** EXCLUSIVE SAMPLE **

exploringFrom ‘Young, Rich and Black’:

“Human relationships are complicated,” Rashad said. “You can’t rig that shit. It just happens the way it happens.”

Zora said nothing, keeping her hands folded on her lap, listening to him talk.

Usually, she loved listening to Shad talk. He had such agency of expression, such complete command of his words. They were currency for him—buying him entrée into circles where most young, Black men would never go. After Penn State, he was going to law school at Stanford, and after that, who knew? The sky was certainly the limit for someone like Shad but he wanted to be out West. He liked that he was going to be close to Oakland, because like lots of East Coast Black activists, he was in love with the city as the birthplace of the Black Panther Movement and imagined that there, some of the magic from that time would rub off.

“And I definitely understand why you were curious about him. I mean, hell, how many like him we got out there, apart from the ballers?”

He was talking about Deuce. Because after an hour of barely-disguised curiosity about how inaccessible she had been to him over most of the Break, he guessed that she had what he called “a fling” with someone. So, not wanting to act like Deuce was a dirty secret, and most of all wanting to put an end to the probing, Zora had just come out with it.

I drove home with Deuce Scaife, she said. And we wound up spending some time together over Break.

Yes, they spent time together. Lots of time. And then there was New Year’s Eve which was amazing. Scarily so. So scary that when Deuce had taken her home the next morning, Zora ignored all his calls and texts, instead immersing herself in her parents and brother for the next day and a half, then packing all her stuff to return to school.

She called Shad late on the night of the third of January, and suggested that they get going sooner rather than later. He was there before nine a.m. on the fourth and they had hit the road in his reliable but beat-up Toyota 4Runner.

Today, she knew for sure, Deuce would give up calling and stop by her parents’ house. He would have exhausted his limited patience by now; and knowing her planned departure date would simply show up. He was spoiled in that way. Spoiled in every way, really. He just wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. He never waited for anything. Not even for her. When he wanted her, he just … took her.

Sighing, Zora shook her head. It wasn’t working. She wasn’t going to be able to work up anything resembling anger at him. Because he had never treated her with anything but respect, and care and consideration. If his greatest sin was that he wanted her all the time, and didn’t like waiting to have her, then she was in for a hard road to get him and their “fling” out of her system.

“I don’t mean to get all in your business or anything,” Rashad continued. “But as far as you and him …”

“Nothing changes,” Zora said. “We were just … kickin’ it over Break.”

She couldn’t even look at him when she said those words, because they felt so blatantly false. But it was basically what she and Deuce had agreed to—the temporary shedding of expectations. And that was all.

“Figured.”

“What does that mean?” Zora snapped.

Rashad shrugged, looking away from the road for a moment. “Nothing. I just don’t see bruh at a BLM march, do you?”

“It’s not like he’s oblivious to what’s going on out there. He’s been stopped before.”

Rashad laughed. “Impressive. Him, and every other Black man in America. That’s hardly the equivalent of street cred.”

Zora rolled her eyes. “He’s more than you think, Rashad,” she murmured. “And besides, that wasn’t what it … what we were about.”

“Okay, so tell me,” Rashad’s voice rose a little, and Zora heard the annoyance, and the jealousy he had concealed before. “What were you about?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Because …”

“Did you fuck him?”

“Shad.”

“You did, right? Because that’s all I can think of that would make someone like that interesting to someone like you. Curiosity about the magic dick that sends all these dumb-ass girls scurrying his way to get used.”

Zora’s stomach clenched at the phrase, ‘sends all the girls scurrying his way.’

But that was Deuce’s rep. And though Rashad hadn’t said it, implicit in his comment was some judgment about the type of girls Deuce was notorious for bedding. He generally checked for Latinas and White chicks, and the precious few who weren’t, may as well have been since they looked it. His type was so firmly established that even people on campus who had never exchanged three words with him could probably pick his likely sex partners out of a line-up.

Zora knew what it was like to be fetishized. Since puberty there had been guys, some of them White, some of them Black, for whom her darkness, her unmistakable Blackness, seemed to be her single most irresistible feature. They stared at her in a manner that was vaguely disturbing, sometimes putting their arm against hers, rhapsodizing about the contrast in their skin tones. Or they played a little too often with her wiry, kinky hair, testing its texture, stretching and releasing it; examining each component of her as though she was a rare museum piece.

Deuce wasn’t like that.

He never remarked on their differences, but instead, often told her she was beautiful, or pretty. Even Rashad had never done that—leaned in, though they were in a crowded room, in a Target checkout line, or waiting for movie tickets—and with mouth against her ear, whispered, you’re so beautiful or damn, you look amazing today.

Where’d you learn that? Zora had asked him once. Where did you learn to make a girl feel so good?

But that time, she meant something else entirely. Deuce had been at the foot of the bed, between her legs. When he lifted his head, he looked dizzy, and drunk with her. Sliding up along her body, he was rock-hard.

Making you feel good, makes me feel good, he said almost matter-of-factly. And you don’t know, Zee … you taste better than anything in this world.

Then he kissed her, long and deep so she could taste herself as well. But Zora still didn’t know what he was talking about. To her, what made the kiss good, was just … him.

“You know what?” Rashad said now. “It don’t matter. You fucked him, but it’s over. That’s the important thing. It’s over. And I’m confident in my shit … Fuck that nigga.”

Available Now on Amazon

 

 

 

#HolidayShorts Holdin’ it Down

HolidayShorts.jpg

It’s almost 2017! Can you believe it? It’s been an incredibly challenging year for me in so many ways. Creatively, I was definitely it was a bit of a nadir while I worked on life stuff. But I feel something more positive around the corner, so I thought I’d drop little hints in this, my final holiday short, ‘Holdin’ it Down’. I hope you enjoy, and if you spot the hints of future works to come, I’d be interested to know what you think they are.

Happy Reading, and (less than a week from today) Happy New Year!

Love,

Nia


 

Holdin’ it Down

 

“You should have seen what your son just had me doing.”

Robyn came breezing into their suite, the remnants of a smile still on her lips.

Chris smiled back at her, thinking for the hundredth time that day how beautiful his wife was. Beautiful and unflappable. They had had a full house for Christmas dinner—seventeen people including the kids—and now had six remaining houseguests, if you counted his two middle children Jasmin and Kaden as “guests”.

And yet, Robyn had done nothing but smile all day and look as cool as a cucumber. Even now, hours after the meal, she looked as fresh as she had when she first emerged from her dressing room around one that afternoon, her fire-engine red dress swishing about her knees, her shoulder-length hair still bouncy and full.

“Which son are we talking about?” Chris asked.

“Landyn. To be only two-and-a-half, he is so much like you sometimes it’s scary. I had to literally crawl on my belly just now to escape his room. Whenever I put him down, he just sat up and gave me this look, like, ‘woman, who said you were free to go?’ and then he’d reach up to me like this …” Robyn shook her head. “I had to pick him up again like six times before he finally stayed down. I had crawl out of there so he wouldn’t see me leave the room.”

Chris shook his head. “That’s because you let him play you. I would’ve left his little ass in there, even if he was bawling his head off. Bedtime is bedtime.”

“Yeah, sure you would’ve,” Robyn said rolling her eyes.

“And how does that make him like me? I can’t remember the last time you did anything just because I wanted you to.”

Chris watched as Robyn slid the dress over her shoulders and let it pool on the floor at her feet. Since they’d been married, her hips were a little wider and fuller. Her breasts larger, and she was curvier in general. Chris loved the changes, especially the way most of the new weight settled in the places he enjoyed most—her ass, her breasts, and hips.

“Demanding? Stubborn? Has to have everything he wants, when and how he wants it?”

“That’s like all my sons,” Chris said, unable to keep the pride out of his voice.

Just four years ago, if anyone would have told him he would be the proud father of five kids, he would have laughed in their face. The three he had when he and Robyn got together, he fully intended to be his only children. But she had changed all of that. And many other things about his life as well.

Robyn thought for a second. “Yeah you’re right. Kaden is coming into his own a little more. Did you notice how he challenged Deuce earlier when they were playing on the Wii? Used to be he would have just lost the game and cried about it. Now he’s giving back as good as he gets. Trash-talking and everything.” She smiled and shook her head, her expression as indulgent as though Kaden was her own child. The way she loved his kids, even the ones who weren’t hers, only made Chris love her more.

Sitting on the edge of the ottoman, Robyn reached behind her to unsnap her bra. Chris kept his eyes on her, waiting for the moment when, once the bra was removed, she would briefly massage the mounds of her breasts, and issue a contented sigh. He smiled. She would never guess how much watching that turned him on. To her, it was just a mindless habit that meant she was getting comfortable and ready for bed at the end of the day.

“Speaking of Deuce,” she said. “He’s still downstairs with his friend watching a movie. I told him to let us know before they leave, but you know how he can be. So don’t forget to check on them before we fall asleep. Last thing I want is for you to get an angry call from his mother at one in the morning because he’s still hanging out here.”

“Sheryl’s got a new man. She’ll be cool if he stays here tonight. I just hope he knows he better not be fuckin’ his girlfriend in the home theater.”

Robyn spun in surprise. “Wait. You think him and Zora …”

Chris gave her a look.

“But she’s so against type for him. And he introduced her just as a friend from school who he drove down with, so …”

“She’s got his nose wide open,” Chris said scoffing. “You telling me you didn’t see that?”

“No. I didn’t.” Robyn looked thoughtful. Standing, she began peeling off her underwear. She generally slept without undies, which worked out well for those mornings where Chris woke up, rolled over and helped himself to sleepy morning sex.

The way his wife responded to him, purely on instinct, never failed to awe and humble him. He knew she was his. He said as much to himself—and to her—often. But to roll over in the half-dark of the early morning, touch her low on her hip and just have her turn over to kiss him lazily while still not fully awake; or to feel her part her thighs at the barest pressure of his morning hardness against her made him feel how much she was his. The way she submitted immediately to his touch, let him do as he wanted, issuing soft, cooing like sounds while he stroked deep inside her, was sexy as hell and gave new meaning to the words ‘my woman’ and ‘my wife’. At times like those, he felt like he and Robyn were one. Not just joined in heart and head, but in their souls.

Shaking the sappy sentiment from his head, Chris brought himself back to the here-and-now.

“I hate to say it, but she is going run circles around his ass. You didn’t see the way he looked at her?”

Naked and unselfconscious, Robyn shook her head. “No. How did he look at her?”

Chris mimicked a simpering, lovesick look and Robyn spluttered into laughter.

“He did not! Deuce is cool as hell. He would never come across that thirsty.” She headed for their en suite and Chris watched her go, eyes on the little jiggle of her behind.

“Yeah, well you mark my words. This chick is going to have his gut tied in knots. I almost pulled him to the side and counseled him to up his game.”

“Deuce doesn’t need your help in that department,” Robyn said teasingly. She paused at the door to the bathroom. “He’s got way more game than you ever did, Mr. Scaife.”

Chris laughed. “Yeah, okay.”

“Have to wash off this makeup,” Robyn said just before she disappeared. “So I may as well jump in and take a quick shower.”

As the sound of the water started, Chris thought about who did come across thirsty. No question about it, his brother-in-law Nate’s girl, Presley, that was who. She was a very nice-looking woman, and seemed to be a nice enough person, but a little too starstruck with Shawn and Riley. And asked way too many questions about people in the business. She had that look in her eyes of unbridled ambition and fame-seeking that Chris had become adept at detecting, especially among the beautiful women he met in his line of work, or rather his former line of work.

