conversation than she’d been before. “Yeah, I’m just…trying to chill and hide out for a minute,” she said.

He placed his hand over his heart. “Damn, girl. You don’t pull no punches, huh? No worries—I can take a hint.”

“No, No. Not you. I sound so anti-social. I just meant—never mind. I’m Amani,” she held out her hand. “I’m Kiara’s friend.”

“And I’m Clayton, but call me Clay,” he said as he took her hand in his. “Julian’s my boy.”

He was firmly taller than her, but he didn’t tower over her. He had light brown skin. Although she hated referencing food to describe shades of brown, something about his complexion reminded her of manuka honey. His thick, bushy eyebrows needed to be smoothed down to move some errant strands back into place. From his dark brown eyes, her gaze shifted to his long nose with its flared nostrils. And then she took in his lips, but she couldn’t make out their size because of the full beard that covered his face.

She observed the totality of his features, the faded sides and curly top of the haircut that framed his face. He was damn near a pretty boy, the kind of man she made a point of not dealing with. But…she wasn’t dealing with him; she didn’t even know him. No, he’d just serve as a way to pass the time until Kiara was ready to bounce.

“Hey,” he called for her attention. “You wanna go sit out on the patio? There’s some heat lamps set up, and another bar out there. I’on know what you know about hurricanes but…”

“What I know about hurricanes?” she laughed. “Trust, I know plenty. I been knocking them back since my first trip to New Orleans when I was eighteen.”

“Well, you gonna let me make you one? I’ve been told I’m gifted,” he raised his eyebrows and tilted his head towards the patio. Needing no further invitation, she moved in front of him and began making her way to the backyard. Clay followed behind,  lightly placing his left hand on the small of her back. When they reached the patio door, he leaned around her to grab the knob with his right hand. Somewhat caged between his arms, she turned her head to the side and stared at him. He grinned. And for some reason unknown to her, she did too.

***

Amani wondered when his touch would change.

She wondered when Clay wouldn’t look at her with such intense focus when she spoke, when he wouldn’t reach for her so often, when he wouldn’t hold her so close.

But after a year, six months of just getting to know each other, the other six of falling into something that felt potential-filled and real, Clay had only grown more purposeful, more intentional. And that scared her. It terrified her.

If anyone had been uncertain in their relationship, it had been she. Amani wasn’t all in the way Clay was. But part of her longed to be.

If generational experience had taught her anything, it was that women who loved men hard got thin love in return. Amani’s mother gave Amani’s father her all. And while Amani’s father was a present and devoted parent, he was the least invested partner Amani had ever known. Though she’d never explicitly admitted it, her parents’ relationship had encouraged Amani to be cautious, to be careful.

Consequently, she’d evaded all of Clay’s invitations to meet his family; she constantly constructed tales of unalterable commitments and concocted false excuses. Amani knew that Clay had keyed into her apprehension, but he never spoke about it. Instead, he seemed content to follow her lead, to let her determine the pace and path of it all.

It was only after Amani introduced Clay to her grandfather that she felt comfortable enough to let herself experience the full range of emotions this new relationship had incited. Her grandfather’s validation prompted Amani to trust her own intuition.

Papa had urged her to invite “that boy” over for dinner one Sunday evening. When Clay, without any cues from Amani, showed up with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, she had a hunch that he and Papa just might get along well. Amani’s mother, who’d accidentally met Clay when he was leaving Amani’s apartment late one Saturday morning, couldn’t make it because she was out on her own date.

During dinner, Clay listened intently as Papa talked about growing up in a rural Georgian town so small that the closest “big city” was Macon. He listened as Papa talked about the unsuccessful search for a factory job in Ohio during 1950s that motivated him to move to Los Angeles. He listened as Papa talked about meeting Amani’s grandmother—“a real fox from Alabama”—at a club on Western Avenue, marrying her just a few years later, and learning to recover from her unexpected death when Amani’s mother and aunts were teenagers in high school. Her grandfather’s vulnerability was offered for one reason only: to extract Clay’s in return. And Clay reciprocated, sharing with Papa everything from his own grandparents’ move to Los Angeles from New Orleans and Pass Christian, Mississippi in the late 1960s to his father’s death from prostate cancer during Clay’s senior year of college.

