The Hook Up Part III
Getting ready for my date with Nahji was nerve-racking. Not because I was nervous about seeing him again, but because of the encounter I had with DJ. Now, I was questioning if I really needed to spend my time with Nahji. DJ was really making me question being at the Hook Up. I didn’t want to stand him up, but I needed to let him know that I really wasn’t up to doing this. This being spending time with him while we were here.
The entire time I was getting ready, I lamented having to tell him. I didn’t want to punish him for another man’s mistakes, rather, my mistakes, but I really needed to chill. I understood I was at a retreat aimed at singles making love connections, but I really needed to focus on healing from Todd and not meeting anyone new.
I decided on my long black, red, yellow and green skirt and a white tank top. I didn’t do anything to my hair, leaving it in the messy bun on top of my head. I finished off my look with lashes, earrings that matched my outfit and bright red lipstick. I felt like my lips were too big for a red lip, but I liked the way I looked in the mirror.
At 8:20, Indya came rushing into my room. “You going to the open mic?”
“Yes, let me guess. You and Zion spent all day talking?”
She didn’t answer, just smiled her really bright smile. “Yes. We were going to go, but I don’t know if I will be ready on time.”
“It starts at 9…you might be late, but you can make it.”
Indya thought for a second. “You’re right. Let me go get ready. Are you going to wait on me or are you going to go ahead and go?”
I realized that even if I wanted to wait on Indya, I didn’t have Nahji’s number to tell him I would meet him there. “Well…I am walking over with Nahji.”
Indya raised her eyebrow. “I take it you guys had a good time today?”
“Yeah, it was cool,” I said downplaying it. I didn’t want to tell her I had a good time with Nahji at the pool party, but DJ said some foul shit and now I was questioning spending time with Nahji.
If she was thinking something, she didn’t make mention of it. There was a knock on our door, and she went to go open it. I heard Indya and Nahji making small talk. I grabbed my phone, my purse, and my room key and went to the living room. I’d seen Nahji in a nothing but swimming trunks but seeing him again fully dressed was a sight for sore eyes. The man was sexy with a capital S.
He had on pair of jeans and a t-shirt with a red, yellow, black and green lion. Without even trying, we matched. Indya looked back and forth between us and smiled. “I’m going to get ready. I’ll see ya’ll there.”
She left us and even though I spent most of my afternoon with him, he gave me butterflies. I was sure I was too old for butterflies, but I liked it.
“Wow! You look amazing!”
I smiled. Even though I knew I needed to let him down easy, I couldn’t. Not right now. He was just so damn sexy. “You don’t look so bad yourself. And you were looking in my window.”
Nahji laughed. His laugh could become one of my favorite things. “It seems that way. Are you ready to go?
We left my room and made the short walk to the same room we had the game night in. It was now transformed into an intimate space for open mic/Karaoke. The lights were dim all over except for the brighter lights around the stage area. There were candles strategically placed around the room to give the space a soft glow. There were small bistro-style tables, larger tables with seating for four or more and an open bar. There were easels of black art around the room and before we sat down, I was drawn to the pieces. I almost forgot he was with me until he spoke.
“Are you an artist?” he questioned.
“What makes you think that?”
“Just the way you’re looking at these pieces. Either you are a lover of art or you are an artist yourself. Or you are both.”
“A bit of both,” I admitted. “I like to draw and paint. My work is nowhere as good as this though.” I stopped to admire the painting of a black woman adorned in shades of purple. I loved the colors, the brush strokes, the angles, the way the woman’s body language screamed Queen.
“I bet it is. Let me see something you’ve created.”
I finally tore my eyes away from the painting to look at Nahji. Just the way he looked at me did something to me. I blushed a little and pulled out my phone. I scrolled to the last painting I did. It was one of my most intricate paintings to date. It was a painting of Africa with each country in different shades of red, yellow, and green. It was a large canvas, 24x36 and it took me a few weeks to finish it. But I was proud of it. I was trying to find a place to put in in my home, but that meant I would have to take another picture down, and I wasn’t prepared to part with any of my art.
“Wow! This is really dope! Like really, really dope. What was the inspiration?”
“I really can’t remember,” I begin. “I’ve been wanting to do a painting of Africa for a while and one day, the inspiration just hit me. I love the colors, as you can see.” I gestured to my skirt.
“I thought blue was your favorite color?”
“Turquoise,” I corrected. “You're really going to keep calling it blue.”
He chuckled at me. “I’m just messing with you. Do you sell your work?”
“Sell it?” I repeated quizzically. “Nah, I’m not that good. It’s just a hobby.” I felt Nahji looking at me, but I refused to look at him.
“Don’t shortchange yourself. Your work could just as easily be displayed here like these other artists.”
