Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Romance  ➡  Contemporary  ➡  African American fiction  ➡  Romance

Synergy

p={color:#000;}.

Synergy

Copyright 2015 Georgia Payne

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1 – Trap

Chapter 2 – Showtime

Chapter 3 – Club X

Chapter 4 – One Night Stand

Chapter 5 – Hangover

Chapter 6 – A Day in the Life

Chapter 7 – Famous

Chapter 8 – Home

Chapter 9 – Friends

Chapter 10 – Locked Up

Chapter 11 – Bombshell

Chapter 12 – Calm Before the Storm

Chapter 13 – First Date Nerves

Chapter 14 – You’re Forgiven

Chapter 15 – Deleisha

Chapter 16 – Four Months

Chapter 17 – First Impressions

Chapter 18 – Domestic

Chapter 19 – Falling in Love with You

Chapter 20 – Lucky Charms

Chapter 21 – Five Months

Chapter 22 – Flight

Chapter 23 – Meet the Parents

Chapter 24 – Family

Chapter 25 – Fight or Flight

Chapter 26 – Twins

Chapter 27 – Touchdown

Chapter 28 – Kiki

Chapter 29 – Birthday Plans

Chapter 30 – No Apologies Given

Chapter 31 – Painful Memories

Chapter 32 – Proposition

Chapter 33 – Maybe

Chapter 34 – Labour

Author Note

About the Author

 

 

To my wonderful sisters, who support my writing in any way they can – from late night chats about plot lines and character developments, to early editing. I really do appreciate it.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

 

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

 

 

[]Prologue

 

It was a cold, bitter night in the streets of Detroit, Michigan. Although they had seen the worst of their winter, there was still a chill in the air. People were still wearing coats but had mostly abandoned their hats and gloves in anticipation of the spring months. Although the daytime had showed a glimmer of hope of the sunshine to come, the night had turned frosty unexpectedly. The sidewalk glistened with frost and as people walked over it, it crunched under their feet.

 

It was Friday night and though it was usual for the streets to be busy, tonight there was an extra atmosphere. This Friday was payday for those that worked, and they were ready to let their hair down after a busy working week. Most were let out of work early on Friday’s and the streets were quick to fill up with people rushing home. The roads were full with cars closely following the one in front, eager to make every green light. Music blared from open car windows, cigarette smoke billowing from the crevice.

 

Weekends were always eventful in this city. Most partied till the early hours, in clubs or people’s homes and they always made a lasting impression on their neighbours. The emergency room in the nearest hospital would be full to the brim by Friday night and would stay that way right through till Sunday. Injuries ranged from broken bones, a domestic gone wrong, or in more serious – though not uncommon – situations, stabbings or shootings.

 

On this particular Friday night, some revellers had started their evening early, going out straight from work. They would be the ones who later staggered back early and spewed on the street before they made it to their homes. Some would pass out in the club and have to be escorted out. In a lot of cases, they would find themselves in someone else’s bed in the morning with no recollection of the night before or the identity of the person they left sleeping.

 

For the unemployed, Friday was just another night. They were gathering in large groups round friend’s houses, loading up on cheap vodka and rosé before plans for the rest of the night unveiled. Rap music could be heard pounding from most houses in a mile radius, some with their windows open, despite the cold weather. Of course, for most, it would be to let out the fumes of their weed smoke.

 

For the teenagers in the neighbourhood who couldn’t go to each other’s houses or out to a club, the streets were one big adventure. They’d stand in crowds outside the convenience store, being generally loud and abusive to anyone who would comment on their rowdy behaviour. Some of these kids had never had a good role model in their lives; they didn’t fear anyone. Most people wouldn’t challenge them through fear of being their next victim. In the past, kids were just kids, but now, in a country where guns and knives were the norm, kids no longer fought with their fists. You didn’t have to be ‘hard’ to succeed in a fight, as long as you were quick and armed.

 

As the night progressed, girls ventured out of their houses dressed in sparkly dresses, their six inch heels staggering down the street despite the frost beneath their feet. On Diamond Street, one of the nosiest streets in Detroit, babies cried while their mothers argued with their boyfriends, drug pushers hammered on doors looking for their money, and a little further down the street, a woman who was cheating on her husband could be seen waving out a lover. For some, Diamond Street would be somewhere shocking, a place they would avoid. For Dee Thompson, this was her life.

[] Chapter 1 – Trap

Dee

It was 8:30pm and the latest rap songs could be heard from a top bedroom window. Inside, Dee Thompson was sitting at a dressing table, applying her lipstick in the mirror as she sang along to the songs quietly. Her dark brown eyes were covered in heavy black makeup, creating a smoky look, whilst her plump lips were being covered in a vibrant pink. The contrast with her dark cocoa skin complimented her complexion. Behind the over the top makeup was a beautiful woman, one who didn’t need much makeup to look good, but in a job like hers, appearance was everything. Most importantly, it was money.

Dee stood up and looked at herself in the mirror. She studied her face for a few seconds, checking to see if the makeup she had just applied was perfect. She gave her hair one last scrunch, her long black curls spilling over her shoulders. Picking up a beer bottle from the dressing table, she knocked back the last sip and placed the bottle back down before moving from the mirror. Her mini skirt barely covered her behind and her cropped top showed off her flawless cleavage. Her large breasts were all hers, something a lot of the girls she worked with couldn’t claim. Her 22-year-old body was slim and toned, and she wore a sparkly belly bar in her navel. Once she was satisfied with her appearance, she grabbed her trench coat and began to button it up before taking one last look in the mirror. She pulled her curls from inside of her coat, letting them flow down her back.

As she moved to the other side of the bedroom, she turned off her music, placing her music player in her pocket for the journey ahead. The sudden silence highlighted shouting in the near distance. Though it sounded like it was coming from outside, it didn’t sound too far from her home. For many, shouting may provoke alarm, but Dee barely batted an eyelid. Shouting was the norm on Diamond Street and with the walls of the houses so thin, you could often hear the neighbours rowing. However, as the shouts turned to screams a startled Dee headed for the bedroom window. Janet Houston, a larger lady in her 40s who lived across from Dee, hovered over a body lying on the ground. She was screaming, pleading for someone to help as tears gushed down her face. Dee saw utter devastation in her features, but before she could place the identity of the person on the floor, someone shouted ‘DARREN.’ He was Janet’s husband.

The couple had moved in around five years ago. Dee and her family often heard the two of them shouting and arguing. Sometimes the fights would end up on the streets but again, this was nothing out of the ordinary for Diamond Street. Most of the time, nobody got involved. It wasn’t until the family saw strange men arriving and leaving throughout the day while Darren was at work that Janet’s secret was revealed to everybody; she was cheating on him. Some women had tried to make Janet see sense. Darren wasn’t somebody you wanted to mess with; they had all seen how angry and heated he could get during their arguments, and rumours were afloat that he’d done time before for beating her. Nevertheless, Janet carried on doing what she wanted to do.

As she watched the scene from her bedroom window, Dee became more concerned at the lack of movement from the body that lay on the floor. She closed her curtain behind her as she turned from the window, left the room and went downstairs. As she did, she heard commotion from downstairs and knew her family must be watching the same scene. As she entered the living room she saw her mother peering out of the window. Without looking up, she gestured for Dee to join her. With no beating around the bush, her mother exclaimed, “I think Darren Houston just got stabbed!”

Her mother was short in stature, around five feet, and a chubby lady. She wasn’t always chubby; it was more a recent thing. Presumably since she gave up drugs a few years ago, she used food as a substitute. Dee joined her mother at the window, towering over her in her heels. By now, Janet was hysterical and as someone pulled her from the floor, blood covered her hands.

“You don’t think…?” Dee started but her mother cut her off.

“Girl, Janet ain’t even like that. No. She wouldn’t.”

Although her mother had her opinion, Dee wasn’t so sure. After all, she’d learnt not to trust people a long time ago; she found they were often unpredictable. Plus, she knew if a man had put his hands on her like Darren had to Janet, she sure as hell wouldn’t think twice about slicing that motherfucker.

Gathering her thoughts for a moment, Dee moved from the window and headed back up the stairs, this time to the bedroom at the end of the corridor. She opened the door slowly and poked her head in. She could see a little face peeping out from the covers, eyes tight shut. As she watched the little person breathe, she was sure he was asleep and made her way into the room quietly. As she approached the bed, she saw the little boy in his Spiderman pyjamas fast asleep. She squatted down next to the bed and rubbed her hand over his head. His dark skin was smooth and soft and underneath his closed eyelids were the most beautiful brown eyes, just like his father’s.

Sometimes she had to reality check herself that he was hers, her perfect little son. He was the only constant in her life, the only man she could ever trust. Not wanting to wake him up, she thanked her lucky stars that he was a deep sleeper and oblivious to the commotion outside. She placed a soft kiss on his forehead before making her way back down the stairs. As she reached the bottom, she picked up her bag from the banister and announced her departure to her mom.

Dee moved as quickly as possible out of the street, not wanting to get caught up in the commotion. She had a job to get to, and standing around gawping at something wasn’t considered help, though many would use it to get the gossip. As she turned the corner into Emerald Street, she heard the loud sirens of police and ambulance heading towards her street. She sighed and picked up her walking pace. Just another night.

As Dee turned the corner she saw the usual group of teen boys hanging outside Tina Bryant’s house. Tina was a single mom, and despite her best efforts to keep her teenage son on the straight and narrow, he had already been thrown out of school. God only knew who or where his father was. Though Tina had been seen with a lot of men over the years, no one was too sure whether any of them were the boy’s father. That was the problem with most kids in Dee’s neighbourhood; most of them had never had or known a father. They learnt everything from their mothers, and with the lack of a male figure they tended to latch onto older, more experienced boys and take note of their behaviour. This led to half the neighbourhood ending up in jail or a coffin.

Tina’s 14-year-old son was in the middle of the group, wearing his hood up over his cap and smoking from a large blunt. Rashaad was a nice boy, he always hollered at Dee as she passed and although he had the bravado, she knew he was harmless. That kid even had some potential; he got straight As in school before he was kicked out for his unruly behaviour. Just as she walked a few steps closer Rashaad turned around and saw her coming. He wolf whistled down the street and the group of boys with him laughed and nudged each other.

“Yo baby!” he shouted, watching her walk closer.

“When you gon’ stop frontin’ and give me a chance?” He smiled her way waiting for her reply, knowing she would laugh him off. Dee kept a straight face as she walked toward him, never feeling intimidated in their presence.

“In ya’ dreams lil boy!” she replied, and that sent his friends roaring into laughter.

As Dee drew level with Tina Bryant’s house, she smiled at Rashaad.

“Stay outta trouble, ya heard?” she told him. He nodded before he passed his blunt to another boy, who Dee knew as Dean Rowland. He was 17 and had just been released from prison a few months ago. Dee worried about Rashaad’s future knowing he was hanging around with the likes of Dean Rowland; that boy had been trouble from the minute he was born. She knew if Rashaad continued to hang out with him, he would end up the same way.

Dee thought about Rashaad Bryant on the way to work. She thought about what his future could be if he lived in a better city than this one. She often had the same thoughts about her own family, especially her son. He was practically still a baby, but she always worried about his future. She wondered if she would ever get out of this town, and how she would do it. She knew handfuls of people who always proclaimed they were ‘getting out of this fucking town’ but she had yet to meet someone who had grown up here and started a better life somewhere else. People got stuck here, it was a trap. 

[] Chapter 2 – Showtime

Jason

As he let the water from the shower head pound down on his body, heat steaming up the bathroom, Jason Taylor immersed himself fully under the flow and ran his hands over his dark brown hair, letting his fingers entwine through the locks. Massaging his scalp gently, Jason closed his bright blue eyes for a moment and thought about the events of the day. He remembered the plane ride over to Detroit and how he’d had little sleep despite flying on the best personal jet money could buy as well as being given duck feather pillows and blankets. He’d never found sleeping  while travelling easy to do, whether it was on a plane, train or car; he was always aware he was moving and that put him off. This didn’t really work out well for him since he spent most of his days travelling back and forth from city to city.

He opened his eyes once again, and moved out of the way of the water. By now, the bathroom was filled with steam and he had to squint to see the objects around him. He grabbed the two nearest bottles to him and held them close to his face, one eye shut as he read the labels. Seeing one labelled ‘shampoo’ he put the other bottle down and squirted some into his hand, then rubbed it onto his head, lathering it in his hair.

 He had come to Detroit to work with a songwriter and producer by the name of Tim Sky. He was extremely honoured to be able to work with him, as he had had success in his own right as well as having written countless popular songs for other artists. Jason had always written his own songs, but now and then it was nice to work together with somebody else on a project, and with a new album in the works, he was looking for exciting artists to collaborate with. He wished that in his line of work it was enough to just come to Detroit for the purpose of recording with someone and literally do that then go home, but he knew it was never that simple. In his business, it was always about showing your face, about promoting what you’ve got going on, and keeping people interested.

Already today he had done both a TV and a radio interview, in which they asked the same damn questions as always. *][*What’s the new album going to be like[? Well, you can’t tell them anything there, because then the mystery is gone. *]Have you got a girlfriend[? No, I’m too busy. That wasn’t a lie either. He’d had relationships before, but he’d been single for a while now. It was too hard to keep a relationship alive when you were so busy and never in one place for too long, plus most girls found the ‘celebrity thing’ too intimidating, or they wanted you ][*because *][*of the celebrity status. Dating another celebrity was also too hard, because they were just as busy as you.]

Jason finished shampooing his hair, and started to rinse it off. As foamy shampoo ran down the plughole, he thought about what tonight had in store for him. He had been writing in the studio until this evening and he’d barely had time to get back to the hotel when his best friend and personal assistant Tom had insisted they go to some strip club he’d heard about.

Tom Hewitt had been Jason’s best friend since they were kids. Their moms were friends so when they both had sons at the same time, they automatically became like brothers. They had attended the same school, gone on family vacations together and generally had been together through every childhood and teenage milestone. Jason always knew he was going to sing, and so when he joined a band at the age of fifteen and a few years later they made it big, it was natural for Tom to come along and join him on every tour, promotion and event alike. It was a natural progression when Jason went solo after the band split up that Tom became his personal assistant.

For the most part it worked. Being so close, Tom knew what Jason liked and didn’t like, but as he also had to be professional, sometimes their friendship ended up a little strained from day to day. Despite everything though, they remained best friends and Jason knew he’d never find another like him, especially since these days it was hard to tell who was actually there for you and who was interested in your money or your fame.

If Jason had his way, he probably would have stayed in tonight and slept, the Lord knew he needed the rest. He had just finished a worldwide tour that had lasted over a year, so although lying low and recording was downtime for him, he felt he still wasn’t rested enough. Tom, though, had other plans. He had sent Jason to his room to get ready and then he was ‘taking him out.’ He wasn’t sure where they were going but he had heard him mention a strip club in the plans. Reluctantly, he’d agreed.

Jason and Tom were staying in the best hotel they could find, their rooms next to each other. Of course, a handful of security was also stationed at the doors. Jason hated the fact he had to walk around with an entourage, but he knew it was for the best. He knew from experience some girls could go pretty crazy and if anything, it saved them rather than himself. Sometimes though, he did just go out alone and hope no-one noticed him, and on occasions, it did work.

Jason finally rubbed shower gel over his muscular abs and chest, and then under his arms before moving back under the water and letting it drain off his body. Finally clean, he cleared his mind and stood silently under the showerhead, enjoying the sound of the running water as it pounded over him and felt the heat radiate through his body.

As he stared idly into the steamy confines of the bathroom, a sudden knock on the bathroom door made him jump slightly, shattering his rare moment of peace and quiet.

“Jase! You better be getting ready in there!”[_ _]Tom’s muffled voice yelled through the door.

Jason snapped out of his zombie-like state and rolled his eyes.

“I’m in the shower, man!”

“Well you better be out of the shower in five minutes tops, we got things to do, places to be.”

“So you keep saying.”

Dee

 Club X’s neon sign illuminated the sidewalk with its gaudy colours. If anyone was new to this town, they would probably think ‘cheap’ before they even stepped inside. However, it was also cheap drinks so for anyone who didn’t mind the strippers around them; it was a popular spot for pre-drinks. As Dee got to the corner of the block she could see there was already a queue of people waiting in the barriers outside to get in. Most were men, but there were a few females too. She eyed up the line as she walked past just to get an idea of her clientele tonight.

As she walked past the barriers and headed straight in the front door, a few people sighed and sent  dirty looks her way, not realising she worked there. The security guard, Raoul, nodded at her as she entered. He was one of Dee’s favourite bouncers at the club. He was a stocky Hispanic man with caramel skin and a friendly smile. He didn’t speak too often, but would always smile and greet you, and if you had any trouble, he’d be sure to deal with it. Dee liked that he was quiet; it was a nice change from most people she knew. He never asked too many questions or got involved in her life, he just did his job and went home to his family; a nice man.

Dee always showed a little early to work, just to get a free drink – or two – at the bar before her shift. One perk of working here was she never had to pay for a drink. The bar staff would just slip her them free of charge or sometimes the customers would send them over to her. Tonight Paul Harrison was working behind the bar, a cute mid-twenties guy with dark hair and stubble. He told people he was straight but Dee and the girls at the club knew better. She knew because her friend Keisha had a thing for white men and one night had tried it on with him after too much tequila. Although they had all watched the pair go into the back together, Keisha later told how he’d admitted he was gay but didn’t want anyone to know. She promised him she wouldn’t say anything but of course, Keisha’s big mouth let it slip. Dee kind of liked that Paul was gay. She knew he was being nice to her because he wanted to be, not because he wanted to get in her pants.

Walking past Brooke, the stripper who was sliding down the pole as she entered, she approached the bar and took off her coat to reveal her skimpy outfit. She knew a few heads had turned around her and she smirked. As much as she sometimes hated the job, she couldn’t help but like the attention at times. Paul, who was shutting the till drawer after a transaction had seen the heads move and followed their gaze. His face lit up as he saw her.

“Dee!” he exclaimed, moving to her as she sat down on the bar stool crossing her legs.

“Tequila?” he questioned, but before she had even answered he grabbed a shot glass and poured it for her. Dee picked up the shot glass and knocked it back, barely wincing, gesturing for him to pour another, which he did. She leaned closer to hear him over the music and asked “Busy tonight?” Paul nodded and smiled at her.

 “You’re gonna get some big tips tonight girl!”

Dee returned his smile and knocked back the second shot. It always made her feel better to hear it was a busy night. More customers meant more money.

Dee sat for a minute at the bar, looking around. A large group of young men surrounded the stage, throwing dollar bills like there was no tomorrow. These men were barely men to be honest, they looked like university kids, sporting their chunky black glasses and beanie hats; probably rich kids come to experience a cheap night at the strip club before they moved somewhere more exclusive. They saw the likes of these kids come through the doors pretty often on a weekend. They’d show early, get their fill of women and throw a few bills before moving somewhere else for the night. They usually tipped well but they could get an attitude sometimes, sitting on their high horse thinking they’re better than everyone else.

Dee’s attention moved back to the bar, watching Paul work. She watched him flirt with the girls and make them feel special, making cocktails and pouring shots. He really did have a nice smile. What a waste he was to women being gay, but how lucky some guy would be one day. He was pretty much the best looking white guy she had ever seen. He had these bright blue eyes that felt like they were staring into your soul or something when he looked at you, and his smile could make any girl weak at the knees. He had stubble rather than a full beard, and always looked presentable in his smart jeans and waistcoats.

Once Paul had served all the waiting customers, he gave a nod to the other bartender on shift and walked round to the other side of the bar and sat on the stool next to Dee.

”Are you slacking off Mr Harrison?” she teased as he sat down. He laughed.

“Oh, someone’s flirty tonight. Keep that up for the customers.” he winked her way and she smiled. She enjoyed talking to Paul. He would always ask about her son and her family, actually taking an interest in her life.

 After chatting at the bar for a few more minutes and knocking back her third shot, Dee got up and walked toward the back room. It was situated between the bar and the ladies room, behind an unmarked door with a keypad lock on it. Sometimes they would get drunk customers trying to get in through that door for the toilet but since they didn’t know the code, there were never any bad situations. Dee punched in the number and went through the first door and then headed through the beaded door curtain on her right. She could hear Keisha before she could see her. As she stepped through the beads, Keisha shouted her way.

“Girl…” she drawled. “Them boots!”

Dee laughed and approached Keisha who was sat in front of the mirror applying her eyelashes. She’d seen Dee’s boots in the reflection.  Keisha swung around in her seat to get a better look.

 “Are these the Giuseppes?”

Dee nodded. Giuseppe Zanotti shoes were one of Dee’s favourites. She busted her ass to save enough to buy a pair but it was worth it.

 Keisha started to feel up the leather on her boots and gushed about how much she loved them. Dee laughed and hit her on the arm playfully. Keisha was older than Dee, 27 in fact. She had three little boys, her oldest was ten and her twins were four. When Dee had first started working at the club a year ago, she and Keisha had instantly hit it off. Keisha had her first child at seventeen, Dee had hers at twenty.  She would always ask Keisha for advice and between shifts they’d share stories. Keisha’s baby daddy was serving a life sentence for murder, starting last year when the youngest were three. He had been in a gang since his teens and finally, the law caught up to him. Keisha didn’t talk about him very often, and Dee didn’t like to bring up a sore subject. She didn’t hold back asking Dee about her child’s father though.

 “You heard from Trey?” Keisha asked as she turned back to the mirror to finish applying glue to her eyelashes. Dee’s face darkened as she flopped onto the leather sofa opposite.

“No. Son of a bitch won’t even answer my calls.”

Dee wasn’t with Trey anymore, and she hadn’t been for over a year but she wanted her son to see his father, it was only fair to allow that. Lately Trey had been avoiding her calls, not answering her texts, and despite only living a couple blocks away, he was never home when she practically knocked the door down. She was tired of him messing her son around. Tushaun was only two years old and deserved better. Dee and Trey were only fourteen years old when they met. From fifteen, they were an item. High school sweethearts she guessed other people would call them.  They were, for the five years they lasted, but as soon as Tushaun was born Trey changed. He turned from a devoted boyfriend to a distant one. Then there was the cheating.

 As Dee drifted off into her thoughts, a shout interrupted them.

 “Dee!” Evan shouted. Evan was the manager of the club, a bald man in his forties.

“You’re up.”

Dee stood up and said goodbye to Keisha, thinking of Trey and his bullshit the whole way to the stage. But as she took her place at the pole and the spotlight shone down on her, her thoughts evaporated with the sound of the music. Showtime.

[] Chapter 3 – Club X

Jason

When Tom organised a night out for the two of them, he certainly didn’t leave anything to the imagination. He had it all covered: food, drinks, entertainment. Jason knew there was a reason he chose Tom as his PA; and not just because they were friends. They’d started out the night at this nice Italian place in an upscale area just outside of the hotel. He’d never seen a menu so extensive; you could choose from anything and everything. In the end, he ordered pretty much half of the menu for he and Tom to try. They obviously weren’t going to eat it all but he liked to be able to taste everything.

Money wasn’t an issue for Jason, and it wasn’t that he was cocky with it; he just honestly didn’t even notice it anymore. He wouldn’t think twice about going into a store and buying whatever he wanted without looking at the price tags; he just knew he could afford it. He wasn’t greedy with his money, he never had been. He wasn’t born with money and growing up his family had struggled a little, so he fully appreciated what he had now. He regularly helped out at charity events and did everything he could for his family. He had bought his mother a new house, cars – everything she wanted. He had put his cousins through college, and made sure no-one ever wanted for anything. Despite all that, he had worked hard for his money, so he intended to have some fun with it too – after all, he could be dead tomorrow.

