Coming Fall 2015
PROMISE ME YOU WON’T
As Lonnie stood in his office, facing Juanna, his body jerked with the physical implications of Juanna’s actions, bringing him back to the present and the woman standing in front of him. He looked with disdain at Juanna and shook his head. If her words weren’t so preposterous, Lonnie would have taken her seriously. Instead, he marveled at her audacity. He couldn’t even get angry anymore. He’d heard this song before, and no matter how much she practiced, she remained off key. “Is that why you came up to my gym, disturbing my guests, causing a scene because in your fantasy world you think I owe you money?”
“You owe me!” she screamed.
The wild look in her eyes scared Lonnie. He had dealt with his share of craziness before, but something in the way her eyes glazed over and seemed to see right through him put fear into his heart. If she kept screaming it would only be a matter of seconds before Charles would come back to see what was happening. He had to calm her down. Was she trippin’ on drugs now? he wondered. Her pupils did look a little dilated, but that could have been because she was agitated.
“Look, J,” Lonnie said calmly, using the nickname he had given her when they were together, “I don’t know what changed in your life that took you down this path, but I’m sorry for you. I really am.”
“I don’t need your pity,” Juanna said. “You owe me $250. Cash money.”
“No, J, I don’t. What you did was your choice. I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
“It takes two to make a baby. I didn’t impregnate myself.” Juanna paced back and forth.
“I took full responsibility for the pregnancy.” Lonnie hated rehashing history, but this seemed the only way to keep her calm. He was trying not to get agitated himself. “I offered to pay you to give me full custody, but you refused the money. You kept telling me that it was marriage or nothing. Remember?” Juanna looked as though she was struggling to remember. “You told me if I didn’t marry you then you’d get rid of it. So that’s what you did. Your choice, your dime.”
She stopped pacing and stared at Lonnie. “I had to pay $500 out of money that was meant for my tuition. Then I had to borrow money for tuition from Sharin.”
Just like back then, Juanna refused to listen to reason. It was like talking to a brick wall—nothing penetrated. “If you need money then you need to take that up with your husband,” Lonnie said, switching tactics. At the mention of her husband, some of the fight seemed to go out of Juanna.
“I don’t have a husband anymore. He left me when he found out I couldn’t have babies.” She whimpered, but she didn’t cry.
“What do you mean you can’t have children? Are you trying to tell me that you were never pregnant?” Even after he said the words, he knew they couldn’t be true. He was present at all of her doctor’s appointments and had seen the ultrasound.
“What I’m saying is something got messed up and I can’t have a baby. Something about a perforated uterus and too much scar tissue.”
“All of that from one abortion?”
Juanna looked up at the ceiling, ignoring Lonnie’s question.
“Hey, did you hear what I said? You got all of that from one abortion?” He didn’t care now how his words or his tone affected her.
She rubbed her arms again and flicked at her nose. Her defiant posture told Lonnie that she was hiding something. “You owe me money,” she said again as if she were a broken record.
Lonnie rarely lost his temper with women. When he did, however, it was usually because someone like Juanna was trying to make a fool out of him. He flashed back on his upbringing and allowed his mother’s words to push him to a place of calm. “Get out of my gym,” he said his breaths even, “and don’t ever come back.”
Those words seemed to send Juanna over the edge. She lashed out at Lonnie and caught him square on the jaw with a ragged fingernail. Instinctively, he put a hand up to his face. The sight of his own blood startled Lonnie and he reacted before thinking. Juanna pulled herself free from Lonnie’s grasp, lunging at him with her fist. Just as he ducked to avoid a blow to his face, the door swung open and Charles deflected the air-born jab before it connected with his chin.
“What’s going on in here? We can hear your business all the way in the front of the gym,” Charles said, releasing Juanna’s fist.
Embarrassed that everyone in the gym could hear the commotion and that his business partner had seen him in an unfavorable light, Lonnie gave Juanna an accusatory stare-down before replying to Charles. “I got it handled. Juanna was just about to leave.”
“I ain’t going nowhere until you give me my money!”
