“She did what?” Caroline asked as I pushed the grey stroller forward in the shopping crowd. Caroline, Nevaeh, and I decided to go shopping to pick over whatever is left from Black Friday, and mainly to get out of the house. I blame having a child, and an even bigger child as a partner, but I was in the mood to decorate my house for Christmas. So the three of us were shuffling through the mall with two toddlers, and a baby with a few shopping bags draped on our arms. Caroline had to show out with her thigh high boots and black long coat wearing with marley twist that were wrapped up in a bun. Silver framed glasses for her perfect vision, and a cream blouse with jeans. She looked, walked, and talked like she had money, and the way she had Violet dressed in her black coat, and boots with her hair brushed into a puffy bun, you would think she was a single mother that had her life together. Nevaeh, and I looked normal in our jeans, sneakers, and hoodies. Not attempting to impress anyone.
“She came over yesterday and had a melt down,” I said as Nevaeh came up behind us with a half eaten pretzel. “I’ve had worse from better clients so it was nothing to me.”
“And you don’t feel the least bit responsible for ruining that woman’s life?” Caroline pressed as I rolled my eyes. “That’s your problem today Delilah. You have a selfish mentality. You don’t look out for anyone’s interest but your own.”
“I make that clear from the beginning,” I said. “You know where I stand when dealing with me. I don’t care about you, your feelings, or your life. I only care about me, and I can only control how I react to the people around me. That’s it. Everything else in life is temporary. I’m not apologizing for that.”
“Even Stacey?” Caroline asked as I grew quiet. “He’s not temporary is he? You still talk to this very married man, and if Ben found out--.”
“There is nothing to find out because Stacey sends me pictures of the twins, and I send him pictures of Yuma. I’m friends with his wife---.”
“Right,” Nevaeh cut in as the two laughed.
“Nevaeh don’t be a follower to your big sis who knows nothing about love, and relationships,” I dragged. Caroline huffed with a raised chin.
“That’s why you don’t have many friends.”
“I don’t claim friends in the first place. They’re quick to claim me---.”
“You’re going to turn out just like your mother if you’re not careful,” she continued in an uppity manner.
“And is this, also the reason why I’m married with a child, and you’re not?” I snapped as her eyes widened when she looked at me.
“Can you two stop it? We’re supposed to be buying presents for everyone,” Nevaeh said softly as she pushed her way in between us with her daughter. “Mai hold Violet’s hand please, and Violet keep holding the stroller.”
The two little girls waddled together in their coats when Violet suddenly yanked one hand from the stroller, and the other from Mai’s hand as she stopped walking altogether, getting ready to start a public fit.
“Violet?” I called out as she glared at the ground, pissed. “Not here. Not today little woman.”
“We need to sit down anyway. Let’s grab a table so they can rest their feet,” Caroline said as she picked up Violet which instantly made Mai start to whine. Both girls feeding off each other’s energies. Violet was squirming to get out of Caroline’s hold while Mai called for her Daddy. Yuma was starting to stir in his seat before his little baby cries could be heard.
“I don’t know why I even agreed to watch this damn child,” Caroline muttered, grabbing Violet’s hands. “Aht aht! Stop it! We don’t hit! Little girl, I will bite each of these fingers off, keep playing with me.”
Violet stared at Caroline with watery eyes before attempting to mush her face in retaliation.
“Aht! Aht! What did I say? I said I was going to bite them, didn’t I?”
“Noooo!” Violet cried.
“I see some tables right there,” I pointed as I pushed the stroller forward with Nevaeh having to pull Mai aside.
We were able to squeeze our things on the round table as I pulled the stroller in front of me to check on Yuma. Violet settled down after being threatened to get a pow pow as Pia calls them, from Caroline. Mai had no reason to cry in particular. Whatever Violet did, she felt the need to do too, despite being a few months older.
“What’s the point of Homer coming to Atlanta if he’s just going to toss his own child towards us?” Caroline complained with a suck of her teeth. “Violet has her days where she hates us, and then her moments where she treats us like family.”
“That’s not true,” Nevaeh laughed. “She’s just a two year old Caroline. She acts like this with Pia on the regular. It’s what they do.”
“Well I don’t like it,” she declared, glaring at Violet, and Mai. “Mai knows we’re family but Pia isn’t really doing her job to get Violet to recognize us as family.”
“That would be Homer’s job, not hers. Pia isn’t family, he is,” I corrected.
“Same difference,” she waved off.
“It’s not, but okay.”
Caroline rolled her eyes at me for the last time until we all settled and watched the two girls stand together like sisters since birth. Mai pointed up, telling her to look while Violet pointed down, shaking her head as the two laughed. The crowd, and noise level of the mall grew as people began to move in packs. From rowdy teens standing on top of chairs to call out to someone to children crying with tired parents dragging them along. I gently rolled the stroller back and forth in a rocking motion to keep Yuma feeling busy as I took in the energy around me.
“Cece!” Violet cried out excitedly, running towards Caroline as she collapsed into her lap with a laugh. Mai followed right behind her, both rushing into my cousin. “Cece! Look!”