I shrugged, unaccustomed to praise of my work, outside of Indya. I never posted it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle any negativity about something I was passionate about. Nahji’s interest in my art was refreshing. Todd never had an opinion about my art. He would give the perfunctory ‘that’s nice’, but he never asked about my inspiration or wanted to discuss why I chose certain colors or why I decided to draw something rather than paint it. Come to think of it, most times I felt my art was a nuisance to him. He always felt what he did was more important because I carved out time to create. My little hobby was nowhere near as important as the work he did so he was dismissive of it. And Nahji’s interest in my passion was making it that much harder to have to tell him we didn’t need to see each other after tonight.
“If you haven’t signed up for karaoke or open mic, please do so within the next ten minutes,” a well-dressed man announced over the microphone on the stage.
Nahji nudged me. “You want to sign up?”
I chuckled. “No sir. I am just here as a spectator.”
“Ok. Can you grab us a table? I need to run to the restroom.”
The room was filling up and I was able to snag a table in the middle of the room. While I was waiting for Nahji to return, I pulled out my cellphone. I had a text from Indya asking if the show started. But that was 10 minutes ago, and I saw her and Zion sitting not too far from us. I waved to her and she waved back, and I was loving the way Zion was making her smile. By the time Nahji returned, the show was starting.
Every event that I have attended at The Hook Up has been better than the last. And this open mic/karaoke was no exception. I was enjoying the singing, even though some of it was bad and the poetry was deep. I was impressed with the talent of my people.
Three women had just finished a highly entertaining version of Soldier by Destiny’s Child when the MC for the night came back to the stage. “Alright let’s give Deja, Asha, and Dionne another round of applause!”
The crowd cheered for them, mostly because most of us were not brave enough to get up there and perform like they did. “Ok, next we have a poem by…Nahji Steel! Give it up as he makes his way to the stage!”
I whipped my head in Nahji’s direction. He winked at me before making his way through the crowd to the stage. Once he was in front of the crowd, I could hear the low murmur of women acknowledging his sexiness. And Lord knows he looked sexy under these lights. He almost looked like he was illuminated.
“Good evening! Everyone alright tonight?”
The crowd roared back and from the other side of the room I heard a woman yell “I’m doing good sexy!”
I shared her sentiments because I was definitely thinking the same thing. Physically, he was very attractive, but our conversations just added to his sexiness.
“I’m going to share this poem I wrote a little while ago and as Erykah Badu said ‘I’m an artist….”
Nahji pointed the microphone towards the crowd and without missing a beat, we replied: “And I’m sensitive about my shit!”
Everyone settled down and waited for him to begin Nahji pulled up his phone, cleared his throat and began.
Come get lost in me
Dive heart first
Get soul deep
At your feet
I’ll lay my
In exchange for
There’s nothing I want more
Than to see you happy
So when the world pushes
I’ll be your peace
Better than any dream
Close your eyes
Take the leap
Get lost in me
Nahji descended the stage to thunderous applause. I didn’t even realize I had closed my eyes until I heard the cheers to his piece. I followed a couple of poets on social media and I was always astounded by the way words could invoke emotions. I had to really force myself to keep my thoughts in my head because I wondered if those were just words or if he had someone in mind when he wrote it. As he sat down, he looked at me bashfully and I couldn’t believe he was acting shy.
“Let me find out you are a whole poet out here in these streets,” I gushed.
“That was just a little something I threw together earlier,” Nahji laughed and rubbed his hands down his smooth face. There was a short silence and I refused to read too much into what he said. “Writing kind of runs in the family. My mama used to write songs and poems. Two of my sisters are authors. It’s just something we do.”
“That’s one hell of a gift to pass down!”
The open mic continued and Nahji and a few of the other performers were asked to come back up. Nahji’s second poem was more sensual and even though I didn’t want to assume, it felt like his words were spoken directly to me.
As the event came to an end, people begin to disperse. Nahji went to the bar and got us a couple of drinks and we walked over to the pool area and put our feet in.
“You really are a talented poet,” I informed him. “Not that you needed me to tell you that.”
“You are really a dope artist. And I think you need someone to tell you that,” he countered.
“Touché,” I laughed.
We continued talking about the open mic, art, and poetry. I didn’t get to talk much about something I was so passionate about so this was right up my alley. As much as I enjoyed sharing my opinion and feelings on what I loved to do, I was equally into listening to Nahji talk about writing poetry.
I barely noticed the other people that ventured to the pool until I saw DJ snuggled up with another woman. Just this morning he told me he wasn’t into me because I slept with him but there he was with someone else. He really wasn’t someone I wanted to pursue something with, but I guess it was just a blow to my ego.
“Do you want to go somewhere else? It’s getting kind of crowded out here,” I suggested.
