“Before we continue with the next performance, I’d like to send a shout out to the beautiful, tall, dark, and lovely walking in. I see you, Ma.”
Was this boy referring to her? Serra Jean surveyed the small auditorium before making it to her seat. Two rows from the stage, it was too close for comfort. She’d have to thank Sophia for these fantastic seats.
All eyes were on Serra. As she took her seat, he continued almost relentlessly, “You have a name?”
When Serra didn’t respond… “Oh snap, she’s cute and mute. I think I got a good one.”
The immature audience erupted.
Serra gasped. He wouldn’t get away with entertaining this juvenile crowd at her expense. He’d picked the wrong one.
She sat straighter, leaned in a little closer, and with this confidence she hadn’t known she possessed since… well ever, she put the handsome asshole in his place. “You don’t have anything but this sorry excuse for a show you’re attempting to host.”
The crowd around her gasped, some laughed. Even she was surprised by her audacity.
“Well damn… she speaks,” he seemed out of sorts, but recovered quickly. “Why are you here, then?”
“Comic relief, apparently. You know, you could learn a thing or two about social etiquette as it pertains to attracting a woman who is quite obviously, how should I put this for someone of such simple intellect, out of your league.”
The crowd lost its mind as Serra slid back into her seat. She’d been presumptuous, but she was content with her response.
“You’re just going to embarrass me in front of all these folks.” He was charming, really. That smile curling his lips. His hand over his heart as if he’d been slighted.
“No, you’re doing a better job of it than I am.”
The audience oohed.
He considered her for a moment as if recalculating what he’d say or do next.
“Alright, Webster I’ll let you be for now.” But the crowd began to jeer for a comeback. “Looks like you’ve turned my audience against me,” he said, impressed. “Let me get another mic?” he called to someone off stage. Within seconds a microphone was placed in his hands.
Serra panicked. She turned to her cousin Kimberly, whom she’d come to the show with. The look on Kimberly’s face was telling. As if she were thinking this wasn’t the quiet, reserved, little cousin she’d walked in here with only minutes ago.
“So you think I’m only attempting to host my show. Maybe you can do better. Why don’t you come up here and co-host? If you kill it, I’ll let you attempt to teach me, ‘one of such simple intellect,’ a thing or two about how I should persuade a member of the fairer sex, especially one who quite obviously has delusions of grandeur.”
Serra had no idea what to do, but she couldn’t let him have the upper hand in front of her peers. She went to school here. He didn’t. While she could admit to enjoying their verbal sparring, she also had to stand her ground. This was her turf.
Serra would never be able to explain what she did next. For reasons she didn’t understand, she was drawn to him. She didn’t feel the natural pull between them yet, but she rose from her seat before her mind had a say in the matter.
Kimberly pulled her arm. “Are you sure about this?”
“No.” But Serra’s eyes gleamed with excitement despite the hammer–time happening in her chest. Kimberly looked at her with new eyes.
“Alright, Serra!” Sophia cheered and clapped for her. The audience, encouraged by Sophia’s enthusiasm, began to cheer for Serra as well.
“What’s your name, Ma?” he asked again as she reached the small stage.
“Do you honestly think you’ll win whatever it is you’re playing at tonight?” she replied just before he handed her the microphone.
His smile was devious as if he always welcomed a good challenge. “I do. Now, what’s your name?”
“I don’t like you very much right now.” The crowd laughed. “Let’s see how well this all goes first.”
He looked at the audience for effect. “Alright, Webster, if that’s how you want to do this.”
They hosted the show together for the next hour taking turns introducing each talent. During each performance, Didier gave her information about the next singer, and Serra introduced them effortlessly. Like she’d been doing it her whole life.
They bickered, he flirted, and from time to time they finished each other’s sentences or said the same things at the same time. It had caused them to look at each other every time it occurred.
The audience seemed to enjoy their banter more than some of the actual performers. They were real, unscripted, and sparks flew.
They walked off to separate ends of the stage. Serra replied to a text Kimberly sent telling her how great she was doing. When she glanced up, Serra caught him staring at her.
He licked his lips as he placed his hands in his pockets. Serra instinctively went to touch her earrings but stopped herself. She’d been doing well all night. Now with one heated look, one lick of his lips, she was losing it.
She had to regain the upper hand. They walked back on stage to introduce the last artist of the night.
“Before I present our final performer I’d like to thank Webster for helping me host tonight. You did a slamming job. Am I right folks?”
The crowd cheered in agreement.
“Thank you. I had a blast. Despite your flirting all night.”
The crowd laughed.
“Yeah, don’t you remember backstage, all the smoldering stares, constant lip licking…” she touched her palm to his cheek. The gesture was meant to be condescending, but Serra should have thought better of it. His skin was warm and smooth, and on instinct, he leaned his head just slightly—not enough for anyone else to notice—into her palm as his eyes narrowed and darted from her hand to her eyes.