Once Jason and Tom had eaten as much food as they could stomach, ‘leaving some room for drinks’ Tom reminded him, they ordered shots from the waitress. After they were paid up at the restaurant, they walked down the strip of bars where they ordered at least one drink from each. Most of them were upscale places, wine bars and such, and so their night started out quiet. They sat on the bar stools and chatted about the day as they poured back whiskey doubles and Jason signed a few autographs for fellow customers who recognised him at the bar. They were all nice about it – they got their autograph and left; they didn’t scream or pass out, or hang around them all night, which was nice, he thought.

Jason was almost starting to feel like a normal person until he spotted a girl outside of one bar taking photos on her iPhone, shortly followed by a small crowd all following suit. Tom had noticed too, and before long, he threw back the last sip of his whiskey and stood up, pulling his phone out his pocket. As Jason finished his drink and signalled for the waitress so he could pay up, he heard Tom calling their car to come pick them up. That was another thing  Jason missed, just being able to jump in a cab like everyone else, but having their own personal ride was safer, it seemed, so they always had a driver they could call to pick them up and take them places.

Tom ushered Jason out of the bar, and the two were met by a gathering of girls that had formed outside to gush over Jason and ask for pictures and autographs. Usually, Jason would take the time to do it, but tonight was supposed to be his night off. Nevertheless, he couldn’t take the guilt he felt as he passed them by, so he stopped Tom in his tracks. Tom raised an eyebrow, wondering if he was actually going to stop and sign all those autographs. By then he was feeling a little buzzed and wanted nothing more than to move onto the next place before things got out of hand. He watched as Jason pulled his phone out of his pocket and handed it to him.

“Take our picture,” he said, as he got in the middle of the small crowd of girls and put his arms around one either side. The girls squealed and beamed, looking like all their wishes had come true, as Tom snapped a couple for good measure on the camera, handing it back to Jason.

“I’ll upload it tomorrow,” Jason told the girls, and their smiles told him everything, as he climbed into the back of the car.

“You’re too nice, you know that?” Tom smiled.

“I know,” Jason drawled in his southern twang. “I can’t take the guilt man.”

The two of them laughed in unison before Tom told their driver their next destination. Jason didn’t know where they were headed, but as they drove, the streets got darker and dingier; there were fewer street lights and more graffiti. After about a fifteen minute drive, they pulled up to an intimate sized venue with a large neon sign that read ‘Club X.’

“This is it?” Jason questioned.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover, dude. Trust me, when you see the women you’ll change your mind.”

Later down the line, Jason would remember that line and smile.

As they stepped out of the car, they walked past the few people still queuing to get in, and towards the large Hispanic security man at the doors. Of course Tom had let the club know in advance they were coming – that was a huge advantage of being with Jason, you never had to queue for anything. The Hispanic man gave them the nod and another smaller, light-skinned man appeared from behind the doors and led them into the club to a section at the back, presumably the VIP area. There was a bottle of Grey Goose on the table, as well as champagne on ice and a couple of glasses. Jason still found that crazy, that once you have money, you never have to pay for anything, yet if you’re dirt poor, nothing comes free.

 They made their way into their seats, and looked up to the girl currently sliding down the stripper pole. She had caramel-coloured skin and dyed red hair, with a few tattoos dotted around her body. There was one on her thigh, a few on her arms, and a love heart on one breast. Jason watched her work the pole, and though he appreciated her skill, there wasn’t really anything enticing about her. He poured himself and Tom shots of vodka and they clinked their glasses together before downing them. He decided he was going to enjoy the night, despite Tom’s venue choice.

As the two of them watched the rest of the girl’s dance, they chatted and laughed between themselves, before the girl left the stage and a man’s voice on the microphone announced

 “Now, give a warm welcome to the beautiful Dee!”

Jason watched as a girl strutted up to the front of the stage. She had dark cocoa skin, and long black curls that fell past her shoulders and onto her breasts, which were pushed up to emphasize her cleavage. He watched as she curled one leg around the pole and twirled seductively around it.

“Shut your mouth, you’ll catch flies.” Tom joked.

Jason snapped out of it and laughed along with his friend, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of the girl on stage. Dee…

Dee

When Dee’s last dance of the night had finished, she headed to the dressing room, pushing past a few drunks standing in the doorway, one of whom leered towards her trying to get in her face. Nonchalantly, she shoved him out of the way with one hand, sending him stumbling the other way. She heard him mumble something but ignored whatever he had to say, barging through the dressing room door. She heard laughter coming from inside the beaded entrance, and she knew the belly laugh was Keisha’s; no-one could mistake that raucous sound. As she peeled back the beads, she saw Keisha sitting on a chair in front of the mirror, reapplying her lip gloss through bouts of laughter, with another dancer, Jenai, slumped on the sofa opposite, a fat joint in her right hand.

“Hola sexy mama!”  Keisha remarked, as Dee entered the room and took a seat on the sofa next to Jenai, who smiled her way.

“What’chu guys laughing at?” Dee questioned, as Jenai handed Dee her blunt.

Keisha laughed once more, before spinning round in her chair to face them .

“Girl! You would not believe the hot mess that is working here.”

“Who?”

“You know that new girl…Raspberry Swirl or some shit.”

It wasn’t uncommon for girls to use a pseudonym to hide their real identities. Dee personally thought it was pointless. When you come from a town like hers, everybody knows everybody; it wouldn’t be long before somebody saw her and spread it to the rest of the town. The girls who usually used a pseudonym usually had a rich daddy who was putting them through school. Anything they earned here was their pocket money.

“What she do?” Dee questioned, remembering the young white girl with the strawberry blonde hair she’d seen on her last shift.

“Little hoe-bag been working here like, a week? She done gone home with a different dang customer every night.  Think somebody need to explain to her it ain’t that type of business.”

Dee raised her eyebrows as she blew out a billow of smoke. “For real?”

“For real. She even tried to go home with Paul last night…and girls, we know she definitely barking up the wrong tree there.”

Dee and Jenai burst into laughter.

“Want to say that a lil’ louder, Keesh? Don’t think Paul heard you.”

At that, Keisha put her hand over her mouth.

“Shit. I ain’t supposed to say nothing.”

“We already know!” the girls announced together.

“Yeah but…shut up! Let’s get some drinks.”

Just then, Dee’s phone began to ring in her purse which was on the floor across the room. Keisha, closest to it, opened up Dee’s purse. Before she handed the phone over, she glanced at the caller ID.

“It’s Trey! Oh girl, pur-leazeee let me answer it, I’mma go ape-shit.”

Dee held her hand out and gestured for Keisha to hand it to her.

 “No Keesh.”

Keisha sighed and handed it to Dee.

Dee took one last puff of the blunt in her hand, and stubbed it into the ashtray on the arm of the sofa, before accepting the call and putting it to her ear.

“So now you call back.” She started.

“Yeah, now I call back, ‘cuz you done left 20 million voicemails on here. The fuck you get off calling me a bad father?” Trey’s voice shouted through the phone.

“Maybe ‘cause you done ignored your son for months, Trey!” she barked back. She felt the anger rising in her stomach like verbal bile and her hands began to shake as she felt ready to explode at his words.  Keisha and Jenai watched intently, not speaking as they listened to the one sided conversation they could hear from Dee.

“There you go exaggerating again. It ain’t been months; it’s been a couple weeks, Dee. Stop being such a fucking drama queen.”

“The last time you seen Tushaun it was February 5th on your mom’s birthday. It’s now March 15th, so actually, it’s been over a fucking month so don’t speak to me like I’m an idiot!” Dee shouted, her voice rising as the anger boiled inside her.

“Well I’ve been working to provide for my son, so don’t start talking shit about I’m a bad dad,” Trey shouted. This time the girls could hear what was being said on the other end of the phone.

“What you been doing to provide?” he questioned. “Being a slut, showing yourself to strangers? Yeah I know what you been doing Dee, so don’t play that innocent card.”

Dee tried to protest over his shouting; she wanted to tell him that she knew for a fact he wasn’t working and to stop lying, but he only spoke louder.

“I’ll see Tushaun next week, and I’ll talk to you then. I ain’t arguing with you.”

With that, he ended the call.

In anger, Dee flung her phone across the room, and it smashed off the wall opposite, landing in pieces on the floor with a smashed screen. Keisha leapt to Dee’s side to comfort her as Jenai went to pick up the pieces of the phone, and began to put them back together.

“Ignore him Dee, he’s talking shit.” Keisha said, as she put her arm round her friend. Dee silently fumed as she took some deep breaths, attempting to slow her heart rate. Her hands still shook in her lap, and she knew she had to get herself under control. She had always struggled with her anger, and it had often gotten her into trouble. She thought it sounded clichéd to say she saw red, but something definitely happened to her in these moments. It was like she wasn’t in control of her own body; it was just pure reflex. She would throw things, sometimes punches, and it was up to whoever was on the receiving end to get out of the way. She and Trey had that in common and it had resulted in them both sporting black eyes at some points during their relationship.

Dee got pregnant with her son at nineteen. It wasn’t a particularly planned pregnancy but they weren’t exactly taking all the right precautions either; a kind of act now and think later situation. Unlike a lot of people in her neighbourhood, she was actually with her baby’s father when she got pregnant, in fact, they were pretty much childhood sweethearts. Dee was fifteen when she started dating Trey. They went to the same school for years and she had always had a crush on him. He was always a troublemaker, getting excluded from school and causing fights during lunch. He had this softer side too though –  he was the class clown, always making people smile, and his own smile was something that melted many hearts. He had a reputation, even at thirteen, for sleeping with girls and not looking at them the next day. Girls just flocked to him, and he loved every minute of it.

When they were both fourteen, Dee and her group of girlfriends became friends with Trey and his crew. The two groups would hang out together during break and lunchtime, laughing and joking, and smoking a sneaky blunt. It was clear even then Dee and Trey got on well together; they were always flirting and play fighting, and there was an instant aura of jealousy among the year group. Trey didn’t instantly drop his player ways though, and he found out the hard way not to mess with Dee when she found him texting other girls after they’d slept together. When she punched him in the nose in front of half the school, she definitely made her point. She wasn’t one to mess with. Unfortunately, Trey wasn’t a changed man for long.

At seventeen, the two of them left school early with no qualifications. It wasn’t exactly something out of the ordinary in that school. It was a joint decision to leave, and though Dee would never like to think she was persuaded into anything she didn’t want to do, she did wonder if it was the right move, but she trusted him when he said things would work out. Trey started selling weed at sixteen and sometimes Dee helped. By the time they were seventeen, Dee had a reputation in their area for selling the best quality in the neighbourhood, and her looks didn’t hurt either.

Living a life selling weed worked out for them for a while. They got their own place together a few streets away from their parents, and Dee even got some modelling work. It didn’t pay great but it was money, and that was what mattered. Everything seemed fine, before Trey started selling harder stuff. He began taking some of it too. His lifestyle started to completely change; it was like she could see him changing in front of her eyes. His cheeky smile had gone, and he was staying out all night, coming in smelling of perfume and liquor. One night she waited up for him and when he finally stumbled in the door, he was mad that she’d waited up; he thought she was ‘trying to catch him out.’ When she saw the red lipstick on his collar, she launched at him, but his reflexes kicked in and she was thrown across the room. She hit her face on the wall.

It was at a modelling shoot that Dee heard about a casting call for a girl for a hip hop video. She’d often watched those girls and thought she could do a better job, but she never knew how to approach something like that. When she heard the name of the rapper it was for, she felt ridiculous for even thinking about it, but she was encouraged by some other models who were going to it. The next day, she was queuing outside the casting building. When the video came on TV with Dee as the main lady, people in her neighbourhood went crazy. People had more respect for her than they had before, and this time not just as their local dope girl. But while everybody else raved about the video, Trey acted jealous. He didn’t like the fact that men were ogling her on TV, or the fact that she had a sex scene with a well known rapper. As staged as it was, it felt real to him. He knew he couldn’t compare to some hip hop icon. When Dee got her pay check from the job, he blew it all.

When Dee found out she was pregnant it was a shock to the system for the both of them. How were they going to afford it? How would they look after it? They didn’t know anything about babies. They both walked on eggshells at first, not sure what to say or how to feel, worried about upsetting the other, but when they both went to the first baby scan, and heard how it was healthy, things changed. Trey was suddenly becoming the old Trey, the one she knew from school. He treated her better, he stayed home more and he stopped taking the drugs. Things were looking up, or so Dee thought. Once Tushaun was born, the novelty wore off.

Jenai looked up at Dee.

“Hate to say this, but your phone won’t switch on”

Dee pursed her lips in anger; it almost looked like a pout to everyone else. It was her classic ‘angry’ face. “Fuck’s sake.” She muttered under her breath.

Keisha waved her hand in dismissal.

 “Forget about the phone, my brother can get you another one. Let’s just forget about him and get a drink”

Dee smiled at Keisha, and tried to forget as she suggested. Her anger wasn’t going to help anything right now. With that, the girls stood up and headed into the club.

[] Chapter 4 – One Night Stand

Dee

She knew it was a bad idea, drinking so much while she was pissed off, but she did it anyway. When Keisha suggested the three girls go get some drinks and have a dance, they headed straight to the bar to see Paul, who poured around 20 shots and put them on a tray, which they then shared out between them. Dee’s head was spinning with thoughts of Trey and then of Tushaun. She wished it didn’t have to be like this. She wished she could be one of the happy ones, the ones that stayed together and did right by the kids. She couldn’t help but wonder whether it was something she did. Was she not good enough? Did she not treat him right? Maybe if she wasn’t so moody, so stubborn, so God damn bitchy on the regular…

“Dee!” Keisha snapped her fingers in Dee’s face, causing whatever thoughts were spinning around to suddenly evaporate. She blinked and let her eyes focus.

“You okay?”

Dee nodded and forced a smile, before she knocked back the last remaining shot and got to her feet unsteadily. Walking with a strut in her knee high boots, she led the two girls into the middle of the dance floor, which was now full of people.

It’s funny how music can have such an effect on people, how it can alter their mood, thought Dee.  She had always loved music, it was her safe haven. No matter what life threw at her, she could always put her earphones in after a hard day and let the music take her away. During those moments, she was the girl the rappers were talking about; she had a good, drama free-life with money at her discretion; she wasn’t born and raised in the ghetto with an absent baby daddy and a mounting stack of bills. That alternate reality always had to come to an end, but for tonight, she was in it again. She threw her arms up in the air as the music pounded through the club, the beat vibrating through her body. She sang along at the top of her lungs, knowing no one could hear and she laughed as Jenai pushed away an over-eager customer.  She could lose herself in this reality.

[After a while, the effects of the Tequila shots started to wear off and she was once again envisioning Trey and his words on the phone replayed in her mind. *][‘What you been doing to provide*]?’ he spat. She sighed as she thought of the next line he used. ‘Being a slut, showing yourself to strangers.’ *][*She tried to shake off his words but she was starting to feel a little angry again, and she needed to bring herself back down. ‘Being a slut’, *][*his words hit her again.

In one swift moment, she shimmied past the men behind her to leave the dance floor, not saying anything to the girls, but as she passed in front of the men, she felt a hand on her ass.  One of them had decided to slap it as she went past, but then had grabbed it forcefully when she tried to carry on walking. She spun around quickly, and saw a short bald man with a grin on his face. She didn’t return the grin.

Usually, her face said it all for people. She had perfected her angry look, and most who saw it would back off within seconds. This guy, however, had clearly never seen the face before, or met Dee before for that matter. The guy had no idea what he’d just gotten himself into. He probably thought he could get away with it. Sadly, he was mistaken, and as her fist flew up in record speed, he had barely any time to react.

Unfortunately for Dee, another, taller guy who stood leering next to the first guy had obviously spotted her face, and was probably expecting her reaction. Moving at the same lightning speed, he grabbed her arm, just stopping her fist from making contact with short guy’s face. He held her arm tightly, his fingers pressing down on her skin. His intention was clearly to protect his friend from Dee’s wrath, not to cause injury, but the pressure on her arm was unnecessary, she felt, and Dee was a fighter. This only made her more determined to hurt somebody. Her left arm, which was still free, flew up in reaction, making contact with tall guy’s nose. She felt the soft cartilage shift under her knuckles and simultaneously felt a sharp pain radiate up her hand.

As he released her right arm from his clutches to grab onto his nose, which was now covered in blood, his short friend made a move toward Dee. In a flash, she moved toward him and kneed him in the groin, causing him to stagger back in pain. While both men reacted to their injuries, she moved swiftly off the dance floor and changed her original destination of the bar to the staff room. She punched in the code with her right, uninjured hand and let the door slam behind her. Once she was safe behind the door, she slumped to the floor holding onto her hand and winced in pain.

After a few short moments taking deep breaths, she braved looking at her hand. Cradling it in her right hand, she saw broken skin and red seeping through, plus what looked like the start of some serious bruising. Though she threw an amazing punch with her right hand, she had never before hit with her left, it was never necessary – she had never missed with her right. After sitting for another moment breathing through her teeth, she stood up and braved the walk into the dressing area. She looked around the corner and saw that it was empty. The dressing table was full of lipsticks and hairbrushes, and the ashtray that was hanging on the arm of the sofa was full of ash and stubbed out blunts, but no one seemed to be there.

As she moved fully into the dressing room, she saw the tower of lockers to her right behind the toilet door. She walked slowly to the lockers, heading for the one that matched her in height completely, around 5”5. She always remembered her own locker by this fact, not by the number. She could never remember the number. Sliding her good hand down her top into her bra, she felt for the small key at the bottom of her cleavage. Once she fished it out, she put it into the locker straight in front of her and retrieved her black handbag.

Dee wasted no time in finding her pre-rolled blunts in the zipped pocket and lighting one up. There was a time when there was a fire alarm in this room, and the slightest bit of smoke would set it off. However, their manager, Evan, got sick and tired of evacuating the club or running and shouting ‘False alarm!’ while desperately trying to fan away the smoke with a towel. It was most likely illegal to not have one in the staff area, but honestly, he just didn’t care, and neither did the girls. As long as they could get baked after their show or at least have a cigarette to calm their nerves before the show, they were good.

Once Dee had her bag over her shoulder and a blunt in her mouth, she didn’t waste any time in getting out of the staff room. The last thing she wanted was for someone to come running in and question her about her hand. She moved swiftly back into the club, and hoped she could blend back into the atmosphere. With the weed going to her head, and the many shots finally catching up with her, she suddenly felt a little unsteady on her feet, so when she was close to the bar, she used the bar stools for support . As she slid under the gap to the staff area, she was suddenly taken by the arm by Paul, who had seen her coming.

“Dee, you can’t be behind here.”

“Wh-Why not?”[_ _]she stuttered, a smile on her face.

Paul looked at her for a second and returned her smile, before he moved with her to the customer-side of the bar.

“Come on drunky, I’ll have a drink with you.”[_ _]He laughed, as he gestured to the other barman to take over. Bringing a bottle of vodka with him, he helped Dee onto a stool before he poured them each a small shot size amount, and filled the rest with cranberry juice. He sat himself onto the stool next to her then turned in her direction.

“What’s wrong beautiful?  You look down.”

“Why can’t you be straight?” she blurted out, cupping her hand over her mouth in surprise. The two of them laughed in unison.

“I ask myself that every day.”

Jason

So maybe going out wasn’t such a bad idea after all, Jason thought. He was actually wondering why he objected to it in the first place. He’d had some great food, great drink, great company, and he had Tom to thank for that. Once they’d watched all the dancers the club had to offer, they’d invited some people over to their table and had a few rounds of shots. Tom seemed to be getting on well with a woman about their age; she was tall, blonde, and spoke with a Middle Eastern accent. The only problem was Tom was in a committed relationship, in fact, they’d been engaged for a few years now, and even had a baby together. Carmen, his fiancée, had put up with Tom since they were around eighteen and baby Lydia came along just over 18 months ago, so Jason knew it was his responsibility to make sure Tom did not go home with anyone tonight.

Throughout the night, Jason had tried to send hints Tom’s way but all he’d done was insisted he was simply acting as ‘wingman’ to try to find someone for Jason. Jason wasn’t sure how true that was, but nonetheless, he continued his night. It was around 1am by now, and whatever drinks he’d downed during the night were starting to wear off a little, so he told Tom he was heading to the bar. The club had started to die down now; he guessed because people had used this place as a stop gap, or had only come for the ‘main attraction’[* i.e. the girls, then gone somewhere else. As Jason walked to the bar, he saw one man sitting at one end on one of the four bar stools, and a man and woman sitting at the other end. The remaining barstool in the middle was empty so he took his place there waiting for some service. After a second, the man who was sitting with the dark-skinned woman stood up and moved behind the bar.*]

“What can I get you?” he asked Jason.

“JD and coke please.”

The man, who was probably around Jason’s age, with stubble, poured out the drink and took Jason’s money, before turning back to the woman on the bar stool.

“I’ve gotta get cleaning, Dee – no more drinks ok?” He joked, smiling her way.

“Yeah yeah,” the woman muttered sarcastically.

As she spoke, Jason turned his blue eyes in the direction of her voice. He took in her dark cocoa skin, black curls falling down her back and over her shoulder. Her skin looked smooth, and he couldn’t help but notice on her small frame she carried a large chest and cleavage. He must have looked a moment too long, because her eyes turned to his.

“Enjoying the view?” she asked. Her lips were thick and full, and a layer of shiny lipstick made them look juicy and enticing.

“Lost for words?” She raised her eyebrow at him, and it was only then he realised he still had not said a word to her since he’d sat down. He awkwardly shifted in his seat, and struggled to come up with a sentence.

“Oh, er…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to er…”

Before he could finish his incoherent sentence, she snapped back.

“Mumbling white boy, we don’t get many of ‘em in here.”

He wasn’t sure whether he blushed, but he’d never felt so embarrassed. He was famous; he was used to talking to people. He had to speak for a living; press conferences, interviews, radio, TV…but for some reason he felt like he just wanted to watch her, as creepy as that sounded in his own head. She was so beautiful, so elegant-looking despite the outfit choice. As he thought about her outfit choice, he realised he’d seen it before. She was on stage. The one he had watched in awe. If only he could remember her name.

“So what’s your story? Ain’t seen you in here before.”

Jason thought for a moment. His story?  Rich celebrity on a break from working in the studio? Maybe not. Hold on. She didn’t know who he was. She had no idea. The thoughts swirled around in his slightly tipsy head. This didn’t usually happen to him. Most people knew his story without even asking. He suddenly felt giddy, excited.

“Just here on business.” He managed to answer.

The woman nodded[_*._] [“You got a name?”*]

“Jason,”[_ _]he answered.

Once again, she nodded. She still didn’t know.

After taking a sip of her drink through a straw, she extended her hand toward him.

“I’m Dee,”[_ _]she said, and with that he took her hand and shook it politely.

“Can I buy you a drink?”[_ _]he asked, and she laughed softly.

“Paul says I’m not allowed.”

Paul, who he now realised was the bartender, popped his head up from under the bar.

 “No you’re not!” he yelled back.

Around an hour passed in the club and more people started to leave one by one. Halfway through Jason and Dee’s conversation, Tom announced to Jason that he was leaving, alone, Jason observed, which he was happy to see. He said goodbye and tried to ignore the gestures Tom was giving behind Dee’s back.  Their conversation wasn’t totally smooth, it was mostly Dee asking a lot of questions which Jason didn’t particularly want to answer such as “So what’s your job?” to which he answered he worked in the music industry –  not a lie. When he thought he would ask her the same question, he realised awkwardly that she worked in a strip club, she was a stripper.

What did you ask about that? Is it a good line of work? Is this your only job? Is it like, to help you pay for college? He wasn’t sure how to approach that subject at all. Luckily, the amount of alcohol they’d both consumed helped them on their way to find some form of conversation. He found out she had a brother and a sister, and that she grew up in Detroit. He told her he grew up in Tennessee and he had half-brothers. Dee told him she had a son, a two-year-old, and that she wasn’t with the father anymore.

