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by Taylor Ranae about a year ago in fact or fiction
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Art is a vibe.

"He really did that?" Bianca scoffs.

"Bitch, yes. I couldn't believe him! Or, I guess I could... what the fuck am I supposed to do?"

"Go fuck someone else."

"I said, what am I -emphasis on I- not what would Bianca do."

"Would it really be that bad though? You've been stuck on this dick like a magnet to a refrigerator. Go head girl, get weird. What's stopping you? You broke up with him anyway, didn't you?" I sigh and shake my head. I can't subscribe to life the way that Bianca does. I still love him. But I'd be lying if I said the idea wasn't tempting. I put Bianca on speaker and scroll through my contacts searching for a familiar name, waiting for him to jump out at me. What was that fools name? Dylan, Damon... DEVON. Damn. I sure deleted that shit.

"... he hasn't slept with someone else by now?"

"Hold up, what? What did you say?" I got so distracted looking at my contacts, I forgot I was on the phone with her. I hear a lighter flick, and an inhale.

She sucks her teeth, and said "I SAID, if he was cheating on you before, what makes you think he hasn't slept with someone else by now? Sheeeit, I would have. Matter of fact, I have."

"Why? What is wrong with you niggas? Does fidelity mean nothing to y'all? Also... you're really gonna have to stop smoking cigarettes."

"Simply put, I got bored and I was being petty. I always got somebody on the back burner for reasons such as that. There are always a few different reasons, but mainly I just like excitement. Thanks mami for the life advice, but I'll stop smoking once life stops stressing me out."

I roll my eyes. "Fine, whatchu bout to get into?" I walk over to my dresser to find a pair of leggings to wear for work today. Bianca coughs loudly and spits.

"I had no plans for today, do you want me to come over?"

"I'm about to go to work right now, but I'd love if you came over tonight. We could actually go through with our sleep over since you bailed on me last time."

"The dick was calling my naaaaaaame. What was I supposed to do?" I shake my head, we say our goodbyes and I hang up. That girl is a damn trip. I don't know that I've ever met anyone so sex crazed before. I walk past a picture frame that has Austin and I stuck in time. We're both smiling, his hands around my waist. His whole body envelopes me. If a stranger had seen this photo, they would have thought we were madly in love. It was actually our first date. I was struggling to get us both in the frame so someone walking by took the picture for us. As we were posing, he whispered in my ear, "You look so beautiful, how did I get so lucky?"My face bloomed into a wide smile, but everytime I look at this, I can't help but think of how cruel he was a few minutes earlier. Fall had come around again and she was showing out. The trees were a beautiful combination of burnt orange, amber and yellow. Leaves were littered everywhere. People were rollerskating by, artists were sitting next to their empty easels with caricatures of strangers and celebrities alike. Every once in a while, you'd catch a gross whiff of horse shit. We were walking down the remarkably picturesque path to the Bethesda fountain when my eye caught a homeless person on a bench with a sign next to him that said "I have an interview in 3 days. I need money to get a hair cut and food. Please help." I started digging in my wallet when Austin grabbed my arm and ushered me away.

"What are you doing? Are you really gonna give him some money? He's gonna use it to buy drugs or booze."

"First of all, we don't know that! Second, aren't you?" I shake my arm loose from him and walk up to the bench to put $10 in the mans cup. He looked up at me with watery eyes.

"Thank you for that." His voice was just barely above a whisper. I nodded, "Of course. I'm sending you all the light and love so you can snag that job!" As I was walking away, I remember I had a friend who I graduated high school with, who now owned a dog walking company in the city. I find a business card and write her name and number on it, just underneath I write mine as well.

"I don't know what kind of job it is you're looking for, but just about anyone can walk dogs. I have a friend who owns a company. She's looking for hard workers. If that other interview doesn't work out, give her a call. I'll tell her I ran into you so you can have a headstart. Is that okay?" He nods and reaches up to shake my hand and without a second thought, I clasp his hand in mine. "I'm serious. I believe in you. Please give her a call. I wish you the best. Have a good day. My name is Nikki, by the way. I put it on the card." His eyes started welling up.

