Chapter 10 Commune
“Good morning, Mr Wright. This is Raele at the front desk,” a soft voice said into Manny’s ear.
“Aww. What’s up Raele?” Manny interrupted Raele before she could finish the “this is your wake-up call” speech. So far it had always been Louise. Manny was happy to hear the change. He adjusted the phone and got a little more situated in his bed, like they were about to chop it up like old friends.
“What’s up Emmanuel,” Raele laughed. Manny imagined her smile and smiled back.
“Where is Louise ?” Manny asked just to make small talk. Louise was cool and all but he couldn’t care less about her fifty-plus-year old whereabouts.
“It’s my week to work mornings. She’ll be working the desk tonight,” Raele answered.
“Oh, ok.I was wondering where you’ve been.”
“Yea, I had a few days off. Took my daughter to the little indoor amusement park up in Cleveland.”
“You have kids.”
“Yes, Nosy, I have a kid. ” Raele replied defensively but her smile was still evident through her tone.
“My bad. I just meant you don’t look like you have kids. That’s all.” Manny back peddled.
“Don’t nobody care what you meant, boy.” Raele laughed. “Anyway, this was your wake-up call. Wake your ass up. Bye” Raele hung up.
Manny grabbed his cell phone. No missed calls or messages. He checked his social media. He had quite a few new friend requests and followers. Probably people who had heard he’d gotten the internship. Wanted to see what he was posting. He snooped on Khia’s page. She hadn’t added any new photos since he last checked, last night.
Manny took a shower. He was getting used to the luxuries of Westerlynne. The soft rhythm and blues spraying down over his face smelling like patchouli and sweet orange this morning was starting to feel standard. Like he would never have it any other way. Using the bag of money stashed under the bed, he planned to keep it that way. Yet, he wasn’t sure how.
Manny chose to skip room service and eat what his aunt had sent back with him. After breakfast, he dipped himself in all new clothes, from head to toe, and it felt right. Like it was how it was always supposed to be.
The space in front of the elevator was packed with a line of people still in their pajamas, waiting to go down to the lobby for breakfast. Manny hit a hard left and took the stairs down to Mrs. Lemon’s office. He had already practiced the speech, a lie, about why he hadn’t shown up yesterday. To his surprise her office door was closed an locked. A small chalkboard sign hung from a small hook in the door. On it was written “Community Meeting at 11 am. ”
Manny decided to go around to the front of the lobby and see Raele. She grinned when she saw him walk up.
“Why you hang up on me?” Manny asked, dimples on display.
“Why were you all in my business?“ Raele answered his question with her own. Her twist-out was wavy and big. Her tiny frame was being swallowed up by her Westerlynne Hotel and Suites uniform, a yellow dress shirt tucked into black pleated slacks and a metal rectangular name tag pinned just over her right breast.
“My bad,” Manny laughed. “But you were still wrong for hanging up on me like that. I thought we were cool.”
A white middled aged man in business attire walked up to the front desk and handed Raele his room keys. Manny stepped aside to let her work. She turned on her “the customer is alright right” voice and checked the man out of his room. Seconds later, she had turned back into a “down ass chick”. Manny needed to know her story.
“So, where are you from? I know you don’t live here in Westerlynne,” Manny asked her.
“Hell no, I don’t live here. I wish I had it like that.” Raele answered.
“I feel you,” Manny chimed back. They looked at each other and shared a “SMH” moment.
Manny pushed his head closer to Raele and lowered his voice, “These motherfuckers got it made.”
“You don’t know the half,” Raele added. “You’ve only been here barely a week. Boy, wait ‘til the end o f this internship. If you make it that far,” Raele said.
“Why you say that? If I make it?” Manny asked.
“Not all of the interns before you made it three months. These folks be into some weird shit,”Raele said. Her skinny eyes tried their best to widen to add a touch of dramatic flair to her tale. Manny’s mind immediately went back to the dim hallway at the welcome party.
“Damn, what happened to them?” Manny asked.
Raele pushed her head back, her brow wrinkled with question.“You really haven’t heard?” she asked. Her voice almost a whisper.
Manny shook his head slowly, unsure he wanted to know.
A young couple walked up and handed Raele their keys. Her face was serious. She held up an index finger to let Manny know to hold on.
