#HolidayShorts Holdin’ it Down

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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.”

~~~

 

 

 

 

From ‘Because My Heart Said So’

lena-and-quentin-coverSo you may have heard that Jacinta Howard, Rae Lamar, Lily Java and I released a compilation of novellas, under the title ‘Because My Heart Said So’ this spring. Well, this winter, we’re each releasing the full-length novels for the stories started in that book. My contribution, ‘Acceptable Losses’ is excerpted here. Check it out, and if you haven’t already, check out ‘Because My Heart Said So’. 

About ‘Acceptable Losses’:

Quentin is in the middle of a separation from his wife that seems to have no conclusive end in sight, while Lena is stuck in Single Girl Hell. The only respite either of them have is their regular coffee dates, while working on shared projects at a very demanding job. Sick of hearing about Lena’s semidisastrous attempts to couple-up, Quentin decides to fix her up. With his brother. Seems like a perfect solution; after all, his brother is a decent enough guy and Lena deserves that. Perfect … until it appears that the fix-up might actually work.

From ‘Acceptable Losses’:

Mara looked amazing.

She had colored her hair a reddish-copper shade that complemented her dark skin and gave it a subtle, bronze glow. When Quentin first saw her a couple nights earlier, it was a surprise. It was still short, the look she favored to accentuate her high cheekbones and full lips, but in a different, more modern style. And as always, Mara looked flawlessly chic. Sitting across the table from her in Kapnos, their second dinner date in three days, Quentin recalled what he used to feel like being the man with her on his arm. Ten feet tall, that’s how.

Now, he observed her as though she was a beautiful stranger.

“What’re you thinking of having?” She was looking down at the menu, chewing on the corner of her lip in the way she always did when she was concentrating on something.

“Those phyllo pies sound amazing,” Quentin said. “You?”

“Something with lamb,” Mara said, still not looking up. “Can’t do Greek food and not have lamb.” Finally, she put her menu down and gave him her full attention.

Quentin instinctively smiled, but part of him wasn’t even there.

After their first successful dinner at Filomena, they were both relieved and maybe even a little over-exuberant because the evening had been a good one. By avoiding talk of their marriage and separation, they actually managed to have some semblance of a good time. And when they parted in front of the restaurant, Quentin kissed her on the cheek and felt Mara lean into it. For a few moments, he considered making the kiss something more, maybe even inviting Mara back to the house. She was his wife, after all, and he hadn’t gotten any in months. But the thought that the same might not be true of her held him back.

The next day they talked again—still pleasant. So they planned, tonight, to go to the restaurant owned and operated by a celebrity chef they had watched together years earlier on a television cooking reality show. Taking baby steps, they might somehow, soon, get to a place where they could talk about the big pink elephant in the room. Without trying to use it to trample each other to death.

“So how’s work been?” he asked. “We didn’t talk about that Monday.”

“The same. Lots of travel. But this year, thankfully, I might get to go someplace more exciting than Chicago or L.A.”

Mara was a corporate event planner. When they first met, when Quentin was in law school, she was already well established in her career, putting together high-end events for Washington DC’s movers and shakers. She had even done a few events for the firm after they were married, but now, for obvious reasons, someone else in her company handled the Fox Cheatham account.

Quentin couldn’t say that the frequent trips she had to take were responsible for the cracks in their marriage, but they sure hadn’t helped. After having a knock-down, drag-out fight with your spouse, it was generally better if they were around so the apologies could be made, and the make-up sex could be had. Instead, many of their fights ended with Mara having to get on a plane the next day, widening the distance between them, both literally and figuratively.

“So where to this year?”

“I might get to go to the UAE.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. Really excited about that one.”

“Going alone?” Quentin asked.

Mara’s face fell. “It’s for work, Quentin. So, yes, I’m going alone.”

“And if it weren’t for work?”

Mara leaned back, folding her arms. “There’s a question buried in there.”

“Does it sound buried? I thought I was being very direct.”

“So you want to know if I’m seeing anyone.”

“I do want to know that, yes.”

“Quentin …”

“We’re not in court, Mara. You don’t have to worry about saying anything self-incriminating. This is just me, just you. Talking.”

“And we were doing so well,” she said, almost to herself.

She picked up her glass of water and took a slow sip.

Then their waiter arrived and for a few minutes, they both busied themselves with asking questions about the menu, placing their orders and getting a wine recommendation. When they were alone again, the mood was different— taut and more than a little tense.

“You can ask me the same if you like,” Quentin offered.

“I already know the answer,” Mara said, squeezing her lips together in a tight purse.

“You do? How?”

“Because I know you. You wouldn’t bring up seeing other people unless you were certain you had the moral high-ground. You haven’t been seeing anyone, so you can’t waste the opportunity to show how comparatively … dirty my hands are.”

Mara looked up at him, and her eyes had hardened into the look that he became familiar with as their marriage began to fall apart.

“That’s your thing—being the good guy compared to everyone else. Your whole life is defined by that. Even with your family.” She shook her head. “You’re the ‘good son’, and Darius is the fuck-up, isn’t that how it works? You’re so used to being in relationships where the other party is cooperative about playing that role that you can’t stand it that I won’t fall in line.”

“That’s interesting psychoanalysis, Mara. But you haven’t answered the question.”

“Off the record, counselor?” she asked sarcastically.

“Yeah. Off the record.”

“I am seeing someone. Yes. There. Are you happy now? Did that adequately feed your righteous indignation?”

Quentin leaned in closer. “Did you honestly expect me to not want to know if my wife has been fucking someone else?” he asked.

Mara looked down at her lap. “Why are you doing this?”

“Doing what?”

“Starting this fight with me. Quentin, by the time I left, you wanted out of our marriage so badly, I could practically hear you hyperventilating every minute we were together. But you had to cast me as the villain to make yourself feel good about it.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“Is it? You need to feel like you’re justified to want out, but you also want me to be the one to pull the trigger. So after we got along so well a couple nights ago, I guess I should have seen this coming—you orchestrating this argument to …”

And for a moment, she stared at him and Quentin was shocked to see that there were tears in her eyes.

“You fell out of love with me, Quentin. I could almost feel when it happened. And then after that, you set about making sure I fell out of love with you … you just …” She stopped and took another sip of water. “Look, we’ve already been separated for nine months. In three more, we can get divorced without there being any admission of fault on either side. I suggest we agree to make that the plan.”

“You want a divorce.”

“Yes,” Mara said.

But what was curious about it was that she didn’t look resolved; she almost looked … defeated. Tired, even. For a fleeting moment, Quentin wondered whether any of what she said was true, that maybe he wanted out before she did, that he might have fallen out of love with her first.

“But what you said on the phone? That meant something to me. I want that,” Mara continued. “For us to not hate each other when all is said and done. So, yes, Quentin. You can have your divorce.”

“I don’t recall asking for …”

His wife looked him directly in the eyes and offered a small, sad laugh. “Oh yes you did,” she said. “Maybe not in words, but yes. You did.”

