Once we were in the privacy of King’s shiny black Lexus, I decided to throw a tantrum. I sunk into my seat and crossed my arms. When King slid in and made himself comfortable, buckling his seat and dropping his phone into a little tray beneath the radio, he turned to me.
“What?” he asked impatiently, placing his key in the ignition but not turning it.
I sunk lower into my seat. “I’m hungry.”
King took a calming breath and said with forced politeness, “What you wanna eat, ma?”
“Hmmmm…” I said, perking up at the thought of picking out the most extravagant meal I could think of. “I want a big, juicy steak with mashed potatoes and a Pepsi.”
“Bet,” King replied without hesitation, turning on the car and focusing on the road ahead of us. “Now buckle up before you get yourself a ticket.”
Since King didn’t argue with my childish demands, I obliged him, buckling up my seatbelt and tossing my purse in the backseat. I reached over to turn on the radio when King popped my hand. I tried my best to look affronted but failed when I saw the hint of a smile creep up on his handsome profile.
“Nobody touches my radio.”
“Not even Michelle?”
He pulled off with a jerk, jostling my hair and sending me crashing into my chair. I knew it was revenge for bringing up his hoe. “Not even Michelle.”
“Well can you put on the radio. It’s mad quiet and quiet makes me bored. And when I get bored I start talking. So unless you wanna talk to me —”
I was interrupted by the blasting of Chris Brown’s “Back to Sleep.” I exclaimed “that’s my shit” and began doing a slow wine to the sultry R&B song. My hot ass was always grinding to some steady beat, not caring where I was or who I was with (unless it was Papi). My dancing was interrupted by King stopping abruptly. I thought he was trying to be spiteful until I looked up and saw the driver of the car in front of us yelling “watch where the fuck you’re going” before speeding off. I shot King a look of contempt before beginning to dance again, this time slower.
“You better not kill me, King. My daddy will hunt you down and make an example out of you.”
“Like he did ‘ol boy five years ago?”
I felt my cheeks redden in embarrassment at the memory, recalling it rather vividly. I wasn’t in the mood to dance anymore, instead, choosing to sit back in my seat and stare out the window. I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep until King was gently shaking me awake.
“We here, ma,” he said, getting out once we made eye contact. “Now come on before they cancel our reservation.”
I sat up slowly and began checking my hair and makeup in the mirror. Once I was satisfied, I reached back and grabbed my bag. I was about to open my door when King appeared on my side and opened it like a gentleman. I popped off my seatbelt and got out of the car real ladylike, as if I wasn’t dressed like a half naked lumberjack.
“I wish I would’ve known you would be taking me to a restaurant,” I said as we crossed a busy intersection right next to a large bridge. “I would’ve tried to do something with my hair.”
King glanced down at me before taking my hand and pulling me across the complicated five-way street. “You look fine, Heart. Besides, I thought you wanted to eat a big ass steak, not worry about who’s checking you out.”
“Why can’t I do both?”
King shook his head in amusement as he opened the door to Peter Luger’s Steakhouse. One whiff of the place made my stomach grumble; I hadn’t eaten all day and Milly dragged me out of McDonald’s before I could at least get some chocolate chip cookies. The hostess was friendly, greeting us as soon as we entered the establishment and taking us to our seats. Glasses of water were placed in front of us and I took a tentative sip of mine, using the straws provided.
“Daddy’s little girl drinking tap? I’m pleasantly surprised you decided to lower your standards and drink from the same dispenser as us peasants.”
I continued drinking as if I hadn’t heard him, only stopping when I was half done because I didn’t want to ruin my appetite. “Well, it’s not often that I get to go out to dinner without my parents and they’re always dragging me to some five-star restaurant. So here I am, wearing shorts at the dinner table so I figured ‘When in Rome…’”
“I feel you,” King replied, picking up his menu and browsing it. “That’s how I felt last week when I was at your mall. Out of place.”
“So then why’d you go? You could’ve gone to a number of places where you’d fit in. Fifth Avenue is only an hour away and has twice as many stores.” I flipped through my menu and only stopped when I laid eyes on a steak that had to be as large as my head.
