"So how do you feelin' Houston?"
I pause. The world stands teetering on the edge of oblivion for just a second.
"How did you know I was here?"
"I know things. How you like it lil mama?"
"Yo, you hate it that much?"
We laugh. Mine is nervous laughter. It's been so long since I've heard his voice.
"So," he says, "you miss me yet?"
"Your ass never could lie."
"So tell me 'bout this nigga you think gone replace me."
"What do you wanna know?"
"Aiight. So tell me 'bout him."
I talk a little, very little, hitting the highlights.
"Im not real happy 'bout how you sound when you talk about him."
"What do you mean?"
"Shit just how you sound. Your voice."
"How you talk about this nigga. How you sound. Your tone. You sound like you think you love him or some shit."
I'm silent. He grunts at my silence, my failure to be manipulated into answering a question he didn't ask.
"So when you coming back to me?"
We pause. The silence stretches on for awhile. He's doing the trick, where you stay silent until it becomes uncomfortable and the other person ends up saying more than they intended. I guess he forgot he taught me that. I clear my throat.
"How have you been?"
"Naw," he snaps at me, his New York accent sharpening around the edges. "Don't do that shit."
We're silent again.
"Why did you call me?" my voice quieter now, teetering on the edge of a whisper. This is going nowhere good.
"I was listening to that song. Reminded me of you. That's pretty fuckin' gay right?"
"Um... lil bit."
We laugh again, this time genuine. We talk more, the conversation starting to come easier.
"So," I say, "tell me about your girl."
"You heard me. I know you got a few. I KNOW you."
"Yeah, I ain't gone lie, I gotta couple. But they ain't you. You know you're still number one."
I laugh out loud at that.
"I'm not number one. I'm not one, two or three."
"You are the one, two, and three. You're the prototype."
"So when you coming back to me?"
More silence. He sighs.
"La, who was there for you when that nigga broke your fuckin' heart?"
Whispering now, "You."
"And when you was feeling all alone, didn't have no friends that had your back, when you was up every night and you couldn't sleep, who was there?"
"When you needed money, when you needed to get away, when you felt like you didn't know who you were anymore, when some random nigga decided he wanted to jump on you in the streets, WHO WAS THERE?!?!" he demands of me, his voice louder, the edges sharper.
"Goddamn right. I was there. ALL the time. It was me and you. And now..." he trails off. "I hate how you sound when you talk about this nigga." His voice sounds pained. I press my temples, exhaling hard.
Silence takes over us again. I'm trying to figure out a way off the phone without making this even more messy.
"It was just me and you," he says, his voice softer now, intimate. "I liked it then. Remember that night up on the roof on St. Nic?" For a moment he takes me back there, us up on the roof, overlooking Harlem late one night, talking, laughing, smoking weed, eating empanadas til the sun came up. I smile soft and easy. We laugh out loud at some of our crazy conversations. Crucial ass weed that night spawned some serious conversation.
"It was just me and you lil mama," he says again, his voice even softer now. " I liked it back then. And yeah La, there are broads around, but that don't mean nothing."
I sigh again.
"I appreciate you for doing everything you did for me back then. But I'm not coming back. I'm happy. Let it be."
He's silent. He's angry. I can feel the heat rising off his skin and coming through the phone. He clears his throat.
"A business colleague of mine met you couple weeks ago. One of his girls knew one of your girls. Said he met you in a spot called Drink Houston. Said you were beautiful, funny, up in the club gettin' all this attention. I almost split his head open." I chuckle. He's the worst.
The world seems to shrink a little bit more around me. The world is too small. He's letting me know we're connected, that for the rest of our lives, our paths will keep crossing, just like they did when we first met, just like we talked about that night up on the roof. I hear him loud and clear.
"La seriously. Yo, I'm sittin' here, listenin' to music that reminds me of you. I should be workin'. I sent everybody home. I'm sittin' here like a lil bitch listening to all these songs you hooked me on and thinking about when it was just us. It's been a long time lil mama and they still take me back. That's crucial."
"Things have changed," and even to my own ears it sounds false.
"All that means is it can change back," he counters. So goddamn petulent, so stubborn, all the time.
"It's not gonna change. I'm happy. Let it be."
"You're not completely happy. Something is wrong."
That stops me cold. I swear, men just have... I dunno, they sense when things are... off. I guess my silence betrays me.
"He ain't me La. What, you got your ass one of them corny ass Howard niggas all in polos and khakis and shit to take you around their country club?" I burst out laughing.
"Are you high nigga?!?! WHERE did THAT come from?" We crack up.
He starts again, "Seriously La, we was good together. We was happy."
"Exactly. Was. Past tense."
He goes quiet again. This time longer. I wanna make it sting less, but I hold my tongue.
"Is he good to you?"
"Yes. Very." He grunts.
"He make you smile?"
"Everyday." More grunts.
"Even when you're mad?"
"Even when I wanna shake him to death."
"You cook for him? You sleep curled up under him? He play in your hair? Yall kick it and smoke together, laugh, all that shit?"
"He doesn't let me smoke."
"He better not. Can't have you messing up that voice." Pause. "You sing to him?"
"I'm sure I have." More constipated sounds. Another pregnant pause.
"You love him?" Pause.
He makes a sound like someone has punched him.
"Ok lil mama. Aiight," he says, sounding defeated. "If you change your mind, I can get you back here no issue. Your car is still in the garage. The house is just like you left it. And I'm here. I'm here."
"Thanks. But I'm good."
"No you're not. Not 100%. I hear it in your voice. Something ain't right. You want me to fix it, just let me know."
"I'm right here."
He hangs up the phone. Not angry, a gentle click on the other end letting me know he's disconnected, vanished back into the abyss of my past. I know now, like I always figured, that he's been keeping tabs on me. If I didn't know him like I do, I'd feel unsafe. Instead, I feel the opposite. The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I know he's nowhere close, but I feel the way he always watched me, studied me, so intense, always looking out for me. I sigh.
"Who was that?" my girl asks me, looking at me strangely.
"Well nobody sure got you shook up for them to be nobody."
"He's nobody. Not anymore. Lemme taste your sushi."
"But you don't like sushi." I pause.
"I didn't used to like a lot of things."
I pop the sushi in my mouth, wash it down with a bit of leeche saki and lean back in my seat.
It never fails. Someone is always prepared to give you what you want.
It's just never coming from where you want it.