“If y’all weren’t so difficult, maybe it’ll be easier to get a man.”
“Y‘all? Difficult?” I repeat the triggering words as if they can somehow mean something else. They sting differently when they come from a man who shares the same melanin as me.
My co-worker’s boyfriend, Aaron, proudly sporting his old grey Howard sweatshirt, loves to patronize me for my single status.
My fists clench, digging my nails into my palms. I want to punch his smug velvet face and knock his arrogantly twisted lips off, but, Erica, his girlfriend, comes over beaming with two teal mugs. The sweet smell of caffeine assuages the fire growing inside my chest. Boisterous chatter and whistles from the espresso machine surround us in the tiny café. She places one mug in front of Aaron then cradles the other between her hands and snuggles under him.
“Relationships?” she asks after taking a hard sip. Her amber eyes lock into mine. “You should really open up to more options.” She nods her complacent, racially ambiguous face as if she solved a problem.
Fury flames back in my chest. A Black man telling me I’m difficult is annoying already; I don’t need a woman who isn’t telling me about myself.
Biting my lip, I straighten up in the lopsided oak chair.
“First off, I’m not difficult,” I scowl at Aaron munching on a protein bar. “And secondly, what is wrong with wanting to date a Black man?”
Unless it was someone like Aaron. I know his type: intimidated by a woman who speaks her mind, makes more, and independent–– everything a Black woman is taught to be.
I cock my head, waiting for an answer I know neither of them has.
“I am a Black woman.” Emphasis on BLACK. Ancestry confirmed up to 80% to be exact! “I believe in Black love.”
They shrug their shoulders, purse their lips, and continue eating and drinking.
Pumpkin spiced steam floats out of Erica’s mug, framing the very image of the more than common interracial couple–– a Black man and woman who is not black.
“I’m just tired of always defending my preference,” I say. “My parents are both Black and they managed to find each other and maintain a 25-year marriage. My dad’s an amazing Black man that adores my Black mother, hair bonnets and all, with all his heart. That is all I want.”
“Isn’t your dad like half Hispanic?” Erica asks, cocking her head with a cynical smile.
“We aren’t doing this again.” I rub between her eyes. “Still Black.”
“If you weren’t so picky then why didn’t you let me buy you a coffee when I offered?” Aaron asks, raising his eyebrow.
“Because I know what I like, and no one ever gets it right. I rather get it myself.” I grab my purse, dig out my wallet, and get up to go order my own drink, not before catching Aaron’s sly words.
“That’s their problem––so damn aggressive.”
I stop and take a deep breath, pushing down my jabbing annoyance.
“Woosah, Laurie. Woo-friggin-sah.” I breathe and walk up to the counter.
A barista steps up, pushes back his messy dark hair, and greets me with a smile that accentuates his five o’clock shadow. I ponder through the curved glass encasing the flaky and fruity bite-size snacks although I already know what I want.
“Tall hot latte, decaf, almond milk, two pumps of caramel, and a coffee cake,” A voice says.
My mouth falls open as I look up at him unsure if I should be impressed or creeped out.
“Um, ye-yeah,” I say, tilting my head, entranced by his piercing grey eyes.
I open my wallet but before I can take out my card he hands me a tall pink mug. Steam streams out of the foamy surface. In his other hand is a matching plate with a perfect squared piece of cake, sweet crumbles and all.
“Enjoy. It’s on me.”
The corners of my mouth slowly turn up into a smile. Weirdly, his warmth voids out the creepiness trying to invade my mind. I take both items. The aroma wafting from the mug smells about right.
As I head back to the table of ridicule, I can’t help but look back at him still smiling at me as he takes another customer.
“Look, I think I have a friend for you,” Aaron says, bringing my attention back to them. “He’s a Senior Financial Analyst, like me, and he’s been single for a while. Good dude, good money, no kids, loves traveling. His name is Andre.”
“Oh my gosh, babe, that’s a great idea. Lauren and Dre would be such a great fit.” Erica squeals and shifts from under Aaron. She sits up with her head propped in her palm like a teenage girl. “You have to go out with him.”
I squinch my face. The thought of dating someone like Aaron makes my skin crawl. But, a sip of my piping hot coffee shoots euphoria straight through my veins.
“Dear God, this is amazing.” My eyes shut as the perfectly sweet liquid makes my taste buds dance. “Wow.”