“Look, Lonnie, if you’re strapped for cash, I got you. But this right here,” Charles said, looking from Juanna to Lonnie, “ain’t cool. Y’all can’t bring all that ghetto up in my gym.”
Taken aback by Charles’ words, Lonnie snapped back. “Last time I checked, I was still majority owner. My name is on the deed—” Realizing that Juanna was still in the room and that he was about to say too much about his financial business, Lonnie clamped his jaws shut.
“Come on, now. You know what I meant,” Charles said, in his classic peacemaker style. “You got an image to maintain and airing your dirty laundry for the whole gym to hear won’t do nothing to help that image.”
“You’re right,” Lonnie conceded. He noisily expelled air from his lungs. Mustering up all the civility he could, he turned to Juanna. “Look, I don’t know why you chose to look me up after all these years, but you and me, we got no business. So, I’m going to ask you one last time, will you please leave my gym?”
“Like I said, I ain’t going nowhere until you Give. Me. My. Money.”
Lonnie shot Charles a dismissive glance. Taking the hint, Charles said in parting, “I hope you really do have this situation handled, bruh, ’cause 9-1-1 ain’t but four clicks away.”
As Charles exited, Lonnie turned back to Juanna. “I’m losing my patience with you, Juanna. Why don’t you stop playing games and tell me what this is really about? Because I know that after all this time, you can’t still be trippin’ about some half-and-half nonsense.”
Juanna’s face crumpled and she dropped into the chair opposite Lonnie’s desk. Lonnie peered at her, wondering how far she planned to go with the theatrics. He remained silent while he waited for what felt like an eternity before Juanna spoke again.
“All you had to do was marry me.”
On the surface, Juanna sounded like a whiny child; sulking because she didn’t get her way. But beneath the layers, Lonnie could tell there was something more serious going on. He wondered briefly if Juanna was psychotic and maybe she was having a breakdown. But the way she kept sniffing and touching her nose, told the real story. He wondered what drug had claimed her; heroin, cocaine, smack, or maybe even methamphetamines. As he took in the stranger sitting opposite him, this woman who was a shadow of her former self, a wave of pity tugged at his heart. She used to be a knockout, his idea of a Black Barbie doll: long legs that seemed to go on forever, voluptuous rear-end, shoulder-length jet-black hair that smelled of honeysuckle and almonds, and a mind like a steel trap when it came to the law. But what was in his line of vision now, this thing, he didn’t know. Nor did he want to know her; what he wanted was to forget that they had history and for her to leave and never come back. Not only was she a junkie, she was a murderer, and he would never forgive her for that.
“I loved you, Lonnie.” The unexpected admission came out in a hoarse whisper.
Lonnie ran his hand across his face. “You what?”
“Sharin had built you up like you were God’s gift. With a testimony like that, how could I refuse to go out with you?”
“Wow,” Lonnie said, incredulous. “So, you’re prepared to go that far to get what you want.” He shook his head. “Whatever you’re on it must be some real potent stuff to make you pull out your A game.”
Juanna sniffed. “I never lied to you, all the time we were together, not once did I ever lie and I’m not lying now.”
“If you loved me, you never would have killed my son.”
“He was my son too,” Juanna said with a touch of defiance. “Besides, I couldn’t take a chance that you would turn out like those other two no-good, lying, cheating . . .” she let the words trail off.
Lonnie’s head snapped to attention. “So, that’s why you can’t have babies? You had abortions before? Huh? Is that what you’re saying to me?!” His patience had evaporated. Lonnie was through playing games. He moved swiftly from behind his desk, practically goose-stepping his way to the other side to tower over Juanna. By her expression, Lonnie knew that she understood that game time was over. “Get up!” he barked. When she didn’t move, he barked the order again. This time, she rose on command. “Head first or feet first, how do you want to leave?”
Juanna swung open the office door and swiftly made her way to the exit. “Hey girl!” she yelled in Cashmere’s direction. Cashmere looked up from the leg press machine. “Yeah, you. Don’t trust Lonnie Parker. He’s two-faced!”
Lonnie watched Cashmere as she turned questioning eyes on him then resumed her workout.