Half and Half
I sat on the toilet seat in nothing but an oversized men's T-shirt and underwear, my leg bouncing up and down. I sighed to myself, kept running my right hand through my hair while I held my cell phone to my ear with the other. My head was a foggy mixture of Seagram's gin and something I couldn't quite decipher yet. Something that was equally intoxicating. The left side of my face throbbed at a slightly rhythmic pace, sort of like the bass in a techno song. My entire face, really, was set ablaze, by much more than physical pain. It was a brewing irritation, a budding rage that was sure to seep to the surface. Or at least, that was what I told myself. I should've been angry and frustrated; that would've made some sense. What I was really feeling was guilt, nervousness. Confusion to the nth degree. I just masked it with sarcasm and cuss words. With the rage I should've been feeling.
"Tracy?" The deep voice on the other end of the telephone interrupted my thoughts. "Are you listening to me?"
"Yeah, Shadow. I'm listening," I lied, half-whispered, and half-screamed, trying not to wake the sleeping body in the next room, but also trying to convey frustration. I kept my gaze at my feet, toward the blue bathmat that my silver-painted toes wiggled on like fish in the sea, or the plain white shower curtain in front of me, completely blank, as I wanted my life to be.
"Where are you?"
Rolling my eyes, I said, "Why is that important? What does that have to do with what we're talking about?"
"I'm your man," he said. "I have a right to know where you are."
"No, you don't." I reached for the pack of cigarettes I set down on the sink and pulled one out. When I lit it, I realized it was probably the third one I'd smoked in the twenty minutes I'd been on the phone with him. "I'm a grown ass woman. I don't have to tell you shit." I took a long drag of my cigarette and slowly exhaled its cancerous delight, wondering how I ever got involved with a man named Shadow in the first place. Who the fuck names their child, Shadow? His parents must've been smoking some good shit back in the day.
"I thought you were going to quit smoking," Shadow said in a smart-ass tone.
"I thought you were going to quit being a bitch," I said in return.
"Don't call me a bitch, goddamn it. What did I tell you about that?"
"Oh, so you can call me a bitch, but I can't call you one?"
"When did I call you a bitch?"
I sighed and rolled my eyes again. "Earlier. Right before I left, you said, 'Yeah, that's right. Leave, you fuckin' bitch.'"
He paused for at least a minute, and then said, "Why you always bringin' up old shit?"
I hung up.
My leg continued to shake as I puffed on my stick of death. My head moved back and forth seemingly of its own accord, and I started mumbling shit to myself, like, "punk ass bitch" and "ugly motherfucker." I was starting to remind myself of my mother.
I heard what sounded like a small laugh, and I turned my head sharply. Taye was leaning in the doorway, butt naked, smirking at me. He had a crooked, sideways sort of smile, and a way of talking quickly out the side of his mouth as if he were trying to sound sly, slick, like a hustler. He was the perfect example of that whole "melting pot" shit this country was founded on, a combination of black, white, Latino, and just about anything else imaginable. His skin was like one of those Starbucks coffee creations, a light shade of brown Crayola didn't even have a name for. His head was full of tight black curls, the kind that made random girls stop him, run their fingers through it, and ask him what he's "mixed with," while noticeably sizing up the rest of his attributes, plotting to make a pretty baby with "good hair." He had a boyish personality, but a body that was all man, from his hypnotizing hazel eyes to his deliciously defined abs. I spent an obscene amount of time wondering if it was possible to have such a perfect body, or if it was just a fantasy I made myself believe. Whatever the case, it was hard to turn away from him, which made his odd smile even wider.
He laughed and said, "Can you move so I can take a piss?"
I nodded dumbly and rose from the throne. Cigarette smoke followed me as I moved past him through the bathroom door and into the connected bedroom. As soon as I sat down on the bed, my phone rang. I watched the blinking lights announce that Shadow was calling, a heart popping up next to his name. I ignored the call.
"You don't answer your phone anymore?"
Taye had somehow managed to creep up next to me a moment later, still naked and distracting. I turned away from him, briefly glanced at my phone, then at the opposite wall of the bedroom, where his amorous and slightly inebriated self had flung my bra on top of the TV hours before. A chill ran through my body at the thought.
"Not tonight," I said.
Taye made an amused sound and walked around to the other side of the bed. "Must be the husband," he said as he climbed in next to me.
"Don't call him my husband. He's not my husband."
"Might as well be."
I rolled my eyes, and my phone rang again. I looked at it, but I didn't answer. I put my cigarette out in an old soda can on the floor next to me. My head filled up with haunting images of what I'd done that night, as Taye's lips found the sweet spot on my neck. I closed my eyes for a moment and let out a ragged breath, but then I pushed him away slightly, reluctantly.
He moved away, and even though I wasn't looking at him, I could feel his eyes on me. I swear, he had X-ray vision or some shit. I had known him since we were five years old, and he'd always been able to break me down by staring with those beautiful eyes.