“Sure, lead the way.”
We had to walk past DJ as we left the pool and the second he saw me, he said something in the woman’s ear, and they laughed loudly. I was sure he said something about me, or he was trying to make me jealous, but I couldn’t understand why.
We headed to Nahji’s building and sat in the corner of the lobby on a sofa sipping our drinks. The lobby was quiet, and we were pretty much out of the way.
“Did you know that guy?” he asked catching me off guard.
I contemplated what I should tell him. It was none of his business what I did before I met him, but things were so easy going with Nahji that I just wanted to tell him everything. But not that. “Yeah, I met him yesterday.”
“No…it was just his reaction to seeing you. I assumed he didn’t get what he wanted from you.”
I probably should have told him the truth, but I worried what Nahji would think of me if he knew I slept with DJ on the first night. DJ felt something was wrong with what we did, and he was the one that slept with me. I really didn’t want Nahji’s judgment. Granted I am grown, and I can do what I want to do, but something about Nahji was different. I didn’t want him to think ill of me. His friendship was like a soothing balm on my heart right now and I didn’t want to mess that up.
When I didn’t say anything, he changed the subject. “I don’t think we actually made it to 21 questions earlier. Most embarrassing moment?”
I have known Nahji for half a day and in that time, he has shown me more respect, more attention and more understanding than Todd ever did in 6 years. Todd would have never recognized when a conversation was too much for me and changed the subject. Nahji’s thoughtfulness was really something.
Before I even began talking, I started laughing as the memory played in my head. “Without a doubt, it was my sophomore year of high school. I was trying to be cute in some wedge sandals and fell walking to my table at lunch. My food went everywhere. It was the worst day of my life.”
Nahji tried to stifle his laughter. “Damn, I bet that was a sight to see!”
“Thank God social media wasn’t really popping back then. I would have really been embarrassed!” We laughed at my fall for a few minutes before I needed to be able to laugh at him, too. “Your turn. Tell me the most embarrassing thing that happened to Nahji Steel.”
Nahji hung his head in shame. “When I was in 6th grade, I played basketball. I wasn’t really that good at the time, but I was the tallest person on the team. I hadn’t really played before and the coaches equated my height with talent. During one game, I somehow ended up with the ball and took off dribbling. Scored my first two points of my basketball career in the wrong goal.”
I busted out laughing imagining a tall, skinny 6th grader tearing down the court the wrong way.
“Luckily, we won that game and my two points didn’t matter, but I was surely embarrassed. It takes my pops to tell this story. He didn’t curse that often, but he yelled: “Nahji that’s the wrong got damn way!”
We laughed until tears came to my eyes. We shared a few more embarrassing moments, including the time I dropped a carton of eggs at the grocery store trying to juggle everything in my hand. When I finally calmed down enough to talk without laughing, I asked him if he was close to his family.
“We’re very close. It’s always been the six of us. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Yom Kippur, you name it, we get together for it.”
While I was close to Auntie Tess and my cousin/brothers, I sometimes missed having parents. Auntie Tess could only do so much taking care of three kids and working, but she tried to come to my events at school, but it wasn’t always possible. I was always grateful to have someone take me in, but I felt like I was missing out by not having my parents around.
“Sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” Nahji said.
I didn’t even notice I got quiet or if my face changed. He was really observant. “Nothing to be sorry for.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Instead, he pulled out his phone and gawked at the time. “It’s almost 1 am. Let me get you to your room.”
“Really?” I asked perplexed. “I usually get sleepy early, I don’t know why I didn’t.”
“Cause,” Nahji beamed. “I am awesome company. Who needs sleep when you have Nahji Steel keeping you company?”
I laughed at his joke but if he only knew the thoughts that went through my mind. “You are alright company, I guess.”
He cut his eyes at me, but he knew that was the furthest thing from the truth. “Whatever. You can admit it. I won’t tell anyone.”
“And on that note, let me get to bed if I am going to be any good to anyone tomorrow.”
“Speaking of tomorrow,” Nahji began. “Do you have plans?”
Tomorrow was a free day. There were a list of attractions near the resort and they were providing transportation. I skimmed the list but hadn’t committed to anything. Since I hadn’t seen much of Indya, I couldn’t ask her what she had in mind. “No, not at the moment.”
“Would you like to hang with me?”
I knew I was supposed to be cutting things off with him, but I didn’t hesitate to tell him yes.
Day 3 (Day)
“Ziplining? Of all the things on this list, you guys want to go Zip lining?” Indya asked in disbelief.
“That’s my vote,” Zion chimed in and Nahji seconded.
Ziplining wasn’t exactly on my bucket list but since it was presented to me, I was game. I wasn’t going to make my friend do something she didn’t want to do, though. “But if you’re uncomfortable, the guys could do that, and we can do something else.”
