I Need to Make Promises
“Who is that?” Lori asked. She glared at Viva as she waited for her answer.
“I don’t know, Lori. Why don’t you ask who it is then we’ll both know?” Viva rolled her eyes. She had opened herself up to the scrutiny of her friends; but, being open to it hadn’t made it hurt less.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Reggie, Lori.”
Lori responded by looking over her shoulder at Viva and smiling. Reggie was the groups’ unanimous choice for Viva. He was welcomed anytime.
“Hi, Reggie,” Lori kissed his smooth, brown cheek then headed out the door. “Bye, Reggie.” Lori smiled at Viva as she closed the door behind her.
Viva couldn’t move. Her paralysis was not a result of Reggie’s unexpected visit. It was a response to a quick mental review of her appearance. It was not cute.
They stared at each other for several minutes. Images of their history floated to the surface in each of their minds. As she recalled Reggie’s hands on her thighs and the wetness of his mouth on her lips, Viva began to actively edit, minimize, and obliterate every commitment she’d made about sex in the last few weeks. She rationalized, negotiated, and out-and-out lied to herself and her God. She wanted Reggie and in the moment, it didn’t matter what she had to give up in order to have him.
“This is not about sex, Viva.” Reggie had already fought the battle he saw Viva engaged in as she stood quietly before him. He had been thinking about her nonstop since their brunch date. Reggie wanted the same things Viva wanted, but he wanted them the right way. “I’m here to talk and to listen. Where’s your kitchen?”
“Uh, that way,” Viva pointed to the long hallway to her right. She noticed the brown bag cradled in his left arm. “I’ll show you.”
He followed her, admiring the curve of her ass and hips as she strolled in front of him. It was one of the blessings Reggie associated with loving black women. No matter how much they were covered up, the pronouncement of black women’s behinds could not be subdued. And he thanked his God every day for that gift.
“This is a great house, Viva.” It was Reggie’s first visit to the bungalow. Viva had not invited him over to see the house after the demolition and remodeling were completed because she hadn’t been strong enough. The truth was that Viva still wasn’t strong enough to be alone with Reggie. She said a quiet prayer that he was strong enough for both of them.
“Thanks. It took more time and money than I expected, but I love it so much. I finally have a place that’s just mine.” Viva clicked on the lights as she led Reggie into the kitchen. She’d kept the original cabinets and had them painted white. The countertops were replaced with black granite, the floors with gray ceramic tile. The backsplash matched the floors. The walls were coated in a light olive. All of the appliances were black. The breakfast nook housed a tall table and four matching chairs. The walk-in pantry held too much food for a family of one. Every morning when she walked into it, Viva admitted to herself that she still longed for a large family full of kids headed by a good man.
“This is so you, Viva. Clean and simple. Neutral colors. This is really great. You did a wonderful job.” Reggie stood very close to Viva. He looked directly into her eyes when he spoke. Viva took an almost indiscernible step backward. And then she took a more noticeable one when her comfort level didn’t rise.
“Why are you here, Reggie?”
Reggie hadn’t moved. He was comfortable with Viva’s discomfort; he knew exactly how to put her at ease. While he’d struggled somewhat with his emotional and physical response to seeing Viva as he’d entered the house, Reggie had found calm in his body and regained focus on his mission.
“Where are your glasses?”
Viva stared at him for a long minute then walked over to the cabinet closest to the refrigerator and opened the doors.
Reggie walked in Viva’s direction, stopped in front of her, and then reached around her stiff body to open the refrigerator. He did a quick survey of the contents then examined the freezer.
“When was the last time you had a real drink? I see you have wine in the fridge, but there’s no vodka in the freezer. Are you refraining from the hard stuff?”
Viva couldn’t speak. She could only concentrate on the movement of Reggie’s lips; lips she could see herself kissing, licking, biting…
“Viva.” Reggie’s smile announced that he was actively reading her mind. She quickly dismissed the thoughts that were leading her eyes slowly down his body.
“Uh, well, the ladies and I only drink wine, now. It’s more dignified.”
“That according to Ms. J?”
“Yeah, you know that. She sets the tone for most of the things we do. That’s actually a little disturbing when I think about it too hard.”
Viva had pressed her body against the hard edge of the stainless steel refrigerator in an attempt to get away from the heat that was coming from Reggie’s body. Then visions of her hands on his face, his chest, and his belt buckle emerged. Viva shoved her hands behind her back.
“Reggie, did you tell me why you’re here? ‘Cause, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea…what exactly do you want this late?”
Reggie’s smile broadened as he closed the space Viva had opened up between them. He glanced at the clock on the stove then turned back to his captive.
“It’s five after ten, Viva. I remember when you used to receive me at two and three o’clock in the morning.”
Viva swallowed hard and pushed her body into the cool appliance.
“Don’t say receive.”
Reggie smiled and Viva braced herself. One slip would not destroy all of her progress. Would it?
“Viva,” Reggie placed his hand on her right arm and slowly pulled her close to him, “I came to make you a drink and to talk. That’s all. Can we do that like the two mature adults we are? I told you at the door that this is not about sex.”
Viva looked into Reggie’s eyes and nodded, even though she wasn’t sure what she was agreeing with. She hadn’t felt very mature in a good while, and any time spent alone with a man was always about sex as far as Viva was concerned.
“Have a seat and I’ll get that drink for you.”
Reggie didn’t move, so Viva had to extract herself from his embrace. She moved slowly out of fear that too much friction would cause a fire.
