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Tonight is Jamal’s night off from work and he decided to make it time well spent. Just as he is about to board the train to head home, his cell phone rings. It is Lela.

 

“Hey babe” Jamal said as he flipped open his Sony Ericsson cell phone.

 

“Hey! Lela said.” “How’d your day go today?” “Did you meet your teacher’s friend?” “Was he nice?” “What did he say about your marketing pitch?”

Lela was spitting out questions with so much exhilaration, Jamal hadn’t had a chance to answer until he said…

 

“SHE.” He interrupted. She was very nice, yes. Jamal said recalling he and Leslie’s meeting earlier that day. Well, it was more than any meeting he has ever had. Leslie was professional, she listened attentively to his ideas, gave great advice, and like a gentlewoman, paid for everything and gave a healthy tip. He had to admit, she was real classy with hers. Was this a taste of what is to come? Well he was game. Because more than anyone, Jamal wanted not only to give back to his community but live a prosperous life and provide for his family one day at a comfort level he has yet to experience. He also wanted more than what his parents had. His parents did well for raising three children but Jamal wanted the life where he could withdraw from his bank when he need to without straining his budget. Send his younger sister to a private school, and to a good college away from New York. He is patient and will do it GOD’s way, the way it was intended.

Lela paused. “Okay, SHE then.” her voice sounding a little jealous. “Wait! She suddenly had a revelation. “I thought you said ‘the friend’ was also a boyfriend of Ms. Jones?”

 

“I didn’t say that! Jamal said while trying to make his way to an empty spot on the crowded train.

 

“Well how’d it go anyway?” Dryly, “What did y’all talk about?” This time her voice not as rapid, but careful in asking her questions. 

 

“You know…Jamal started, stuff like, what I wanna be when I grow up, and stuff.  He amused himself a moment. Jamal knew that wouldn’t fly with Lela. She wasn’t the jealous type either but she always wanted details. She was starting to cut out when Jamal said, “Hey, I’m on the train, lemme hit you back when I’m walking home. Love you if you can hear me.” He hung up, sounding corny to himself. Jamal looked around the train to see if anyone were paying attention. Plus, he didn’t want to get into his day on the train. No one needs to hear my business, he thought. 

 

Jamal told Lela that he would call her back on the walk to his house but he decided to wait a bit, talk to his people’s first before he called back to invite her over for dinner this weekend with his family. Lela had been around the Washington family most her adolescent life, but it was always still uncomfortable to be around his parents; moreover, now that they are a couple.

 

Jamal approached the house and it looked dark- more dark than normal. Where were Chantalle and his mother? He thought. Surely they’d beat him home. He grabbed the door knob and turned. It was locked. “Locked? Jamal said aloud, puzzled. “At

?” he said again, looking at his watch. He hardly ever used his house key anymore since somebody was always at home. Jamal rested his book bag on the guard railing of the steps and proceeded to look for his house key when his cell phone rang. “Lela” he said looking at the Caller ID on his phone. But to his surprise, it wasn’t. It was his boy KaeRee (pronounced Kigh-Ree) Gunn, a smart, militant brotha, who won’t use his intelligence to go back to school and make something good with his many talents. He and Jamal could be poster children for the slogan, ‘Opposites Attract’. But what Jamal liked most about KaeRee, was his honesty - a characteristic you don’t find in many.

 

“What up, knuckle-head?” Jamal answered. “What cha up to no good?”

 

“I can’t call it, man. KaeRee said in his deep voice. The girls on the block used to always have him sing to them, saying he sounds like Luther Van dross or Gerald LeVert. He has a nice voice and all but Jamal wouldn’t go further than that. “Tryin’ to catch up with you”, he ended.

 

“Catch up with me? For what?” Jamal knows he’s neglected everyone close to him for school. His winter break would soon come after finals next week.

 

“To hang out…go meet some new prospects, that’s a start. KaeRee continued.

 

Jamal finally found his key in his book bag and unlocked the door. The alarm was on.

 

Kae, lemme call you back man, we hardly ever use our alarm.”

 

“You alright man? Want me to stay on the phone? Or call 9-1-1?

 

Naw, man. Nothing like that. Great! Jamal thought, two punk moments in one day…three’s a charm- Look, lemme go before I set the alarm off-click!

 

Jamal took the stairs two at a time and reached the alarm in time to disarm it. Unlike most folks, they put their alarm upstairs to keep people from assuming they had one. 

 

“Now why would they put the alarm on, not tell me or call to make sure I had my key?” He mumbles on his way to his room. That’s unlike his mother. She didn’t have a cell phone but she always made sure Chantalle called him with such messages. Just as he was about to call his dad’s cell, he heard his mother and sister coming through the door.

