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Welcome to “The Art of Falling.” Thanks to all the writers who contributed and to all the kind readers. I hope you enjoy the event.
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I don’t know how long it had been going on when I stepped out onto the parking lot. It was a hot summer day, and I was temporarily blinded by the sun glaring off the concrete. I heard raised voices, and as I walked toward my car, I could see three people standing by the bus stop in front of my building. Two of them, an older man and woman, seemed to be shouting at the third.
“What the hell are you doing here?” the man shouted. “You don’t belong here! Go back to Oakland where you belong!”
The older woman joined in berating the young woman standing there. “We’ve seen you here before. Cars are getting broken into and we don’t need any more of this shit.”
The young woman was surprisingly calm. “Y’all need to leave me alone. I work just down the street and I catch the bus here. I have every right to be here. This is a bus stop and the bus will be here in three minutes.”
“How do we know that’s what you’re doing?” the man shouted. “You don’t belong here.”
Well, there was nothing about that situation I liked. I had seen enough and heard enough of this shit on the internet, and now here it was going on in front of MY building. I don’t mean the building where I lived, although I did live there. I OWNED the building. I had privilege and position, and it was time to put it to good use.
I’d once read a statement attributed to Edmund Burke. I took it to heart. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Evil wasn’t going to triumph that day. Not in my parking lot. I walked up about 10 feet away.
“Hey, sweetheart, you okay?” I asked the girl. She’d been facing away from me and I hadn’t really seen anything but her back. That was pretty impressive, but I got the full impact when she turned to face me.
“I was okay, until these two showed up,” she said. “They’ve been yelling at me, saying a bunch of racist shit and they won’t leave me alone.”
The woman started to bluster up, and got going again. “This… person…” I didn’t let her finish. The words of Samuel L. Jackson sprang to mind and I almost laughed, but I said, with as much menace as I could muster, “I don’t remember asking you a Goddamn thing.”
That got a snort from the damsel in distress, and a snarl from the man. “Who do you think you are, talking to my wife like that?”
“You needa get this crazy bitch under control and take your old wrinkly dusty trash-bag looking ass down the street,” the girl said. “Telling a black person to ‘go back to Oakland.’ What, you think there aren’t any black people in Berkeley?”
This was getting out of hand. I thought I should put an end to it. “As for who I am, I’m the owner of this building,” I said. “What are you doing standing in my parking lot?”
“We live here.” I could tell the woman was building a head of steam.
“Not for long,” I assured her. “I don’t lease to racists. I suggest you move along and leave this young lady alone. I’ll have the property manager speak to you about vacating your lease as soon as I can. You two have a good day.”
I turned from them to the ‘young lady.’ “Madame, do you really want to wait for the bus in this company, or would you prefer riding in that?”
“That,” was my Mercedes GLS 63. I chirped the locks. It was black and gleaming in the sun. She looked at it, back at me, and I could see doubt in her eyes. I didn’t blame her.
“Tell you what,” I said. “Let’s go inside, I’ll introduce you to the building manager; she can tell you I am who I say I am. I’ll give you my driver’s license, you can call anyone you want, tell them you’re with me and make sure you’re safe. Deal?”
She looked at the disappearing idiots who had been harassing her, back to me and gave a little nod. “Bye, Felecia,” she called after them.
I held out my hand. “I’m Robert,” I said. “Rob, Rob McDonald.”
She took a step back. “Umm… virus,” she said.
I laughed. “Sorry, I’m just so used to shaking hands I still do that. Don’t worry, I never really liked doing it; it’s just a habit. I’ll put on a mask while we’re together in the car and when we go inside.”
She nodded again. That little movement fascinated me. The reason for the fascination was her hair. It was gorgeous. There was this explosion of black glossy curls, pounds of them, it appeared, surrounding one of the most beautiful faces I’d ever seen. There were three or four strands of curls that fell across her face and her right eye was nearly hidden beneath the mass on that side. It fell down over her shoulders, halfway down her back, and I figured if it was straight if would be past her butt.
That butt was the first ankara evi olan escortlar thing I had noticed when her back was toward me and I was walking up on the scene. Well, after the hair. It was maddening, jutting out, round, firm, tight and just spectacular. She’d started with good genes and it looked like she’d spent years perfecting them.
