She is the quiet storm under my skin, the rising mercury in the thermometer of my shifting thoughts. Before her, my temperature was affected by ways to make more money, the next party, and ego-massaging chicks. With her beside me, though, I came to know the sort of heat that burns eternally, like a napalm flame.
Since she packed and walked out of my life two months, one week, two days, and seven hours ago, I now spend my free time vegetating in front of the idiot box and talking myself out of going to the club to ease the desperate loneliness that took up with me in Zillah’s absence.
It’s 10:30 p.m. The apartment hushed, I can hear the lady upstairs pleasing her ole man under the sounds of the T.V. and creaky floorboards.
Maybe I shoulda argued harder, I think, reclining on my bed. She woulda stayed if I’d climbed off my high horse and begged, confessed I’d buy a vowel and replace the “i” in bitter with an “e.” Then again, I tell myself, punching pillows, I coulda whipped a certain Somebody’s ass and been done with it.
I sigh. No reason to replay tired “shoulda, woulda, coulda” blues.
My eyes close and she appears.
The salt from the sweat of our lovemaking magnetizes my mouth to hers. I flick a pointed tongue across those soft, dewy lips, then trail moist kisses down the pancake-brown chin and throat to her right nipple, which I suck like I’m permanently attached. I archive her whimpers, catalog her moans. She flinches, shivers spasmodically.
Just as my locs anticipate the grip of her fingers, guaranteed to send me anywhere she wants me to go, her body stiffens and her lips pucker like my teeth have clamped down on her with a baby’s dimpled ferocity.
“Ooooh Zay, stop! Don’t do that! Get off me! I asked you to remind me to call Turk before we got started. It’s not like you don’t know she’s going through a hard time now.” In seconds, Zillah’s temper flares ruby red, like my anger.
“What the fuck do I care about Turk’s whatever? We all go through hard times.” I balance myself on my elbows to better shoot her an incriminating look. We listen as my words thud to the floor like weights.
“Yeah, some friend you are,” she hurls in return and leaps off the bed.
Then Zillah and the memory ebb.
Frowning, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and sling thoughts of the woman to the hardwood floor. Shit! Not one to be still--long, I stroll towards the bathroom.
The shower baptizes me. Rinses away fear that insists no other woman will stir me like the one whose name I will not—-I pray--think or desire nor say again tonight.
Between the shower and the closet, my fear resurfaces. But I do what Zillah used to advise, to just be with it, until it passes, and when it does, I’m relieved to be soaked in a sudden hope that bubbles up from somewhere deep inside me. Giving in to the euphoria, I study myself in the foyer mirror, where I am patrolling the highway of Zillah’s belly in route to her clit ring, its twin in my right nipple, and I know, once more, how much I love her.
Traffic is heavy from 20 to the International Boulevard exit. But the humid Atlanta night is friendly, promising. I pull into a crowded Barcodes lot, where, thankfully, a group of laughing women pour into a black SUV and pull away.
“Well, look-ah-here,” the hostess purrs when I enter the club, a “Whaz up, Boo?” smile splitting her face. “Haven’t seen you before. Visiting?”
She clears her throat to signal the chick handing out red admission tickets to stop and take note.
“You could say that.”
“Hope it’s a long one. I get off at midnight. Save me a dance?” She straightens, nearly thrusting her girlfriends out of the front of her dress.
I give them the once-over and size up her grinning co-hostess.
“If I hang around that long,” I say.
The rusty needle on my internal girlie-attraction meter quivers, and I take that slow, leaning, calculated stroll into the club’s darkened interior, the music and cadre of women spilling around both sides of the coat counter putting a swagger in my roll, a high in my veins.
Inside, the bar beckons and offers me a seat on its rear.
Two drinks later, I sit taller to survey, browse, take stock, and possibly, though not likely, invest.
I focus on the bartender. She’s short on looks, long on chatter.
“I see you’re in the hot seat tonight, Mommy, what with all these women scathing you with come-get-me stares.”
Her burgundy smile widens, and the lady refills my glass like her wrist is broken. “Can’t imagine how hot their strobe lights are goin’ to be when the place goes into full throttle. That look you’re cultivating has got it goin’ on.”
“How would you describe this…uh…look?”