~~~

Read more about Quentin and Mara in the full-length novel, ‘Acceptable Losses’, coming this winter.

Motherhood

Young-Moms-Conference-NYCI love writing ‘stories of love’.  And the primary love in the story is usually that between a man and a woman, or a woman and herself. But a theme I revisit, time and again is motherhood. The most complex portrait of this bond that I’ve ever attempted was the relationship between Riley and Lorna in my latest book, ‘The Fall’.

The main character, Lorna is nothing if not imperfect as a mother. But despite all that, her daughter loves and even understands her. Their relationship for me embodies the mystery of motherhood. That we love them, sometimes despite who they are, rather than because of it. That the way we love, ever after, is marked by that very first bond–or lack thereof–we form with another human being.

From ‘THE FALL’:

“What the heck is that on your fingers?”

Lorna extended a hand and laughed. “Oh. Chipped nail polish.”

Riley leaned in as though she’d heard incorrectly. “Nail polish?”

They were in Lorna’s backyard, sitting on the ground while Cassidy picked up and studied the crimson and yellow leaves that had fallen and blanketed the grass beneath the large red maple. Before long, it would be way too cold to do this, but it had been an unseasonably warm November, and since Riley was up for the night, it seemed only right to take advantage of it by spending some time outside.

Nearby, Cullen was making piles of leaves, all in a row, and then kicking at and dispersing them once again. He had done so three or four times so far by Lorna’s count, and had yet to lose interest in the activity. He looked remarkably like Shawn, but had Riley’s disposition. A natural charmer, without even trying.

“Malcolm’s girls did it a couple weeks ago. And I don’t have the stuff that takes it off, so it’s been slowly chipping away. Unsightly, isn’t it?” Lorna looked at her nails and smiled.

Riley rolled her eyes. “The ‘stuff that takes if off’ is called nail polish remover, by the way. We can get some at CVS. I don’t think I can stand to look at that all day.”

Lorna laughed again. “They had fun putting it on, that’s the important thing.”

Riley looked down, and idly smoothed Cassidy’s hair, a strange look playing about the corners of her mouth.