 

Chantalle and Betty were giggling and chatting away as if they were two old ladies at a church gathering.

 

“Umm Hmm, excuse me ladies, I don’t mean to interrupt, but can one of you tell me why you didn’t call me to tell me YOU were going to be out tonight?” Jamal stated matter-of-factly.

 

“Oh Jamal! Good you’re home, come help us please…with these bags, Betty said struggling with a heavy one herself.

 

He rolled his eyes up in the air and went down stairs.

 

“Did you hear me, ma?”

 

“Yes I heard you, but your sister had an orthodontics appointment and afterwards we decided to hang out.”

 

“Hang out?” “What you know about hanging out somewhere”, he joked. Where ya’ll go?”

 

“Holiday window shopping mostly, but I wanted to see the window displays and go to Macy’s. “ Chantalle said, sounding like the spoiled kid she was.

 

I don’t know why ya’ll all up in Macy’s for? And don’t expect your gift to come from there either, if it’s from me. He laughed aloud while staring at Chantalle. “I’ll set ya'll up lovely in a couple years though.” Jamal said, playfully pretending he is peeling off twenties and hundred dollar bills from a knot. “It’s all in the plan.”

 

“Keep your money honey. And for your information I partied in my day and hung out, so I know about hanging. Betty said walking up stairs to put her shopping bags away.

 

“Okay ma, that was ten minutes ago…. We’re on a new t-o-p-i-c”, he jokingly yelled up the steps.

 

 “So, what you swindle mamma into buying you this time?” His attention now on Chantalle.

 

“Believe it or not, nothing actually. She took me to a late lunch, we went to Macy’s and got our faces done, and tested their perfumes. She looked at shoes, while I looked at the boots- it was a great afternoon. That’s why we didn’t get a chance to call you. We were having fun for a change.” Chantalle said.

 

And she was right. She and ma were at each other’s neck about a month ago, when Chantalle made two mistakes: One…letting her grades slip below C.  And Two...a boy being the reason. With Chantalle being the only girl, dad was hard on her. In Jamal’s opinion Chantalle was very smart. She’s even helped him with his College class work; especially his papers. She writes very well. 

 

“Well that’s good, right?” 

 

“Yeah, for a change.” “She finally gave me my cell phone back yesterday.” I thought I would die without it. Chantalle was holding the phone up showing Jamal, and then hugged the phone for dear life.

 

YOU, are crazy, you know that? A couple weeks without it and you about to have a fit.” “I don’t why they took it anyway. You can still use the house phone.” Jamal said smartly.

 

“Because, dummy, they KNOW that my cell is what drives me crazy when I don’t have it.”

 

“No, not having a phone period would drive you crazy, so that’s why you haven’t tripped.”  Well I guess since you guys ate already, I’m going to the carryout for a fish sub.”

 

The house phone rang, and Chantalle broke her neck to answer it before mamma. Of course it wasn’t for him, he has his celly, and so he walks out the door to the carryout. 

 

When Jamal returned, he rested a bit while he waited for his father, Thomas to come home. He called Lela back and briefly gave her the lowdown on today’s meeting with Leslie, sparing her the details about her drinking and getting a little tipsy. She was satisfied with the juicy ‘tid-bit’ of information concerning the paid Internship, she said “That’s great baby, I am so proud of you! How do you feel about the meeting?”

 

Jamal loved that about her, she was always very supportive in his aspirations. A dime piece any man would want on his arm. But why did he feel she was so far from his reach? Was it him or did she feel this way too? Could it be because they have only commenced their relationship two times in 6 months? Not his call. But he respected her wishes to wait for marriage and actually with his busy schedule he’d put that part of their relationship in the back of his mind, but a brotha has needs too.

 

“Oh I’m good about the entire ordeal” he finally said. “The way things are moving ahead; the whole flow. I’m about to go and discuss things with my parents now.”

 

“Okay, well call me back later and tell me what they said.”

 

“Nosey-butt. Always wanting details.”

 

Lela giggled. She sounded cute. “Hey, before I forget, what plans do you have Sunday? My parents want to invite you over for dinner.”

 

“Nothing, I guess…Just call me back with the other details as you say and we can discuss Sunday. Lela said sweetly. She knew she really wanted to hang with her best girlfriend, and go shopping, but she also wanted to spend time with Jamal. His timing was ALWAYS off.

 

Thomas was in the house a little over an hour before Jamal joined his parents in the family room, where they watching the Amazing Race; their favorite TV show.

 

Jamal watched about 20 minutes before his dad asked him what was up, since he hardly ever hangs out with them in the family room.

As you both know, he started; I met with my teacher’s friend today, Ms. Smith”

“Ms.” He got his father’s attention. Betty tapped him jokingly on his arm, “Thomas!”

