This story is by Jabria Reid and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Khalilah Johnson’s having a kickback,” Lucy said as she marched into my bedroom, darting straight for my closet, “And we’re going.”
I glanced at my roommate briefly, then returned my gaze to my phone screen. “You know I don’t do parties, Lucy.”
“Yeah, well, neither does Khayri, and he’s gonna be there.”
“Of course he is. Khalilah’s his sister and it’s in the apartment they share. Poor boy doesn’t have a choice.”
“Even more reason for you to go. Y’all can keep each other company, maybe sneak off and make your own party…”
She winked and I felt my face get hot. “You know it’s not like that with me and Khay. We’re friends. Best friends. Better friends than you and I are gonna be if you don’t get your ass out of my closet.”
She mock glared at me, but obliged and crawled onto the bed beside me, hugging me tightly.
“I know this,” she said, “But I also know that it’s the middle of October, you’ve been single since June, you’re still moping over that asswipe Shawn Henderson, and Khayri Johnson is hands down your match made in heaven.”
“Lena,” she sat up and stared hard at me, “Do you still miss Shawn?”
“Why would you even ask me that? Of course I don’t.”
“Then give me one good reason why you shouldn’t shoot your shot with Khay.”
I didn’t have a response to that and she knew it. “Thought so,” she smirked, “Now, come on so we can get dressed. I’m calling dibs on your black lace crop top.”
And then she disappeared back into the closet. I stared after her and sighed. There was no negotiating with Lucy. Probably why we were still friends; she was my Yes woman, whether I wanted it or not. I shot Khay a quick text: Being kidnapped to your sisters party. See you soon
His response was almost immediate: Shit now I gotta look good lmao but fr I’m glad. I missed my Lena
My eyes lingered on that last part longer than they should have, until I tossed my phone onto the bed and followed Lucy into the closet.
It was common knowledge around Carson State University that a “kickback” hosted by Khalilah Johnson would involve no less than 100, maybe 150 partygoers. Pack all those people into a small, college apartment… the results weren’t the prettiest, but Lilah always seemed to make it work.
We had only been there 20 minutes, but my head was pounding and my nose was full of alcohol, sweat, and weed smoke. I blended into Lucy’s shadow, close enough that I wouldn’t lose her, but far enough that I didn’t have to speak when she stopped to mingle. The feeling of uncomfortable un-belonging crept up my spine. This was why I didn’t do parties.
“You see the twins?” I yelled over the music.
“Just saw Lilah a minute ago,” Lucy called back, “Your bae is still M.I.A.”
I shushed her, just in time to hear a voice behind me squeal, “Lena!”
Lilah hugged me from behind, flawless in her fitted, ruby dress, her long braids swinging loose down her back.
“I’m so glad you made it!” she beamed.
She started to say more, but someone called her name and she was off again. I laughed. Lilah Johnson, ever the hostess. I scanned the crowd again, making my way towards the back of the apartment. Maybe Khay had barricaded himself in his room…
“What’s good, Lena?”
I froze. Shawn leaned against the wall beside me, his gaze lazy, a faint smile on his face. “I see they finally got you out the house,” he continued.
“I…” it took a minute for me to find my voice, “Lilah invited me.”
He didn’t respond; instead, he reached out and caught the hand of a passing girl. He didn’t have to say anything; she turned around and put her backside to his belt, winding her hips slowly. He moved his hips with hers, gripping her waist and forcing her to bend over. The scene was all too familiar…
“Shawn, stop,” I complained as he grabbed my waist.
We were at a party, some party of one of his friends that I tried my damnedest to get out of. He started grinding into me, moving his hips in time with the music.
“Man, come on,” he nudged my shoulder, trying to get me to bend over, “You my girl. This is what we do.”
I turned on him, “I don’t even wanna be here.”
He sucked his teeth, shoving me away. “Go on, then. And don’t say shit when I find a girl that’ll do it for me…”
His eyes met mine again as the girl led him away, his smile morphing into a smirk.
“I’ve gotta get out of here,” I barely breathed the words.
“You okay, Lena?” Lucy appeared at my side, “What happened?”
“I’m… I’m fine. Just gonna get some air.”
And, before she could question me further, I turned and sprinted to the door. Cool October air nipped my bare arms as I slipped outside and rested my head on the balcony railing. My chest was ready to explode, but I refused to let a tear drop. I couldn’t.
Behind me, I heard the door open. Someone came to stand beside me, but I couldn’t find the energy to lift my head. “I said I’m fine, Lucy,” I sighed.
But the voice that replied wasn’t Lucy. “Sure don’t look it.”
I looked up. Khayri leaned against the railing, his face tight with concern. He matched his sister in his burgundy sweatshirt, light jeans, and white sneakers. The color contrasted with his mahogany skin perfectly. I processed this for a split second, and then I hugged him. Hugged him so tightly I thought I might break him. He put his arms around me, his grip squeezing together the parts of me that Lucy couldn’t. The tears came then, hot tears soaking the front of his sweatshirt.
We stood there until I had cried myself out. Khay tilted my face towards his, thumbing away stray tears. “Better?” he asked.
“You wanna talk about it?”
“I just wanna get out of here, Khay,” I whispered.
“Where’re we going?”
He asked the question simply, like it was obvious he was coming along.
“The lake?” I asked.
The lake on the north edge of campus had been our go-to spot since freshman year. Tucked away in a small grove of trees, there was something about it that was just… right. Everything seemed to make sense there. The sunset cast its rays across the water and through the trees, giving the leaves a golden glow. We stood there silently for the longest, Khay hugging me to him, me kicking at the fallen leaves.
“Should have brought my coat for you,” he finally spoke, rubbing away the goosebumps on my arms.
I shook my head. “I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry for earlier. I don’t know who invited Shawn. Lilah’ll kill him if she finds out he’s there; she already threatened to castrate him for the shit he pulled with you.”
“Pause. Your Southern Belle sister threatened to castrate somebody?”
“Oh, don’t let the pretty persona fool you. Lilah’s dangerous.”
We both laughed, the sound echoing through the grove.
“God, Lena, what’d you ever see in that guy?” he sighed.
I shrugged. “A lot. Still see a lot in him, sometimes. Shawn was my first love.”
“Doesn’t mean you don’t deserve better.”
I looked up at him. The thought crossed my mind that this would have never happened with Shawn. Shawn probably wouldn’t have noticed that I had left the party. Lucy’s words from earlier came back to me: Khayri Johnson is hands down your match made in heaven.
“Someone like… you?” I ventured.
He looked down at me. “You saying you’d want to be with me?”
“Would it be crazy it I was?”
Silence. He hesitated, then leaned down and carefully pressed his lips to mine. It was a sweet kiss, gentle, like he’d been waiting forever to do it. He smiled as he pulled away. “Only if it was crazy that I just did that.”
I smiled. “I don’t want this to feel like a rebound,” I said softly, “I’m not trying to make you a rebound, Khay.”
He kissed the top of my head. “You don’t have to. I’m here for you, Lena. However you want me.”
The last weak rays of sun flickered across the lake’s surface. Khay tugged off his sweatshirt and pulled it over me. I didn’t bother objecting. I tried to imagine what would happen if we went back to the apartment like this, what Lucy and Lilah and everyone else would say. But, in that moment, I couldn’t make myself care. Maybe Khay was my match made in heaven, maybe not. All that mattered was that he was perfect for my right now.