"That was the most obvious call for help I've ever heard. And I saved it."
Grant looked across the table at Tia and smiled despite himself. Tia saw the grin and grinned wider. He was so cute when he was vulnerable, she thought.
Grant was uncomfortable, but her smile made him relax. Somewhere, he thought, this is absolutely insane. This was the woman he, at one point, imagined getting married to. For all the stories his boys told, none of them involved being on good terms with your ex. Of course, his friends, with few exceptions, viewed relationships as little wars, battlefields they resigned themselves to destroying. Using every last piece of ordinance, all the heavy artillery they could muster, and pulling no stops, most of his boys judged a woman by her mere ability to survive the bull they threw at her. If, after all the buildings had fell, if she still stood, they deemed her worthy.
Needless to say, his friends didn't have a lot of good, fulfilling relationships.
Tia had been through her share of relationships, good and bad, and had an amazingly developed sense of relationships that few people reached during their lifetimes. She saw relationships as not "win-lose" propositions, but ways to find out about herself. With the high roller, big baller types, she tested her resolve to see if a life of luxury and occasional freaky sexcapade fit her. She hustled and scrounged with a starving artist type to see if she could get along with someone perpetually poor but so creatively rich. And she tried Grant, but he was not what she thought he was.
Grant dug hanging out with Tia, even before the light-bulb in his head went off and he suggested they date, for the sake of a "new experience." She had gone to an all-wolmens college, passed the paper bag test, was desired in all manner by anyone who saw beyond her nearsighted, ten pounds overweight body type. "I don't mind not being a 10," she would say. "I DO mind being a 0 when I decide to fuck someone, though."
She thought Grant was safe, a high-roller type who liked to flash the jewelry around and impress buddies with a ten on his arm and sporting a swath of confidence deep enough to drown a giraffe. She knew the personality type, and she wanted confirmation of the shallowness of the type so she could mark it off in her internal list and move on.
But Grant surprised her. The most expensive thing he owned and wasn't paying off was a a John Coltrane box set. He owned a couple of watches that only looked expensive, and his suits were hooked up by an old friend who had a stake in a family-owned clothing store. Grant loved ties, but hated suit jackets. Tia, shocked by what she had found, looked into his closet, expecting to at the very LEAST, find forty pairs of leather shoes, but was greeted by the sight of eight pairs of shoes, two basketball pairs, a casual, some construction boots, and four pairs of leather shoes which were well-taken care of.
Grant was aware that she was comparing him to someone else, but knew from watching his boys flounder in the shallow pool of relationships, knew that trying to compete with a previous boyfriend, or, even worse, her dad, would be an abject failure. He learned that he could just be himself and, if she didn't like that, so it goes.
So they connected on that level; he not giving a damn, she wondering why he didn't give a damn. From there, she went from what his story was and him wondering why she gave a damn. They didn't expect the other to be what they were, and they spent the next two years happily jousting, daring each other further, pushing, poking, and prodding. Of course, the sex was hot, the friendship seemed to have lent itself to surprise presents, to long evenings talking about everything.
Their friendship blossomed into a love that Grant had never felt before. He could talk to her about anything. He knew her lies and dislikes. He hadn't run out of things he wanted to try on her when they were alone. He started to look forward to talking to her during the day, of having dinner and singing along to random songs in their music library. That's what made the break-up so hard.
Tia knew she loved him. He cared for her, seemed ready to stand up for her, and stand up with her. It was perfect. Almost too perfect. But now she had this effect on him, would he hold onto that feeling if she wasn't around"? Could she, all of a sudden, pop back into his life and cause him to fall head over heels again? They had grown from friends; their first dates weren't even called dates. They went to movies, walked around the city, talked on the phone for long periods . He had cheated, she laughed to herself. He snuck in through the "friend" way. She wanted a suitor to come in through the front door, sweep her off her feet with pre-planned dates.
