In the Dust
Neicey walked down the familiar street. Nothing had changed much in the five years since she'd been kidnapped to the cold, remote world of Michigan from the Louisville she still loved and would always think of home. She hadn't really been kidnapped, she just liked to think of it that way since she hadn't even known where Michigan was when her mother had said they were moving there to start over. The air smelled the same this June as it always had. In the heat of the city you could smell the flavor of the west end: the barbecue, the cigarettes, the scent of the remnants from some cheap liquor bottle discarded during a good night of partying that had likely gracefully flowed into the morning hours. That's how we party in the 'Ville she thought. It was nineteen seventy-two.
She'd just left from a visit with her former next-door neighbors. Mrs. Turner had remarked more than once how much Neicey had changed.
Mrs. Turner had stared hard at her when she opened the door, "Yes?" she'd asked with an edge to her voice.
"Hey Mrs. Turner, how you doin'?"
"Neicey? Girl look at you! You look all grown up now. Come on in here."
Neicey had followed her into the house for a conversation updating her on all the changes. Mrs. Turner and her husband Mark had divorced, like Neicey's parents. This was the weekend when Kitty, Mrs. Turner's daughter and her best friend from back in the day and her annoying older brother Ray were visiting with their daddy. So, she missed them on this trip. Mrs. Turner kept coming back to how much Neicey had "got grown," as she called it.
This wasn't news to Neicey, but she didn't know how to explain it. She was fifteen and up until seemingly a few weeks ago she had the slight, bony figure of a boy. In fact, for many years she'd constantly had to remind people that she was a girl. Not anymore. She had gone from an AA cup to a B cup bra, she went from wearing boys' jeans to having hips and a small waist. None of this was lost on Mrs. Turner or her mother.
When Neicey's mother came to visit her during her summer down in Louisville the first thing she did was ask, "What the hell have you been doin' down here?"
"Your boobs! And you've got hips!"
"I don't know. It just kinda happened. Maybe... I don't know, it's the humidity down here..."
"We're going to have to go shopping before I go back to Michigan." She seemed exasperated. "What have you been doing?" She asked more insistently.
She had noticed that her jeans didn't fit over her hips anymore and she had popped the buttons off two of the blouses, so she'd started wearing a t-shirt underneath and leaving them open. At first it was embarrassing and annoying to feel so uncomfortable in her clothes, especially her favorite pair of jeans. However, the past week or two she'd also noticed that boys were looking at her differently and one or two of the boys in her grandma's neighborhood asked to walk her home or would call her over for nothing. They didn't want to race or arm wrestle with her and they stopped talking about other girls in front of her like they used to before she...well, she guessed she could say she was pubering.
As she walked down the street she had to admit she really did like the looks she was getting and the new nicknames were funny to her, "Loose Booty," well maybe that was kind of gross, not as bad as "Juicy," which she hated, but she'd heard older girls called names like that and worse before. She'd always cuss the boys out who talked to her like that. Maybe she had pubered her way into a new level of being a girl. She didn't do it on purpose. She wasn't a woman, she knew that, but she was getting close and ol' Jessica King back in Michigan wouldn't be able to call her "Ironing Board Chest" anymore when they were changing for gym class.
Neicey caught her reflection in a drugstore window and stopped, pretending to look at the dolls, cough medicine and candy display when she was really admiring the way her turquoise and white hip huggers really did hug her hips and the white midriff baring top just glanced above her navel so her flat stomach was visible when she moved just the right way. The white of the top highlighted the deep red brown color of her skin and her hair was permed to lay down, with curls she could flip whenever she wanted. Although Neicey was determined not to turn into one of those girls who'd flip their hair and giggle stupidly at what the boys said. Since she had been in the boy's club for so long, because they never thought of her as a girl, she'd heard them talk disparagingly about girls like that.
"Not me." She told her reflection.
She applied another layer of clear lip gloss. This whole "grown girl thing" was new and she was curious about what it would bring.
Neicey continued walking down the street, feeling the sun kissing her all over her bare skin—arms, belly, the small space on her back that was covered still in peach fuzz. She began to swing her hips just a little bit, this is why Bradley Foster called her "Loose Booty" and it had stuck even though she'd asked him to stop. She might have to punch him in the face if he didn't stop.