Viva made it to the table without tripping over her tongue and positioned herself so that she could watch her guest. Reggie removed a liter of Jack Daniel’s, lemons, sugar, and cherries from his bag. Viva watched him prepare their drinks and wondered how coming to her house after ten o’clock at night to serve her whiskey sours was not about sex.
“How’s work, Viva? The attorneys treating you well?”
“You know attorneys,” Viva looked up from her tapping fingers, “their as nice to you as they feel they need to be. I’m working with a pretty decent group now. Two are women, but that doesn’t always mean better treatment. But it’s cool. I’m okay there, but I’m starting to get a little restless.”
Reggie finished mixing the drinks then walked them over to the table. He took a seat at the end next to Viva.
“Does that mean you’re ready to move on? Maybe finish your PhD?”
“Maybe.” Viva took a sip from her drink and closed her eyes to concentrate on the balance of bitter and sweet flavors on her tongue. It wasn’t fair. Reggie knew what whiskey did to her. Viva opened her eyes and glared at her unexpected guest who was much more comfortable in her house than she was at that moment.
“Why are you here, Reggie? You say it’s not about sex, yet you’ve come with whiskey. And you look good as hell and smell…like something I want to bite into. Why the hell are you here?”
“I came to talk, Viva; to help you through this process. And, I want to share some things with you. I’ve been where you are. I know what you’re going through.”
Viva narrowed her eyes as she examined the man sitting at her kitchen table. “You’ve never been married, Reggie, so how could you have been where I am?”
“I mean I’m celibate, Viva. That’s how I know what’s going on with you. That’s why my being here is not about us having sex.”
“Uh, that was you trying to get me into your bed the other week, right? I’m a little confused. Did you just become celibate today?”
Reggie couldn’t contain his laughter. He put his glass on the table then held a hand out to Viva. She happily placed her hand in his as she looked into his eyes. Viva needed Reggie to make his reason for being in her house very clear before she came up with her own and acted on it.
“Okay, so I had a weak moment. You know how you do me. But, my almost slip makes me the perfect person to tell you what not to do on your celibacy journey.” Reggie leaned forward and kissed Viva’s fingertips like he used to do when they were together. The electricity that went through Viva’s body made her question, again, Reggie’s motives.
“Viva, I’ve been celibate for four years. After you got engaged to your last husband I went on something of a binge. I had a lot of sex with a lot of women. I did some things, Viva…I hurt some women because they weren’t you.”
Viva pulled her hand out of Reggie’s grasp. His words spun around her head until she was dizzy. Not Reggie; any man but him.
“Don’t look at me like that, Viva. It’s me. I’m not a monster.”
Viva pushed her drink away and sat up straight in her chair.
“I don’t know, Reggie. You sure do sound like one.” Viva looked down at her hands spread flat against the wood table. She took a minute to decide what she would do if Reggie confessed the worst. “Do you men have any idea what it does to a woman when you break into her body? Do you understand the stain it leaves? Or maybe that’s the point; to leave your mark.”
“Viva,” Reggie leaned forward and tried to take Viva’s hand again, but she pulled away from him, “I lied and said I loved them when I didn’t. I didn’t call or come by when I said I would. I had sex with women a few times, often one time, and then I disappeared. Look at me, Viva. Please.”
Viva tilted her head upward then slowly raised her eyes. She looked directly into Reggie’s eyes and saw the truth, but remained cautious.
“I have never hit a woman. I’ve never slapped or pushed or even cursed a woman to her face. And I have never—never, Viva—raped a woman. You told me what Tommy did to you. Do you think I could come to you now if I had done the same? You trust me, Viva. You trust, Reggie. Remember that.”
She was trying to. It was so easy to get the good men mixed up with the bad ones. Especially when so many of the good ones made endless excuses for those who treated women as if they were receptacles for men to relieve themselves in. That was what Viva had heard in Reggie’s confession: sex without emotion, without regard for the women’s feelings; he'd had sex solely for the purpose of release, not to share himself. Viva had trouble distinguishing that from taking a dump in a public toilet.
“That’s hard to do Reggie. All of you are beginning to look alike.” Viva retrieved her drink and downed half of it quickly. She wanted to be numb again. She’d spent the last year in that place where nothing really hurt, but nothing really felt good either. It was easy to exist there. Viva wondered why she’d left that place. As she stared at the remaining contents of her glass, hope mixed with old pain and it all turned into confusion, loneliness, and frustration. Her friends had told her that wrestling with the mix of emotions was part of growth and healing. Viva often thought she would make more progress jumping off a bridge.
“That’s not fair, Viva.”
“When did fairness become a part of the game? Reggie,” Viva finished off the drink then pushed the glass across the table in front of her guest, “if you came over here to fuck me, you just took the taste for it out of my mouth. Get the hell out of my house.”
“No, Viva.” Reggie grabbed both of her hands. He held her. Not so tightly that she couldn’t release herself, but firm enough to send his intended message: he was the one man that she could trust implicitly. “I’m not leaving. I’m here because I care about you, and you’re going to hear me out because…I can’t live like this anymore. You have to know how I feel about you; the complete truth. And I have to know why you chose your husbands over me. So, what happens next is I will make you another drink. I will freshen up mine, and then you will show me the bathtub I bought. Understand?”
Viva responded strongly to the firmness in Reggie’s grasp and in his words. There was no pain intended, not a morsel of malice was present, only the directive that she allow him to lead.
“Yeah, I understand.” Viva decided to follow.