A Necessary Struggle– Episode Four


Friend Zone



Harmony slouched behind the deejay booth as Cairo spun track after track. She sipped a coke and no rum on account of Lisa denying her because she was still days shy of her twenty-first birthday. She wanted to cuddle in her bed with at bag of Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion, watch some reality trash TV; see someone having a rougher day than her. But she couldn’t, this was Cairo’s big night. For months he went on and on about how Trevor called in a favor with a record company executive and how he was coming by to hear Bliss perform. So, Harmony pushed back her feelings and slipped on a purple dress and yellow heels.

Harmony couldn’t shake the pain off. It felt like she’d been in a fight with a jungle cat, leaving deep gashes all over her body, oozing blood and throbbing at every move she made. Unfortunately, her wounds weren’t caused by any feline. If they were she could just go to the hospital, get them bandaged and pop a vicodin. No, this was no ordinary pain. The culprit wasn’t some massive cat lurking in the midst; claws didn’t cause these gashes. People that supposedly loved her caused these wounds; betrayal, anger, and confusion were inflicting her pain.

Her world was turned upside down. This wasn’t how she planned this day to go. When she woke up this morning she dawned a Kool-Aid smile. She planned for ‘90s night after Cairo told her he pitched it to Carlos, the manager of Pulse. She spent weeks picking outfits that were a mash-up of Aaliyah and TLC. But when she got back to her apartment she wasn’t the carefree girl that was daring enough to wear silk pajamas outside the confines of her apartment or energized enough to straighten her hair.

At least the music at Pulse was loud, silencing the thoughts swarming around in her head. Biggie’s Hypnotized started playing and hordes of twenty-somethings danced to the infectious beat, grinding to the rhythm. She envied them.

“That was supposed to be me dancing on the floor.” Harmony said with a red strobe light shining in her face.

“Then go.” Cairo gestured to the floor while pondering if Missy Elliot’s Hot Boyz was the right song to play next. “Turn up. What’s stopping you?”

“I’m not in the mood.” She pouted folding her arms beginning to sulk.

“Girl, shake it off. So what, Mr. Monroe isn’t your dad. He raised you like he was. Stop tripping.”

Cairo was a freak of nature. He could adapt to any crisis life fling in his path. He didn’t meticulous ponder over things he had no control over. Harmony wondered if he said the Serenity Prayer every morning in the mirror as his mantra or if he was just that easygoing. He was the type that bunkered down in the midst of a hurricane. While she high tailed it out of town before the first raindrop splashed on the asphalt.

“I’m grateful but why lie.” She tediously rubbed her temples. “Why make me believe we’re the downsized version of the Huxtable’s?”

Harmony’s brain was giving her the problem. It was built with roads and tunnels, traveling one place, believing one thing; her mama was her mama and her dad was her dad. Now, her brain was under construction trying to break ground for a detour.

Cairo pulled off his white Beats, “You said this dude, Laurent—your bio-dad was in the army, right.” Harmony nodded. “Maybe they thought he would die over there or something; they wanted to save you the heartbreak.”

She reluctantly nodded. It would’ve been tragic if she came home from elementary one day to find out her father was dead. She would have to process that sorrow while at recess. But, if he died while fighting in Bosnia, she would have memories, photos, videos, and conversations to comfort her lost.

“Even if he did die they should’ve told me. He’s half of me.”

“Then, stop being offended.” His voice inclined with a sense of urgency. “Be thankful that he didn’t die, stop feeling sorry for yourself. You said, you should’ve been told. Now you know. Whatever happens next is your choice.”

As she started to understand her parent’s unique arrangement, resentment still sprouted along the rough, broken ground for the detour to Laurent Avenue.

“I know. I know.” She agreed. “I can’t stand it when you’re right.”

“We’ve been tight since freshman year. You should be used to it by now. I’m always right, girl. Don’t fight it.”

She playfully punched him. “You’re not the least humble, that I know.” She brightly smiled with a twinkle that ignited a sparkle in Cairo’s pecan eyes.

