Layla stormed ahead of me into the house, slamming the door behind herself, forgetting in her tantrum that I was just a moment in her wake. The door would’ve banged hard against my face with an explosive strike had I not reached my hand out in time to stop it. The momentum she threw into it found another circuit, my arm of course, sending a jolt of pain that spiraled its way up my neck, catching the pinched nerve that cramped my herniated disk. Bitch. That one really hurt.
I know that relationships can be hard, which is why I kept my judgements in check. Not to mention, even if by all rights I criticize her, it always comes back to me in the worst way. I take a deep breath and steady my anger, careful not to throw the lighted match to the puddle of diesel fuel. She didn’t slam the door at me. In spirit, she slammed it at that jerk Tommy Skade. She was imagining the wooden door busting hard and fracturing against his smug face. She was rightfully pissed, especially after what he did to her earlier this evening. Seriously, he is a repeat offender. When will she ever be done with him? She was so used to his constant disappointments that she no longer cried. Her tears, like molten lava erupting from deep beneath the earth’s crust, hardened like volcanic resin. So instead of crying, she got angry. On the upside, I saw it as progress.
The night started off promising enough. Layla and I met up with Marlene and Dorna to watch FourPlay (if you can believe the name) perform at Rottweilers in downtown Elmont. The line was long, snaking its way around Church Hill Road. Fortunately, Layla knew Merill, the bouncer who’d been tending the door. He took one look at her platinum red, fire engine hair, recognized the long-legged girl he’d been crushing on since last summer and nodded her in, the gesture instantly accomodating the rest of us into the invite. Her beauty was like a VIP boarding pass, giving her free admission wherever she made an appearance.
Standing ahead of us in line were eight people who, from what I’d gathered, had been waiting to get into the pub for at least twelve minutes prior to our arrival. But Merill knew Layla, was utterly besotted with her, and like all fools who throw caution to the wind when love pollutes their judgment like an oil spill in the Gulf, didn’t care for the gripes they hurled at him when he let her pass through. It lasted only briefly. Merill was 180 pounds of Gold’s Gym and Whey Protein, with a bull-dog face to match, the ugliness suiting him handily in his line of duty. No one wanted to risk angering him too much, so the insults traded were kept to a minimum, just enough to make their point. They complained within their rights, but stopped just short of pissing him off. Layla walked by them with an air of confidence, secure by the watch of Merrill’s guard and grinning with depraved humor as the women she passed hissed and bared their canines like jealous felines.
That was early on in the night; when the evening was in sharper focus and full of promise. It always is in that first half-hour on a Friday or Saturday night, take your pick: when you’re freshly dressed in your sassy-ist attire (whatever in your wardrobe gives you the guts of confidence), perfumed spritzed, and strutting the cat walk of aplomb that only the spike of a three inch heel Manolo can deliver.
The vibe followed us from The Crossing all the way to the bar in Rottweillers. We’d taken our first salutory sip of our Martinis, the buzz effect whirling our minds when Tommy came in on the scene. I was the first one to spot him, and like the good friend I am, pretended not to see him. In my aim to find my own crush (another story altogether), my gaze landed on Tommy by accident. It always seems to happen that way, doesn’t it? The ones you want are never around, but the ones you try to avoid never seem to leave your radar. Somehow, Tommy navigated by use of his own sonar, because he managed to spot us. And he always brought trouble with him, along with several accomplices to carry out the undertaking. From across the room, he’d spotted me, and with his sly, trademark tilt of the head that he mistook for sexy, grinned cunningly at me with a smart wink. Code for hey cookie, tell Layla I’m here.
My eyes darted away, retrieving another, more distant object in the room to gaze at before I slowly pirouetted around. Selfish as it seemed, I wanted her to myself tonight. I didn’t want to deal with the intrusion of male company, especially not his, which, I do realize, defeats the purpose of going out at all. I mean, part of the whole gambit is the social interaction dancing between the two sexes, which is why women spend hours getting ready. Yet interestingly enough, once I’m out there, I find myself in swat mode, spraying on the attitude like an insect repellent to keep the guys from biting.
We were hanging out, enjoying ourselves, when the cool, circumspect greeting of “Hey, Layla” sounded off from behind.
Tommy, bringing along his posse of friends.
Dorna, Marlene and I looked uneasily at each other, each of us awash with a cold apprehension as Layla, ravished by his presence and smiling widely with unabashed pleasure at seeing him, gathered him in the welcoming fold her arms. Tommy, realizing the rest of the female pact was more discerning and feeling the arctic chill draft his way, regarded each of us with a tight-lipped smile that bordered on humility. Eventually, Layla pulled Tommy aside, much to his satisfaction at having usurped me, and went to work on her. As usual, and in his bidding to deploy his envoys, he left behind two of his friends who introduced themselves as Ernie and Al, neither of which had anything interesting to say other than to warn Marlene not to get citronella up her nose when she used the nearby mosquito-repellant candle to light her cigarette. Smoking was something she did on social occasions, though Marlene was never avid in pursuing the habit outside the scene.