Before Amani walked Clay to his car, her grandfather pulled her aside and said, “That boy ain’t too bad, you know.” Clay, who was waiting patiently for her by the front door, was wholly unaware that Papa had just given him a compliment of the highest order.

It was then that Amani decided to approach Clay with purpose and intention as well.

***

“So you’re really going to ignore me for the whole night?” Clay glanced at Amani.

She stared at him, “You do realize that this…this isn’t how you do these kinds of things, right? You can’t call me, invite me to ‘go out to dinner’ and then just take me to your grandmama’s house!”

“Baby, it’s my grandma’s birthday. Besides holidays, it’s probably the only time all my family gets together like this. You told me you were ready to meet my family. Cool. I figured, ‘It’s Grandma’s party–there’s dinner, there’s my family. Amani can meet everyone.’ I don’t see why you’re upset.”

Her mouth curled into a frown. “You can’t be serious…There’s no way you’re this dense, Clay. When I told you I was ready, I meant, ‘So when the opportunity arises, let me know so I can prepare myself and—”

“Nah, nah,” he shook his head. “I’m sorry for cutting you off, but I know you. I’ve been chasing after you, trying to pin you down and get you to agree to this for months now. Months. I wasn’t trynna give you an option to run. You know you would have.”

Amani sighed. He was…partially right. Although she’d told him she was ready—and she was—she couldn’t say that she would have immediately embraced the invitation. But she would have, eventually. “Clay, I don’t have a gift for your grandmother. She’s gonna shade the hell out of me and talk about my home training and all that. Wonder about my manners and how I was raised…”

Clay laughed as he opened his door and emerged from the car, “I added your name to mine. What other excuses you got?” He walked around the hood of the car and waited. He didn’t move to open her door or ask that she get out. He just waited, making it clear that the ultimate choice to go inside was hers and hers alone.

After a beat, Amani opened her door, exited the car, and accepted Clay’s outstretched hand.

***

When they’d entered the house, Clay waved hello to various people, but he didn’t stop to introduce them to her. Instead, he pulled her along, through what appeared to be the living and dining rooms, and ushered her straight to the kitchen. Amani had to stop herself from turning back around to stare at the people they’d just passed. They all looked so different than she had imagined they would…

Once they were in the kitchen, Amani waited by the doorway as Clay snuck behind a short older woman who was pulling bags of okra out of the freezer.

“Happy Birthday, Mémère,” he called out. The woman turned around and squealed, dropping the okra onto the counter and grabbing Clay’s head between her hands. Clay leaned down so she could kiss his eyes, the bridge of his nose, and both of his cheeks. “So you finally decide to come around and see me?” she proclaimed.

“It’s your birthday,” Clay responded, “You know I was gonna come and see you. But wait, I have someone I want you to meet.” Clay extended his arm towards Amani. “Baby, come over here. I wanna introduce y’all. This is my grandmother, Eula LaCour Gallion. Mémère, this Amani.”

Amani walked towards them with a timid smile on her face. She’d known Clay’s family was from New Orleans, but she hadn’t expected this. His grandmother, along with everyone they’d passed just a moment before, she wasn’t just light-skinned, but bright-skinned. Not quite white passing, but a distinct shade of light brown that made the mixed-race president appear deep brown in comparison.

Mrs. Gallion had short, finely-textured white hair that was perfectly styled into a low maintenance cut. Her skin, barely brown, reflected the color of café au lait with a heavy shot of cream. Amani, with her waist length Marley twists, Georgia/Alabama roots, and dark brown, milk chocolate complexion, had never been so uncomfortable in her skin.

Amani realized, however, that she wasn’t the only person in clear discomfort.