He put her in a headlock as she tried to pull away giggling. He roughed up her twisty, spirally locks with his wide palm as she tried to pull away from the latch his arm made around her neck. Laughing and roughhousing, the complications of the day drifted away from Harmony like sand during a windstorm. Her brain stopped working, breaking ground, mixing cement and laying out orange fluorescent cones. It was in the here and now where she was just a girl playing with her homie that knew exactly how to get her out her head.

Someone coughed at the end of the booth. Cairo quickly let Harmony go. He stepped back from Harmony, fiddling with his shirt. Harmony fixed her hair, laying each curl in its place. The twinkle fizzled from her eye.

“Wes.” Harmony proclaimed with a nervous smile. “You finally made it. I’ve been waiting for you.” She under sold it.

She was unintentionally uneasy and Wes saw it.

“Harmony.” Wes said. “We need to talk.” He scowled at Cairo slipping the headphones over his quickly growing wavy mane. Wes rapidly turned around, disappearing in the crowd behind him.

“Sure.” She said knowing he didn’t hear her.

“You’ve been summoned.” Cairo teased nudging her.

Harmony couldn’t tell if Cairo was joking or serious, but she did feel like she was being called to the Principal’s office.

Harmony parted the crowd like the Red Sea in the epicenter of Pulse were Wes was standing indignantly looking straight through her. The hair on her neck stood up. Tonight Pulse was true to its name; sound waves pulsated under all three layers of her skin, throbbed in her slender fingers, coursed from her head to her toes. She was tensed up, her stomach did cartwheels and her nerves began to twist and tangle. She always felt this way when Cairo and Wes were in the same room or a three-block radius. Fickle and awkward; she didn’t know how to act around both of them at the same time. Maybe it was because they were rarely in the same room; either she was with Cairo and their friends or Wes, his football friends, and their girlfriends. Or maybe because the tension between the two was so thick and hard it would break a knife if you tried to cut it.

She was being taken over by the lyrical rhyming of Tupac’s Thug Love as she stared in the eyes of her own thug love. Well, Wes wasn’t really a thug with a name like Wesley and a father that’s a computer network architect but he did strut around campus in his limited edition Jordan’s like a G getting limitless hugs from pretty girls, head nods from anonymous guys and handshakes from male professors. He was college football. Even though Samuel was the quarterback, Wes was the one that caught the ball and ran it to the in-zone no matter what diversion was before him.

Wes’ stoned face made Harmony want to leave, find Safiya and Garner. She didn’t know what his problem was. She didn’t want to even ask. She had her fill of drama for the day, her cup runneth over. His jaw was tight and the muscles around his biceps bulged from agitation.

“YOU BLEW ME OFF TO BE WITH HIM!” Wes shouted so loud the girl twerking next to them stopped and looked. The vein along his neck popped out under his skin.

Harmony motioned the twerking girl to mind her own business, which she did with an attitude laced eye roll.

“No?” Harmony said. “Something came up.” She was unaware what she blew off.

“Something so big came up that you forgot about our plans but you’re here with him! Fooling around with him!” Wes looked at Cairo talking to Trevor and Lela, whom just came back from a food truck run. The animosity flared in Wes’ pupils.

A light bulb flashed in her head calling back her original scheduled day before she opened that letter. “Oh! Your interview with Justin Orlando for the 10 o’clock news.” She reached for his shoulder. Wes pulled away. “I forgot.”

“Why is it that you’re absentminded about my big occasions but you always show up to Cairo’s”

Wes glanced up at Cairo again feeling his eyes on them. Cairo was watching them like a movie. As was Lela, Trevor, Safiya and Samuel who were at the bar.

“The only other time I didn’t show up for was the lunch with your parents and I told you ahead of time I had a test. Did you expect me to blow it off to meet your parents? I hope you didn’t fool yourself into thinking that.”

He tsked. “Okay, Harmony what’s your excuse because you seem to always have a reason for your shortcomings.”