When they ran out of alcohol, she asked him if he smoked, and pulled a blunt from the inside of her purse. He nodded. Truth be told he didn’t do it on the regular, or even that much at all anymore, but he did when he was younger.  For social situations he’d partake, and he knew he damn sure didn’t want to say no to her. As she lit it up, the pair of them passed it back and forth until it was finished.

As the night was heading to a close, the staff asked them to clear out, adding unless Dee was offering to help clean. Dee had given a ‘hell no’ and complained that she didn’t want the night to end. It was then that Jason said something he had never said before, something he didn’t even plan to say.

“I have champagne at my hotel.”

Did I really just say that? He thought, but her reply surprised him.

“Then let’s go,”[_ _]she winked, as she stood up and took his hand. He knew then he had to have her.

[] Chapter 5 – Hangover

Dee

Dee awoke to a dry sensation in her mouth and a throbbing in her head. She laid with her eyes closed for a moment and when she first tried to open them, they felt stuck shut. Prying them open, light shone into her pupils causing her to squint uncomfortably and groan slightly. The light sent a shooting pain through her head that she knew only too well on mornings like these. As her eyes slowly adjusted to the light, she looked at the white ceiling above her, then to the chandelier in the middle of it. It took her a second to process, but she then realised she didn’t have a chandelier in her room. She scoffed at the thought.

Frowning, she sat up slowly and propped her back on the headboard of the bed. She looked at the foreign room that for sure was not her own bedroom. A flat screen TV was mounted on the wall in front of her, and a dressing table was to one side. It was then that it dawned on her she was naked beneath the bed covers. She took a deep breath and looked beside her eyes taking in a sleeping man. His hair was tousled on the pillow, and his face was buried deep inside it. Jason.

She let out a breath of air as she remembered last night’s events. She couldn’t believe she’d gone home with some white businessman type. Rich businessman, by the looks of the room. This wasn’t a typical hotel room, this cost money, she could tell that. Last night began to flood her head. She remembered talking to him in the club; she remembered how bright his blue eyes shone in the light, and how nice his smile was. His lips, and how good they felt on hers, then down her neck, collarbone, breasts, stomach…

“Shit, she muttered under her breath, as she clutched the bed sheet around her chest and scanned the room for any sign of her clothes. A few items of clothing were flung on top of a chair by his side of the bed and she could only assume they were hers. It now meant she had to walk across the room naked to retrieve them, which she did as quickly as she could, hoping he wouldn’t wake up. Even though Dee knew he’d seen it all last night, it was somehow different the next morning, a lack of alcohol being one of the reasons. Not that she had anything to be ashamed of. She was actually proud of the way she looked; she had never been insecure about her body. She couldn’t be while making her money in stripping.

She rifled through the clothes on the chair one by one, finding each item belonging to her and throwing it on as quickly as she could. Midway through getting dressed, she felt a throbbing in her right hand, and glanced down at it. She saw an angry bruise peering through the skin and remembered the guy who’d grabbed her ass and the events that followed. She winced as she continued getting dressed, and hoped the bald guy’s friend was sporting a bruise just as nice on his face. When she was fully clothed, she found her purse lying on the floor by the bed, and she hastily picked it up and searched through it. Feeling like something was missing, she then realised there was no phone in there, and had flashbacks of shattering it against the wall the night before. 

What time was it now? *][*She had no idea if it was morning or afternoon, with no phone and no watch to tell her the time, and she sure as hell didn’t know where she was. From the looks of the place, she could wager a guess it was far from home. She had already established she had no phone, and so no way of calling a cab or a friend to come get her, even if she had any idea where to tell them to drive to. Depending on what time it was, she was probably also in some shit with her mom as she wouldn’t have shown up to take Tushaun to Kendra’s, which means her mom had probably been late for work. Fuck.  She needed to think. She could only hope she got home before her mom sent out a search party for her.

She took another look at the sleeping heap in the bed, and felt glad that he was still asleep; she couldn’t be assed with the small talk that would probably come from his mouth. He was probably gonna regret going home with a stripper anyway, so she didn’t want to have to deal with his guilt complex. Checking her wallet for money she saw she had a huge wad of one’s bulging out the side as well as some fives, tens, and twenties; maybe the odd fifty was in there too.  As she flicked through, she thought something was different about some of them so took a harder look. *][*The fuck?[*  There were some hundred dollar bills in amongst them. As the sleeping body in the bed turned over, she whipped her head up and watched him to make sure he wasn’t waking up. When she heard him go quiet again, she hastily stuffed the bills back into her wallet and realised it was probably the rich business guy who threw them her way.*]

‘[_And now you fucked the dude, you practically a hooker’ _]a voice in her head said.

Thoughts of last night began to make their way to the surface. The way he picked her up and wrapped her legs around his waist, the way he pressed her into the wall and kissed her neck…

Shaking off the thoughts, she grabbed her coat from the nearby coat stand and buttoned it up tightly before moving to the front door, and opening the lock as quietly as she could. Once she was on the other side of the door, and she had shut it over, she knew there was no going back.

Come on Dee, figure out how to get the fuck outta here’, she told herself.

Jason

[Jason woke to a banging on the hotel room door. At first he had no idea what it was, and chose to ignore it as best he could. At one point, he even put the goose feather pillow over his head to shut out the noise. It wasn’t until he smelled a woman’s perfume radiating from said pillow that his mind woke up, and he opened his eyes. As he laid with the pillow closing off his view from the rest of the world, head first on the bed, he let his brain catch up with where he was and what he did last night. *]Who[ he did last night. He felt himself blush slightly remembering the line he used in the club, but smirked when he remembered how it worked. He smiled remembering how drop dead beautiful this girl was. Dee. How beautiful Dee was.*]

“Jason!”

The voice at the door made him spring up from under the pillow, and he looked to the other side of the bed, where he saw an empty space instead of the woman he was expecting. He didn’t have long to be disappointed, as the voice at the door shouted his name again, and this time his brain registered that it was Tom. Jason hopped out the bed and felt a breeze as he remembered he was naked. Scanning the room, he found his boxer shorts in a heap at the end of the bed. He stepped into them quickly and opened the door. As the door swung open, Tom’s closed fist was in mid-air, as if he was getting ready to knock on the door again. Tom paused for a second before putting his hand down and stepping past Jason into the room.

“Man I’ve been knocking for a half hour!” Tom exclaimed, scanning the room.

“Sorry, I guess I was tired.”

“Hungover more like,” Tom grinned, moving to the en-suite bathroom and glancing round the door.

“What’re you looking for?” Jason asked, slumping on the chair by the bed.

“Just seeing if your lady friend was still here.” Tom said, looking at Jason and smirking, waiting for his reaction.

“How do you know about that?”

“Nothing gets past me, J – I got connections.”

“So the concierge told you?”

“Well, you start dry humping someone in the elevator people are gonna talk,” Tom laughed.

“You’re making that up.”

“Am I though?” Tom teased.

Jason rolled his eyes, and rubbed his hands over his face, feeling the headache setting in.

“Anyway, you’re late for the studio so go get yourself looking human and I’ll call the car,”[_ _]Tom said as he pulled out his phone and began texting casually.

“What time is it?” Jason asked as he got up and shuffled to the en-suite.

“Eleven.”

“Shit.”

Jason planned to get a quick shower and head out as quick as he could, knowing he was already an hour late for his studio session. He wanted to let all thoughts of last night evaporate, especially as he had more important things to concentrate on, but he couldn’t get certain images out of his head. He couldn’t help but think about her thick lips, the way her body looked in her lacy black underwear, and the sounds she made when she climaxed…

He shook his head as if he was physically shaking the thoughts away. ‘Now? Really?[* ‘*]

He thought about how the space in the bed was empty when he woke up, and wondered how long ago she’d left. He wondered if she’d snuck out really quietly on purpose. Maybe she was ashamed of it, and wanted to forget it ever happened. He found it hard to believe though. He didn’t believe he could have had such an amazing time if she didn’t too. He didn’t even mean just the sex. Granted, it was pretty spectacular, but he had a good time just talking to her too. They may have been drunk, but he knew there was a little spark there to begin with. They may not have had a huge heart to heart, but he had felt like there was more to her than met the eye. She was so drop dead beautiful and sexy too, but she had this feisty attitude. He could imagine she was a woman who could handle herself, who was proud of being independent, and he liked that.

In his industry and line of work, it was typical to meet a few thirsty girls. Those gold-digger types who loved men to buy things for them; who would try to find a man to provide for them and not bother working for it. He knew if she was that type of woman, she would still be in the bed next to him when he woke up. She hadn’t even known who he was last night. There were girls taking photos of him from outside of the restaurant from a distance, and she spent a considerable amount of time with him chatting, not having a clue who he was. He liked that.

Once he was finished washing, he stepped out of the shower with a towel draped around his waist and opened the en-suite door, letting the steam circulate out of the room. Tom was sitting on the chair next to the bed wrapped up in his phone. As Jason entered the room, Tom looked up.

“So?”

“So?” Jason repeated to his friend as he opened the chest of drawers and picked out some clothes to wear for the day.

“Who was she?”

With his back turned away from Tom, Jason smiled as he thought about her.

“Dee.” he finally answered.

“Am I supposed to know her?”

“Oh no, I guess you’d left by then…” Jason muttered, as he stepped into a pair of boxer shorts.

“Was it that girl you were with at the bar when I left?”

“Yeah, that’s her.”

“Nice.” Tom said, elongating the word so it sounded a little seedy.

 

[] Chapter 6 – A Day in the Life

Jason

It had been almost a month since Jason had stepped foot in Club X and gone home with Dee. There was something about her that still had him intrigued and he wished he could be a normal guy with time on his hands so he could find her and maybe ask her out, but he accepted his fate that normal things weren’t supposed to happen to him right now. Besides, he couldn’t be getting emotional about a girl he had seen only once, so he continued working on his album. Luckily for him, he found that meeting Dee had made his work easier; he always wrote every track that went onto his CDs – it was just something he took seriously –  so meeting a girl had only given him more ideas to work with, more material to write about.

He’d spent pretty much every day since in the studio working with some of the top producers of the last few years, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz among them. He loved hearing his words really come to life once they had mixed his lyrics with music, and he could spend hours just listening to it back, trying to think of ways to perfect it, to make it better and better. Granted, he was a self-confessed perfectionist to the extreme, so sometimes he had to be dragged out of there by Tom, even if it was just to grab some food. He had always been that way, even in his teen years. He thought if he hadn’t been, maybe he would never have become so successful. He believed everything you got in life came down to hard work, and he wasn’t about to mess it up at his peak.

Over the last week, Jason had been working even harder than usual, finalising every detail of the album ahead of its release date. He was excited to finally get it finished, and excited for people to hear his material. He had a small amount of time during which he could go back home for a week or so, before he would head back to Detroit for the listening party and the stack of events that followed; interviews, radio, photo shoots, promo. He really did have his work cut out.

He didn’t dread it though, he looked forward to it. He knew upon his arrival home his parents would get at him for not getting enough sleep and point out the bags under his eyes – this was the usual protocol. It was usually followed by them feeding him on homemade cobbler and cheese steak until he felt fifty pounds heavier.

Though he enjoyed work, Jason was looking forward to going home for the week. Memphis, Tennessee, the place he was born and raised. He loved the small town he came from and he loved his family more than words could describe. Though his parents divorced when he was a child, they remained friends, and would often get together for the sake of their son. Both his parents had remarried and his father even had two sons of his own with his second wife, Jason’s stepbrothers. His mother’s parents, his grandparents, Norma and Bill were a huge part of his life too. They lived only a few doors away from his mother so they always spent time with him at his mother’s house whenever he came home. His Nan was the one who would make her famous cobbler for him and she would always save some for him to take with him wherever he went next. Though they were old, they were still active and full of life, and he loved getting to spend time with them.

From the outside looking in, he had a privileged life, but it hadn’t always been that way. His mother had spent every moment working when he was a child to provide for him, and when he told her he wanted to be a singer, she had used every dime she had to save up for him to attend singing lessons, despite struggling to pay their mortgage. Being an only son to his mother, she had always been protective of him, and she probably gave him a little more than she should have too, but he loved her for it. He had never become a spoiled kid though, because he was taught the value of money, and he was taught to appreciate what he had. When he finally made it in the music business and had money of his own, his mother helped him to spend the money on sensible things, rather than fritter it away frivolously. She’d helped him to buy a house and a car, and when he made even more money, he bought her a house and a car, plus a holiday home. He made sure his parents were well looked after, because he knew he probably wouldn’t be where he was today without them.

It was a quick flight home from Detroit to Memphis, a couple of hours at most. He was due to board his private jet at 2pm the next day with Tom, who was also from Memphis, living only a few blocks from him. He was excited at the prospect of going home, though he was a tiny bit disappointed to be leaving his work behind. He’d also become pretty fond of the bed at his hotel, but he knew he’d be back in just over a week, and he’d probably stay in the same room. As the album had been finished already, he had no reason to go into the studio for the last day in Detroit. In fact, for once in his life, he had nothing to do today at all, except relax and wait for the plane ride tomorrow. So far, he had eaten his morning breakfast brought by room service and showered, and he now found himself sitting on his bed with his guitar, strumming away aimlessly.

“Leaving on a jet plane…to the people who will keep me sane…”

He laughed at his made up lyrics, and promptly tossed his guitar to the side before laying back on his bed, arms crossed above his head.

He didn’t know how people coped with days where they had no plans at all; to him, it was boring. He liked having an hour maybe, or a few here and there, but a whole day and night with nothing to do was something alien to him. He wasn’t used to this type of life, and honestly, he had no idea what to do with his time. After lying for a few minutes thinking, he decided to get off the bed and out of the room, hoping Tom would provide more entertainment than staring at four walls. As he grabbed his wallet and his phone and shoved them into his jeans pocket, he thought about the food he would get at home tomorrow and his stomach rumbled hungrily. He walked to the next room along on his left and knocked on the door.

Before Tom answered the door, Jason heard his voice inside, and when he came to the door to let him in, he saw he was on the phone. Not wanting to disturb Tom’s conversation, Jason smiled and stepped in ahead of him, sitting himself in the chair by the bed. It only took him a minute to realise Tom was talking to his fiancée, Carmen. It dawned on Jason how excited Tom must be to get home tomorrow to see Carmen and his baby, Lydia. Lydia was walking and talking a little now. She still only had a few select words, but she was turning into more of a little person every day, and it was amazing to watch. Jason himself was looking forward to seeing her, being her godfather.

After a few more minutes of talking, Tom hung up the phone and smiled at Jason.

“Lydia’s having a nap so I didn’t get to talk to her, but Carmen said she’s been telling her daddy’s home tomorrow.” 

At that, Tom beamed the biggest smile and Jason, who couldn’t help but smile back, could tell how much he wanted to see her.

“That’s awesome man. I’m gonna come see her once I’m settled in at home.”

“J, I can’t wait. Feels like a lifetime.”

“Tell me about it. I’m salivating thinking about the food already.”

Tom chuckled, and sprayed some deodorant on himself as he spoke.

“You wanna grab some food?”

“Yeah I’m starving.”

“What do you wanna do tonight?”

Jason thought for a minute and decided as long as he got out of the hotel, he was up for anything.

“You decide, as long as I get out of here. I’m getting cabin fever.”

“Really? You’re letting me decide?”

“Don’t make me regret it.”

Dee

It was Friday, and while the rest of the world was hoping to finish work soon and go out for the night, Dee was on mom duty. Though she hated working at the club sometimes, she was glad she got to spend the daytime with her son. He’d go to Kendra Jenkins down the block for a few hours while she handled her other (and more illegal) business. She was a local woman, who looked after a bunch of kids for a living. She was an alternative to the expensive pre-schools that most people couldn’t afford, and it got Dee some time alone to do her business far away from her son.

After a few hours there, she got to spend time with him afterwards, and put him to bed before she went to work. That’s something that a lot of moms couldn’t say they get to do. Working a 9-5 they barely saw their kids. The teachers had them at school, someone else had them at after-school club or a friend’s house and their moms barely got time to feed them or bathe them before it was time for bed.

Just before 12, she arrived at Kendra’s house and pressed the doorbell. Sometimes, the kids would be in the back yard, playing on toy cars, or taking turns on the slide. She loved seeing him play and be happy, and she wished his father could see what an amazing little boy he was growing up to be. Although frankly, she was in two minds about him seeing Trey because she hated the thought of her sweet little boy being corrupted. She didn’t want Trey to take away any of Tushaun’s sweetness or innocence.

Today, the kids were indoors, and as Kendra let Dee inside, she saw Tushaun playing with another little boy with a fire truck and she smiled as she watched him making truck noises and flying it over the other kid’s head.

“Fire trucks don’t fly, baby,” she commented, as she smiled contently.

Kendra laughed as she picked up Tushaun’s jacket and backpack from a nearby hanger.

“He’ll figure it out,” she replied.

Kendra was a mid to late 30’s woman with a short, natural head of curls. She always wore shiny brown lip gloss on her plump lips, and had a bright smile that welcomed you into a room. Dee trusted her son with Kendra, which was more than she could say for a lot of people.

When Tushaun spotted his mom through the open door into the hallway, he immediately jumped up from the floor and started to toddle toward her, as fast as his little legs could carry.

“Hey, baby!” Dee chirped, as she watched him get closer.

Tushaun flung his arms up in the air and Dee swooped him up. She kissed his forehead and smiled at Kendra, who was watching them with a smile on her face.

“Thanks Kendra,” she said, hoping she knew how much her care was appreciated.

“He’s no trouble,” she smiled, waving the comment off with her hand, and helping Tushaun into his jacket and backpack which she was still holding. Once he was all set, she accompanied them out of the door.

“Bye Tushaun!” she sang, as she watched them walk away.

Tushaun was wearing jeans and a Detroit Pistons jersey which was covered by his jacket. He had the latest Nike Airs on his feet and his backpack hung loosely on his back. Considering how warm the day had turned out, Dee knelt in front of him to help take off his jacket.

“It’s too warm for a jacket today,” she told him as she unhooked the backpack from him and then took off his jacket. She stuffed the jacket into his backpack before fishing in the bottom for a juice box she knew she’d packed this morning. She put the backpack on him and then pierced the juice box with the straw before handing it to Tushaun.

Tushaun automatically held out his hand to hold his mother’s, taking the juice box in his free hand. After a few sips, he looked up at Dee.

“Where going?” he asked in broken English.

‘We going to the park before we go home.” Dee explained, and Tushaun smiled enthusiastically.

“And then Nana’s gonna make us some dinner. That sound good?” she asked.

“Yay!” he cheered, almost dropping his juice box in the process and Dee laughed.

“Come on clumsy ass, don’t make a mess.” She joked, as she picked him up off the ground, deciding they’d get there a lot quicker if she carried him.

It was a short walk from Kendra’s to the nearest park and she preferred this one to the one nearer her house. There were more kids and fewer bums that hung out here so the chances of finding a needle or two were a lot less. Still, she had to watch him like a hawk to make sure he didn’t go anywhere but the jungle gyms and swings designed to be played on. Tushaun was a happy kid, and though he was young, he played well with other kids, even if he didn’t know them. He was a little gentleman too. She watched as he let two little girls go before him on the slide even though he got there first.

As she relaxed on the bench watching him, she took her mother’s phone from her pocket. It was a temporary measure until Keisha’s brother came through on his promise of a new one. It was cheaper than buying a brand new one from the store, and as long as she didn’t ask any questions of where it came from, they were good to go. She pressed the home screen button, she saw she had a text and it only took her brain a second to register the name ‘Trey.’

Before she even opened the text, her heart started to pound.

‘I wanna see Tushaun, can I have him dis weekend plz? x ‘

First off, she was surprised he had put the word please at the end of that sentence. She was also surprised he’d offered to have his son on a weekend, when it was prime partying time. Honestly, the fact she got the text at all surprised her because lately he’d been seeing less and less of his son, and she wondered if he’d eventually cut off contact altogether. She looked up from her phone to see Tushaun running around the jungle gym having the time of his life and sighed. She wondered if it would be easier to just cut off all contact, but she knew it wasn’t her decision. She couldn’t stop them seeing each other, it wasn’t fair to Tushaun. He had every right to know his dad whether she liked it or not, so after a few minutes of deliberation, she typed out a reply.

‘Sure. Call me later to arrange time.’

After her text sent, she actually checked the time as she originally planned before putting her phone back in her pocket. Still keeping her eye on Tushaun, she reached into her bag and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, taking one from the box and resting it between her lips. As she lit it, she inhaled it deep and sat back against the bench, knowing she could relax for a few minutes before it was time to get Tushaun home. ‘Home’ she thought, thinking of the reality of that situation. When she and Trey had split up, they were living together. When he then moved out and left her and the baby in the house, she had hoped to stay living there with her son. She hoped she could provide for him on her own, but the reality was her low paying job couldn’t cover everything she needed for herself and a baby. She found herself having to choose between paying rent and buying food. Buying diapers or buying electric. It was clear to everyone she wasn’t coping well so her mother had done all she could do, she invited them to come and live back at home.

Dee had grown up with her mother in one room, her brother in another, and Dee and her sister in the third and last room. Adding a baby to that mix wasn’t easy on space, so they had set up a crib in her mother’s room, and the two women temporarily swapped rooms, her mother moving in with Dee’s sister. It was simply too much for her mother to be bunking with a crying baby when she had three jobs to attend. Dee felt like a failure that she couldn’t provide for her son on her own the way she’d planned to, but she’d had no choice. After finishing her cigarette, she went and got Tushaun from the play area and told him it was time to go. Her mother had made them dinner in between two jobs and she wasn’t about to be late for it. She knew even at 22 not to mess with her mother.

[] Chapter 7 – Famous

Jason

Jason was surprised, to say the least, that they had ended up back at the spot where they started all those weeks ago. They’d gone out pretty early because, even though the both of them wanted to have a good night, they didn’t think a late, heavy night before their flight tomorrow was a good idea, so they settled for a meal and then headed to a few bars early on. It was now around 10pm and just before Jason and Tom were ushered into the club by the security, Jason took a look up at the neon sign above the door, squinting from the brightness.[_ Club X, really? ]He thought. Personally, he’d thought it was a bit of a dive last time he’d came in here but then he remembered going home with [_her], and he smiled for a second. He wasn’t expecting her to be in here tonight though; he figured two nights would be too much of a coincidence.  

As they headed inside the club, his attention turned to the main stage where there was a buxom blonde twirling around the pole in her underwear. Tom gave him a look and he laughed aloud. He felt relaxed, especially knowing she wasn’t here for any awkward small talk and that he was headed home for a while tomorrow; it was a good feeling. As if to mirror the same behaviour the weeks previous, the extra security on the door walked into the club and led them to a private booth separated from the rest of the club by a rope, which he lifted for the two of them to step through. On the table once again was an array of beverages set out for them, though Jason expected they wouldn’t be getting through them tonight. Nevertheless, he took a cold beer out of an ice bucket, opened it and took a large swig. He winced slightly at the coldness of it, licking his lips afterwards to warm them.

“I can’t believe you brought us back here,” said Jason, as he sat forward to hear Tom over the pulsating music.

“What’s wrong with here?” Tom smirked, popping open his own bottle and swigging it in the same manner.

“Nothing, but…”

“You’re scared you’re gonna see your woman.” Tom said, poking fun at him.

Jason lifted one eyebrow at him, trying to appear angry, though he knew he didn’t pull it off too well. His face was too soft, and he ended up looking more intrigued than pissed off.

“I’m not scared I’m gonna see ‘my woman’, I just think it’s a little bit of a dive,” he retorted.

While Tom had been teasing his best friend, his eyes had been elsewhere – drawn to the stage where one dancer had been replaced by another.