"I'm not sure I like that name, but I like the way it feels to move my body like this," she thought.
She realized that during her wandering she'd ended up in front of Butchie Brown's house.
She realized she was hoping that Butchie Brown was around so he could see the new her.
She realized that the crush she'd had on Butchie Brown was just as strong as it was before she'd left Louisville and the thought of him still took her breath away.
Neicey stood there and pretended to dig through her purse when she was actually hoping he'd come out on his porch like he often did when she lived in the neighborhood. This time she didn't want to race him, she couldn't run if she wanted to in the platform shoes she was wearing. He always won anyway. Butchie Brown was the only boy in her old neighborhood who could beat her in a race. Always, try as hard as she might he'd reached the corner before her. She remembered the last time they'd raced she thought her ribs would crack from the way she had to breathe so hard. When they'd finished racing the last time when she was twelve, she stood there dripping sweat. Her face was blotchy red, and her muscles ached. She had run hard, slamming into the pavement, lifting her knees high. She remembered thinking she really needed to beat him just once, to leave in him the dust, like he called it, in order to have him respect her instead of rubbing her head and saying, "You ain't never gonna beat me kid. You just a girl."
Every time he said it, she felt her blood boil.
"One day Butchie Brown, I'm gonna beat you. You just wait. You gonna see!" And he'd laughed and walked away shouting back at her. "Never!"
Butchie Brown wasn't brown at all, he was black as midnight, black like the velvet in her favorite top she got for Christmas one year. His eyes were dark brown and fringed with the longest damn lashes she'd ever seen on a boy. He was lean and you could see every muscle rippling in his legs and arms as he pumped them hard when they raced. He never seemed to have to breathe hard or sweat or anything. He was just Butchie Brown. Beautiful Butchie Brown.
Neicey realized that she was feeling something a little different in the pit of her stomach as she thought about Butchie in that moment and it had nothing to do with racing. Except, well maybe her heart was racing.
She stood there for the longest time wishing he'd come outside. Suddenly the door opened slightly.
"Crap!" Neicey muttered and tried to figure out which way to walk so as not to seem like she was doing exactly what she was doing, waiting to see Butchie.
A bandana clad head poked out the door. A wiry, dark skinned woman of about sixty, though she wasn't as dark as Butchie, peered at Neicey though black rimmed glasses.
"What y'all want?"
"Oh! Hey Miss Brown. How you doin'?"
"It's me Neicey, from down the block."
"Oh, hey honey, how you doin'? You move back down here? I thought you was up north somewhere."
"Yes Ma'am. I'm still up in Michigan."
Since she was caught Neicey figured she may as well take the leap, so she moved up the steps to the porch.
"I'm down here visiting my family for the summer. Staying with my grandma."
"Well, that's nice."
"So how you doin'?"
"Oh, sweetie I'm doing well as be as expected. Still kickin' but not high."
"That's what my grandma says sometimes. How's Butchie doing?"
"He's alright. I can't ever keep up with him. He runs the streets all the time. He's liable to be home round nine, ten o'clock—or maybe not till the mornin'. Can't ever tell with him. You want me to tell him you come by?"
"That's alright. Maybe I'll catch him next time. Thank you, Ma'am."
"Alright. Nice to see you. I've gotta go, it's almost time for my stories. You growed up, didn't you?"
"I guess. That's what my mama says."
"Well you be careful out there. Be good." With that she closed the door.
Neicey was wondering why is she telling me to be careful and to be good? I'm always good. Then she remembered a line from a Mae West movie that always made her laugh, "I'm always good, but when I'm bad I'm better."
She was thinking about that line and the Mae West movie while she started walking towards the bus stop to head back to her grandmother's house. She was disappointed. She wasn't sure exactly why she was so disappointed. Yeah, she wanted to see Butchie, but she couldn't say what she was hoping would happen. Maybe she just wanted him to see her and say, "Well, you ain't a little girl anymore."
She smiled as she thought about that, how cool that would be, when she heard her name. "Neicey? Hey! Neicey is that you?"
