Chapter Two; Part Two
“Onyx!” I scold her, but my heart isn’t in it. How can I be mad at her when all she wants to do is love me? She butts her head against my shin several times before I scoop her up in my arm. I grab the mug and the bowl with my other hand as best possible to take them into the kitchen. I set Onyx on the counter before washing the dishes. I go to the living room and flop on the couch. I should write my post on NE Minneapolis eateries, but I’m suddenly tired. Sleep is spotty for me. Sometimes, I get seven solid hours a night, and other times, I wake up every other hour and give up after four. Last night was one of the latter, in part because I was waiting for Julianna to text me—which she finally did at five in the morning. She didn’t give me many details because she’s not the type to kiss and tell, but she did let slip that she had a date with Ramona tomorrow, now today. Julianna is a slam poet with plenty of family money to back her up, so she doesn’t have to work a nine-to-five like us plebes. To be totally fair, I don’t really have to work, either, but I like having a schedule that gets me out of the house five days a week.
I drift off on the couch, my dreams filled with malevolent fairies. For some reason, they want to bite all my flesh off, which is agonizingly painful, believe you me. I wake up in a cold sweat, my heart racing. Jet growls in protest from his seat on my lap as I jostle him out of his nap. Onyx doesn’t move from her spot mashed into my right thigh, so I poke her to make sure she’s breathing. She remains inert, so I poke her again. This time, she hisses sleepily before coiling tightly into a ball. I lift Jet from my lap and set him next to Onyx. He wraps himself around her and falls asleep again. I ease myself away from her and tiptoe into the bathroom. I feel grimy, so I take a shower, leaving the bathroom door open. By the time I’m done, both cats are sitting on the counter, staring at me in concern. It cracks me up that this is their reaction to me taking a shower. I can only imagine that they’re thinking, “Why does she take off her fur and allow water to splash all over her?” I could swear they’re shaking their heads minutely as I towel off, which cracks me up. I stick my tongue out at them before pulling on a fresh pair of gray sweats and a red Obama t-shirt. I turn the faucet on a crack so Onyx can lap at the water. Jet turns his attention to her and is now looking at her as if she’s crazy. He cannot stand water touching his fur at all, so it fascinates him that Onyx will stick her paw in the stream and lick the drops off it.
“Treats?” I quirk my eyebrows at my cats, and they hop off the counter with alacrity. It’s one of the words that they know, and it’s guaranteed to spur them into action. They race towards the kitchen, and I follow at a more sedate pace, wrapping a scrunchie around my hair. I open the fridge and pull out some salmon. I give them each a healthy chunk, and they gobble them down. I toast a bagel, smear some cream cheese on it, then add some salmon on top of it. It’s a decadent treat that I don’t eat very often, but I enjoy every bite when I do.
I hear a ping on my Nexus 5X, and it’s an email from Rembrandt. He says he’s thinking of me and hoping I’m doing OK. I reply that I am and ask how he’s doing. I enable my chat on Google so we can message, and I spend the next hour finding out more information about him. He’s the oldest of three boys, whereas I am the middle sister, also of three. My older sister, Jasmine, lives in Minnesota as well, whereas my younger sister, Vivian, fled the state the minute she turned eighteen to attend art school in Boston and never came back. Rembrandt’s thirty-two, which is thirteen years my junior. That makes me a little uneasy, but the fact that he knows his Toni Morrison from his Maxine Hong Kingston assuages my doubts a little. He’s a huge Vikings fan, which is fine with me. I can watch a ball game and comment on it knowledgably, even if it’s not something I’d choose to watch myself. I’m always happy for Minnesotan fans when the home teams do well, but I’m not devastated when they lose. I remember the season in which the Vikes went 15-1. They made it the NFC championship against Atlanta and was widely expected to take it easily. They lost in the last seconds, which was especially heartbreaking for local fans. At the beginning of the next season, the news interviewed a guy dressed in Vikings gear, who talked about how crushed he still felt about the loss. I wanted to shout at him to get a life, but who am I to judge someone else’s emotions? I’m still mourning the death of Alan Rickman, and I never even knew him in real life. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would scorn my grief and say it isn’t real. I don’t pretend to think what I feel for the loss of Alan is anything close to how his loved ones must feel, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.