Though it was obvious she was into Nate—maybe even very much into him—she was the type of chick who would always be yearning for something bigger and better, something that she hadn’t even yet defined, but which she believed was perpetually around the next corner. A man could spend time with a woman like that, and he would probably even enjoy that time. But he would do well not to get too attached to her, because the gratification of just one person’s approval would never be enough for women like Presley—what she was looking for was mass adulation.

She couldn’t have been more different from say, Jamal’s wife, Makayla. Once she shed her shyness, Makayla pretty much didn’t seem to give a crap about the fame, wealth and the high-rolling lifestyle she had married into. Even though married less than a month, those two were finally starting to settle into being a couple. All through dinner, Chris couldn’t help but notice how many times Turner had looked his wife’s way, trying to catch her gaze, and winking or grinning at her when he did. Like she was a gift he couldn’t wait to get home to unwrap. That shit still messed his head up. They were all getting old if Jamal Turner, eternal bachelor and New York’s favorite dark chocolate pretty boy was out of the game for good.

Still, for the past several months, it hadn’t looked like it was going to turn out that way. Especially not after that new situation with the ever-present and always-difficult Devin Parks. Although to be fair, this time the drama was not of Parks’ making, but someone else’s handiwork. That shit … that had been nothing less than an attempt at a takedown.

But Chris had to hand it to Turner. He had managed that whole thing like a pro. There had been a few days in the past month, before things died down, when Chris couldn’t pretend he hadn’t been tempted to step in. In the end, there had been no need, and he was both disappointed and relieved. Disappointed because it was a strange feeling to be superfluous in his own company. And relieved because the way Turner handled himself proved once and for all that he had picked the right man for the job. It also confirmed that he needed to turn his focus one hundred percent to his new venture. He was going to have to come to final terms with letting go of the business he had built from practically nothing into the mega-machine it was today.

“That was so good.” Robyn came padding out of the bathroom, damp and fresh-faced, her skin boasting a slightly pink undertone. “I turned it up as hot as I could stand it and I felt all the tension just melt out of my muscles.”

“You were tense?” Chris shoved aside the iPad that he hadn’t even been looking at anyway.

“Couldn’t you tell? I wanted this to go well, especially with Kaden and Jasmin here for the first time. And all those toddlers running around … and then my mother and Ollie unexpectedly joining us … If Tracy hadn’t come early to help me cook I would’ve lost my mind. By the way, I think she’s pregnant again, did I tell you?”

“Nah,” Chris said, uninterested. He was watching Robyn release her towel from around her, toss it into the hamper in the corner and reach for her body lotion. “What makes you think that?”

“Didn’t you see the way she avoided the wine all night? And I saw her massaging her stomach a few times when she thought no one was paying attention. And Brendan was all over her.”

“Brendan is always all over her,” Chris pointed out.

“Yeah. True.”

Hearing what sounded like a little wistfulness in her voice, Chris turned his attention from her naked body and toward her face. He didn’t always tell Robyn what he felt for her. In fact, he wasn’t so sure he had words that could adequately express it. Every once in a while, he wished he had those words, so she would know. His life before her had been a half-life; and now, with her he felt like he was finally fully living. But who said that kind of thing out loud? Maybe dudes like Brendan, but not him.

Luckily, Robyn never seemed to care about that. She understood him in a way that transcended what he said, or didn’t say. All he knew was that sometimes, he would happen across old pictures of himself in the press or online, something old being revived to make a point about something new that was happening in the music business. And he would see in those pictures, a man who no longer existed. That was almost all because of Robyn.

“She and Brendan are doing brunch at their place in Brooklyn on New Year’s Day. I told her we would definitely be there. We’re going, right? We don’t have any other plans?”

Chris nodded absently. “Yeah, we’ll be there. C’mere.”

“First let me find my …” Robyn was reaching for the dresser, no doubt about to find and put on one of the wispy little nightgowns she wore to bed these days.

“Nah. Don’t put anything on,” Chris said. “Just come exactly as you are.”

Robyn didn’t hesitate. With a bemused expression, she took two steps toward the bed, then another two. And then three, deliberately teasing him with her slowness. Then she seemed to think of something else.

“Did you feel like things were kind of … off between Riley and Shawn? I sensed a little … I don’t know, something,” she mused.

Chris smiled and shook his head.

“I don’t know. And if there was something, they’ll work it out. Those two are rock-solid. Now shut up and c’mere.”

Climbing onto the bed, Robyn got on her hands and knees and began crawling toward him. Soon she was only inches away, or at least her breasts were, when she raised herself onto her knees, her torso upright.

“What do you want?” she asked, her eyes were mischievous. She pulled in her lower lip.

Without answering, Chris tossed back the sheets and released the erection that had been growing from the moment she first entered their bedroom and started shedding clothing. Robyn looked down and then back up at him. Without a word, she slung one leg over his so she was straddling him, weight still on her knees.

“This?” she asked, her eyes never leaving his. “This what you want?”

Chris nodded, and his eyes fell to the apex of her thighs. With a thumb he touched her, moving it in small circles. Robyn tried to lower herself onto him, hoping to supplement whatever sensation it was that had caused her eyes to flutter shut. But with his free hand, Chris grabbed her hip and stopped her.

“No,” he said. “I need you to come at least one time first. So you’ll be really wet …”

“I am really wet,” Robyn groaned. She grasped his wrist and moved his hand back farther. “See? You feel that?” She impaled herself on his middle and forefinger, rolling back and forth. She was hot, grasping and pulling his fingers in, and with each clench, she moaned, deep husky tones that made him want to watch her face, even as he felt compelled to look down.

With her eyes shut, and her lips slightly parted, Robyn looked wildly beautiful. He wanted to kiss her, suck on her full lower lip, bite her neck and bury himself inside her. But he wanted to see that first explosive orgasm. Her first one was always noisy and profound. After that, the others, later, would be quieter, longer, and harder to earn. But he loved putting in the work to get her there.

Leaning in, he captured a nipple between his lips, playing with it and feeling her hips jerk in response. With one hand, she held his head to her chest, asking without speaking, for him to be rougher with her. He nipped her a little and she gasped, then he felt her free hand, clamp around his wrist and he got that noisy, explosive orgasm he’d been working for. Wasting no time, Chris removed his hand, prying it loose from her grip and without losing the contact between his lips and her breast, arched upward and lunged deep inside her.

Robyn cried out, and both her hands grabbed his biceps, her fingers digging into his skin. She was completely still, but where  Chris was deep inside her, there was nothing but movement.

Grip. Release.

Grip. Release.

Grip. Release.

Chris’ eyes met his wife’s and held. Both of them were frozen in the moment, their breathing labored. When Robyn shifted, he held her still once again.

“No,” he breathed. “Don’t move. I just want to feel you. Just like this.”

Robyn smiled and leaned in, cupping his face and sliding her tongue between his lips. She was warm, minty, and sweet all at the same time. They kissed the way they were making love—with sensual slowness, reading each other and responding. As her lips and mouth grew hungrier, it became more difficult to keep still, especially with Robyn twitching and shifting on top of him. Chris wrapped both his arms around her in a bear-hug, forearms crossed at her lower back, hands cupping her ass.

“Some people just can’t follow instructions,” he said against her neck. “I said …don’t move.”

Robyn was almost panting with need. “Don’t think I can,” she said. “You feel so good, baby. So … so… good.”

Chris bowed his head, playing with her nipples again, moving from one to the other and back again. As she panted, Chris felt himself getting even harder. Not too long now. He was going to have to let go. But he didn’t want to, because then it would be over, at least for a few minutes. And that was about as long as it would take for Robyn to fall deeply asleep. He knew his wife. She was always a little bit of a babbler, but her frenetic chatter was a signal that she was close to exhaustion. Like a little kid, she always had one last burst of adrenaline before sleep grabbed ahold of her and didn’t let go. But tonight, he had better uses for that last gasp of energy than letting her run off at the mouth.

Holding her by the waist, he lifted her off him. Robyn’s eyes opened wide in disappointment and alarm.

“What’re you …?”

Chris turned her onto her stomach, sliding a pillow beneath her pelvis and entering her once again. Robyn gasped, looking at him over her shoulder, her eyes hooded and clouded over with pleasure. Whatever he gave her, she was throwing right back at him, until tiny puddles of perspiration pooled in the dimples at her lower back. Her hair stuck in curly ringlets at her temples and the back of her neck, and she flung her head back and forth to keep the rest of it from sticking to her back. Leaning forward, not missing a stroke, Chris lifted her hair, wrapped it around his hand and tugged it, then blew on the back of her neck.

When he grabbed and pulled harder, Robyn’s moans grew louder. She was almost there, so he increased the pace, wanting to get there with her. In that last few seconds, when he knew his climax was upon him, Chris leaned in, grabbed ahold of his wife’s chin and turned her head so he could kiss her. He felt her shudder wrack her entire body just as his tongue met hers, and then, his own eruption followed, close on the heels of hers.

Collapsing on top of her, resting most of his weight on her forearms, it took Chris a moment to regain his breath. Beneath him, Robyn made that purring noise she often made when he’d put in some serious work.

“Hmm,” she said. “That’s what I needed. But now my shower was for nothing. I’m all sticky again.”

“Take another one,” he murmured against the shell of her ear.

“Can’t. Too tired.”

“Doesn’t matter. We’re good. You’re good.” He rolled off her and instead wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her against him spoon-fashion.

They were sticky, but like her, he couldn’t muster the energy to care enough to do anything about it.

Just as Chris was sure she had drifted off to sleep, Robyn sighed.

“Baby?” she said.

“Yeah?”

“What were you and my mom talking about in the kitchen?”

Chris froze. This was the conversation he’d been hoping not to have until tomorrow. This was the conversation, he’d been hoping not to have at all. He told Carolyn that he thought she should be the one to have it, but she said she didn’t mind him broaching the topic if it came up. More likely, she wasn’t looking forward to breaking the news and hoped Chris might prime the pump for her a little.

“Paris,” he said. “You know she was supposed to go for the holiday, so …”

“Yeah, that was weird. How Oliver just showed up like that when she was supposed to go. Is everything alright between them?” Robyn turned in his arms so she was facing him. Her lips were bee-stung and her hair was a mess. But yeah, still beautiful.

“He wanted to surprise her,” Chris stated the obvious, stalling.

Oliver was Carolyn’s “gentleman friend” whom she’d met when she moved to Paris a couple years ago to support Robyn through a career change that had turned out to be a life-change. Not only for Robyn, but for Chris, and for their relationship. Since then, Carolyn and Oliver’s relationship had been long distance, with Robyn’s mother traveling to France once every three months, and Oliver coming to the States as often as his time and business interests would allow.

“So they’re okay, then? Everything’s cool with them? I know my Mom loves him. I would hate for him to have flown all this way to let her down easy or something.”

“That’s not why he’s here,” Chris said.

Alerted by the certainty in his tone, Robyn sat up. “What’s going on? What do you know?”

Chris sat up as well. “You have to promise not to trip.”

“Chris, tell me.”

“He’s … he asked her to marry him.”

Robyn squealed. “Oh my god! Are you …” Then she paused and straightened her back. “But that would mean …”

“That she would be moving to Paris.”

Robyn blanched.

Chris knew she was attached to her mother. When they’d first gotten involved, it was clear to him that her mother’s approval would mean everything, and her disapproval could be the death knell. Luckily for him, Carolyn Crandall was the chillest of people. He was lucky, as far as mothers-in-law went, because she had never been anything less than supportive of his and Robyn’s relationship.

“And what did she say?” she asked, her voice small.

“She loves him.” Chris shrugged. “They want to be together.”