Neicey turned to find Butchie Brown standing right in front of her. The light behind him enveloping him in a halo of gold. She realized that she wasn't breathing. Oh, dear God, but he was beautiful.
"Neicey girl. Look at you!"
"Hey Butchie. How you doin'?"
"I'm good. You look like you're doing better than that."
She felt herself blush, dammit. "I'm alright."
"What you doing down here?"
"Visiting my family. What you doing?"
"Just playing some ball."
Which made sense, he was holding a basketball in one hand. That's when she noticed the glistening sweat on his skin. She almost stopped breathing again when she paid attention to the fact that he was wearing a tank top and his muscles were even more defined than she remembered. He started to bounce the ball and with each bounce the flex in his biceps made her a little dizzy.
"You still trying to outrun the boys?"
"I don't race anymore."
"So, I guess you ready to get caught now?" and he laughed.
"Got nothin' to do with you, cause you still can't catch me."
"You got those shoes on, otherwise, I'd give you a race. You know ain't nothin' changed, I can still outrun you." Then he shyly smiled.
Neicey thought "Oh my goodness, I am going to pass out if he does that again." She began to think it wasn't such a good idea to try to see him.
Her thoughts were interrupted by him throwing a casual arm around her. She nearly jumped out of her skin.
"Why you so jumpy? I used to always walk with you like this, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"Hey, c'mon walk with me a ways."
"Just walk with me. I wanna talk to you."
Her mind was screaming—Butchie Brown wants to TALK TO ME!!! Her crush for years was finally wanting to talk to her. Now her mind was racing. Did he just want to talk, or want to "talk" which is what everybody called it in The 'Ville when a boy and girl were sort of a couple? She was thinking it was a good thing she'd put her turquoise and white plaid pants on because they accentuated that she had hips and was growing up, which was good if you wanted to "talk" to someone.
"What you wanna talk to me about?"
"Girl come on now. I just wanna talk to you. Walk me home."
"Ain't that a switch? Hmmph."
"Oh, you growed up and now you all sassy and whatnot?" and he laughed again.
His laugh was like what she imagined the ocean would sound like. It was like gentle thunder and it shook her like thunder did to the earth. She walked with him.
As they approached the corner, he gently nudged her between two of the corner buildings. Her heart was beating so fast, she felt like a blade of grass being whipped around by the wind. She was hoping that she wasn't trembling outside as much as she was inside, so he'd notice.
"You know I always liked that you tried to beat me. Told me you had heart."
He turned to face her, looking deeply into her eyes.
Neicey was trying not to have a conniption. This was better than she had ever imagined, it was more than the fantasies she'd had about Butchie Brown back when she was a kid. This was before she'd been kissed by a boy in Michigan and that kiss wasn't fun. They'd bumped teeth and then he bit her lip. She didn't like that kiss at all. Now she realized that, that was what she had wanted for all these years—to kiss Butchie Brown—she wanted Butchie Brown to kiss her. Yes! This was it. She began to remember how she used to think about how soft his lips had to be; how sweet his breath would taste. How tender she knew it would be. And it was going to happen. She knew it. He knew it too, she could tell.
His voice was soft and had a different tone, sounding like that mellow trumpet on one of her Miles Davis albums. "You all grown up now. How old are you?"
"Fifteen. I'll be sixteen in the fall."
"Damn, fifteen. Time moves fast. I'm eighteen now. So, am I too old for you?"
"I'm thinking we know each other, been knowing each other for a long time and maybe we could start talking. If you want?"
Neicey almost broke out in a happy dance and screamed YES!!! But she was cool. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Listen to you! 'Maybe.' You a mess girl."
"Yeah, I am, but when I'm bad I'm better." That wasn't quite how she wanted that to come out.
He looked at her for a long moment.
All she could think about is HE'S GOING TO DO IT! WE'RE GOING TO KISS. FINALLY. She licked her lips like she'd seen the girls in the hallway at school do when they were about to kiss their boyfriends. Butchie smiled then and it was a different smile than she'd ever seen on him before and she liked it.
"Maybe we could try? If you want."