Rembrandt has an orange tabby named Ginger (female). She had appeared outside his house in the Loring Park neighborhood one day with one eye swollen shut. It was clear that she was pregnant, and she didn’t have a collar on her. Rembrandt took her to a nearby vet who cleared her of any major problems, much to Rembrandt’s surprise. Once Ginger gave birth to her litter of five kittens, Rembrandt had her spayed and found good homes for all her babies. This was two years ago, and now Ginger is the queen of her domain, according to Rembrandt. I give him the abbreviated story of Onyx and Jet and how they are nearly inseparable. I will admit feeling relieved that Rembrandt is a cat person and not a dog one as it had caused so much trouble in my previous relationship. I know it sounds dumb, but one of the reasons I refused to move in with Tessa was because of her dog. I thought it was a sound excuse, but she was less than impressed when I proffered it to her as she brought up the subject six months into our relationship. However, there was a part of me that also just didn’t want to move in with her; the dog/cats situation was a convenient excuse.
I end the conversation after an hour, even though I wouldn’t mind learning more about him. I know it’s better to leave them wanting more. One of the quickest ways to derail a relationship before it even starts is to spend too much time together. Another is to have sex on the first date, but I can’t say I’ll abstain from doing that. I’m past the age where I think that sex is precious and sacred every time, and I’ve come to see it primarily as a physical release. I know it’s difficult to have sex without becoming emotionally involved with someone, but it’s not impossible. Honestly, I’m better at sex than I am at love, which isn’t a comfortable thought for me. I have a much easier time fucking someone for hours on end than I do sitting down and having an earnest talk with them. In fact, when a partner says, “Megan, we need to talk,” I immediately shut down. I know it’s not a rational response, but I don’t see why we have to emote all over the place all the damn time.
My cell rings, startling me out of my brown study. I glance at the screen and see that it’s my other BFF, Liz. She moved to Philly a year and a half ago, and I still miss her like hell. She’s been my bestie for fifteen years, and it broke my heart when she told me she was moving away. I knew she was getting tired of Minneapolis, though; she’s a wanderer at heart, and she had been making noises for years before she actually left that she wanted to move east. Her mom lives in DC and her brother and his two kids live in Virginia. Her husband’s family lives in New Jersey and Boston, too. Liz hated how complicated her holiday travel was when she lived here. It was much easier now that she’s in Philly. We talk on the phone every month or so, but it doesn’t compensate for not being able to see her whenever I want. Granted, I saw her roughly once a month when she lived her, but at least I knew I *could* drive fifteen minutes to her house if the spirit moved me.
“What’s up, girl?” I say, moving to the porch with a Camel Light in hand and a mug in one hand, my phone cradled to my ear as best I can. I ignore my cats meowing behind me as I shut the sliding door because I’ll just give them treats when I go back in to make it up to them.
“I just had the strangest experience.” Liz has a habit of jumping into a conversation without so much as a hello, how are you? “Do you remember Eloise Faberge? We met her in our book club?”
“Oh, I remember,” I say drily. Eloise was a tall, curvy black woman with mental issues that ran deep. I never could really get a bead on her, which made it uneasy for me to be around her. Every time the three of us hung out, there was some drama is her life, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized she made up half of her stories and she instigated the drama in the other half.
“You know she’s in Philly, right? Well, I haven’t been able to meet up with her because any time I plan something, she cancels. I gave up a few months ago.” I hear her take a drag, and I know she’s sitting on her back porch smoking a Marlboro. Her graying red curls are probably running wild, and I’m sure her cat-rimmed glasses are slipping down her nose.
