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She was as beautiful as a skunk’s black fur. Yeah. Yeah, that’s pretty good. Any girl would like that line, I thought to myself.
“Hey guys, what do you think of this one? ‘She was as beautiful as a skunk’s black fur’. Huh?” I asked. The guys simultaneously exploded with the loudest laugh ever. We were all at my house on a Friday evening, and had just polished off three boxes of pizza.
“Ah c’mon! Is it really that lame?” Twenty more seconds of uncontrollable laughter followed.
“Dude, that is so corny!” said Daniel as he wiped tears from his eyes. “That’s- that’s almost as good as ‘your fat is so gorgeous, you remind me of an elephant!’” Daniel’s chuckle continued for a few more seconds, while everyone else stared at him in bewilderment.
“Man, shut up Daniel! You so stupid!” said Malcolm, the “chick magnet” of our little group. “No, whatchu gotta say is, ‘Suga’ dumplins, you my everythang. I wish I could rearrange the alphabet so I could put ‘u’ and ‘i’ together.” Malcolm looked at us like he was the big shot; so studdly. Sometimes I wondered if these pick-up lines of his really worked, or if he just told us they did so he could boost his own self esteem.
“No, no, no, bro, it all has to be natural. Just let it flow from your innards,” said Mark, the one of us who always had the answers, but never seemed to have a girl.
“Someone’s been watchin’ waaay too many chick flicks with his mommy lately,” Malcolm joked. “What’s the latest one, The Notebook or 27 Dresses?”
“And why would John want stuff to flow from his innards? That just sounds uncomfortable. And messy,” responded Daniel.
“Dan, how do you even get girls in the first place, talking like that?” replied Mark.
“Have you noticed that he only dates the really dumb girls? That’s ‘cuz he makes them look like geniuses,” said Malcolm.
Again, simultaneous laughter. “Well, what do I do, guys? All of you have had the girl of your dreams at some point in your high school lifespan. I’ve had girlfriends, but I’ve never had anyone as beautiful, intelligent, and talented as Camille.” Camille was the woman of my dreams. She had a smile that would melt any man’s heart, eyes as golden as the suns glowing rays, and skin as silky as the richest milk chocolate around. She was a singer, and her voice was as pure as Natalie Cole’s; as earth shattering as Jennifer Hudson’s. “Ya’ll know I’ve been liking her since sophomore year. That was two years ago! I finally worked up the courage to say something to her, but ya’ll won’t back me up. C’mon guys, help me out here.”
“Yo John, to tell you the truth, I heard Camille say she ain’t like white dudes. She can do Asians, but no white dudes,” said Malcolm.
“Well, John isn’t 100 percent white. He’s Russian and Australian.” said Mark. “That’s pretty close, right?” The other two agreed with him, and I began to feel like I made a poor choice in best friends. “C’mon man, I’m serious! This is senior year and I heard she was going to Berklee in Boston for college. I wanna tell her how I feel before she’s gone for good.”
“How about you just go to Berklee, too?” suggested Daniel.
“We’ve been over this, buddy,” I began. “I can’t do anything.”
“Liar!” exclaimed Mark. “You’re a friggin’ beast on the guitar! You play like Jairus Mozee, Eric Clapton, and Earl Klugh combined!”
I blushed, then tried to make it go away when I realized how unmanly it was. “Yeah, thanks, but it’s really expensive, and it’s too late to apply for a scholarship there.”
“Really John, knowing the answer to this question could help: when is the last time you spoke to her for non-school related things?” asked Mark, skeptically.
I waited and pretended I was counting up the moments of interaction with Camille. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. “Umm, sometime last year,” I mumbled, hoping they wouldn’t hear me.
They all screamed in hysterics. “John you’re such a baby! What’s your problem, man?” asked Daniel. Malcolm just hung his head in shame.
“Ugh, you disgust me,” said Mark in a low voice, with a scowl on his face. “I can’t even look at you. Can’t even look at you.” He reached over and grabbed the nearest empty pizza box and hid his face. “I don’t even know you anymore,” he muffled from behind.