“What am I looking at?” Caroline asked, picking up Violet as they both looked up at the high ceiling. Mai was the second to crawl into her lap as I smiled.
“All that crap you were talking,” Nevaeh laughed. “Now look who is the favorite Auntie.”
“Well of course it's me,” she boasted. “Who else is going to watch Violet for the night while Homer is out doing his dirt?”
“Where’s Pia?” I asked.
“Who knows? Probably thinking Violet is with her sorry father. I mean, Homer is great and all but you stay putting her onto us like we’re meant to watch her while you go out with Tucker and the rest to some cheap strip club.”
“This pretzel is so good,” Nevaeh groaned in midchew as we turned to see the very pregnant Nevaeh eating a second pretzel. Didn’t even see her get up, let alone come back to sit down as she gave a piece to both girls. “I’m in the mood for salty things right now. I don’t understand it, but Homer isn’t at some club tonight.”
“And how do you know?” I asked, feeling my interest piqued.
“He’s taking Pia out on a date tonight. Omni----.”
“He’s what?!” Caroline shrieked. Nevaeh pulled out a third pretzel as she began to break off a piece to hand to the girls.
“I thought Omni told you guys… Or maybe I wasn’t supposed to say anything… I’m not sure,” she paused with a lick of her lips. “But yeah he’s taking her out on a date. Michael is supposed to be sneaking to her house tonight while they’re away and setting her room up with a few charms, and---.”
“Hold on, hold on. Back up,” I laughed, taking the pretzel away so I could have her undivided attention. “Michael who? Michael Skye? For what reason?”
“The story goes… Pia supposedly took something that belongs to Homer… When they first had sex. Who knows. It’s all confusing, and way too deep for me to process,” reaching for her food back as she broke another piece off to put in her mouth. “I just know that whatever is going down tonight between the two of them, Homer was really excited. I thought Omni told you guys? She was standing right there when they were talking about it. He claims a juju man told him it was an uneven exchange of energy that night so now? He’s trying to balance the scales, even it out… get it back? Any excuse not to say he likes her I suppose. I didn’t realize just how big of an asshole he really is, but setting up the mother of your child, locking her into the bed with you so you can have your way? While she’s…”
Nevaeh took a deep swallow of the bread as she continued to rant.
“Obviously under something she can’t control. It’s sick if you think about it. It’s rape. Well,” she chewed. “Not rape because I think?” She pointed at us. “I think she wants to have sex with him too which… I don’t know. I rather her not get involved with my brother because I like our friendship but it's rape in a sense that…” She swallowed, seeing the knot go down her throat before taking another bite. “It’s rape in a sense that he can control what happens in the bed. To sit around and tell grown men what you plan on doing to your baby’s mother? Omni said he grabbed a tampon from her trashcan to give to Michael. Stole a few hairs… Really gross. All of this happened yesterday so whatever Michael is planning, it's going to be big, and it's going to lock Pia in. She should probably be getting ready now. I started to tell her…. But my mind is just scattered lately. Pregnancy brain.”
We watched Nay carefully as she took down the last bit of her pretzel before I shook my head.
“Michael is going to learn not to follow behind his brother so much. That’s how he gets caught up in his dirt,” pulling my phone out.
“What are you going to do?”
“Do you have any strippers in your phone or someone who doesn’t care about life?” I asked, looking at Caroline who grew stiff in the face. “I know you do. Let’s not pretend you don’t have a type.”
“It’s not that,” she laughed before clearing her throat. “I have a few I can hit up. Why?”
I turned to see Nevaeh was already back into the food court, grabbing one of the samples from a platter.
“I need to get his fiance’s number,” I said, calling Francesca. “Michael will get enough of not minding his own business.”
“What are you up to?”
“Hi Francesca?” I greeted.
“Hey Delilah, wassup?”
“I need Ryan’s number. Do you have it? I’m throwing a get together and want to invite her personally. A small kickback early next year and just wanted to be sure I had it.”
“Oh she would love that. You guys will really like her,” she said. “Hold on, let me look through my phone and see…Just on my way to meet with her for a girls night out.”
I snapped my fingers for Caroline’s phone, seeing the contact for the stripper girl named Sin, and listened for the numbers as I began to text.
“What are you doing?” Caroline panicked. “Are you texting her?”
“And another thing,” Nevaeh let out randomly as she sat down with a plate of teriyaki chicken, and fried rice. The girls nearly clamored down from Caroline’s lap to sit beside Nevaeh, wanting to get a piece. “Mom said that Homer is trying so hard not to like Pia. He saw another man up on her, and almost went off. So I think this is just his excuse to sleep with her again, and to get close. You know he brought Violet up to Nasia’s place.”
“Noo!” Caroline gasped as my mouth dropped. “Nay, I like when you’re pregnant. You’re always messy and spilling everything.”
“Thank you Francesca. That will be all,” hanging up quickly. “He did what Nay?”
“I thought you all knew?” She pouted, sticking her fork into the glossy chicken. “He took Violet up to Nasia’s house and she started throwing stuff at them, and screaming. Mom said it was crazy. She never seen him so hurt over a woman, but she claims the way he looks at Pia like she’s something he owns… She thinks if Pia was to ever get into the position to be with Homer, and suddenly break up with him? It would destroy him. She has that much of a hold on him already. Maybe that’s why he thinks he has to do this...Trap her and take whatever hoohah she took from him?”
