The 9 Lives of Oliver 6: LOVE ENFLAMED

“Hey O!” a female voice whispered. “I think there is someone in the window trying to get your attention.” Oliver was surprised. Someone in his science class was talking to him. He and Moms had been living in Anglerock for a little over a year. He’d made a few friends, but he still stayed pretty much under the radar. At times, he forgot to be invisible. Yeah, girls thought he was cute. Teachers thought he was smart. However, he was still so shy and socially awkward, most kids thought he was kind of strange. At least, that’s what he thought they thought.

“O!” It startled him, looking up from his biology book to find a frenzy of fine, Mahogany-skinned females pointing, giggling and making eyes at him through the classroom door window. When his teacher noticed and moved towards the door, a burst of laughter and thunderous footsteps exploded behind the door as the girls raced away. 

Oliver thought, “Was that for me?” He dare not smile. Another classmate blurted out, a bit too enthusiastically: “Yooo! That was Roxanne Robeson checkin’ for you, boiii! He sang the popular hook to the hip hop song by UTFO. “Roxanne, Roxanne! I wanna be your man!” He lowered his voice to a whisper and leaned in, “She a senior… checkin’ for a freshman, yo? You know thass Ronda T. Robeson’s big sister.” 

Ronda T. Roberson and Oliver Sixx were in the same grade. They were cordial, but he rarely saw her in school. Rhonda had Special Education classes. Oliver was on the college prep track. The Special Ed kids had their own classroom and teachers – teachers who had special training in conflict resolution. 

In the 80’s, terms like “ADHD”, “special needs”, and respecting “lifelong” or “individual learners” weren’t part of the mainstream conversation on education. If you were “slow,” you were either “held” or “left back” a grade. Most misunderstood students were lumped into “Special Ed,” which usually meant a classroom of discarded students who acted out of a range of behavioral dysfunctions. God forbid you were English as a Second Language. (ESL) The service was worse.

“You, the man, yo! Roxy Robeson like you?” Then he whispered, “Yo, you betta get in them drawers. I know she would give it to you!” Oliver didn’t know Roxy well, or THIS guy, and already he had to prove his sex. THIS guy’s name was Kenyatta Davis. He was a 10th grader in “Intro to Biology,” a mandatory class for freshmen. Kenyatta was the proverbial “class cut-up.” He was hyper-focused on flirting with the females, which included the teachers. He usually could squeeze out a smile from them, due to his humor and charm. Plus, he could SAANG; and he was always singing. 

Kenyatta Davis was gifted. Yet, he sought the spotlight at the wrong time – at the expense of whoever would listen. “High school is for suckas. I have a dream… of hip hop fame, riches, and ‘itches.” He tried to draw a laugh from Oliver, give him a bro nudge, and sneak a quick peek of Oliver’s worksheet for answers. Pseudo-befriending O. was just another ploy for attention. Oliver knew it, and didn’t mind so much.

Roxanne Robeson popped-up often in his biology class window over the next couple of days… to wave and say hello. Oliver was simultaneously embarrassed, and flattered. Once, she came during a test, and he couldn’t leave. However, the next time… “Yo! What you waitin’ on, O? Roxy is sweatin’ you. Personally, I think you scared of that.” Once again Kenyatta was putting Oliver’s business in the street. Well, at least, in the biology lab. 

“Mr. Davis, do you have something to share with the class?” their teacher, Ms. Johnson, inquired. “No, Miss.” Kenyatta backed down. Ms. Johnson, knowingly, peeked over her glasses at Oliver, then her eyes moved to the oak tree figure she used as a hall pass. “Now, class, extracting maple syrup from a fine tree is a slow-going process, but well worth the wait,” she continued. Oliver grabbed the hall pass, and asked could he be excused. “Of course.” Ms. Johnson winked, subtly. She was one of his guardian angels on the low.

Once outside, he spotted Roxanne waiting down the hall. He approached, but before he could speak: “Hi Oliver. I’m happy you could get out of class for a minute. I just wanted to introduce myself.” A hand shot out. “I’m Roxanne.” 

“Hi.” Oliver’s mind wandered to Ronda T. Robeson, Roxanne’s little sister. He kind of liked her last year in middle school, but decided not to pursue her. Ronda was cute and liked to laugh, but her crew liked to stir up too much drama that often led to a fight. They were always in the principal’s office. Oliver and Ronda were good enough as friends. He never found a reason to mention his attraction.

“I heard you’re on the quiet side. I’ll let you get back to class,” he heard Roxanne say. She was cute, too. In a hot-kind-of-way. “That Kenyatta Davis is craazy!” She laughed. “I just wanted to say hello. And, maybe… we can hang out sometime? I heard you were a nice guy… I need more nice guys in my life,” her grin and eyes twinkled. 

