Shmoopers, we'd like to introduce you to Curtis, the main man of Chapter 9. The first thing we learn about Curtis is that this guy is pretty into his body. Check this out: "Deltoids—awesome. Pecs—check 'em out. Quads—now playing on a body near you" (9.1).
Did we say Curtis is pretty into his body? Actually, Curtis is absolutely, totally, completely psyched about his rockin' bod. And apparently this body is what he's known for, since Curtis's friends call him Ceps (short for biceps, apparently).
Curtis changes the topic from his biceps to his ex-girlfriend, Lateesha, who dumped him five years ago. Back when they were dating, Curtis was twenty-three and Lateesha was a few years older. She was into the whole marriage-and-kids-thing. And Curtis, well, he was more into the loving-attention-from-lots-of-gals-thing. So she dumped him, and now he's sad.
It's not clear what Curtis has been up to for the past five years, but he mentions moving back from Cincinnati in the spring, so apparently he's been out of town.
When he's back in Cleveland, Curtis learns that Lateesha is single. This is good news for Curtis, since he's now older and ready to settle down.
But here's the bad news: Lateesha won't talk to Curtis. Not one word. She shuts him down both times he approaches her, so he figures he needs a new tactic. Can you guess where this is going? Yep, we're heading over to the garden for some romantic shenanigans.
It turns out that Lateesha lives across from the Gibb Street garden, so Curtis hatches a plan. And it goes something like this:
Step 1: Pick a spot in the garden that Lateesha will be able to see from her window. Check.
Step 2: Buy tomato plants, because they're Lateesha's favorite. Give that girl a tomato, and she'll be a happy camper. So Curtis figures tomatoes are the way to Lateesha's heart.
Step 3: Grow those tomato plants like your life depends on it. When Curtis isn't at work, he's tending to his tomatoes. Plus he's getting lots of advice from garden neighbors about how to keep the plants healthy and happy.
Step 4: Hope Lateesha notices the tomatoes and realizes what they mean: that Curtis is a changed man. As he puts it: "I was showing Lateesha that just cause I got muscles don't mean I'm some jungle beast" (9.6).
With his new obsession over his tomatoes, Curtis gets a new nickname: Tomato. Who would have thought?
Anyway, Curtis hits a bump in the road when a couple tomatoes go missing. He puts up some chicken wire. Then he realizes that a homeless teenager named Royce has been sleeping in the garden, and Curtis makes him a deal: Royce will protect the tomatoes at night, and Curtis will give his new friend a sleeping bag, food, and a pitchfork to scare off potential tomato thieves. While Curtis tells us about Royce, we also learn that both Curtis and Royce are African American.
So now that Curtis has a strategy for nighttime tomato protection, he hatches a plan for the daytime. He puts a big sign that says "Lateesha's Tomatoes" in his plot, hoping that'll remind people to leave the tomatoes alone.
And then something awesome happens: Curtis sees Lateesha looking out her window at the new sign.