After all the commotion calmed, there was a moment of silence as we contemplated what I could do to win Camille’s heart. Suddenly, Malcolm yelled in excitement. “Yo, I know exactly what you can do.” Daniel, Mark and I sat up straight to focus on Malcolm’s words. He spoke slowly, to make sure he was clear and concise. “There’s this little place around the corner from Total Entertainment. It’s called ‘Soul Sessions’, and all these R&B performers go there and- well- perform. It’s like a little coffee shop with an urban twist. My girl Chrisette took me there when she found out Dwele was playing.”
I was getting antsy, waiting for Malcolm to stop beating around the bush. “And uhh, what’s your point, exactly?”
“JUST HOLD UP,MAN! Anyways, the same night we went there, I saw Camille and asked her what she was doing there, and she said she was singin’ right before Dwele. She said she would be singin’ there for a while, until she could find a bigger gig with better pay. She sings on Friday nights, and guess what tonight is?”
I could barely hold my tongue. My questions spewed out like fire crackers. “How many songs is she singing? What songs are they? Who is in the b...”
“Slow ya road, Rushy McFast-a-lot!” said Malcolm. “None of that other stuff matters if we ain’t there! She’s on at 7:30!”
I looked at the clock next to my large collection of Fender, Martin, and Paul Reed Smith guitar picks, and it said 7:12. I turned back, and it was clear that the other three had glanced at the clock as well, because after a second, we all got up and ran out the door. We tripped over each other racing down the stairs, and Mark was almost flipped over the banister. My mother was downstairs in the kitchen, taking cookies out of the oven. “Slow down you guys, I just took them out!”
While running, Daniel shouted, “No time, Mrs. Rivetsky, we’re on a--- OOOHH is that chocolate chip?!”
“Oh, c’mon!” Mark yelled, while grabbing Daniel and his cookie around the waist and throwing him over the shoulder.
“Wait, Johnny, where are you going?” my mom asked.
“Momma, I’m goin’ to get my woman,” I said, trying to portray a little confidence as I kissed her on the cheek. “Good luck!” she called back, as we raced through the double French doors.
Packing four guys into a small Infiniti sports car was the hardest experience of all of our lives. Elbows were flying, Daniel was upside down, and at one point a shoe flew right in front of my face. After a couple minutes of wrestling, we were all in the car, somewhat comfortably, with me and Malcolm in the front and the other two in the back. I put the key into the ignition and hurriedly drove to the shop, with the assistance of Malcolm yelling the directions. We pulled into a parking spot near the dumpster- the only available one left- at exactly 7:23. We jumped out of the car concurrently and sprinted inside.
There was such an incredible essence on the other side of the doors. The lights were dim, the waiters all had a pleasant look on their faces, and everyone seemed so debonair with their eyes closed, as they swayed to the mellow sounds of the bass player on stage. Malcolm, Mark, Daniel and I stood at the doorway, frozen, in awe of the vibe of the quaint place.
“This is so fresh,” whispered Mark, after a few beats of silence. I nodded, and listened to the rest of the bass players’ smooth riffs and melodies.
Once the music stopped, there was a sprinkling of applause around the building. Soon after it had died down, a short, muscular man in a fedora stepped up to the mike, and in a Barry White voice, said, “Wasn’t that nice, ya’ll? C’mon, show ya love one mo’ time for Mr. Lawrence Howard!” There was more applauding and whooping, as Lawrence bowed and played another quick riff on his bass. Once this round of applauding had faded, Barry White Voice dude continued with, “We’re going to keep the show going with Camille Evans, but it might be a little while, folks. A member of the band suddenly became ill, but we will find a replacement. While you wait, please enjoy our house band, The Expressions.”
The moment he said her name, my heart was racing at a speed in which I knew was dangerous, and I began to remember the whole reason we had come here in the first place. “Hey, we never really talked about what I was supposed to do when I got here,” I said to the other three guys.
“Well, you could maybe sneak backstage and try to talk to her before she goes on,” suggested Daniel. “I mean, the dude did just say there’s gonna be a delay before she performs.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I replied.
“But if you gonna do it, you better hurry up!” insisted Mark. “Who knows how much time you have until she has to sing!”
I hesitated, realizing that this was my chance. Butterflies- no- bats ¬were flying around in my stomach, and I started to feel a little dizzy. “Umm, will one of you come with me?” I asked, afraid to face Camille alone.