Was Roxanne tryna mack him, right there? Whatever she was doing, it was working. “Sure, we can hang out. Maybe, I can walk you home after school one day,” Oliver heard himself say. “I’d like that,” was Roxanne’s response. We live over on Armory Street across the Main Ave. “Here’s my math.” She smiled and slipped him folded paper.

“What did she say? What did she say?” Oliver’s friend Andre had heard about Roxanne coming to Oliver’s class and giving him her number. Between classes Oliver obliged to spill: “The note says most of what she said in the hall. ‘She heard I was nice.’ ‘She heard I was quiet.’ ‘She heard you have to be DEEP to talk to Oliver Sixx.’ Whatever THAT means.”

“She asked if maybe we could hang out,” Oliver offered, nonchalantly.  “Word is bond, yo? She prolly heard about that big-ass mansion you live in,” Andre teased. “I don’t know; but Moms would never drive her over.” Oliver sighed. “Roxy Roberson isn’t exactly what Sista Moms would call a church girl. How do I convince a senior…? Roxy Roberson, head cheerleader and future supermodel, to walk over 2 miles to my house?” 

After about a week, Oliver was routinely walking Roxanne and Ronda to their home. Roxanne was 17 and about to graduate. Oliver was 14, with a light, but very effective moustache. O didn’t know what to say. He probably should know, but he just didn’t care about gold chains and cars. Roxanne was used to dating hustlers, bad boys, and wanna-bes. Maybe, if he could kiss her – he thought he was a pretty good kisser – he could win her over. 

If Oliver let too much time pass, she might tell people something was wrong with him. She would tell Kenyatta, and biology class would never be the same. The anxiety consumed him. Oliver procured private moments with Roxy in her living room. She wore tight jeans, and liked kissing, but thought it was too soon to be THAT close. “Besides, someone might come down,” she protested. He tried to coax her into the kitchen with grandma upstairs. In the back of his mind he heard a voice say: “Whatchu you doin’, boy?” He replied, “I don’t know. It feels good.”

“I think you SCARED-scared-scared.” Kenyatta’s taunt about “the DRAWERS-drawers-drawers” echoed in Oliver’s head. He was brought up to respect women. And, if Roxanne gave him the chance, he would respect her real good. He was sure he could bring her pleasure. Suddenly, he heard his own daddy’s voice speak, “People say you’re a sissy, son.” Damn. 

Oliver had never had a real girlfriend. He didn’t know what to do, or where to put his hands. He just put them where it felt good. He remembered Moms’ reaction once, to a ‘King Kong’ sequel. Kong gently grabs the girl from a waterfall and blows her dry. Then, he caresses her with a finger. ‘”Aw, he’s making love to her!” Moms exclaimed.’ Oliver had never heard Moms swoon in that way before. Note to self.

Oliver ventured to go gentle. He opened doors. He made Roxy and Ronda laugh, as they called him crazy with tears in their eyes. He snuggled up next to Roxy in private moments, and breathed warm breaths into the arch of her neck. He still wasn’t sure why she liked him, or, if he even liked her in that way – but it was fun finding out. He tried to heat things up at her house one afternoon after school. His fingers fumbled for buttons, and zippers and she was not feeling the same need for speed. 

“What’s wrong? I thought you wanted me.” He questioned. “I do, as a good friend. Maybe, more.” Roxy replied. “It’s been a month. I wanna feeel you.” Oliver whined. “I wanna feel you, too.” She giggled. “But I have to take care of my grandmother, right now – she has dialysis today. Rhonda is home. My sister, Thelma, is on the way with the boys. Mama is gonna cook, soon. Stay, and eat. I need this to be more than just about you, though.” Roxy was resolute. 

Oliver wondered how long he was supposed to wait? Hadn’t she sent word through Kenyatta that she was down for the nasty? Oliver had prepared for this. He re-read library books about the female body… He read Essence and Cosmo for tips on the female mind and libido. Should it have happened by now? Was he being insensitive? He knew he was being unreasonable. Kenyatta made it sound too easy. Roxy had seemed so… open. He was ready to burn his virginity all the way down. The anticipation made him hangry.

Roxy wasn’t as willing to give up possession of the drawers quick fast as Keyatta had opined, which was actually fine with Oliver. She WAS visibly offended, though. Did she think Oliver, a cad? He respected her, but in truth, he WAS trying to have some kind of coming-of-age experience. Had he gotten in too deep? Everyone expected them to “knock boots.” HE thought, SHE did.  If he didn’t, there was something wrong with him, right? 

Their affair didn’t last too long. Roxy liked the boys from around her way. Oliver was a church mouse trying life in the big city. Ronald, Roxy’s ex, had a wealthy, politically positioned papa. Roxy was rumored to still like Ronald. Oliver was too green in the ways of relationship to compete, and bowed out gracefully. He and sister Ronda ended up drawing closer, as friends.

A few months later, in the spring, Oliver heard Roxanne was quitting school to model full-time; She was about to graduate from the Locale Modeling School. She was scheduled to graduate high school in 3 months. The Locale’s TV ads were cool, but the school didn’t look like the Black queen’s route into modeling. Oliver happened to bump into Roxanne in the hallway at school.  The day she and her mother officially withdrew her from high school. They hugged.