“I’ve only worked here for two years, so some of it’s hearsay, but the last two I seen with my own two eyes,” Raele started as she walked back to the part of the desk where Manny was waiting.
“Well, just tell me the shit you seen. I don’t need to know the gossip,” Manny said. Raele pursed her lips. The one eyebrow lifted told Manny that wasn’t shit she was about to say “gossip”.
“So, Evan White, he was the intern here the summer I started, stayed here at the hotel for a little over a month. On one of his career shadows I guess he saw something he ain’t like and tried to go to the police. They turned that shit around on him and had his entire family in court. Broke their asses worse off then what they were to begin with. A month later, Evan was found dead. Gunned down in a park in his own neighborhood. Do you know they had the nerve to have the hotel staff send his family flowers?” Raele paused for his response.
“So what you think? Somebody here killed him?” Manny asked.
“I don’t know who did it. I just know the shit don’t read.”
“What about the last year’s intern? What happened to him?” Manny asked.
“Elijah. I forget his last name. Nobody knows where he’s at. He left here right before his internship was over. I’m talking days before. Never went home. Never came back here. Just gone. His family still calls here sometimes asking if we’ve seen him,” Raele said.
He wasn’t sure if it was the look on Raele’s face or the bullshit he knew was already a part of, but he felt an eeriness about the air. Like he was listening to a horror story. Like he was being warned. However, there was no chance in hell Manny was walking away from this golden opportunity to change his life. They’d about have to drag him out in handcuffs to get rid of him, now.
“That shit is crazy but for real it could just be coincidence. The first dude was from the hood so I mean, it’s unfortunate but he ain’t the first nigga to be gunned down in a park. Probably by one of his own hating ass friends,” Manny said.
Raele looked unconvinced.
“The other one ain’t dead. His ass probably just got scared off by you and these wild ass tales,” Manny grinned.
Raele’s frown turned up and she laughed, finally, breaking up the tension in the air.
“Emmanuel, just be careful. The rich can be ruthless. This I know,” Raele said, staring earnestly into Manny’s eyes. Manny could now see the mother in her. A line was forming at the desk. More and more people were checking out.
Manny checked his phone. It was half past ten. He decided to peace Raele out and go change into formal business attire before heading next door to the community center.
Much like what would have happened in the hood, the important Westerlynne community meeting ended up turning into a party. After committee members discussed the issues at hand, the same DJ from the welcome party strolled in with a laptop and got the party started. Manny felt way more confident in his new attire. He could see Khia sitting with her father and his wife across the way. They caught each other’s eye and Manny could feel his breath getting lost. He would wait until she was alone to talk to her. For now, he just smiled and nodded. He gave the same greeting to Dr. Jameson and Yasmine. Yasmine was trying to pull her husband out to the dance floor. He declined and used his fingers to slick back his dark waves. Yasmine sat down next to him with her arms crossed like a bratty little girl.
Mrs. Lemon found Manny through the crowd. She waved him over to her. Manny went over the lines in his head.
“Emmanuel, I am so sorry I was ill the other day. I hope you got the message I left you on the chalkboard,” she said.
Manny nodded slowly. He swallowed the sour lies sitting on the tip of his tongue.
“How have you been getting by?” She asked, grinning as if there was no way the answer could have been negative.
“Every thing’s been going great,” Manny said.
“Oh good! I knew you would love Detective Hines and his sweet wife, Kerris. Aren’t they just a power couple,” she stepped back and waited for his answer.
For a second it ran through Manny’s mind to spill the beans on the detective and his twisted ways, but then he looked down at the $250 pair of burgundy Stacy Adams alligator skin loafers on his feet and remembered his own crooked deal. He remembered Evan White.
“Yep, they are an interesting couple,” Manny said.
“Well there are so many more interesting people and families here in Westerlynne for you to meet. I am so pleased that you have been making yourself known,” Mrs. Lemon said squeezing Manny’s shoulder. “I am going to set something up for you to meet with the Jameson Family. The Dr. is a very busy man, so I’ll get back to you on that one.” Mrs. Lemon winked and waddled back into the crowd.