“Well … I’m glad you’re enjoying them.”

Lorna leaned in a little. “Why’d you say it like that?”

“How’d I say it?” Riley shrugged. “I am. I’m glad you’re enjoying them. If you didn’t I’m sure you’d use it as an excuse to bump Malcolm to the curb or something.”

“Riley,” Lorna said tiredly. “I think we’re well past that, Malcolm and I.”

Shaking her head, Riley sighed. “I know you are. Sorry. I … I just …”

“Just what?”

Sighing again, Riley looked at her. “It’s just … strange, that’s all.”

“What’s strange? Talk to me.”

Cullen wandered over, dropping a few leaves on his sister’s head, to her delight. She laughed and he dropped more leaves, crouching next to her and beginning to cover her legs with them as well.

“You talk about his kids a lot. Especially Piper. I can tell you’re bonding with them.”

“And …?”

“You never had that much time for me, that’s all,” Riley said, speaking so quickly that her words tumbled one into the other.

“Riley, that’s …” Lorna stopped herself. Was that true?

“We never did nails, for instance,” Riley said almost accusingly.

“Because I’m not the doing nails type.”

“Well evidently you are, because …” Riley indicated her hands. “I mean, all I remember is times like you reading me something from Willa Cather and telling me how important her work was to ‘the development of notions about how women could undermine gender conventions.’ Jesus … I think that’s even a quote, word for word of what you said. That’s the kind of thing we did together. We never did nails.”

Lorna looked at her daughter and felt a surge of love, and of compassion. She was so used to feeling proud of their relationship, and of how close they were—and they were—but there were enormous fissures there as well. Things she hadn’t permitted herself to see because she was too busy being proud, in her heart of hearts taking credit for all her own accomplishments and for Riley’s as well—as though she’d ‘made’ Riley, crafted her with her own hands. When the truth of it was, much of what Riley had become was not at all because of her.

“Did you want to do nails?” Lorna asked softly, only half joking.

Riley looked at her. She was smiling but there were tears in her eyes as well. “I wanted to please you. That’s what I wanted.”

“Oh, darling …” Lorna leaned in and hugged her tight. “You did. You do.”

Riley was grasping her about the waist, holding on so tight, Lorna could barely take a breath.

“Riley, you are the most amazing unexpected gift of my life. The happiest happenstance … My first and deepest love. You know that.”

“It hasn’t felt like that lately,” Riley said against her shoulder.

Lorna pulled back and looked at her daughter’s face. It was tear-stained, crumpled and poised to produce more tears.

“What do you mean?”

“You have all this other stuff going on. None of which has anything to do with me. And I don’t even know what you’re up to these days. Are you writing a book? Planning a trip to China? I have no idea anymore. And it’s … just … strange. We never used to be like this.”

“I’ve felt a little bit the same way. You did Thanksgiving with Ryan and his family, and …”

“Mom, you hate Thanksgiving.”

“And so did you at one time.”

“I went because they invited us and I knew you wouldn’t care about Thanksgiving, so …”

“I don’t.” Lorna shook her head. “And I’m glad you went to Ryan’s, but I … Anyway, let’s not make this about me. The point I’m making is that both our lives are different and changing. But they’re good changes. And we’re still connected Riley, in ways that no one and nothing could ever compromise. What we’re doing is enlarging our circle, that’s all. And it’s bound to be uncomfortable at first, because we’ve been so used to it just being us. And then we let in Shawn … and these babies came along …”

Lorna looked at Cullen, who by now had all but covered his sister with leaves, like he wanted to disappear her altogether.

“Then it’s not that you like Malcolm’s daughters more than you liked me at that age?” Riley asked. And Lorna knew she was only pretending to be joking.

“I don’t like anyone more than I like you. At any age.”

Riley sighed, and looking over, finally realized what Cullen was up to. Laughing, she brushed leaves away from Cassidy and pointed Cullen back in the direction of his original piles-of-leaves project.

“Looks like I’m not the only one struggling with enlarging their circle,” she said dryly.

**********

Available Now On Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘The Fall’

The Fall Final Promo

From ‘The Fall’:

Tea usually worked to help calm her when her mind was racing, or if she could not sleep. Something like chamomile or peppermint, neither of which she really enjoyed under usual circumstances. But the chamomile didn’t work tonight, and neither did the one very small glass of chardonnay that she had immediately afterwards. Finally, Lorna tried just lying in bed, but when she closed her eyes, she saw Riley’s face—the surprise, and the disappointment, the hurt and the withdrawal.

