The morning after my text conversation with Dominic…

I woke up in a wine-induced haze, still curled up on the chaise in the den. Sunlight was streaming through the window of the sliding glass doors that led to my patio. I could hear birds chirping and the faint sound of a lawnmower a couple of yards over. Summer Saturdays have always been my favorite kind, ever since I was a little girl. They were full of nostalgia and promise and as I lie there listening to the sounds around me, this one already felt perfect. I stretched and opened my eyes, last night’s conversation, for the moment, out of my mind. All I was thinking was that today would be a great day…

The sound of heavy footsteps making their way down the hall put that thought on pause. I closed my eyes again quickly, hoping to feign sleep believably. This was something I did a lot of by this point. Sleep people don’t argue and since I was typically a heavy sleeper, I had become masterful at playing it off. It was easier if he couldn’t see my face, so I quickly shifted to face the back of the chaise and only then did I let out the breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. Mark passed by the den on his way to the kitchen. I heard him pause in the doorway, suck his teeth in annoyance and ask, “You up?” I lay still and tried to keep my breathing even. I could feel his eyes on me even as I lay there willing him to go away. It was too early for this shit. I didn’t have the energy or enough fucks to give to even attempt a conversation with him right now. My sleeping in the den was already a point of contention. All I could hope was that he’d take in my open laptop and planner and assume that I’d just fallen asleep while working and not make it an issue today.

After a few long, uncomfortable moments, Mark moved away toward the kitchen. A few seconds later, I heard the sounds of him mixing a smoothie. I figured that meant he was on his way to play basketball at the park down the street and I had every intention of lying there until I heard the door close behind him. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that I’d set alarm in attempt to get to the gym before all the elliptical machines were taken. That alarm blew my cover; there was no faking sleep through it. Hoping that maybe he didn’t hear it over the sound of the blender, I quickly reached for my phone to silence it.

“What do you have going on today?” he asked from the doorway. I took a deep breath contemplating how to answer and stretched audibly, stalling for time. “Hello?” he asked.

“Hmm…just headed to the gym and then maybe to lunch or dinner with Crys,” I mumbled sleepily. “Lunch or dinner?” he asked.

See? This is the shit I was trying to avoid. No matter how I answered, he would find something to say and if I knew Mark, which I did, he was only asking about my plans to figure out what moves he was going to make.

“So what’s going on with Dyl then?” he asked in a tone that let me know he definitely had plans. The sound of my text alert distracted me for a moment and I glanced at the phone still clutched in my hand. It was a text from Dom and suddenly last night’s conversation came rushing back.

“Let’s make it 9 tonight. Let me know when you’re on your way.”

I closed my messages without responding and set my phone down. When I looked up again, Mark was watching me, an unreadable expression on his face. “Hello?” he asked again, impatiently.

“He stayed the night at my dad’s,” I replied, then asked, “Why? What’s up?”

“Nothing’s up. I’m just checking. Thinking about hanging with Dre tonight, his birthday is tomorrow,” he said in a rush.

It was all I could do to keep from rolling my eyes as I stretched again and stood, my back to him. The last time he’d “hung out with Dre” the sun had beat him home. He’d called me around nine a.m. with some lame ass story about being too drunk to drive home and Dre having taken his keys and making him sleep on his couch. I remember thinking how crazy it was that Dre had thought to do all of that but hadn’t thought to have him call me. The thing was, that wasn’t the first time Mark had pulled that move but I’d promised myself that it would be the last. I let him know as much before hanging up in his face. I’d dropped Dylan off at my mom’s, spent that night out with my girls, and then the next few days giving him the silent treatment.

“Cool, have fun,” I’d said turning to him with a smile. Our eyes met and for a moment you could almost feel each of us trying to decode the other’s lies. He was the first to look away and as I turned to fold my blanket, he headed for the door saying over his shoulder, “I’ll see you later then… be back in a couple hours.” Thankfully he didn’t wait for my response and as I busied myself straightening the den, I finally heard the door close behind him.

I waited for a moment listening to make sure he was gone and was suddenly struck by my own behavior. This was Dominic and the fact that I was lying about meeting up with him made me slightly uncomfortable. Not because of Mark; I was a firm believer that the only people I owed loyalty to were those whose loyalty I’d never questioned. I was uncomfortable because my lie made me feel guilty even though I hadn’t done anything… yet. In that moment I knew that the lying by omission was more than just an act of rebellion, it was evidence of my intention.

I considered this as I headed to the bathroom to pack some clothes for this evening. I wanted to be sure that I didn’t need to come back to the house once I left. I took my time picking an outfit that made me look good but not like I was trying too hard. I could have easily been heading to a club or to dinner with my girls. I packed heels and flats and threw my flat iron and makeup into my bag, figuring after the gym, I could get changed at my mom’s or maybe at Crys’. Then I thought better of that plan since Crys would ask questions and while I couldn’t lie to her, I couldn’t tell her the truth either. I threw on workout clothes and headed out. The rest of the day went by in an anxious blur. Nine o’clock couldn’t get here fast enough.

Finally it was 8:15 and I was in my car headed to the valley to meet Dominic, a million thoughts racing through my head. I drove with the AC on high. The cool air was like a salve to my flushed skin. I felt nervous yet I kept telling myself that I’d get there, we’d talk and it would just be regular old Cali and Dom. That whatever he was going through last night would have passed by today. That we’d laugh about it and go back to being us. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Pandora’s box had been opened and if I were being honest, I was anxious about what that meant.

I pulled up to the address he’d given me and looked for parking. When I couldn’t find a spot near enough, I sent him a text to let him know I was outside. I sat there in my car idling and waiting for his response. After what felt like forever but was in reality only a few minutes I saw the ellipsis that let me know he was typing pop up and disappear a few times but no response came. Just as I was getting annoyed, there was a knock on my window. Dom stood there with a smirk on his face, the setting sun casting shadows behind him, his face illuminated by the streetlights. I rolled down my window and he leaned in, “You still haven’t learned how to follow directions, I see.” I’d opened my mouth to object and he’d laughed and said, “What happened to letting me know when you were on your way?” I’d definitely forgotten to do that. “I mean I can go if this isn’t a good time,” I said teasing. He’d reached into the window and grabbed my hand saying, “Nah, this is a great time… so how long do I have you for?” I studied him for a moment before mocking, “How long do you have me for? Boy stop.” It was my attempt to lighten the mood because, already his energy felt different. “I’m just saying, we’ve got a lot to discuss. You ready?” he’d asked. And while I wasn’t sure until that very moment, I had to admit, I was ready.

The Friend Zone is part of Black&Sexy TV’s new short story series. Be on the look out for the next episode July 4th.