Chantel thought aloud as she looked for a seat close to one of the charging stations. There was no way her phone would survive the nearly four-hour layover in Denver. She cursed herself again for not taking Serena up on her offer to pay for her plane ticket from Houston to Jersey. Her pride, her ego, her hope all got in the way.
She initially declined because she did not want her friends to think she was some sort of charity case. But there was also the matter of asking Bryan to take the trip with her. She needed more time to work up the nerve. The two had been off and on, mostly off, for nearly two years, but she held out hope that he would be the +1 she told Serena would accompany her.
That did not go as planned.
He laughed. Hard. It was the laugh that crushed her the most. The words that followed meant little at the time, but the laugh humiliated her.
“We ain’t even like that,” he said between laughs, “You know how many family events I’ve not taken you to since we’ve been dealing?”
He finally said what she knew to be true. They were not a couple, just a glamorized version of friends with benefits. She added all the emojis and filters to their situation, but it all boiled down to a few movie dates, a concert here and there, dinner, an occasional brunch, but was always punctuated by sex.
She sat on the floor, head between a vending machine and the memory of his laughter, Houston seemed so promising when she and Aaron first moved there three years ago. The mail was barely forwarded when he left her in a townhouse she couldn’t afford and facing questions she had no answers for. It was months before she told her girls he went back to Atlanta. Even then, she made it seem as if she kicked him out, not that he left for the weekend and never returned.
This damn outlet isn’t working.
She spent the next minute or two watching the icon flash between charging and not when she remembered her cord had a short in it. Naima kept telling her to buy a new one, but she put it off because she had more important things to spend money on: her bridesmaid gown, a plane ticket to the wedding, rent.
Everything changed once Aaron left; she left the job that brought her to Houston within a year. She taught middle school math for a few months, worked for the Rockets for maybe a month and did some accounting work for a couple of places, but she was now getting a real estate license, esthetician too, doing makeup tutorials on YouTube and asking her friends to Cash App her money here and there. Her parents stopped giving her money last year after she blew up at them for suggesting she move back home until she got her life back on track.
She knew Serena’s offer to pay for her flight was a pity move. She felt the girls talked about her behind her back, particularly after she bailed on Serena’s bachelorette party in Miami Memorial Day Weekend. There was no way she could make that trip and pay her rent, so she told them she was going to Cancun with Bryan to celebrate his birthday.
His birthday is in October.
Naima said no before she even finished the sentence. Their relationship was a complicated one. They spent hours on end with one another, on Facetime or texting when not together, but there was nothing formal to their coupling.
“You want to come out to your friends at a wedding?” Naima was staring at her with that look that she hated. It had to be a look she perfected teaching English to seventh graders.
She didn’t consider herself a lesbian or bisexual. Her relationship with Naima was situational. They met during her stint as a teacher and hit it off. It wasn’t until recently that they’d become intimate. Chantel didn’t know if she was truly attracted to Naima or just lonely and needed someone to hold her many nights.
What they had felt real, no matter how hard she tried to fight it. But it was another thing she didn’t need at the time. She didn’t want or need another person judging her decisions, telling her what to do, telling her what she needed to be for them. Not a man or a woman. She’d pretty much told Naima these same words after she declined joining her at Serena’s wedding. Naima wanted clarity on where things were going with the two of them, something Chantel had never considered, she only thought they were filling in the blanks with one another.
She fiddled with the cord until she found a position that maintained a steady charge. It’s been three days since she last spoke with Naima and she ached in a way that she hadn’t felt since Aaron left. She didn’t know what that meant. She didn’t know how she would explain it to her sisters, her mother would die, and her dad may never speak to her again.
She was 31 years old and what people thought about who she dated, who she loved, shouldn’t matter. But it did. She always felt like Serena and Tiffany were constantly judging her, so she tried to present her best to them, even when at her worst. She has no idea how that thought germinated because they’ve always been there for her. Tiffany co-signed for her first new car, Serena sent her nearly $2,000 in the last six months, while paying for a wedding. Her girls truly had her back. She didn’t want to continue letting them down. But how would she be letting them down?
She felt seen when she was with Naima. Wanted. Naima was genuinely interested in what she had to say and was her biggest cheerleader during these tough times. The first kiss felt like a mistake, but the second, fifth, seventh time, felt real. The women she met or saw pictures of, that Naima dated, all fit a type and she was not it.
To her, they all looked like lesbians and she did not. It was stereotypical, she knew, but she couldn’t narrow down why Naima was attracted to her. Any time she was brave enough to bring it up, the response she got was, “You. It’s just you,”, but she didn’t know what that meant. As she sat in that airport exhausted, trying to block out the crying kids and complaining commuters, she missed Naima’s smell on her sheets. She missed her hands on her skin, her kisses on her neck, her…
She opened her texts, scrolled to the name that made her smile, and typed.
Boarding for Philly. I love you. We have so much to talk about when I get back.
She unplugged her charger, looked to see if the vending machine sold Cherry Coke, lined up in her boarding zone, then glanced at her phone to see if Bryan replied.