“Heck no! Do you know how bad that would look on your part, man?” asked Malcolm. “Just do it. Go back there and talk to her. Trust me, she won’t bite.” He smiled and punched me on the shoulder reassuringly. The other two agreed with him and clapped my shoulder for support. Finally, I turned around, took a deep breath, and started on my way to the backstage area. Luckily, it wasn’t hard for me to find, since in the hallway with the bathrooms and water fountain was a door with a big sign that read BACKSTAGE. I was halfway to the door when a musician strolled out of it. I nonchalantly leaned over and got a drink at the fountain until he had completely walked around the corner. Once he was gone, I quickly stood up straight, moved toward the door, inhaled deeply, and walked in. I looked around, and half of me hoped she wasn’t there. There were so many people inside the little room. Posters of musicians and brands of instruments hung on the walls. One guy walked right in front of me singing Luther Vandross, and a guy on the couch in a Vic Firth shirt and dreads was practicing something on a drum pad in his lap. I continued to glance around the room, but at no point did I see Camille. Upset that I would never get my chance now, I turned around to walk out and tell the guys what happened. But right as I reached for the door handle, I heard her rough but sweet voice call out to me.
“John, is that you?” Camille asked. I turned around to see the most stunning girl on the planet walking over to me. She looked absolutely incredible, in a strapless black dress that stopped at her knees and black heels. Her feathery, angular hair cut framed a face more magnificent than I had remembered. She smiled at me, and my heart stopped momentarily.
“Hey, Camille,” I said, embarrassed that my voice was cracking all over the place. She chuckled and proceeded with, “What are you doing here?”
I coughed and answered, “Uhh, the guys thought it would be cool to stop by and see you sing tonight. You know, me, Malcolm, Mark and Daniel.”
“Oh, that’s so nice,” she said as she placed a soft hand on my arm, and I felt the electricity leave her fingertips and penetrate my skin. I tried to keep my cool, but inside I was squealing like a little girl who had just gotten a Fairy Princess Barbie. I smiled back at her and started to relax, once I realized how easy it was to talk to her.
“How long have you been here?” she asked, as she led me over to where she had been awaiting her chance to sing.
“We got here like halfway through some bass players spot. Uhh, his name was like…Lawrence Howard or something?”
“Oh yeah, Lawrence! Yeah, I love that guy. Isn’t he ridiculous on the bass?” Camille exclaimed with a wide smile across her face.
“Yeah, he was so sick.” I replied, reminiscing on the experience of hearing such an incredible musician. “I wish I could play my guitar that well.”
“Oh you play the guitar? That’s so cool!”
“Yep, I do. I’ve been playing since I was six.”
“Eleven years. Nice. What style do you play? Like, what artists on the radio would you say would have you in their band?”
“I really like R&B, so I would probably play for someone like Anthony Hamilton.”
“Oh cool, I love his music. Hey! Maybe you can come over sometime and we can record stuff together. My dad has like a mini studio at the house,” she concluded.
“Oh yeah, that sounds cool! We should totally do that,” I said, excited about the progress I’d made so far. Oh my goodness, she invited me over! I thought to myself. By now, we had made it to her little corner of the room. She had all of her things occupying a little couch in the back. It was covered with school books, makeup, clothes, an iPod and her phone. She moved the things to the side to provide a spot for us to sit.
“Ok, so I understand that you’re here to see me perform and stuff, but what are you doing back here? In the backstage area?” Camille wondered, asking the question I was hoping she wouldn’t get to. I took a deep breath for the third time that night, and arranged my thoughts.
“Uh, ok,” I sighed. “Well, as you already know this is our senior year, and you’re goin’ to Berklee and all that, and I just had something I wanted to get off my chest before you left.”
“Uh huh?” she asked. I glanced over at her, and met her gaze as she looked longingly into my eyes. My heart sped up and slowed down, and I had to look away.
“Umm, so I wanted to tell you something that I’ve been wanting to say since sophomore year, but I just never got the strength to do. I wanted to say that I—“
“You like me,” she said matter-of-factly, stealing the words out of my mouth. I looked back at her, thoroughly mystified.
“How’d you know?” I asked, ready to go punch the friend who told her.
She laughed and said, “John, nobody told me. Nobody had to. It was so obvious from day one.”
“For real?” I asked, disappointed that my façade wasn’t convincing. “Well, what did I do that made it obvious?”
