Graduating together had a galvanizing effect. It didn’t matter which corner of the valley you were from, you had made it through, together. Graduation night was spent celebrating at the base of Indian Leap Falls. Preston was there, Taftville was there, Yantic and Norwich were represented. Even Norwichtown showed up in small numbers.
Langston saw Yolanda a short distance ahead of him as he picked his way through the sea of familiar faces. Tasha couldn’t be far away, unless she was off with her boyfriend celebrating his graduation from nearby New London High. Langston had heard there was a fireworks display planned at Ocean Beach. Nobody he knew was going, but Tasha would undoubtedly be there beside her man, the boy whose attention she’d captured at a track meet sophomore year.
Tasha’s man was a big ol’ dude. He nicknamed himself Incredible, as in the Hulk. One of those guys whose muscles have muscles. The kind of guy, back in his fighting days, Langston would have worked to convince that a physical altercation was beneath them. “Don’t you see that’s what the crowd is hoping for, to see us brain one another,” he would have insisted, sliding an arm around a tree trunk of a neck.
Incredible’s face appeared countless times in the local papers. He made all-state in football. Lettered in track, meaning he was fast, too, a runaway freight train, muscles on skates. Tasha said he was having trouble deciding between Hampton and Virginia Tech. Poor thing. Langston had Stop & Shop and Waldbaum’s to choose from, his postgraduation prospects limited to the deli meat department or fresh produce. He had thoughts of making good on the lie he’d gotten in the habit of telling whenever Angelica asked about his plans beyond high school. He said he was leaning toward community college: Three Rivers or Connecticut College, the latter of which would at least get him out of Norwich. That way he’d be going away to college just like everybody else he knew.
He overheard his mother on the phone with their Aunt Sherry. “I will be shocked but delighted if he gets himself together to do something of any worth.” It had taken him the whole school year to do it, but he managed to fill out the applications his mother brought home, though he had yet to drop any of them in the mail.
Langston continued to scan the faces swirling around Yolanda for any sign of her cousin. Something about the day—graduating, the finality of it—made him want to see Tasha all the more, somebody he once knew. He didn’t miss her as a consequence of the time they’d spent, their abbreviated history together, so much as he missed what could have been, who he might have become had he managed to connect with someone and have her close by his side. Last he’d heard she was going away to school, too, on a track scholarship to Norfolk State. Tasha and Incredible off to Virginia together.
She pushed her way over as soon as she caught sight of him. “Hey, stranger. What are you doing way out here?” she asked, believing he surely couldn’t have walked all this way at night.
“I’m here looking for you,” he said, mischief at work inside his smile.
“Boy, you need to quit playing,” she laughed, searching his hand for a plastic cup of something, studying his eyes to determine whether he’d been drinking. “There’s no way you could have known I would be here.” He wouldn’t have guessed it—a kegger down by the falls was definitely not TD (Tasha Davies) cool.
“Unbelievable around somewhere?” he ventured, looking for signs of a runaway freight train.
“Incredible,” she corrected, teasing him with her eyes, testing her own resolve to see whether she was up to his level of play.
“Incredible. Right. He off someplace trying not to turn green?”
She gave his shoulder a playful shove—a love tap, he imagined. “Behave,” she warned. “He went to his grandmother’s house for a graduation dinner. We’re supposed to meet up with him later tonight.”
Isn’t that sweet, Langston thought. He didn’t realize superheroes had grandmothers.
She teased with her eyes again, interested to know why he was so curious all of a sudden to know about the comings and goings between her and Incredible.
“I’m the one who should be turning green,” he joked. “Green with envy.”
“See. That’s why you and I were never going to work. Your game is weak, sweetie,” she explained matter-of-fact, a moonlit smile on offer to ease the sting. She rested an arm across his shoulder—easy, comfortable, a part of her feeling the finality of the day as well, standing in the company of someone she once knew. She waited for his eyes to wander from hers like they did on the day they met, on the day they kissed for the first time, on the day she told him they no longer went together.
She was first to break their stare. “Speaking of jealous, isn’t that your little girlfriend over there?” she asked, tugging at his elbow before he could turn to look. She gave him a Heaven forgive me squeeze, her ear pressed tight against his neck. She said good-bye to him with a single kiss to the cheek, a light frosting from the gloss of her lips just catching the corner of his mouth. “Take care of yourself, darling.”
He watched as she walked over to rejoin her cousin, giggling with a gaggle of friends, tonight a night for everyone to show their teeth. He stood mesmerized by the sway of her fully grown curves, her appeal at last visible to the whole wide world. “Take care, sweetie,” he said quietly.
He turned away, his hand at the back of his head making the stations change. His thoughts ran backward to the last thing she said—darling. He knew how she meant it: He didn’t stand a chance with her, but she was sincere in her desire to see him continue to make a way for himself. He hoped to see her do well at Norfolk State. Wished them both the best in VA.
He sensed somebody waving at him, a small, little wave. Green with envy, he heard Tasha saying. Saw a single palm raised slowly from the hip. Your little girlfriend, Tasha continued. The station inside his head eventually found its focus, Angelica flickering into view. What was she doing out this way? The Falls were not typical A-Chu either.
“Who are you here with?” he asked, the ridge of his crinkled brow confirming his surprise to see her.
A subtle tilt of the head led his gaze in the direction of her big brother Albert. He locked eyes with Langston for a lingering half second, wrinkled the corner of his mouth, and then shrugged off the expression. Whatever was going on between Langston and Angelica was no longer his concern. He continued toward the exit from the Falls, Angelica trailing behind him, dutifully obeying the conditions she had agreed to in order to be let out on graduation night.
Langston looked around for anyone else he cared about, then started the long walk home, alone.
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