Sitting up cross-legged after an hour of fruitless tries to get to sleep, she finally gave in to the impulse she’d had since early evening. The jeans she had been wearing that afternoon were on the floor nearby. She put them on. Then she slid her feet into her clogs, pulled a random sweatshirt over her head and left the house without even bothering to check in a mirror to see just how crazy she might look.

Malcolm answered his door surprisingly quickly, and looked tired but not as though he had been asleep. He said nothing when he saw her, but simply looked surprised.

“Are you alone?” Lorna asked.

It had only occurred to her on the drive over that he might not be.

He nodded. “Everything okay?”

“No,” she said. “Not really.”

And then she took a few steps forward which made him step back. He shut the door behind her and locked it.

“Lorna,” he said when they were facing each other again. “What …”

“Nothing. I was home, and couldn’t sleep.”

Malcolm waited for more, but then she saw him decide not to press her further about why she was there.

Lorna advanced slowly, and he watched her, waiting to see what she would do next. She didn’t usually have to initiate anything because normally he wasn’t one to wait. This time he did.

Putting her arms up and around his neck, Lorna exerted gentle pressure to pull him down. She closed her eyes just before their lips met, and relaxed her body against his. His lips softened, but he didn’t do what he always did. He was still holding back, to see what she might do. What she did was kiss him more deeply, press her tongue into his mouth, pull back and capture his lower lip between hers coaxing him, frustrated when he didn’t immediately take charge.

Letting her arms drop, she took a step back and shook her head. “Maybe I made a mistake. I thought …”

“What?”

“Nothing. I just wanted …” She turned away from him, but Malcolm grabbed her arm, pulling her back so she collided with his chest.

“You wanted what?” he demanded.

“I don’t know. I just …”

This?” he said. His lips pressed into hers, bruisingly hard; and he kissed her the way she liked him to—no waiting, no hesitating, just taking. One large hand came up to almost span her neck. He tilted her head to the side, kissing her there as well, his rough stubble scoring her skin. “This what you want?

“Yes.” Lorna exhaled. “This …”

Malcolm reached down and opened her jeans, sliding his hand down into it. He parted her with his fingers, stroking her none too gently while Lorna moved against his hand. His lips came to hers again, and he swallowed her moans, even as the rhythm of his fingers produced more of them. He moved her again, exposing the other side of her neck, licking and biting her there.

Now, he was out of control, but in charge at the same time.

“You came here to get fucked?”

“Yes,” she said again.

Abruptly, Malcolm lifted his head but his hand still worked on her. He looked angry. “I’m more than that, Lo,” he said.

Lo. He had never called her that before.

We’re more than that,” he added.

Lorna looked at him, or tried to. It was difficult to keep her eyes open or even to listen when he was touching her this way. She got on her toes, kissed him again and he made a sound of frustration. Then they were tussling with each other’s clothing, moving, lifting, peeling away. Malcolm had her naked in less than a minute and she had only succeeded in removing his shirt. Lifting her so her legs were wrapped around his torso, he carried her into his bedroom, which was dark. He had been writing, because the light and computer in his office were on. Lorna felt only the tiniest stab of remorse at having taken him away from his work. And even that disappeared when he lay her across the bed and immediately spread her legs wide.

Without further preliminaries, he stripped off what remained of his clothes and sank between her knees, shoving hard inside her with one long thrust. Gasping, Lorna clutched the sheets as Malcolm moved, each time with long, deep strokes. After her body’s initial slight resistance, she loosened and softened around him, warming and becoming more liquid.

Bowing his head as much as he could, Malcolm captured a nipple between his lips, tugging and sucking on it. The feeling was electric. Lorna’s hands came up atop his head, holding him there, and he nipped her, causing her hips to buck upward. When they did, he held her in place and pulled back, both of his hands pressing her immobile into the bed. Shifting tacks, he pulled out of her completely and sat back on his haunches. Hands still on her hips, he dragged her forward so that her butt was on his thighs. Now grabbing her at the knees, Malcolm used her legs as levers while he pumped in and out of her, forward and backward, his eyes trained downward, watching himself.

Lorna’s back was arched, only her shoulders and head making contact with the bed. She opened her eyes and saw only Malcolm’s face in a scowl of pleasure and concentration, his focus on their bodies joining. He didn’t look at her face, which was for a moment mildly troubling until the pleasure overtook all thought, and her head thrashed back and forth.

“This what you want?” Malcolm panted between breaths. “Like this?”

“Yeah,” Lorna panted. “Like that. Keep it … right there … like that …”

“Y’know what, Lo?” he said. He sounded angry. “Fuck you.”