For a moment, Serra thought she’d met him before. This moment wasn’t so much a meeting, but more like, Hey you’re here. It’s so good to see you again. The realization rocked her. She regained herself and barely managed to get the rest of her, comment out, “…thought you were channeling LL Cool J all night.”
The crowd laughed. Serra reluctantly pulled her hand away and thanked the audience, then introduced the next guest as her handsome co-host picked his face up off the floor.
She returned to her seat as the audience clapped and cheered. She wasn’t sure if all the love was for her or the singer on stage, but at that moment she had a bigger problem. The boy was headed towards her.
“Damn he just doesn’t quit,” Sophia chimed in happily.
Serra just sat there. Her eyes glued to his, watching his every move. His slow strides, ratcheted her heart rate, moving it fast enough to rival a stampede.
He stood at the end of the row and beckoned her over with a nod of his head. The crowd’s full attention was focused on them, and ironically enough in a room filled with noisy college age students, Serra felt like they were the only two people in the small, crowded space.
She turned and glanced at Kimberly and Sophia, who both had silly grins on their faces. And because she was inexplicably drawn to him, without thinking she rose from her seat, excusing herself as she went to meet him.
With his hands in his pockets and that sexy smile plastered on his handsome face, he simply said, “Hey.”
Serra felt almost instantly enamored, the realization jolted her to her senses. She was convinced she was coming down with some sort of affliction. Her behavior around him tonight worried her.
“Hey yourself,” she tried to say, but she was pitifully out of breath.
“Follow me.” He motioned towards an exit. Serra did, and several crowd members began to cheer. This time it wasn’t for the poor schmuck on stage. They reached the door, and he spoke to a brawny young man. “Kevin, take over for me for a minute.”
“That’s your deal,” the young man said, as he turned back to the singer on stage.
“Stop being a jackass and pull your weight.”
The comment got her co-host a glare from Kevin, which basically translated to, sure, right after I pull my foot out of your ass.
Serra concealed her amusement at the hostile exchange. It was clear they were friends. But she was wary of this boy now. The company you keep and all that.
Kevin turned to her. “So what are you two, like long lost twins or something?”
Anyone watching them tonight would understand where Kevin’s comment stemmed from, but Serra already had other ideas about who she wanted to be to this boy.
“My friend, Kevin, doesn’t believe in verbal filters. Excuse his little pre-school brain.” The boys glared at one another.
DJ lead her to the exit.
“That was fun, being on stage,” Serra said when they finally made it out the door.
He leaned against a wall in the brightly lit stairwell watching her. He was only a few inches taller, six feet maybe, and slim. He had dark brown eyes, and a smile she knew he used to his advantage where the ladies were concerned.
“I had a feeling you’d enjoy it.”
“Something about you, when you walked in. Your confidence, when you so eloquently put me in my place.”
“Uh huh,” she said, still not convinced mainly because she’d never dreamed of doing what she’d done earlier. But this boy was hot as hell, and Serra wanted to indulge a little longer in this connection they shared. “I don’t normally do things like that.” She realized he may have something to do with it. Something about him had triggered something within her. It felt like waking from a slow daze, and everything seemed brighter and clearer.
He was still watching her. His salacious eyes sliding over every inch of her made her acutely aware of her own body. Like he was caressing her with his eyes and kissing every inch of her with his mind.
A vision she’d had on her birthday last summer surfaced. She’d been on her way to meet with her college advisor. She’d slipped on her ear buds, shut her eyes, and instantly lost herself to the music flowing from her iPod. Not a minute into the song a vision came to her. A boy with a face she couldn’t place and would probably never remember hovered over her. He looked into her eyes, smiled, then kissed her lips. Serra had immediately opened her eyes. She pulled her earbuds from her ears and touched her lips. She surveyed the space around her, but no one was near her in the nearly empty subway car.
At the time she’d thought it was her mind’s way of coping with the stress of starting her junior year and not having yet declared a major. Embarrassingly enough, the apparition had also caused what she thought were butterflies in her stomach. Now in this boy’s presence, she was sure they hadn’t been butterflies. Serra took a step back and tried to recover.
“Do you make a habit of ogling women in stairwells?” She looked at her shoes. She was breathless, but there was nothing she could do about it.
“You are extremely beautiful,” he said while moving towards her, ignoring her question.
“And you’re still flirting.” Still, she couldn’t fight the needy feeling he called from her body. If he touched her, she was sure she’d disintegrate in his arms.
He smiled again.
“Are you an undergrad?” He asked as he glanced at his phone, efficiently extinguishing the spell he’d cast.
She took the opportunity to look away from him. She released a shallow breath before answering. “I’m a junior. I know we have a huge campus here but why haven’t I seen you before?”
“I’m at NYU. I graduate in a few days. What are you studying?”