Robyn’s eyes filled. “She’ll miss my kids growing up. And if Nate gets married …”

“Robyn,” Chris said her name with a little more force in his voice, the tone he used when he needed her to focus. And sometimes when they were arguing. “She deserves to have her own life. Not just be your mother, or our kids’ grandmother.”

“I know that. But is she thinking this through? I mean …”

“I’ve never known you to be selfish, Robyn,” he said.

She looked at him in surprise, but said nothing.

“Because that’s what it would be. If you respond to this news with anything other than complete happiness for this change in her life, that’s what it would be. Selfish.”

Robyn sighed, and looked chastened. He knew his opinion of her held a lot of sway over his wife, but he rarely wielded that power to change her mind, or behavior. Because he respected her as well. The nature of their relationship was to allow each other plenty of breadth to make their own individual decisions, and even mistakes. So the significance of him saying this, and saying it in this way was not lost on Robyn.

“Is she sure?” Robyn said. “Did she tell you she was …?”

“She’s excited. And she speaks French fluently now. And has her own neighborhoods and hang-outs over there. Her own friends. Every time she comes back here, her life is grocery shopping and television, looking after Caity and Landyn when we’ve got stuff to do. It’s a smaller life than she wants, Robyn. Smaller than she deserves.”

“I guess she never thought she would have this again. Someone who loves her. And for him to want to take her to live in Paris …”

“Yeah.” Chris nodded. He watched his wife processing, as she did, quietly.

“And we’ll go see her. Maybe summers or something.”

He nodded.

“I am happy for her,” Robyn said. “I am.”

It sounded like she hadn’t completely convinced herself yet, but was working on it. She leaned into him, her head on his shoulder and Chris wrapped an arm around her.

“So tomorrow. Nothing but smiles when she tells you, right?”

“Nothing but smiles,” she confirmed. “But I’m going to miss her so much, Chris.” Her voice broke a little.

“I know. But that’s later. Right now, we’re here. Our entire family is here. Under this roof. And the Scaifes are holdin’ it down.”

At that Robyn smiled a genuine smile. She let her head fall back so she could look up at him. Chris saw the love in her eyes. And felt it in his chest. He smiled back.

“Yeah, we are,” she said. “We’re holding it down.”

~~~

 

 

 

 

Letting Go #HolidayShorts

 

holidayshorts-1“Will you think about it?”

“Yes, I said I would.” Karen heard the strain in her voice.

Fearing that she had also been too loud, she glanced worriedly toward the stairs. She didn’t want to wake the kids. The last thing she needed was to have one of them come wandering out and with sleepy eyes, spot Kaden’s football coach sneaking out of their house while it was still dark outside.

“I think it’s an important step, Karen,” Vic said. “For all of us.”

“The kids …”

“I meant them too,” he said, his eyes holding hers. “It’s time.”

“Okay. We’ll talk again later. But for now you have to …”

“I know,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “Leave before they see me.”

Karen sighed and leaned in, hoping the quick kiss would placate him. At least for the moment.

Across her lawn, behind her neighbor’s house across the street, and in the horizon, she could see the pinkish-orange splashes across the sky. The sun was almost up, and with it, Jasmin and Kaden.

Since they were on Winter Break they seemed to have no trouble getting out of bed in the morning; unlike school days when she practically had to drag them from beneath the covers.

Karen watched as Vic made his way down her long driveway and toward his car. He’d parked on the street, the way he always did, because Karen was paranoid about her neighbors or the kids seeing a strange car in the driveway in the middle of the night. The neighbors wouldn’t care. Or if they did, they would probably cheer for her. Her kids, she wasn’t so sure about.

Vic reached his car and turned to give her a brief wave before getting in and pulling away. She heaved a sigh of both relief and resignation. Watching him leave was hard, and getting harder. But what else was she supposed to do?

He’s fed-up, Karen, the little voice in her head warned. He’s going to leave you.

Shoving it aside, Karen shut the door and leaned against it for a few moments before taking another breath and heading into the kitchen. She would make herself a cup of chai before attending to the kids’ breakfast. Putting on the tea kettle, she reached for her iPad and checked her schedule. There was very little on it—a hair appointment, a manicure, lunch with Priss and Amy, and then shopping with the kids. They still had to get presents. For their cousins, their aunt and uncle and their grandparents. And of course, for their siblings.

The ones for their brothers and sister were harder, because Karen didn’t really know Chris’ other kids. That made it difficult to overrule the choices Jasmin and Kaden made. Deuce was in college now—a sophomore, a junior? Karen couldn’t remember. And the babies, Caitlyn and Landyn were both under four. But mothers were strange sometimes; they had all these rules about what they wanted or didn’t want to their kids to play with. And though Robyn didn’t strike Karen as being that kind of a stickler, one never knew.

Everything to do with Chris’ wife caused Karen to feel a low-level hum of anxiety. She didn’t want to offend, nor to commit some kind of faux pas. But no matter what she did, she couldn’t help but feel that she might never measure up. Not that Robyn had ever given her any reason to feel that way. It was just that damned voice in her head, the one that Vic was always telling her was a liar.

If it tells you you’re not beautiful, it’s lying, he said one night as he kissed her shoulder. If it tells you you’re not an amazing mother, friend … it’s lying.

Vic was so sensitive, so understanding in that way. He didn’t get impatient with her insecurities, or find them to be a turn-off the way Chris had. Instead, he soothed them away.

When they were together, Chris loathed the way she put herself down, the way she assumed, with no evidence whatsoever, that just about everyone was smarter, more consequential, more … everything than she was. It was one of many things that made them a mismatch probably. The fact that Chris knew, or at least had learned how to project the impression that he was better than most people at most things; that he was way ahead of everyone else. She had admired, and envied that about him. Maybe the admiration had been too much, and had turned to simpering, and that was what made him leave her.

But what did it matter now? That part of her life was long done with. Chris was happily married and she was with Vic. So why was it she couldn’t stop thinking about it? It had been years, but she still thought about it almost every day—what she might have done differently so that Chris would have stayed.

What made it harder to turn that question off was his larger-than-life image which seemed to follow her, no matter where she went. Even Priss and Amy never tired of probing about her past relationship, now almost ten years dead.

So … what was he like? Amy had once asked, a twinkle in her eyes.

And when Karen looked confused at the question she’d asked it again, this time with a different inflection.

I mean, you know, what was he like?

And that was when Karen realized she meant sexually. What had Chris been like sexually? It was the most frequent area of curiosity for women up here in staid Bronxville with their controlled glamor, and New York-lite fashions.

I wouldn’t even know how to answer a question like that, Karen had laughed.

Answer it truthfully, Amy suggested. Was he, like, really … wild and rough?

Karen smiled at her friend. No more so than any other man, I guess.

Amy looked disappointed. Karen couldn’t figure out whether her disappointment was that Chris wouldn’t live up to her Mandingo fantasies, or that Karen was disinclined to share that he had.

Amy and Priss weren’t even properly classified as ‘friends’. They were the mothers of her kids’ friends; women she was repeatedly thrown together with during all those enforced socials associated with various teams, committees and neighborhood associations. Amy used to have a career as a gallery manager until she had her third kid; and Priss, whose real name was Priscilla (swear to God) was a jewelry-maker in SoHo until she met her hedge fund manager husband. It was easier to hang out with Amy and Priss than some of the other mothers because Karen secretly didn’t think ‘gallery manager’ and ‘jewelry maker’ were real careers.

Some of the other mothers, though they were now stay-at-homes like Karen, Amy and Priss used to be lawyers, venture capital consultants, compliance officers. Those women formed their own little tribe, and clustered together at socials, talking about things like President Obama’s energy policy or whether or not Hillary Clinton would have made a good president (‘I mean gender aside,’ Karen heard one mother say, ‘What did she really bring to the table other than that she wasn’t the other guy?’). Karen wouldn’t have had any idea how to contribute to that conversation. She hadn’t even registered to vote.

She met Vic at one of those events. It was a celebratory dinner for Kaden’s football team and Vic had stopped in because he was a local celebrity. He used to play for the Giants until an injury forced him into broadcasting instead. Now he was on ESPN as a commentator. Karen hadn’t even known that his kids went to Kaden and Jasmin’s school. But truth be told, even if she had known, she wasn’t sure she would have recognized his name.

When he’d walked into the restaurant for the team dinner, Karen noted how all the other mothers had straightened up in their seats, some of them flipping their hair, or jutting their chins and chests forward. All the boys on the team had oohed and aahed. Some of them, including Kaden, shoved back from their seats to rush him. Vic had smiled and taken it in stride, high-fiving some of them, shaking the hands of others, and beaming at them all.

Vic Elliot, someone whispered into Karen’s ear. His son doesn’t play anymore, but he promised to stop by as a special surprise.

Vic was handsome, tall and still had the build of a pro athlete. Karen found it hard to look him directly in the eye when introduced. When she got home later that evening and Kaden and Jasmin were in bed, she Googled him. He had retired from the NFL four years prior and had two kids with his ex-wife, a former Miss New York. Vic had custody, and his divorce had been messy and public. His children were almost the exact same age as Jasmin and Kaden—a boy one year younger than Jasmin, and a girl, one year older than Kaden.

There were lots of pictures of Vic online. Enough to convince Karen that a crush on him was pointless and unwise. That was all she needed. Even if he was by some remote possibility to become interested in her, there was no way she was subjecting herself to being involved with a high-profile man who had been married to a beauty queen, and also dated models. Oh no. Never again. Her self-esteem wasn’t nearly durable enough for that.

~~~

Karen took the whistling kettle off the stove and poured it over her teabag. She took a deep breath, reveling in the aroma of the chai for a few moments before adding sweetener and cream. Just as she did, the phone rang. She reached for it, grabbing it out of the cradle before the second ring to avoid having it wake the kids.

“Hey,” the voice on the other end said. He still had the power to make her heart race.

Karen wasn’t sure why that was, since she was no longer in love’with Chris. But there was part of her, still, that wanted his approval and always felt as though she was falling just a few steps short of ever having it.

“You’re calling early,” she said. “Everything okay?”

“Just trying to get some things straight for the holidays. You said you’re bringing the kids over tomorrow, right?”

“Yes,” Karen confirmed. “Or you could send your driver. Just because the traffic this time of year will be awful. I’d like to avoid driving too far.”

That was a lie. She wasn’t worried about traffic. She just hated pulling up to that house—the house where she used to live—and letting her kids out of the car, usually running because they were so eager to see their younger brother and sister. And this time, since Deuce would be home, there was that as well. Kaden would be jumping up and down in his seat, just dying to leave his boring old mother behind and spend time with the older brother he practically worshipped. Karen swallowed the lump that rose in her throat. It used to be that Christmas was hers and and the kids’ alone.

Back then, she had yearned for Chris to pay more attention to their children. Had prayed for it in fact. Now that he had made a family with someone else, he wanted Jasmin and Kaden with him as much as possible. Karen was grateful for that, because they adored their father, but it also broke her heart just the tiniest bit as well. They had been absorbed into a large, mysterious new family system that didn’t include her.

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Chris said right away. “I’ll have Rick come get them. What time you think?”

“I don’t know. Maybe around three or so?”

“Cool. And what time do you need them back?”

Hesitating, Karen thought about what Vic said. They could spend Christmas together, just the two of them, if she was willing to let her kids go stay with their father.

We’d take them out Christmas Eve, both of us together, he suggested. Your kids and mine. Let them know we’re together, and then maybe, if you’re comfortable with it, you’d explain to yours that they’re spending the holiday with their Dad for a change.

At first Karen had resented the suggestion. Who was he to tell her she should ship her children off for the most important holiday of the year? But that wasn’t his motive. His kids were going to be with their mother, and he would be alone as well. It would give them some time to plan for the future, think about whether they wanted a future that included the other.