Oliver wished her the best, but he kept feeling impulses that something was not good. He hadn’t seen Roxy for months, before she and her mother had greeted him. All people, and action around them blurred, a mist swirled in slow motion. He could feel an opposite emotion looming behind their bright smiles and optimistic expressions. Anybody outside of his head would have thought him crazy. Then, the mist cleared and they were saying good-bye.

“You heard Roxy is pregnant, right?” Ronda T. Robeson announced to Oliver in a whisper. They were still friends, and she had the 411. Oliver and Ronda were inseparable after school the next day – talking, joking and laughing about silly things. Oliver Sixx carried Ronda T. Robeson, piggyback style, on his back all through school. People pointed and laughed, “Y’all craaazy!” folks teased. More than a couple of romance-seeking, suspicious eyebrows were raised at the prospect.  

“She pregnant by that kid, Ronald, she was crazy over before you,” Ronda offered.  “He kinda slow, but his daddy got money. He dropped out of school and his family helped him get his GED, a car, and an apartment. Roxy thinks a baby will complicate her modeling career. Ronald wants her to have the baby. My mother is piiiiissed!” Ronda confided.

Oliver promised to keep the secret that wouldn’t be a secret for very long. Ronda hugged him. They exchanged a look they had never shared before. There was a silent scream smoldering behind her smiling eyes. A gentle wisdom animated her body. Like, she was smarter than anyone suspected. Oliver and Ronda said their “good-bye-see-you-in-school-tomorrows,” and went home.

The next morning, as Oliver was putting on socks for school he heard a report on the radio involving Anglerock. “A house fire erupted on Armory Street last night claiming the lives of 5 people,” the news report said. Oliver thought, “Daang! Anglerock made the morning news?!” He moved on. “Yep, right, between Sade’s ‘Is It a Crime?’ and Levert’s ‘Casanova.’”

Somebody was playing UTFO’s ‘Roxanne,’ real loud as Oliver and Andre entered the school building. The halls were eerily quiet. A heaviness hovered in the air. Oliver was distracted by sneaker-laced debates with Andre: “You said, ‘wear the grey and white PLAID laces with your white-on-white pumas and bring the dark grey and red ones for me.’ We were both supposed to wear DARK grey Puma shirts…”

“Oliver, Roxanne and Ronda are dead.” The words of some insensitive, faceless person in the crowded hallway cut into Oliver’s consciousness like a shard of ice. “What?” “Why people gotta be playing?” His face said it all. “It’s true, O. Roxanne and Ronda are gone. They died in that fire last night.” Everything around Oliver went into slow motion. The mist swirled in, again. He thought, “I was just with Ronda yesterday after school. How can she be gone today?

A girl in his class told the tale, “Roxanne was pregnant and she didn’t want to keep it. The baby’s father, Ronald, didn’t want her having an abortion. You know dat nigga slow.” She continued, “So, he poured gasoline around the house while they were sleeping, and set the house on fire. My Auntie lives down the block. Roxanne and Ronda didn’t make it out because they wouldn’t leave their grandmother. Ray-ray and his momma died, too.”

It was true. Roxanne, Ronda, their grandmother, older sister, and her young son were all consumed in a fire set by Roxanne’s boyfriend. Two people escaped. It was all over the news. It was all over the hood. It was all over school. Suddenly, Oliver was cast into the spotlight as one of Roxanne’s last boyfriends. He was one of the last people in school to see Ronda alive. Folks remembered them together acting silly just the day before.

Oliver told Moms that friends of his from school had died. He couldn’t tell her how important they were to him. She wouldn’t even entertain a conversation about him having had a girlfriend. Moms dismissed people like Roxanne and Ronda as lost sinners. She wasn’t interested in hearing about his relationship with them. Consequently, he mourned their deaths alone.

He had so many questions. He was beyond angry with the kid who set the fire. Oliver heard Ronald would receive leniency due to his mental illness and his father’s political clout. Oliver felt it was wrong to kill unborn babies. He also felt that it was Roxanne’s right to do what she felt was healthiest for her life. He knew too many couples that used abortion as birth control – or used pregnancy to manipulate a partner. He knew too many men trying to control women through violence. Wasn’t it violent to kill an unborn life?

The funeral was obviously closed casketed. Oliver went alone. Moms had no idea he was attending the funeral of five people that he’d known. The church was packed. They weren’t hyper-religious people, or college graduates. However, they knew love and showed love in the best ways possible.

Oliver remembers the beautiful spirit of Roxanne, Roxanne. Oliver will always remember the silent scream smoldering in the smiling eyes of Ronda T. Robeson. He will always remember the last day they laughed and were silly… together.

Intellectual property of ML. King, House of Aleijuan, all rights reserved, 2019


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