“Undecided. What’s an NYU boy doing all the way up here near Harlem?”
“Looking for you,” he tried his smile on her again. She didn’t let herself fall for it this time. And he noticed because he dropped the charm. “I’m searching for talent. My colleagues and I are starting a record label,” he said too confidently.
“Right.” She rolled her eyes, feigning disinterest.
He laughed, “What is that supposed to mean? Can’t a brother have goals, dreams?”
“You boys either want to be a baller, a rapper or affiliated with either one in some way. It’s become clichéd if you ask me.”
“Well I didn’t ask, and I’m not the one who’s undecided. At least I have a plan, Ma.” He remarked with a smile.
He was right. Serra was nearing the end of her junior year, and she still hadn’t decided what she wanted to do with her life. “Well then, I wish you all the best.” She said walking away.
“Wait for me after the show? I’d like to talk to you about something.”
“I can’t. My girls—”
“Leave your crew and wait for me.” He pleaded with another one of those disarming smiles.
“I’m Didier by the way.”
She detected a smooth French accent in the way he’d pronounced it. Maybe he’d thought her knowing his name would seal the deal. “Everyone calls me DJ, though.”
Serra hesitated before taking his outstretched hand. His hand felt smooth, warm and heavy in hers. Serra swore something blazed between them. It was fleeting, yet impossible to miss. She glanced at him. He looked at their entwined hands then back to her. The look on his face seemed to register a similar feeling.
“I’m Serra. Look, I came with my girls, and I’m leaving with them. Besides, how do I know you’re not really a serial killer or a rapist, this is the city after all?”
“Wow. Really? Alright, tell you what. I’ll give you my number. Text it to your girls. They can blow my phone up or call the cops if you don’t make it home tonight.”
Serra considered him. He looked harmless enough. But looks could be deceiving, especially good looks. She handed him her phone. “I can’t stay long.”
“No problem.” He entered his information into her phone, then made to leave. She stayed behind to text him.
Serra: Just making sure this is really your number.
She slipped back into the auditorium and caught him looking at his phone. He laughed, shook his head, and glanced back at her before readying to close his show.
Her cousin approached her. “Good lord he is fine,” Kimberly crooned, accentuating the sexual tone in her voice as she tilted her head to the side to look Didier’s way, smiling and wiggling her fingers at him all the while.
“Tell me about it.”
“You gonna tell him why we’re really here or should I?” Kimberly asked.
“This was all part of your plan, huh?”
Her cousin smiled. “Just thought you might catch the bug. Looks like you caught a hell of a lot more.”
Serra rolled her eyes.
The chill in the air made this night in early May feel more like late winter. Serra was relieved when they finally reached the subway on 137th.
They sat on a bench facing the Manhattan-bound track.
“What’s this pressing matter you just had to speak to me about this evening?”
“You don’t waste time, do you? I was trying to ease into—”
“Yeah okay, let’s have at it already.”
“Would it be presumptuous of me to hope your impatience translates into other areas of your personality?” he asked suggestively.
“What?” She turned in her seat, glaring at him. “Are you kidding me?” She hadn’t missed how he’d dropped the New York City, street-act. The NYU collegiate persona he’d momentarily donned when he’d accused her of having delusions of grandeur was once again in full effect.
“You were the one who admitted to staring at me all night. In front of a whole audience, I might add.”
“I’m leaving.” While he was handsome and intriguing, he was also stalling, and Serra didn’t like it. Being a native New Yorker, she always had her guard up.
He held her arm, “Hold on. Jeez, Webster. You’re serious as shit.”
“And you’re really suspect right now. You're wasting my time. You’ve been stalling since we left City. I don’t know you, and I don’t trust you—”
“Yet, you’re here,” he countered.
She paused, pulled her arm from him, arranged her jacket, and with an air about herself, she said, “what do you want?”
“We have chemistry—”
“Hold on then, while I assemble my science lab kit.”
He laughed off her snide remark. “Cute. But admit it, you’re curious. Just as I am. That’s why you’re here.”
“I have a proposition for you.”
She took him in, her consternation warred with the look of satisfaction plastered on his face. This had Indecent Proposal written all over it. Though, she’d never seen the movie she’d heard enough about it to know she had two options.
Kick his ass for being presumptuous or run like hell. She wasn’t stupid enough to physically provoke a man, so she made to leave. Backing away slowly, she whispered, “Oh no. Hell. No.”
“Relax,” he said following her. “I’m just suggesting we work together. Co-host a few more shows this summer or until I get my label off the ground. You’re a natural. The crowd responded to you.”
“That’s what this is all about?”
Now he seemed confused as he nodded innocently. Serra, on the other hand, hadn’t expected any of this. Everything about him suggested he was interested in something of a physical nature.
“Just to be clear, you’re not trying to get into my pants tonight... or any other night?”
