Carmen glanced over at the little MAC bag sitting on her glass coffee table and wondered if the MAC salespeople were trained to spot women like her. She wouldn’t doubt if there was a whole section in the MAC training manual on DAWFUs (Depressed, Agitated, Women who are Feeling Ugly). Hell, most of the makeup in Carmen’s bathroom was purchased during those times when she needed to buy something that would make her feel good after some dude had made her feel bad. Today’s purchases: Vixen Lipstick with a Cork Lip Liner, and some purple eye glitter that she knew she would never wear. Today’s provocateur: Deuce.
Carmen wished she could send Deuce the bill for the purchases, but that would mean divulging how much she had been looking forward to seeing him this weekend and how disappointed she was that he had cancelled at the last minute—again. Also, it would mean that Deuce could afford to pay her back, which he couldn’t. He wasn’t getting the overtime that he used to get at the auto repair shop now that the latest machines could quickly diagnose the engine problems that he and the other mechanics used to spend hours investigating.
That’s all he’d been complaining about the last few months anytime he came over for dinner. He’d be shoveling the food in his mouth and talking so passionately about those “fucking machines” that Carmen wondered if even truly tasted the food she had made him. She was oftentimes tempted to yell, “Nigga, if you weren’t here I would’ve heated up a pot pie and called it a day; but I’m over here trying to play wifey-and-shit after working all day, and yo ass ain’t even taking the time to taste the food!” But she never did. She just listened and then every now and then dropped a “I know, Baby”, “that’s messed up, Baby”, “I’m sorry, Baby.” It was best to keep the door to her real emotions closed and just keep things casual.
Carmen kept her heart closed but she didn’t hesitate to open her wallet and pay for most of the stuff they did together. That’s why nights like this one hurt so much: she paid for almost everything, oftentimes made the plans (because Deuce said he wasn’t “creative like that,” and thought she was a fun date). All she needed for him to do was show up. Damn Nigga, just show the fuck up.
It wasn’t as if she didn’t see Deuce regularly, she just couldn’t predict exactly when it would be sometimes. For a mechanic, Deuce was busier than President Obama had ever been—and had more emergencies too (it seemed somebody in his life always had a broken down car, got kicked out of the house by his wife, was at the hospital, etc.). He’d show up hours after he and Carmen had originally planned because he had been acting like a ghetto Robin Hood, who should be rewarded for helping another friend in need. Carmen wondered if he ever considered that she may need him. It would be nice to come home from a day of dealing with a demanding boss and a stressful work environment to have someone listen to her issues, rub her back, or cook her dinner.
But she reasoned that maybe she wanted too much. Maybe that man didn’t exist—certainly none of her friends had found him if he did. So, she – for the first time in her life —settled (not that she cared about the money, but she cared about the time). No one would believe that she, who fought to be named VP of Marketing (and the only Black executive in her company) and pushed her employees to surpass her CEO’s expectations would settle for anything. But she did. Loneliness is humbling.
As soon as he texted Carmen, he knew she’d be pissed. She wouldn’t say anything, but the next time they saw each other she would look at him with her lips pressed tightly together like the mother of a misbehaving child. He wished she’d yell at him or at least tell him how she felt. That would make her seem more real to him.
When he first saw Carmen walk into the car shop to get her Audi A-8 serviced, he thought that she was perfect: flawless dark brown skin, huge brown eyes, and an ass that made him want to go to his momma’s church on Sunday and thank God. And as they’d spent time kickin’ it, she truly seemed to be perfect: intelligent, awesome in bed, didn’t sweat him, could cook somewhat (wasn’t Grandma’s cooking, but it was decent), and loved to laugh. Oddly though, the more he discovered about her that was so good, the more inadequate he felt about himself.
She was cool about paying for things; but every time she did, it made him feel as if the servers in the restaurants were judging him. He would have been happy to take Carmen out to dinner, but some of the places she liked to go would wipe out a day’s salary, so he just went with the flow and went to the type of fancy restaurants that she seemed to like and that she insisted that they go to. He truly dug Carmen; but struggled with how to show her since he couldn’t take her places she wanted to go or buy any of those name brands she liked. So, he felt almost paralyzed and did nothing. He’d become excited when something around her place broke; and he could fix it for her. It was something that he could do for her that she couldn’t do for herself.