“Uhh, one time junior year I remember you were walking past me, and you were staring so hard you ran into a pole right in front of you. Whenever Mr. Woodard pairs the two of us up into groups for anatomy projects, you’re always extremely nervous and don’t focus on the assignment. Not to mention how your voice always cracks when you’re talking to me. And the most obvious thing: when I touch you to get your attention in AP Calc, you start hyperventilating.”
“I do not do that,” I responded, lying to myself.
“You don’t, do you?” Camille said as she reached over and placed her hand over mine, squeezing gently. She was so right too, because instantly, I started hyperventilating, and she laughed aloud.
“Dang it,” I said, as I looked over at her again. I couldn’t help but smile as she smiled at me. “Well, how do you feel about it? I mean, about me liking you and stuff?” I asked, knowing she was going to say ‘I’m in a relationship’, or ‘I don’t like white dudes’, like Malcolm said.
“Well, it’s cool, because uhh…I like you too. A lot,” she replied, looking away for a brief second.
“You do? Since when?” I said, trying to be tough.
“Since we met. Freshman year,” she said, and her laughter rung through the building.
“Well, why didn’t you say anything to me?” I asked.
“Same reason you didn’t say anything to me. I was too nervous,” Camille replied.
“Ahh, this is my lucky day,” I said.
She grinned at me. “Well, why do you like me then?” Camille asked.
I stared into her eyes for a while, and said, “Because you are the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid my eyes on. You have a great sense of humor, you’re incredibly talented, and being around you makes me the happiest person on the earth. She smiled, rolled her eyes, and playfully said, “Oh, stop it,” while punching me lightly in the chest. I met her gaze and we both laughed in relief.
“Camille, who is this?” a voice from somewhere in front of us said. I looked around to see a girl who looked similar to Camille standing in front of us. Camille stood up, and I stood along with her. “Camille, I said who is this?”
“Monica, this is my friend John Rivetsky from school. John, this is my sister, Monica,” Camille announced. I was so happy that she remembered my last name and that I was classified as a friend that I almost forgot to be polite.
“Hello, how are you doing this evening?” I asked pleasantly, as I stretched out my hand. Monica just stared intently at it. I immediately pulled it away.
“No,” she snarled at Camille. I felt my eyebrows furrow, puzzled.
“No, what?” asked Camille, showing that she was just as confused as I was.
“No, you don’t have time for guys right now. You have a show to do. You have to find a guitar player for tonight.”
“I found one,” Camille replied, as she put her hand in mine. I held it tightly. Monica looked me up and down. “This white boy?” she asked, and I began to get upset.
“Yes. John knows how to play ‘A Long Walk’. You know, that Jill Scott song I’m singing today?” I laughed to myself a little, thinking how much of a coincidence it was that I did know the chords to that one. Monica inspected me once more and snapped, “Fine. But I heard ya’lls conversation just now about liking each other, and I don’t approve. He’s white, Camille. You can’t date him.”
“Excuse me? And why is that?” Camille retaliated.
“It’s because you can do much better than a little white boy. There are so many other Black guys out there that would love to be with you. Why are you settling for less?”
“I’m not settling. I actually like him for who he is, something you wouldn’t know anything about,” Camille mumbled through clenched teeth.
Monica was furious and snapped, “You are settling and you know it. Now you are not going to see him after your set tonight, do I make myself clear?”
There was a moment of silence as Camille thought about this. I prayed that she wouldn’t listen to her sister, but part of me hoped she would, since I was a little scared of Monica. Suddenly, Camille picked up her phone and made a phone call. “Rick, I just found a guitar player, and I’m ready for my set.” She hung up, dropped the phone back onto the couch and gave her sister a once over. “Monica, for years you’ve been pushing me around, telling me who to date and what to where, and frankly, I’m sick of it. Yeah, I understand what you said. But I’m not listening.” All at once, she turned towards me and planted a kiss, right on the lips. As she pulled away, my legs turned to jell-o underneath me.
Monica’s face looked so shocked and angry and sad all at once. Camille laughed and said to me, “You ready to go play?”
I looked at her with a new found confidence, kissed her, and said, “Yeah, let’s go. We got a show to do.” I looked over my shoulder and stuck my tongue out at Monica as we walked away.