You’re not just their mom, Karen, he said. You’re my woman, too. They have a father. You don’t have to hold them so close. It’s time to give yourself and them, a little more rope. Let go a little.

She’d promised him she would think about it. She did want Jasmin and Kaden to know about Vic. At first, she concealed it because of the awkwardness of it all. Vic had started coaching the team. That was how they’d started—Karen and Vic exchanging glances during games, and then finally, he invited her out for a drink, and then dinner. It had been a slow courtship because both their lives were largely about their kids. Well, her life was about her kids and his was about his kids and his demanding job. But he hung in there with her. Even when they first spent the night together and she’d snuck him out the back door like a fugitive. And even though that arrangement had been going on for months now, with her showing no inclination whatsoever to change it.

Then last night, he insisted.

I want to think about what a life together someday might be like. But … with things like they are… I need you to tell your kids. I need us to spend real, couple time together.

“Karen?” Chris prompted. “What time do you need them back tomorrow evening? I want to make sure they get a chance to see Deuce before they go home.”

God, he was different. Trying to arrange things with his children in mind was definitely not the guy he used to be. But more likely, he was acting on instructions from Robyn.

“I’m … I was thinking that … I was considering whether you might want to … you know, to keep them for Christmas,” Karen said. Her heart was pounding, just saying the words, never mind considering actually following through with them.

Chris said nothing for what felt like a really long time. Finally, he took a breath. “You sure?” he asked.

“No,” Karen said, with a sound that was half-laugh, half-sob.

“Everything okay?” Chris asked after a few more beats. He never did know how to handle it when she got emotional; had never understood nor connected with any of her feelings as a matter of fact.

“No. I mean, yes.”

“Which is it? No, or yes?” He sounded mildly impatient.

That was another thing he never had much comprehension of: how women could simultaneously hold two completely opposing impulses, and feel both with equal conviction.

“It’s just … I … I have … I’m with someone,” she began. “And …”

“And he doesn’t want the kids around?” Chris asked, his voice rising. “Is that it?”

“No, no, it’s not that. He has kids as well. They’re going to be away. He wants us to spend Christmas Eve morning with all the kids and then he and I would spend Christmas Day together. He thinks I need to …”

“Do what you want to do, Karen. Don’t let some dude …”

“He’s not like that,” she said sharply. “He just thinks I need to give the kids some breathing room, give you a chance to spend the holiday with them. And give us a chance to see where we could take things, y’know, with our relationship.”

Once again, Chris remained silent for a long while. “I don’t know what to tell you. Other than, I would love to have them for Christmas. And Robyn would love to have them. So whatever you decide … that’ll be fine with us.”

Us.

Now, Chris was speaking in terms of an ‘us’. He was in love with his wife. Like truly, deeply and completely in love with her. Karen sighed quietly. She had to stop letting that surprise her the way it did. She had to stop letting it sting the way it did. He had never loved her that way. Maybe he had never loved her at all.

“So I’ll decide and let you know,” she said, trying to pull herself together.

“Yeah, okay. I’ll send Rick for them tomorrow around three and if you plan to let them stay, send them with their bags and we’ll talk later about when you want them to come back. Sound good?”

“Sure,” she said. “Sounds like a plan. Bye Chris.”

“Yeah, bye. But Karen?”

“Yeah?”

“If he’s a good guy, maybe you should let yourself have that. Y’know what I mean? Our kids are going to be okay.”

Our kids. Sometimes, though they lived with her, and she was their primary caregiver, it felt like she was raising his kids. That sense was only heightened because of the money he deposited into her account each month. It was a sum most people with full-time employment would love to see; but each time Karen saw it, it made her feel small.

Because it was way more than a court would have mandated for child support – it was enough for nice clothes, not just for the children, but her as well; and for lunches out every week, and for trips, dinners, spa days. It felt like too much, and sometimes made her ashamed because within months of meeting Chris all those years ago, she had never worked another day. To alleviate the guilt, Karen gave some of the money away to her siblings and parents, and saved some for the kids in accounts they would have access to when they were in college.

“They’ll be okay.” Chris said again. “Other than missing you like hell on Christmas morning.”

Karen smiled. That was something she always forgot about him—occasionally, he knew precisely what a woman needed to hear.

~~~

“Baby. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Vic kept saying. “Maybe you just weren’t ready. I shouldn’t have pushed you to do this.”

“No, you were right,” Karen said, wiping her nose. “It is time. I mean, how ridiculous am I? Standing here crying because my kids just left to go have an amazing time with their father? I should be happy, right?”

Vic put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her against him, and when Karen lifted her chin, she saw that he looked uncertain about whether to believe her. Unsure of whether he had done the right thing by insisting on this.

Jasmin and Kaden had been a little quiet and standfoffish at first with Vic’s two kids, but neither of them seemed to take issue with the fact that Vic was their mother’s new ‘boyfriend’. In fact, Kaden seemed to think it was pretty cool, having a pro football player—and his coach!—become such a huge part of his life.

Vic and Karen had taken the kids to brunch at First Watch, then they went to the mall together to do some last-minute shopping. After a little while, Jasmin and Vic’s daughter Sarah had peeled off on their own to look at clothes in a tween clothing store. Kaden and Vic’s son Vic, Jr. had less to say to each other.

See? Vic said as they walked together hand-in-hand. It’s fine. They’re fine.

And they were. And she was as well. Until Rick showed up to get them in the black Lincoln with the darly-tinted windows that Chris had his driver use whenever he was chauffeuring family members. Jasmin and Kaden piled in. Carrying with them favorite pillows, luggage and the mountain of gifts that they’d bought for everyone, they barely spared her a backward glance. As they pulled away, Karen waved energetically from the front door, and when they were out of sight, burst into noisy tears.

Vic, who had been discreetly waiting inside for her to say her goodbyes came out to get her, and now was comforting her while they sat together on the sofa.

Karen wiped her nose again and braved a smile.

“So now it’s just you and me,” she said, trying to sound bright. “What’re we going to do with all this time?”

Vic grinned at her and she blushed. He was a voracious lover, and made Karen feel for the first time in her life like she might really, truly let herself enjoy it. When she was younger, before she had her kids, she used to find that difficult. It felt good, but there was always a part of her that was self-conscious about the sounds she made, the exposure of her whole, naked self, and of the noisiness of her orgasms. With Vic, she sometimes cried when she came and he held her, and kissed her as though her tears were the most natural thing in the world.

Let go, Vic would say, his breath whispering against her ear. Just let go.

She wasn’t quite sure she was there yet, but maybe with him, she finally could.

~~~

Later, when they were in her bed, Vic with his head thrown back, not quite snoring but breathing heavily, she lay wide awake and staring at him, studying him—the lines and planes of his square jaw, the broad but high-bridged nose, the thick, well-formed lips and the solid musculature of his neck. This was her man, if she wanted him. If she could just allow herself to believe it.

The phone rang, interrupting her scrutiny. Taking a breath, she picked up. Next to her, Vic rolled onto his stomach.

“Hello?” she said, her voice low.

“Karen?”

She sat up. Oh no. Why her? And why now? Just when she was beginning to think about feeling comfortable in her own skin.

“Robyn. Hi!” Her voice sounded falsely perky.

“Hi. So, the kids got here okay. And don’t worry, everything’s fine. But I had a thought.”

“A thought?”

“Yes. Chris told me why you were sending them over for the holidays, and …”

“I didn’t mean to impose,” Karen said hastily. “I know it’s last-minute and …”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Robyn said. “It’s just that he also told me a little bit about why you wanted them to stay. And so I wondered …”

Karen waited.

“We already have a full house for Christmas dinner and Chris said you’ve never not had Christmas with the kids, so if you and your friend, if you didn’t have other plans for dinner … Did you both want to stop by here?”

Karen pulled the sheet up to cover her bare chest. How unthreatening Robyn must find her, to make such an invitation?

Stop it, Karen!

“I … I’d love to but …”

“Great!”

“I mean, before I could say, I would have to ask Vic. Maybe he’s already made plans for us.”

“And if he has, don’t change them on my behalf,” Robyn said. “But I thought of you when I saw Jasmin and Kaden come charging in. And how you probably miss them already. So … anyway. Only if you want, but the invitation is an open one. We have dinner early, like around two. So please come. If you’d like.”

Karen thought of Chris’ friends—Brendan and Tracy, Riley and Shawn, Robyn’s family, Jamal Turner and his fiancée. They were all nice enough, but they were Chris’ and Robyn’s friends. That was their life, and she had a chance now to rebuild her own. She didn’t need Robyn to feel sorry for her, and glancing over at Vic, she realized she didn’t need to feel sorry for herself either.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice a little stronger now. “That’s really nice of you, but on second thought, I think it’ll be good for the kids to be with you and their father. So I’m going to decline.”

 


 

Come With Me #HolidayShorts

holidays“How long did you say the drive was?” Presley slipped from beneath the sheets as she spoke, and walked naked toward the bathroom. Nate let his eyes follow the side-to-side sway of her retreating ass.

Moments later, he heard water running. She was brushing her teeth. With his toothbrush, no doubt. He’d told her a million times that she could leave one here, but she always ignored him, preferring to use his, which he would have found borderline disgusting, if it were anyone but her.

“Twelve hours. Give or take,” he called after her.

“And you’re not flying, why?” She stuck her head out into the doorway. Just as he’d guessed, her mouth was frothy with toothpaste.

“Because the ticket prices are ridiculous.”

“No. You’re ridiculous,” Presley said. “You know what traffic is going to be like out there?”

“Shitty the whole way, probably,” Nate acknowledged.

“Exactly. Why would you put yourself through that?” She ducked back into the bathroom.

“Because I’m a masochist,” he mumbled under his breath.

“Huh?”

“I said I’m not paying almost a thousand dollars to fly somewhere in the contiguous United States.”

“It’s your own fault for waiting so long to book your ticket.”

“That’s not the point, Presley.”

In the bathroom, she made a scoffing noise, and then came the sound of the shower. “Are you coming in to join me?”

“What’re you doing for the holidays?” he called, ignoring her invitation.

“I don’t know yet. Get in here before the water gets cold. I have to make it over to the club by ten.”

When he walked into the bathroom, it was to the sight of Presley shoving aside the shower door and stepping under the rainfall showerhead, letting her head drop forward, chin to chest as the water drenched her, and her hair fell in curtains on either side of her head, obscuring her face. Nate watched her for a few moments, taking in her Rubenesque figure with a smile of appreciation. That ass was just unreal, and rivaled only by her beautiful, large, doe-like eyes with just the hint of a slant to them.

“Are you getting in, or not?” She flipped her hair back and turned to look at him. With the water streaming down her face and over her breasts, it almost looked like she was covered in honey, because of her golden-brown complexion.

“Yeah.” Nate joined her and purposely brushed his forearm against her nipples, grinning when they hardened.

“You want to get on the road tonight you’d better not start anything,” she sang.

“You didn’t tell me what your plans were for the holidays,” he reminded her as he pulled the shower door shut.

“I don’t have any. I’ll wake up on Christmas morning and see what the day brings.”

Nate heaved a deep breath and bit his tongue. It was cute at first, that Zen nonsense. But once in a while, an occasional plan wouldn’t hurt. Just once in a while.

“You’re not going to go see your family, or …?”

“No. My family lives in Hawaii, remember? Somewhere where a thousand-dollar plane ticket is the standard cost of admission, because it’s not in the contiguous United States. I told them I wouldn’t be making it home. Too expensive.”

“I would’ve bought you the ticket,” he said.