Deuce was accustomed to taking care of people. He was the oldest of 5 kids in a “half-parent household,” he would say. He never met his father and his mother was only around half the time —depending on how the slots were treating her. So, he oversaw his siblings and their friends. They all still depended on him, which he didn’t mind. It somehow made him feel useful… like a man.
While Carmen was an exceptionally good woman, it was only when they were making love that Deuce felt like a good man. There, she shed her perfect exterior and became a raw, vulnerable person who would grab his butt, scratch his back, and widen her legs to accept him fully. There, was the only time she would curse aloud around him. There, she released herself to him and let him be in charge.
He wanted to see Carmen tonight, but he didn’t know when he’d get back to town after getting a call to help a friend. There was no way he could leave one of his partna’s on the side of the road (if only because they had always stuck together had they had survived on streets that seemed to swallow Black men). He learned early that it was best to cancel plans with Carmen than to show up after midnight. Regardless of whether he explained the story to her, was covered in oil illustrating that he had been where he said he was, Carmen would still accuse him of treating her like a “booty call”, turn her back on him all night, and certainly not give him any booty.
As much as Carmen loved Deuce’s sex, she refused to be any man’s booty call, she thought as she brushed her teeth with some whitening toothpaste. Some of her friends seemed to behave like the McDonald’s of coochie to one or two guys. Dudes would roll through, get their “happy meal” and roll out. That type of customer eventually steals a woman’s soul. So, Carmen always tried to protect herself from such treatment. Dating had become a strategy in defense. How could you leave your heart open to love when men and women seemed to be careless with each other’s feelings these days. It was best to date, but to leave your heart protected and closed.
Carmen ran a little coconut oil through her hair and over her face and crawled into the bed. As she was about to doze off, her cell phone rang. It was Deuce. She glanced at the clock: 12:18 A.M., glanced at her phone again, and made the decision not to answer (she ain’t gonna be THAT chick she reasoned). 12:20 A.M. — her phone rang again — Deuce. Damn.
“Hello,” she whispered in a voice that tried to emphasize that she was asleep (and that it was too late for him to be calling).
“Hey Baby, I’m sorry to be calling this late, but I really need you to do me a favor.”
Here we go, thought Carmen. This Negro is about to ask me for some money. Her girl, Deidre, almost lost her home from loaning her sorry man money month-after-month only to find out that he was still married. Thank goodness she had her friends to warn her about these trifling dudes. She wasn’t gonna be his damn fool. Hell-to-tha-naw.
“What is it, Deuce?” she snapped.
Deuce stayed quiet for a minute. Why was she trippin? He has never asked her for anything. As a matter of fact, it was tough for him to ask anyone for anything; it made him feel weak. Reaching out to Carmen tonight should’ve been a sign to her about how much he trusted her and felt close to her. He didn’t just let anybody see him when he as vulnerable.
“I’m wondering if you could come out to help me. This situation is taking longer than we thought and I wondered if you could give a friend a ride so they don’t have to wait so long, especially when it’s so cold out and the car is low on gas.”
Carmen was tempted to respond, “Ever heard of Uber” but she agreed to come (she heard the stress in Deuce’s voice), threw on her old Nike sweats and tan Uggs, swiped on some lip gloss and rolled out. DJ Tea was doing his famous old school mix when she got into the Audi, so the time driving out to meet Deuce flew by. SWV was blaring when she spotted 2 cars with hazard lights blinking on the right shoulder of the road. Carmen pulled over, put on her hazards and parked behind an old Ford truck. Deuce was bent under the hood of the car; a tall thin, light-skin brotha with lines of cornrows, and a healthy beard stood by the car, smoking a cigarette and talking to Deuce. Carmen got out of the car, started walking towards where Deuce was when she noticed a woman with beautiful curly hair sitting in the backseat of the truck, holding a baby, who had Deuce’s jacket thrown over him like blanket.
“Does this Negro have a baby? I know he bet not have brought me up here for no baby momma drama,” Carmen thought as her stomach started starting churning. She slowed her walk – not ready for the drama that was obviously about to go down.
“Carmen!” the dude with the cornrows yelled. “How ya doin’? So nice to finally meet Deuce’s lady,” he said as he got closer to her, eventually embracing her in a hug that lifted her off of her feet.
“His Lady?” Carmen thought but just smiled and responded, “What’s up. You guys got this thing figured out yet.”