He laughed out loud, “Shit. I mean if you want to go there, we can—”
“No. No. God, we just met.”
“You do realize we’re well into the twenty-first century?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Your thinking, it’s just a little… dated. Besides, prudes aren’t really my type. Sorry,” he said with mock regret.
“Well what do you know, flirts aren’t mine either,” she countered.
He smiled as he took her in, “Great, now that that’s taken care of, you in or out?”
She wasn’t sure about him, she was attracted to him physically, but his personality, not so much. “Thanks, but no.”
He went into his pocket and revealed his card. “Take some time to think about it, get back to me. What do you have to lose? You can earn some extra cash, get exposure to the music industry, and it might even help with your indecision.”
He was right. Serra wouldn’t be doing much this summer other than taking a course outside of the required curricula, in the hopes of finding her calling before she started her senior year.
She took his card. He interned for Hot Track Records. She had to admit, he’d put some thought into this endeavor. It was an excellent opportunity, but she didn’t know him, or his affiliates. And judging from the company he kept he didn’t roll with the good boy next door variety. She knew better to jump into this head first.
“I’m curious. Why were you stalling?” Serra asked as they approached another wooden bench and took a seat.
“Your reaction earlier, when I told you about my plans, left a lot to be desired. I didn’t think you’d be receptive to the idea. And I was right, but you’re entitled to your opinion, even though it’s a little cynical.”
“Cynical, you know, negative.”
“I know what cynical means,” exasperated she continued, “I’m cynical because I think black men can do better than fall for the seduction of short-lived fame, or chase hoop dreams and musical aspirations. What about wanting to be doctors, and lawyers, teachers and—”
“Yes, teachers, what’s wrong with the image of a black male teacher? I’m sure you’ve had a few of them.”
“I’m a patient man but not enough for that calling,” he said very matter of fact while looking out across the Manhattan-bound platform.”
“You know for a self-proclaimed business major you sure are pretty closed-minded.”
“Ouch. Okay. Alright, you want DJ the intellectual?”
“I don’t know what’s worse, that you have to pull an alter ego out of your Yankee fitted or that you even have an alter ego.”
“Jeez woman, all night, you’re like ego kryptonite.”
“Look, it’s time for me to head home. I have finals coming up. It was nice seeing you—” Serra started to say then quickly corrected, “uh, it was nice meeting you, DJ.” She stood once again and had taken a few steps when he started to speak.
“My mom was a singer. My parents immigrated here from Haiti a few years before I was born. I was surrounded by music. My first toys were instruments, and my first words were lyrics from a lullaby my mom always sang to me,” he blurted.
Serra slid back onto the bench. If he was trying to get her attention by playing the mommy card… it was working.
“I dream of her voice,” Didier continued, still staring at the neighboring platform.
“What happened to her?” Serra whispered.
“She was sick years ago.”
Serra shuddered as visions of her childhood nightmares flickered in her head. Why she’d recalled those images now, didn’t make the slightest sense.
“You want to honor her with this label?” Serra asked as he removed his jacket.
He quickly glanced at her, “I can’t sing or rhyme, or play any instruments, I don’t have that kind of talent.” He motioned for her to put on his jacket. She slipped her arms in. His cologne was consuming, masculine but not overpowering. It complemented him perfectly. “And it’s not about the lure of fame either. I learned in high school, that I’m good with money, with management, and ideas. That’s what I know. This label it’s about money plain in simple. I want it, and I want a lot of it. And I have people who are ready to make it happen.
“But now, somehow, the label has become a way to keep her memory alive, to honor her? And the way I had intended to start it, the people I’m affiliated with… it just isn’t appealing to me anymore. So I started doing the talent shows.”
Serra realized he had two completely different things driving him, one of them was the root of all evil, and the other was grief.
“It’s cool, but hey isn’t that the whole point of this. To get to know each other. Although that was kind of heavy for a first date.” It was a smooth way to change the topic of his mother and the label.
“So that’s what this is?” she said with mock realization.
“Maybe, but I do know there’s something about you…”
“Well if this is how you usually operate, bringing women to dingy subways. Let me tell you, it isn’t exactly appealing,” she teased leaning closer to him so he could hear her over the din of the approaching train.
He chuckled, “There you go again. What do you have against my ego tonight? Come on,” he stood, ready to board the oncoming train.
She hesitated, “I thought you didn’t like prudes?”
“I think they’re growing on me.”
Serra stood and slipped her hand into his outstretched one. She glanced at their intertwined hands and felt a recollection that went beyond what they’d shared earlier in the stairwell and on stage. Serra squeezed his hand, turned to him, brown eyes greeting brown eyes, and nodded her unspoken assent to his proposition. And because their hearts and their souls knew and understood each other before they did, she easily acknowledged his slow, heart-stopping smile of appreciation.