When she’d turned to face me, I was stunned. It was a little oval face, pointed chin, broad high forehead, high cheekbones, huge tilted-up eyes that were a liquid amber in the sun, flecks of gold and green in them, and her lips… Kissable was the only word. Full, plush and she had on a shade of dark purple lipstick that matched her eyeshadow. This was a gorgeous girl. She looked like a baby, though. I wondered how old she was. She didn’t look 20.
“I’m Tianna,” she said, “Tianna Edwards.” Even her voice was captivating: low, husky and sounding like she should be singing old jazz. It was what I imagined talking to Billie Holliday would have sounded like.
“Nice to meet you, Tianna,” I said. “Ready to go inside?”
She nodded again, and we walked across the parking lot and into the cool air of the lobby. She pulled a mask out of her bag and I got mine from my pocket.
I introduced her to Marsha, the building manager, and Marsha confirmed for her that I did, indeed, own the building. I gave her my driver’s license and she made a phone call.
“Hi, Gram,” she said. “Listen, I’m riding home with this guy. His name is Rob McDonald. He owns the building where I catch the bus.”
I heard the voice on the other end say something, then Tianna cut it off. “No, I’m giving you his license number. If he murders me, call the police.” She looked up at me and I could tell she was smiling behind the mask. I wanted to tear it off so I could see that smile.
She gave her grandmother my license number, and after a few more words, she ended the call. “I should warn you; I know a bunch of big thug mofos who will hunt you down and end you if you hurt me,” she said.
I laughed. “Anyone who would hurt you should be ended.” We said goodbye to Marsha and I thumbed the remote to start the car. By the time we got there the air was blasting away and it was starting to cool down.
I held the door for her, and she got in, glancing up at me with a look of surprise in her eyes. I guess she wasn’t used to men holding her door. When I got in, she was checking everything out inside. “Sick nasty car,” she said, her eyes showing she was smiling again.
“Thanks, I think,” I said.
That got a laugh out of her and it was a spine-tingling sound. I wanted to hear it again.
“It’s a compliment,” she said.
I nodded. “Where are we going?”
She hesitated, then laughed. “You’re not going to believe this, but Oakland.” We both burst out laughing. That’s where the assholes had told her to “go back to.”
I got the address into the navigation system and we started. “So, tell me what brings Tianna Edwards out of Oakland?” I said.
“I work just down the street from your building,” she said.
“Mind telling me what you do?”
“No, I don’t mind,” she said. “I work for a lawyer. I’m kind of a front desk person. I make appointments, talk to clients, that sort of thing.”
“Been there long?” I asked.
“No, about six months,” she said. “I’m working my way through college.”
I nodded. “I wondered if you were still in high school.”
She laughed. “Yeah, I get that a lot. I know I have a baby-face. I’m 20, though. I’m a sophomore.”
“Where do you go?” I asked.
“Laney College,” she said. “Imma graduate this year, and I’m trying to get in at USF. I’m going to have to pinch pennies and go in debt, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be okay. What do you do, Rob?”
“I’m an aggregates engineer,” I told her. “I build shit out of concrete. I’m really not a serial killer.”
She laughed. “Sorry. I didn’t think you were a serial killer. I mean, what are the odds of two serial killers being in the same car?”
It took me a second, but we both laughed hysterically when I finally caught on. “You got me,” I finally managed.
“Hmm, well, that job sounds… boring.”
“I guess my job is boring, most of the time,” I said. “I sort of work for my father. He started the company, but he’s semi-retired and I pretty much run the place.”
She patted the dashboard. “Looks like you’re doing all right for yourself,” she said.
I noticed her hand. She had long slender fingers and bright yellow nails. They were very elegant and beautiful. I was beginning to think everything about her was beautiful.
Another thing I noticed was she was wearing three rings, but none of them appeared to indicate any attachment. Nothing on that vital finger. I was surprised to notice that it was “vital” to me.
“Tianna, want to stop for ice cream on the way?” I asked.
She shot me a look. “Ice cream?”
“Yeah, I think it should be against the law for a pretty girl not to be eating elvankent olgun escortlar ice cream on such a hot day.”
She laughed. “Sure, but I know this is just a plan you cooked up to make me fat.”
She was anything but fat. “I’d say your workouts will keep you from worrying about that, ” I told her.
“I do work out,” she said. “You do, too.”
“Yeah, I belong to a club,” I said.