Clearly his impatience was audible.

“What’re you getting so bent out of shape about? I wouldn’t have expected you to buy me the ticket. Don’t be stupid. Especially since you don’t even want to buy your own.”

“To New Jersey, a thousand dollars is unreasonable. To Hawaii on the other hand …”

“I’ll be fine, Nate.”

“Okay, so what’re the options?” He reached across her for the body wash.

“What d’you mean?”

“For Christmas. If you’re not going home, what’re your options?”

“I told you. I don’t know.”

“Are you going to be alone?”

Presley didn’t answer, and instead stepped under the showerhead once again, dousing herself completely and making it effectively impossible to carry on a conversation.

“Pres, I asked you something.” Nate pulled her from beneath the stream and turned her to face him.

“I don’t know. Maybe, but probably not. I actually have a pretty rich social life, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Actually, he had noticed. Presley’s ‘rich social life’ was the reason they met in the first place. She and her friends were at a club he was at with his boys; the first stop on what was to be a long night of bar-crawling for a bachelor party. Presley had been in the same VIP area with a group of women, whooping it up and ordering bottle after bottle of champagne. Turned out they were having a divorce party, and Pres was at the center of it, keeping everyone animated and in the spirit of things.

Halfway through the evening, Nate realized that his eyes kept returning to her, the voluptuous dark-haired beauty with the red, red lips in the black cat-suit and impossibly high heels. About the third time she looked up and caught him staring, she had smiled, walking up to him as bold as you please.

Was there something you wanted to say to me?

“What’re Celeste and Stacy doing for the holidays?” he asked her now.

“I have no idea.”

Celeste and Stacy were her closest friends, her partners-in-crime among the notorious party-girl set Presley ran with. Nate’s boys ribbed him about her sometimes, telling him that he had managed every man’s dream—having a beautiful woman use him as a booty-call. And yeah, sometimes that was what it felt like, because by necessity, Pres worked pretty jacked-up hours and often showed up at Nate’s only after she was done in the wee hours of the morning.

Very well-known on the club circuit as a one of the hottest party planners and hostesses, Presley managed events that were so hot, she didn’t even need a celebrity’s name on the marquee any longer. Presley Paine had become a name in her own right. The women at the divorce party where Nate had met her hadn’t been her actual friends, he later learned. Pres was just there to keep them happy, liquored-up and prone to spending more and more on the overpriced club cocktails.

Her surname wasn’t even really Paine. She just had a theory, she’d once explained to Nate, that people were more likely to remember names that were alliterations. Her last name was actually Kahele. Her father was Hawaiian Native, and her mother was Black, and they both still lived on the Big Island with her three siblings, all boys. In addition to being the only girl, Presley was the eldest and the most rebellious. She rarely went home not only because it was expensive, but because she and her father fought a lot. He didn’t approve of her “club lifestyle”, she had said, making air quotes with her fingers.

“I feel like we need to do it one more time before you leave,” Presley said, turning and grabbing Nate in her soapy hands. “Just to calm you down. Reassure you that I won’t be here crying into my egg nog or something while you’re home with your family.”

“So what will you be doing?” Nate asked, trying not to be distracted by the slow, back and forth motion Presley was making with his member grasped in her fist.

“This and that.” Presley’s voice sounded dreamy. She released him, and Nate opened his eyes just in time to see her drop to her knees.

~~~

“Pres?”

Nate sat up in bed and looked around. It was dark now. Glancing at the clock he saw that it was just past eleven. He had allowed Presley to lure him back to bed after their shower, and then once she’d worn him out, she had slipped out. He wasn’t surprised she was gone, but he wished she wasn’t. Their relationship, which she preferred to refer to as their “arrangement” was unconventional to say the least. Pres didn’t expect dinner dates or daily phone calls; she didn’t squawk when he went out with his friends, or disappeared out of town for work without telling her in advance. She just popped in and out of his life on a whim—sometimes he’d see her every day for a week, and then she’d be gone for a month. And she might spend two nights with him over a weekend, and then not call or answer his calls for two weeks.

I was on the road. That was always her explanation. She did parties in different cities, and people paid her for that. Sometimes handsomely, sometimes just by comping rooms and drinks for her and a few friends. She had a BMW x5 that she barely made the payments on most months, and a shitty apartment in a ramshackle house in Cabbagetown where she paid next to nothing because the building wasn’t up to code.

Nate never asked her whether she met guys when she was at the clubs. Because of course she did. And he never asked if she hooked up with any of the guys. Because he didn’t want to know.

He planned to hit the road around midnight, or one a.m., when traffic was light, with the intention of making it to New Jersey by noon or so on Christmas Eve. His sister’s house was sure to be a zoo, with her two little ones, her three stepchildren and his brother-in-law’s extended group of friends with their kids, all of them under the age of six. The only saving grace was that the house was so doggone huge, Nate was sure he could find some quiet if he needed it.

He would call Pres when he got there, just to see what she was up to.

He was packed and ready to go by midnight, right on schedule. Nate dumped his leather duffle in the passenger seat of his car and backed out of the driveway. Atlanta was alive tonight, everyone getting the non-wholesome partying out of their system before sitting at their momma’s Christmas dinner table. Nate’s own mother wouldn’t be with them this Christmas. She was heading to Paris to spend it with her … boyfriend. Nate almost cringed at the word, associated with his mother. But hell, she was entitled. Robyn had tried to enlist his help to persuade their mother not to go, but he’d refused.

Let Carolyn live a little, he’d told his sister. I mean, live for herself for a change. Not for us.

Fine, Robyn said. He heard the pout in her voice. But it won’t be the same without her.

Robyn was definitely a momma’s girl. After her divorce, she had returned home and clung to their mother’s apron, just like when they were kids. Nate remembered those days, seeing his sister sink into a deep, dark and lonely place when her marriage ended. And he remembered how skeptical he’d been at first when she took up with the notorious Chris Scaife. But he was happy to be proven wrong. Chris, music mogul or not, turned out to be as bowled over by his sister as she was by him; and now, two babies and a few years later, they were as close as ever. Nate almost didn’t mind the noise and chaos at their house during the holidays because it was all about family—and what else should the holidays be about if not that?

The route out of town took him past Concourse, the club where Pres would be working tonight, and as Nate drove by, he took in the convoy of flashy cars and flashier women outside the main entrance. Even with his windows rolled up to ward against the cold he could hear their voices, loud and excitable and they prepared to go inside and get their party on.

Pres would be in there somewhere, wearing a short skirt, something sleeveless, arms in the air and dancing up a storm. He didn’t often go to the clubs when she was working, because now, that woman seemed like someone else entirely. Pres was to him the sometimes-goofy girl with her hair in a sloppy ponytail, wearing one of his shirts, legs bare and stretched into his lap, eating from a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and interrupting Game of Thrones, asking, ‘wait, who’s this guy again?

Grinning at the thought, Nate swung over into the right lane and hooked into an underground garage. Since he would be gone for a week, what the hell? One last quick goodbye, one last kiss, one last look at her goofball face before he hit I-85.

~~~

He couldn’t find her. Nate checked out all the usual places in the club where Pres was likely to be – the VIP area, the private party rooms and behind the bar. Then he went up to the balcony to look down at the dancefloor.

It was stupid to think he would be able to spot her in this crowd, he thought as he headed back downstairs, being jostled by people who were heading up. So, he’d text her or something. Tell her he was thinking about her, and wish her Happy Holidays. Not that she was likely to respond.

“Nate!”

It was Stacy, among a group of women at the foot of the stairs, a glass in hand containing a strangely bright pink liquid.

“You here for the Ho-Ho-Ho?”

Nate squinted. “The what?”

“The party!” Stacy laughed, shouting to be heard over the music. “It’s called the …”

“Nah, just looking for Pres,” he said, shaking his head.

“Oh. She’s not working tonight,” Stacy said. “Sorry.”

“You sure? I’m pretty sure she said …”

“What?” Stacy yelled. “I can’t …” She indicated her ears.

Holding her by the forearm, Nate nodded an apology to her friends and steered her in the direction of the alcove behind the stairs, and the corridor there that led to the restrooms. It was somewhat less noisy in that spot.

“She isn’t working tonight,” Stacy repeated.

“Maybe somewhere else?” Nate suggested.

Stacy shrugged. “Nope. She stopped in. Said she wasn’t feeling well and went home.”

Nate considered for a moment. “What’re you doing for the holidays, Stacy? You and Pres hangin’ out, or what?”

“Flying home tomorrow. My folks are in Florida. Lucky me, huh?”

“And Presley?”

Stacy shrugged again.

“She didn’t even try to make it to Hawaii, huh?”

“Why would she?” Stacy looked confused.

“Because that’s where her family is from.”

Stacy’s face fell and she pursed her lips.

“What?”

“Pres doesn’t have family in Hawaii. Not anymore,” Stacy said. “Not that she can find anyway. She has a brother in prison there, and her mother’s dead. She lost touch with her father ages ago. That’s how she and her brothers wound up in foster care.”

Taking a step back, Nate leaned against the wall. “Wait. What? Foster care?”

“She’s a former foster. Doesn’t talk about it much, but yeah. So there’s no family in Hawaii to go back to for the holidays. Don’t tell her I said anything, okay?” Stacy was already angling her body away from him, ready to go back to the party.