At that moment, Deuce came from under the hood and flashed Carmen a large smile that spoke of relief. “Hey Baby. Thanks for coming. Let me talk to you for a minute,” he said and started walking to his car. He opened the door for Carmen and then went to the other side to let himself in. He turned on the heat and began rubbing his hands together. He had to be cold. All he was wearing was the t-shirt he had on under the flannel that was now covering the baby.
“Look, I need you to take Darnesha and Baby Justin to the Holiday Inn on Grant,” Deuce talked low as if there were other people in the car. He opened his wallet and took out every dollar that was in there and handed it to Carmen. “Please stop first at McDonalds and get Darnesha something to eat. She has enough formula already for the baby for tonight but I’ll bring her some more tomorrow. Tariq was trying to help me out and get Darnesha out of town, but his car broke down. I just want to make sure that she is taken care of for the night.”
Carmen sat there in silence for a moment. This jack ass must think that her college degree made her soft. He was about to get a lesson in ‘what da fuck she was behind the proper English and the titles’. “You drove me out here so I can help you with your baby momma, she yelled, her voice going higher with each syllable. Mother fucker, do I look Mormon? Do I look like some woman who wants to get into some commune type shit where I am helping out your other bitches?”
Deuce almost looked amused, which made Carmen even angrier.
“I ain’t that bitch! I never said anything before—was trying to be cool, but I ain’t the type that appreciates you always cancelling on me, or trying to come late. And I sure as hell ain’t gonna help with this baby momma or any other baby mommas you got out there. You mean to tell me we’ve been messing around for 8 months and you didn’t think to mention that you had a damn child.”
“Whoa,” Deuce interrupted while putting up his hands as if he was blocking punches. “First of all who knew you could curse like that. Second of all, Justin ain’t my baby. He’s my cousin, Rick’s, baby. Overall Rick is a good dude but since he got back from the military, he’s become a violent drunk. He rarely drinks but when he does it’s like watching a different person: he becomes angry, destroys things in the house, and even hit Darnesha last time. It’s as if he is no longer with us, but at war fighting for his life. Of course, every time Rick has an episode, the government’s first response is to try to arrest Rick instead of providing him the proper help that he needs. It doesn’t help that he’s a 6’6 Brotha’–they are itching to lock him up. Tonight, Darnesha called me because Rick went out drinking. He tends to get more depressed around Veterans Day. He always says the citizens of the United States tell him “thank you” one day a year, when he sacrificed the rest of his normal days, forever for a country who won’t help him. We now have a plan that when he drinks: his dad is home waiting for him—he is the only one who can calm him down; and Darnesha stays at a hotel. When I had plans with you, I didn’t want to disappoint you by cancelling again, so I asked my man, Tariq to take her to a hotel for me. But then, he had car trouble.
“Why have you never told me any of this stuff, Deuce,” Carmen questioned looking up at him.
“Damn Baby, it’s already bad enough that you’ve got a fancy job and I work with my hands and that you make more money than I do; I didn’t want you to think that I came from some broke, ghetto family too.”
Carmen placed her hand on Deuce’s right knee, “Deuce, I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. I pushed myself so hard because I didn’t want to end up like my mother: completely dependent on a man who cheated on her throughout their marriage. Baby, my life has been far from perfect.”
“Shiiit, real talk, everything about you seems perfect. I just thought it had always been that way with you. That’s why I didn’t know if you could ever take me seriously. I don’t really know how to show love to someone who doesn’t need it or me.”
“I need love,” Carmen surprised herself by saying aloud. She hadn’t even admitted that fact to herself.
“That—I can give you,” Deuce said suddenly smiling. “But first I gotta deal with this car. I ain’t fond of being a black man on the side of the road this time of night.” They both laughed as Deuce opened his door. Carmen opened hers and walked towards the back of the car, where Deuce was also standing. He grabbed her hand and then pulled it up to kiss it. “You and Darnisha be careful. I’ll see you as quickly as I can. No more cancelling because I can’t come within your time window. This is my life, this is who I am: I help people sometimes. But I want to end each day, each night with you. You got that – with you, Carmen.”
Carmen squeezed Deuce’s hand, walked over to the Ford, lightly tapped on the door of the backseat where Darnisha and the baby had dozed off. Darnisha wrapped Deuce’s jacket tighter around the baby, wiped a little drool that had slipped out of the side of her mouth, gave Carmen a small, grateful smile, and hit the button to unlock the car.
Carmen smiled back and opened the door.