Sample Sunday. Unedited. No date yet. Enjoy!
The hometown hero.
“When you gone get back on that bike man?”
“How many more of those medals you going to bring back?”
“You the pride of the city man. Mr. International.”
It was all well-meaning, and of course I knew that but that didn’t make it any less anxiety-inducing. Even worldwide, cycling was an overwhelmingly white sport, and as much I loved my people – Black people – we had a tendency to put the hopes and dreams of the whole race on just a few shoulders.
For the Heights… it was just my shoulders.
I couldn’t mess up, had to make them proud.
But nobody knew the toll it took.
The fucking sacrifices.
It wasn’t their cross to bear though either – it was mine. So I took the compliments, the support, the blessings, all of it, with a smile. I dapped, shook hands, took the pictures, whatever else, cause these were the people who’d been proud of me, who spoke my name, who supported me and Britt as youngins trying to get bike lanes on the streets in the neighborhood, etc.
This was home.
It hit me hardest as I walked through the doors of Urban Grind. Me and Britt had spent plenty of time in those big comfortable chairs up front, sipping hot chocolate or cider and mainlining those pastries to feed our bodies with carbs after a long workout on the bike. We’d been in high school when Roman renovated and opened the coffee house, and it had quickly turned into our spot.
I didn’t recognize the baristas, but that wasn’t surprising – I hadn’t been here. That didn’t make it any less soothing to be in a place so utterly familiar… so very Black, after years spent abroad with my parents, jumping from one majority white European country to another.
Not that I couldn’t get along wherever I went – especially in Italy with my father’s people, who were spread all over. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel much more at home among the melanin, probably because that was who I’d grown up around.
I was born overseas, while my mother followed my father around on bike tours. As I got older – and my mother started training to race again herself – I came to live in the Heights among her family and friends, spending extended periods with them while she was traveling the world to cycle too. Back then, I didn’t understand why they always left me behind, when I’d rather be with them. It felt like they were constantly putting the pursuit of prizes and medals in front of me.
Now, as an adult, I was grateful for the stability it had given me.
I understood now that that had been the goal with not bringing me along on every little trip, dragging me around the world while they were focused on racing and training. It wasn’t the healthiest lifestyle for an adult, let alone a small child, and honestly would’ve been a major hindrance to both my parents.
I was glad they’d followed their dreams, because it had inspired me later to follow mine.
And when it came down to it, there had been no lack of love or attention, which easily made up for them not always being present. Texts and phone calls went a long way, and the family I had, the friends I’d made, made The Heights a more than happy place to grow up.
If only I’d just remained “Raf from up the block”.
I couldn’t exactly say I regretted it, but… shit would be a whole lot different.
“What you doing on two legs instead of two wheels, bruh?” I heard as I approached the counter, and turned to see a familiar face headed in my direction, hand extended.
I greeted Sean Keahi gladly, accepting his handshake and shoulder bump.
“The same thing you’re doing without a hammer in your hand,” I teased him back.
I actually hated that shit from strangers, this idea that I shouldn’t ever be without a bike. Sean wasn’t a stranger though – he’d given me my first job I really had no business doing, helping with cleanup around construction sites. Keahi Construction and Renovation had put a little money in my pockets as a teenager, when my allowance from my parents dried up and I still had girls to try to impress.
“What are you doing back here in the Heights?” Sean asked. “Got a race or something?”
I shook my head. “Nah, just… needed to spend some time at home, you know? See some people.”
Sean’s head bobbed in understanding. “Your parents with you? Family affair?”
I should’ve been expecting that question.
“Not this time,” I explained. “Trying to get a little breathing room on my own.”
His eyebrows went up. “Ah, you came without telling them you were coming. Got it.”
I couldn’t do anything but laugh at how quickly he made that deduction. Sean and his father always seemed to have an uncanny ability to know when I was bullshitting, going all the way back to my lie about my parents approval of my job with them. They had never liked that construction job, and had been clear to express that to the Keahis. But, they also wanted me to have a job instead spending all my time with girls and bikes, depending on them keeping my bank account full.
And with them away traveling the world… it was kinda out of their hands.
“You know somebody has probably already said something about you being here, right? I mean, if you planned to keep it some kinda secret…” Sean warned, his expression sympathetic.
I shrugged. “Yeah, I realized that around the first picture I got asked for. I knew it wouldn’t last long. But I got in last night and went straight to B, so… I guess I’ve had my quiet moment already.”
Sean smirked. “Yeah, I bet you have.”
“Ah, don’t start that shit,” I said, shaking my head.
“I ain’t starting nothing,” Sean laughed. “Just stating the obvious. You finally gone take that girl on a real date? You’ve been crushing since high school, young buck.”
“I wasn’t crushing on her, she’s my friend,” I countered, already knowing the shit sounded way too defensive.
But I wasn’t crushing on Britt back in high school.
And our friendship was a foregone conclusion.
There was no real use in pretending that seeing her yesterday, for the first time in all those years, hadn’t hit me in the chest in an unexpected way. Sure, we’d done a decent – just decent – job of keeping in touch over the years, but in person was different.
Brittany had always been beautiful to me, and I didn’t mean that in the way that people always thought their friends were beautiful, or the pitying way people gave those with unconventional looks.
She was flat out fucking pretty, in this ethereal way… Damn near unrealistically so. That had been a constant, but our initial vibe had only ever been friendly, so that’s what we’d always rocked with. It developed into the friendship we had now.