Authors: Ruthie Robinson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #African American
Before now she’d never considered working with ele
mentary-age children. She’d thought she was better
suited to teach middle and high school, but her time
spent at the center so far had her revising her opinions,
rethinking old assumptions about herself.
Today had been special. She’d witnessed the imple
mentation of a lesson she’d taught the kids a couple of
days ago. She’d overheard one of the kids last week give voice to some pretty hurtful things about another child in
the program. In response, she’d sat down with them and
discussed how hurtful insults could be, the damage they
could cause. To demonstrate, she’d located darts and a pic
ture of a dart gun, explaining the purpose and use of them
by vets to calm animals to prepare them for capture.
“When you’re hit with a dart you feel a sting, like getting
a shot,” she explained. “A tiny pain at first, but the
damage comes later, when the poison or medicine gets
under your skin, knocking you unconscious. Our hurtful
words can be darts that sting each other at first, but as you
remember the hurtful words later, those words can hurt
more and for a long time afterward.” She sat waiting for
her words to sink in, before continuing. “We are going to
make our room a dart-free zone.” Enthralled, the children
watched her as she demonstrated the procedure for dart
removals if any were to make their way into their room.
oday was Friday, the end of a long week for the kids.
Tempers and nerves were frayed. Reye was supervising
the room’s cleanup when she heard Shondra shout out in
frustration, “Shane, you’re so stupid!” Reye looked up to
see Shondra walking towards her dragging a tearful Shane
along behind her. Before Reye could intervene, Anthony,
D, and Eric shouted “incoming” at the top of their lungs,
startling Reye with their intensity. All three ran over to
Shane, grabbed his arms from Shondra and proceeded to remove a make-believe dart from it. “It’s a dart, right, Ms.
Reye, when someone tells you that you’re stupid,”
Anthony said, looking grave.
“That’s right,” she said, getting into the game. “Are
we ready to remove it, guys?”
All three heads gazed up at her with too-serious
expressions on their faces that had her pinching herself to
keep from laughing. At this moment they were not chil
dren in an after-school program, but had morphed into
surgeons prepping for a major life-saving operation.
“Shondra has to perform the surgery,” Reye said, looking
over at Shondra, who by now had recognized her error.
“Let me get my doctor’s bag,” she said, demonstrating
her superb acting skills as she pretended to remove a dart
and cleanse the wound.
“What do we do now?” Reye asked.
Shondra looked at Shane. “I’m sorry for the dart.”
“What do you say, Shane?” Reye asked encouragingly.
“It’s okay,” he said, smiling in pleasure at all of the attention.
Thank you, skilled surgeons, your work here is
done,” Reye said, also smiling, ushering them back to the
cleanup, beyond pleased with their understanding.
* * *
Stephen looked around The Garden, the restaurant
and bar where most of his friends from school hung out. It was also the place where the soccer teams came after
their weekend games. The Garden had been an old hole
in the wall that had been refurbished about ten years ago.
Wood floors and wood walls gave it the appearance of an
old down-on-its-luck hunting lodge with a college
themed décor. National college and university banners
dangled from the ceiling, most worn out years ago. The
university’s banner was the only relatively clean one, dis
played prominently above the front door, religiously
replaced every year. Wooden picnic tables sat close to
each other to achieve maximum occupancy. The food,
standard American fare, was inexpensive, a necessity for
Stephen sat at one of the tables waiting for a waitress
to take his order. He was tired and restless. With the
demands of law school, soccer, and monster study ses
sions, he should have been exhausted, but instead he was
fidgety. It has been almost two weeks since he’d met Reye
at his fraternity’s party. He’d call her relentlessly at first to
reconsider going out with him, but to no avail. The
answer was always the same. No. So getting a yes now had
moved from more that just a desire to a personal mission.
eye was always friendly when he called. Annoyingly polite, she even thanked him for calling and asked about
school, but her answer was always the same: no. No, I
won’t meet you for coffee. No, I won’t meet you at the
library. No, I wouldn’t like to go to a movie. Hey, he
didn’t have time for any of the above anyway, but it irri
tated him that she’d not given him another chance,
wouldn’t even consider it. It wasn’t even his fault. He
hadn’t said any of those things to her.
Who needed this kind of aggravation? He knew plenty
of women who would welcome his attention, and why he
was still pursuing this one he’d yet to understand. It was the
possibility of sex with her that was making him twitch. It
was sex, plain and simple. He’d created this super fantasy in
his mind of what it would be like with her. And it was this
unusual desire that had been created from that one night at
the party. He’d sampled enough to drive him crazy. He was
sure that if he could only follow through, take it to its nat
ural conclusion, he could exorcise her from his mind. Take
tonight, for example. He’d just played a hard, competitive
game against the Cobras, a fairly good soccer team in the A
division of the intramural league. Not the best, but not
recreational league, either. He should be exhausted, but not
so. He labeled Reye as the source of his unusual moodiness.