“Reason for my shortcomings. What short—” Harmony threw her head back in an annoyed disgust. “It always comes back to that with you! I won’t have sex with you! Why would I have sex with you in a relationship as rocky as the Grand Canyon.”
“And why is our relationship rocky Harmony?”

More people were staring, not just the ones they knew.

“You don’t trust me and you think I’m holding out on you.” Harmony slapped the back of her hand in her palm repeatedly “Torturing you!” She yelled and he flinched flexing his hands.

“You’re partly right. I don’t trust you. You act like you have two boyfriends.” He put two fingers in her face, she furiously swatted them away. “Cairo and me. You can’t have both of us. You only get one. It’s either him or me.” Wes fumingly hit his chest.

“Cairo is my friend.” Harmony automatically gibbered. The phrase had become a staple in her life since the day they met. “He was the first person I met on campus. I’m not going to drop him because you’re insecure.”

“I’m not insecure. I’m perceptive.”

“I perceive you are my boyfriend.” She softly stroked her hand up his tepid arm mollifying the violent fire raging under his skin. She wrapped her arms around his neck feeling his vigorously rushing pulse easing to a coursing flow. His muscles unraveled as she kissed his lips. He drunk the sweet nectar of her words, carouseling him into agreement. He was her boyfriend. She was his cheering on the front row, going over the playbook, lying in the middle of the stadium as they illustrated their dreams girlfriend. Wes rocked her contently with his head resting on hers, squeezing her tight.

“And Cairo is my friend that happens to be a boy.” Harmony uttered.

Wes disgustingly pushed her away.

“I’m finished Harmony.” He exasperatedly threw up his hands. “Don’t call me until you get your shit together.” He listlessly walked off.

Harmony bit on her bottom lip watching the top of the door, waiting for it to open, to see the streetlights leak into their escapade away from books, test, and jobs. She wanted to know when he walked out. She wanted to know the exact moment, minute he left her in her time of need. The first time that she really needed him, needed one of his pregame, win the championship pep talks to raise her plummeting moral.

The door opened, the light leaked in. She looked at her phone, 11:32 P.M. He didn’t even ask why she didn’t show, didn’t let her explain. Her shoulders slumped, her head dropped. She was conflicted, feeling bad for him and upset for her.

Wes wanted one thing. He asked for it once. Cairo being out of her life was an unforeseeable thing. It wasn’t going to happen, see tried to convey that to him as unbiased as possible. Cairo was the guy whose door she knocked on in the middle of the night to kill a cricket. He knew sprite and sour cream chips were her food of choice when the world wasn’t going her way. He was the reason she survived that first semester of college, helping her navigate campus, read through endless class descriptions for the construction of the perfect schedule: fun and intriguing, and getting her out her dorm room to experience all the rich facets college had to offer. Her life before Cairo was a blur. He made things vivid. A luminescent, neon colored finger-painting. He woke something in her that was long dormant, something she wasn’t even aware she needed—spontaneity. Her life was always planned. She had a list for her list. That’s how she became instant besties with her roommate, Alyssa during their first Snapchat in the summer before freshmen year. Harmony’s newfound appetite for the unplanned led her, Alyssa, Cairo and Trevor to the Glow party at the Omicron Xi Nu House where they met fellow freshmen Lela and Safiya. Harmony’s life was the way it was because Cairo was in it and according to her he wasn’t going anywhere.

A heavy, welcoming touch, softly fell on her shoulder. Cairo came from behind her, “You alright?” he asked.

He gently placed his hand under and chin, raised her sunken head up.

She shook her head with tears in her eyes that weighed as heavy as bricks.

“Dance with me.” He said as if she had an option. He placed his hands on her waist and she fell into his warm body, cradling her tight as she gave into her emotions, sobbing on his loving safe shoulder and his crisp hunter green Henley.

“Did you tell him?” Cairo asked enveloping his long arms around her petite frame.