"Thank you. My name is Robert. It's been a very long time since someone looked at me like a human again. I was starting to give up hope." I squeeze his hand one last time.

"Don't. I hope to see you again, next time with a gang of dogs in front of you!"

I walk back to Austin and he was sneering. "You need to make sure you wash your hands before we get food. You did way too much back there. You could have just given him money." I look up at Austin, astonished.

"Sure, I could have but you didn't do anything. You didn't even do the bare minimum."

"Okay, Mother Teresa."

As we approached the fountain, an older couple saw me struggling and asked if we minded if they took the photo. It's so interesting how they say a picture can tell a thousand words, but I wonder how often those words are being strung into an accurate retelling of those in it. I took the frame down and threw away the picture.

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I walk into For The Curlture and I see Aunt Jackie sweeping the floor.

"What's up baby?"

"Aunt Jackie, we gotta talk." My voice betrays me and breaks. She immediately sets down the broom and walks up to me.

"Aw Nikki, what's wrong?"

I wipe the torrent of tears away, and sniffle. "Austin was cheating on me. I broke up with him. I'm so mad I let him talk me into not going to Australia. When am I gonna be able to pet a kangaroo?" Aunt Jackie giggles. "Girl, them kangaroos and koalas will always be there. And so will those schools. But now we gotta get you signed back up! I knew that no good, smooth talking, bald headed mama wasn't no good."

"Why you gotta talk about his mama though?"

"Cuz obviously she ain't raise him right." Aunt Jackie hugs me tight. She turns and sits in one of the chairs behind her. "You know how much I love your uncle, right? I'd give my left lung for him." I nodded, confused about where this was going. "That man is my heart and soul. When we graduated high school, I had my heart set on moving to Georgia. I wanted to have a For The Curlture out in Savannah. I used to see us in our big beautiful house, with our gaggle of kids, my two dogs. So we got married, and that was one thing off the list. We started working and saving all the money we could. I got my period after our honeymoon, so I told myself, 'Jackie, that's a sign from God. It's just not the right time.'

We kept trying and trying and trying. One, two, three years went by and we kept on saving. I didn't want to move to Georgia and have my kids there. I've been a New Yorker my whole life and I wanted my kids to be too. Or at least, that's what I was telling myself. I didn't know the average time to conceive was a year for most couples. I thought us working so much was throwing me off but something told me to go to the doctor." Aunt Jackie looked down at her hands, she was wringing them together.

"My doctor told me I was barren. I immediately spiraled into a depression. You were very young, so I know you don't remember. But I almost gave up on life. I'm not telling you this because I want you to feel bad for me, I want you to understand that you can't allow anyone or anything to get in the way of what is meant for you in life. So while I wasn't meant to be a mom, that doesn't mean that I wasn't meant to be a bomb ass hairdresser. Do I wish I was in Georgia? Yes, I still daydream about that. But my world is here. After we found out, I wasn't willing to do anything. I didn't want to go anywhere. All the money we saved, we put into this building and our home. Dillon felt more comfortable here and I wasn't well enough to tell him I wasn't happy with that decision. I say all of that to say, that while I love your Uncle, I wish I had spoken up. I wish I had insisted that we move to Georgia. It might have made me happier." I was speechless. I embraced her and we stood there for what seemed like hours.

The doorbell on top of the door rang and as Aunt Jackie said hello to the incoming customer, I saw her wipe tears from her face.

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I hear a knock on the door. I open it, and standing there is Bianca, with a bottle of wine in a brown paper bag and a duffle bag on her shoulder.

"Damn, you staying the weekend?" I chuckle. We hug.

"I'm sorry KiKi. He's lucky I haven't met him yet. I'd fuck his ass up." She gets into a stance and starts shadowboxing while adding in some goofy karate sounds. I bust out laughing. "Girl, he's got at least a foot on you! You wouldn't be doing much damage." Bianca flops down on my couch and pulls her duffle closer to her. Out she pulls some snacks, weed, dvds and lighter fluid.