“I wish I could afford that,” she said. “I work out at school, but I don’t like it. There are always a bunch of tools in there who think screaming when they finish a lift impresses the women as much as it impresses their hommies. Between them and the fuck-bois who try to hit on everyone, I’d rather be somewhere else.”
“I can only imagine,” I said. “There are some of them at my club, too, but we’ll kick you out if you get loud or bother other members.”
“Where you go?” she asked.
“Well, I kind of own the club,” I said. “It’s called “Spin Universe,” and it’s in Alameda.”
We pulled up at the ice cream place, ordered and got back on the road. I got mint chocolate chip and she got something with caramel, chocolate and nuts, with whipped cream.
She looked over at mine and shuddered. “How can you eat that?”
“What?” I asked. “You don’t like mint chocolate chip?”
She shook her head and all that hair danced in magic waves. “Noo. Ion wanna eat toothpaste. I’d get it right out the tube if I did.”
This was an amazing girl, I decided. She was, of course, probably the hottest woman I’d ever seen in person, she was funny as hell and obviously smart, since she was doing well in college. She also had a little dab of whipped cream on her upper lip.
She noticed that I glanced at it a couple of times, and she finally said, “I’ve got ice cream on my mouth, don’t I? Is that what you’re thinking?”
I couldn’t tell her what I was actually thinking: that I wanted very badly to kiss it off, so I just touched my mouth. “A little something,” I said.
She giggled and a little pointed pink tongue swiped her upper lip, then she pulled her mask back up. She was making me nuts. I needed to concentrate on my driving.
“Say, Tianna, I’ve got a deal for you,” I said, thinking faster than I ever had in my life. “I need a workout buddy. If you’ll work out with me, I’ll give you a six-month membership at the gym.”
She looked at me and she was hard to read behind her mask. “Why?” she asked. While I was formulating a reply, she figured it out. “Oh, oh, I get it. You want to get to know me, don’t you, Rob? Rob like me, he wanna date me,” her voice was a teasing sing-song.
I had to laugh. This was one sharp cookie. “Busted,” I said. “Do you hate the idea? I figured if I just asked you out you would say no, since you don’t know me, so I figured, yes, we’d get to know each other a bit.”
“Hmm…” she made a little noise and seemed to ponder it. “Well, if we do get to know each other, you’re going to figure out that you should just tell me shit,” she said. “I like people to tell me what they’re thinking, not dance around.”
“I’ll remember,” I said. “What do you think about the gym membership, though? I really would like to have you as a workout buddy, and I’d like to get to know you.”
“I don’t know yet,” she said. “You needa come in and meet Gram. If she likes you, I’ll do it.”
“That sounds terrifying,” I confessed.
She laughed. “She’s not at all terrifying. I’m not sure what she’ll think about you, though.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, you’re sort of a white boy,” she said. “My dad is white, and I love him like no one else, but he and Mom divorced when I was three. Gram doesn’t get along with him. He and Mom were good parents and always worked together on being what I needed, but marriage didn’t work out that well for them.”
“What does that have to do with me?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I trust Gram,” she said. “She’s a good judge of character. You’re dropping me at her house.”
I got it. She didn’t want me to have her address. Smart girl. I pretended not to notice. “You live with your grandmother?”
“No, not anymore,” she said. “I did. Mom is a model and gone all the time. My Dad is a great guy, but he smokes weed all the time and has a bunch of sketchy friends. I love them both, but neither of them were people who should have ever had a kid. They love me, in their own way, but we wouldn’t get along if I lived with them. I lived with Gram ever since I started kindergarten. I have my own apartment now.”
“Is she going to eat me?” I asked.
She smiled, and since the mask was off while she was taking a bite of her ice cream, her perfect teeth flashed. Her smile lit her up like a beacon. Sadly, she finished her ice cream and pulled up her mask. I was moving a little slower, since I was driving, and she took my cup and fed me. God that felt intimate, and I was loving my day.
“She won’t eat you,” Tianna said. “She’ll be surprised if she thinks I like etimesgut sarışın escortlar you.”
“Oh, why is that?” I asked.
“Well, don’t take this wrong, but I kinda have a ‘no white boys’ rule.”
Had I been going to take it wrong, her putting another spoonful of ice cream in my mouth disarmed that.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Well, I saw how that worked out with my mom and dad,” she explained. “They aren’t like prejudiced, or anything, and I’m not either, but there’s just a lot of awkward shit that goes along with it. I know it’s better now, but there are just things you don’t know.”
