They got down, Ramsey and Safiya, like their fathers had before them. They weren’t stars, but they were hood-revered (inasmuch as such status is achievable). In their early twenties, after Safiya got back from college in Vermont and Ramsey finished his second bid, they’d stalk the streets together, passing liquor stores and chicken shacks, and the corner boys nodded their respect, and the hoe stroll became a chorus of, “Hey, girl!”s for Safiya, and the cops stopped them regularly on the grounds of general suspicion.
But then Safiya began to die and they learned that respect was not the currency it used to be.
Ramsey and Safiya met in a dampened sandbox, when Safiya pointed a pudgy finger at Ramsey and christened him Pee-Pee Boy. The name stuck till sixth grade, when Ramsey lost his virginity to Big-Boob Tina in the closet of the classroom where Miss Griffiths kept her albino chinchilla. After that, nobody said anything about Ramsey that wasn’t prefaced with dap—nobody, of course, except for Safiya, who had to remind everyone that Big-Boob Tina was supposed to be in ninth and was therefore too dumb to be discriminating.
“You were cold back then,” Ramsey chuckled, hovering over Safiya’s hospital bed.
“Don’t you have a life you need to tend to?” she muttered.
“… and not much has changed.” He smirked before backing away from her and settling into the chair closest to the window.
They were squad and had been for all 28 years of their lives. But to Ramsey’s chagrin, that was all they were. A Black Forrest-and-Jenny: Ramsey, simple and pining; Safiya, callous and deigning to let him pine.
A nurse in teddy bear-laden scrubs flounced in to take Safiya’s vitals. Her blonde ponytail bobbed and swung like a bungee cord as she moved from the saline drip to the monitor that displayed Safiya’s blood pressure.
“116 over 78! Not to worry; that’s perfectly normal,” the nurse chirped, patting Safiya’s shoulder. “Dr. Daniels says your T-cell count–”
“He doesn’t need to know all that,” Safiya snapped, nodding her head in Ramsey’s direction. “They’re my vitals.”
“Oh! I know, but–”
“Isn’t there some kind of… confidentiality thing in place here?”
“Well, yes, certainly, but–”
“We’re not related. I don’t need you disclosing private medical information to him.”
“I’m very sorry. I–”
“Look…” Ramsey cut in, reading the whiteboard where Teddy Bear Scrubs had written her name during shift change. “Kimmie. Could you get Miss Turner some water, please? With extra ice?”
When she was gone, Ramsey laughed. “Yo,” he said, shaking his head. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a chew stick, shoving it between his right molars.
“Did she touch me?” Safiya demanded. “Did she have her hand on my shoulder?”
“I’ll tell her.” He used the voice that soothed her: firm, even, baritone.
She nuzzled her head into the flattened pillows. “I hate when they’re chipper.”