“No,” Nate said quietly as Stacy walked away. “I won’t say anything.”

~~~

“Thought you were working tonight?”

Nate pretended not to notice that Presley’s eyes were a little puffy and pink, and skirted around her at the front door of her apartment, looking around once he was inside. It was only a cut above his senior year apartment when he was in college, with mismatched furniture pieces that had more likely than not been reclaimed from the side of the road. It was obviously a place to lay her head, and no more than that. Except that, incongruously, there was a state-of-the-art television against one wall. Some stupid VH-1 reality show was on. Women wearing too much makeup were swearing and swinging at each other, their hair weaves whipping in wide arcs, the only dialogue a cacophony of bleeps interspersed with the word ‘bitch’, and for variety, ‘low-rent ‘ho’.

“I changed my mind,” Pres said. “Decided to stay in for a change. I think I might be coming down with something.” She sniffled for effect, which Nate figured was her alibi for the swollen eyes.

“Seemed fine earlier at my place.”

You probably gave it to me,” she said.

He smiled, and rather than look directly at her, which he sensed she wouldn’t want him to do, Nate perused the books on her sad little lopsided bookshelf. There were lots of celebrity biographies, tell-alls by B-listers, and one by an infamous former video vixen.

“If I gave it to you, it’s only fair that I stay here and look after you,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Pres asked the question slowly.

“I mean …” This time Nate did turn to look at her. “You can’t be here, sick and alone over the holidays. So I have to stay and look after you.”

Presley’s lower lip wobbled. “No, you don’t.”

“Yeah. I kinda do.”

She shook her head, but didn’t try to speak again. Nate pretended he didn’t see the tears pooling in her eyes.

“Yeah,” he said again.

“If I thought …” She was forcing each word out, obviously struggling not to cry. “If I thought you were feeling sorry for me, I would be … infuriated.”

Nate smiled at that—the thought of Presley infuriated. He couldn’t imagine she would ever be any more threatening than an angry poodle.

“And besides, you have your family thing to go to.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, as though he’d only just remembered it. “There is that.”

“So, you have to go.”

It was probably meant to be a statement, but it sounded somewhat like a question. That was when Nate knew for sure.

“You’re right. I do have to go,” he acknowledged. “My sister would kill me if I didn’t show. So … you’re just going to have to come with me.”

Presley’s eyes opened wider. And it was that that did it. The tears finally spilled onto her cheeks. She ignored them, so he did too. Glancing down at his watch, Nate feigned impatience.

“C’mon. Pack a bag. We’ll be gone a week.”

Presley was slowly shaking her head. “You can’t just bring … strays to your family’s Christmas.”

“You’re not a stray,” he said, his voice sharper than he’d intended.

He took two steps toward her. Presley’s head fell back and he leaned in, touching his forehead against hers.

“You’re not a stray,” he said softer. “You’re my girl. So where else should you be at Christmas, other than … with me?” He leaned in closer to kiss her, but Presley pulled back,

“My nose is dripping,” she explained, wiping it with the back of a hand.

Nate smiled. “So … wipe your nasty-ass drippy nose, get packed and let’s roll.”

A look crossed her face then, a mixture of excitement and trepidation, and then outright fear.

“Nate, your family though? I mean …” She shifted her weight from one leg to the other and then back again.

“Come with me, Pres,” he said. “Please.”

“Are you su…”

“You know why I didn’t buy a ticket sooner?” he interrupted. “Because I always wanted you to come. I was hoping I would be buying two tickets. And then I chickened out on asking.”

Presley’s beautiful large eyes grew larger still, and she managed a tiny smile. “Is that … true?”

“Yes,” he said honestly. “Come with me.”

Nate pulled her close once again, and with drippy nose and all, he kissed her. The tension in her shoulders subsided, and her body relaxed into his. He felt, rather than heard her sigh.

“Okay,” she said, her voice a whisper. “Yes.”


Hope you enjoyed this visit with Robyn’s (aka Mrs. Chris Scaife’s) brother.

Happy Holidays!

N.

Begin Again #HolidayShorts

Three-and-a-half hours. That was how long it would take to drive from State College to Short Hills, New Jersey. Deuce could endure almost anything for three-and-a-half hours. Even the company of the one girl on campus he least wanted to see.

holidays 

Nah. Hell nah.

He was being punked. That was the only way to explain this. Out of the almost one hundred thousand students at Penn State …. No way.

Deuce took a deep breath and stood as Zora approached his table at the Hub. Wearing a scowl with her grey sweatshirt and jeans, she was obviously just as surprised and dismayed as he.

“Wow,” she said, her tone sardonic. “Small world.”

“That wasn’t your name,” he said. “On Zimride, the person who responded wasn’t you.”

“I had a friend post for me,” Zora said, referring to his inquiry on the campus rideshare system. “I didn’t know it was you either. Obviously.”

“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?” he asked sourly. “Of knowing exactly who you’re letting into your car? Of knowing exactly whose car you’re getting into?”

“Look,” Zora said. “We don’t have to do this. If you’re uncomfortable, I’m sure I can find someone else.”

“Like who? It’s five days before Christmas. And didn’t you tell me last week you were leaving the next day? But I guess that wasn’t true either.”

“Either? When did I ever lie to … whatever, man. For your information, I planned to leave when I said I would. But then my car died on me. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, being that those are poor people problems and all.”

Deuce ignored the jab. “So, we doing this or not? I want to make it to Jersey before nightfall.”

Zora shrugged. “Then let’s go.”

It was only then that Deuce noticed the heavy duffle she had slung over her right shoulder, along with the smaller weekend bag and pocketbook in her left hand. He reached for it and after a moment’s hesitation, Zora surrendered the weighty bag.

Without a word, Deuce headed for the exit, sensing her presence just behind him.

Three-and-a-half hours. That was how long it would take to drive from State College to Short Hills, New Jersey. He could endure almost anything for three-and-a-half hours. Even the company of the one girl on campus he least wanted to see.

What he’d been hoping for when he posted the rideshare was just someone to kill the miles and hours with, someone he could shoot the breeze with about music, or if it was a dude, football. Maybe they would share some mutual hatred of the New England Pats, or talk about how overrated Cam Newton was … The last thing he wanted to do was relive his brief misadventure with the campus revolutionary.

When they got to his car, Deuce disengaged the locks and tossed Zora’s bag in the backseat of the Range Rover with his stuff and turned to face her again for the first time.

“Here,” he said, reaching for the smaller bags. “Lemme put those back here as well, so you’ll have some legroom.”

“Thanks.” She handed them over willingly.

Once he’d tossed that in the backseat as well and straightened up, Deuce was surprised to find that she was still standing there, next to the passenger side door, moving her weight from one leg to the other, as though trying to keep warm in the frigid air.

“It’s open,” he said inclining his head in the direction of the door.

Zora looked at him blankly, and Deuce rolled his eyes, opening the door for her, waiting for her to get in and then shutting it. Taking a deep breath, he walked around the rear of the car and got in on his side.

“Your tank is full,” Zora noted when he started the engine.

“Yeah. So what?”

“The deal on Zimride was that the passenger pays for gas, you pay tolls.”

“I don’t need it,” Deuce shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter if you need it. It’s the principle.”

“And we know you’re all about principles,” he said as he pulled away from the curb.

~~~

In the normal course of things, Zora Diallo wasn’t someone he would have crossed paths with. Even though Penn State was only about six percent Black, their social circles couldn’t have been more different. Deuce ran with the jocks – guys on the football team, and his best friend Kaleem who was on a full ride for track and field. And Zora was part of the group that was always protesting something. Deuce remembered her from his freshman African American Literature class though. Much had been made of the fact that she was named after the famous writer; and he remembered that she was one of the few people who hadn’t just read the books they were assigned, but seemed to have spent a lot of time thinking about them too.

He recalled her voice when she spoke up in class. Warm and husky, low but at the same time very feminine. And later, around sophomore year, he started seeing her occasionally on campus, sometimes with a bullhorn, sometimes on a stage, talking about obscure injustices that didn’t seem to have much to do with his life. Until a week ago, when he and Kaleem had gotten stopped in the Range Rover. The stop—which in the end had wound up being little more than an inconvenience had shaken him more than he wanted to admit. Because it had been the third time in as many weeks, and coincided with delivery of his new car, which his father had grudgingly gotten him after some cajoling from his mother.

After the traffic stop, he and Kaleem headed to an off-campus bar. Kaleem, unfazed, tore into a plate of buffalo wings while Deuce sat fuming about the indignity of being made to sit on his hands on a cold-ass curb while two cops verified that he was entitled to drive his own vehicle.

A few minutes into their meal, across the room Kaleem spotted Zora sitting at the bar with two of her girls. She had a wild natural that looked like she woke up and yanked at it by the handful until it stood on end like the hair of that little Black character from that old show with all the kids, Little Ragamuffins, or something like that, Deuce thought it was called. Zora was the kind of chick that made you stare, if only because her skin was dark and smooth as stone, and she had high prominent cheekbones and full, plump lips that made her look like she was always on the verge of puckering up to bestow a kiss.

Deuce remembered thinking when he looked at her that night that she didn’t need the foundation that her two friends had plastered on because her complexion was dark enough to appear completely uniform. And there were few shades of lipstick that would successfully compete with the apparently natural dark plum hue of her mouth. Her eyes were almost catlike in shape, but large and dark. Her nose small but with flared nostrils that gave her a look of fierce determination.

She couldn’t have been further from Deuce’s type. He was into Spanish chicks. Long dark hair, caramel skin and just enough African blood in them to give them ass for days. He liked that they were emotive and a little wild, that they fucked as hard as they fought … all stereotypes, it was true, but in his experience, also based in a little bit of fact.

Kaleem had his eye on Zora, so they invited her and her friends over. Deuce wasn’t in the mood to make small talk with a gaggle of girls, but for his boy Kaleem, was willing to be the wingman for the evening.

Zora hadn’t spoken much, but when she did, Deuce almost felt the vibration of her voice. Something about it stirred his interest; that, and the fact that she couldn’t have seemed less interested in either him or Kaleem. That shit was new. Kaleem tended to attract chicks in droves. Rich dusky skin, along with the movie-star white teeth and his lean runner’s body got him lots of play. He was handsome enough probably—Deuce didn’t feel equipped to assess other dudes’ looks—but there was something about Kaleem that drew mostly blondes, a good number athletes themselves. Kal often partook of those delights, as did Deuce, but his friend had a definite and strong preference for the sisters.

In college, anything goes, man, Kal had told him once. But once I graduate I’m marrying a queen and building a Black nation. Four, maybe five little Kaleems. Nah mean?

So maybe that was what Kal was looking for in Zora—his queen.

But she was cool as ice all evening, until Kal finally turned his attention to her girl Mia instead. And without knowing when or how it happened, Deuce’s attention turned to Zora. She was squeezed next to him in the booth, and at the end next to her, Mia. Her friend Sophie sat with Kal on the opposite side.

Excuse my man for being so quiet over there, Kal said at one point. But we got pulled over tonight on some bullshit, so he’s all shook up.