Jason, though, was clueless, and Tom could hardly contain a smirk as he waited for the realisation to dawn.

Tom nodded at Jason, glanced at the stage and then back to Jason.

“So, if you saw her, you’re not gonna get all nervous like you’re back in high school?” he joked.

“What?”

Jason followed Tom’s gaze toward the stage and saw the familiar curls that fell down the dancer’s back, the gold hoop earrings that poked through them, and that body that he couldn’t forget. In that moment, he really did feel fifteen years old again. He was almost sure he blushed, something he didn’t do very often, if ever, and he was suddenly very aware that Tom was watching him.

Before he had time to think of anything to say, Tom roared with laughter on the other side of the booth.

“Dude, you got it bad.”

“Shut up man,” Jason protested. “I just don’t want that awkward moment if we bump into each other.”

“Please! You’re dying to bump into her.”[_ _]Tom laughed again and this time Jason laughed along with him.

“She’s just so damn hot” Jason finally said, as he swigged on his beer and watched her move. She wasn’t particularly tall, in fact, she was pretty short, but her legs seemed to go on for days, especially in the tiny mini skirt she had on. As she gripped onto the pole with her legs and turned upside down, her breasts pushed up in her bra, and he wondered how they managed to stay contained.

“You should go say ‘hi’. Tell her you’ve got champagne at your hotel.”

Tom laughed again at his own comment, and Jason wished he was closer so he could smack him. He knew he’d come to regret telling Tom the finer details of that first night. Nevertheless, he was now thinking of ways he could approach and talk to Dee without the mention of champagne.

After Dee had left the stage, Jason and Tom sat talking for a while. They reminisced about the last time they were home. Though it was only months ago, it felt like years. Tom was missing his little girl, and was excited to spend some time with her, while Jason couldn’t wait to taste his grandmother’s home cooking. He was almost salivating at the mention of her homemade cobbler. Still, Jason was excited to return once the album was released and get straight to work. He knew the promotion was hard work but the things came after that were the reason he was in this business; the shows, the tour, the fans.

He truly did love what he did, even if it did mean hardly seeing his family. The men sat for another hour or so chatting about home before Tom suggested getting back to the hotel to get some sleep. Jason agreed it was probably a good idea and got up to use the bathroom before they left. As he approached the bar in front of the toilets, he saw her, sitting on a bar stool, texting on her phone. He wondered if he should approach her, at least say hi, but as she wasn’t even looking in his direction, he reluctantly walked on by to use the bathroom first.

His mind worked in overdrive as he did his business, wondering whether he should approach her, wondering whether he should at least make small talk, or maybe get her number, but the more he thought about it, the more he felt like a fool. He slept with this girl once and suddenly he was acting like she was his one true love, he needed to chill. Nevertheless, as he left the bathroom and spotted her putting on a coat, his body ignored his mind and before he knew it, he was walking over to her. Halfway through his walk, she looked up from zipping up her coat and her eyes caught his. Her chocolate brown irises met his stare for longer than they needed to, before she looked down at the floor and then back up to him again. Was she embarrassed?

“Hey. Dee, right?”[_ _]he managed, as he stopped in front of her. He was trying to play it cool, but of course he knew what her name was.

“Yeah,” she said, as she smiled awkwardly. “Jason,” she replied, more a statement than a question.

He nodded.

“How’ve you been?” he asked, like they were old friends reunited.

“Yeah, I’m good. You?”

“Yeah, great. You finished your shift?” he gestured to her coat, making the connection.

“Yeah, I’m finished early tonight.”

“This is early?”

“Trust me. This is early.” She said matter-of-factly as she picked up her bag from the chair and put it over her shoulder.

“Do you need walking to your car?” [_ _]he asked politely, noticing she was on her own and about to leave the club. He knew there wasn’t any parking at the club so assumed she would be a little way away.

“Oh, I don’t drive. I walk.” She said, as she pulled her hair from out of her coat.

“Do you live far?” he questioned.

“Takes me about twenty minutes.”

“On your own?” he asked, wondering if she would really do that at this time of night alone.

“Yeah, it’s cool,” she said, like she was trying to reassure him.

“That doesn’t sound too safe,” he stated. “Let me walk you.”

“No, for real, it’s cool,” She said once again.

“Please, I’d feel a lot better,” he said.

“I’ll just walk you close by if you prefer.”

Dee

Some girls might be a little freaked if someone they had slept with once had offered to walk them home, but this guy was genuine, she knew it. He was far too polite and what not to suddenly turn into a serial killer or something. Plus, even if he was a little dodgy, she knew how to handle herself, thought Dee. *][*He’d *][*be the one in trouble if he did try anything. She did wonder what his friend must have thought when he ditched him for the second night in the same club.

She remembered him going home alone without Jason when they’d hooked up last time. It made her wonder whether he was trying to hook up again, but she shrugged off that thought. Either way, she didn’t really mind. She wasn’t trying to fuck, but if it happened, it happened. She did find it slightly funny that this rich white dude thought he would be more protection for her on her walk home when he wasn’t even from this area. She knew the streets, she knew the people, and she knew how to fight. She knew he didn’t know the area or the people and as far as fighting was concerned, she could only imagine rich white boy wouldn’t have the first clue. He didn’t look the type. However, he was cute, and polite, and frankly, there weren’t a lot of people with those qualities around her, so she let him walk her home.

They chatted idly about his trip home on the walk, and the family and friends he was looking forward to seeing when he got there. She thought his family sounded like real down-to-earth southern people; they probably had a dog and a white picket fence and a pool. She was kind of intrigued by it all, and she wondered why someone with this good life was taking an interest in her. She wondered why he was even bothering walking her home when he was leaving for his perfect family tomorrow, but then she remembered she’d put out the first time they’d met and no matter how polite or nice he seemed, he was a guy, and he was probably after one thing. Men were still men no matter what background they had, and she knew she wasn’t going to be a catch to someone like him. She wasn’t even trying to be.

As he talked, she looked up every now and then to see his face, and every time she looked, she saw those bright blue eyes shining in the glow of the streetlights. She had to admit they were beautiful. She hadn’t known a lot of people with blue eyes, so this was something new to her. She thought they looked honest, like he probably gave a lot away through his eyes. People hold a lot of emotion in their eyes, not just tears but everything they’re thinking. You can often tell someone’s lying by what they do with their eyes, and over the years she’d learnt to spot the signs. Nothing about his eyes made her feel uneasy or unsure, and that was always a good sign.

Usually, on her walk home from the club, Dee put her earphones in and listened to her music to pass the time. However, tonight, she didn’t need it, she had conversation, and while some of it was small talk, she didn’t feel it was forced. As they made their way around the corner, a group of four men sat on a porch step drinking and smoking, while another two played dice games against the wall at the side of the house. While those playing were rowdy, the ones on the porch sat quietly, probably baked out of their minds. One man in particular, a thin skinhead, watched Jason and Dee walking past. While Dee was used to the stares she sometimes got, Jason looked slightly uncomfortable until the man stood up slowly before saluting in the air.

“Ey, respect man!” he shouted across the street. Dee didn’t understand his meaning, but then he shouted again.

“Ey Jason! Respect man!”

Startled, Dee wondered how the man knew Jason’s name. Was his music industry status better than she was aware of? Maybe he was a really good producer; maybe he’d done some work for the guy in question. Jason didn’t say much but smiled and thanked the man before they moved on swiftly.

As they moved out of sight of the group, Dee turned to Jason.

“What was that about?” she asked. “You know him?”

“No,” he laughed.

“So, you like, a little bit famous or something?” she joked.

Jason took a breath before answering. “Something like that.”

“Really famous?”

He laughed again. “Do you have to know?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re like, one of the rare people that didn’t know my life story before they met me. I liked that.”

“Oh shit. So you are famous!”

“Doesn’t change who I am – I’m still a normal guy.”

Dee stopped in her tracks and pulled gently on his arm. He stopped and once again he looked at her with his twinkling blue eyes.

“What’s your last name?” Dee asked, wondering now whether she was supposed to know this guy. Now she looked at him, and studied his face, she started to wonder whether she did recognise him.

“Taylor,” he replied, waiting for her reaction.

“Jason Taylor,” she repeated.

Jason waited, slightly embarrassed, to gage her reaction, kind of afraid of what she would say.

“Shit.” She said, as he saw the penny drop.

“Fuck, I’m like, walking home with a famous dude. That’s fucked up.”

At that, she started to walk once again. Jason burst into laughter.

“That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.”

“Do girls usually fall at your feet?”

“No…” He began, knowing it was a slight lie, but he didn’t want to sound conceited.

“Yeah they do.” She smiled, before she turned to him and added “But not this one.”

Before Dee realised it, they were already on her street and almost at her house. They’d already passed her brother’s Chevy parked on the road a few doors away before she could think of a way to ask Jason to leave her right here. She stopped and gestured toward her house.

“This is me,” she stated.

Jason looked toward the door.

“Oh. It was nice to see you again,” he said, sticking his hands in his pockets like a teenager. For some reason, it made her smile.

“You wanna come in for a beer?” she asked with spontaneity, her words surprising even her. As she watched him hesitate, she added, “My brother will probably be home but he don’t care.”

She realised then that inviting him in after the way they met the first time could be misleading.

“Sure, one beer.” He agreed.

As she led him in the front door, she heard sounds from the  living room, and opened the door slowly to see who  was in there. Her brother Jarell was on his Xbox, the noise from the game on low, so all she could hear was quiet gunshots. He sat with no shirt on, but his chains still hung around his neck. An opened beer was on the table in front of him next to a bowl of half-eaten chips.

A blunt sat in an ashtray by the side of him, burning away on its own. She figured he was loving having the house to himself without her there, seeing as her mom and Tushaun would be in bed. She opened the door fully then and told Jason to come in. As Jarell saw Jason in his peripheral vision, he turned his gaze to the door and made eye contact with Jason, who stood in the doorway nervously.

Jason

“You bringing people home now?” Jarell asked, sounding deadly serious. Jason felt like a teenage boy meeting his girlfriend’s father for the first time, though he barely knew this girl. The whole thing was stupid, really.

Dee promptly told her brother to fuck off and he laughed and paused his game before standing up. He was around the same height as Jason, with dark skin and tattoos covering his chest and his arms. He even had one on the side of his neck.

“What up bruh? I’m Jarell,” he stated, extending his arm out to Jason.

“Jason,” Jason replied, taking Jarell’s hand in his and bumping shoulders with him.

“Jason Taylor?” Jarrell said, in a manner that sounded unsure whether it wanted to be a statement or a question.

“Yeah,” Jason said, used to this sort of conversation.

“I didn’t even know who he was till now,” Dee told her brother.

“How you ain’t know?”

“I don’t know, just didn’t.”

After the three of them were acquainted, Dee went into the kitchen to find herself and Jason some beers. As the men sat down on a sofa each, Jarell turned to Jason.

“You do that one song…” At that, Jarell sang Jason’s own lyrics at him. Jason laughed slightly, feeling pretty embarrassed, but took it on the chin.

As Dee returned, beers in hand, she told Jarell to shut up, and handed one of the bottles to Jason before sitting down on the sofa next to him.

“Where’s mine?” Jarell joked, blowing smoke from his blunt before setting it back down.

“On the table,” Dee replied, and Jarell smirked.

On the coffee table in front of Jarell, smoke billowed. Dee eyed it and stood up to fetch it before sitting back down.

“Who said you could smoke my weed?” Jarell questioned as she inhaled the fumes.

“You wasting it,” Dee snapped at her brother, making eye contact to punctuate her point. “And who fucking bought you it?”

Jarell started to smirk again, and Jason decided he was probably one of those brothers that lived to mess with his little sister. Jason also realised how surprised he was by the way Dee snapped at her brother. When she spoke, she had such a sweet-sounding voice, almost childlike, so hearing her snap that way was like seeing a different personality altogether. He didn’t necessarily think it was a bad thing. He thought she could probably stand up for herself.

In an effort to keep the peace, Jason piped up. “So, you two live here together?”

“It’s my mom’s house.” Dee said. “So it’s my mom, Jarell, my sister, and my son.”

 “And you?” Jason questioned, though he thought it was more of a statement than a question when he first said it, as he assumed she would live here if her son did.

Dee sighed from the opposite sofa and he realised he may have hit a nerve.

“I did. Before I had Tushaun, I lived with my boyfriend, but when we split up I couldn’t…” Dee broke off then, and looked emotional. She took a sip of her beer and suddenly her ‘hard’ voice was back.

“I couldn’t afford to raise him on my own and pay the bills so my mom took him.”

Jason didn’t know what the appropriate thing to say was, so he settled with all he could muster.

“I’m sorry to hear that, it must be hard.”

Dee nodded and took a sip of her drink again. “I still see him every day. I guess it’s the nearest thing to him living with me.”

“I guess it’s lucky you’ve got your mom,” Jason said, focusing on the bright side, and the three of them sat silently for a minute digesting that thought.

Conversation soon turned to the missing sibling of the bunch. Kiki was 6 years younger than Dee, so it was a surprise to hear she wasn’t around tonight, and was staying at her boyfriend’s instead. He knew at sixteen he would never have been allowed to stay over at a girlfriend’s house on a school night. Though, from the tone of the conversation, Kiki was the promising sibling in terms of education. Jason didn’t know how educated Dee and Jarell were, but from the way they spoke of Kiki, he thought it sounded like they’d given up on their own education.

“Keeks is the clever one, she gon’ get her GED an’ shit.” Jarell said matter-of-factly, as he took a swig from his bottle. It was an innocuous enough statement, but Jason couldn’t help but feel the tension that built in the air. His eyes strayed to Dee’s corner and he saw a glimpse of something, maybe hurt? Embarrassment? He wasn’t sure. For what was probably only seconds, but felt like minutes, the three of them sipped their drinks in silence, the only sound being the pause screen from the Xbox which was now playing quietly to itself.  

All three were grateful when the awkward moment was interrupted by a ringing started from Jarell’s jeans pocket. He put his beer down and fished in his pocket for the phone, taking a look at the caller ID before answering it with ‘Yo’, and excusing himself with a head nod and leaving the room.

“You okay?” Jason asked, feeling there was something wrong. Dee took another swig of her drink and sat back on the sofa, bringing her knees up to her chest.

“Yeah, just hate the way he say snarky lil’ comments like that,” she replied.

“The GED comment?” Jason questioned.

Dee nodded before finishing the beer and placing the bottle onto the floor beside her before sitting back again.

“I fucking dropped out before I even got to take it an’ then when I tried to re-do it, I couldn’t keep up with that shit.” Dee looked down into her lap before speaking again, this time more of a muttering to herself.

“What’s the point anyway, not like I can go to college an’ shit.”

As a natural response, Jason replied “Of course you could” but Dee snapped back before he’d even finished.

“The bank fucking laughed in my face when I asked about a loan for college.”

All Jason could do was nod. He wasn’t going to try to pretend to know anything about bank loans or what options she had. He didn’t know the girl well enough; he didn’t know what debts she might have, or what college intelligence she had. He decided to just listen; he wasn’t necessarily here to help.

Jarell popped his head back into the room through the open door.

“I’mma bounce, Daya’s mom’s got Shontelle.”

Turning to Jason then, Jarell gave him a head nod.

“Nice to meet ya man, look after my sister.”

Jason smiled nervously and thanked him before saying goodbye.

As Jarell made his way to the front door in a hurry, Dee shouted “Get out of here nasty ass!” before she rolled her eyes and laughed softly.

Jason watched her laugh, and he found himself smiling along with her. She really did have a beautiful smile; he wished she did it more.

“Where’s he going?” Jason asked, once they had both heard the click of the door.

“Daya’s his baby mama. Shontelle’s my niece.” Dee explained.

 “You ever think you got problems, you look at them and you think you functional as shit.” She laughed.

“So what time you leaving tomorrow?” Dee asked, as she watched Jason finish his beer but keep the empty bottle clutched in his hand.

Jason told her their plans; what time they were checking out of their hotel room and what time they had to be on the plane, then realised he didn’t have a clue what time it was right now and checked the Rolex on his wrist. Seeing it was the early hours of the morning, he raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Shit, I didn’t know it was so late. Guess I’d better head out. Sorry for keeping you up,” he apologised, as he stood up from his seat still holding his beer bottle.

“Where can I put this?” he asked.

“Just leave it on the table, I’ll sort it.” Dee replied, standing up to take it out of his hand before he had a chance, and placed it on the table herself.

“Thanks,” he said, and smiled at her, before going out to the hallway.

“Enjoy home,” Dee said, as she followed him out. 

“I will.” He replied.  Hovering near the door with his fingers around the handle ready to turn it, he hesitated. He knew what he wanted to ask but he wasn’t sure whether to risk it. Then again, he didn’t know whether he would be lucky enough to run into her again when he came back to Detroit, and he couldn’t exactly start stalking her at the club.

Taking his hand off the door and turning back to face her, he took a breath.

“Do you think…I could get your number, maybe?”

She stood for a second looking at him.

“I just…lost my phone” she started, and assuming she was making her excuses, Jason had already quickly turned back to the door when she added, “You could give me yours?”

[] Chapter 8 – Home

Jason

Home was bliss. Stress free, drama free bliss. Jason had forgotten how good it felt to be back home. Every time he was closer to another visit, he thought he remembered how amazing it was, but it wasn’t until he spent a night there that he remembered it was always better than he imagined. It may sound corny to other people, but when you worked 24/7 like him, it really did feel like the best thing in the world. With his successes, he was used to a ‘champagne lifestyle’ as such, but no amount of free designer clothes or money in the bank could compare to the love and affection he received from his family.

On the first day he arrived, his mother and all his family had put up a ‘welcome home’ sign in the kitchen and had surprised him like it was his birthday. There was a spread of food on the table made by his grandmother and drinks were flowing. Sometimes he felt like he was returning home from war but it gave him a sense of pride still to know he was so loved and appreciated. His mother as usual shed some tears on his chest as he hugged her on arrival.  He expected she would do exactly the same when he went back to work.

Seeing his grandparents always reminded him how old they were now getting, and he worried about their health and how they weren’t getting any younger. He worried that he didn’t see them enough, and every time he would vow to visit home more often. He was reminded by their aches and pains and their hospital visits that their years were precious, and he always wondered if this time may be the last time he saw them. He tried to shake any negative feelings but it was hard when he spent so much time away. Nevertheless, his grandmother had made her famous cobbler and his granddad played him a few rounds at Golf; something he hoped he could still do at his age.

Being in such a small town again was a strange experience. He’d forgotten how tight-knit the community was. Almost every neighbour from a mile away had arrived at the ‘homecoming’ party, baring food and cheer. He knew his mother had probably put a lot of people up to it, however, he knew there would also be a lot of people that offered anyway. People liked to know each other’s business here. Not in a malicious way, but sometimes their curiosity could come across a little nosy to someone who didn’t know them.

He remembered growing up here and rumours spreading faster than a rash with Chicken Pox; which wasn’t exactly ideal when you’d been caught having sex with your fourteen year old girlfriend by your mom. He chuckled to himself remembering the embarrassing memory from his teenage years. Sometimes, it was easy for people to forget that celebrities were people too, and they all had their own embarrassing moments, especially when you’re young. Jason hadn’t revealed that one to the world till he was around twenty-one and had just gone solo. When he was in his boy band, they were a little too cheesy for sex stories.

After everybody had left the party on the first night, Tom and his wife had stayed late to help clear up. His other friend Chris had stayed, and he had plenty of stories from back home to tell them. Chris had grown up with Jason and Tom but while Jason left the town for bigger things, Chris had stayed behind. While Tom’s mother had driven him to see Jason while he was working, Chris never visited. He would speak to Jason every now and then and each of them would ask about each other which would then be passed between people, but Chris’ mother never drove him to see Jason. Chris was a home bird, and while others left and pursued dreams elsewhere, he settled for an IT job in their hometown and married his high school sweetheart. They had their first child at twenty and had since had two more. Having a wife and three kids was the ultimate dream for him, and while Jason wasn’t one to judge, he sometimes wondered how things may have been different for Chris if he had left their small town. Still, he always saw him when he came home and they always laughed and joked like he had never left.

Tonight, on his second night, Jason was having a night in with his parents and grandparents watching TV and eating food. He hadn’t planned anything and for once, he didn’t want to. He was perfectly happy sitting in the company of his favourite people and not having to worry about some impending work. Sometimes he wondered how his life would be different if he had stayed home and got a regular job like the rest of his hometown. Maybe he would be happily married with a few kids by now, or maybe he would have been miserable, wishing for a way out. There wasn’t really any way to tell. Plus, it’s true what they say; the grass is always greener on the other side.

Later in the night, after his grandparents had left and he had polished off some of his mother’s famous cocktails, he started to look through his phone. He didn’t get a lot of time to surf the internet or use social media, so when he did, he took everything in. After signing into his Twitter account, he saw numerous messages from fans, varying from marriage proposals to kind words of admiration. He really was humbled by the loyalty of his fans, even after a lengthy break from releasing music, they were still there supporting him and waiting for the next instalment. He fumbled through his messages, trying to answer as many of them as he could. On some of them, he simply wrote ‘Thank you so much’, on others, he tried to make it more personalised. After finding a message from a young lady who had battled breast cancer, he read on to find her naming his music as ‘the main thing that kept me going.’ He paused for a moment while he took it all in. He felt honoured and touched that somebody who was going through so much would still take time to support him. He decided something so great was worthy of more than a few words, so he took the time to write something longer.

“Dear Nicki,

I’m so sorry to hear about the hard year you’ve endured, but I’m glad you’re finally in remission and are feeling better. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting me and my music, it means so much. Your children are beautiful; I’m sure they will be very proud of you and your strength. Keep smiling, and keep praying.

Jason xx “

As he sent off the message, he smiled, hoping the message would go some way to making that woman’s day better. After the alcohol he had consumed started to kick in, he decided sending back messages may not be the best of ideas now, and so he went back to his news feed. He retweeted a few people who had included him in their tweets, and a few funny quotes from some friends. It wasn’t long before he started to wonder about Dee, and if she had ever entered his number into her phone. While sober Jason may not bother, he typed in her name into the search box and before long, he found a profile that matched. He couldn’t mistake her long curly locks or her thick lips.

@DeeThompson had posted on there just over 10 minutes ago. Hesitating, he paused for a while before he quickly pressed the ‘follow’ button. He then spent the next few minutes looking through her pictures, mesmerized by her beauty. He decided it wasn’t even all the makeup and hair that she wore when he saw her at the club, as there were a lot of bare-faced pictures, and he found this Dee so much more attractive. He knew it would probably sound corny to some, but he really did believe some women were more attractive without makeup, and she definitely had natural beauty.

Before he had chance to send her a message, his mother walked back into the room with a tray full of cocktails, smiling.

“Are you trying to get me drunk mom?” Jason asked, laughing.

“We’re celebrating you being home!” his mother insisted, taking a glass off the tray and handing one to her son and her husband.

“Your mom’s already there, so now she’s corrupting us,” his stepdad chimed in, smirking as he took the first sip of the cocktail, as his wife nudged him in the arm and protested her innocence. She then sat down next to her husband and cuddled into his side, sipping from her own cocktail glass. It wasn’t very often Jason saw his mother drunk. Maybe at the odd party, but not usually at home. Still, he didn’t mind, he knew she was enjoying herself.

Halfway through his cocktail, there was an ad break on the TV and his mother got up to use the bathroom. Complaining that she had taken the nearest one, his stepdad hobbled onto his feet, cursing a dead leg and used the stairs to the next bathroom. As Jason sat alone, watching an ad about sofas, his phone, which was sat on his lap, received a notification. As he opened up the twitter app, he noticed Dee had sent him a message. While it was only a greeting, he smiled and replied.