Then he shoved her back further, so her butt was once again on the bed and he was no longer inside her. Lorna’s body clenched, protesting his sudden absence and she opened her eyes, just in time to see Malcolm come for her again, this time slinging both her legs over his shoulders and stabbing at her like he wanted to drive her through the mattress. His face was buried in the space between her neck and shoulder, again, not looking at her. She shouldn’t have cared, but she did.

Grabbing his face between her hands, Lorna forced eye contact.

“Malcolm …” she forced out. “It’s you I needed. You.”

Something in his eyes shifted and he slowed.

“Please. Don’t doubt that,” she said.

He blinked slowly and lowered his head, kissing her.

Babymaking: A Tracy and Brendan Drop-in

BabymakingThis is an unedited excerpt from a longer piece, coming in 2017:

Given that it was almost one a.m., Brendan was sure Tracy had long departed seriously-pissed-off and was somewhere approaching ballistic. But there hadn’t been any way to avoid it. The men he’d been entertaining all evening had flown in from Dubai. They were young Saudi sheiks, or sons of entrepreneurs or some such thing, with money to burn and looking to invest in music.

The Saudis were always hard to shake. When they came to the States they didn’t just expect to be shown a good time. No, these guys wanted pure debauchery. Strip clubs, loose women, hard liquor—the whole nine yards. That was the part of his business that Brendan seldom talked about with Tracy. She didn’t like him being around women in power-suits let alone those in G-strings shaking their tail in his face. And while Brendan never partook in that manner of festivity, he was definitely expected to be along for the ride.

Tonight, his charge had been a twenty-three year old with a potential $2.5 million investment who happened to like blondes. But he and his entourage had two very specific requests: full nudity and twerking. Easy enough in New York City, right? Wrong. Because dude also wanted them to have big butts. Like, really big. The stripper aesthetic differed from city to city, and big butts were more of a down South thing. New York clubs were more into toned and athletic girls, some of them more on the slender side. So they’d been to three clubs before Karim or Jahir or whatever-the-hell-his-name-was had found the perfect dancer who met his and his friends’ requirements. And then they’d spent the better part of three hours making it rain. What should have been a perfectly respectable evening having a few early drinks with potential business associates had turned into a frat boy’s wet dream.

And a husband’s nightmare.

Brendan couldn’t hear her as he opened the front door—the house was completely silent—but he knew for a fact that Tracy was wide awake. Wide awake and waiting.

Making his way up the stairs slowly, he tried to avoid the loud spots, but of course, failed. The door to the master bedroom, which was directly opposite the top of the stairs, was ajar. They were staying in Brooklyn these days, in the house that Tracy owned before they got married. Layla was starting to need more space and they’d agreed that the apartment in the city had way too many perils, not the least of which was the beautiful but child-unfriendly spiral staircase that led up to the loft.

Pausing before going in, Brendan instead decided to go check in on his little girl. The second bedroom, once Tracy’s home office, had been transformed into an explosion of pink, ruffles and butterflies, at the center of which was a “princess sleigh-bed”. And in the center of that bed, his baby girl lay, sleeping sweet little-girl dreams, her long wild, reddish-auburn hair spread around her head like a halo, her rosebud mouth slightly open, her breaths soft and even.

Smiling, Brendan knelt next to the bed and inhaled, kissing her lightly on the cheek and then on the forehead. In her sleep, Layla stretched out her arms, waiting to be lifted. He smiled, and gently pushed her arms back down to the covers. Around the time she turned a year old, things had been so hectic at work that he rarely made it home before her bedtime. So it had been his practice, as he had done tonight, to go into her room just to pick her up, hold her while she slept and walk back and forth in her room for a few minutes. The weight and warmth of this incredibly beautiful little being—the most amazing thing he had ever done in his life—was something he couldn’t even begin to describe.

Tonight he didn’t pick her up, but just looked, smelled her, kissed her and went back down the hall to face his wife.

When he opened the door to the master suite, Tracy was sitting up in bed, back straight as though she was in a yoga pose, her hair loose about her shoulders, arms folded on her lap, and legs stretched in front of her atop the covers. Still the most beautiful woman he had ever known, Tracy struck him right in the chest and in the gut whenever he walked into a room and caught sight of her. Tonight was no different.

“Is it important to you that we have another baby?” she asked, without greeting him first. Her voice was scarily calm.

Trick question, incoming.

“Of course it is. You know me. If it was up to me, we’d have a few more.”

“It is up to you, Brendan. All you have to do is make it home during the window.”

“Let’s not talk about ‘the window’ at one-thirty in the morning. I don’t think I have it in me right now to talk about ‘the window’.”