"What's up, Tracy?" He asked. "I heard you in there talking to him."
"I'm sorry," I mumbled. "I was trying to be quiet. Didn't mean to wake you up."
He made a weird sound, a combination of a grunt and a laugh. "Is that why you chose to talk in the bathroom that's right next door?"
I wished I was that chick from Bewitched and I could just nod my head and all this shit would disappear. My life could be normal again. Maybe even a little better than it was before. There'd be no more Shadow. I'd have a lot more money. And maybe I'd be a few pounds lighter.
"Tracy?" Suddenly the sound of my name spoken in a male voice began to repulse me. "Why won't you look at me?"
I examined my broken, nervously-chewed fingernails, avoiding eye contact. "Could you… put some clothes on?"
He laughed. "For what? It's not like you haven't seen it all before. Hell, a couple hours ago you were kissing all on me and-"
"Just put something on. That thing is distracting." I wouldn't look at him, but I knew he was grinning.
I couldn't even remember what it felt like to smile.
He laughed again and rose to his feet, but I still kept my gaze somewhere else. I was an adulterous bitch who didn't deserve to look anyone in the eye ever again. As if to echo my thoughts, Shadow called my phone again. I still wouldn't answer.
"Now are you going to talk to me?"
I looked up and Taye was sitting in a chair across the room, now in his boxers, staring at me. I avoided his hazel eyes again and instead focused on his beautiful body, on his luscious abs and his tattoos. The name of his first love, Vanessa, was near his heart, a tattoo I tried to dissuade him from getting because I knew, like any teenage relationship, the tattoo would last much longer. There was a Chinese-style dragon right below his navel, stretched from hipbone to hipbone, and a scorpion on his shoulder, his Zodiac sign. On his right wrist was T + T ,one T in print and the other in a cursive font. Taye + Tracy. I had the same one on my right wrist. We awoke one night in high school with terrible hangovers and that permanent stamp of loyalty on our wrists, never quite remembering the night in its entirety.
Shadow didn't have any tattoos. He told me I was stupid for having one, especially a matching one with another man.
Maybe I was stupid. That would've explained a lot of my recent decisions.
Taye stared at me for a few more uncomfortable moments, while my phone rang again. I started to answer that time so that he wouldn't ask me any more questions, but I decided against it.
"Tracy," Taye called my name in the way only a friend could, and I had to look up at him. "How long have we been friends?"
I smiled for the first time in what seemed like centuries. And it felt good. "About eighteen years. Since kindergarten. When you offered to share your lunch with me after I dropped mine on the floor."
He smiled, too, and for a moment, everything seemed normal. But only for a moment. Until he asked me, "And how long have you known Shadow?"
I sighed to myself and looked away. "Two years."
Taye nodded. When he didn't say anything for at least two minutes, I said, "Was there a point you were trying to make?"
My phone rang again and Taye shook his head. He pointed at my phone as I silenced the ringer and said, "You love him, right?"
Both "yes" and "no" seemed like the right answer to that question. I ran my hand through my hair and said, "Taye, don't do this. Please."
"I'm just asking you a question, Tracy. Do you love him?"
My mouth felt dry and sealed shut. I looked down, feeling like a bad puppy who had shit on the carpet.
Taye abandoned the question and started talking about something else. "I've been your friend for eighteen years. Your best friend. I've been with you through everything. When your brother was shot. When your father was murdered. Whenever your mom was hittin' the pipe. When you broke up with that one nigga… whatever his name was…"
"Yeah, Devin. I let you cry on my shoulder that night. And I've been there for you whenever Shadow's fucked up. All the times he's cheated on you, or when you think he's been cheating on you, and all the times he's went upside your head-"
"Okay, Taye, I know. What are you getting at?"
Taye folded his hands and leaned forward. I felt like I was in the principal's office about to get a stern lecture. "I'm just sayin' I've been there for you when no one else has. And when we started… when things started to get physical between us, I never asked you to break up with him."
"I know, Taye," A lump formed in my throat. "I know. I'm fucked up. I keep stringing you both along, even though I know Shadow ain't shit. And I can't explain why I do it. I just… I'm confused."
"What's there to be confused about, Tracy?" His voice rose a bit, his hazel eyes almost dark. "You just said it. Shadow ain't shit. He cheats on you. He hits you…" He trailed off and sat back in the chair, apparently trying to collect himself. He licked his lips, turned away, and broke my heart a little. I hated this situation. I hated that I still wanted Shadow, and that I wanted Taye, too. I hated that I was hurting him, though I knew he would keep that fact bottled up inside. That was the kind of person he was. Emotional, yet guarded.
I hated myself more in that moment than I ever did before.