After a pause, which sounded like she was trying to be cool, but in reality Neicey was trying to keep from shouting so it would come out cool and in control. "Yeah...Okay. We can try." All while she was thinking, "YES!!"
"Okay then. I like that." And he gently stroked her cheek. "Damn, your skin is so soft."
They were both quiet and there was no sound. The traffic on busy Main Street was blanketed in silence. Everything else in the space around them vanished. It was if someone had made all the world a watercolor and she and Butchie Brown were the only objects that stood out in absolute relief. She could feel her heart pounding against her ribs, harder than anytime she'd raced Butchie, harder than when she'd scored a home run in kickball, harder than when she'd set up scores for volleyball. Harder than when she'd won anything.
His hand moved behind her head and she let the weight of it fall so he could support it.
As he began to move closer to her, she closed her eyes in preparation. She felt the gentle nibble on her lips, and she smiled. He moved to one side and then the other of her lips to kiss her gently...she sighed and smiled.
"You like that huh?"
"Uhhh-hmmm." She breathed in and thought, "Oh God, yes, finally."
His lips connected to hers and his tongue gently prodded her, all he needed was gentle pressure, as she opened her mouth slightly to allow his tongue in, then they were kissing upper lips, lower lips in a paroxysm of sweetness. Then there was a new sensation.
Neicey suddenly felt as if her face was in a vacuum. He was sucking her lips into his mouth. There was panic, "What is this?" she wanted to ask, but she couldn't, as the whole lower portion of her face was being sucked into his mouth. She was afraid, what if he didn't stop? It felt like being sucked into some space black hole, like Star Trek! Her fear and confusion continued as he began to suck her face into his mouth up to her nose and she couldn't breathe. She couldn't breathe.
SUFFOCATION BY KISS!!
She tried to free herself, but the more she tried to move away, it seemed he thought it was her saying she was enjoying it. She began to slap him on the back, and he began to moan. How he could make any sounds with his mouth full of her face she didn't know.
"Oooohhh yeeeeaaah." He moaned.
No, no this isn't how it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be soft, tender kisses, tongues exploring, passion, but this wasn't passion it was like kissing a plunger.
She used all of her force to push away from him, which released a gigantic "Thwwwaaaap!!!" sound. Her face around her mouth felt like she'd been scrubbing it with a steel wool pad and IT WAS WET! Her face from nose to chin was soaked with Butchie Brown's saliva.
Neicey stood there confused. Obviously Butchie Brown was too because he was looking at her with furrowed brows.
"No, oh no. I've just...remembered that I've got to go. I told my grandma I'd be home about now, so I better catch the bus."
"I thought maybe we could go talk a little while."
"I've really got to go," Neicey said, fighting the impulse to dig in her purse for a napkin. All she could think of was how badly she wanted some soap and water to fumigate her face.
"Okay. Hey why don't you give me your number so I can call you? Maybe we can go out this weekend?"
"Yeah, sure. Seven, seven four three six, three seven." She rattled a fake number off.
"Can you write it down for me?"
"I don't have a pencil. I have a good memory, give me yours and I'll call you tonight."
All she could think of as he said his number was the drug store across the street and hoping they had some Kleenex and rubbing alcohol to clean her face.
"You got it?"
"Yep. Call you tonight. I've gotta go before the bus comes."
"Can I get another kiss?"
"Really, gotta go Butchie. Don't want my grandma to get mad at me. I'll get grounded, then we won't be able to go out next weekend. Good to see you, talk to you tonight."
He smiled and his eyes twinkled as he said, "Alright, we don't wanna piss your grandma off. See you Friday?"
"Yep." Neicey was halfway to the corner, waiting to cross the street. She waved at him as he bounced the ball.
"Girl you sure grew up!! Damn."
She smiled as she scooted across the street towards the drug store. He called after her, "Don't you need the bus going the other way?!"
"Naw, my grandma moved, she lives over this way now." She lied.
She waited until he walked off towards his home before she rushed into the drugstore. As she was collecting her purchases of mouthwash, rubbing alcohol and Kleenex she realized that she'd finally left Butchie Brown behind. It wasn't how she had expected or wanted, but she had left him in the dust.