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Cheryl's Song: Chapter 1


Fall 1979

His name was Mike, but most everybody on campus called him Frosty. I fell in love with him. He was warm, funny, tender and—here’s the best part—only with me. To everyone else he was like this myth: star high school basketball player, leader of the band, most respected fraternity brother and the last one standing after a fight.

But he was just my man. My man, Mike. A gentle man. So many secrets. So much pain.

“Throw me the ball, man.”

He was in his element today, a king holding court:

basketball court. He didn’t talk much, but when he did, it usually came out as an order. He says it was his military training. I say he’s been ordering people around since the crib.

But there he was that day again, on the court, sweating, winning, wanting the ball in his hands. I had my face pressed up against the chain link fence, watching him move. By his side. I loved that about him. Other guys seemed to want their girlfriends around behind closed doors. When they were in public, they needed “space to maneuver.” Amazing how many silly girls didn’t ask the simple question, “Maneuver into whom?”

I swore I would never date a good looking, Black man again. Their mamas spoil them, the world hates or loves

them too much, and they take it all out on you. So, I’m not even into the looks trip. I’d rather have somebody who looks just OK if he has a good personality. “Good” means he likes to be around me, he respects me and loves me for who I am without screwing around with everything that walks by in stockings and a short skirt

Love me. Is that too much to ask? You don’t have to be fine. Just love me and be around me and about me if we’re going to be together. But I had both—fine and mine. I was loving it then, but it leaves a dark, black hole when it’s gone. Maybe I was asking too much.

“Get up.”

Not another fight. My man just knocked somebody else

down on the way to the basket.

“Baby, ‘Get up,’ and, ‘I’m sorry,’ are two different things,”

I said under my breath. I would have said it out loud two years ago, but I’m learning. You can say anything to a man as long as you don’t say it in public or around his friends. The last time I heard Mike say, “Don’t ever disrespect me like that,” is the last time I want to hear him say that. I’m learning. I sighed relief when I realized it was only his best friend Vernon.

“Man, Frost, you can’t be playing like that. My ankle is messed up for real.”

“Let me see."

I thought I saw a little bit of kindness in Mike’s eyes

toward Vernon when he leaned over and took the ankle in his hand.

“You’ll live.”

No such luck. He dropped the ankle. I winced at Vernon’s painful grimace when the twisted ankle thudded on the concrete. Those two were always so rough with each other.

“Come on, you’re OK.”

“Yeah, I’m cool.”

Mike helped him up and off the court. Vernon was hobbling pretty badly.

I hated Vernon. Still do. Even more now. He was Mike’s

childhood friend, the only thing or person that stayed constant in my man’s life. I called him, ‘Vermin,’ because that’s what he was, a rat.

Why can’t men see through other men’s characters? Or is it just Mike? So mean on the outside, and so loyal inside. He captured my heart with that crazy mix, but it was so frustrating sometimes. He was so blind. Beautiful. But blind. No, actually he wasn’t blind. He saw what he wanted to see. I was the blind one.

“Come on, man. If you wasn’t so slow you wouldn’t be hurt. Get in my way while I’m dunking. You lost your mind, V?”

“Yeah, right. I almost blocked it. I’m gonna get it one day,

Frost. I’m going to block your shot.”

“You’re crazy. Maybe one day, V. There you go. Sit here. Watch me play. One day, homeboy, but not today.”

Vermin’s arm was around Mike’s shoulder as they walked slowly off the court. I thought they were going to the car, but Mike laid him down gently on the side of the court. They were saying something to each other about the other guys watching the game, because they pointed at one young guy with glasses and laughed to themselves. Even though he had our university’s jersey on, he looked like he was still in junior high school.

“Baby, why don’t you take him back to the dorm?” I yelled as they giggled like little girls.

“Uh, excuse me. Men are talking,” Vermin said.

The other guys on the court laughed. I didn’t see anything funny.

“No, Vermin, man is talking to boy. No, Cheetah actually. Now why don’t you get over to the dorm and ice that ankle down before it gets as big as your head?”