“No.” She spoke with a shaky voice. She wasn’t crying just because of Wes. He may have started the water works but he just plucked the scab on the wound her mother made. Yes, her mother. This pain she felt was of her mother’s making first, then Laurent’s. Her father was just collateral damage, pulled along with their mess because he loved a woman that made a girl’s mistake. Harmony was still upset with him though just not as much.

“Then, tell him.” Cairo whispered in her ear, tickling her earbuds.

She lifted up her head, wiped away her tears and some of her mascara—that claimed to be waterproof. “I can’t!”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s mad at me. He thinks I’m two-timing him. He thinks you’re my sidepiece.”

“Sidepiece!” He laughed. “I’m no one’s sidepiece. You’re my girl, my homie, my ace boon!”
“I know that. You know that but Wes doesn’t know that.”

“Except for that time in freshmen year. We were friendly, miles away from platonic.”

Harmony accidently stepped on his foot caught off guard. “Don’t bring that up! That will just complicate a complicated situation.”

They didn’t have to bring it up. It was a shadow lurking behind them, an instance of unplanned passion looming over their heads. The night Cairo crunched the cricket’s thorax he didn’t leave immediately. He stayed around. They talked about their parents, his cousin that was like his brother, the vintage muscle car he and his father were restoring and their lives back home. They laid back on the rough fabricated, dark coral couch in their PJ’s with their feet on the faux oak coffee table watching reruns of Sister, Sister. Then when the commercial break came on, he kissed her. They kissed during the commercial break, after the commercial break and halfway through an infomercial to only be stopped by a half sleep Alyssa on her way to the restroom. However, Alyssa wasn’t sleepy enough to forget what was going on in the sitting area.

“Then we’ll leave it in the past.” Cairo reluctantly said for her sake.

Cairo didn’t want to leave it in the past. He wanted to talk about it, how he made a mistake shutting it down with her the day after they made-out. He thought he was doing the right thing. He had a girlfriend, Lucy, two thousand miles away. He didn’t have ESP. He didn’t know he would find out Lucy was engaged to someone else over Thanksgiving break, four months later. For the first time, he regretted being the good guy.

“Tell him about your parents, about Laurent, and the letter. That way he’ll believe that it’s not about me.” Cairo said regretting the words; swallowing the bitter taste they left in his mouth.
Harmony didn’t know what to say so she just swayed with him. This technically wasn’t about Wes. She didn’t just missed his interview because of her mother, father, and Laurent. The interview just eerily dropped from her mind. Wes was either an after thought or a burden. Dating him was a task, a box that she checked on her list of ways to succeed in life. The way she succeeded in high school; make good grades, get the right job, make good friends, and date the jock. Her list wasn’t working this time like it had in high school. She graduated twelfth in her class of nine hundred and thirty-four people. She even had friends she still texted to this day, a boss that wrote her a riveting letter of recommendation that landed her a job at the law firm and an ex-boyfriend that proposed to her during prom that she even thought about saying yes too. Now, she had friends. They were more than good. They were the sisters she always wanted. She loved working at the law firm, helping the lawyers’ research their cases. Her grades weren’t awesome but this semester there were more B’s than C’s and even the promise of an A, if she found the right topic for her Foreign Policy research paper. She wasn’t confused. She did like Wes. They use to have so much fun at campus events like the carnival, fishing on Lake Travis and rock climbing at the rock gym. But ever since Wes saw her and Cairo huddled under an umbrella that afternoon he swore they had a secret affair going on. There was no affair; no secret rendezvous but Harmony did have a secret. A secret she pushed to the back of her mind and covered up in her heart. She didn’t like Cairo more than Wes. She liked Wes a lot. She just loved Cairo. Everyone saw it, her girls, Trevor, Sam, her classmates even Wes. But did Cairo? Was she just his friend girl or even worst his just kickin’ it homie. She couldn’t bear to think about it so while Jagged Edge’s He Can’t mesmerized the crowd; she lied against his stable chest hearing his robust heart drum in her ear as he rocked her.


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