Dee

“Who you texting?” Shaneeka Adams asked, trying to look over her best friend’s shoulder as she smoked a blunt. Shaneeka was taller than her friend, especially when she wore her Monolo Blahnik’s, but she was no match for Dee’s strength, which was currently elbowing her away.

“Nobody,” Dee replied, moving further away from her friend so that she couldn’t see her phone. Playing it cool, Dee put the phone back into her jeans pocket and moved to the kitchen counter where she poured herself another Vodka and Cranberry. The kitchen of her friend’s house was packed with people, some drinking shots in the kitchen, some playing dice games outside, and some upstairs trying to take advantage of a spare room. Dee felt comfortable here, knowing it was owned by her best friend in the world. She had known Shaneeka since they were kids, maybe around six years old. Their mothers knew each other before they were born, and while they didn’t always see eye to eye, they got along for the sake of their girls, knowing they were such good friends.

 

Dee had literally been through everything with Shaneeka by her side. They had experienced all the usual things you did growing up, periods, boys, school, plus some darker things. She knew she always had a friend in this girl, despite anything. Sure, they had fought when they were younger, but there wasn’t anything they couldn’t fix. Shaneeka was there for Dee when she had her son two years ago and Dee was there for Shaneeka when she had her twin boys six months ago. Shaneeka was one of the lucky ones, for now at least. Her babies’ father was still around, devoted to both Shaneeka and the boys, plus he had a real, paying job. That’s not to say he wasn’t doing anything else on the side, but to the world as they knew it, he had a real, legal job. Dee always had a feeling Dashal (Or Dash as they called him) was going to be good to her friend. They’d started dating when they were in school, in the same way Dee and Trey did. However, when Trey started to change, Dashal didn’t. He never felt the temptation of using drugs, or sleeping with other women, he was good to Shaneeka.

Noah and Caleb, her twin boys, were born six months ago, and Shaneeka had her hands full with the both of them. Tonight, it was her time to let loose after months of staying in. She had organised a huge party around her house while Dashal’s mother had the boys, and she was taking advantage. Dee had already seen her drink a few men under the table, and she only hoped that her friend made it to see the end of the night.

As the night progressed, and more drinks were consumed, Dee and Shaneeka had already joined in a strip poker game, played numerous drinking games and now, four hours later, they were sat side by side on a sofa sharing a blunt and winding down. Their best male friend Tip was sat on the opposite sofa with Dashal playing video games, shouting drunkly through the excitement and dismay at the others victory. Dee and Shaneeka watched them for a moment and laughed when they both stood up, Tip with his hands in the air celebrating and Dashal protesting and asking for a rematch.  The girls rolled their eyes as the boys began a new game and as their shared blunt was stubbed out, Shaneeka turned to her friend.

“So, who was you texting earlier?” she asked, turning her body all the way round to face Dee.

Dee rolled her eyes and then smiled at her friend’s curiosity, and pulled out her phone. She couldn’t believe she’d remembered from hours ago and had kept the question on lockdown, just waiting to ask again. That was the thing about Shaneeka, she didn’t let things go. Sometimes it was a good thing, but sometimes, and more often than not, it was damn annoying, especially in an argument. Dee imagined Dashal never won an argument with her, probably just because he couldn’t be bothered.

As Dee scrolled through her phone looking for his profile to show her friend, she paused for a moment and looked at her friend.

“Shanny, don’t be all weird about it, but there was this guy…”

“Oooohh I knew it was a guy!” Shaneeka squealed before Dee could even finish her sentence.

“Let me finish!” Dee exclaimed. “This guy came into the club a few weeks ago or some’in, and we…sorta ended up going back to his hotel.”

“You dirty girl!” Shaneeka laughed, expressing this a bit too loudly. The boys who were sat playing on their game glanced over for a second, wondering what was said.

“Shut up!” Dee told her friend trying not to laugh.

“So, are you two like a thing now?” Shaneeka asked.

“No. I just saw him a few nights ago, he walked me home from work and we had a beer.”

“Aww, he walked you home? That sounds sweet.”

“Don’t get all mushy. He’s like, some rich dude.”

“Gold digger!” Shaneeka laughed, and this time Dee elbowed her hard.

“Okay okay, show me a picture.” Shaneeka asked.

“Listen,” Dee started. “I didn’t know who he was till the other night when we walked home, so don’t be weird about it.”

“What d’ya mean, who he is?”

Dee went onto his profile and handed her phone to her friend. Shaneeka took the phone from her and peered at the screen silently for a few seconds.

“Jason Taylor?”

Dee shrugged. She wasn’t sure whether Shaneeka was asking a question or simply expressing her surprise.

“Girl, he’s like mad famous, and you hitting that!”

“Shut up!” Dee growled, elbowing her friend again to keep quiet, but as they looked at each other they both began to laugh excitedly. It did feel weird to know he was so well known and she was messaging him right now.

Before Shaneeka could get a chance to start stalking his profile, Dee pulled her phone from her friend’s hand.

[] Chapter 9 – Friends

Jason

After spending a week quietly at home, Jason felt like he was going to pop from all the food his mother and grandmother were feeding him with. He knew it was their way of showing their love, and he appreciated it so much, but he knew by the time he got back on the road, his stomach would thank him for the break. Today, his grandmother had come over to make him a stack of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. It looked delicious.

Today, he could excuse all the calories he was going to consume for his breakfast as he had a full day planned on the golf course with his friends and stepdad. When he was a kid, his stepfather had always took him to play golf and taught him everything he knew. He always thought his stepfather could have gone pro, but he always said things were better enjoyed as a hobby than a career; otherwise they wouldn’t be a hobby anymore. Jason didn’t think that was true, after all, he loved his job more than anything, and singing had of course started off as a hobby.

His biological father had also played golf, and sometimes he had taken him as a kid too. However, when his father got remarried and had another two sons of his own, he started to take them out onto the golf course instead, sometimes forgetting about Jason. His stepfather Paul had never let him miss out. Whenever he was upset that his father hadn’t shown up to take him out, or had spent the day with his other two sons, Paul would take Jason out himself. Paul was like a real dad to Jason, and he never forgot what he did for him growing up. Having no children of his own, Paul treated Jason like his own and they had a special bond, half father/son and half friend. Taking his stepfather out with his friends wasn’t weird in his book; they all got on like a house on fire. One of Jason’s good friends was actually his cousin anyway, so family was always involved with his friends.

Tom had already called him twice that morning to check it was still on today. The first time he rang Jason’s phone that morning, he was convinced they had organised it for the next day. As his wife had planned to go out herself, it meant he had Lydia to look after. He had told Jason to leave it with him and he would figure something out. The second time he had rang, he told Jason not to worry as Carmen was now going to change her plans so she could stay in with Lydia. Personally, Jason didn’t understand how Tom was so unorganised when it came to his personal life, when he was a personal assistant as a career. He was a good one, at that. Tom had never, ever messed up any of Jason’s meetings, shows, interviews or the like. However, ask him to schedule a haircut for himself and he was sure to turn up on the wrong day. Jason found it funny, really.

As Jason devoured his pancakes and bacon, his grandmother kept topping up his orange juice and asking him personal questions, such as when was he going to find a nice lady to bring home? And when would she have great-grandbabies? Jason knew his grandmother meant well, but he honestly wanted to answer with it was probably never going to happen in her life time. She was already in her late seventies and he hadn’t even met a woman yet, let alone got married or got someone pregnant. He didn’t imagine it would ever happen for him, he was far too focused on his career, and as bad as that may sound as an excuse, that was just the way it was and nothing could really change it, unless someone extremely special came along.

He already had a high profile romance when he was younger with a fellow musician, and it proved to be too hard. They hardly saw each other, and the longer they spent apart, the more they grew apart. They began to get jealous of the other if they spent any amount of time with someone of the opposite sex, and in the end, the trust just wasn’t there. If anything, the break up had helped his career. It gave him new avenues to explore, new songs to write on heartbreak, more racy videos to film now that no one could get jealous from it. He just wasn’t sure how someone would handle him and his career now, he felt like he would probably have to choose.

At around 12 in the afternoon, Jason, Tom, Paul, and three of their friends made their way onto the golf course. They had all stopped by the bar first to get some beers for the course, and were chatting as they made their way to their first hole. Jason loved coming to his golf course, mainly because he now owned it. Using it avidly as a child and a teenager, once he had money and had already done all the things he should do, buying his family houses and cars, he bought his favourite golf course. It meant the staff here were like family, they all knew him and his family and the drinks were free. When he was working, his stepfather would come here often with his friends and fans would also often come to play, hoping to see a glimpse of Jason. It was great for the clubs revenue, and meant more people were coming to the area. He was happy for it, and appreciative that even when they did come to see him, they never bothered him. They would take pictures from afar and watch him play, but never interrupt his time with his family. He loved that about his fans.

As the game began, he felt at ease, relaxed. The sun was shining down heavily and his sunglasses were protecting his eyes from the rays. The sun felt good on his skin and the cold beer soothed his thirst. He planned to stay most of the day, and he knew after they headed home with a suntan, slightly tipsy, his mother would have cooked them something delicious for dinner. It really was the perfect life, he couldn’t complain.

Dee

As Tushaun heard the click on the opening of the front door, he turned to see who entered.

“What up, what up” a man’s voice said, before the silhouette of his body came into view from the door. As he came closer, Tushaun and Dee saw a man’s face come into view as the door was pushed open. Thomas Ivan Palmer, or Tip to those who knew him, had been friends with Dee since their teen years. Over the years as they’d grown older, she could now call him her best friend alongside Shaneeka. As he entered the room, Tip smiled and bent down to avoid hitting his head on the door frame.

At 6”6, he stood taller than most people in any room. He had always towered over his friends, even as a teenager, and just when he thought he couldn’t grow any taller, he kept growing. He’d once read that basketball player Michael Jordan’s recorded height was 6”6 and it made him regretful that he never ended up in the same career. 

In school, Tip was always playing sports. He felt like he didn’t even have to try that hard sometimes, like his natural height gave him the advantage he needed over the other kids who maybe had the same skill as him. When he was around thirteen, he decided he would get himself a scholarship to play basketball in college, but he never got there. Like many in his school, he fell victim to the peer pressure of the streets. It only took one car crash when he was fifteen and he shattered his knee into tiny pieces.

Though he had surgery, the orthopaedic surgeon told him the break was so bad, it couldn’t be pinned or screwed, and so he had a pallectomy; an almost full removal of his kneecap as it was so badly shattered. From then, his dream was over. He had some physical therapy, but his knee was never the same. Without an actual scholarship or hope of continuing, he quit sports pretty much altogether.

As Dee watched her friend duck through the door, she smiled as her son ran over to him in excitement. Tip bent down to pick Tushaun up and as he pulled him to his shoulders, Tushaun squealed in excitement. Tip was tall to a lot of people, but to the two-year-old, it was like taking a trip to the moon.

“How you doing lil’ man?” Tip asked, as Tushaun rested his hands on his shaved head as he sat contently on his shoulders, going along for the ride.

“Good,” Tushaun replied, as Tip moved across the room to where Dee stood.

Dee was prepared for his arrival, wearing some of her highest heels so she didn’t feel as dwarfed by him. She was used to feeling short generally anyway, but with Tip it was always to another level. Wearing flat shoes around him just wasn’t an option. She remembered the first time she met him when they were thirteen, and he’d called her a short ass. It was safe to say they didn’t get onto the greatest start, but soon their words were used more for fun than insult, and they became best friends. Most people thought they were a couple, but they both always had other partners, and they saw each other more like brother and sister as they grew up. Tip was the first boy she felt she could talk to because he actually wanted to listen to what she had to say, and wasn’t just interested in what was in her pants.

“Hey Beautiful,” Tip said as he moved to her small frame, bending down the best he could as Tushaun balanced on his shoulders. Dee reached up and received the kiss he planted on her cheek and smiled.

“Hey yourself stranger, where you been at?”

Tip rolled his eyes in reply. “Baby mama drama.”

Dee nodded in understanding, and moved to the kitchen, gesturing for Tip to follow. As she went to the fridge to look for them some beers, she asked him what had been happening. Tip had three baby mamas in total, and they all had their own issues, so when he told her he was having baby mama drama, it really could be any one of them, for any number of reasons.

Tip always looked bad to people when he told them he had four kids to three moms, but people didn’t know the history behind it. He had actually had his first son when he was only fourteen. It was a case of horny teenagers that didn’t know about protection. It was stupid, but it happened, and he couldn’t go back and change it. He wasn’t a father to the child when he was a teenager; he was too immature. The mother couldn’t cope either, and so her parents had taken responsibility of the child.

From that moment on, the baby’s mother stopped talking to him and got into a bad crowd. Consequently, Tip had only got in touch with his child when he was seventeen and he had got a third lady pregnant. It wasn’t easy trying to get access to Tyson; by that time he was already three and didn’t know Tip from anybody, but luckily, his grandparents were understanding. They were actually pleased that he’d made the effort, as sadly, the child’s mother Janelle didn’t. She saw him on the odd occasion but by the time she got heavily into drugs, her visits became more sporadic and her parents banned her from seeing the child.

Tip’s second child came along when he was sixteen to an older woman, a woman ten years his senior. They’d met at a party, and he was in awe that an older girl was interested. Technically, it was probably rape since he was still fifteen at the time, but he made no complaints. His second son Makai allowed him to grow up a little bit, as he took responsibility for his actions, and was part of his life. While the woman moved on and got married, she allowed him to see his son on occasions and made the time for him to come over, something he appreciated as he grew older. By the time he was eighteen, Kara, Tip’s on/off girlfriend through school had twin girls by him. Lovelle and Lilly sealed the deal for him, and he moved in together with Kara. He really did fall for her, and the two of them raised the twins happily.  Two years ago, they’d had another daughter, but Sienna was stillborn.

Tip had heard of couples who broke up after suffering tragedy with children, but he never understood it. After all, he loved Kara with all his heart. He thought she was his beginning and his end, but something changed in her when Sienna died. She became different, distant. They went through all the usual stages of grief together. The denial, the heartache, the anger and confusion, but when all was said and done, Kara didn’t want to know him anymore. She said she loved him but she never kissed him, never hugged him, she was never intimate. He couldn’t live with it anymore so he had to leave. He could still be a dad to his girls in another house.

As Dee pulled two cold bottles of beer out of the fridge and proceeded to open them, Tip told her of his latest drama. Dee listened intently as she handed him a beer and then bribed Tushaun with the TV remote so he would leave the room for the remainder of the conversation. She didn’t want her young son listening to something that was bound to be messy. Tip leaned against the kitchen counter after he put Tushaun down and swigged on his beer before starting.

“So…if you ain’t know already, me and Kara been fucking,” he started, and before he could get any further, Dee gasped.

“No!” she said in disbelief, but Tip ignored her shock and carried on.

“Yeah. So, I thought we was getting back together, you know? So the other night I’m in the club and some bitch is grinding up on all these dudes and, turn out, it’s Kara.”

Once more, Dee said ‘No!’ as she got stuck into his story.

“Yeah. So I’m like, the fuck? Then she see me and she all over me like a rash, like I ain’t just see her with all these other dudes.”

“What did you do?” Dee asked, swigging on her beer as she leaned on the other counter.

“I tol’ that bitch where to go, ain’t nobody playing me like that. I’m her kids father or I’m her dude, I ain’t try’na be sharing with nobody.”

Dee shook her head before giving her two cents.

“She the one that acted like she ain’t want nobody but suddenly she want all these other dudes? Hell no, you can’t play that grief card forever.”

“That’s what I told her,” Tip started, sipping his beer. “But ever since she been blowing up my phone everyday leaving me messages and shit.”

“You gonna get back with her?”[_ _]Dee asked with an air of curiosity. Even if Kara was playing crazy, Dee knew Tip loved her. However, after a second of debate in his own head on how to answer that question, Tip simply shrugged.

 

[] Chapter 10 – Locked Up

Dee

Jarell Thompson was known in his neighbourhood for selling the best kush in the area. From the age of 16, he started selling weed as a means of some extra money, but by the time he was 18, he realised to stand out, he needed to have the best product available. Now, at the tender age of 26, he had the best of anything anyone could want. A few months after his 18th birthday, he made a few new connections and started to sell heavier drugs, mainly crack and heroin. It was sad to see the crack fiends so helpless and broken when they were hammering his door down at 3am but he was only doing what everybody else was doing, making a living, and surviving.

He’d left school with no education and he’d never had a real job. Growing up, young boys looked up to the hustlers, admiring and respecting their grind, knowing that it was a serious choice for them when they left school. Jarell had dreams like everybody else when he was a kid, but as the years went by, they diminished day by day. He looked around and saw the type of people in his neighbourhood and knew there was nothing great to be had there. He knew nobody ever got out of the hood, and decided he was stupid for thinking otherwise. His mother had been a drug addict growing up, and he’d seen what they could do to a person and their family, but still, he did it because he didn’t have any other choice, other than to lose his home and be broke.

[*As a young teen, Jarell wanted to make it in the music industry. He and his friends would rap on the streets, making beats and freestyling to anybody that would listen. They convinced each other that music would take them out of the streets. They truly believed it would happen. Jarell was a twin, and he and his twin brother Mario would be running around the streets all night writing songs and spitting bars, dreaming about what they would buy when they got rich. At thirteen, Mario’s life was cut short, and Jarell’s dream died with his brother. *]

Though Jarell now tried his best to keep out of the eyes of the law, keeping the police off his back wasn’t always easy in his town. There was often police sniffing around those areas to try and catch someone doing something wrong.

In the early hours of April 21st, Jarell was sitting outside a friend’s house swigging a beer after partying through the night. He was sitting with five men, all laughing and joking, when a passing group of men stopped outside the house and began spouting abuse at Jarell and his friends. Unfazed, they retaliated with the abuse, assuming the men would keep on walking and leave them be, however, one man with a skin head and a tattoo on his neck started hurling racial abuse at the men, stepping onto their porch. Jarell stood up to confront the man before he was punched in the nose, charged into the wall and threatened with a knife.

Jarell’s friends managed to grapple the guy to the floor before the other men charged toward them, and a violent fight ensued between the two groups. When the police showed up to the incident, they pulled Jarell off the skin head and proceeded to handcuff him. All the men at the incident were subsequently released, most without charge. Jarell had numerous previous convictions, so he was arrested and charged with assault.

Dee had seen her brother arrested before, and she had been to visit him in jail, but it was only a matter of months. This time around, Jarell was sentenced to a year’s minimum sentence. His four year old daughter was forbidden to visit both by her mother and Jarell himself; he didn’t want his daughter to visit a place like that. As far as his daughter knew, daddy was working away. Dee had told this line to her own son too, as a way to protect him. She didn’t think it was right that a child so young should know about jail, or the bad in the world.

As much as her brother could annoy her, she loved him immensely, and was extremely close to him. His being in jail was a hard pill to swallow, especially as she knew her brother was not a violent man. If anybody should be arrested for assault, it should be her. She had punched a customer only a few weeks ago for touching her up at the club. Though Jarell was the one who taught her to fight as a child, he didn’t go looking for a fight, they seemed to come to him. Regardless, he always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and this time, his family would pay the consequence while they waited a year for his release.

It wasn’t the first time Jarell had been in trouble with the law, and his family wondered whether it would be the last. Even as a child, trouble seemed to follow Jarell around. Some stuck up mom at Dee’s school had told her mother that there was no such thing as trouble following somebody around. ‘Trouble don’t follow people, trouble gets invited,’ she’d said, as she walked her son away from the school.

[*As Monique watched the woman walk away with a scowl on her face, the woman turned around once more and added ‘bad kids cause trouble.’ Monique had never been good with words, though she had always been good with her fists, so when the woman decided to turn back around and make her snide comment, Monique had charged toward the woman shouting ‘Oh, you gon’ find some trouble!’ For once, Jarell stopped a fight by holding his mother still and telling the woman and her son to leave.   *]

Dee had had her fair share of trouble too, aside from the fights and drunk nights of being a teenager, she also had some intervention from the police. When she was sixteen she was cautioned for possession and later put in a jail cell for the night for being drunk and disorderly. Now, at 22 she had a suspended license for a DUI. She wasn’t proud of her run-ins with the police, but she didn’t let it faze her either. She knew as far as some people were concerned, she was stupid for those things, but she knew she was doing a lot better than most of her neighbourhood. After all, she’d never really caused any harm to anybody.

Though a year wasn’t the worst sentence that could have been handed down, Dee knew she would miss her brother while he was gone, and planned to visit if she could. Though the two of them could argue like any brother and sister, she really did love her brother. Growing up, it was always the two of them running things, and with her sister being a lot younger, Dee and Jarell were always closer than Kiki was to her brother. Kiki had a different father to her siblings, and while Dee would never regard her sister as a half-sister even though genetically she was, she wondered if this contributed. Jarell was also regarded highly in their mother’s eyes. As her first child and only son, he held a special place in her heart. Even though he was all grown up with a family of his own, she worried about him like he was still her little boy, and she knew she had reason to.

Jason

It was D-day for Jason and Tom as they got ready to leave home and head back to Detroit. His mother had already shed a tear as she hugged him and his grandmother had made dishes for him to take back to the hotel with him. She didn’t want him eating ‘any of that nasty hotel food.’ Though there was nothing wrong with the hotel’s food, he was pleased she’d made him some dishes; it was like taking a piece of home with him. Tom’s grandmother had also packed him some dishes to take with him, and the boys would probably share them once they got to Detroit; they had often eaten at each other’s Grans house. Being that they grew up in the same era, their food was almost alike, both equally delicious with slight differences.

As the pair of them sat in the car which was heading to the airport, there was a sombre energy in the air. Neither of them really had anything to say to each other; they knew they would both be thinking and feeling in unison about what it meant to head back to work. They both loved their jobs, but leaving home was always hard. Tom was slouched down in the seat with his tablet in his lap, playing some stupid game that was frustratingly addictive. He sighed and scoffed everytime he failed the level, but he continued replaying quietly.

Jason on the other hand was talking to one of the producers back in Detroit. He told him of the ideas he had for a new song and the producer was enthusiastic to get to work as soon as he landed. For now Jason had titled the song ‘Beautiful Mind’, about a girl who was stunningly beautiful on the outside, but had more going on inside that intrigued him.

As Jason sat waiting for a reply, he browsed his social media accounts, not really reading people’s ramblings properly, but skimming to see if he’d missed anything exciting. As soon as he saw Dee’s name, he stopped to read what she had written. A short status, though informative all in one. “Year’s countdown starts today #freejarell” Jason raised his eyebrows as he read the status. Jarell, the brother he had met only a few weeks ago, had been arrested? Jail for a year? He realised it was silly to be surprised as he couldn’t know somebody he had only met once and briefly at that, but he remembered him coming across perfectly nice. He wasn’t somebody he would consider to be locked away for a year; still he knew he couldn’t know what goes on behind closed doors.

“What you looking surprised at?” Tom asked, as he caught his friend’s expression between levels.

“Dee’s brother is in jail” Jason replied, barely looking up from his phone.

“Oh” Tom replied, letting the information sink in as he concentrated on his game. After a minute he asked “Didn’t you know?”

“No, he wasn’t when I met him a few weeks ago. Seemed like a nice guy.”

“Guess you don’t really know people,” Tom mused, as he failed level 36 again and decided to close the case on his tablet sitting it down on his lap.

Jason nodded in agreement, taking Tom’s lead and putting his phone back into his pocket. He sunk down into the comfortable car seat and rested his head back, closing his eyes for a second.

Jason thought about what he would do when he got to Detroit. He imagined recording the song he had written and imagined the type of music he would help write for it. He already had an idea of the melody but just needed to get his hands on the instruments to test it out. He had always prided himself on writing his own lyrics and music. He learnt to play the piano as a young child and when he got to around ten, he asked his mother for guitar lessons, to which she instantly agreed. She loved the fact that her son had so much ambition, that he wanted to learn new things.