Hines was lurking up against a nearby wall, tucked into its shadowed corner. Manny could tell by the lame grin he was sporting that he had purposefully overheard him and Mrs. Lemon’s conversation.
“You did good,“ Hines said and nodded. “I like your suit …and are those gators?” Hines enthusiastic tone didn’t match his facial expression. Then he added, “Watch yourself, Youngin. The last thing you want to do is draw any extra attention to yourself right now.”
“Nobody knows me. They don’t know where I got this stuff from.” Manny explained.
“And you don’t know them. You have to be smart,” Hines stated pointing to his head. Mrs. Hines was sitting only some feet away. Manny wondered was she pretending not to hear. She looked back and smiled sweetly at Manny. She waved and went back to devouring pickles dipped in ranch dressing.
She’s oblivious, Manny thought.
“OK, my bad,” Manny replied. Hines was right. Manny didn’t need people asking him questions he wasn’t prepared to give answers to. Hines looked over Manny’s tailored Italian chino suit. The legs of the pants tapered into his ankles so his shoes could make their debut. The muscles in Hines’ face began to soften.
“I’ll tell you one thing, Youngin. You sure have good taste.” He smiled.
Manny snickered, “Thanks, man.”
With that, Detective Hines sat down next to his wife.
The DJ played something sexy by Jill Scott and the new crowd made their way to the dance floor. So, he wouldn’t look like something from a R. Kelly step video, Manny removed his jacket and left it at his table. He buttoned his collar of his dress shirt and stepped out on the floor himself. He moved smooth and mellow like the song. Pretended to be dancing with the chocolate beauty that was slowly gyrating by herself in the corner. She was trying her hardest to keep her cookie tamed. Manny could sense it trying to get his attention. He winked at her. She smiled in response. He went to her.
“What’s up, Miss Twenty-Four K,” he said.
Khia laughed. “You’ve been stalking my Instagram?” she asked playfully.
Manny nodded and grinned. His dimples snatched at Khia’s cookie. She crossed one of her legs in front of the other one to keep it in tact.
“What’s your username? I’m going to have to follow you,” she said and stuck her hand in her pocket.
“MannyFresh97,” he told her. She pulled out her phone and added him, right then and there.
“Did you get my message the other day,” he asked. At the same time, she said, “I got your message the other day.” They laughed at their in-sync brain waves. Manny nodded.
“I was out of town, on a college visit. My father made me go,” She rolled her eyes back and shook her head.
“Oh really, what college?” Manny asked.
“Spellman,” she answered with no sentiment at all.
“Oh. Okay.” Manny nodded.
“But, I’m not even sure college is for me. You know what I mean?” she asked Manny.
“I know exactly what you mean,” he answered.
“Right. Like there’s plenty of people who’ve made something of themselves without going to college. Steve Jobs, Racheal Ray. He’s not trying to hear any of that tho,”
“Who’s not?” Manny asked.
“My dad.” Khia laughed. “I’m sorry. I’m getting completely off topic” She batted her dark eyelashes. “I was super salty I couldn’t take you up on your offer.”
“It’s all good. What are you doing tomorrow night?” he asked her. It had already been too long. He’d thought about her everyday since he last saw her. He would’ve tried for tonight if it wouldn’t have made him seem too thirsty.
“I’ll have to check my calendar but I think I’m free,” she was looking in her phone trying to pull up the calendar application.
“Okay, I see you,” Manny said. He held his fist up to his mouth. He walked behind her and looked with her at the calender. She smelled like dessert. He contained his inner Cookie Monster.
“Well, you do that. See if you can find some time for poor me in your busy schedule, right there.” Manny said and pointed from over her shoulder at the upcoming Friday on the calendar.
They both laughed. Excited and nervous.
“It ain’t like that, Manny,” Khia said softly. She bit the inside of her mouth and squeezed her thighs tighter. “I just had to make sure…”
Manny stepped in front of her and gave her puppy dog eyes. “Come on. Let me take you out.” He offered not sure how he was going to make it all happen. He just knew he had to spend more time with her.
“Alright!” She playfully pushed him back. “It looks like I’m free anyway.”
“So, it’s a date?” Manny asked.
“It’s a date” Khia blushed.
Copyright © 2017 by Aja Brown Crowder