At that, Zora seemed to notice him for the first time. Turning in her seat to look Deuce directly in the eye, she said, I’m sorry that happened.

~~~

“I could’ve sworn you said you lived in New York,” Zora said now.

She had removed her boots and curled her feet beneath her. Deuce tried not to look at her legs in the close-fitting jeans. Unless he was mistaken, they were the same jeans from that night. That dumb-ass night that he couldn’t stop thinking about.

“I do. Upstate. My father lives in Jersey. I’m going there first to see him, my stepmother, my baby brother and sister, and to spend the night with them.”

“How many siblings do you have?”

Deuce looked at her, and Zora shrugged.

“Is that something I should know?” she asked.

Maybe not. Some other chick, maybe. But not Zora. Of all the girls unlikely to have followed his complicated blended family’s exploits on the entertainment blogs, Zora was probably the unlikeliest.

“Four. Two brothers, two sisters.”

“And you’re the eldest?”

“Yup.”

Zora breathed a deep sigh. “Chris …”

“Deuce. I don’t like to be called Chris. That’s my father’s name.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Deuce saw her take another breath. “Sorry,” she said. “I get it. Your father is a big presence. You want to be your own person.”

“Zora, don’t … psychoanalyze me.”

“Sorry,” she said again. “Look …” She touched his thigh. “Can we just … clean the slate and …?”

“Clean the slate?” he repeated.

“Yeah. I mean, look … it’s not as though it wouldn’t have always gone down exactly the way it did. It’s just that I was the one to put it into action, and …”

“You’re doing it again. Trying to head-shrink me. You don’t know how it would’ve gone down, Zora.”

“Of course I do. Do you even know your rep on campus?”

“Nah,” he said sarcastically. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“I could,” Zora said. “But I don’t want us to start fighting again.”

“You don’t think I can take it?” Deuce, switched lanes, heading toward the I-80 on-ramp.

“I’m sure you can take it. I’m just not sure I want to be the one to dish it out.”

“Go ahead. We have three hours to kill.”

“Okay … but don’t say you didn’t …”

“Just spit it out.”

“You’re Chris Scaife’s son. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and grew up in a little post-racial bubble. You’re from that crowd who says color doesn’t matter because the only one that matters where you grew up is green. You date White chicks almost exclusively and pretend that doesn’t matter either, and sisters like me you hardly ever give a second glance. Which might be insulting, but for the fact that you treat even the White girls with nothing resembling respect, and are pretty much done with them after a week. So … there you have it. Truth.”

Deuce shook his head, and shook off the pang in his chest as well. “Wow … now that was some angry Black woman bullshit right there.”

“See what I mean? White chicks don’t get angry too? Or is it just us you don’t like to see mad? But come to think of it, the ones you mess with don’t get angry, do they? They just line up, one after the other to get their turn with Christopher Scaife Jr.”

“You forget what happened between you and me that night? I didn’t see you walking away from your … turn.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But I chose it, Deuce. You didn’t choose me. I wanted you. But it was sexual curiosity, that’s all. And that’s all it was for you, too. Admit it. I’m probably the blackest chick you’ve seen naked since … ever. You’re just mad I was the one to shut shit down afterwards.”

“That’s one fucked up double-standard. You see that right? And I ain’t about all that color-struck nonsense.”

“Really.”

“Yeah. Really.”

“And how is what I said a double-standard?”

“Do you like to be dismissed, Zora?”

“I don’t know. I can’t say it’s ever happened.”

“Well that’s what all that mess you just said is—dismissal. You don’t even know me. And that night I thought …” Deuce stopped talking abruptly, realizing he was on the brink of sounding like he was begging. And that was something he would not do.

Zora said nothing for a long while, and when she finally spoke, her voice was different. “You thought what?”

“We started talking about the traffic stop,” Deuce said. “Remember? That’s why we started talking. And then when I went to your dorm, we talked some more. The shit that went down later in your room …”

“The shit that went down later in my room …” she prompted. “Go on.”

That’s not why I was there, he wanted to but did not say.

He was there because when he and Zora talked in the bar, their voices slightly raised so they could hear over the din, he’d forgotten that they weren’t alone. Kaleem and her girls Mia and Sophie might as well have not been there. And then when Zora said she had to go back to pack for her drive home the next day for Christmas Break, Deuce hadn’t wanted her to go, so he went with her.

The idea of ending the evening at yet another party with Kaleem and some girls who were pretending they didn’t care who he was, but clearly did, seemed intolerable. He just wanted to hang with Zora, to talk some more, to listen that warm voice of hers, to smell that unidentified fruity scent in her hair, to have an excuse to examine her dark-as-night skin and stare into her cat-like eyes.

He just wanted to be with her.

And that was something in his entire time at Penn State, Deuce could not recall having happened before—that he wanted to be with a girl just for the pleasure of her company.

Then in her room—her messy-as-hell room—Zora had jumped him.

There was no other way to put it. As soon as the door was shut, she turned and kissed him, and he went with it. How could he not go with it? Her lips were soft, full and tasted like the illegally-consumed beer they’d been drinking all night. Her chest was soft against his, and she grabbed his hands to place them on her ass, pressing her pelvis forward and reaching down to stroke his hardness.

This girl wants me? he recalled thinking. This girl … wants me.

The thought was surprising only because if anyone had asked him before then, he would have said that few were the girls who did not. But Zora wasn’t just any girl. She was the girl Kaleem would have called a queen; she was a warrior. She had consequence and purpose. She was not the kind of girl who generally wanted him.

Except that night, she did. And no lie, that shit was off the chain. He grabbed handfuls of her thick, coarse hair in his fists, and they screwed with the lights on, her eyes locked with his, her powerful, firm thighs gripping his hips, holding him tight against her. This wasn’t some fumbling, grappling half-drunken college dorm encounter. This was grown-ass lovemaking, like a man and woman were meant to have. Deuce was present for every breath, every groan, every kiss, and the ultimate collapse of their damp bodies against each other.

And afterwards, he fell asleep. He slept hard and deep until Zora shook him gently awake and he sat up, dazed and momentarily unsure of his surroundings. Her room was clean and she was completely packed.

It’s almost dawn, she said. I’m leaving today.

You sure you have to? he’d asked her, grinning and looking down at his crotch significantly.

That’s the plan. She smiled at him. But that doesn’t mean we can’t, you know, get it in one more time for the road.

And then she’d shoved the sheets aside, lifted the hem of the long t-shirt she was wearing and revealed that there was absolutely nothing underneath.

Deuce left after that, in a daze, exhausted and idly considering whether he might look her up while he was home. Zora had kissed him goodbye at her door, told him to enjoy Winter Break. All the way to his dorm, walking in the cold, he couldn’t stop licking his lips, like some of her just might be there for him to taste.

The very next day, he ran into her girl Sophie, and when he asked her if he could have Zora’s number, she looked confused.

Why do you need her number? she said. She’s on campus. Go see her.

Confused himself, Deuce did exactly that. She was on campus? Whatever happened to driving home for Winter Break? She said she had no finals, just final papers so could leave early. She’d cleaned her room, she’d packed …

As luck would have it, Zora was in her dorm’s common room when Deuce walked in. She was sitting on a sofa with her feet up on a coffee table, and next to her was a brother with shoulder-length locs. Zora had a bright orange scarf tied in her hair, the color accentuating her complexion in a way that was almost breathtaking. She, and her companion were laughing about something, something that was obviously very, very funny. Mid-laugh, Zora turned and spotted him. A momentary look of surprise crossed her features, her eyebrows lifting for a second. And very casually, she lifted a hand in a wave. Then Zora returned to her conversation, never giving him a second glance.

~~~

“Deuce.”

He looked at her. She was chewing on her lower lip and looking away from him, out the window.

“What?”

“I have an idea. And I don’t want you to shoot it down. I want you to think about it, okay?”

Deuce mumbled something unintelligible.

“Will you think about it?”

“Yeah.”

“And before I tell you my idea I have a confession.”

At that Deuce looked at her again.

“I knew it was you,” she said. “That was offering the ride. I knew it was you, and I asked Mia to respond because I wasn’t sure you’d want to ride with me.”

Deuce forced himself not to smile. “So that look you gave me back at the Hub …”

“Best acting I’ve done all year,” she admitted.

“It wasn’t all that good,” he lied.

Zora punched him in the arm. “Shut up. You didn’t know.”

“Nah, I didn’t know,” he said. Their eyes met and held for so long that Zora blushed, her gaze dropping to her lap. Good thing too, since he might have run off the road otherwise.

Deuce wanted to ask her why she’d pretended, but he knew. As much as she was outside of his comfort zone, he was probably way out of hers as well.

“What’s your idea?” he asked instead.

“I was thinking that maybe …” Zora sighed deeply. “That we could pretend that night didn’t happen. And just … begin again.”

“I don’t want to pretend that night never happened,” Deuce said right away. “But, I do want to …”

“Begin again?” she said, that warm husky voice of hers lowering even more.

Damn, she was sexy as hell.

“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s do that.”

Zora turned in her seat and extended a hand. Deuce took it. It was small and warm. He didn’t want to let it go.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “I’m Zora Diallo.”


Read more about Deuce and his “complicated blended family” in ‘Afterwards‘ and ‘Afterburn‘.

Women: Withstanding All Anthology–Meet Angelia Vernon Menchan

AngeliaThis contribution to the anthology is from a writer-friend of mine, the very prolific Angelia Vernon Menchan. Her work features amazing slices of life in small but satisfying bites. Check her out here on Amazon, and then read her excerpt below …

From “I Want You … And My Career, a short in the Women: Withstanding All Anthology:

Jefferson’s nose flared as it was prone to do when he was annoyed. Alicia’s heart lurched because he was a handsome man whom she loved completely, but no one told her that love, marriage, and having a child meant she would have to give up her career.

“We are discussing it now, Alicia. I’m not risking my child-“

“Jefferson, you have one more time to call OUR baby your child. I’m carrying our child, in our marriage, where we make life changing decisions together!”

His eyes narrowed before he turned and allowed the door to close behind him as he walked out of the house.

I think we just fought Alicia thought as she made her way to their bedroom. She was happy about becoming a mother and having their child, but giving up her career for over five years wasn’t an option. She never agreed to that. She was not agreeing to that. She quickly showered and shook off the conversation. They would talk later. Jefferson was her husband, not her dictator.

To read this and other stories in the Women:Withstanding All Anthology, pre-order for $1.99 on Amazon!

PreorderAnd connect with the author:

http://angeliavernonmenchanserials.blogspot.com

www.twitter.com/angelmenchan

https://www.facebook.com/angeliam

Love Bites: A little somehing for my readers

‘Mother’‘Wife’ red-love-background-wallpaper

I like to say ‘I don’t write romance’. And I believe that. But I do write about love, and all its many complications. It’s my singular writing ambition, capturing the love of a man for a woman, a woman for a man, a mother for their child, between siblings, and sometimes the fleeting flash of something like love that springs up between strangers.

So, on this Day of Love, I share a few little ‘bites’ of love from my work, featuring men I fell in love with as I wrote them., and a woman who never knew love who came to me in my sleep one night. Happy Valentines Day, readers.

Love and Peace to you,

Nia


WHAT REAL LOVE LOOKS LIKE

“So what’re you doing? You got anything planned?”

“Nope.”

“No?”

“Nothing?”

Shawn looked up at his friends’ startled faces and laughed. “I have a sensible, levelheaded woman at home, unlike some of us.” He looked in Brendan’s direction. “So she won’t be flippin’ out and actin’ all crazy if I don’t have hearts and chocolate and a dozen roses in hand when I get home on February fourteenth.”

“You lyin’, man,” Chris said sucking his teeth. “No way you stayed married all these years without doin’ anything on Valentine’s Day.”

“I didn’t say I don’t do anything. Just that my wife doesn’t need all those dramatic gestures that y’all talkin’ ‘bout.”

Brendan swallowed a gulp of his Hennessey and shook his head. “I’m not buyin’ it either. Even if your wife were one of the founders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, spends her days picketing against American consumerist culture and her nights blogging about the scourge of poverty in the developing world, she would still want you to do something big for her on Valentine’s Day.”

“Hell, Riley probably is one of the founding members of Occupy Wall Street, and probably does spend her nights blogging about poverty,” Chris said dryly.

Shawn laughed again. “Shut up. So what? My woman’s about something more than shopping and looking pretty.”

“Why you keep lookin’ at me?” Brendan said, feigning outrage. “Tracy likes nice things. And I like giving them to her. What’s wrong with that?”

“If I thought ‘nice things’ would do the trick with Robyn, I’d go that route, but …” Chris shrugged. “When we were just kickin’ it, I gave her a twenty-five thousand dollar bag and she just yawned at that shit.”

“Give her a baby,” Shawn suggested. “We know she likes those.”

Chris shot him a look. “Don’t even joke like that, man. I’m done. I’ve been thinking of getting snipped on the sly just to shut that down once and for all.”

“Yeah, you are one baby-making motherfucka, that’s for sure,” Brendan chimed in. “But don’t get snipped. I heard if you do your dick won’t get hard anymore.”

Shawn laughed. “Don’t listen to him …”

“Ain’t nobody payin’ his dumb-ass no mind,” Chris said shaking his head.

Boys’ nights out like this had become fewer and farther between in the last year, but after a business meeting earlier that day that all three of them had attended purely by coincidence, Shawn coaxed his two best friends into dinner and then drinks. Things were different now, so they all had women at home they had to check in with before they could head out to Mastro’s Steakhouse for a rich meal, followed by drinks in the bar at a small, exclusive boutique hotel.

Watching Chris in particular make his way over to a private corner to tell his wife he wasn’t coming home straightaway that evening was particularly satisfying. Who would have thought? Chris Scaife, married—and happily at that—with two kids under three years old at home. If there had been anyone he would have given the label ‘confirmed bachelor’, Chris Scaife would have been it. But even he got taken out by Cupid’s arrow.

It had been entertaining watching him fight it though. Shawn recalled with amusement the occasions before they were married when Chris and Robyn visited with him and Riley, or came to parties at their home. Chris had been a ball of coiled awareness, his eyes involuntarily following Robyn around the room, his body growing tense when someone of the masculine persuasion approached and spoke to her.

Shawn remembered even more keenly what those days had been like in his own relationship. Riley had been his singular obsession until he finally came to terms with the fact that she wasn’t going anywhere. He’d proposed to her before he truly knew and accepted that, and for the first few months of their marriage, he felt like he’d somehow tricked her into something … lured her into a trap that he knew he had no earthly intention of letting her get out of. It was an entire year—and a shitty one at that—before he could allow himself to truly believe she wanted to be there.