Unlike some of the other children his age, he would take up something and then stick at it. He didn’t give up when he was struggling, though he did threaten to sometimes. He started to sing when he got his guitar and he never stopped. He would write songs about what he was having for his dinner that night, or how hard his math homework was. When he turned thirteen and got his first girlfriend, he wrote a song about her, and then played it to her. He got teased by some other boys in his year but the girl loved it, and told all her friends, meaning he was a hit with all the other thirteen year old girls, despite his skinny frame and teenage acne.

When he was fifteen or sixteen and he started smoking, he didn’t give much thought to how it would affect his vocals, till he got the opportunity to join a boy band. They would practice and practice and work harder than they ever had before, pushed by their manager Jamie who was good at his job but harsh at times. He told Jason about the dangers of smoking on his vocal chords, and made him realise it wasn’t an option, so he quit. Jamie would have the boys practising from 6am until 6pm on a weekend letting them have breaks in between. Sometimes it was too much for the boys, and they would struggle once they got back to school. Jason’s mother had to have a word with Jamie time and time again about how hard he was pushing her son and his bandmates.

The hard work did pay off, meaning by the time Jason turned 17, they had a number 3 hit. It was hard on him to not go to school regularly like everyone else his age, having to get home schooled on tour buses between shows and practice, but it was all worth it for living out his dream. Being in a boy band was never the ultimate dream; he always envisioned he would be a solo act, but that was the opportunity he was given and he wasn’t about to turn it down.

Before he knew it, Jason’s reminiscing had put him to sleep in the back of the car, and in his dream, he was thirteen again, with skinny legs and teenage acne. He was sitting outside in the school field near a tree, guitar in hand as he played ‘Beautiful Mind’, the song he had just written. The melody was beautiful, and the sun was shining bright, as his old school friends sat around him listening to the song. He sang the lyrics confidently, strumming his guitar and as he looked around at all the old faces he remembered so well, he saw a face from the present, watching him intently. Dee wasn’t a thirteen year old, she was her present self, and she looked so strange sitting among all the young girls, listening quietly in the same way.

While the other girls smiled joyfully, her face gave nothing away, and he couldn’t tell whether she was enjoying it or not. As the song came to an end, he watched her as she stood up, and started to move toward him. He watched her silky brown legs which were at his eye level, her stiletto heels rustling the grass beneath her feet.  As she got closer toward him, she bent down in front of him, her deep brown eyes making contact with his.

“Jason!” Tom’s voice said in the distance, and he looked away from Dee, and into the distance to see where it was coming from. There it was again. Suddenly, he felt his arm being shaken, and then his eyes opened, and he was back in the car, Tom by his side waking him up from his dream.

“We’re here man.” Tom told him, and Jason sat up to see they were at the airport runway. His neck felt stiff from how his head was bent back during his sleep, and he rubbed it as he let his brain wake up properly.

“Good sleep?” Tom asked, before he opened his passenger side door.

Jason opened his own door, before getting out of the car and taking in the fresh air of outside.

“Weird sleep,” he replied, as the memory of his dream started to drift away from him. 

[] Chapter 11 – Bombshell

Jason

Jason thought something was off when Dee had contacted him to ask if they could meet. It was him doing the chasing in all of this, so he couldn’t really imagine what she wanted to talk about. Though he didn’t know, there was something inside him that felt uneasy. His stomach was practically doing back flips the whole way to meet her, and he couldn’t shake that feeling at all. He knew he was taking a risk trying to date somebody like her, she felt completely out of his league, not to mention how different they were. He knew they might look a little mismatched, but he wasn’t about to let what other people might think make his decisions for him. All he knew was that he had dated a few girls in his lifetime and there was something different about this one. Sure, she had grown up different to him, and maybe she had some baggage but didn’t everyone? He wasn’t the type of person to judge anyone for anything.

He hadn’t grown up around money despite what some people thought. His mother had slaved away working for him to have a good life as a child and when he wanted to pursue singing, she did everything in her power to make sure he did it, even if that meant sacrificing her own privileges for him. It was only by luck that he had made it as big as he did, he truly believed that. He knew of plenty of people who had amazing singing voices, and never got off the ground in this industry. It takes pure luck to find somebody that believes in you as if you are their own, and then it takes a lot of money and promotion to get yourself out there. If it wasn’t for his parents working their ass off to make it work for him, and the belief of his entire team, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Of course, from there, it’s all down to the fans, and he knew in that sense he was extremely blessed.

Jason knew that there were people in the world who weren’t fortunate enough to get off the ground they started on, and he knew people had a lot less than he had. People didn’t have the same money as he now had, they couldn’t afford the same items or homes. He knew people didn’t all have the same education he did. He knew sometimes things got in the way of people’s education, and they could get themselves into a downwards spiral. Drugs, alcohol, prison. He never judged anyone, because you never know what somebody has been through and how they chose to cope with it. He never judged Dee from the moment he laid eyes on her. Sure, he watched her just like all the other people in the club that night, but in the end, he was interested in getting to know this girl past all the makeup and the skimpy clothes. He wanted to know who she was, what her story was, what made her tick.

As he sat in the lobby of the hotel waiting for her, he picked up his coffee cup and poured the last sip down his throat. After a minute or two, he saw her walk in the glass doors. She had her hair tied up in a ponytail and gold hoop earrings. She was dressed down in jeans and a t shirt, and he realised this was the first time he’d seen her dressed down in everyday clothes. He thought she looked just as beautiful as before, if not more so. She had a natural beauty and he realised she really didn’t need makeup. As she spotted him sat in the lobby, she walked over to him and sat down on the chair opposite his. She didn’t smile, and she looked irritated, like she didn’t want to be there.

“You okay?” he asked, watching her intently.

“Can we go to your room?”[_ _]she asked, hardly even looking at him.

He nodded and stood up, taking his room card out of his pocket. He got the feeling he shouldn’t try and make small talk on the way up. She followed him closely, but didn’t say a word in the elevator. She barely even looked at him; her eyes switching from the floor to the elevator doors.

When Jason swiped his room card and opened the door for her, Dee walked in and sat on the bed, her hands on her lap. He followed her into the room and sat on the chair opposite the bed, waiting for her to speak, until she didn’t.  

“Dee, what’s up?”[_ _]he asked. What came out of her mouth next he certainly wasn’t counting on.

“I’m pregnant.”

As he sat perfectly still on the hotel room chair, he felt like someone just punched him in the gut. He didn’t move, nor say anything. Nothing at all. He just sat there. He didn’t know how long he sat there but Dee said his name, and then again. It sounded a little like it was coming from far away and yet, he still didn’t say anything. He didn’t know whether he’d moved or not, it was like an out of body experience. His mind was in overdrive but his body wouldn’t move at all.

“Did you hear what I said?” Dee asked. It was more an accusation than a question.

 “I…don’t know what to say,”[_ _]was all that came out of his mouth.

“You can’t just fucking sit there and not say anything!” she yelled, as she sprung up from the bed and started moving her hands around wildly. Something about her movements broke him out of his slump.

He looked up at her and caught sight of her face, she was mad.

Still, all that came out of his mouth was[_*,_] [“I don’t know what to say.”*]

What he said was true; he really didn’t know what to say. This had never happened to him before and he never expected it to happen like this. He was imagining what he would say to his mother, his grandmother. They were religious, what would they think about him getting a woman pregnant out of wedlock? A woman who earned her living as a stripper at that. Oh, and she already had a child with another man.  That’s if she was keeping it. Was she telling him she was or she wasn’t? Was it even his?

“Is…is it mine?”[_ _] He stuttered, not knowing if it was the smartest question.

“Did you really just ask me that?!” she roared, her face in disbelief. Before he could reply, she cut him off with her shouting.

“I’m so sorry that this doesn’t fit into your perfect little life, but you got decisions to make.”

“You’re  keeping it?” he found himself asking. He wasn’t sure if it sounded like a question or a statement, but he was asking to make sure they were both on the same wavelength. It sent Dee into a rage.

“You want me to get rid of it?[_” _]She shouted. She’d been pacing up and down the room, while he sat motionless on the chair, but as she yelled she got closer to him. She hovered over him and her thick lips pursed together. He had never seen such an angry look from a woman.

“I never said that…I just…”[_ _]he planned to finish his sentence by telling her he just wanted to make sure they were on the same page, but before he had chance to finish his sentence at all, she threw up her hands in protest.

“I’m rich and famous and it won’t look good for me getting a ghetto chick pregnant,” she imitated, putting on a ridiculing voice.

He didn’t know why she was acting this way. Maybe she was scared. Maybe she misunderstood what he was trying to say. Maybe finding out he was famous had made her think he was a different person. He was still trying to process the fact she just said she was pregnant and he really couldn’t handle trying to analyse her too. What struck him was how angry she had become. Frankly, the pout she had going on was terrifying him. It was a look that just said ‘don’t fuck with me.’ He imagined she won a lot of arguments with that look.

More than anything, he couldn’t process the thought that the child was his. He wanted to ask and make sure, but he thought it was a sure fire way to get a smack in the mouth considering the expression on her face.

Almost like she was reading his mind, she spoke again.

“Before you ask again, the baby’s yours.”

[He sucked in his breath in shock. The word ‘baby’ hit him, it made it real. She was pregnant with his *]baby[. It woke him up to the reality of the situation, and at that moment he stood up. The pair of them made eye contact, and he stared into her deep brown eyes. They filled up with tears but she never once blinked to allow them to fall. It made him think she had practiced it like an art.*]

Still looking into her eyes, he took a breath and spoke.

 “I’m gonna be here for you. Both of you,”[_ _]he said, and with that he held out his arms and brought her into an embrace.  She stood significantly shorter than him, a good six inches shorter, and as he pressed his body against her, she started to fight the embrace. He wasn’t exactly sure why she did it but he continued to press closer into her, hoping she would surrender, and after a moment, she did.

He felt her body sink into his, her head pressed into his chest. He expected her tears to grace his shirt so he would feel wetness but he felt nothing. She stood silent and still and not once did she cry or sob. She showed what he would consider zero emotion. After their embrace, she simply pulled away and nodded to him, like she was accepting his proposal of him being there. He wondered if the lack of emotion came from a place of not trusting his word, especially when he thought of her unreliable ex, so he said it again.

“I’m gonna be here for you both, Okay?”

She simply nodded once again, and took a breath.

“I need to go pick Tushaun up,” she said, and this time, he nodded.

 

Dee

[*When Dee left Jason’s hotel, she walked to the next bus stop which stood around two blocks away. From there, she needed to catch the first bus to a second, and then it was around a half hour walk once she got off there. She never told Jason this was how she had gotten there or how that was her planned route back. If she had a car, the journey would have been a quick stop, but her license had been revoked for a while now. *]

The morning after that first night, she’d had to find her own way home. She didn’t dare call a cab because she didn’t know how far away from home she was, and she didn’t know if she could afford the cab fare home.  She certainly didn’t want to spend all her money on it; she still had bills to pay after all. She had walked until she had found a bus stop, and found the bus that went the furthest. From there, she’d walked to find another bus stop and done the same thing. When she finally recognised somewhere while on the bus, she’d got off and walked the rest of the way. She planned to do the same today. She would never tell him that.

As she waited at the bus stop, she checked the time of the next bus due to come and saw she had another ten minute wait. She sighed, and sat on the bench attached to the stand. She could have killed for a drink, or a blunt. Even a cigarette would have sufficed. She thought about the fact she had a baby inside of her and she shook off the thought, she couldn’t. As she sat slumped in the seat, a young kid passed by the stand, and stopped in front of her.

“You sell weed?”[_ ]he asked[._]

“No” she automatically replied.

The kid must have been no more than sixteen, and she couldn’t be sure whether he was just pure stupid, or he was a snitch, but either way, she wasn’t going to admit to being a dope girl to some random kid outside of her district. As he continued walking, she sighed. She really could do with a smoke. Since having Tushaun, she had got far too used to smoking weed. It helped her to achieve that balance that everyone else seemed to have without.

Dee thought about the conversation she’d just had with Jason in his hotel room. She thought about the way she’d lost her cool, the way she’d shouted at him, how she wanted to punch him when he didn’t say anything. It was normal for her to lose it when people annoyed her; that was just her personality. She realised Jason didn’t really know her or her personality, and wondered what he was thinking right now. Probably ‘crazy bitch.’ She couldn’t blame him. The news of her pregnancy was shocking to her too, and in a way, she still didn’t really believe it.

She had been sick recently, the start of the morning sickness, and then she realised her period was late. She had always been regular; aside from the first time she became pregnant with her son, so she knew it didn’t sound good. She then had to make sure, so she went and bought three different pregnancy tests, from a store where she knew she didn’t know anybody, something that was harder than it sounded in her neighbourhood. She knew sometimes they could be wrong, but when all three showed positive, she knew she couldn’t pretend anymore. She knew it was her own stupid fault for getting wasted and not using a condom. Maybe if she had a better memory she would remember to take her pill more often, but she found herself forgetting more often than not.

Once she boarded the first bus, all she could think about the entire journey was how much she wanted to smoke. She tried to put herself off, but as she’d left her iPod at home, she didn’t really have anything to distract herself. The twenty minute bus journey went by slowly, and once time came for her to step off, she didn’t waste any time in opening her purse at the next bus stop and lighting up a cigarette. As she smoked, she vowed in her head that it would be her last cigarette while she was pregnant. This child didn’t ask to be here and she wasn’t about to risk giving it problems it didn’t need. She was already bringing it into a world full of problems.

[] Chapter 12 – Calm Before the Storm

Jason

There were so many questions whizzing around in his mind. He really felt like he hadn’t had a chance to think properly when she was here, because the simple word ‘pregnant’ had thrown him off course. He couldn’t believe this had happened, but then he thought back to the night they slept together, and he didn’t remember using protection. He didn’t really remember much about that night other than her body, how good she felt, and the rest was a blur. He felt slightly embarrassed that he was still doing things like this at 25 but he knew it was too late to start having regrets now. Shit had just got serious. He wondered if they could make it work. They both lived in different states, and he was never in one place for too long when he was working. Would he be one of those fathers that prioritised his career over his family? He frowned at the word ‘family’ as it came to his head. He couldn’t exactly call this girl family. She was a woman that he had slept with once.

She’s carrying your baby’ his mind told him.

As he lay on the bed, he suddenly felt restless, and sat up resting his head in his hands. He didn’t know what to think, nothing felt real to him anymore. He couldn’t help but wonder what he was going to say to his family, his friends, his fans even. When did he even decide to say something?

He had always wanted a family of his own. Seeing Tom with Carmen and baby Lydia made him envious sometimes of what he had. Sure, he had his career but he saw Tom’s eyes light up every time he saw Lydia smile, or say ‘dad’, he knew it was probably a whole different feeling altogether. Still, he had always dreamed of doing things properly, of meeting the right woman and getting married before they had their children. He never imagined it could happen like this for him. Not that he thought he was better than anyone else; it just wasn’t what he envisioned for himself. He imagined what his mother would say, and though at first he imagined her shock, he imagined her shouting at him for making it all about him. She would tell him to stop being so selfish and think about what it must be like for the woman, and for the baby. ‘A child doesn’t ask to be brought into the world, Jason’ he heard his mother’s voice say in her southern twang.

He smiled thinking about his mother and suddenly he felt like he wanted to share his news with her. Though he was nervous of her reaction, he felt she would know just what to say to make things seem better. She always did. It was strange how they had more than a mother-son relationship; she really was his best friend. He had always felt he could tell her things, even as a teenager. Sure, it was embarrassing when his mother bought him condoms and had the sex talk with him, but it somehow made them closer. He didn’t feel like he had to hide anything from her. Well, most things anyway.

Before he thought about what he was doing, or the implications of his actions, he picked up his phone from the bedside table. As he found his mother’s number, he pressed the call button and saw the picture of her he had taken last week light up on the screen. It suddenly made what he was doing very real but undeterred, he put the phone to his ear and listened to the ringing before a familiar voice answered.

“Hey baby! How’s it going?” his mother chirped. She sounded happy.

“Hey mom. I kinda need to talk about something.”

“Okay…” his mom said, as she waited for him to continue.

Jason swallowed. “I’ve done something stupid.”

“How stupid?” his mom asked, and at that moment he heard the family dogs barking in the background, as if they were joining in the conversation.

“I…” Jason swallowed again, feeling as though the words were getting stuck in his throat.

“I got someone pregnant.”

Jason heard the dogs still barking in the background but his mom had gone quiet. He heard her breathing quietly on the other end of the phone, so he knew she still had the phone to her ear. He expected she was having the same shocked thought processes that he did himself.

“Who is it?” his mom asked quietly after a minute.

“Just, a girl I met out here.”

“And is she keeping the baby?” his mother asked.

“I think so.”

“How do you feel baby?” his mom asked, and he couldn’t help but think he was surprised at how calm she sounded. He appreciated the calm tone of her voice though; it was making him feel calmer speaking to her.

“I don’t know. Shocked. Scared, I guess.”

“You need to find out what her plans are, see what she wants. It’ll be okay.”

He knew he had done the right thing calling his mom despite his reservations.

Dee

Though Dee had become pregnant for the first time at 18, it wasn’t a huge scandal in her family. Her best friend Tip had his first baby at 14, and many girls at her school had babies by the time they left school. Dee was already in a relationship with Trey for a number of years before she became pregnant, and her mother liked Trey, so when she had told her mother she was pregnant, her mother was excited to be getting a grandchild. She went to work the next day and told everybody that her daughter was pregnant, as if she had just won a Nobel Prize. When Dee found out she was having a boy, her mother bought her baby clothes and bragged to everybody she knew that she was having a grandson.

This time, Dee knew it was going to be different. She knew because she wasn’t in a relationship, and her mother didn’t even know she was sleeping with anyone. For the most part, she knew it would be different because the father was a white man. Maybe she would change her mind when she found out he was rich; she would probably think that was the reason she got herself pregnant. A lot of women around them would have done just that. Not Dee. She had already told her best friend Shaneeka the news and swore her to secrecy, which she knew she would keep. Dee had waited until the evening, when she had put Tushaun to bed. She knew she would have to tell her mother and her sister first, and then she could tell her brother at the next prison visit, she didn’t want to tell him on the phone.

While Dee had decided to tell her mom and sister in her own way, waiting until they were sat down together and relaxed, it seemed her mother had other plans. They had just finished eating a meal Monique had cooked and Kiki was washing the dishes at the sink. Monique had just put some music on the speakers in the kitchen.

While most mothers would be on the sofa on an evening with their slippers on watching soap operas, Monique wasn’t like most mothers. She preferred to sit in the kitchen with music on, drinking and checking her social media on her phone. They didn’t have a computer in the house so she would go on Facebook on her phone and use up all her data for the month in a week. Then she’d ask everyone else to use their phones to use the internet. Dee couldn’t count the times she’d just told her mom to get a better phone contract with more data, or to buy a computer, but she wouldn’t listen. As her mother sang along to the song, she got up from her seat at the kitchen table and carried her wine glass to the counter where she filled it up with wine.

“You want one?” her mother asked Dee, looking her way as she watched her daughter fill up a tumbler glass of water from the tap as Kiki moved over to let her in.

“Nah, I’m good,” Dee replied, taking a sip of water from the glass.

“No? Not pregnant are you?”

The sentence was a joke, quite clearly. Her mother had said it before, and she’d say it again, whenever Dee refused something she wasn’t in the mood for. Usually, Dee used ‘no’ as a quick fire answer followed by a dirty look, but this time, Dee just stood there looking at her mother. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t use her usual answer, but then, what was the point in lying. She figured she’d planned to tell them tonight anyway so she may as well come out with it. Monique looked at her daughter as she avoided eye contact and suddenly her eyes bolted open wide.

“You pregnant?”

Dee managed a quiet ‘Yeah’ before her mother set the glass of wine down on the counter and came toward her with a frenzied look in her eyes. At the same time, her sister took her hands out of the dish water and turned around to face her sister, dripping suds onto the floor before she grabbed the nearest tea towel to dry her hands.

“Who’s baby is it?!” her mother asked, sounding more like an accusation than a question.

“Is it Trey’s?” her sister piped up, looking at her with the same accusatory state her mother had.

“No, it’s not Trey’s,” Dee replied, giving her sister a dirty look at the sheer thought of it. She should know she wouldn’t go there again.

“Then who girl, who?” her mother questioned again.

“You don’t know him. I barely know him.”

“A one night stand?”

“No. It’s not like that.”

“So you dating this boy?”

“No. We just, met a couple times. He walked me home once.”

“So he’s interested?”

“I don’t know mom.” Dee answered.

“You don’t seem to know a lot do you?”

“I just found out, I’m confused.”

“Confused? Like keeping it confused?”

“No, I’m keeping it. It’s my baby.”

This time, Kiki, who had been remaining quiet, spoke up.

 “Does the guy know?”

“Yeah.”

“What did he say?”

“He was shocked, but he said he’d be there for us.”

Monique, who had now picked up her full wine glass and took a sip, scoffed at that statement.

“That’d be a change.”

This time, Dee turned to her mother to try and change her disapproving attitude.

“Mom, I don’t think he’s like that, he’s…not from round here.”

“He rich?” her mother asked, clutching her wine glass close.

“Yeah.  I guess.”

“Well, least he can provide financially. Maybe I won’t be taking care of another baby up in my house.”

Dee and Kiki were silent for a second. That last comment had hit Dee hard, like her mother had just used her words to stab her in the stomach. She knew exactly what it took for her to ask her mother for help, for her to bring Tushaun to her mom’s with all his things, to tell people that her son lived with her mother and not her. She didn’t know why her mother had to be so cold sometimes. It was like she didn’t even think about things before she said them.

“Mom, that’s not fair!” Kiki exclaimed, looking at Dee with a sympathetic look.

“Oh?  I’m not fair? Don’t I look after you and your brother and sister, and your nephew? Don’t I hold down three jobs while I do it? And don’t your brother and sister keep reproducing try’na eat me out of house and home? Don’t talk to me about what’s fair Kierra.”

Kiki was quiet after that. It wasn’t very often that Monique used her children’s full names, and they knew she was really pissed if she did. She thought better than to argue back with her, plus it wasn’t her argument to have. This was her sister’s mess. Monique had moved back to the table with her glass of wine which she was still drinking as she walked. As she sat it down on the table in front of her, she turned to Dee and continued her argument.

“As for you Deleisha, I suggest you find out who this dude is. You say he rich but I don’t be seeing no rich man walking round these streets unless they doing something illegal, and that never end well.”

Dee was starting to feel pissed off by her mother’s tone. She never asked for her opinion on the situation, she simply thought it was about time she told her family what was going on in her life. She hated the way her mom was trying to take the high and mighty stance when she had screwed up her life royally all by herself and subsequently screwed up her kid’s lives. She had been good with Tushaun and she did love her mom, but she hated the way she tried to act as if she was a saint now that she was off the drugs. It was like she was trying to pretend that period in her life never happened, but Dee didn’t forget that easily.

“I told you!” Dee yelled, raising her voice as she felt the anger inside her rise up. “He’s not from round here! He’s fucking famous!”

Wrong thing to yell.

Her mom was weirdly silent. It lasted for all of thirty seconds before she stood up from her seat.

“So let me get this straight,” she said with an air of calm in her voice, though Dee and Kiki both knew it was the calm before the storm.

“You got yourself pregnant by a rich, famous man that you barely even know and he said he’s gonna stand by you while you have his baby?” Her mother scoffed once more, and then her voice began to rise.

“I thought you was a smart girl Dee, why do you believe these men? Are you stupid? He’s gonna be off with his nice rich wife and you not gonna see any of that money, let alone a DNA test. You can’t prove it’s his. You gonna be another washed up woman on these streets with a baby of each colour.”

