"N'Jobu, give us a song. You've been hiding from us all night," Ren purred into the mic. N'Jobu put up his hands to beg off from participating.
Serah walked over to him, taking the mic from Ren's hand.
"Please?" Serah said, her sultry voice whispery on the mic.
"My dude, don't be scurrred!" Bakari teased, pressed up next to his Brooklyn hottie.
Serah whispered in N'Jobu's ear, and whatever she said…or promised…gave him pause to then take the mic from her hand.
"Do Midnight Mischief for me," Serah said aloud. She pushed a few buttons on the Karaoke machine. Scrolled a few screens until she found what she was looking for.
Calafia gave Bakari a look, wondering if this was going to become a cringe-worthy moment, and Bakari just winked and went back to talking to his new friend.
The bartender slid Califia's Lemon Drop to her, and she took a big gulp and sat back down near Bakari and his girl.
The music was soulful and mid-tempo, and the crowd immediately began bobbing their heads.
Califia wasn't familiar with the song, but she found herself wanting to stand up and do a Chicago two-step.
N'Jobu waited for the words to appear onscreen, took a deep breath like he was slightly nervous and began to sang.
Like super Black neo-soul meets funky electronica meets cornbread and neckbones simmering on the stove singing. She felt her scalp tingle and her hips rotated in her seat.
Soon she was standing up joining Bakari and another woman in an impromptu East Bay line dance that only Yay Area residents knew about.
The man was adlibbing riffs and hitting raw high notes just as precise as Bakari.
Some in the crowd sang parts of the chorus with him when N'Jobu stopped looking at the lyrics on the screen and sang out to his enraptured audience.
A few other people caught onto the line dance steps, and Califia found herself sipping on her drink and stepping simultaneously, adding extra moves the rest of the dancers couldn't keep up with.
She held her martini glass above her head as she bent her legs to throw her ass back in time to the beat.
Feeling really extra, she took her drink glass and rubbed it between her breasts then let it fall lower and linger near her crotch like she was at a Jamaican dancehall,
snaking her body in exaggerated body rolls.
A breakbeat came on and N'Jobu had a moment to stop singing and sway with the crowd.
Serah started dancing next to Califia, and they both stared at N'Jobu whose eyes became bewitching as he smiled at the two of them dancing before him.
He sang the final verse of the song to the two of them, and when he was done, Serah jumped on him, peppering his face with kisses and exclaiming "Thank you! Thank you!" after each smooch.
N'Jobu passed the mic back to Ren, who had a radiant smile on her face. Califia could tell she wanted to kiss N'Jobu too, but Serah was clutching onto him, staking her claim for the night.
A comely white woman with an upswept hairdo and glittery eyeshadow gathered most of the women to sing a Broadway show tune, and Califia took that moment to sit down.
The Lemon Drop was really strong, and despite holding her liquor well for most of the night, she felt her body give warning signs to slow down.
It was after midnight and the sugars in the liquor would have her fucked up in a few hours if she kept going.
A bottled water was thrust in front of her face, and when she reached for it, N'Jobu plopped down next to her. She gulped down the water first, thankful that she didn't have to move right away.
When she finished draining the bottle, she turned to face N'Jobu, but felt his warm thigh next to her own thigh and lost her train of thought for a second.
"Your singing was….damn, you were badass up there," she finally ushered out. He handed her another water bottle, and she drank that one slowly.
"You seriously sounded like a pro. You also sounded very…" She tried to figure out a way to say it without sounding rude.
He tilted his head toward her waiting for her to finish her thought.
"He sounds Black American when he sings, right?" Serah said, sitting on the other side of N'Jobu.
"Yeah. I don't hear an accent when you sing," Califia said.
N'Jobu nodded, a slight smirk on his face. He leaned back and threw his arms across the back of the couch, creating a more intimate space for the three of them.
Califia's left thigh was still rubbed up against N'Jobu's and she kept wanting to pull it away from him with Serah so close, but she also craved the contact.
If Serah was to be believed, this wasn't going to be an issue, so Califia crossed her right leg over her left and shifted her body towards him.
"You sounded like an Oakland native," she said.
"Hanging around Bakari kinda makes that easy to do. He drips with that Northern Cali swag, ma," N'Jobu said, and Califia squealed in delight as his voice became pure East Bay.
He sounded sooo good.