Glancing over at the clock atop the old English pub-style bar, Shawn saw that it was just past ten p.m. This was about the time Riley would be getting ready for bed. Their nights were early ones when he was home. His son, Cullen was a little bit of a hellion, who, when he was awake tore through the house like a freight train and just as noisy. Because Shawn still traveled a fair amount, whenever he was home, he kept his kids close; and Cullen especially followed him around, sometimes mirroring his every move.

His daughter was different. At three years old, she was quiet and a loner and … graceful. He had no other word for it. Already, she was a little lady with a gentle disposition and a seemingly innate sense of calm. Like her mother.
Neither of his kids was ever far from his thoughts. And Riley, of course, she was everything.

Turning away from the clock, Shawn signaled to the bartender to bring him another drink. He could afford to stay out awhile because according to his wife, getting the kids to bed was twice as difficult when he was home, because to them, Daddy equaled playtime. But still, Shawn loved being there in that magic hour before bed, and particularly loved watching the rituals. Riley had a little refrain she repeated to them: Bath-Time, Book-Time, Bedtime. So now they’d started saying it as well, like it was one word.

Mama, I don’t want to go bathtime-booktime-bedtime, Cullen would whine, shaking his head from side to side.

I know, darling, Riley would say before scooping them both up, one under each arm.
She never argued, cajoled and bribed their kids, but just gently … handled them, getting whatever needed to be done done, while Shawn looked on in awe, wondering how in the heck it was that he’d lucked out like this. So the hell with Valentine’s Day. He knew what real love looked like.

But … maybe he’d get the flowers and candy anyway. And throw in a nice piece of jewelry. Just in case.

 


 

open roadBackstory for Jayson from ‘Mistress’, ‘Wife’ and ‘Mother’. This is from his travels after he left Keisha in ‘Mistress’) and while he was falling in love with her, though he didn’t know it was happening.

Journey: Jayson’s Travel Journals

March 20
Allentown, PA

There was one dude on the block who kept a journal when I was inside. Muslim brother. He wrote all the time, day and night. Kept his head down, his lips moving as he wrote. I couldn’t tell whether he was praying or talking to himself. One time I asked him what he was mumbling about and he smiled.

“Talking to Allah, my brother,” he told me. “Al-Raḥmān, al-Raḥīm.”

His name was Ahmad. He never got into it with anybody and everyone left him alone. He wasn’t a prison Muslim, he was a real deal zealot, who was inside because he’d beat his teenage daughter to within an inch of her life when he found out she had a boyfriend. His case was in the papers and on television a lot because folks were a still looking cross-eyed at all Muslims because of 9/11.

I asked Ahmad about his case one time. Which broke code. You weren’t supposed to ask anybody about their case. But I asked because Ahmad looked like the most peace-loving dude you would ever meet, and seeing on television what he’d done to his own flesh and blood, I just couldn’t believe it. That he would do something like that.

“Man’s law, or the law of the Allah?” he’d responded. “Which should I choose? Lā ilāha illā Allāh”

Some of the other Muslims told me Ahmad was full of shit. And that if he truly followed God’s law, he would understand compassion. Rumor had it, Ahmad planned to finish the job he’d started on his daughter when he got out.
The only thing I guess I learned from Ahmad was that writing things down can be purifying. So I’m writing.

When I left New York yesterday, it was already dark. I thought about leaving at first light, but didn’t know whether I’d want to leave if I waited one more day. Especially after seeing Keisha. She cried before I left. Real tears, fat drops rolling down her face and dripping off the tip of her chin. And I wanted to stay to comfort her, but knew I couldn’t because then it might get really hard to leave. And I had to, because I have some things to work out, and on top of all that, I’m not sure I trust her. I want her. I like her; hell, maybe more than like her . . . but I definitely don’t trust her. And what kind of messed-up shit is that? To want a woman you can’t even trust.


So I had to leave.

Right now I’m in a Motel 6 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I don’t know why except that I saw the exit signs and decided to check it out, because of that Billy Joel song. From my room, it looks like a depressing place to live. The song was depressing too now that I think about it—all about how someplace that was brimming and alive practically died.

That’s how I feel sometimes. Like maybe I died when I was inside. Not physically, but in other ways. In prison, I was Inmate # 01-B-8746 and now I’m not even that. And I’m not the Jayson Holmes who went in either–that cocky bastard got the shit beat out of him three days after he went in. So who am I now?

That’s what this journey cross-country is about. Finding out.

I won’t write anymore tonight. Too tired. A little scared. Wondering what the hell I’m doing traveling hundreds of miles away. I had to tell my P.O. because I have a five year tail on my sentence. He didn’t have to approve it but he did. His name’s Chester. Older white dude who looks like he’s been doing this for dog-years. He has runny eyes, a cloudy blue. Behind his glasses he stared at me when I told him my plan to travel and see the country. I expected him to ask me why, or what I was planning to do out there. I expected him to be suspicious. But he didn’t seem to be.

“I hope you find it,” he said.

I didn’t even tell him I was looking for anything. I didn’t even know for sure that I was. But I guess I am looking for something. And I hope to God I find it.


Journey: Jayson’s Travel Journals

March 22


I thought about heading south to Philly, but that seemed kind of obvious. So instead, today I headed west towards the Appalachian Mountains in the direction of Pittsburgh. I stopped once, so I could call Chloe. She sounded like she was crying but trying to hide it. I think she believes I’ll never come back. I wanted to tell her that the only way for me to really ‘come back’ is to go on this trip. See, I never really came back home from prison. For the longest time, working in Rey’s garage, going home to that small room in his house, sleeping with a bunch of women I didn’t care about … that wasn’t me, that was me in limbo, waiting for Jayson to come back. Like I was asleep and going through the motions of the dream, waiting to wake up.

In Altoona, a woman tried to pick me up in the parking lot of a gas station with a little diner attached. I thought she was just looking for a quick hook-up, and was thinking that maybe she had a hotel room nearby or something. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days and her breath smelled like crap, too. It took me a minute to realize that she was a hooker, one of those they call ‘lot lizards’, who walk through truck stops and do tricks for like ten or twenty bucks a pop. And once I realized what she was, I saw about a dozen other women like her. Kinda messed with my head a little, that I couldn’t even recognize hookers when I saw them.

What the hell am I doing out here?

My cousin Ty used to pay crackheads to suck his dick once in awhile. I could never do it. When he made fun of me, I told him it was because I was too attached to my dick and couldn’t imagine putting it just anywhere. He looked like he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Ty. Stupid-ass Tyrone. One of these days, I’ll stop being mad at him, but I’m sure as hell not there yet. Not even close.

I wanted to call Keisha when I found a motel for the night. Just before I closed my eyes, I thought about her and the way she says my name. Jaaay, with the ‘aaaa’ elongated, like she’s caressing it with her tongue. Caressing it with her tongue. Yeah, that’s just what I need to be thinking about right now. I shouldn’t be thinking about that, or about her at all. So I’m going to just stop. For now anyway.

Until maybe tomorrow.


Journey: Jayson’s Travel Journals

March 27
Canton, Ohio

I fell in love while I was locked up. Nah. Not with a dude. Although that does happen, even to guys who weren’t gay before they came in. I have a theory, that the human heart is like that—it seeks out something, or someone to love. And if you live an unfulfilled life, it’s only because you never found that person, or that passion which filled your heart to capacity.

My third year in, I thought I found that. Her name was Donna Pierce. She was a law student in her final year of school who came onto the unit as part of a re-entry program. They showed us films about guys on the inside preparing to get out and coming to terms with the things they’d done, the time they missed and the lives they’d ruined. After the film, Donna led a discussion where I guess we inmates were supposed to see something of ourselves in the men on film.

Though she put up an image like she was comfortable sitting around on the unit with a bunch of beefy, horny convicts, I could tell that Donna was nervous. She didn’t know what to do with her arms and legs when she sat and spent lots of time arranging them, probably trying not to be too alluring. But hell, when you’re locked up, it doesn’t take much. Anything that bears hints of the feminine will make your dick hard. And Donna bore more than just hints. She had shoulder-length hair that she wore out whenever she came to the prison, and a deep, rich complexion that reminded me of Belgian dark chocolate. And her eyes, black as coal.

I remember the eyes and complexion now, but at the time I was more focused on her hands, slender and graceful, the slight hint of breasts she had—they were small, but more than enough for a dude in prison—and her beautiful, curvaceous hips. I went to watch her films, but never participated in the discussion afterwards, though I sat there staring at her. I mean, I hadn’t done a crime, so what the hell did any of that have to do with me, right? That’s what I thought at the time; that I was somehow going to come out of prison different or better than the other dudes who actually had done a crime. Stupid.

One day, after one of her screenings, Donna approached me. Usually the guys descended on her like locusts, asking questions they didn’t care about the answers to. This time, as I was about to saunter away, she stopped me. She didn’t just stop me, she touched me. She touched my arm. That was like lighting a fucking forest fire, having a woman touch me, all soft and gentle like that.

“Hey,” she said. “What’s your name? You always come to these discussions, but you never talk.”

“I’m Jayson,” I said.

And just that quickly, just because she looked at me in the eye, and because she was female and pretty and touched me with an intention other than custody and control, I was in love. Donna came back many times after that, and for a while, it seemed like she loved me too.

But that’s a story for another day.


dsc_0100BETTER OFF NOW

Maintaining the fiction of a perfect marriage–that had been the most difficult part. From the outside, had anyone known what was happening to Helen, they would have assumed the beatings were the worst of it. But they would have been wrong. If there was a way to rate levels of unhappiness, Helen would have put them in this order:

One; pretending–to family, friends and co-workers that the reason she walked so slowly, sat so carefully and wore such thick pancake makeup had nothing to do with anything of consequence, because of COURSE things at home were fine; of course she loved her husband and he loved her; and of course, he would never do anything so terrible as raise a hand to her.

Two; waiting to be hit–there was no way to characterize that other than ’emotional terrorism’. ‘Abuse’ seemed far too tame a word to describe what Brett put her through. The days and weeks and sometimes even months of sweetness, romantic gestures, gifts and praise, were all a cruel wind-up to the main event, which was always, always unexpected. On one occasion, he had immediately consoled Helen when she tearfully–and fearfully–confessed to having scratched his prized black Range Rover. But yet, her forgetting to get his favorite salad dressing led to a beating that cracked her front tooth, dislocated her jaw, broke a rib and landed her in hospital for a week.

Three; the beatings themselves–they ranked lowest on the list of things that had been difficult about being married to Brett. No one would believe her if she said it aloud, but it was true. The beatings were sometimes sweet relief. They validated her fear (‘See,’ she would think as he stomped on her abdomen. ‘Of course I should be afraid, because this is what he can do!’) and they externalized the pain she carried around inside all the time. The force of a fist on the side of her face, making her eye feel as though it might explode, only matched the resounding ache she had inside every moment of every single day.

Helen never told anyone any of this. She maintained her silence throughout her trial; she maintained it to her parents and Brett’s, and even with her defense attorney. No one understood how and why she stabbed her childhood sweetheart to death while he slept. They assumed she must have gone quite mad. That was her defense–temporary insanity. Helen let her attorney say that, because she didn’t much care about the outcome of her trial. Sitting in her cell, from the night she’d been arrested and even now that she’d been transferred to the prison following her conviction, Helen said nothing.

Because what she thought the moment she knew Brett was dead remained true, no matter where she was. What she thought then, and still thought every day, was, ‘I am better off now.’