The whole time Monique was talking, she was getting closer to Dee, pacing up slowly, vindictively. At the end of her sentence, Dee closed the gap between them and squared up to her mother. Kiki, who was watching the scene unfold in front of her, was sure Dee was about to swing for her mom, and so she stood in the middle of them shouting.

“Stop it! Both of you! Just stop it!” She lightly pushed them both apart before taking Dee’s arm and leading her away from the kitchen. Dee couldn’t decide whether she wanted to punch her mother or burst into tears at her words. Considering she never cried, she decided she would settle with the feeling of wanting to punch her, but as her little sister led her away, she realised how crazy that sounded. Dysfunctional family to the max. 

[] Chapter 13 – First Date Nerves

Dee

The next morning, Dee woke up at her own home, the duvet cover wrapped around her so tight she could hardly move. She untangled herself from its Webb, and sighed as she sat up, her back against the headboard. She had always moved around a lot in her sleep, and usually found the duvet either off the bed or upside down, but it was always worse when she was mad.

After her mother’s harsh words, her sister Kiki had taken Dee home, staying there all night to listen to her rant and rave about what she had said. Their mom could be hard on all of her kids, and sometimes she could be hard to handle, but Kiki found it easier to distance herself from her mother. She simply didn’t entertain her when she was in a bad mood; she removed herself from the situation. Dee and her brother Jarell weren’t like that. Their tempers caused them to become confrontational, and neither one of them liked to back down from a fight. Kiki, unbeknownst to Dee, had cancelled her plans to stay at her boyfriends that night to stay with her sister. After hearing the news she was pregnant, she knew she was going to need all the support she could get, especially if her mother’s attitude didn’t change.

As Dee sat for a moment, staring into space and allowing her mind to wake up, there was a small knock at the door before her sister entered the room, a cup of tea in each hand. Dee looked up at her sister, who was already dressed for school, makeup and hair done too, and she smiled.

“Been up long?” Kiki asked, setting a cup of tea next to her sister’s bedside table and sitting herself on the bed.

“Just woke up” Dee replied, picking up the tea from the table and cupping it in her hands.

“Look at you all ready this time of morning!” Dee commented, watching her sister take small sips of her tea.

Kiki shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep that well,”

“Sofa ain’t the comfiest is it?”

Kiki shrugged off her comment.

“Sorry Keeks. Thanks for staying last night.”

“It’s ok. She’ll come ‘round you know, she’s just shocked.”

“Mmhmm,” Dee murmured.

“She will” Kiki protested. “You know what she’s like.”

Indeed, they both knew exactly what Monique was like.

After they finished their tea, Kiki announced she would take Tushaun to Kendra’s on her way to school. Dee protested, knowing it was her job to care for her son, but Kiki insisted, knowing it would be difficult at the moment for Dee to face her mother’s house, given the pent up hostility. In the end, Dee agreed to let her take him, but ensured she would pick him up later. Once Kiki had left to pick him up from their moms, Dee got out of bed and got herself showered and dressed. She really appreciated having a sister like Kiki, especially when her brother was inside. She needed somebody to lean on, and though her friends were amazing, she knew how lucky she was to have such a good sister.

At only sixteen, Kiki was most definitely the brains of the family. She cared about school, and wasn’t about to drop out without getting any grades. She didn’t have the same anger issues as the rest of her family, and she found it a lot easier to walk away from an argument. She could use her words to diffuse a situation, rather than her fists. While she was street-smart, she was also too intelligent to let herself get into a bad situation. She had never had a real fight, she had never been excluded from school; the worst thing she did was get a little drunk or high at the weekends.

[*It had been a few days since she had told Jason about her pregnancy. He was adamant they could make it work, and while he’d text her later that night to say they should meet up, and get to know each other better, they hadn’t set anything in stone. They had been speaking on and off the last few days, he hadn’t yet brought up the subject of them meeting. *]

It was Friday, and Trey had organised to have Tushaun for the weekend. Dee was sad in a way that she had a couple of days without her son; she really did miss him when she didn’t see him every day. His little smile, his bright personality; she knew she was bias but he really was the best kid she had ever met. She thought about her son as she put on her makeup, wondering what he would think to a new baby brother or sister. Would it confuse him to have a new sibling from a different father? What did she tell him about the baby’s father? They would probably have to meet, since he said he wanted to be in the baby’s life. She wondered whether her son would like Jason, whether Jason would like him. Her mind was on overdrive thinking about the possibilities and what conversations she would soon have to have. She had always been a bit of a procrastinator when it came to things she didn’t want to do.

Almost as if on cue, Dee’s phone buzzed next to her as she finished applying the last bit of makeup. Her screen told her it was a text from Jason. Opening it, she read what he had to say.

‘Hey, are you free tonight? I was wondering if you wanted to go for dinner, or we could just order in if you just wanna chill and watch a movie? Need a ride?’

As soon as Dee saw the word ‘dinner’ she panicked a little bit inside. She knew he had money, and something made her nervous at the prospect of him taking her out. She wondered if he might choose a real fancy place she didn’t fit in. Maybe it would be confusing whether it was a date or not. Either way, ordering in sounded less fancy and more relaxed, so she replied after thinking for a minute.

‘We can order in. When you picking me up?’

She followed her reply with a winking emoticon, so she didn’t sound so demanding. She wasn’t sure why he had offered her a ride tonight, when he hadn’t before, but either way she was glad. She didn’t feel like doing the same bus ride as before, and a cab would have been too expensive. Of course, she could probably always catch a ride from Tip, but she didn’t want him to know where she was going. That hotel was fancy.

Jason

Jason looked at the text message Dee had just sent him, and smiled. He replied asking her if 7pm would be okay, and she instantly replied it would. He set his phone down on the bed, and thought about seeing her later. He wondered what she’d be wearing and what mood she would be in. Their last conversation had put him on edge. He had never seen a woman with such rage.

Jason realised he was over thinking it. He had pretty much every channel on the hotel TV so finding something to watch probably wouldn’t be a problem. He decided just go with the flow. He’d see what she wanted to do. It was a weird situation, he knew that, but he was determined to step up and be a man about it. He knew there may be some difficult decisions ahead, but he knew he had to do right for the child’s sake. He had such a brilliant upbringing, and he wanted the same for his child. He wanted to show the child a good life, he wanted his parents and his grandparents involved in their lives, so they could feel love like he did. He didn’t know what the future held, and he knew Dee may not have the same outlook as he did, but something would work out, he was sure of it.

It was only 1pm, and Jason had another five hours before he even had to set off to pick up Dee. For once, he had had a slow day. He had been to the studio briefly this morning, but there wasn’t much more to do. He had actually finished all recording, and the songs had been finalised. This morning consisted of him and his team deciding which songs would be the lucky ones that made the final tracklist. There had been some debate, but after a few hours, it was decided. Fifteen of the twenty-two songs recorded had made the final cut. Now he only had promo work until the album was set for release, but until then, his manager had given him the rest of the day off. Him and Tom had grabbed lunch, and then they’d gone their separate ways for the day. Jason decided it was about time he kept to his promise of getting to know Dee. Since she’d told him she was pregnant, his every spare thought was about her and the baby.

After he made sure the hotel room was presentable, Jason headed to the gym on the outskirts of town. He had been at least twice a week already since he’d been working in Detroit. He liked to keep himself fit, and lord knows in his line of work you had to. If you even showed one sign of slipping on your fitness regime, the media would be on you like vultures. You’d be ridiculed, paraded in magazines with before and after photos, and questioned why it’s happened. Are they depressed? Have they been overeating? He never wanted to give the vultures reason to talk, so for that reason he liked to do what he could to keep himself looking good. He wasn’t part of the celebrity culture that was pictured falling out of clubs drunk or getting arrested with DUI’s. He preferred to keep his private life as private as he could.

Though the workout felt good, Jason couldn’t switch his thoughts off. He pictured in his head what it would be like to have a child. He wondered whether it would be a son or a daughter. He would be happy with either one. He saw Tom with Lydia and the bond they shared, and he hoped his bond with his own child would be just as strong. He thought about Dee having a son, and wondered how her child would feel about having a new sibling, about possibly having a new father figure in his life. Truth be told, Jason was hoping he could make something work with Dee. He found her fascinating, as well as beautiful, and he was intrigued by her and her life.

Does she like basketball? Can she cook? What kind of music does she like? Can she sing? He realised he really hadn’t learnt much about her at all in the three times he’d seen her. He hadn’t learned anything in the first night, besides the fact she had a brother, sister and a son. The second time, he met her brother; he heard her sister was the brains of the family, and he knew she walked home from the club where she worked as a stripper. She liked weed, and beer, and one thing he’d learned from the third time he’d seen her: she had a temper. Jason looked forward to getting to know the girl he barely knew but would soon be a huge part of his life.

Once he had returned from the gym, he had a bite to eat before showering and making himself presentable. He called his mother to check in, as he did every few days, and saw that she was fine. She sounded her usual, happy self and was happy to hear her son was making an effort with his baby’s mother. Before he left to pick Dee up, he phoned down to the front desk of the hotel and asked them to bring some drinks up for his return. When they asked what drinks he would like, he stopped himself from asking for wine once he realised his guest was pregnant. Instead, he asked for a variety of soft drinks and some snacks. As he left for his car, he found himself feeling a little nervous. First date nerves?

 

[] Chapter 14 – You’re Forgiven

Dee wasn’t particularly dressed up for an occasion, but Jason thought she was stunning. She was dressed in tight jeans, a fitted top and gold hoop earrings, which he’d now noticed she’d worn every time he’d seen her. The earrings had a name embellished in the middle of them, though he had never been close enough to notice what they said. He could only assume they said ‘Dee’ but she always had her long curls in the way. Tonight, her usual curls weren’t there; instead, she was sporting a straightened sleek look. Still, it flowed over her shoulders and back perfectly. When he pulled up in the car, it only took seconds before the front door to her house opened, and she stepped out, locking the door behind her. He didn’t even get a chance to cut off the engine, so instead, he watched her walk to the car, her hips strutting in her high heels. This was the first time he had seen her house where she lived alone, as he’d only ever been to her mother’s, however, he didn’t get to see past the front door as she closed it so quickly.

Jason had been raised to respect women growing up, and he always had the upmost respect for all women, family or not. He liked to treat women as a lady, not as a piece of meat like many. Of course, he’d had his flings in the past but if he was interested in a woman, he treated them right. The men in his family were old school, and liked to play the part of the gentlemen. He had adopted this nature growing up, so opening a door or pulling out a seat was second nature to him. However, Dee had barely given him a chance to step out of the car let alone walk around to the passenger side to open it for her. As quick as a flash, she had strutted to the car, a woman on a mission, and let herself in. He pulled himself back from sitting half out of the car, and positioned himself back in the seat, shutting his door after him.

“I was about to get your door,” he told her, not wanting her to think he didn’t care.

While he was expecting a smile or a ‘thanks’, she instead waved her hand dismissively.

“You don’t gotta do that,” she said, buckling up her seatbelt beside him.

It was a slightly awkward drive on the way to his hotel. While it wasn’t a long drive, the time seemed to go much slower, exacerbated by the fact they hit almost every red light. Luckily, the radio playing idly in the background provided a topic to talk about; Music. It was his first love in life, and it would be his last, he thought. He found that when all else failed in conversation, you could always get someone to open up by asking what music they liked. While you may have your disagreements, it opens up a gateway. Dee wasn’t shy about sharing her musical preferences. She told Jason about the rappers she liked and which she didn’t, and she expressed her distaste for some of their personal lives. Jason asked her what kind of music she was brought up on, what her mother or father listened to, and she told him her mother listened to Whitney and Aretha, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

“What about Al Green?” he asked, turning into the street of the hotel.

“Oh yeah, him too,” she agreed.

“He’s a great guy too.”

“You met him?”

“He actually lives close to me. His church is real close.”

“Shit.” Dee replied with a surprised tone.

As the car came to a complete stop, Jason cut the engine before getting out of the car and walking around to her passenger side in an attempt to get her door properly this time. By the time he walked around, she had already opened the door and was in the process of getting out of her seat. He pulled the door open completely and held it for her as she got out; slamming it closed once she was out. She half-smiled and muttered ‘thanks’ awkwardly, feeling in alien territory.

As they made their way to the front of the hotel, the doorman inside opened the door for their arrival, smiling politely. Jason thanked him before immediately heading to the elevator, careful not to attract too many eyes. It was attention that he didn’t need and he was pretty sure she wouldn’t appreciate it either. As the two of them stood in the elevator quietly, Dee fiddled with her handbag, reaching for some lip gloss inside which she applied to her lips using the elevator mirror. He tried not to watch her, and instead, looked at his feet and then the buttons on the panel.

“You hungry?” he asked after a few seconds.

“Starving. Are you?”

He smiled and agreed. He liked a woman that liked food, so she had already gained brownie points in his mind.

Inside his hotel room, the staff had left a selection of soft drinks at his request. When he swiped his room card to enter, Dee went ahead of him, throwing her bag down near the sofa and then taking off her heels, and placing them down neatly next to her bag. Suddenly, she lost half of her height and he couldn’t help but laugh a little bit at the decline. As she sat down, she looked over to him puzzled.

“What are you laughing at?”

“Nothing.”

“Tell me!” she demanded, her eyebrows furrowed but a smile making its way across her lips simultaneously.

“Stand up,” he said, and made his way over to her at the sofa. As she stood up from her seat, she stood almost a foot shorter than him without her high heels, and as he looked down at her, a smirk crossed his mouth. As she watched his smirk, she began to smile herself at how dwarfed she felt in comparison. Before she sat back down, she slapped his arm playfully and told him to ‘shut up.’

“How high are those heels though?” he asked jokingly.

“They’re not that high,” she insisted.

“You just lost half your height!” he laughed, sitting down on the sofa next to her. She smirked, and looked his way, their eyes meeting for half a second.

“You want a drink?” he asked, as he hopped up from the sofa again and made his way to the drinks selection.

“There’s orange, pineapple, cranberry…” he tailed off, as he looked at the drinks that lay before him.

“No wine?” she asked jokingly, picking up a hotel menu that lay on the table in front of her.

“They were all out.”

“Guess I’ll take a cranberry then.”

After he poured them both a drink, he sat back down next to her and put their drinks onto the coasters on the coffee table. Dee looked up from the menu she was studying, and glanced at the drinks he’d just made.

“You can have a beer you know, even if I can’t.”

Jason shook his head. “I don’t mind.”

Once the pair of them had begun talking about food and what they were going to watch, the conversation started to flow more easily. While they knew they needed to talk about more pressing business, i.e. her pregnancy and what they were going to work out between them with the child, their conversation didn’t seem to head that way. Instead, they decided on what food they were going to eat, and then ordered it from the hotel phone. That prompted a discussion about favourite foods and places to eat, and of course, their mother’s home cooking. While Jason shared tales of his mother and grandmother’s amazing food, Dee told a different story of a mother who found it a chore to cook.

While she noted her mother’s cooking was as good as anybody’s, she said she didn’t find the time to do it very often with working so many jobs. Jason couldn’t believe that her mom worked three jobs, and suddenly, he had admiration for a woman he had never met. He knew times were hard for his own mom while he was growing up, and while she had worked hard, she had never had to sacrifice so much of her time between multiple jobs.

Jason found himself more and more intrigued by Dee the more he spoke to her. He felt like on the surface he saw this beautiful woman but inside, she had so many different layers. As they watched TV, she would talk to the characters, vulgar in her tone, swearing at them for their actions. He found her fascinating to watch, especially to see how such a small person with such a sweet sounding voice had such a vulgar tone to her. He found it funny, really. As far as voices go, she really did have a sweet sounding voice at times. He thought that if he’d never heard her swear, he could imagine her being this good, mild mannered girl, but some of her choice words were anything but mild mannered. He laughed with her as she spoke; enjoying seeing her character develop more the longer they spent together. He really felt like he was getting to know this girl, and he liked it. Suddenly, he realised that he wanted to make it work in more ways than one.

Once they had finished eating and their plates were cleared away, Dee sat back comfortably and thought about how to approach the subject of her pregnancy. She didn’t want to ruin a good conversation, but she knew no good would come of putting it off. Not one to think through her words carefully, she decided to just go in full force and ask what needed to be said.

“So, what are we doing, with the baby? I know you said you wanna be involved, but is that like financially or you gonna come and see them on a regular?”

Taken aback by her lack of subtly, Jason took a deep breath and turned to face her.

“I wanna be there 100%. Financially, emotionally. I’m that kid’s father, right?”

“You wouldn’t be the first guy to skip town.”

“I’m not that guy. Trust me.”

“So you gonna be taking plane trips every month? Every weekend?”
Jason thought for a second.

“I guess I haven’t thought it through completely but, I just know I wanna be there every step of the way.”

“You don’t gotta stick around for the scans and everything, I know you prolly’ got places to be or whatever. Work and all that.”

“No, I want to. I really do. I think I’m gonna stay based here around work, for now at least. We’ll figure something out when the baby gets here.”

Dee nodded acceptingly before Jason spoke again.

“I kind of wanna get to know the baby’s mom for now.”

“I thought that’s what we were doing.”

“No…I mean, really get to know you. I really like you, Dee.”

Dee thought she might have just blushed, though she wasn’t sure she’d ever done that. As a defence mechanism, she wavered off his words.

“You don’t even know me. How can you know you like me?” she asked, purposely avoiding eye contact.

“I know I like what I’ve seen so far,” Jason said, as he watched her eyes floating around the room.

He put his hand out to touch her knee, inviting her to look at him. Her deep brown eyes met his and he spoke to her again.

“Seriously. I thought you were beautiful from the first night I met you, but you’re not just skin deep. You’ve got this amazing personality; you’re funny, and witty. And you swear more than any woman I’ve ever known, but I love it.” He joked.

Dee looked at him intently, listening to his words.

“I just know that I want you around, and I wanna try and make this work. Is it so bad that I wanna take my baby’s momma on a date?” he joked again.

Dee smiled, and it met his. But still, she wavered him away, telling him to ‘shut up.’

Again, Jason got her attention to turn back to him by brushing her arm, and once more, their eyes met.

“You’re amazing.” Jason said again.

Dee looked into his bright blue eyes, and saw the way he was looking at her. Her heart suddenly skipped a beat, like she was nervous, or excited, and then she wondered whether he was going to kiss her. His eyes flickered from her eyes to her lips and slowly, he made his way toward her. Instinct caused her to move his way too, and suddenly their lips were touching. Something about what he had said had put some kind of passion in her, and she sucked on his lips with a sense of urgency, before he started to run his fingers through her hair. She could feel it radiating from him that he wanted her, and that only spurred her advances further.

She let out a small moan into his lips and slowly, he lowered her back onto the sofa, climbing on top of her. His hands explored her body as if for the first time and before she knew it, clothes were being thrown onto the floor. His words had struck a match inside of her, fuelling a passion that she didn’t know she’d had before. She straddled him, their naked bodies moving together.

Dee didn’t know what made Jason’s words different to the lines she’d heard from men before, but she believed him when he spoke. He had an honesty about him, and she believed he was genuine. It wasn’t a cheesy line or something he had rehearsed, he truly thought that about her, and she hadn’t heard that a lot. All she knew was she wanted to make him feel good, like he had made her feel. The first night they’d slept together, neither of them really remembered any details, alcohol had prevented that. This time may as well have been the first. This time neither of them would forget how it felt, and they didn’t have alcohol to use as an excuse. After they climaxed, Dee threw herself into the seat next to him, as they both caught their breaths.

“Wow,” Jason said, causing Dee to giggle, embarrassed beside him.

“I didn’t mean to do that.”

“You’re totally forgiven.”

[] Chapter 15 – Deleisha

After the two of them put some clothes back on to protect their modesty, there was a bit of an awkward silence. Luckily, Jason had a good sense of humour, so when all else failed, he could always crack a joke to ease the tension in the air.

“So was that a yes to a date?” he asked, smirking slightly as he waited for her answer.

Dee rolled her eyes at his comment, but still, she said yes. She thought she could probably do a lot worse, and since they were about to have a baby, maybe it wasn’t the worst idea to try and make things work. He seemed genuine, and she liked that. She’d been with Trey since she was a teenager, and so she’d never really had a man tell her things like Jason had. The fact he was a few years older than her was probably a good thing too, since she knew how much more immature men could be compared to women.

Though he liked to crack a joke, she didn’t see Jason as immature. Considering his speech about how he was going to provide for her and the baby, she knew he had a serious side to him, and she liked that she’d seen that already. She thought something as huge as a baby coming into the world should be enough to make a man wise up, but unfortunately she’d seen it time and time again that it didn’t.

Her brother had a daughter of his own with his high school girlfriend, but that didn’t stop him creeping around with other women, or breaking up and making up with her every few months. The pair of them were supposed to be role models to their little girl, but sometimes that little girl didn’t know whether she was coming or going. Sometimes her mother and father were together, sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes daddy lived with mommy and sometimes he lived with grandma. Shontelle was four years old, and it was unfair to confuse a child like that. That’s how Dee knew she couldn’t do the same to Tushaun. She wondered sometimes whether Tushaun was the motivation she needed to break up with Trey once and for all. She knew it wasn’t fair to her son. She was glad Jason had stepped up to the plate, but she knew things might change once the baby arrived. Either way, she was going to try, and if it failed, she could say she tried.

As the two of them sat for a while idly watching what was on the television screen, Jason glanced at the time on his Rolex and realised how late it was getting. He was sad at the prospect, because that meant he’d probably have to drop Dee home soon, and he was enjoying her company. He didn’t remember the last time he’d had a day off from work and had just sat with a woman, enjoying her company. It had been years since he’d had a girlfriend that was in the spotlight too, and though they understood each other’s lifestyles, it was often hard to make time for one another. He’d always thought it would be easier to have a girlfriend that wasn’t part of this industry, someone who could make time for him, and bring him back down to earth away from the fans and the media.

“It’s getting pretty late.” Jason announced. “You got any plans for the rest of the night?”

“No, Tushaun’s at his dads so, pretty much just chilling”

Jason nodded. “You could always stay if you like. You could have the bed, I’ll take the floor.”

Dee laughed a little then. “You don’t have to sleep on the floor. We just did that and you’re worrying about sleeping next to me?”

Jason shared her laughter. “Guess it does sound a little stupid.”

“But yeah, why not” she agreed.

“There’s fresh towels in the bathroom if you wanna shower or anything, I’m gonna go anyway.”

“Thanks, I’mma take you up on that.”

Jason watched her walk to the en-suite bathroom at the end of the room, and shut the door. He thought about previous events and shook his head disbelievingly that he’d just had sex with this beautiful woman again. He hoped she didn’t think that’s all he was interested in, but he wasn’t complaining either. He’d only meant to kiss her earlier, but he felt the passion she’d brought to the table and he couldn’t help but take it further. He got the feeling that he was in for the ride of his life with this girl. There was something exciting about her. She wasn’t the usual polite, well behaved woman who did things the proper way, but he liked that. She said what she thought and he could tell she could handle herself. He thought there was nothing sexier than an independent woman.

Around ten minutes later, Dee opened the bathroom door and appeared in a towel that was tucked in at her chest. Water droplets appeared on her bare body and the steam from the bathroom circulated from the door.

“That shower was amazing” she announced, using a smaller towel to towel-dry the ends of her hair which she’d gotten a little wet. Jason couldn’t help but watch her, and for a minute, he imagined ripping the towel away from her body, but he snapped out of it.

“I’ve got a couple t-shirts if you want one for bed”

“Thanks” she said, as she made her way to the sofa while Jason rummaged through his drawers to find an appropriate shirt. He pulled one out, and set it on the seat next to her on the sofa, announcing his departure for his own shower. Before he left, he took some bed clothes with him into the bathroom.

After his shower, he joined Dee back at the sofa. She was already sitting in his t-shirt, her legs sprawled across the other seat watching TV. She looked comfortable, and it made him smile. As he moved near to the TV, she looked up at him and moved her legs for him to sit down.