"Uhhh, what the fuck are you doing with that?"

"My abuela told me about this. Just watch." She kneels down in front of my coffee table and beckons me to sit next to her. Curious, I sit, cross legged while watching her work.

"What's his name? His full name, and birthday." Wide eyed, she stares at me, hand perched ready to write. I sigh. "Austin Demarcus Parker. January 12, 1987."

"Damn, Nikki, you like them old. Can you grab me a metal or glass bowl?" As I walk into the kitchen, she calls out. "You got any pictures of him? Oh yeah, here's a good one. Oh shit, he is fine. Motherfucker. Aren't they always?" When I sit back down next to her, she hands me his side of the photo. Another one of our moments, torn in half. "Put an X over his face."

"This sounds crazy. What is all this supposed to do?"

"If nothing else, it's cathartic." She was right about that. As if on cue, "I Should Have Cheated" by Keyshia Cole comes on. Her crooning set the tone for the rest of the night. For two years I let him talk down to me, belittle me, and now he's cheated on me. My eyes started to burn. I took the marker and crossed out his eyes.

"Did I tell you he sent her the same fucking picture as me?"I scoffed. I dug so deep into the picture, I made a mark on my coffee table. Bianca pops open the cork of the wine bottle and take a few glugs. "If niggas have nothing, they have the audacity. Can I tell you some funny shit though?" She starts giggling so hard, she coughs a little. I snicker, eyebrows raised expectantly.

"I've done the same shit!"

I snatch the wine bottle from her. "You two collectively ain't shit." I take a swig of the wine. "What do we do next? I'm tired of looking at his face."

"Now, we burn it. We burn the relationship, we burn your feelings for him. Everything." I lift up the picture and take the lighter off the table. I light the corner and throw the picture in the bowl. The lighter fluid ignites and whooshes. We both back up from the heat. After the fire dies down, I grab two glasses from the kitchen.

Bianca was sitting on the couch, scrolling away on her phone. I set the glasses down. "Did you have any other cathartic releases, Firestarter?" She cranes her neck and looks up, thinking.

"Hmm, nothing that doesn't involve going to a graveyard." Color me confused. I left it alone. Wine made me sleepy so I didn't drink much more than one glass. Wine also makes Bianca sleepy, plus she was smoking... she ended up drinking the whole bottle. Not soon after her last few sips, she started to nod off while we were watching a movie. I cover her with a spare blanket, sit down and grind up enough for one last bowl. I catch a glance at my phone and decide to scroll through the messages. It's only been a couple of days, but he's left over 100 messages. He called me over 30 times and left all types of voicemails. I had to leave my phone on Do Not Disturb, because he was calling me so much but I was afraid to block him. It seemed so permanent. I block him anyway. I hope I'm not overreacting. I pack the bowl and switch off the lights in every room until I reached my own. I sat on the windowsill, clutching a blanket to my chest with one hand and the lighter in the other. The skyline flirted with me, twinking and glimmering.

A rolling stone gathers no moss, so I enrolled in the New School. I was super close to missing the enrollment period but I got in just in time. I'm really digging this photography elective I'm taking. My teacher, Mrs. Hazeldine starts the class off by handing us our syllabus. She goes over each bullet very quickly noting that this class is simple, all you have to do is pay attention but that would be easy to do because the class was interactive. Mrs. Hazeldine stood in front of the class. "Good afternoon everyone." A few people murmured back. Once everything quieted down, she sat down on the stool by her desk. Her long maxi skirt clung to her leg as it draped off the edge of the stool. While she spoke, her afro danced to and fro, as if her soliloquy was a rhythmic chant.