“Who is that?” Nevaeh suddenly asked with a point of her plastic fork. “This man keeps turning around and looking back at our table. Do any of you know him?”
We all turned back to see a table full of men dressed appropriately for the weather before they suddenly got up, tossing their food away. One man stood out almost immediately in his black slacks, and black dress shirt. Thick brown locs that were pulled back on his shoulders like a lion’s mane, and a creamy light brown complexion that went perfect with his brown eyes. He smiled, shaking his leg loose, showing off that thick muscular built from his thighs to his arms, and hips. His eyes were youthful, and playful when he glanced over at our table again. Eyes settling on Caroline before looking away. He looked like he used to play football at one point. Wide thick shoulders, and back with the trimmed waist. Even his pecks in his dress shirt were trying to burst through the buttons as he let out a laugh with his friends.
“Do you know him?” I asked.
“Not that I can recall. I get recognized from Youtube, especially when I travel so I’m sure that’s where he knows me from.”
I watched the man dump the last bit of food away as the group stood there talking, like they were pressuring him to walk over here. He looked back at our table, eyes lingering as I pointed at Caroline with a smile. He nodded.
“Oh my God Delilah,” Nevaeh whispered with laughter. “No you didn’t just bring him over here---.”
“Mmm, and he’s African. You can tell by his smile and his friends. He looks like a lion Caroline. King of his pride,” I said, eyeing him for myself. On rare occasions did I ever allow myself to find other men attractive, but if they were physically appealing to me, and this man was definitely on my radar, I had no problem admitting it. There was no totem or animal spirit attached to him. This man moved like a God on earth. Like a king among peasants. “I say he’s in this mid thirties based on his friends and the way they carry themselves. Too old for the bullshit and games, but young enough to still learn from it… Ex athlete or just has a healthy hefty body… Maybe around six two?”
“I’d say,” Nevaeh added as Caroline dropped her head with a groan.
“My ex was a professional athlete. I’m not doing that again.”
“Light skin, pretty smile… That little line of hair on his upper lip that stretches when he smiles, and he has white teeth. You know how you are about teeth cousin.”
“You know how I am about men in general cousin,” she retorted. “I’m not interested and if he comes over here, I will say it to his face.”
I started to open my mouth, but instantly shut it when he calmly made his way over towards our table. Standing behind Caroline’s chair for a second before glancing at his friends for that last bit of encouragement. He took an empty food court chair to pull over as he sat down next to her. Nevaeh was smiling so hard with teriyaki saw on the corners of her mouth while I simply nodded in greeting. Even the girls were grinning his way.
“Can we help you?” I asked, breaking his gaze from Caroline who finally sat up with confidence and stared back at him. The two didn’t say anything, but the man was clearly moved, and impressed. Caroline naturally wasn’t.
“I’m going to say this now so I don’t embarrass you in front of your little friends,” she started. “I’m not interested, nor will I ever be interested.”
“She’s gay,” Nevaeh added with a goofy nod before retracting under her sister’s hard glare. “I mean… She prefers girls or...dates---.”
“Thank you Nevaeh. I can speak for myself, why don’t you wipe around your mouth before you speak for me,” she snapped before turning back to the man who simply stared at her. “I’m not interested. Regardless of my sexuality which is not important to anyone at this table. I’m not interested.”
“So how can I get you interested?” He asked.
“Why waste your time?”
“I see it as more of a challenge,” he said, hearing a faint, very faint accent that attached to the last word. “Are you free tonight?”
“Dinner, and a movie?” He continued, as if he didn’t hear her.
“I rather not,” looking at her nails with pursed lips. “Sorry.”
He smiled before standing up, giving his boys a silent look that could have meant anything until he slowly leaned in towards her. His arm stretched around her, closing her in as he whispered something for her ears only. Caroline didn’t flinch, she didn’t curl or cringe from his touch. She just sat there as he spoke to her. I looked at Nevaeh, seeing her mouth form a tiny O before I leaned in to have a listen.
“You thought I wasn’t going to find you?” He asked in a low voice. I leaned over to see his chestnut brown eyes looking closely at her when he asked again, “hiding behind women, you thought I wouldn’t be able to find you?”
Caroline turned into him with the natural gesture as she spoke with dignity and attitude, but it was soft and delicate. Unnatural to her usual brash demeanor.
“So stop playing with me then. I’m here now. I’ll see you tonight so we can pick up where we left off,” he stated as he took her phone. The two exchanged numbers when he pulled back, saying goodbye to us before walking off with his friends. It felt like the entire mall looked at Caroline, waiting for her response as she nervously examined her perfect powder blue nails.
“You care to share who he is?” I asked with a laugh. “Is this somebody you’ve dated a few years ago or somebody you’ve dated in spirit, in another lifetime? What?”
“I rather not talk about it, and I rather this remain between us,” she said, seeing she was still flustered. “This cannot get back to anyone.”
“Agreed. We won’t say a word,” Nevaeh said with a nod.