"Stunt your Brixton," Serah said, her face upturned to N'Jobu so close that she could kiss him if she wanted to. Califia sensed the tiniest twinges of envy within herself.
Feeling a bit covetous, Califia let her right hand fall innocently onto her lap so that her fingers brushed up on his hip.
N'Jobu let his head fall back as he thought about it, then spoke in a full on Black British voice. Califia was impressed.
"You can fit in anywhere with that skill," she said, glancing over at Serah who looked like a proud mother beaming at his talent.
"That's what happens when you travel a lot with diplomats. You try to fit in, find common ground," he said.
"Imagine what it's like in bed," Serah said, pinching his cheek, "you can have a different lover every night if you want."
Califia saw N'Jobu's countenance switch up in the negative. His left eyebrow shot up in an arch. He didn't like what Serah said. Serah caught his displeasure.
"I'm going to mingle a bit, anyone want another drink or anything?" Serah asked. Califia shook her head no, and N'Jobu ignored Serah's question.
Serah patted N'Jobu's thigh and distanced herself from them.
They sat together in silence, Califia self-conscious about being so close to him on the couch.
He dropped his left arm from the back of the couch but kept his right arm dangling above Califia's shoulders.
"Are you enjoying yourself?" he finally asked, lightness returning to their space.
"I have never been to a Karaoke joint before. I always thought they would be boring, but this was actually a lot of fun."
"You looked like you were really enjoying yourself. I appreciated your dancing while I was performing."
"A good bop will move asses," she said. That beautiful smile of his returned.
"You guys do this a lot? I mean you and your friends?"
"Once every few months or so. We're kind of an international clique. Most of us are exchange students so we have dinners together, attend plays, that sort of thing.
I haven't hung out much this year. Too busy."
"School and travel. Family stuff. I didn't want to come here tonight, but I'm glad I did."
"Me too," she said.
He turned his head to look at the crowd singing another Broadway number.
"Elizabeth loves her show tunes. She lives for this," N'Jobu said.
"She's really theatrical," Califia said.
"Do you need any more water?"
"No, I'm good now, thanks. I went a little overboard tonight with the open bar," Califia said.
"It's all good," he said.
Califia was feeling butterflies in her stomach. This was their first time being alone (somewhat), and she was feeling floaty.
She was normally mouthy and bold when she drank hard, but she was worried about saying something ridiculous in front of him. His eyes were back on her.
"I'm curious, how did you know my bracelet was Wakandan? Not many people know our language."
Thank God. He was asking about something that she could focus on besides his face and how good he smelled.
Whatever aftershave or tonic, or cologne he had on was heady and made her think of beaches and romantic getaways.
"There's a textile exhibit at the San Francisco MOMA. I was there a few weeks ago and the writing and designs on some of the blankets were magnificent. Something like that just stands out.
It made me want to visit Wakanda one day."
N'Jobu nodded. "Unfortunately, my country doesn't really have the infrastructure for tourism," he said.
"Oh," she responded.
"We have a few cultural exchanges like museums and universities, but for the most part we're trying to catch up with the rest of the world," he said.
"I'd like to see this exhibit," he said.
"Bakari and I are going back soon. It moves to San Diego next month. You should come with us before it leaves."
"Let me know when you plan to go and I'm there. Here, take my number," he said pulling out his cell phone.
Smooth, Califia thought. She pulled out her cell from her handbag and typed in his number. Once it was in her phone she called it. His cell lit up.
"Smile for me," he said, aiming his phone at her. She closed her eyes and stuck out her tongue. He snapped her photo.
"I was joking, ugh, don't use that!"
She grabbed his hands and he held his phone away.
"Lemme see it!" She squeaked.
He held his phone out to her. Her face filled his phone screen, eyes squeezed shut, her dark brown freckles vivid against her copper skin, lips moist, tongue…damn. Her tongue.
Instead of looking silly as she intended, it looked pornographic.
"That's a keeper," he said, staring at it. She snapped a picture of him.
"Not fair, I wasn't ready," he said. She slipped her phone back into her purse.
"Oh well," she snapped.
"It's like that?"
"It's like that," she answered smug and folding her arms across her chest.
"You're cute when you're feisty," he said, throwing her off.
She didn't have a snappy comeback so she leaned back into her seat, her shoulder touching N'Jobu's, the shrill voices of a horrid rendition of "Oklahoma" going on in front of them.
For the rest of their time there, they sat in silence watching the scene.