“But you don’t have to do the zip line, Indya. They have other things as well,” Zion tried to reason. He really wanted to go zip lining, but he also didn’t want to be without Indya. It was sweet.
Zion pulled out his phone and showed Indya the other activities at the park we planned on going to. She finally agreed to go, and he reiterated several times that we could pick something else, but she insisted she was fine.
We had a blast at the zipline park. We had ziplined through the trees and completed an obstacle course. I was sure the guys let us win, but it was fun all the same. Spending time with Nahji like this was…different. Todd and I never did things like this. Our dates mostly consisted of dinner and a movie. I really loved doing something fun and different with someone I enjoyed spending time with. After a few hours at the park and lunch, we headed back to the resort. The guys went to their room and Indya and I headed to ours.
Tonight, was the masquerade ball and I was really looking forward to it. Even though he didn’t have to ask, Nahji asked if he could be my date for the evening. I was giddy like I hadn’t spent half of yesterday and most of today with him. I’m not sure when but I gave up the ‘you just need to chill out’ mantra when it came to him. I was just enjoying having someone around that was good company.
Before we started getting ready, Indya and I were laying across her bed talking.
“This has been a really fun trip. I am glad I tagged a long with you,” I said.
“Yeah, I see you’ve been having fun,” she giggled.
“Not just with Nahji. Although he is great company,” I smiled. “But because it really helped me to get my mind off Todd and put somethings into perspective.”
“Like…I don’t have to settle for someone like Todd. Honestly, I think I stayed as long as I did because I was comfortable, and he was familiar. I really couldn’t fathom a life with him, not after experiencing something different.”
My friend eyed me and smirked. “You like Nahji, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but not how you like Zion.” Tomorrow was our last day and then it was back to reality. I wasn’t prepared to think about what that meant between Nahji and I. These past couple of days have been so much fun…I was going to have to go back to the real world and think about what a great time I had with him. I didn’t want to be too forward and ask if he wanted to exchange numbers after we left tomorrow, but I was enjoying conversations and spending time with him. He lived in Columbus which was a little under two hours away from me. I wasn’t sure if he would be up to making the trip to see me from time to time. If he asked, I was down to ride to Columbus.
When I saw Indya’s demeanor change, I immediately became worried. “What’s wrong?”
Indya sighed heavily. “Tomorrow we go back to reality. Zion is great. I mean, really great. But after tomorrow, then what?”
We had similar thoughts, but I wasn’t going to admit that. “What do you mean? He’s a quick drive down 75.”
“Yes, but…what if this was just something fun for him to do? What if he isn’t interested in seeing me after tomorrow?”
I cut my eyes at Indya. “Girl, have you seen the way that man looks at you? If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you two were in love!”
Indya dismissed me with a wave of her hand. “Please. It’s just being here.”
I opened my mouth but decided to re-think how I said what needed to be said. “Indya don’t do this.”
“Push him away with your insecurities.”
Indya got up from the bed and busied herself with picking lint off the dress she was wearing tonight. “That’s not what I’m doing.”
“It is,” I replied and stood next to her. “This is something you do. The situations you are creating your head. He has not given you a single reason to doubt him.”
Indya was quiet I could tell she was fighting back tears. “I know but…I just don’t want to be hurt again. I just…I’m trying to protect myself.”
I went to the bathroom and got some tissue for my friend. She dabbed her eyes and sat back on the bed. “I understand, sis, but it’s not fair to him or to you. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Something tells me he’s definitely going to want to see you again after tomorrow.”
“Same thing for you and Nahji,” she said.
I laughed. “We’ll see.”
I really tried to downplay it, but I really wouldn’t mind spending time with him after we left tomorrow. I needed to shake those thoughts out of my head because I knew I needed to work on me, not let anyone else into my life.
I retreated to my room to get ready for the masquerade ball. As soon as I got out of the shower, my phone chimed.
Todd: I miss you. Can we please talk?
I read those seven words about 30 times, trying to make sure I hadn’t forgotten how to read and comprehend. Todd missed me? And he wanted to talk? But why?
When he left, he pretty much proved to me he was not worth my time, energy or my love. He didn’t want to get married. So what changed?
My heart began beating fast…had he thought about it? Had he changed his mind? Was marriage something he wanted now?
Me: I’ll be back in town tomorrow, we can talk then
I really couldn’t explain why I agreed to talk to him, especially since I concluded there were a lot of things missing from our relationship. Part of it was curiosity. The other part was settling. I’d rather have the familiarity of Todd and all his flaws than the unknown of Nahji. If he wanted to talk, now was my chance to tell him what I needed and maybe, just maybe, he was ready to be the man I wanted him to be.