I was getting married in less than a week, I thought, as I sat in Ozzio's, an expensive, dimly lit Italian restaurant in downtown Chicago. I was there with my fiancée, Faith, and a couple of other people. I had brought along my best friend, Asha. My fiancée gave me sideways looks for claiming her as such, but we went way back, and whether Faith liked it or not, Asha was my girl. Then there was Faith's best friend and soon to be bridesmaid, Karen. I wasn't crazy about her ass, but then again, she wasn't too fond of me either. I'd asked Faith a thousand times why she even planned this dinner, trying to squirm my way out of it, because I knew what was in store.
"Whether you like it or not, Karen's my best friend, and this will be a good opportunity for you two to get to know each other better."
"Sure," I'd said, conceding. "We'll see."
"What is your problem? Why are you looking at me like that?" And now, here was Karen talking to me from across the table, catching me giving her the death ray stare as she stole the last bread stick.
"Maybe it's because you took the last bread stick out of the basket, like you did the last basket. There're three other people here. Maybe somebody else wanted it. Ever thought of that?"
"Yeah," Karen said, taking a bite out of the very bread stick I was talking about. "And if they did, they would've grabbed it. Ever thought of that?"
"Maybe they didn't have time, because you grabbed at it like there was a prize for getting it first."
"Or maybe you're just mad because you didn't get it first."
"Just have the waiter bring some more," Asha said to me, softly, nudging my elbow.
"Yeah. Listen to your girl. Have the waiter bring some more," Karen said. She was no longer eating the bread stick, but holding it like a cigar, waving it in my face, teasing me with it. I didn't really want the thing at first, but now that she had it, she made me feel as though I really did want it, and badly.
"No, I won't have the waiter bring some more. We shouldn't have to race and eat fast every time we eat with Karen, because we're afraid she'll steal all the food from us."
"Okay, Jayson, cool," Karen said. "You want the bread stick? Fine." And then she stuffed the entire thing in her mouth, churned it around in there a few times, then let it ooze out into her cupped hand, and extended the gooey mess out toward me.
"Here's your bread stick, if it means that much to you."
Man, I was boiling at that point, but I remained as calm as I could and said, "You better put that back in your mouth, or else I'll do it for you."
"All right, all right," Faith said, standing up. "I don't care if you two can't stand each other, this weekend, you're going to be best friends. Jayson and I are getting married on Sunday. Can't you two please act like you have some sense until the damn wedding is over?"
I looked at Faith and knew my soon-to-be wife was right. Then I looked at Karen. I could act civilized if that's what Faith wanted, even though it'd be a stretch, considering Karen tried to do everything within her power to keep me and Faith from getting married, from even staying in the relationship.
"Faith is right," Asha said.
Asha and I were like brother and sister, although five years ago, we were involved for almost eight months. And even though I'd told Faith on countless occasions that there was nothing going on between us now, she still seemed to watch me suspiciously when I was around Asha. Faith didn't like the idea that I rented my downstairs unit to her, and didn't like the fact that I was so adamant about remaining friends with her. The truth was, I could kinda understand, because Asha was the most beautiful woman I'd ever set eyes on. She was like half Native American and half Japanese. Hell of a combination. And what resulted was a gorgeous woman with a beautiful copper complexion, like a shiny new penny. She had silky, straight black hair that she always parted down the middle and wore in long braids on either side of her head. She had a perfect body, generous-sized breasts, not huge, but definitely large enough to have fun with. Her hips and ass were shapely and tight, and her waist was so tiny, it looked as though a man could wrap his hand entirely around it.
Women were jealous of Asha, spreading all sorts of rumors about her, trying to belittle her in an attempt to make themselves feel more significant. Especially women who had low self-esteem, were less than attractive, and had to pal around with a fine girlfriend just to get men to look in their direction, which was exactly what Karen did when she hung with Faith.
"You two need to chill," Asha said. "Especially you, Karen."
"You have no place telling anybody who needs to be chillin'," Karen said, rolling her head around on her neck. "And why you always feel the need to defend Jayson. He's a grown man, or is this how things worked when you two were kickin' it?"
"Nobody's defending Jayson, and it's none of your business how we did things when we kicked it."
"Oh, I was just wondering, because the way you all up under him, it looks like you still kickin' it with him," Karen said, looking over Asha harshly, then passing a glance at Faith. "Your little ass needs to let the past alone, and start calling the date line to find yourself another man."
My entire body tightened up. I looked over at my girl, Asha, as she slowly stood up, her hands closing into fists at her sides, looking like she was about to leap over the table to get at Karen. And then, as if she read my mind, she lurched forward, lunging across the table, clawing out, desperately trying to grab any part of Karen.
Faith whipped her head in my direction, telling me to do something, with her wide-eyed, angry glare.
"I got a man. You the one who's screwing a dirty ass, busted vibrator," Asha yelled.
I shot out of my seat, grabbed Asha around the waist and wrestled her back.
"Asha, Asha! What the hell are you doing?" I said. People dining in the restaurant were craning their heads, trying to get a look at what was happening.
"Let her go! We can do it right here," Karen said, shooting up from her chair, whipping her cloth napkin out of her lap and throwing it to the floor, as if implying the same fate would happen to Asha if she were bold enough to make a move. "She's disrespecting my girl just days before she gets married, all up in your face all the time. We can go right here."
