It was after 2am…

…and once again, I found myself wide awake, sitting up working when I should be sleeping. Anything to avoid going to bed. It was a defense mechanism I had been perfecting over the last few months, one that had caused more than a few arguments. My bedroom had always been my sanctuary but lately, being in there made me feel like the walls were closing in on me. That feeling, coupled with the fact that I was in my busiest season at work made late nights and sleeping in my den, my new normal.

The sound of my text alert seemed amplified times a hundred in the quiet of 2am. Wondering who would be texting me at this hour, I scrambled to reach for my phone to silence it. Then I froze listening for any movement from down the hall. Satisfied at the sound of low steady snoring, I finally checked my text messages… I read the text over and over again. It was as if I needed to keep reading it to believe that it was real.

I got up from the chaise quietly and peered down the hall to make sure Mark hadn’t awakened at the sound of my phone, before crossing the room to the photo albums on the bookshelf. Finding what I was looking for, I walked into the kitchen to pour a glass of wine. Laughing to myself, I thought how ironic it was that I was turning to wine when it was actually a sobering effect that I needed.

I stood in front of the refrigerator, the photo album tucked securely under my arm, and smiled thinking how he would disapprove of the glass of Moscato I was about to enjoy. “Cali-girl” wine, he had called it; pun intended. I had just placed the bottle back in the refrigerator and picked up my glass when the sound of my iPhone (on vibrate after the first text had startled me) buzzing against the glass table top in the other room almost made me drop it. Quietly, I hurried back, snatching up the phone as I reclaimed my place on the chaise. I dismissed this latest text without reading it. Instead, I pressed the icon for my photo album intending to re-read the text I had taken a screenshot of despite my promise to erase it as he had instructed me to do.

The conversation had started normally; except for the fact that lately he hadn’t been texting me at all….

When he hadn’t responded, I followed up with, “…?”

“Erase this next text after I send it”

I hesitated, wondering what was so serious that I needed to erase the evidence of our conversation,

“Cali, erase it. Ok?” he had texted, apparently sensing my hesitation.
“Ok…”

I could see the little ellipsis icon that let me know that he was typing and after a few moments,

After reading the exchange again, I sat there flipping the pages of the album until I found the photo I was looking for. It was one of Dom and I, taken at the Universal Amphitheater in North Hollywood following one of his performances. Myesha, his ex, and Mark were also in the photo but it had always seemed to me that despite that we were two couples, the photographer’s focal point was clearly on me and Dom.

My phone vibrated again, reminding me to read the latest text.

I was surprised to feel myself smiling and baffled by the range of emotions I was experiencing since Dominic’s confession. I wanted to ask him if he had been drinking or perhaps something more recreational, but things had been so distant between us lately that I didn’t want to risk pushing him away. Instead I typed,

Immediately, I turned on the Do Not Disturb feature on my phone. Holding my head in my hands, I massaged my temples as I reflected on the reasons why I hadn’t shut him down immediately. I was in a relationship. Mark and I had been together for years and despite my professional success, in expensive-ass Los Angeles, our arrangement worked. The fact that I knew Dom better than most also meant that I knew all his dirt. For the brief period that we had both been students at USC, I’d seen and in some cases even corroborated in his games with women. We’d kept each other’s secrets and held each other down. He was truly one of my best friends.

Thinking about our text conversation, I reasoned that I hadn’t shut it down because of the distance between us lately. I wondered if he hadn’t been going through something else… I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I also acknowledged that I had suspected that there was more to our relationship than either of us would admit, but then I never wanted to give myself too much credit when it came to him. Dom was a flirt. Standing at 6’4” his build was perfectly suited for the basketball courts that he frequented. Aside his music, and basketball, women were his favorite hobby. He had always been that way. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that by leaving the door open, I was inviting whatever came next.

I had been working on a proposal when the first text came. Now I reached for my laptop intending to pick up where I had left off. I was distracted. No. I was left reeling. I began to rethink our relationship over the last few years. Questioning how I had disapproved of almost every “relationship” he had been in. How no one that I was interested in ever seemed good enough for me by his standards either; especially Mark. I thought about how growing up, we always seemed to take a “break” from our friendship every time I thought I was interested in someone. How over time I had also pulled back, sensing the tension that surrounded my current relationship.

At this point in my life, my circle was small. Usually, I preferred it that way. Mark and I had met when Dylan was still a toddler. His father was inconsistent to say the least, and Mark had been both fun and consistent in the midst of an otherwise stressful time. When we began seeing each other, I was so busy checking boxes that I breezed past all the red flags and before I knew it, we were living together. Dom could never understand my attraction to Mark beyond the physical and he had let me know that in no uncertain terms. I dismissed his concerns because clearly he’s no love doctor, despite how he sees himself. Falling for Mark had been easy, he had accepted Dylan as his own and I loved the way that he loved my son. By the time Dylan was five, we were engaged. Yet, since our relationship had begun I found myself moving further and further away from the woman I thought I was. I had always been strong. Both physically and emotionally but when it came to Mark, it eventually felt like my backbone was nothing more than a notion. I loved him but I was no longer in love with him. And Dom knew it all. The good and the bad. He was one of the only people who did.

And now this. I told myself that Dom was just drunk or high and that tomorrow we would get together and all thoughts of tonight’s texts would be forgotten.

I picked up the remote and hit the guide button to check the time on the muted TV. Realizing that I was due at the gym in five short hours, I knew it was time to turn it in. But sleep was the last thing on my mind. Instead, I got up from the chaise, picked up my half-empty glass, and crossed the room to the french doors that led to my patio. The tri-plex’s private patio was probably my favorite feature; immediately after moving in, I’d had it partially enclosed, taking advantage of the huge Sycamore tree that grew over one end to install a hammock. I’d hung strands of white icicle lights and a few paper lanterns. Later Mark had added a fire pit after I’d admired one while browsing through an airmail magazine I’d picked up on a flight to New York – another one of his ‘apology’ gifts.

Lying in my hammock, I could close my eyes and be anywhere my imagination could take me. Feeling the light, warm breeze, I carefully slid open the patio door. I stepped outside, leaned against the door frame, and took in both, the breathtaking view of Los Angeles at night and another sip from my glass. I thought about the series of texts I had just exchanged with Dom and as I did, I realized there were something like butterflies in my stomach.

I couldn’t help but think about what that might really mean. Was I simply nervous about Dominic’s confession and its potential to change our relationship? Or was I more nervous about the fact that if I were being honest, I was both, excited and more than a little bit curious about the prospect? Could it be that after months of stagnancy and years of enduring more than I felt was a fair share of bullshit in my relationship, that I was so starved for excitement or affection that just the idea of something new was enough to entice?

In my line of business as an event producer for a boutique firm in downtown LA, I interacted with any number of people daily. From the general public, to a variety of vendors, executives, and LA’s elite. It’s not as if I was lacking in options or opportunities. But I had always preferred not to mix business with pleasure, and despite my general lack of pleasure, I had yet to seek it elsewhere. Instead, I threw myself into my work and my son. On the outside, it might look like I had it all together; at least that’s what my girls said. And though impressions weren’t my concern, neither was shattering them. Regardless, when I was most honest with myself, I could admit that at this point, both Mark and I were in it for Dylan. Sure we loved each other, at least on some level, but I was sure we were no longer in love. And maybe we never had been.

I finished the last sip of wine and set my glass on the end table. I yawned and stretched, finally preparing to go to bed. I felt a twinge of guilt at the idea of sliding into bed next to Mark, knowing that my head was somewhere else entirely.

The Friend Zone is part of Black&Sexy TV’s new short story series. Be on the look out for the next episode June 20th.