He sat waiting for Henri to arrive for their usual rou
tine following a game, rehashing and celebrating their
win and planning strategy for the next match. He’d
looked up to find Henri and Joe approaching. What the
hell was he doing here? He hadn’t spoken to Joe since the
night of the party. Both Henri and Joe played on his
eam. They sauntered over to the table, plopping down
next to him. The waitress, a perky blonde who seemed
available for more than taking orders, came over.
“What would you like?”
“I’ll have a cheeseburger,” said Henri.
“Make that two,” Joe said, giving his menu to the waitress.
“Three,” said Stephen, “and could you bring over a
pitcher of beer for us?”
“Sure. Anything else?”
“Nope, that’s all for now. Thanks,” Stephen said, giving her a quick smile.
“I’ve got to take a leak,” Henri said, excusing himself, and walked to the back of the restaurant where the rest-
rooms were located. The Garden also offered take-out to
its patrons with a separate entrance in the back to avoid
overcrowding. The Garden was a popular place. Henri
passed by the take-out line on his way to the bathroom,
scanning the room as he went. He spotted Stephen’s Reye in line. Taking a detour, he walked over to her, calling out
She looked up. “Reye?” he asked. “Phi Beta Nu party,
Stephen’s handsome friend, the keeper of the door at the party, she remembered. He’d been nice to her.
“Hi. Henri, right?”
“Yes, you’ve got a good memory.”
“You were at Stephen’s party?”
“Yes, that was me. How are you?”
“Fine,” she said. “You?”
I’m okay. Hey, Stephen is here with me, sitting
towards the front, we’ve just finished a soccer game.” He
pointed toward his jersey. “You could bring your order over and join us.”
“No, that’s okay. I’ve got to get home,” she said.
“Yeah, I’m sure, but thanks. It was nice seeing you
“Yeah. You, too,” Henri said, turning to continue on to the bathroom. He waved to Reye a final time as he returned to his table, itching to watch Stephen’s reaction
to this newsflash. He’d listened to him bitch and moan
for the last two weeks. By now Henri was unapologetic
about finding humor in his friend’s predicament.
“You’ll never guess who’s here.” Henri looked directly
at Stephen as he sat down at the table.
“Reye. She is in the take-out line in back,” Henri said. “Reye’s here?”
“Yeah, didn’t I just say that? She is in the take-out line
in back,” Henri repeated, slowly enunciating every word.
“I’ll be back in a minute.” Stephen stood and walked
“Sure,” Henri said to his retreating back. Joe shook his head in disgust.
Stephen entered the back portion of the restaurant
and found Reye leaning against the wall, her back to him.
She looked great and extremely fit in a pair of form-fitting jean shorts, t-shirt, and sandals, typical college stu
dent attire. She wore a baseball cap pulled low over her
eyes. Surely she wasn’t trying to hide from him, he
hought. He walked over and stood behind her, close
enough that he could smell her scent. Leaning in, he
whispered in her ear, “Hello stranger.”
“Stephen,” she said, her voice neutral.
“Come here often?”
“Sometimes,” she said, although she still faced forward.
“Come eat with me?”
“I’m here with Henri. You like him. Come eat with us, then?”
“Nope. Nice guy, that Henri, not like some of your other friends,” she said.
“Can’t give that a rest, can you? I’m not responsible for all the idiotic things people say.”
Reye turned her head to face him, lifting her hand up,
palm outward. “Been there, done that, please don’t
explain again.” Before Stephen could respond, her order
was called. She walked over to the counter to pay.
“Thank you,” she said to the boy behind the counter as he handed her order over. Swinging her book bag over
her shoulder, she walked to the back exit and out through
the back door. Stephen rushed out to follow her.
“Wait,” he said, catching up to her just outside the
door. It was starting to get dark. “Where are you going?”
He stepped in front of her, halting her progress.
“Not that it is any of your business, but home,” she
“Where is your truck?”
“Again, not your business, but I didn’t drive it today.
I took the bus to school.”
So does that mean that you live around here?”
“Good bye, Stephen.”
“How about I give you a ride home?”
“Nope.” She started walking away from The Garden.
“Wait, I’ll walk with you.” Frustrated, he started after
her. “You can be incredibly difficult, do you know that?”
he said, catching up to her.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be, someone to be with?”
“Apparently, I’m trying to be with you.”
Reye lifted an eyebrow, pretending indifference, but
warmed by his attention.
“Well, come on if you’re coming,” she said, stepping
Stephen grabbed her book bag from her shoulder.
They walked for a while in silence until he spoke.
“It wasn’t me that said those things about you, you know?”
“Yeah, well, I don’t need the hassles, and you are who
you hang out with, right?”
“I don’t hang out with him,” he said, striving not to
“So you say.”
They walked about two blocks through Reye’s neigh
borhood. Funky, colorful homes owned by young fami
lies mixed with the old-fashioned neatly kept homes of its
senior citizens. Homes here boasted color, swings and
toys in the yard, neatly trimmed flower beds, yard art, all
characteristic of this part of town, where homes were
reflections of the owner’s personality. The neighborhood was built before deed restrictions and home owner’s asso
ciations that traded individual freedom and personality
for uniformity and order.