Still turned away from me, anger evident on his face and bitterness in his voice, he said, "The only reason why that nigga is still alive right now is because you love his stupid ass so much." The way he said "love" tugged at my heart a little more. "I would gladly kill his ass with my bare hands and serve my time with a smile on my face if you would just give me the word. You know that, don't you?"
I nodded, swallowed, feeling sick to my stomach as I murmured, "Yeah, I know."
Taye turned to face me again, sounding calm as he said, "I'm not asking you to choose me over him, though I think I'm more than qualified to make you happy." He paused briefly, then said, "Look at me." I did, though painfully. "I'm only asking you to not choose him. I'm speaking as your friend now, and not a lover… or whatever you want to call me. You don't need to put up with this shit."
I kept opening and closing my mouth like a screen door flapping in the wind, trying to find a way to respond. All I could come up with was, "It's… not that simple."
"Yes, it is. You're just making it complicated. It is that simple, Tracy."
"You don't understand," My voice cracked and tears formed in my eyes. "I live with him. That house we live in is half his. His name is on the lease, even if I'm paying the majority of the rent and bills…" I paused and bit my lower lip, realizing how stupid I must've sounded, especially when I said, "I've loved him for a long time. I'm not sure how I feel about him now, but… I just… I don't know what to do." I rubbed my forehead and took a deep breath to keep from crying. I really needed another cigarette.
"Let me ask you this, then," Taye was leaning forward again, his eyes intense, probing. "If you love this nigga so much, why is it so easy for you to come over and fuck me every other night?"
I was taken aback. I rambled, "It… I was drinking… I…"
"You know as well as I do that you've never been that drunk all the times we've had sex. And neither have I."
"I've never once tried to take advantage of you when you've come to me buzzed and bruised. Have I?"
I sighed again, my hand in my hair for the umpteenth time. "No, you haven't."
Silence filled the room for a moment. Taye sat back, looking almost victorious. But as if it was a dishonest victory.
I looked him in the eye for the first time in a long time and said, "Yes, it's always been me that starts it. It's me who comes to you, upset, half-drunk, in need of attention. So I come on to you. I start to kiss you. I push you into your bedroom. And I always have a condom in my purse. But, keep in mind," I pointed at him and added, "you always have a hard-on, otherwise there'd be no need for that condom."
He laughed. "Yes, that is very true. I realize that it takes two to tango. I'm not trying to blame you for turning me on." That sideways grin crept upon his face. "It was inevitable. Bound to happen one of these days."
I bit my lower lip, feeling strangely flattered and a little uncomfortable. I moved on, "That first night was an accident. It really was. I had only planned to come here and clear my head, to be comforted by a friend. I never expected to end up in bed with you." I exhaled, thinking of that night. An odd combination of pleasure and pain grabbed me by the neck, crept down my throat, and spread to my soul. "All these other nights since then… were… premeditated, I guess." I laughed, but it was a pained laugh. A bitter laugh. I almost whispered when I said, "I didn't expect it to be so good."
Taye looked appalled, his hand on his chest in shock. "You didn't? I'm insulted. Why? Is it 'cause I have both ears pierced?"
I rolled my eyes, laughing. "You know what I mean."
He grinned for a moment, and then it faded. He said, "And now you feel guilty?"
I nodded, somberness returning to my face. "Yeah, I feel guilty."
Taye shook his head and said, "He's an asshole. And he's probably out fuckin' somebody right now, as we speak. Or trying to find someone to fuck."
It hurt like hell, but I said, "Yeah, you're probably right."
"So why do you feel guilty?"
I shrugged. "I guess I just feel bad because that makes me no better than he is."
Taye got up and walked over to the bed. He stood over me, gently touched my face where I had been slapped so hard I thought my eye had flown out of my head, and said, "Baby, you're nothing like him. You're so much better than he is. And you know it."
Tears welled up in my eyes. I shook my head. "I am not. I'm a dirty slut. I don't deserve you. Or Shadow."
Taye started to open his mouth, but my phone rang again. Tears spilled from my eyes as I yanked my phone open and yelled, "What the fuck do you want?"
"Don't fuckin' talk to me like that, Tracy!" Shadow yelled back. "I just want to know where you're at and why you're fuckin' trippin'!"
I almost laughed at him. "You want to know why I'm trippin'? Are you serious? Maybe it's because when I came home from work, you were trippin' about not having anything to eat. And when I asked you where your paycheck went, you fucking threw me against the wall and slapped me across the face. Maybe that has something to do with why I'm trippin'!"
He was quiet for a second, until, "Look, I apologized for that already. I-"
I hung up the phone and buried my face in my hands. I was sobbing now. I kept replaying the night's events in my head, of Shadow slapping me to the ground, of my tearful drive to Taye's apartment with a bottle of Seagram's gin, and falling into his arms, kissing him, pushing him into the bedroom. Every time we had sex, I kept telling myself it was the last time. Nevertheless, I was drawn to him, infectiously pulled in his direction. He was a drug I quickly grew addicted to, the everlasting high so intense, so gratifying, that it scared and excited me all at once.