I look back at the barista ardently taking and making orders for the long line that has formed. Despite how busy he is, his bright eyes find me, shooting me a wink before moving to the fancy espresso machine screaming for his attention.
I turn back to Erica staring inquisitively into me.
“Hmm, Dre…” I say, taking another delightful sip. “I don’t know. Have I met him before?”
“Nah, but he’s seen you in some of our pics and occasionally asks about the bad chick who’s always alone— wondering what was wrong with you,” Aaron laughs.
“What was wrong with me?” I echo.
“Yeah, like how are you so pretty but single? Like you must be crazy,” he hisses and drinks. “Don’t worry, I told him you’re cool, just high maintenance. He said he likes a challenge.”
“I AM NOT HI––” I catch myself before mutating into an angry stereotype. “Just set the damn date up.”
Anger churns the almond milk in my stomach and sears away my appetite. I pack away the coffee cake for later and leave before another microaggression is aimed at me.
Later in the evening, Andre, or Dre as he prefers, reaches out to me. Rather than starting with awkward text interviews, we decide to meet for dinner. We meet at the bar at Remy’s, the new southern restaurant, and right away our attraction clicks like magnets. His bronze skin shines like polished armor under the lights above the bar. His deep brown eyes spark as I approach him. I breathe in deep his leathery cologne as he wraps his arms around my black satin dress, taking in the softness of his forest green V-neck and toned physique.
Appetizers in, Dre appears to be everything I am looking for: intelligent, good-looking, and accomplished. He travels the world, listens to great music, and knows his way in the kitchen. Every word out his mouth constructs the ideal black man I dream of.
“I don’t normally date Black women, but you aren’t bad.”
And, just like that, the perfect image shatters into thousands of sharp pieces along with my hope. My smile quickly turns to a frown. He takes a forkful of Cajun mac and cheese and smiles, completely unfazed by his words that burn my brown skin.
Biting my bottom lip, I sit back in the velvet cushioned chair with my arms folded.
“What do you mean you ‘don’t normally date Black women?’ And how am I not bad?”
A small spot above my eye begins to twitch as I watch Dre’s chewing slow to a halt. Satisfaction melts from his face. His fork clinks on the plate. He clears his throat, ready to spew some garbage ass response.
“I mean, I don’t usually date Black-Black women… that often, really. But aren’t you like Cuban?”
My eyes expand. Speechless, I scoff.
“And I mean, you’re different than the rest of them, you know?” He shrugs and grins.
I sit up and smile tight-jawed eager to know how I was “different”.
“How is that?” I unfold my arms and take a bite of my fluffy sweet potato mash.
His almond-shaped eyes search the ivory tablecloth covered in warm chromatic plates and red-tinted glasses for the answer.
“You’re not loud or hostile for one. That’s a plus. Most of the Black women I dated, at some point, go nuclear,” he laughs.
“I have my days.”
Dre sighs the sigh men do when you challenge them. His face tightens and nostrils flare. He leans in and grabs hold of my hand.
“I am serious. This has been the best date I’ve had in a while. You are truly amazing. Can’t we just enjoy the night without any difficulties?”
I also lean in, taking in Dre’s warm eyes, and lick the sweet cinnamon butter of the potatoes from my lips. With a small curl of my lips, I yell, “CHECK.”
The cool night air whirls around me, soothing my flushed face as I turn the busy corner of the restaurant. My heels and heart knock in my ears heavy with frustration from another failed date. Erica’s voice squeaks away on the phone.
“Are you kidding me? I don’t think he was being mean.”
“Um, he was insulting and I’m not gonna continue to date a guy who thinks I’m ‘not bad,'” I say, annoyed.
There’s a tense silence before Erica sighs heavily on the other end.
“Do you think you’re being sensitive?”
Unable to find the words, I simply hang up and drop my phone in my coat pocket. For about half an hour, I wander under the streetlights through aimless people and floating New York trash until I am back at the cafe still brimming with night owls.
A soothing blast of heat hits me when I open the door. I shake off the residual cold and walk to the counter. My eyes quickly scan the few baristas working. A small part of me hoped the same guy from earlier would be working. I sigh and give my late-night order to the cashier with platinum white hair, glowing umber skin, and a bomb-ass manicure.
My order of a vanilla chai tea and dulce cake pop takes less than a minute. I grab the hot mug and paper bag and sit at my favorite table in the back perfect for one single girl. The rest of the night will just be me and James Baldwin and all of his wondrous thoughts.