“According to the book, it’s our best chance for …”

“I know. You read The Book to me every morning for the last few months while I’m trying to get dressed for work, so I know all about it.”

“So you know today is …”

“Yep. I know. Ovulation Day.”

Brendan shed his shirt and began working on his pants. As exasperated as he was by the conversation, he was mostly relieved that she wasn’t angry after all. By Tracy standards, this was nothing short of a miracle. His wife was not one to take it well when things didn’t go according to plan. Particularly if the plan was hers.

“Are you making fun of this process?”

“Nope. Not at all.”

Tossing his clothes over the back of the bedroom armchair, he turned toward the bed, pausing only to switch off the overhead lighting, throwing the room into almost complete darkness. The only illumination came from the hallway where they always kept a dim light on in case they needed to make their way to Layla’s bedroom in the middle of the night.

Climbing on to the bed, Brendan grabbed his wife by the ankles and pulled her toward him, causing her to topple onto her back.

“Brendan!”

“Shh,” he said, spreading her legs. “You’re going to wake Layla.”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Tracy asked as he grasped her behind the knees and lifted her legs.

“We’re about to make a baby …”

“No.” Tracy said.

“No?”

“No, Brendan. It’s too late now. And anyway, you don’t get to come in here smelling like a distillery, hours later than you promised and get some purely-for-enjoyment sex.”

“What’s wrong with purely-for-enjoyment sex?” he asked, turning his head to kiss along her inner thigh. “That’s the only kind we used to have, remember?”

“I remember.”

Her voice had softened somewhat and she sighed as he made his way up her right thigh toward the apex, and her chest had begun to rise and fall more visibly. Baring his teeth, he nipped her lightly and was rewarded with Tracy swatting him on top of his head.

“You suck,” she said. “We missed the window because of you.”

“I don’t suck,” Brendan said sliding a hand up and under her nightshirt. “But I will …” He tweaked a nipple and Tracy’s pelvis lifted off the bed.

“You always think you can placate me with sex,” she said.

“Because I always can.” Brendan moved up her body so that finally, they were face-to-face.

Tracy’s greenish-amber eyes blinked slowly, and her perfect bow-shaped lips curled into a smile. Her hair was wild and disheveled, spread around her head and shoulders on the pillow. It caught what little light there was, so that it seemed streaked in gold.

Brendan smiled back, and for a few long moments they just looked at each other. He loved the hell out of this woman, with all her edges, and moods and complications. But among the things he loved most was how hopeless she was at hiding all she felt for him. Even now, pissed as she was, he saw it in those incredible eyes of her.

“I’m sorry,” he said finally. “I should’ve been here.”

Tracy reached up and swatted the top of his head again. “Yeah. You should have,” she said quietly. And then a pause. “So … where were you?”

Brendan froze, weighing the odds that Tracy’s surprisingly mellow mood would persist if he told her the complete truth. He felt her legs, wrapped around his torso slacken a little.

“Out with a potential investor. Young guy from the Middle East. He wanted a little … Western-style entertainment.”

“So you were at a … country-and-western bar?” Tracy asked sweetly.

“No,” Brendan said slowly. “Not exactly.”

“Brendan …” Tracy’s voice hardened.

“Sweetheart …”

“Brendan, tell me you weren’t at a …”

“Yes. But I swear I didn’t enjoy it.”

Tracy thrashed around beneath him, trying to get free, and shoving fruitlessly against his chest. “Get off me,” she ordered.

“Tracy, c’mon.”

“C’mon nothing! You know how I feel about those places, and yet you …”

“I go where the investors and clients want to go, Tracy. You know that. You think I want some sweaty-assed chick who’s been groped by a dozen guys grinding on me?”

“What do you mean grinding on you? Did you get a freakin’ lap-dance?”

Brendan sighed and rolled over onto his back. “No, sweetheart, I didn’t get a lap-dance.”

“You’d better not have, Brendan. Or …”

“Okay, okay. Let’s fight about this tomorrow. Are we having sex or not?”

“Not.”

“Fine. G’night then. I’m exhausted.”

After getting up to switch off the bathroom light, Brendan climbed back into bed. Next to him, though they weren’t touching, he felt Tracy’s tension and wakefulness. She could never sustain her anger at him for very long. She flared, and then she cooled, and then they were all over each other again. Knowing that by morning the whole disagreement would be a thing of the past made it much easier for Brendan to be sanguine about it. Still, it would probably take her another hour to drift off as she tried to talk herself down from her annoyance, while he could already feel himself slipping beneath the soft cloak of sleep. His wife was nothing if not intense; and once she made up her mind to do something she was single-minded until it was accomplished. And having a second baby was definitely her new mission.