I knew I was in love.
I just wasn't sure who I was in love with.
Taye sat down on the bed in front of me and wrapped his arms around me. He kissed my forehead and rubbed my back, telling me everything was going to be okay. I wanted to believe him. I wanted everything to be the way it was, before Shadow, before I woke up everyday afraid to say the wrong thing, in fear of earning new bruises. Before I felt torn between two men. When it was just T + T. Taye + Tracy.
I pulled away from him and wiped tears from my face. He kissed me on the forehead again, and wiped a few stray tears away. I felt broken. I imagined being squeezed between Shadow and Taye as they each pulled at my heart, both of them obtaining an equal, pulsating piece of it. I wasn't sure what tomorrow would bring, how I'd feel once the gin wore off and my vision was clear again. I was only sure of one thing. Like the addict that I was, I lived for the moment, for right now instead of tomorrow. So I grabbed my phone and turned it off, then I leaned forward and kissed Taye. His lips were so damn soft. I grabbed his hand and touched the tattoo on his wrist. He did the same to mine. We let the high take over again as I pulled him on top of me.
The next morning, or rather, a few hours later, I awoke next to Taye. I really hadn't slept that much. Most of the night, I was pretending to, until I was sure that Taye was asleep. Then I'd cry as quietly as I could, looking at the seventeen missed calls, voicemails, and text messages that Shadow sent me while I cheated on him once again.
At seven, I crawled out of bed, washed my face, and prepared myself to leave. I felt as if all the life had been drained out of me, and I was now a robot, void of emotion or intelligent thought. I must've stood for ten minutes watching him asleep in bed, his face buried in a pillow so that I could only see his messy, post-coital curls, feeling like I would never see him again, as if I were viewing his body at his funeral. Finally, I took a deep breath and wrote him a note saying that I'd call him later, and thanks for always being there for me, before gathering my things and heading out the door.
I pulled into my driveway about twenty minutes later and walked through the front door, cigarette in hand, to find Shadow asleep on the couch, still in the jeans and T-shirt he was wearing the day before. Our house was just now starting to look like someone lived there; for six months, all we had was a used couch, a TV, and a bed upstairs. Now we had new couches, a dining room set, rugs, and pictures to cover up the holes and nicks in the walls where we had thrown things at each other, or where I had been thrown like a football during the Superbowl, or where Shadow had decided to put his fist when he didn't want to hit me.
I stood near the couch for a long time, just staring at him sleep, hating the way he snored and wondering why he couldn't sleep quietly, like Taye. His dark skin, perfect smile, and muscular body had seemed so gorgeous to me two years ago. Now, he was starting to get pimples, his teeth looked a little coffee-stained, and he had started gaining weight. The only compliment I could give him was that he always kept his hair neat. Otherwise, he wasn't shit. Nothing compared to Taye. Standing there in front of him, I tried to remember the good times we had when we first started dating, but all I could think of were the bruises and the millions of times I had been called a bitch. I couldn't even remember the last time we'd had sex, and it'd been even longer since I had actually wanted to have sex with him. Taye, on the other hand, always had me screaming like Chucky, Freddy Kruger, Jason, and Leatherface had all jumped out the closet to say hello.
Shadow finally jerked awake, with a snort, blinking several times before he muttered, "Hey." No smile. No look of relief. Just… "Hey."
I set my purse down on the end table near the couch and put my cigarette out in the ashtray next to it. A pile of tobacco nearly overflowed the ashtray, letting me know he smoked a blunt last night, if not a couple. There was also a nearly empty bottle of Hennessey on the floor near the couch. Now I knew where his paycheck went.
I glanced at his face and mumbled an equally enthusiastic, "Hey."
He stretched his limbs, yawned, and said, "I was beginning to think you weren't coming home."
I didn't say anything. I walked right past him to the kitchen, wishing I hadn't left Taye alone at his apartment. I sighed to myself, stood at the kitchen sink for a moment staring at the dirty dishes that had been there for days, hating Shadow. And hating myself more. But, as usual, I gritted my teeth, swallowed away my frustration, and started going through the stack of bills on the counter.
Shadow said, "Where were you at, anyway?"
I paused for a split second. I originally wanted to give him the silent treatment, but I didn't have the energy. Besides, he would pull some childish shit like that. So I told him the truth. "At Taye's."
A pause, then, "Oh."
A moment later, I walked out of the kitchen and turned to go upstairs. Shadow asked, "What do you have planned for today?" It sounded like he was reading from a script, not as if he actually cared.
Again, I sighed, took a brief look at my tattoo, and then looked back at him. "I'm about to take a shower and head to work. Somebody's gotta put something in that fridge."