“Tell me something,” I said.
“Okay, suppose you call me up Thursday and ask me for a date that night? I tell you, ‘I can’t, I needa wash my hair.’ What you think?”
“You’re blowing me off?”
“See, that’s a thing. What you don’t know is washing my hair isn’t like you washing yours. It takes me hours. I have to put oil IN my hair, and you wash it OUT of yours. I have to wrap my hair up in a bonnet every night with product on it. I have to use lotion, every day, or my skin gets ashy. There are just things you have to learn and some of them are awkward, not like hair.”
“I had no idea,” I said. “I can see that. I’ll have to think about shit like that. You can teach me.”
“We’ll see,” she said. “You gotta pass the Gram test, first.”
I was nervous as fuck when we pulled up in front of a cozy little white house with a white vinyl fence in the front, joining chain-link down the sides. I noticed the driveway was broken up, the sidewalk, too. Hey, concrete guys notice that shit. The flowerbeds were immaculate, and there was a tiny woman who I knew had to be in her seventies, but looked fifty, working in some beautiful heliotropes.
She had a wheelbarrow with mulch in it and I could see a little pile of grass she had pulled beside her. She stood when we pulled in and straightened, putting her hands on her hips and squinting into the sun.
Tianna didn’t wait for me to come around and open her door, just hopping down and calling, “Hey, Gram!”
She ran to the gate, opening it and pausing just inside to beckon to me to follow. She went and hugged her grandmother, and I noticed how tall she was. She towered over her grandmother like a tree.
“Gram, this is Rob McDonald,” she said. “He kinda ran off some old racist white people who were harassing me at the bus stop. It’s sorta in front of the building he owns. Rob, this is my gram. Her name is Patricia.”
I almost stuck out my hand, but remembered just in time. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Patricia,” I said. “I love your heliotropes. You have beautiful flowers.”
I could tell she was sizing me up. “Thank you for helping my baby, Mr. McDonald,” she finally said. “You took some trouble, carrying her all the way out here in your car.”
I was feeling very uncomfortable in front of this tiny little woman, like she was looking into my soul, and I kind of shifted from foot to foot. “I enjoyed the company,” I said. “I don’t like people being aggravated in front of my building. Well, anywhere else, for that matter.”
She chuckled. “Anybody don’t enjoy the company of Tianna got something wrong with them. Y’all want some lemonade? I just made some.”
“I’ll get it and bring it out,” Tianna spoke quickly. “Rob, you help Gram finish what she was doing.” She left me standing there and went inside. Now I was in a pickle. Patricia was fierce!
“Were you getting ready to spread some mulch, Patricia?” I asked.
“I was as soon as I got rid of the pesky grass,” she said. “That Bermuda grass doesn’t know where it belongs. You got on nice clothes though, honey.”
I had on khakis and pink polo. “I was on my way to work, really,” I said. “I mostly wear clothes like this, and they wash. Let’s get that grass.”
We knelt down together and she had a bag from the mulch under her knees. We started finding sprigs to pull. “I know what you mean about the grass,” I told her. “I do concrete, and that Bermuda gets in every crack and grows like crazy.”
She nodded and chuckled. “Doesn’t know its place,” she said. She glanced over at me with those penetrating eyes, so dark brown they were almost black, and she had a twinkle in them.
“You like my Tianna?” she asked.
I nodded. “I do. Like you said, anyone who wouldn’t is nuts. I’ve only known her about an hour, but I think she’s amazing. She’s smart, funny, sassy and kind of beautiful. Maybe you noticed.”
She chuckled. “Everybody notice that. Some don’t notice the funny, smart and sassy part, though. She like you; I can tell.”
“Somehow, I think I know where she got the smart and sassy from,” I said.
She laughed. “Don’t be wasting that charm on me, Mr. McDonald,” she said. “Let’s put some mulch in here.”
I shoveled mulch where she directed and she spread it out with her hands. I noticed that Tianna had come out on the screened-in porch and was sitting, watching us.
We worked around for another 10 minutes, finishing spreading the mulch, just talking companionably, and Patricia took the wheelbarrow back to her shed. “You go wash up. Tianna show you where,” she said.
I went to the porch door, and Tianna let me in. “You survived.” Amusement was sparkling in those huge brown eyes.
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