Copper-colored sweat drips down her face. “Pace yourself,” she mutters. Half a mile left of this stretch to complete, and she is headed to the finish line. “One foot in front of the other.” She is fatigued, worn down, the sunbeams on her back. Florida humidity and dewy grass equate to a breeding ground of gnats and mosquitoes, swarming at her sweet sweat. “Almost there, just a little bit more - 3…2…1, victory!” The traffic light at the corner of Walgreens and Dunkin Donuts is her holy grail.
She enjoys the run, the air, the heat. She enjoys the progress on her body and mind. She enjoys the little things; she has so much to be thankful for. Doctors gave you ‘til 7 years old; God will give you to infinity. She remembers her father’s words of comfort whenever she felt down; they made her smile.
She is strong, independent, confident, and carefree. She is poised, and she is kind. She has chocolate skin, kinky loc’d hair, and pink pierced lips. Golden brown eyes and crescent moon dimples; she resembles much of her mother. Her features capture the room. She is breathtaking.
Born prematurely at only 28 weeks, no one ever thought she would make such great strides in her lifetime. Her devoted parents stopped at nothing to ensure she never felt inadequate and only gave her the finest they could offer.
Run complete and ready to begin her day, she heads back to her apartment building. As she enters the front gate, the sound of his footsteps breaks her train of thought.
“How are you doing today?” His thick accent makes his speech almost incomprehensible, but she knows that voice. A small shiver flows down her spine, followed by a wry smile. “Hello, Pedro. I am well. How are you?”
“Good. I saw you running while I was headed in. I just wanted to say you looked good out there! Keep it up.”
“Thank you.” She keeps her head down and starts up the stairs. Not all compliments are welcomed, and his compliments were top of the NOT WANTED list. Pedro, the downstairs tenant, has had his eyes set on her from the day she moved in. The friendly neighbor was Pedro’s role, and he played it well. She knew the playbook. She could see right through him - the game.
“If you ever need a running partner, I’d be more than happy to join.” He smiles that menacing grin showcasing his tobacco-encrusted teeth.
Just before entering the front door into freedom, she replies with a half-hearted joke. “Think you can keep up?” The door slams shut before he can reply. She is not interested. She plays nice, but she isn’t amused. She gathers herself and heads upstairs to freshen up.
Pedro Bravo is the friendly neighbor/ apartment aid. As the known handyman of the complex; he does it all. From maintenance repairs to trash pickup to part-time personal bodyguard. It is unclear how legal his operations here with the complex are, but Pedro has been an undeniable help. In exchange for work, Pedro scored a room right under her, rent-free.
Pedro retreated back to his quarters, knowing he would be seeing her again. He would wait for her. He’s had his eyes set on her from the day she moved in. He made it a point to study her. He was fascinated with her - her physique, her poise, her secrecy. She seemed quiet and reserved, but when Pedro spoke to her, she was always polite. She laughed at his jokes and never shut down his advances. Pedro had a chance, he just knew it. Pedro fantasized about her -, what she liked to do, what she liked to eat. She loved to run. What better way to bond than to offer her some company? Pedro knew he would need to get back into shape to keep up, but that didn’t matter. Pedro was always there to help her with her clogged sink and leaky shower pipes. Any requests she had, Pedro completed it top priority; she never complained about the prompt service. The least she can do is run with him, right? She owes me.
A locked treasure he was dying to open, a fruit he was forbidden to eat, a cheetah hunting his prey. Pedro would be patient, yet present; he would push, yet not too hard. Pedro loved a challenge, and she would be his latest quest.
She knew all too well the danger of strangers. But what about those who aren't exactly strangers? She’d let her guard down, and paid the ultimate price.
Before Pedro was Lacy. Never trust your neighbor. But she didn’t think that meant the ones that sleep next to you too. Lacy had been her suitemate in her second year of college. Lacy was an art major who spent her days high with her deadbeat boyfriend, yet somehow managed to produce quality artwork. Lacy was the college student freelancing her way through life and enjoying every minute of it. She admired Lacy’s spirit. Lacy was the black girl magic poster-child for all things black girl essential - black kinky curls, big brown eyes, and plump purple lips. Lacy’s free-spirited nature enticed her; she wanted to know more. How could one be wired in such a way? She fell for Lacy before she could even see.
Harmless fun and innocent experiences were Lacy’s kind of vibe. Lacy was the spark she thought she needed. Although the small voice screamed to stay away, she didn’t listen to her instincts. Her inner voice no longer mattered.
Lacy came to her offering friendship; however, deep down Lacy wanted more.
“It’s college, so you’re into that stuff right?” Lacy would tease.
Air-filled heavily with innuendos left her to question. She settled for joking, laughing it off, and quickly changing the subject. She never said she was into it, but she didn’t say she wasn’t either.
Her inability to be bold and speak up gave Lacy all the clearance she needed. Why else would she flaunt her body around in her towel after a shower? Why else would she want to cuddle up during movie nights? She wants me, Lacy thought.
What happens in the mind will soon mirror in reality. Lacy waited for the perfect moment; it had to be special, just right. She was Lacy’s friend and Lacy’s primary goal. Friends have to look after each other, right?
Or so she thought…
She saw it coming, yet ignored her intuitions. The hardest kind of healing is when you know better and end up in the situation anyway. She hated herself for months, cried for weeks. Healing is slow and painful. She relived the moment, relived the incident which led her to this unhappy place in her soul. How could something so innocent turn sour so quickly. She trusted her friend to care for her, but Lacy took advantage. She hurts; she heals. Unable to speak of the pain she endured, she also writes:
“I can’t tell you when. When was that moment I let her in. When she was invited in between my sheets. She eased her way in there. So stealthy. She played her cards right. She waited for me to be comfortable. She invited me in. A nice smile, a nice touch on the shoulder.
“You need anything? I’m here for you.” Companionship. Company.
I longed for a soul, a body so close. She wanted more and I could see that. She could see me beneath the surface. She knew what I wanted. Desperate to be touched, be kissed, and be loved; She wanted to be that for me.
I wasn’t looking, but I called her. I didn’t want it, yet she was drawn to me. Her inner being called mine. The perfect storm. The innocent giver who wants to please the world and the self-serving artist ready to give her all. Two broken souls coming together in chaotic matrimony comes at a price. For her to get what she wanted, I lost a piece of myself. She released me from her grasp, but she is forever etched in my soul.”