While Amani took in Mrs. Gallion’s features, Mrs. Gallion had carefully observed Amani as well. Mrs. Gallion’s gaze, seemingly immobile, was fixed on Amani’s face. The longer Clay’s grandmother stared, the more the older woman wrung her joined hands. It was only when Clay leaned down to touch Mrs. Gallion’s shoulder that she slipped out of her trance and returned to the present.

Clay’s grandmother moved closer to Amani, placed her hands on the younger woman’s upper arms and, with that distinct New Orleans accent, said “Welcome, baby. So glad to finally meet you.” The greeting was more personal than a handshake but less intimate than a hug. It was the kind of welcome that reminded Amani of the Southern hospitality her own mother practiced when warmly welcoming someone into her home that she didn’t really want to be there.

***

While Clay helped his uncle barbecue hot links on the grill, Amani sat with his mother and aunts in the dining room. Amani had offered to help his grandmother prepare the roux for the gumbo, but Mrs. Gallion politely declined and encouraged Amani to socialize with the rest of the family.

Feeling as though she lacked any other choice, she joined Clay’s mother, Angela, at the dining room table when the woman invited Amani to have a seat. Angela asked Amani about her family’s background, Amani’s college and grad school days, and her job as a public relations specialist. While Amani shared the details of her personal life, Clay’s mother didn’t reciprocate. Angela merely smiled and nodded, indifferently introducing more questions here and there.

Angela, with her honey blonde, shoulder length hair, hazel eyes, straight nose and surprisingly full lips, was only slightly browner than her mother. She was, without a doubt, beautiful, but her demeanor was cold. Amani begrudgingly admitted, however, that the kelly green dress Angela wore warmed her complexion and gave it a golden glow. In an attempt to forge a bond, Amani voiced her compliment aloud.

“You’re too kind, sweetheart. Thank you! And that magenta blouse is so gorgeous. I love that color, I really do.” Amani smiled as Angela responded, and the two began to discuss their shared interest in fashion. It was only later that Amani realized that while she’d complimented Clay’s mother’s glowing complexion, Angela had not done the same.

***

“You aren’t making any sense,” Clay shook his head as he pulled off his shirt. “What do you mean that you aren’t upset about what my mama and grandmama said to you, but you’re upset about what they didn’t say?” He chuckled, “I think you were just nervous and on edge, Amani.”

Amani sat on the bed, her head tilted to the side as she stared at the man that she’d begun to think of as her love, and wondered how he failed to understand…

After the birthday party, they’d driven to his apartment in Inglewood. Amani was silent the entirety of the ride over. When Clay asked if she was alright, she shrugged and told him that she had a headache. She wanted time to gather her thoughts so that she could explain her frustrations without appearing angry. 

When they finally reached his place, she went straight into his bedroom, stripped down to a tank top and underwear, and sat in the center of the bed. Her plan to cautiously broach the topic was quickly forgotten when Clay asked, “So what did you think of Mémère? Sweetest old lady you ever met, right?”

Withholding nothing, Amani told him that she felt his grandmother and mother’s disapproval without either woman uttering a single word. But Clay didn’t hear her. Or he didn’t want to.

“Clay, you were right there in the kitchen with me. You were there when she just…stared. She just gaped at me like I was some kind of spectacle. She clearly didn’t like me.”

“I was there, yeah, but I didn’t get that vibe at all. She didn’t know that I was bringing you. She was probably just surprised.” He began unbuckling his belt and removing his jeans, “And, baby, you know how Black families are. When you bring someone home to meet your family, it’s always a little awkward the first time around.”

Amani shook her head, “Clay, no, you just don’t—I’m telling you! She doesn’t like me. You don’t have to explicitly tell someone that you don’t like them for them to know. Your mother too—she didn’t like me either. I felt it; I feel it.”

“Why wouldn’t they like you? They don’t know you,” Clay walked over to the bed and sat, placing his hand on Amani’s leg pulling her toward him.

“Because I’m Black.”

Clay’s eyes widened as he removed his hand from her thigh and ran his fingers down his face. He opened his mouth and closed it before offering a short, mirthless laugh. “Yeah, well. They—we,” he corrected. “We’re Black, too.”

Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Amani pushed, “You know what I mean, Clayton. I’m brown. Brown, Brown. There’s no question about that.”

“We don’t do all that divisive color shit about light-skinned this, and brown-skinned, dark-skinned that. We’re all Black. That’s what matters. And you met my uncles—a bunch of them are brown, brown, too.”

“Your uncles are men—it’s not the same, Clay. They—not a single woman there looked like me, Clayton. Not a single one. Not your mama, not your grandmama, your aunties, your cousins—”

Cutting her off mid-sentence, he added, “You clearly have something you’re trynna get at, so just say it, Amani.”

“So people in your family don’t talk about skin color, yet nearly everyone—including all the women—could damn near pass? You really don’t see what’s going on there? What that means?”

“It doesn’t mean anything, Amani,” Clay’s voice slightly rose above her own. ”Why are you doing this? I just…I feel like you’re blowing everything out of proportion.”

He got up from the bed and headed straight to the bathroom. A minute later, she heard the water from the shower. Amani waited for Clay to come out so they could finish talking, but after forty minutes, she crawled into bed and buried herself under the covers. When Clay finally came to bed nearly a half hour later, he laid on his side with his back facing her. For the first time since they’d begun sleeping together, he didn’t reach for her and didn’t attempt to hold her close.

***

In the months that followed, Amani would wonder if that argument had opened a chasm between them or merely revealed one had long been there. Things shifted that day. Even though Clay apologized the following morning, they began to talk around their issues instead of approaching them head on.

She dismissed his complaints that she was withdrawing into herself, that she was slowly but certainly pulling away from him, even though it was true. And the few, subsequent times she tried to address the way his mother and grandmother engaged with her, he’d tell her “They’re warming up to you, baby. Don’t worry about it so much” before attempting to distract her with sex.

Even as they connected physically, they were spiritually unaligned. Each kept an emotional distance from the other, as though they sensed that full transparency would only aggravate, not mitigate, their problems. They’d stopped fighting, but the chasm between them only grew.

And things continued like this for a full year before Amani decided to stop prolonging the inevitable and finally let him go.

***

~Now, Once More~

“So have you seen Moonlight?” Amani asked Clay while cutting into an oxtail.

It had been two years since they’d quietly ended, and almost a week had passed since they’d run into each other at the fish market on King and Western. Clay had promised to call Amani the following morning, and he had. Amani had promised to answer Clay’s call, and she did. They decided to meet for dinner at Versailles, the Cuban restaurant on Venice that had once been their spot.

“Nah, but I’ve seen the reviews,” Clay nodded, “I’ve heard good things.”

“It’s a really good movie—I’d recommend it. I wish there’d been more intimacy, more sex,” she shrugged. “But still, it was brilliantly filmed, you know?”

She looked across the table to find his eyes intently focused on her, as though he were trying to assure himself that she was actually present, that she was actually there.

“So how’s work going?” she asked, attempting to stave off silence.

Clay set down his own fork and folded his hands on the table. “Both you and I know that neither one of us is here to talk about that.” His words weren’t untrue. Things between them had long been unsettled and, anxious as she was to see him the Friday before, she longed for closure.

His words weren’t untrue. Things between them had long been unsettled and, anxious as she was to see him the Friday before, she longed for closure.

Since he had been so forthright throughout the duration of their relationship, she decided that this time, she would take the plunge. “There were times when I was unfair to you, and I should’ve been more open, more honest.”

Clay looked surprised by Amani’s admission, but he waited for her to continue.

“My mom used to tell me, ‘If you don’t put yourself first, then nobody else will.’ I’ve always…been scared, scared of going into relationships with no reservations. I hold myself back because I’m just…I’m just trying to look out for me. It’s not the healthiest way, I know, but that’s what I do.”
She paused to take a breath before finishing. “I didn’t match your level of commitment when I should have, and that’s on me. It took me a while to catch up, to trust you fully and completely. And when I did,” She looked away from him, blinking her eyes rapidly and silently praying that she’d hold herself together.