“Oh you know,” Sistah Bartender scoffs, scowling and skipping off down the bar.
“I wouldn’t have asked had I known,” I say when she returns.
“Been off the market for a while, huh?”
I cock my head to the side and smear the wetness from my shot glass into the counter. “A few weeks.”
Bartender chuckles. “A few weeks and you’d be slurping sistahs like Bacardi. Honey, please. You’re mastering that ‘I’m available and searching but don’t move too fast’ kinda appeal, sweetie. That ‘I been hurt’ magnetism that makes femmes want to marry.”
She points with her eyes towards the floor of dancing and sweating and twitching and grinding and pumping and all but throwing-down-while-standing-up women. “See Mommy in the cut-out jeans and black crop top? The one right there with the sun glasses and curly spirals, holdin’ up that beam?”
I clock her description.
“Betcha she’s slick as black ice in winter. Hasn’t taken her scopes off you since you sat down. If you walked over—no—if you beckoned, she’d be in your ride and in your arms by midnight; in your kitchen and in your locs by sunrise.”
This time a chuckle escapes me at the far-flung possibility of this woman or any other standing in my woman’s kitchen. I didn’t care if Zillah never reentered our apartment this year.
Bartender quips, “I ain’t laughin’.”
“Making women feel good to keep drinking is your business, and you do it exceptionally well,” I say.
“Makin’ me or one of these other sistahs feel good, I’m praying, is your business, and I bet you’d do that exceptionally well, too,” she whispers in a slow, desire-draped drawl.
Right as she’s visually undressing me, the hostess in the tight black dress full of temptation pushes up against me, nudging my temperature up a notch or two.
“Hello again, sweetheart. Remember me?”
“Yeah. You off?”
“Uh huh. Since you stayed, can I get my dance?”
“I don’t dance. Wanna drink?”
“No. I’d rather have you.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Uh huh,” she hums, “and to show you, I’ll dance; you stand, sway or bounce; snap your fingers.”
My first thought is to say no, but something tells me this hostess isn’t the sort to move on without what she came for, so I follow her to the dance floor.
She melts into the music. Rhythm smooth, saucy, she moves like a stripper and I’m attentive, though I’m not sure whose influence I’m most under: hers or the alcohol.
Sistah Bartender’s gaze floods the crowd until she spies me. I look her way and wave, and then chance glances at girlie in the black glasses. Whoever let her out of the house ought to be paid, I think, and tipped. The soft dark skin peering through the holes of her peek-a-boo jeans makes my eyes ache.
“Excuse me, Ja’Lisa, but Turk is lookin’ for you.”
Black Glasses dismisses the hostess with a rude flurry of fingers.
She reeks of what only Zillah detonates in me. Reading her, I sidestep her desire and inquire, “How is Turk? Her mom’s still holding on?”
Girlie shakes her head. “The funeral was last week.”
“I’m sor—-“ I start, but she spins and pushes her masterpiece into my crotch, the circular motion she’s working sending seismic waves throughout my body. I grab her waist and bump her hard, then gentle, then harder.
We dance two more songs.
“You wanna leave? Go somewhere we can talk?”
Her skin glows. Through her sweaty top, little flirty loud breasts shout at me. She knows I’m aroused and steps to me to cap her handiwork.
“I’m headed to the bar,” I say. “All danced out, sugah. You haven’t said, but I know you belong to somebody in here or at home.” I reach for her hand. “C’mon. Let’s get a drink and talk.”
She pulls away.
“If I wanted to talk, Zaydia, I’d have copped the stool beside you an hour ago.”
“Howdoya know my name?”
She falters, bites her bottom lip.
“Recognized you from…uh…Turk’s sketch.”
“Why would Turk sketch me to you?”
“I’ve seen you around, is all. Thought you were cute, wanted to meet you, and hoped you’d eventually come in here, since—“ She pauses, cat out of the bag.
“Since my lady and I broke up,” I help her.
Lightening fast, it hits me that Turk’s somewhere in the club, observing. I can imagine Zillah being told I’m whoring around with the hostess and some hot honey Turk knew I’d be horny enough to bone. In that moment, my desire chills, catches cold, and dies. Back at the bar, I pay Sistah Bartender and turn to face Black Glasses.
