This story is by Tracy Olabisi Coker and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The sound of Burna Boy, rapping from my boyfriend Scott’s alarm clock, jolts me from unconsciousness.
“Turn that crap off, please!” I growl, as I pull the covers over my head.
Scott obliges with a voice command to Alexa, springs out of bed, and immediately goes into his morning routine. He does fifty sit-ups and pull-ups, grunting, not out of pain, but out of some sick pleasure my Muscle Man gets from exercising.
I have my pillow over my head now, trying my best to muffle his sounds, but ugghh… he’s too loud.
Scott finishes his routine in under five minutes as usual, and as usual, he starts chatting, running through his schedule and mine.
“Tia, didn’t you say you have an 8 o’clock this morning?”
He doesn’t wait for me to answer.
“I have an 11:30, but that’s it for me today.”
I love everything about Scott–except he’s a morning person and I’m not! So, I just groan with my head still buried under my pillow.
“C’mon Tia,” he playfully tosses my pillow aside, pulls down the covers, and kisses my forehead. “Wake up, sleepy head.”
With my left eye still partially closed, I glance over at the clock on the night stand. It’s 7:15am and I do have an 8am meeting. Why do people schedule meetings this damn early? Just because everyone is working remotely doesn’t mean we have to actually start working at this ungodly hour!
I can hear the water running in the bathroom now. Scott always leaves it on while he’s brushing his teeth. Today is May 25, 2021, our one-year anniversary. A day I will never forget. Hell, the entire world should never forget it!
Rubbing my eyes, I finally force myself to get out of bed, brush my teeth, wash my face, and put on a bra (something I only do these days when I have Zoom meetings). I’ve made reservations for dinner at our favorite spot tonight. Warmth spreads across my chest at the thought of celebrating with Scott.
My Muscle Man returns to the bedroom in a pale blue Polo shirt but still wearing his white boxers. His laptop tucked beneath his right arm as he heads to his “office”–a lone brown desk in the corner of our bedroom. He doesn’t mention a word about our anniversary.
I give him a peck on the lips before leaving the room.
But he pulls me from behind, his strong arms around my waist. “Love you, Babe.”
I turn around to face him, my eyes gazing into his, “Love you more.”
He shakes his head. “Impossible,” he says, and slips his tongue into my mouth.
I lick my lips, still savoring his kiss as I step into the kitchen. The island is bare–no plate of strawberries arranged in the shape of a heart like he’d done for Valentine’s Day. Hmmm…maybe Scott did forget our anniversary.
I settle into a chair and flip open my laptop. When I turn on the TV, the news flashes images of marches, memorials, and tributes happening all across the country in honor of the man who’d brought Scott and I together–George Floyd. Today is the one-year anniversary of his murder. This big, Black, beautiful man reduced to pleading for his mama in the final moments of his life.
A lump suddenly forms in my throat, and I try to swallow it, but it refuses to go down.
It’s 7:57am now, so I smooth down my braids with my hands, put on a little lip gloss, take a deep breath, and open the Zoom meeting.
“Hi Tia!” My co-worker, Sloane’s perky voice and even perkier smile pops into view in a square on the screen.
“Hey Sloane,” I manage a small synthetic smile, as images of George Floyd’s 7- year-old daughter’s face tugs at my heartstrings.
“Have you been outside yet?” Sloane is almost singing the words. “I had my first morning coffee on the deck. It’s gooorgeous! Perfect spring weather.”
Ummm….No. Actually, I feel pretty sick right now, remembering how a Black man was murdered in cold blood on TV. But of course, I don’t say that.
“Oh, you should totally step outside when you get a chance.”
I nod and lower my eyes. When I lift them back up, I see two more faces in boxes–Rob and Lisa have joined. We spend the next 55 minutes talking about the annual report, analyzing data, forecast and sales. Business as usual.
I sigh with relief at 8:56am when Rob says “Awesome meeting guys! And look…you even get 4 minutes of your lives back.”
I immediately point the remote to unmute the TV, my eyes resting on the yellow, Black Lives Matter letters on the plaza in DC.
I’d met Scott on that same street a year ago, holding a protest sign that read No Justice. No Peace. The intensity in the pitch of his voice as he chanted the same words, and the disgust in his eyes, had caught my attention. I’d never really been into white guys, but I’d always been into muscles. And Scott’s biceps had bulged through his Black Lives Matter T-shirt in a way that made me want to reach out and grab a hold of his arm. I’d played it cool though, and looked away, hoping he hadn’t noticed me staring at him.
About two hours later–at the food truck where they were giving out free water and sandwiches to protestors–I’d been so hungry and exhausted. I’d literally almost crashed into him. When I’d finally looked up, my eyes had met his smile.
“You again.” he’d said, as though he knew me.
“Again?” I’d played coy. “What do ya mean?”
Scott’s smile had morphed into a smirk.
“I saw you checking me out earlier. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
I’d thrown my head back and laughed. “Oooh, white boy got game!”
“Ummm,” he’d cleared his throat and made a show of looking around. “In case you haven’t noticed, this is a BLM rally; not exactly the place to use racial stereotypes, you feel me?”
I’d been so amused by the ease with which he’d checked me, the ease with which we’d joked about race although we were perfect strangers, that I’d decided right then and there, this dude was worth getting to know. And besides…with those hazel eyes and that curly black hair, the boy was fine!
We’d met up for dinner the next evening, and he’d told me about his father. He was actually his stepdad, but to Scott, he was the only dad he knew.
“So he’s my dad, period,” Scott had insisted.
Scott explained how his dad had been shot by a police officer for stealing cigarettes when he was a teenager. He’d survived, thank God. But the scar, both physical and emotional had remained with him for life. His dad went on to Howard University, and later became a professor there. Scott said that his father raved so much about the brotherhood he found at HU, and about how much he grew as a Black man, that Scott couldn’t wait to go to Howard himself.
My mouth had flown open. “You went to an HBCU?”
“Yeah…best experience of my life.”
I hadn’t quite known what to make of a white guy going to a historically black university. But something about the fact that he’d chosen to attend a university where he was the minority warmed my spirit.
Four months later, Scott and I were exclusive, spending every free moment we could with each other. Then the following month–BAM! We had matching COVID results…positive. Scott got off easy though, with only a lingering headache. But I was down for the count–coughing fits, chills, and night sweats. My Muscle Man basically moved in to take care of me. Making me chicken soup, hot tea, warm baths, and deferring to my pick of any Netflix show I felt like binge watching.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done without you, Babe” I’d told him a few weeks later, after I’d recovered.
He’d winked at me. “Tia, if we can make it through quarantining together,” he’d said, meshing his fingers into mine, “I feel like we can make it through anything.”
DingDingDing! The sound of the door-bell pulls me from my memories. Who could that be? Disoriented, I glance down at my floral pajama bottoms and furry slippers as I shuffle to the door.
When I turn the knob, a man holding a crystal vase filled with two dozen red roses stands before me. “Delivery for Tia Jackson.”
Speechless, I nod and my eyes mist as I sign for the flowers. The note reads: Happy Anniversary, Tia! My friend, my love, my forever…
My forever? I turn around to find Scott behind me, down on one knee, a small white box in his hand. I cover my mouth as tears slide down my cheeks.