Of course, her girlfriends thought this was absolutely stupid, but Tia held on to her fantasies of being wooed the old-fashioned way. Grant, meanwhile, unaware that he had come through the friend" door, had to adjust to being back in the damned Friend Room.
So he tested her, and called after leaving Dwayne, leaving a message that he wanted to try out a new restaurant and did she want to come along? It was the first time he had contacted her since they broke up; she was trying to show him that exes can indeed be friends; in fact, she was still friends with her exes? Grant knew that those exes stayed friends because of their belief that they would get back into her pants, and they stayed exes because of their transparency.
Grant figured out a long time ago that she had her own ways and means of doing things, and it amused him to hear her talk about such things as exes being friends, because she seemed to live in a world much different than the reality he lived in. In his world, women who explored sexual pleasure were hoes and sluts; it was natural for Tia to spring some new technique or situation on an unsuspecting lover who, truth be told, thought missionary was just fine. In his world, creative people were usually trampled by businesspeople with their minds on their money and their money on their minds, but Tia was a highly respected and nicely compensated graphic designer. He figured he'd ask her about this presentation he had over his head, too. Now they were at dinner, his cunning having brought her out, her desire to show him that her reality was better pushing her to take the call and arrange via text message the time to meet. And now they were at the restaurant, and she snickered, having found a chink in his armor.
"Wasn't hard for you to meet me, was it?" Tia's girlfriends called it "fighting fire with hot sauce," but she agreed to meet him. She had already said they were over; what she wouldn't let out of the bag was the fact that, maybe, possibly, they could be together again. At some later date, of course. Stupid "friend" door.
Grant shifted in his seat, still not completely free of his nervousness. "No, I guess not." Sitting across from her was murder. His boy Marion had let him know what he thought, and Grant thought thought his last piece of advice pertinent, even if Marion's track record with the opposite sex resembled that of a mule running in horse races. "Dude, once you make em scream, you can't be friends no more. You just can't." Grant shifted in his seat again, certain aspects of his physique remembering those times. Dammit, woman.
They talked of current events, of sports, of conditions with owning a condo and how their jobs were going. Gradually, Grant relaxed. This was like the good ol days. It didn't seem forced, he reasoned. Maybe I could be friends.
Tia was across the table seething, however. She had to catch herself more than once, wondering how she was going to stand it. Because of all the effect she had on Grant, she was aware that he had made a mark on her as well. They WERE friends, she reasoned; why couldn't they take that next step? But that next step was deadly, she'd seen.
While pondering all of this, and getting more and more drawn into each other, Grant finally remembered one of the things he wanted to ask her.
"I got this presentation due soon, and I'm trying to do something good with it. It's for a non-profit, and I think they're doing good work. I went to the art museum, but I just can't get into it like you do." He smiled hopefully, waiting for a response to his thinly-veiled compliment.
Tia laughed quietly over her dessert. Molten chocolate cake congealed just a bit more as she answered. "How about you come up with some ideas, and we'll work together on it? I want that to be YOUR idea, not mine." Realizing the double meaning of her words, she clammed up. Why did I just say that? she thought. Maybe he noticed, she thought.
Grant, whose mind had already been moving onto possibilities he could bring for considerations, didn't catch it at all. He indulged in more iced tea while Tia studied him carefully , to see if he heard her or noticed her awkward and abrupt quiet. He gave no indication either way. He finished his sip, a long, drawn-out swallow, and looked at her. She cocked an eyebrow.
"Can friends really collaborate?" He meant to draw her out, to let him know that he was hip to this game, and that he wanted to know the rules beforehand. Of course mere friends could collaborate, but they were more than friends at one point. Like Marion said, he'd made her scream more than once, dammit. That should count for something. What did she want? What was she going for? Is there another dude? Was it something I did? Doesn't she know it's killing me to be sitting here and resist the urge to invite her back to my place, or to kiss her, to tell her I miss her?
She looked at him, and hoped that he saw that she really didn't know. But her voice was strong and firm.
"I suppose we'll find out."