“Not interested in playing games tonight, Baby. Tell Turk I’m sorry about her mother, and thanks, but I can select my own girlie. Her concern is appreciated, though.” I cup her chin. “Have fun, Luscious.”
Sistah Bartender smirks and passes me a signed napkin.
“Call me.” Black Glasses flicks her business card.
I press two fingers to my lips. Blow each a kiss and walk away.
Morning in the cool pinkish-gray Saturday air is a baptismal mist on my damp skin. The club’s lot half empty, Marietta Street wakes slowly on the other side of the chain fence.
In the distance, I spot a couple leaning against my truck’s passenger door, whispering. The alcohol in my stomach flip-flops and encourages me to act a fool, but I’m bent on making a clean exit minus stupidity.
“Excuse me, ladies,” I joke, “I’d like to think this train is leaving without victims or baggage this morning.”
The taller woman does an about-face. “Good. That makes two of us on one accord. And as for baggage, you bring the wheeled sort, so I heard.”
I snarl, “No, dog, I carry a clutch.”
It’s Turk. The last person I want to see, coming or going. In memory of her loss, I skip the part in the script where my short fuse would have meant I should’ve been slapping her for being present.
“If it isn’t my ole friend. How ya been?”
Turk grimaces. “Thought I left you workin’ with my girl, K.C., who rarely looses women.”
I laugh a ‘Get real’ laugh. “Perhaps she’s been workin’ women who wanna be worked.”
I inhale slowly. “My condolences for the loss of your mom. She was real.”
“Unlike some of us,” Turk guns.
Turk’s companion turns to join our nice-nasty exchange then, and when she does, the cartilage in my knees soften, and I ask, “Hey, Baby, whatchudoin’ out here? You alright?”
“Of course she’s alright,” Turk growls. “You were the one dishing verbal and mental abuse. Remember? That’s why she came to me.”
I step towards the thick-set woman, but Zillah raises a spread palm and sing-rimes, “Hi, Zay, I’m okay. I missed ya.”
Something in her tone and composure calms me, confirms the fight has already been won, and I readily admit, “I missed you before you left.”
She knows, too, I’d like nothing more than to drop kick Turk right there in the parking lot, but looking at my woman, I’m too thankful to do more than visually kiss her face, like the morning light. Besides, my temper isn’t what she fell in love with so I squash it and grin.
“Z, we can make this thing work. Give us another chance, Baby Girl.” Turk is pleading, face pitiful.
Zillah reaches out and strokes her jaw.
“You know I care about you, Turkesia. But I love Zay. We have a history, a past, and I can’t imagine her outside my future,” Zillah confesses.
I’m trying not to see the hurt in Turk’s face, trying not to hear the sadness in her next words.
“What about the arguments, the control, the times when you wanted to run away from the mind games?” Turk is damn near begging for police presence now. “I love you enough to make you love me, Z. Give me a little more time,” she begs.
“I do love you,” my woman whispers, “just not the way I love her.” She’s stroking Turk’s arm as she speaks, as if to impart meaning through Turk’s skin, if not her head. “She’s my soul, my everything.”
Little by little, Turk offers us her back like she’s been handed a time-out card or, better yet, been dismissed. The underdog in me tucks its tail for the hurt she must be feeling, but the emotion dissipates swiftly and I confront Zillah, wanting to say more than what eventually comes out.
“So clubbing’s your new interest, too, uh?”
“No,” she owns. “Somebody called me, said you’d come in. You know me. I don’t do clubs, but I wanted to see you.” Her voice slides into a purr I force myself not to move around my truck to hear or else my kisses would smudge her words, and I had to hear her say what she came to say.
“You need anything?” I ask.
“Yes. I mean, no. I-I just need you to hold me.”
My eyes devour hers. And I’m craving the voice, the wide soft lips, the nose, and that liquid in her stare bringing me to the point of intoxication faster than the liquor in my gut.
So understandably, she takes my silence for judgment and keeps talking.
“I would have called, but I knew I deserved any attitude you had because of the way I left. Which wasn’t me. Everything we’d been through had escalated and your callousness about—well—I didn’t want to feel what you must have been feeling. Like you were rejected. Somehow second best.
“I’ve been packed for over a week now,” she continues. “There wasn’t a worry about my not being able to come home; my concern was not being able to take your rejection. So fear and guilt kept me away.” She presses her thumbnail against her front teeth.