“That sounds like Eloise,” I say, keeping the rancor out of my voice. I remember how Eloise had insisted that I’d be the first to have a kid out of the three of us. I have known since I was fifteen that I didn’t want kids, and after the fifth time she said it one night, I snapped. I reminded her how much she hated it when people stereotyped her because she was black, so why would she do the same to me? This was thirteen or fourteen years ago, and now that both of them had kids, I want to send a postcard to Eloise gloating about the fact that I’m the only one who’s now child-free. I’m nominally an adult, though, so I haven’t done it. Yet.
“Anyway, we have a new math teacher, and she looks exactly like Eloise! Except, she has blue eyes, which I think have to be contacts, right? Her name is Veronica Boulange. She must have some French in her background.”
“Holy shit. That is really weird.” I sit up in my seat, suddenly intrigued. I’m an inveterate mystery reader, and a thousand ideas swirl inside my mind. “Maybe they’re twins separated at birth!”
“Or first cousins once removed!” We laugh at our silliness because really, the likely explanation is that they’re not related at all and simply look similar. “You know, it’s because Veronica has odd mannerisms that are similar to Eloise. And, she’s not very socially adept, also like Eloise. You know how she was.” Do I ever. One time, we took a road trip together and stopped at a Burger King on the way home because we were desperate for something to eat. The minute we stepped in, Eloise started complaining in her outside voice about everything from the décor to the clientele—we were in one of our neighbor states, if I remember correctly. The locals didn’t take kindly to her disparagement, and Liz and I shooed her to the car while we quickly ordered. I added a twenty dollar tip to a thirty dollar bill and that soothed any hurt feeling she had caused. After that, I vowed never to go to a fast-food restaurant with Eloise again. She wasn’t nearly as bad when we’ve been to sit-down restaurants, so I concluded that she was not pleased that she had to lower herself to stepping into such an establishment.
Liz and I talk for the next two hours about the election, how her daughter is adjusting to Philly, how my job is going, my break-up, and a dozen other topics. It’s not the same as when we can sit on my porch, smoking, into the wee hours of the morning, but it’ll have to do. Tessa didn’t like my friendship with Liz for some reason, and I could never figure out why. Any time I asked her about it, she just said that Liz was stuck up. That was so blatantly not the case—Liz is one of the most down-to-earth people I know—but Tessa refused to budge from that position. Any time I would make plans to go out with Liz, Tessa would throw a hissy fit over the phone, delaying me for as long as she could. It got to the point where I’d hang up mid-rant because otherwise, I’d be arguing with her for hours. I felt guilty about it, but that faded after the fourth or fifth time it happened. After about six months of that, she finally stopped doing it, but would not answer my texts for the next day instead. I stopped that by not texting her at all and not answering her texts when she finally deigned to call me. I didn’t like stooping to her level, but it was the only thing that stopped the cycle.
“Love you, girl.” I click off the phone, feeling bereft. I cried for three days straight after she moved. Another thing that annoyed Tessa. Then again, almost everything I did annoyed Tessa, or so it seems. She hated Julianna, Liz, and Lydia, the three people closest to me in my life. In fact, she hated that I took taiji classes, making fun of me for being so stereotypical. At the time, I took it in good humor because I assumed she was just kidding. Now, in my darker mood, it takes on a more ominous tinge. When I’m really depressed, I wonder if she ever loved me at all. I have a hard time convincing myself that our relationship was ever good when it ended so poorly.
“Meow!” Onyx hops into my lap and pushes her face into mine.
“Onyx, back up.” I gently move her head back from mine, used to her feline ways.
“Mrrreow!” She insists on thrusting her face in mine again, so I pick her up and set her beside me. Jet hops up next to her and stares at me gravely.
“What? She won’t respect my boundaries.” I stare back at Jet, but he refuses to back down. I can tell he disapproves of me displacing her from my lap by the way he won’t blink at me when I blink at him. “OK, fine.” I pick Onyx back up and put her in my lap. She curls in a ball, carefully placing her tail around her face. Jet relaxes and flops onto the couch. He places one giant paw over his face and promptly falls asleep. His low rumbles underscore the more delicate snoring of Onyx, and for a minute, I’m perfectly content.