The pregnancy with Layla had been far from uneventful. Even their daughter’s conception had happened somewhat against the odds. Tracy had been on and off the pill, and only occasionally having periods. And Brendan definitely hadn’t been trying to get her pregnant back then, because they weren’t married. He only began to reconcile himself to fatherhood—and acknowledge how much he wanted it—when Tracy almost miscarried in her first trimester. But after Layla was born, that was it, he was all the way gone, and the future he imagined for them included a large family.

But unlike Tracy, he was willing to trust that it would all happen in the fullness of time—they didn’t need to orchestrate everything. But because family, their family, was Tracy’s only occupation—since she had left her job to be a full-time homemaker a year after they married—Brendan was happy to let her be in charge of all things home-related, including the baby-making. The problem was, knowing his wife, if she couldn’t have even a modicum of control over the process, she would grow increasingly tense.

“Hey,” he said to her in the dark.

“What?”

“Come closer.”

He heard and felt Tracy move toward him, but still, they didn’t touch.

“Closer,” he said again.

This time he felt her arm brush against his.

Closer.”

“Brendan …”

He dragged Tracy closer still, so that her head was on his chest and his arm. Heaving a deep sigh, he shut his eyes again. “Good. There,” he said. “That’s where you’re supposed to be.”

“You still suck,” Tracy whispered.

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.’


SAMPLE SUNDAY: ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’

Eduardo promo

FROM ‘The Education of Miri Acosta’:

“So, are you going to help me or not?”

“Help you with what, Eduardo?”

“The social media nonsense.”

Miri smiled in spite of her earlier resolution to freeze him out. It was a good thing he couldn’t actually see her smile. It would betray how much of a pushover she was.

After managing to get through the entire Sunday dinner a few days ago without saying more than two dozen words to Duardo, her sense of triumph was almost immediately thereafter supplanted by a very hollow feeling when she recalled that the team was moving to a couple games out West, and she would likely not see him again for several more weeks. Talk about biting off her nose to spite her face.

Each morning since, she woke up pretending she wasn’t hoping he’d texted her, and each lunch hour felt barren and uninteresting. Miri had just about given up hope for their friendship when her phone rang. It was far too late for anyone to be calling unless it was an emergency—well after eleven p.m.—but she hadn’t the willpower to simply ignore him. Back when they’d been actually communicating, when he was away they seldom spoke on the phone, most often connecting by text. The chance to hear his voice, particularly when she wouldn’t see him for so long was too much to pass up, so Miri answered, trying to sound casual, and a little sleepy when neither of those things could be further from the truth.

The truth was, she’d been in bed for well over an hour, with all the lights off save one, and the television on, waiting for the Sandman to show up and lead her to slumber. She’d just about given up on him and was planning to try reading a novel when her phone chimed.

“If you don’t help me, I’ll have to pay a consultant. My agent tells me that’ll run me somewhere around ten thousand.”

“Ten thousand?” Miri sat up in bed, outraged. “That’s ridiculous. No not ridiculous, it’s insane.”

“Well what do I know? I guess I’ll have to pay it. Unless you want to help me out.”

“You don’t need anyone to help you out, Eduardo. A ten-year old can do this stuff. And you must have Facebook, right? And Tumblr? You …”

“No.”

“No? Not even just for you and your friends back home to keep in touch?”

“Everyone I want to keep in touch with, I keep in touch with. Facebook never made much sense to me. It basically keeps you in touch with people you never made a real effort to see in the real world. And probably for good reasons.”

Miri rolled her eyes. “I love Facebook. And Tumblr, and Instagram, and Snapchat. You get to make your own little virtual village. You admit the people you want in your village and you ignore the ones you don’t want in your village. Social media is one of the most important things to happen in the digital age.”

“You sound like an expert.” There was a smile in his voice. “So you’re the perfect person to help me.”

Miri sighed and leaned back against her pillows once again, resting the phone against her ear. Next to her bed, there was a half empty mug of chamomile tea. Tepid by now, it was supposed to be helping her get to sleep. Now she was grateful it hadn’t worked. But strangely, just hearing Duardo’s voice had settled something for her; she was relaxing and suspected that once their conversation was done, a sound sleep would follow.

“Hey. You still with me?”

Aside from being relaxing, his voice, in her ear while she lay in bed, also made her feel a little naughty, like she was doing something wrong. Miri was suddenly hyperaware of her nipples, and how they felt brushing against the fabric of her tank top. And she had the urge to slide a hand down her stomach, and between her thighs. What if she did? What would it matter? It wasn’t as though he would know what she was doing.