“Always talking about my head. Which head you referring to? I’m telling you, Frost, your girl wants me. Always has.”

“I want you dead, Vermin. I want...never mind. Suffer, fool.”

I could never seem to match his vulgarity, although God

knows I tried. He knew how to get to me. The madder I got, the more he giggled. My Christian upbringing didn’t give me the edge in confrontation that he got from growing up in the streets, or his ease with vulgarity. He knew that. He was vile with me every chance he got. At first I passed it off as just his jealousy of me taking his place as Mike’s best friend. It was that, but so much more.

“Baby, he’ll be alright right here. And you know he’s too ugly and mean to die.”

I smiled at my baby. He rescued me again. Somehow, it seemed to me he never went far enough in protecting me from Vermin’s attacks. They thought it was funny. When I’d get upset, Mike would always say, “Baby, that’s just

how we are. He don’t mean no harm.” Sometimes, I wondered. I really did.

“You.”

Mike was pointing at the young kid with the glasses.

“You play ball?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Come. Play. Now.”

Mike’s invitation got the young man up on his feet and stripping his jersey off like he was coming off the bench into the NBA finals. I kind of recognized him when he stood. I had seen him in my dormitory.

This was the first year that the university had co-ed

dorms. The men had rooms on one side of the building and the women on the other, but it wasn’t unusual to come into the showers in the morning and see a naked man. Not a pretty sight when it’s not your man. It didn’t happen often, but the possibility was always there. The unexpected sight of a naked man, other than my own, is not my ideal way of starting any day.

I had never seen this one naked though. Freshmen stayed on the sixth floor. But he did look familiar. He also looked bigger standing up. I saw why when he took off his jersey. We all kind of gasped at the size of his muscles. Actually, it wasn’t so much the size but the shape and definition. ‘Cut’ is the word they use, as in chiseling a marble statue. Mike was the first to recover.

“Let’s see what you got, young boy.”

Mike threw him the basketball. Hard.

“Check.”

The youngster caught it pretty easy. Though it was an obvious attempt at intimidation, the kid didn’t seem ruffled at all. He even smiled. For such a plain face, it was really a beautiful smile I thought. His forehead went back and those small, serious eyes with the built-in bags underneath brightened up considerably. His lips parted to reveal perfect teeth. It was a big, wide smile like Denzel’s, but without the rest of the pretty facial features to back it up.

“Check back,” he said. Then he got down in a defensive

stance—knees bent, hands and arms outstretched, eyes on the basketball and not on the other man. He had played this game before. I knew a ballplayer when I saw one and he looked good. Mike noticed it too and took a step back out of respect before his pride kicked in and he decided to charge right over top of the kid.

Why did he do that?

“Man, you tripped me.”

Blood was coming from Mike’s left knee which had taken the brunt of the fall when the kid dodged to the side and Mike went flying over where he thought the kid’s face was. We were all kind of stunned because it happened so fast. The kid was quick as a cat.

“Actually, I just moved to the side and you fell while charging over me. My feet never moved, so that is a charge. Our ball.”

Everybody looked down at the kid’s feet. He was right. He had somehow leaned his body all the way down, almost to the ground, without moving his feet. Everybody got quiet. Once Mike looked and saw that he was telling the truth, the kid stood up straight, moved over to the foul line and held his hands out to Mike.

“Check.”

A chorus of “Ooohs” went up from the sidelines.

“Come on, y’all,” I said silently. “Don’t provoke him even more.”

The kid wasn’t gloating or afraid. Actually, he didn’t even seem to realize the seriousness of the situation or the danger he was in.

“Oh, it’s going to be like that, huh?” Mike said as he got up and motioned for Vermin to throw him a towel.

“Like what?” the kid asked.

I didn’t know if he was joking or if he really didn’t get that he had just embarrassed the king on his home court. Mike caught the towel and brushed the gravel and broken glass pieces out of his knee. He threw the towel back at Vermin, handed the kid the basketball and got down in a very serious defensive stance.

There was going to be trouble.




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