"My daddy was a pilot. He was a man of few words, but he was someone who inspired me in a way no one else could. Sullivan Walker was a black man in the 60's, so you already know daily life, let alone his career was an ongoing battle, but he always came home smiling. He believed in me when society wouldn't and refused to. One Thanksgiving, when I was about 6 or 7 , I remember we were at the kitchen table. After we finished eating, we were going around the table talking and sharing what we were thankful for this year and in life. When it became my turn to talk, I babbled on about how grateful I was for my family and my puppy and my camera. My birthday had just passed and both were attached to my hip. My uncle Jackson sitting across the way crooked his neck in curiosity.

"A camera?" He asked incredulously. I nodded enthusiastically.

"Yeah! I'm gonna be a photographer when I grow up." My uncle snorted and choked back a laugh." Oh baby, you should try to set your eyes on something more practical. Like a nurse or something." I wilted like a dead flower. Later on, as my father was walking Uncle Jackson to the door, I heard him say, "Why would you say some shit like that to my kid? You can talk to your own kids like that, but don't tell mine what they can or cannot do when your day job of 20 years has been standing outside of a corner store." Despite hearing my dad stick up for me, a nasty virus stuck in my head and multiplied. I convinced myself to think that even though my dad believed in me, others wouldn't and would look down at me, or expect me to be in another field. To do something practical."

Mrs. Hazeldine took a deep sigh and made the sign of the cross.

"On Sunday April 18, 1984 Sullivan Walker was in a plane crash. There were some mechanical difficulties and he didn't survive the landing." There was an audible gasp in the room. Beyond that, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. "My father believed in me off of the strength of me being his daughter and most importantly because he saw the talent that I didn't see. After he died, I picked up my camera again and I never doubted my abilities. He wouldn't have wanted me to live that way and I will honor that. With that said, even though I've just met you, I believe in every single one of you. Everyone has their own reason for being in this class. Either you have a genuine interest in photography or you need this elective to graduate. That's cool. But don't expect this class to be an Easy A."

Mrs. Hazeldine instructed us that our homework was to make a list of 5 things we don't like about ourselves and then hand it in. Most of the students, myself included, were aghast. Someone piped up to the left of me, "Oh this college college? She ain't even ease us into the shit, homework on our first day? Tsk." I hear someone clear their throat. I look behind me and there is this crimson haired man with blazing hazel eyes, hand lazily raised. "I thought this was supposed to be some inspirational shit- why are we being graded on our insecurities?" He scratches his head and his eyes lock with mine. I shoot a small smile his way and then turn around.

Mrs. Hazeldine looks down at the man with her glasses on the edge of her nose. "This is some inspirational shit, there's a method to my madness. Let's continue. For the entirety of this semester, you will have a journal to work on. Most of the projects are solo, but next class you will be assigned a partner. So get comfortable with the faces in here now. Go on, look at each other." It felt silly, but I glanced around the room at all of the strangers. Out of the 20ish people in here, there was 2 senior classmates.My eyes landed on him again. He was one of the few people that wasn't looking around. His hair was draped over the front of his face. I look at his desk and notice he has been doodling this whole time Mrs. Hazeldine has been talking. I'd been hearing my phone buzz periodically during class so I decide to slip it out of my bag to check the messages and make sure it wasn't an emergency. It wasn't, it's just Austin but from another fucking number. My heart dropped down to my toes. I'd gotten over 10 texts from him.

Dead ass? U not gonna respond to my texts or calls? This is childish bro

Nick u gotta answer me sometime. Where the fuck did you go?

U acting like a straight up kid nikki.

Mrs. Hazeldine clears her throat. "Nikea, is it?" Shit. "Yes, uh but you can call me Nikki."

She nods. "No problem. If you read your syllabus, you'll notice there at the bottom that I have a strict no phone policy. I realize we are all adults, and emergencies happen. I don't take phones. But I don't tolerate them in my class." Embarrassed, I nod my head and slide my phone back in my bag. Mrs. Hazeldine dismisses class early. As I'm walking out, I hear one of my classmates say to her, "Your hair, honey? Popping. I love it."

fact or fiction

About the author

Taylor Ranae

I'm a spiritual advisor, a virgo & an avid writer.

I like crime stories, fiction, nonfiction, mystery, thrillers... I'm all over the place. Let's chat!

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