Not even a few pages in and my mind can’t help but revert to my disastrous date. Tonight was the sixth failed connection in just a couple of months. Sure, I should chalk it up to trying to date one of Aaron’s friends, but the truth is that this wasn’t even as bad as the others. How can I stay optimistic about meeting the right one when they all seem wrong? Or am I the one with something wrong?
“Notes of a Native Son; good read.”
The familiar voice anchors me out of my adverse thoughts. My eyes expand at the cute barista standing there in a navy bomber jacket. A smile stretches my face wider than I can control. His presence, and intoxicating vanilla and sandalwood scent, brings bliss to my dreary night.
“Hey. Um, yeah, it is,” I say, looking between him and the book. “You’re still here?”
“Yeah, well my shift is over, I was about to head out.”
I slump my shoulders as I shift in the old creaky chair ready to jump back into my book.
I follow his extended hand up to his dazzling eyes and shake.
“Do you want some company?” He looks back. “Or are you waiting for someone?”
“Actually, I just left somebody,” I say, twisting my mouth up, and direct my hand out across the table.
He smiles, pulls a chair from an empty table, and sits opposite me.
“Bad date?” he asks.
“Bad couple of dates,” I scoff.
“Been there. A good book is usually a good way of forgetting. Or a drink,” he says with a nod.”
The thud of my book commences the start of our strangely intriguing conversation.
We talk and laugh about the most random things–– from good Netflix shows to the best-hidden food spots in the five boroughs. What feels like only a few minutes turns into two hours.
“How did you know my coffee order?” The question jumps out of me during a momentary lapse of silence.
Nathan rubs the back of his neck and laughs. His perfect white grill flashes through the redness of his face.
“I took your order about ten or so times before and heard you give it to others when I wasn’t behind the register, so after a while, I just memorized it,” he explains then shoots his hands out. “Not that I’m a stalker. I just wanted to impress you.”
I press my lips to keep from laughing but my eyes bulge with amazement.
“Oh, um, wow.”
His charming gaze warms my skin and my heart starts to race. I never imagined I’d feel this way about a… white guy. I glance down at my boots tapping away on the tiled floor. When I look back up, past Nathan, a surly barista at the register with jumbo box braids scowls at us. She puckers her vamp-red lips and rolls her eyes before turning away and wiping down the crumby countertop. Instantly, my unexpected euphoria transforms into uncertainty.
“Would you like to go out… one day, on a good date?” Nathan asks.
I stare blankly at him. If he’d ask this a minute ago, I actually might’ve said yes. Now, I don’t know what to say. Part of my resistance to dating outside my race is the side eyes and the accusations of being a “sell-out” or a “trader.” We genuinely connect in a way I haven’t with anyone else, Black or non-black in a minute. But what would my own people think? Damn, is this what Black men go through?
Nathan clears his throat, snapping me out of my tornado of thoughts. His face creases as his gaze shifts.
“Sorry, I, uh–”
“Never dated a barista? Yeah, I figured.” He nods and leans back in the chair.
In another turn of emotions, his frown makes me feel like crap. Pure crap.
But, after a second, a smile creeps onto his lips, exposing his joke, and alleviating the tightness in my chest.
“Yeah, I was going to say a stalker, actually,” I laugh and playfully hit his arm. “I would like to go out on a date.”
“Awesome!” He snaps up from his hunch. “How about right now? There’s a late-night pop-up museum a few blocks from here. Interested?”
“I. Love. Museums! Yes!”
I take my last swig of room-temperature tea and throw my book in my purse. Before I can grab my coat, Nathan jumps from his seat, grabs it from the back of my chair, and holds it out for me.
“Thanks,” I say, slipping my arms inside the soft sleeves.
Our fingers graze as we make our way to the door. His finger hooks onto mine and before I know it, our hands lock. I look at him and smile just as we near the counter where the bitter barista stands eyeing us. The dirty counter rag hangs from her tightly crossed arms.
Her piercing glare bounces off my delight. I throw my head back, shaking the hate out of my curls.
“I know, girl! I’m shook, too,” I say.
A soured expression jerks the barista’s head back. She hisses her teeth and walks to the other side of the register.
Nathan looks between me and his co-worker with a scrunched-up face.
I open my mouth to explain our “misunderstanding”, but his words stop me.
“Don’t mind her. We went out once to an anime convention–– her idea,” he pauses and shakes his head. “Let’s just say it didn’t work out. She’s been giving me the side-eye since.”
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