Yes, and at our lunch meeting…

“Lunch?” “She took you to lunch too? Betty interjected. “Betty, now YOU interrupting the boy.” “Go on son, the lunch.”

Jamal shook his head, and they are always like this.

She really liked my ideas. She said that I had talent and…

“Awe, Bab…”Wait Ma, Jamal interrupted her before she started. “There’s more… she offered me a paid Internship.

“Alright, Son! Your ole’ man’s real proud of you.”

“Wait, Thomas.” “Baby, then why do you look so down about the news?” “Evidently there’s more. And it seems to be troubling you.” Betty said rubbing the back of Jamal’s hand softly.

Well, the other night at work, Management gave me a raise for job well done and it would look as if I took the raise and knew I was leaving, but in reality, I didn’t know this would happen and so fast.” 

“Honey these are decisions in life you have to make when opportunities arise. When they say opportunities usually knocks once…they mean it. You should write down the pros and cons of what the old job brings and will bring versus your future and what you want out of it.” Betty said softly and went back to watching the show. My dad had already started back watching TV, and half listening.

Jamal sat there thinking things over for a moment and then said, “But what would I do with the 401K money I’ve earned since I’ve been there?”

“You roll it over to the new company when it is time or get an IRA? What ever you do, do not take it out?” 

“Why? “I may need it to…”

“To do nothing, Betty said. “The penalties are high and you probably don’t even have enough right now, to make the withdraw worth anything of REAL value.” “So listen to me please, and roll it over when it is time.” She said while never taking her eyes from the TV.

Jamal didn’t call Lela back that night. He decided he would take his mother’s advice and write down the pros and cons of the decision. He knew it wasn’t going to stay with his company for much longer, but he wanted to leave there and have peace with the decision.

The next morning Jamal slept in late- for a week day. He wasn’t focusing on going to Leslie’s office today to pick up the application. He knew that he ultimately needed to go. But not today, he was going to spend the day with Lela. Leslie said he had until Friday so, he’d pick it up on Friday.

He rolled over looking for his watch on the night stand, which had fallen to the floor. He picked it up and closed his eyes again. Dang, he wanted to sleep in a little bit longer but it was rounding

.

“Good morning Linda” Leslie Smith said cheerfully.

“Oh, good morning, Ms. Smith.” “Hot night?” Linda said with a wink.

“No, not a hot night, but it will be a hot afternoon.” “I am expecting a client by the name of Jamal Washington. You’ll know him when you see him.”

“Oh yea? “How so?” Linda said.

“Because, these geezers who come in here are old and tired. Jamal, let’s just say is in his prime and spunky.” Leslie said in deep thought. “Ump, let me get some work done. I have to remember, I am his mentor.”

“Sometimes those are the best kind.” They both giggled.

The time was nearing

when Leslie walked out of her, what felt like twentieth meeting, and went to Linda’s desk. 

“Do I have any calls Linda?”

“Yes, a few, but none from Mr. Mentor.” “What time was his appointment?”

“Well, he really didn’t have one set in the books but we discussed him coming down here to day to pick up an Internship application.” “I guess he was too busy or decided this job wasn’t for him.” , she stated.

“Oh, he’ll show.” Linda was being optimistic for Leslie’s sanity. She looked as if she was not in control, like her norm. 

Leslie sorta stormed off towards her office and decided to give Mr. Mentor a call. “What! No. Was she crazy? Leslie girl, get a grip, she said over and over to herself. “I’ll call Sheila. No. She’ll tell me I was crazier and I don’t want to hear that right now.

“Why was she trippin’ over this young man so tough?” Maybe because she was half disappointed he didn’t show and the other half was because the outfit she had on wasn’t brand new, but she had just taken the price tags of it that morning. And to women, it’s a wasted outfit! Ugh! She plopped in her oversized leather chair and contemplated on what to do next. She dialed his cell but before she got to the last number, she hung up. Leslie stood up; walked out of her office, back into the meeting she was in. Not focused at all, she just sat there in the back of the large meeting room and looked out the window at the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan. Sheila was right, Jamal is too young and if this is what a young love feels like, not that she is in love with Jamal, but she was feeling something and couldn’t put her finger on it. Well, whatever the feeling, she was putting him out of her mind. Maybe he would at least be professional and break the news to her to personally. I mean, that is the right thing to do, right? 

“Right, Ms. Smith?” Mr. Jordan Leslie’s Boss asked.

“Huh? Excuse me? Can you please repeat the question?” She said. Now she really needed to focus. She made a bet to keep her cool and keep it professional, however HE carried it. But who was she fooling. She wanted to see him again, and she would…