Ten minutes later and still, no Layla. Followed by an even longer period of about twenty. I looked up and around Rottweilers, crowded to the hilt, finding no sign of her or Tommy. I darted my attention between Ernie, whose rambling of mucus congestion from a bout of bronchitis he just kicked, has tranquilized me quicker than an overdose of Tylenol PM, to a futile scan of facial recognition for her in a crowd of over two hundred people. Forty minutes later and Layla is still MIA. Whenever she’s alone with him for any length of time, it never ends well. Naturally, I worry, since her dilemmas become an inevitable part of my problem.
At which point I interrupt Ernie with an “excuse us”, taking both Dorna and Marlene by the hand and leading them to the doorway.
“I think they left,” I announced, setting a new purpose to mind, “let’s go look for her.” No one argues to the immediate plan of action. We head past Merrill and out onto the sidewalk where the line of patrons (convinced that Rottweilers is the only game in town) has since stiffened and stretched up and around the curve of Church Hill Road.
“Where do you think she is?” Dorna asked, clapping her heels loud against the pavement in similar dedication to find her.
No need for an answer. Like a mother on instinct, I rounded the corner, heading with determined purpose to the Auto Repair Shop parking lot where Bikers park their Harleys on weekends after hours. Sure enough, there was Layla. And Tommy.
And Serena. Dear Lord, did she have to be here tonight? Tommy’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. It’s never good when she makes an appearance. I wonder where and when she came into the picture tonight. Apparently, somewhere in between the time from when they parted ways in Rottweillers to this moment.
Layla’s eyes are bloodshot red, her chest heaving as she struggled to control her temper between each round of slur she pummelled at him. Every colorful, adverb of insult pointing to the most conspicuous explanation of what had transpired in our absence.
“You prick!” The p shooting spittle from her lips.
Marlene stepped forward, using the same courage as one would an untamed tiger still in training, and took hold of her flying wrist. The one she was about to level hard across his face. Dorna and I stood close on cue, allowing her to empty her final round of ammo before my soothing voice of, “Let’s go Layla,” brings her back to reason.
Not even ten minutes pass, and we are piled in Marlene’s car. I am sitting in the back with Layla, my lap pillowing her head, whereupon collapsing into tears once again, she’d since sprawled across the back seat. Dorna and Marlene take the bow of the ship and are seated in the front: Marlene at the wheel, tasked to bring us home, leaving me to manually labor to Layla. Dorna glanced over her shoulder every twelve seconds, unnerved by Layla’s vehement reaction, uncertain how to initiate the proper response in this crisis.
Her grievance only escalated by the time we reach the Crossing. Fresh tears continue to spill forth -two hours worth from when Marlene dropped us off. We were both sitting cross-legged on her bedroom floor, leaning up against her bed, a scattering of sodden Kleenex tissues collecting on her carpeted floor. She leveled herself with a deep breath that seemed to assuage her misery before plunking her head on my lap again, grabbing a throw pillow from atop the bed and using it to cushion her head.
There was a soft, patter of knocking on the bedroom door to the strokes of my finger tips on Layla’s scalp. The kind of knock that feels awkward in making its intrusion.
The door tentatively opened. Alfred. Layla’s older brother stepped forward. One of the many benefits of being Layla’s best friend. Being the genteman that he is, he stops short of entering, choosing instead to stand within the door frame. He is visually appealing, so evocatively attractive you could develop an instant crush by just one glance. The kind that could lead to an obsession if you’re not careful, or a heartbreak if you’re not his type and disillusioned enough to think he might still consider you. Every time I looked at him, my thoughts wandered in a scandalous detour down ‘fantasy’ lane. Dorna once admitted to this tendency as well. The imagery becomes so vivid, you feel ‘caught’ when he looks right back at you. Depending on what, exactly, you were thinking when he cut a look your way.
He is a parallel rendition to his sister. Each of them was blessed with a generous portion of beauty bequeathed upon them through their geneology, neither one of them more genetically favored over the other, as mother nature tends to do so often to siblings on cruel occasions. This time, she doled an equal portion, making both brother and sister exquisitely and equally comely, yet not without allotting the curse of being envied and admired, rivaled and supported by peers and foes alike.
Tonight his light hair altered his irises to a shade of jade, the Tiffany lamp on her bureau coloring them to an amethyst.
“Is she okay?” he asked, his sympathy of emotion on his sister, his eyes pinned to me.
Oh Alfred, with you in my backyard, why look elsewhere?
“Tommy.” I mouthed.
His brow-line crunched, “Who?’
“Tommy.” I said aloud, causing Layla to sob harder and louder at the mention of his name.
After successfully coaching her to calm again, she straightens her posture, and her vision, once crossed-eyed with grief, becomes instantly aligned as she fixes her eyes across the room.