“And when I did,” she started, “You—”

Clay leaned across the table and took her hand in his, “I gave you reason not to.” He linked his fingers with hers and looked at their joined hands before returning his gaze to her face. “I’ve thought about everything—I’ve thought about you—often. Constantly. I should have called you. I…I should have asked Kiara to see if you’d be open to me reaching out to you, but I was a punk,” he shrugged.

“Amani, I’m sorry. I fucked up. You don’t have to accept it. You don’t have to do anything with that but I’m…I regret a lot of things. There were things, things I should have thought about more deeply, but I didn’t…I should have listened to you that first night we fought.”

“And you shouldn’t have questioned me,” she interjected. “I wasn’t imagining things, Clay.”

“You weren’t,” he agreed. “I should’ve done better by you.”

Amani removed her hand from his and crossed her arms over her chest, “Did you—I’ve always wondered—did you date me to spite them?”

Clay’s eyes widened as a look of genuine shock formed upon his face, “My family?”

She nodded.

“No, Amani. I…I would never do that. I know that you don’t have reason to believe me, but I can promise you that was never, ever the case. You were never just…Everything I’ve felt for you is real.” He looked down at his lap for a moment, “The only other women I introduced to my family, they were,” he dryly chuckled, “They were Creole, so I never imagined that my mother and my grandmother would respond to you in the way that they did. And I’m sorry for that—on their behalf and mine as well.”

“You don’t have to keep apologizing, Clay.”

“I do. You don’t know how many times I’ve replayed that night in my mind and imagined a different outcome,” he offered a small, sad smile. “I wish I wouldn’t have failed you. I wish we could’ve had a different ending.”

“For a time,” Amani said softly, “I wanted us back. Desperately.”

Clay’s expression suggested that he was just as stunned at Amani’s admission as she was. She realized that it was imperative, for once, that she be completely honest, fully transparent. And for that reason, she continued, even though she knew her next words would sting more than they would soothe. “But I can’t be with someone who refuses to understand, who refuses to listen…And your family—I can’t be with someone whose family treats me that way.”

Clay looked as though he were going to speak, but then he bit the corner of his lip and nodded instead. Silence hung between them, and neither Amani nor Clay made a move to fill the empty space.

***

They stood outside the restaurant preparing to say goodbye. While each had said everything they needed to say, the weight of an unanswered question lingered: “Is this really our final ending?

“Thank you,” Amani spoke first. “Thank you for this.”

Clay, stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “It was a long time coming, and I’m the one who should be thanking you—for agreeing to meet, for hearing me out. I appreciate everything.” He paused for a moment before adding, “I appreciate you.”

She stepped closer to him, intending to gently lay her hand on his shoulder and tell him the same. Since she’d been honest in her words, however, she made a spontaneous decision to be honest in her touch as well.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tightly.

His arms immediately came around her waist, and he held her just as close.

They stayed that way for a long moment, and when they finally pulled back, neither let the other go. Instead, Amani gently kissed the corner of Clay’s mouth, and he turned his head, lightly touching his lips to hers in a soft kiss. Rather than deepen the kiss, Amani removed her arms from his neck and took a few steps back, straightening the strap of the handbag that hung down her shoulder.

“So, um, do you go to the fish market on King and Western often?” she asked.

If he was confused by the randomness and specificity of her question, he didn’t show it. “Not really, no. Maybe just once a month, or, actually, every other month. Why’d you ask?”

“I go every Friday, usually around six,” she replied. “I have to pick up my grandfather’s weekly order.” 

A slow, cautious smile spread across Clay’s face, “Well then, maybe I’ll see you around?”

They both knew that his question, while casually posed, represented so much more than it conveyed.

Amani returned his smile with a small one of her own. “Honestly, I don’t know.” She lifted one of her shoulders, “Maybe, one day. We’ll just have to see.”

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One thought on “At King and Western 

  1. What a wonderful, delicate read! Your story speaks so truthfully to the experiences of a section of black women. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Like

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