“I didn’t go because of the stores; I went for the experience.”
“Experience? You mean all of those stuck up sales people fawning over you so they can empty your pockets? It’s not as fabulous as I make it seem.”
King cracked a smile, the first genuine one I had seen on him since we met. “To you because that’s all you know, but for a nigga like me that morning felt like an out of body experience. Honestly, I ain’t even think they were gon’ let a nigga in let alone give him decent customer service.”
“I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” I said, closing my menu and staring him straight in the eye. “You’ve got plenty of class.” I could see the disbelief in his eyes and the way he was about to brush me off, but for some reason unbeknownst to me, I continued. “Class ain’t always about what you’re wearing, King. It’s about the way you hold yourself, the way you address others, the confidence you have whether you’re wearing an Armani suit, or khaki’s and a white tee. You’ve got a quality about you and it makes you command the room like only one other man I know: my dad.”
King stared at me with something in his eyes that I couldn’t make sense of. I knew I probably sounded like a little kid or something, so I went back to looking at my menu, too embarrassed to look him in the eye again. Luckily, our waitress came and took our orders. King ordered a scotch next to my Coke. We sipped in silence until our food arrived.
“This is delicious,” I said, savoring each bite of my medium-well steak that was large enough for two. “I guess I’m taking the rest home for tomorrow morning. What?”
King wiped his mouth and pushed his own empty plate away from him. “I can’t see you standing at the microwave waiting for a plate of food to heat up. It’s funny to me.”
“King, you better stop,” I said, thanking the waitress as she arrived with a small box and wrapped up my food. “My mom is from the hood and when she cooks there’s always enough for dinner tomorrow. She had it hard and one of her biggest pet peeves is wasting food. I wish I would waste some food.”
The waitress left my wrapped food next to me and placed the bill in the center of us. King reached into his pocket, peeled off three crisp hundred-dollar bills, and said to me, “You ready?”
Pleased that he tipped well, I was ready to leave, grabbing my bag and skipping out of the restaurant. King and I walked along in an amicable silence, with my enjoying my last fresh breath of freedom as he texted rapidly on his phone. When he asked for directions to my house, I gave them hesitantly, recalling that after all he was the “enemy” and I didn’t want my father trying to hurt him. King must’ve noticed my apprehension because he addressed it right away.
“You scared for me, Heart? Ain’t no need to be. I’m a grown man. I can handle myself,” King said, hopping on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway with ease.
My worries instantly faded. King was a real man, and I knew that because he was bringing me home, Papi would be more grateful than angry. “King?”
“Why are you going out of your way to take me home?”
He paused thoughtfully and said in a businesslike tone, “Because you were trespassing and I wanted the opportunity to make it clear how important it is for you to stay out of my hood. The reason isn’t out of me trying to be petty, it’s because people around there don’t like your pops or his people. It wouldn’t be nothing for one of them niggas to harm you just to start a drug war.”
“So it has nothing to do with you not liking me?” I said, staring at him through my long lashes.
King glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “No, you still get on my nerves.”
“King!” I exclaimed, playfully slapping him on the arm, my stomach doing backflips when he looked at me full on, our faces barely inches apart. I leaned in slightly, wanting him to do the same. I was disappointed when he returned his attention to the road. “I forgot,” I said settling into my seat and looking out the window, “you have a girlfriend.”
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“So then why were you out shopping with her?”
King shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter. At least not anymore.”
“How come not —”
“Heart,” King said, “she’s not the reason why this can’t become anything. It’s the streets. We’re on different sides of the war in these streets.”
“You’re right,” I conceded, closing my eyes and trying to savor as much of this, riding in King’s car, the feel of the smooth leather on my thighs, his cologne wafting all around me, the feeling of being normal, as I possibly could before I was locked away in one of the most lavish prisons you’d ever seen. Because that’s exactly what my house was, a lavish prison. And if the game had its way, I’d always be a princess without her King.