“I’m here,” she said.

“You’re being quiet again,” Duardo said, sounding suspicious. “Like you were last Sunday at your brother’s house. Did I … is something wrong?”

“Something like what?” Miri played with the lacy edges of her underwear. Did she dare?

“Did your brother tell you I talked to him?”

“He did.” Miri slid her hand beneath the waistband of her panties, tentative at first and still hesitant to let the genie out of the bottle with Duardo’s voice in her ear.

“And is that why you …”

“Why I what?”

For the first time in her life, she wondered whether she should wax. Like, wax … completely. Nessa said she did, and that it made sex more pleasurable. Made everything more pleasurable. Of course, Miri had never actually had sex, and had only her imagination to tell her what the “everything” referred to.

“Miri. You sound strange. What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”

What was strange was that they had been on the phone for only about five minutes, and yet she was moved just by the sound of his voice to do something that she seldom did otherwise. Now, parting her legs and touching herself, Miri was stunned at how wet she was, how sensitive. She couldn’t do this with him on the phone, because after the lightest touch, she was already having a difficult time remaining completely silent, and not giving in to the urge to moan.

“So?” Duardo prompted.

“So … what, Eduardo?”

“Stop calling me that,” he said, sounding somewhat testy.

“Calling you what?” she laughed lightly. “Your name?”

“You stopped calling me ‘Eduardo’ since the second time I laid eyes on you. Now all of a sudden you address me the way my parish priest would?”

If Miri didn’t know better, she would think he was upset with her. But why? Moments before, he seemed fine. And besides he was the one who was out carousing with blondes in short skirts. But she wouldn’t think about that right now, it would upset her groove and the slick, slow rhythm she was beginning to establish with her right hand. Slowly, her eyes fell shut as she moved her fingers in circles, stroking herself. A slight moan escaped her lips and she held still for a moment, waiting to see whether he had heard it, and would react.

“Okay, it’s late,” he finally conceded. “I just want to know whether you’ll do the social media set-up for me. Just tell me that much and I’ll let you get off.”

Miri couldn’t help it. She erupted in surprised laughter, halting her motions for a moment because if she kept it up, she really would get off.

“What the hell is so funny?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. Yes, I’ll do the social media set-up for you. Although it’s really idiot-proof and if you just took a couple hours, you could do all of it yourself. The hardest part will be gathering all the images you have on your various devices, and …”

“I don’t have time for that.”

“You literally could have done some of it in the time it took us to have this conversation.”

“And what if I just wanted to have the conversation?” he asked. “What if the social media stuff is only part of the reason I called?”

Miri opened her eyes and froze for a moment. “So I didn’t scare you off by being so mean on Sunday?” she asked, before she could consider the wisdom of the question.

This time it was Duardo’s turn to laugh. “Last Sunday, that was you ‘being mean’?”

Well, as mean as she could manage, anyway.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Why?” Shit. Now what was she going to say? That she saw a picture of him with the blonde and was jealous?

Jealous. Yes. That was what she was. She’d seen a picture of Duardo with a woman he was more than likely involved with, and it made her positively green. The woman-in-the-little-white-dress probably didn’t need to surreptitiously touch herself while listening to Duardo’s voice from across the country. The woman-in-the-little-white-dress had probably experienced Duardo’s fingers doing to her what Miri now had to do for herself.

There it was. Thinking of him with someone else made her … jealous. Now what the hell was she going to do about it?

“You’re right,” she said quickly. “It is late. And I have work tomorrow, so how about we talk later this week about getting you plugged in?”

“Hey, wait a minute. I want to know why you were …”

“We’ll talk again soon, okay?”

He said nothing in response, but in the silence, she could feel his displeasure.

“One thing I need you to do though?” she said.

“Yeah. What?”

“While you’re away, take pictures. Places you go, things you see, even meals you eat. Take pictures with your phone and then save them for when I see you next, okay?”

“Sure. But wh…”

“Duardo. I really do have to get some rest.”

Miri ended the call before he could get another word in, and quickly shut off her bedside light, sliding even deeper under the covers as though hiding. And then for good measure, she turned off her phone. It took her a few minutes, lying there in the dark, to admit that there was no way she would fall off to sleep unassisted.

Sighing, Miri reached down once again, closed her eyes and summoned the image of Duardo’s tanned arms, the outline of his muscles under a grey t-shirt—for some reason he favored grey—and the look he sometimes gave her that almost fooled her into thinking that he wanted her too.