“It wasn’t all about you. I’ve come to see my part in our bad times and that some things I thought angered me about you I realized I missed. And relished.”
As she spoke, whisper-thin, I could already feel her fingers on my body, could taste poetry on her tongue.
Our currents reconnected, my spirit sings, and any hatred I felt for Turk evaporates instantly. On my lips, affection and passion form one question: “How long you wanna be held?”
Turk pivots in time to see Zillah move around the back of the truck and press her mouth to my ear.
Somehow I sense she hears her breathe, “Always.”
We say nothing and everything on the drive to the apartment.
Inside, words are unnecessary. Emotion takes over. Obedient, I succumb to the persistent desire to hold her, to imbibe her in long, deep sips. I take her hand and lead her to the bedroom, where I toss her bodily across the unmade bed, and enjoy her uncontrollable giggles as I strip. Then I lean over her, loving the giggling mouth, before I kiss it silent. Then my teeth nip her naked and I’m overwhelmed. Again.
Zillah is so pretty. So desirable. If I were blind, I’d see her beauty through my fingerprints.
She looks up at me and grins shyly, flips. I imagine waves of heat rising from her nakedness like summer steam from a baked sidewalk. I reach out to feel the velvety warmth of her back, remembering; my fingers catch fire and communicate a Braille love code across her sculpted bottom, but my kisses, uncertain my burning fingers can be trusted to express how much I adore her, skip the slope of her lower back, the curve of her cheeks, her thighs, the tender terrain in the bend in her knees.
When I re-dress her in a garment of feverish kisses hours later and study her lips mouthing, “Zzzaaay, pleeease,” I top her. Her squirms, her wiggles drive me crazy, and I spread her arms, with one thigh, part her legs. Our fingers entwine, my locs covering her curls, while the sheets grow heavy with Zillah’s moans and whimpers.
“Are you my babe?”
I rock her. Stroke the answer from her flushed flesh.
A halo of fire encircles us. Into steamy pillows she muffles our passion tongue, a language we speak when desire fails us and we forget English.
Her rosebud ignites, blossoms.
Mine collides with her ass, pounds her deeper into the mattress.
Our rhythm takes on a wildfire fervor, and our pace quickens. I sweat. She trembles like it’s winter, and I know she’s hanging cliff-side, loving, as she does, the sticky feel of us, skin to skin, primed, I decide, for me to taste her.
Gently, I cradle her softness, impress myself against her back. My chest. Shoulders. Thighs. My kisses strolling her spine, I listen to our love language in her mouth as she jarringly describes how much she wants me. I hold her, then release quickly, knowing I’m way too hungry for the taste and smell of her to be motionless too long.
I groan, gorge myself with mouthfuls of her sweetness. When I do, her nails mark me, but I don’t care. I’m hers.
Catlike whimpers, like spit, trickle over my fingers in her mouth. Words slurred, she’s straining to take me in whole, and I should have been here yesterday, but right now the inside of her thighs are satisfying and saccharine, and I can’t leave one, then the other, until her legs are wall to door, the banks of her river saturated, her bush slick.
She arches her back when my tongue intones, “I love you,” into her wetness. Her legs collar my neck, and then stiffen.
“Hmmmmmmmmmmm! Don’t stop, baaabeee! Faaster, haarder!”
Under her riveting pleas, I send her into another realm.
“I’m giving you my best from now on,” I whisper.
Zillah writhes, claws my wrists. Her breathing is coming in raggedy gasps, so I stroke and kiss her over rapids I kayak only with her. Our perfume laces the air. Bushed, I take a deep breath and lie back, pulling her, spent, into my body.
“Marry me, Zillah.”
“Anytime, any place,” she says tenderly, “anywhere.”
Her thigh straddles mine, and I lurch. I’m remembering how much I’ve missed the delicious feel of her grinding against me, her pubic hair tickling my skin, while her teasing tongue on my ringed nipple shuts down my senses. I moan. Relax and enjoy her rediscovering my terrain.
Zillah is my explorer. To her, I surrender.
How else will she know her touch yet sends me in search of myself to reset my universe, awaken my deepest desires, and assuage my darkest fears?
Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of author. All Rights Reserved.