"Nobody's going anywhere," I told Karen, holding an arm out toward her. And while I was trying to make sure that Karen didn't try anything, Asha was fighting to get away from me, whispering in my ear, "Jayson, just let me go. Just let me go for a minute, so I can kick that bitch's ass once and for all. Please, Jayson."
"C'mon, Jayson. You heard what she said to me. I let that stuff go without an ass whoopin', people'll start believing it. C'mon, for one minute," she pleaded again, still struggling to get loose.
"I said no!" I raised my voice.
"Well, fuck you then!" She broke away from me and hurried toward the door.
"That bitch better leave," I heard Karen say.
I shot her a stare that if Karen read correctly said, if you say another word, I'm gonna stick both my feet so far up your ass, I'll be using you for a sleeping bag.
She looked away and I ran after Asha. I caught her just outside the front door and grabbed her by the arm.
"Where are you going?"
"Don't talk to me. And let me the hell go," she said, staring down at my hand around her arm.
"Why you trippin'?"
"You see how Karen's always coming at me, and what do you do? Hold me back. I thought you were supposed to be my boy, and you hold me back."
"Why do you even care what she says, Asha? Why do you always let her bother you?"
"I'm just tired of her shit. Every time I look in your direction, or say two words to you, she act like I got my hand down your pants. What's up with that? I'm sick of it," Asha said, looking angrier, and more upset than I felt she should've looked, considering the circumstances. There was something more going on than what had just happened in the restaurant. I just knew it by the sadness in her eyes.
"I don't know what her problem is. Maybe she's jealous of me and Faith and you and Gill. She's mad that everybody has somebody but her. But that's her problem, not yours. You can't let that get to you, you hear me?" I took her chin in my hand. She looked up into my eyes. I felt her hurting, so much more than she was letting on, and she meant so much to me that I would've done anything at that moment to stop it.
"You hear what I'm talking about, girl? Don't let her get you down. She's just jealous, is all. We both have people we love, and all she's got is that, how'd you put it...Dirty-ass busted vibrator."
Asha smiled, and that was all I wanted to see. I was happy. She grabbed me in a hug, kissed me on the cheek, right on the corner of my lips.
"I love you, Jayson," she said, leaning away from me, smiling.
"I love you back. So what, you coming back in?"
"Not if you don't want to see that booga bear's eyes on the end of my fingernails," she said, pretending to claw at me.
"Okay, maybe you're right. You want me to drive you home?"
"No, Jayson. Everybody's in there celebrating your wedding."
"But you came with me. I should take you back. Besides, they probably haven't even noticed that we've been gone. Faith and Karen are probably in there cackling like hens. I'll take you back," I offered again.
"Naw. You go on. I'll be all right," Asha said, turning toward the curb where there was a cab waiting.
"All right, but when I get home, I'm going to knock on your door to check on you."
"Okay, I'll be up. But really, don't worry about it. I'm fine." She got in the cab, and closed the door.
I stood there just watching as the car drove down the street and made a left. She was okay, she said. But I had known her far too long and far too well to believe that. Something was bothering her, and though I wasn't going to pry to find out what it was, I would make myself available to her whenever she was finally ready to let me know. Comparing Asha and my fiancée, Asha was the one I'd known longer, the one I'd been through the most with, and friendships were very important to me, considering I'd been deprived for so long.
I was feeling good that I'd made Asha feel better, and when I turned around I was smiling. But that smile quickly dropped from my face when I saw Faith standing outside the restaurant, by the door, not ten feet from me.
"Is everything okay in there?" I asked, walking toward her, unable to think of anything else to say, hoping, praying that she wouldn't ask questions about what had just happened, that is, if she even witnessed it.
"Is everything okay out here?" she said, looking at me weirdly, like I should've felt guilty about something.
"Yeah. Everything's cool. Everything's fine." I stopped in front of her, wrapped my arm around her waist and prepared to walk back into the restaurant, but she didn't move, just stood there, staring at me, that same weird look on her face.
"What?" I said.
"What do you mean, what? How do you think I feel? Days before I'm supposed to get married, and I'm putting up with these accusations that Karen makes about you and your girl. Accusations that you claim aren't true -- "
"They aren't true," I interjected.
"If they aren't, why do I have to come out here and see what I just saw?"
"Faith, baby," I said, caressing her face in both my palms, looking deeply into her eyes. "She's my friend. That's all. I've told you this a thousand times."
Faith turned her eyes down, looking sadly away from me. "Sometimes, I just think she means more to you than I do."
"No, no, no," I cooed. I grabbed her hand, kissed her finger, very near the diamond I'd given her. "You're the one that's wearing the ring. You're the one I'm marrying, the one that'll be having my children. Now tell me who means more to me."
I saw a smile start to emerge on her lips, and when I lifted her chin, her anger and uncertainty seemed to have disappeared.
"So is everything cool?" I asked, smiling myself.
She looked at me as though she was considering the gravity of the question, as though there was more to it than just a yes or no answer.
"Yeah," she finally said. "I guess everything's cool." She grabbed my hand, almost tight enough to break the bones in it, and pulled me back toward the restaurant.
Copyright © 2002 by R. Marcus Johnson