Sunday afternoons were reserved for my parents, and that wasn’t an expectation — it was a requirement. Unless you were out of town or incapacitated, you’d better have your ass at the table when Pamela Martin pulled that cast iron skillet of cornbread out of the oven.
On the earlier end of my twenties, I’d complained, but now that I preferred real food to microwave ramen, I appreciated this time with my family. We would eat until we could barely move, and then Raisa would disappear somewhere with my mother to talk crafting, and me and Gabe would hit the man cave with my father, Theodore, where he supplied glasses of “something to put some hair on ya chest, boy.”
This week, my grandfather was there too, and he supplied the liquor — moonshine, which he brewed himself as a throwback hobby. I caught Gabe’s eye across the room and subtly shook my head. My granddad’s dad was a bootlegger back in the prohibition days, and those brewing and distillery skills were passed down to him. I knew from experience that his moonshine wasn’t a problem Gabe wanted.
“Why ya so quiet over there son?”
I looked up from my still-full tumbler to see my father eyeing me over the tops of his glasses. “No reason in particular. Just tired.”
“Tired? From what? It’s six in the evening on a Sunday,” he said, turning to his father. “Boy acts like he has a real job or something. When I was his age—”
“I know, you were walking 28.47 miles to school, 34.35 miles back, in the snow, on a gravel road, with no shoes.” I gave my dad a wide smile as Grandad and Gabe laughed, and he grinned back, chuckling too.
“Okay, you’ve got your little jokes, but you know your old man had a J-O-B. Steady paycheck, none of this freelancing nonsense or whatever you call it. Benefits, so you can take care of your family.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t have a family to take care of though. And besides… I get a steady paycheck, the magazine hired me full time. Not that my income wasn’t consistent before. Cameron has always paid me well Pops, you know that.”
“I don’t know shit,” he exclaimed, laughing after taking a swig from his drink. “All I know is that I can call your phone on any given weekday during work hours and your ass is asleep. That’s not how you make a living. Ask your sister’s fiancé!”
I glanced over at Gabe, who shrugged, giving me a sympathetic grin. This conversation happened at least once a month, and he and Raisa had been engaged for six. He wasn’t witnessing this for the first time.
“This man,” dad continued, “Works for the bank. Branch Manager. How often you get to go home and take a nap in the middle of the day Gabe?”
Gabe grimaced, the chuckled as he shook his head. “I don’t get to do that at all, sir. But Rashad does his thing, he’s made a name for himself in his field. And he’s still young. By the time he’s my age there’s no telling what he’ll have accomplished.”
“Thank you, Gabe,” I said pointedly, angling my head at my father as I sent Gabe a mock salute. “At least somebody around here respects my craft.”
My future brother-in-law laughed, but said nothing else, which was typical for him. Gabe was laid back, not a talkative dude at all — a perfect balance for Raisa, who rarely stopped. Honestly, I worried for him, dealing with the bundle of energy I called my sister, but he seemed to love that about her.
At thirty-four, Gabe was seven years older than Raisa, which concerned me — and my father — at first. But… Raisa may be bubbly, however she was certainly nobody’s silly, naïve girl, to be taken advantage of. It quickly became clear that Gabe liked, then loved, the hell out of her, and she felt the same. As long as that was the case, Gabe would always be cool with me.
“I’ve got plenty of respect for your craft, son. I just want you to be able to take of yourself. You and your sister, with this techno, electric, social media, blogging shit. I don’t get it. Raisa’s getting married, she has a husband as a backup. Your ass doesn’t,” Dad said, leaning back in his chair.
“Whew,” I whistled. “First off, man, you know you’d better not let Little Miss Independent hear you talking about Gabe taking care of her.” My dad rolled his eyes at that as I continued. “Second, I do take care of myself, dad, come on. I’ve been working since college, never asked for anything. Give me my props, bruh.”
He let out a shout of laughter, clapping his hand on his knee. “Bruh? Okay, Rashad. I will give you that. You just make sure it stays that way, cause I’m not taking care of any grown ass man. Especially one who calls me bruh.”
“You’ve got my word on that, Pops. Me and Rai are getting ready to lease this space so I can have a studio, and she can have her classroom space and all of that. So I’ll have two jobs. Is that better?”
My granddad cleared his throat, and we all turned to him. “All this talking, and the boy still hasn’t told us why he’s so tired. Must’ve been up all night chasing ass.”
The room erupted in laughter at my expense as I shook my head. “Nah, Grandad. It’s not like that.”
“Ohhh, I see. So… just one particular ass then? Tell the truth,” My dad said, leaning forward in his chair.
I scoffed, then scrubbed a hand over my face. “Well… there is this one girl, but it’s not like that.”
“Then what is it like?” he countered, eyebrow lifted.
“She’s… it’s…. It’s more like…”
Grandad laughed, finishing off his drink. “Sounds like trouble to me, son. You see how he can’t even get his words out?” he asked, turning to my dad as he continued to snicker. “You’re how old, Rashad? Twenty six? Hoo boy. Found your trouble early on.”
“It’s not like that,” I insisted, putting down my glass. “We’re not serious, we’re… not even friends really.”
“Mmhmm.” My father eyed me skeptically, crossing his arms. “So… she has you tired, but it’s not like that, you’re not even friends, and it’s not that serious?”
I nodded. “Right. We have… an agreement. She’s not looking for anything serious, neither am I. I mean… I like her, but it’s not gonna go any further than that. That’s settled.”
My father, grandfather, and Gabe glanced at each, sharing knowing looks as they shook their heads. They knew I was lying to myself, I knew I was lying to myself. There wasn’t much of a point to speaking it out loud, especially when Bianca, the other half of this equation, had made it clear she wasn’t trying to get down like that. Unlike when other women said it, I actually believed Bianca. We would have our fun while it lasted, then move on. Simple as that.
“You’re in for a rude awakening boy,” Granddad said. “I had one with your grandmother, rest her soul. Your dad had it with Pam. Gabe… you had one with Raisa, didn’t you?”
Gabe laughed. “Man, I swore I had to leave that girl alone before she drove me into a wall with all of that energy. Instead… I gave her an engagement ring. So…” he shrugged, then gave me another sympathetic grin. “You’re done for, Shad. May as well accept it.”
“But she’s not even sweating me,” I said, looking between the other three men.
“Exactly,” they replied, in unison, then broke into another roar of laughter.