“It’s okay,” he told her, and instead of allowing her to move, he simply lifted her legs up and lay them in his lap once he’d sat down. The two of them watched a show on television for a while, neither of them saying anything, but it wasn’t an awkward silence anymore. It was weirdly comfortable.

He looked over at Dee who now had her hands in her hair, tying her long locks into a high ponytail. As she wrapped the band around her hair, her gold earrings embellished with her name glinted off the light in the room, and for the first time, he saw them clearly. They didn’t say ‘Dee’ as he thought, but ‘Deleisha.’ He took this in for a moment, and then spoke.

“De-Lee-Sha” he read aloud, causing her to turn around and look at him.

“What?”

“Your earrings,” he pointed. “Is that what Dee’s short for?”

“Yeah.”

Jason smiled. He’d never really given much thought to what her real name was. He just took Dee as a given, never thought of what it might be short for.

“I’ve never heard that before.”

“I guess it’s a little unusual. Don’t start calling me that though, it’s reserved for when my mama’s angry at me.”

She smiled jokingly, but her smile quickly faded.

“Does that happen a lot?”

“Has lately. She didn’t take the pregnancy too well.”

“Really?”

“Really. She brought Tushaun into it. She basically said I can’t even look after the child I got, so this is gonna be another baby that she ends up caring for.”

Jason frowned. He was surprised that her own mother had been so harsh to her.

“I’m sure she didn’t mean it. She was probably just surprised. We all were, right?”

“Oh she meant it. You don’t know my mother Jason, she can be a real bitch when she wants to be.”

“You two don’t get along?”

“No we do. We’re pretty similar in a lot of ways, but, she ain’t never been mother of the year or nothing.”

“Is anybody?”

“No for real, she done some fucked up things.”

“Like what?” Jason found himself asking, before his mind had got into gear. Thinking how intrusive he just sounded, he spoke again before she had chance to answer. “Sorry, you don’t have to tell me.”

“No, it’s cool. She was a drug addict when I was growing up, got us in some shitty situations.”

“Wow. I can’t imagine.”

“Having to phone ambulances for your mom and then her shouting at you for doing it. It’s fucked up.”

Jason listened intently. He was surprised at what Dee told him, and he could tell the whole situation still struck a chord for her. He saw the frown lines in her forehead, and the way her words sounded harsher as she spoke about it. He’d been privileged to have such a fantastic mom growing up; he couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been for her growing up with a mother addicted to drugs.

“I just wanna be a better mom to my own kids, you know?” Dee added.

“I’m sure you will. I guess you already are, you’ve already got a son that loves you.”

“Yeah, he’s amazing too.” She smiled. “You wanna see a picture?”

“Sure,” Jason agreed, scooting along the sofa to get closer to her as she picked up her phone and looked through it.

Dee showed him a few different photos. One of Tushaun on his own, one with the two of them together, and one with her sister. It was the first time he had seen Dee’s sister, Kiki, who she and her brother had talked about before.

“Wow, you two look so different to be sisters,” he said, studying the photo in front of him. Though she was clearly beautiful, he didn’t see much of a family resemblance.

“I know, everybody says that. Different dads though.”

“Do you still see them?” he asked, thinking he had never broached the subject of her father, though he’d never heard a father mentioned before.

“Never met ‘em. Either of ‘em.”

“Oh”

He knew it wasn’t his place to start asking further questions, but he thought it was sad that neither sister had ever known their fathers. Sadly, he knew what an epidemic it was becoming these days for fathers to be absent in the raising of children, and he knew he was lucky to have his stepfather when his biological father didn’t make the cut as much as he wanted him to. He knew this was why he had to stand by his child, and make sure he made it work. It made him think of how much Dee probably distrusted the words of fathers, knowing she never knew her own, and knowing her relationship with her son’s father broke down. He knew at only twenty-two, she must have been around twenty when she had her son, and he couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been raising a child so young on your own. He had respect for what she had done already.

The night was getting late, and as Dee took out the gold earrings from her ears, she yawned loudly.

“Tired?” Jason asked, starting to yawn himself after watching her.

“Yeah,” she agreed.

It didn’t feel that weird when the two of them moved to his bed and got under the covers. They left the TV on for a little while but it wasn’t long before Dee’s eyes started to close over slowly. Jason didn’t realise until he laughed at a segment on the television and looked over to see if she was laughing too. She wasn’t. He kept his gaze on her for a second to check if she was really asleep or just dropping off. As he saw her chest rise and fall he smiled and after a few minutes, he picked up the remote from the bedside table and turned the TV off, leaving the room in silence. He sunk his body down into the covers and felt an unfamiliar heat radiating from the body next to him.

It had been a while since he had shared a bed properly with somebody. It felt nice to feel that in the space next to him, rather than a cold side. Sometimes he would roll over to the other side in his sleep and feel the cold sheet under his body, making him shiver, especially in the winter. He thought about how nice it would be to permanently share his bed with somebody, to feel there was a presence in the room other than himself. As the thoughts whizzed around in his mind, he soon succumbed to the sleepy veil that clouded his mind and before he knew it, he was snoring lightly next to her.  

[] Chapter 16 – Four Months

It’s amazing how fast you can get to know somebody when you’re really, actively trying, Jason thought. Sometimes, you can be with somebody for months and feel like you still don’t really know everything about them. You may know what shows they like to watch on TV, or what their favourite food is, but when it comes to the nitty, gritty stuff, like their past, their fears, their dreams; it can be difficult to find ground to mention it. Jason knew that not everybody was so open with their dreams like he had been. People feared letting people into their dreams, for fear they’d shoot them down.

Jason had taken an active role in getting to know the woman who was having his child. He was interested in her on a deeper level than just as a baby’s mother, and he wanted to know everything about her; her dreams, her fears, the intimate details you don’t tell just anybody. He knew she may not be perfect, but neither was he. He knew they were opposite in many ways, but somehow it worked. They say that opposites attract, and he believed it. He had been with people in the music industry, and frankly, it bored him after a while. Though he loved his work with all his heart, he liked the idea of having something besides work to talk about with someone. He’d been in great relationships but they’d never lasted very long. He’d simply become bored with them, and the spark fizzled out. His friends had joked that he was a commitment-phobe but he knew that wasn’t true, he just needed somebody different, somebody with some spark.

Dee certainly had spark. It had been a month now since they had been getting to know each other, and he was learning so much. They made an effort to see each other as much as they could, and while they were originally doing it because it was the right thing to do, they both found they wanted to see each other now. It was weird for them to go a day without speaking, even if it was just a text message. It was clear to everybody around them that they were falling for each other, and while Jason would admit it, Dee kept things closer to her heart. Sometimes, they would simply hang out at his hotel and watch TV, or play games. He’d bought a new Xbox not long after the first time she had been round, and while he’d actually bought it for himself and Tom to play when they were bored, it turned out Dee loved to play too. She told him she had often beaten her brother on FIFA and Fight Night, but he didn’t believe her, so she proved it to him by beating him too. He couldn’t believe he’d found a woman who loved to play video games too. He found it hilarious how competitive she got, and how her foul mouth would get worse the more pent up she got.

After a week or two, they found the courage to go out together for lunch and dinner. Of course, this was a difficult decision because they knew at some point the paparazzi would get wind of it and Dee would be the next girl to be researched intensely for the papers and magazines. He didn’t want to do that to her, because he knew she didn’t sign up for it, but it was something out of his control. The first time a few men with cameras showed up and started taking their picture, Dee simply ignored them and kept on walking, and he was proud of her for not reacting. However, she didn’t always have the same reaction. He knew she was an angry person regardless, but with hormones in the mix and sometimes hunger on the way to eat, she would give them an earful. Something he would cringe at, because he knew it would never be a positive thing for her. He didn’t want people to think badly of her.

Dee was four months pregnant now, and her stomach was showing, something that was getting harder to cover up. She would wear loose dresses if they went out together but they both knew it was probably time they told somebody before the story was ‘leaked’ into a trashy magazine with a ton of lies. Around a month ago, Jason had convinced Dee to get a check up at the doctors, and he had paid for her to go into a good hospital. He was surprised when she said she had only ever had one or two checks with her previous pregnancy, as he knew it was important to track the baby’s progress. Considering she had only confirmed her pregnancy with a positive home pregnancy test, he thought it was about time they had it confirmed officially. There was no doubt she was pregnant, but he wanted to know how far she was, if the baby was healthy, if it was too late to get the tests. The first appointment, the doctor had told her she was already three months pregnant. Dee had told him she was on the contraceptive pill, but admitted she didn’t always have the best memory for taking it. Jason didn’t have any ground to be mad, he knew it was his responsibility to be safe too, and that night, he’d disregarded everything.

When the doctor told them he would carry out an ultrasound to see the baby, the two of them didn’t know what to say. They held their breaths until they heard a heartbeat other than her own drumming away, and when they saw the baby on the screen, Jason couldn’t believe it. Dee looked over to see tears in his eyes, but she had some of her own too. It was amazing to see it on the screen, to feel it was really real, to remind yourself that you are carrying an actual human being and you’re going to be a parent again. She loved Tushaun more than anything in the world, so she knew she would love this baby just as much.

The doctor told them the baby was small, but that he hoped it would grow rapidly in the coming months. He’d then printed out two copies of the ultrasound picture so that each of them could have a copy to show their families. While Dee was happy to see her new baby, worry plagued her mind over the doctor’s comments. He was small for three months of pregnancy; she knew it didn’t sound good. She thought about the past three months before she knew she was pregnant, of all the times she had drank and smoked since sleeping with Jason the first night.

She thought about the party at Shaneeka’s and all the shots they’d consumed while playing party games. She thought about all the cannabis she’d smoked, unaware she was pregnant. On her way out of the doctor’s office, Jason could tell there was something on Dee’s mind. While he was chattering away about how amazing it was, and looking back over the picture, Dee walked silently back to the car. Once inside, Jason turned to her and asked if she was okay, before she burst into tears. It was a shock to him because it was the first time he had seen her cry, and he never expected it. At first, he thought she was just over-emotional at seeing the baby, but she didn’t look like she was ready to laugh it off.

“Hey, what’s the matter?” he’d asked her, brushing her hair behind her ear affectionately.

“It’s my fault,” She’d blubbed.

“What’s your fault?”

“The baby. The baby’s small ‘cause of me. I smoked so much and drank and I didn’t know I was pregnant. I’ve stunted its growth,” she sobbed.

“Hey, come here,” He’d said, as he pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. She cried into him for a minute and he told her how it wasn’t her fault. How was she supposed to change her actions when she didn’t know? She hadn’t done it purposely, he knew that, and he knew she’d given everything up once she did know. He hated to see her so upset, but in a weird sort of way, it was nice to see her emotional, so raw. It made him see a lighter side of her, a more vulnerable side, and he wanted nothing more than to protect her and make her feel better.

“If you’re worried about it, we can book another appointment, talk to the doctor about it.”

“No. He’ll judge me.”

“He won’t judge you. You haven’t done anything wrong.” He said, as she came up for air away from his chest and wiped her face.

“Hey, if the doctor was worried about it, he would have said something, and he didn’t did he?”

Dee shook her head and slowly, she started to look composed again.

That evening, after Jason had dropped her home, Dee had shown her mother and sister the photo, and they’d all gathered in the kitchen and cooed over it. Monique had come round to the idea of her daughter having another child, and though she had her reservations still, she had apologised to Dee for hurting her. Well, as close to an apology as her mother could get, it was good enough. Monique’s reservations were mostly about Jason. Dee had explained their situation, and she knew now that Jason was famous, she’d even been able to sing one of his songs.

While Jason had already mentioned his family to Dee many times, and suggested that they needed to meet, Dee had held back on agreeing so quickly with him, mostly because she knew her family weren’t what Jason’s would be. She worried that they wouldn’t get along, that her mother would be rude and Jason would be put off joining her family. She was starting to have strong feelings for him, though she would never admit it to anybody but herself. She was a guarded person, and she figured that’s the way it would stay for a while. However, she couldn’t deny that time was moving fast, and they needed to get organised in time for the baby. She knew she didn’t want the first meeting with his family to be when she showed up with his baby, and she certainly didn’t want her mother harassing Jason once the baby had already arrived. She much preferred the harassing happened now.

Jason had already mentioned trying to organise something with his parents, to possibly get them to come to Detroit as he knew Dee had her son here and asking her to go away for a few days might be a little much for her. Dee knew it would have to happen sooner or later, but she thought him meeting her family first would be a better idea, saving the best till last and everything. When Monique mentioned Dee’s cousin Brooke was having her engagement party that weekend, she thought it would be a good idea to mention it to Jason. After all, if everybody had a bit of drink inside them, they might be more relaxed.

As she’d stood in the kitchen, Dee mentioned telling Tushaun about the baby to her mother and Kiki. They collectively agreed that it was about time, and so as she put him to bed that night, she took the scan photograph up with her and before she read him a goodnight story, she showed him the picture. She explained that mommy had a baby in her tummy, and it was a new baby brother or sister for him. She wasn’t sure whether he fully understood at his age, but the most important thing was that she’d told him, so there would be no surprises when a baby did suddenly show up. She felt a relief wash over her as she got into bed that night. Her son knew, her family knew, and now there were no more secrets. ‘Except to Trey’, she thought, but he could wait. As she lay comfortably in her bed, she text Jason and asked him if he wanted to come to the engagement party at the weekend.

“Sounds like fun,” he’d replied. He had no idea.

[] Chapter 17 – First Impressions

As Jason buttoned up his shirt that evening, he took a look at himself in the mirror a few times, double and triple checking himself to make sure he looked okay, to make sure he would make a good impression. He was nervous to say the least. The prospect of meeting many people as headstrong and opinionated as Dee was overwhelming. Most people in Dee’s position would have said something to comfort him, something along the lines of ‘you’ll be fine’, except Dee wasn’t most people. Dee was honest, sometimes brutally honest, so when she admitted to him that she was ‘shitting her pants’ about him meeting her family, it didn’t exactly make him feel welcomed or at ease. He knew there was probably nothing to worry about, but he’d done the whole ‘meeting the parents’ thing before and it was never a picnic, even if you all get on well together, it’s bound to always be a little awkward. Jason had already brought up meeting Tushaun to Dee; it was something he felt was important, and though she agreed, she was still worried it was too soon, though she finally said it could happen once he’d met her other family members.

Dee had asked him to come over to her mother’s place before they set off for the party. He figured it was probably a good thing to meet her mother and whoever else would be there before he was thrown into the deep end at a party. He knew once drinks started flowing people would probably forget everything he’d said and in some cases, may not even remember meeting him. Jason had chosen his least flashy car to drive up in. He didn’t like to judge, but it wasn’t exactly the safest area for crime, so he didn’t want to draw any attention to himself. Dee had told him he was free to stay the night if he wanted a drink, and he decided to take her up on the offer.

It was a warm August evening, and people were out in their numbers all along the streets. People were sitting in deck chairs outside their homes, beer bottles and cigarettes in hands. Most had music playing, or were sat with a deck of cards. Once he parked, Jason made his way to the front door of Dee’s mothers. He had been in this house before, when he met her brother, but it seemed so long ago now, and her mother wasn’t in the house at the time. It felt different now, knowing the home owner was here.

He’d heard things from Dee about who her mother was as a person. She’d told him she wasn’t a very good mother growing up, but then she’d also told him she works three jobs to support them. He couldn’t understand the two conflicting statements, because to him, he didn’t see how she could be a bad mother when she worked hard and contributed like that, but Dee was never one to go into detail. Whenever he asked her a further question, she shut down. He could tell she was still very guarded, and he told himself her past relationship may have affected her, but that didn’t mean she would be like that forever.

He knocked firmly on the front door, waiting for somebody to answer. He heard noise as somebody approached the door, and as it opened, he saw the familiar curls he’d become so accustomed to before Dee’s face appeared. She smiled as she saw him, and he automatically returned it.

“Hey beautiful,” he said, as he took a look at the rest of her. She was wearing a long maxi dress that went down to her ankles, and on her feet she wore strappy heels that showed a red polish on her toes. Her fingernails matched her toes, and in her ears were her usual gold hoops.

As Dee opened the door wider, she allowed space for him to step into the room and greeted him with a peck on the mouth. He could tell she was feeling awkward, and the feeling transferred onto him, though he tried not to let it.

“You want a drink?” she asked, as she shut the door behind him.

“Sure,” he agreed, following her into the kitchen which was located through the living room. He had been in the living room before, but he’d never been in the kitchen, so he took note of his surroundings, looking at the pictures of the family on the walls on the way through.

As he stepped into the kitchen, he saw two women standing near the kitchen counters straight in front of him.

“Jason, this is my mom, Monique.”

“Nice to meet you,” he told the woman, holding out his hand for a handshake. The woman looked him up and down before taking his hand and giving it a limp shake. “You too” she said, though her face told him she wasn’t sure.

“And this is my sister, Kiki.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said, smiling her way.

“Better be good things!” Kiki joked, and Jason laughed politely.

 “Oh, it was.”

Kiki definitely didn’t have the same unsure look on her face. Hers was warm and welcoming, and Jason relaxed a little.

“That’s Kiki’s boyfriend, J,” Dee said, as she pointed toward one of two men sat at the kitchen table to the right. The one she pointed at had cornrows in his hair and dark skin, and though he looked older for his age, he presumed he was a teenager. The other man sat with him was of lighter appearance, with a shaved head, and though he was sitting down, Jason could tell he was tall.

“That’s Tip, my best friend in the world,” Dee said gesturing to the other man, before she grabbed a beer bottle from the side and opened it. Jason said his hellos before Dee handed him the beer bottle, and he took a few swigs immediately.

“So, you’re the one that got my daughter pregnant,” Monique said matter-of-factly, causing Jason to almost spit his beer out. He never expected that sentence to come next, and he wasn’t sure how to reply.

“Mom!” Dee scolded.

“I’m just stating a fact.”

“Well you don’t need to, we all know already.”

“It’s okay,” Jason said, hoping to keep the peace.

“I know its okay, that’s why I said it,” Monique said in reply, and he felt Dee cringe next to him.

There was an awkward moment for a second, before Tip spoke up from the table.

“Yo Jason, you play poker?”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“Come have a game with us.”

Jason looked at Dee for a split second to see her approval, before he joined the men at the table. He sat on the chair next to Tip, and smiled at the men, as J dealt him some cards. As J dealt, Tip looked over at Jason.

“Don’t mind Monique, she a crazy bitch, but you’ll get used to her.”

After Tip spoke, Monique piped up from the other side of the room.

“Don’t think I don’t know you talking about me Thomas.”

“Miss Monique, I’m just saying what a pussycat you is really.”

“Pussycat my ass!” she stated, and the boys began to laugh at the table. It was clear they understood her ways, and Jason hoped she gave everybody the same chilly reception at first. He certainly hoped he wasn’t the only one to receive it.

On the other side of the kitchen, Dee and Kiki were giving a pep talk to Monique about first impressions and not being rude to people. Dee knew it would fall on deaf ears, because Monique had never listened to anything they said, she knew her way and her way only, and she’d be damned if she changed because of what somebody else said. This stubborn trait was something that Dee had picked up herself. She had always been a headstrong character, but when it came to being polite, she must have learnt that from somebody else, because it certainly wasn’t from her mom.

“You should make an effort for Dee,” Kiki told Monique, sipping on her homemade cocktail.

“Oh stop being so sensitive, if he can’t handle me, he ain’t gonna fit in this family.”

“Just be fucking nice, how hard is that?” Dee spat, as she pulled herself up onto the kitchen counter, a mad look on her face. She didn’t want her mom to ruin things for her. Luckily, Monique had seen Dee’s ‘sulky face’ a lot as she was growing up, so she knew when something was important to her.

“Ey Jason!” she yelled to the table. “You want one of Monique’s Mimosas?”

The men at the table looked up from their card game at her question, and J and Tip elbowed Jason simultaneously.

“Them things are lethal bruh,” Tip told Jason, pulling a disapproving face.

“They’re good, honest,” Monique said, as she started to make one regardless of Jason’s answer, pouring different spirits and juices into a jug.

“You don’t even know what a mimosa is,” Dee laughed, watching her mom pour any random concoction into the jug.

“Oh, and you do?”

“I do,” Kiki piped up.

“Well go on then smart ass.”

“It’s like champagne and juice, and you ain’t got no champagne, so it ain’t one of them.”

“Well it sounds good though. The M and the M, whatever you call it.”

“Alliteration,” Kiki said, as she sucked up the last of her mother’s last cocktail with her straw.

“Alright clever ass, go sit over there and make friends.” Monique gestured toward the table, as she lightly pushed her youngest daughter out of the way of her drink making.

As Kiki made her way to the table, she put her arms around J’s neck and kissed his cheek before he pulled out his seat for her to sit in his lap. Jason was a little surprised they were so open in their relationship; after all, he was awkward as anything with his girlfriends at sixteen, especially if his mom was around. J carried on with the game, looking at his cards in one hand while his other arm rested on Kiki’s waist. It wasn’t long before the noise of the blender had stopped and Monique had made her way to the table with a full jug and plastic cups. She set a cup down in front of each of them at the table apart from Kiki, who still had one in her hand, and began to pour them all a cup of the concoction in the jug. Jason didn’t know what was in it, and he didn’t want to ask. He took a small sniff of the mixture and he could smell how potent it was.

“Drink up kids!” Monique laughed, after she poured the last of it into Kiki’s existing cup and walked back to the kitchen counter with the empty jug, where Dee still sat.

“That looks vile,” Dee told her mother.

“Don’t be jealous ‘cause you can’t have any.”

“Trust me, I’ll be fine,” she said, as she hopped down off the counter. Not wanting to be anti-social, she made her way to the table and as she approached Jason, he pulled out the chair nearest to him for her to sit down.

“Look at that! Pulling out chairs and shit!” Monique exclaimed as she too, made her way to the table. Once again, Jason felt Dee cringe slightly next to him, and everybody else laughed.

“If you gonna treat her like that, you can keep on getting her pregnant.”

While everybody carried on laughing, Monique protested she was joking.

Jason blushed, and drank his cocktail quietly. It was in fact, pretty vile but he didn’t say anything. Not everybody was as polite.

“What the fuck’s in this shit?” Tip laughed, screwing up his face as he took a sip.

“My special recipe,” Monique replied, happily making her way through her own.

“What’s that? A bit of everything?”

“Well it gets the job done!” Monique exclaimed, and they couldn’t argue with that.

After Monique had made a second round of cocktails, everybody was feeling it, and Jason couldn’t believe he still had a party to make his way to. He didn’t want to be drunk for meeting the rest of the family but it seemed the cocktails were going to keep on coming if Monique had her way. 

[] Chapter 18 – Domestic

The venue wasn’t anywhere fancy, just a small community centre in their area which had been decked out head to toe in decorations, banners and balloons. It was pretty busy by the time they’d arrived, and Dee wasn’t surprised, as she knew her cousin Rhea was popular. She was older than Dee by two years but they had practically grown up together, with their mothers being sisters. Her aunt Neesee was younger than Monique and though she was seen as her ‘fun aunt’, she had always been more responsible than her mother. When Monique couldn’t take care of her kids, Neesee often stepped in and took the kids away for a few days, which was why Dee had grown up around her cousin Rhea and her younger sister Nahla. She saw them almost as second sisters at the time, but they hadn’t seen as much of each other as they’d grown up.

Dee arrived to the party with her family, Jason and Tip, and while she knew she’d invited Jason, she worried how she was going to balance the night; still being able to spend time with her family but not leaving him out. It was always awkward bringing two different sets of people together, but she knew it was something that had to be done. Monique wasted no time in heading straight to the bar before she greeted her sister and niece, while Kiki and J made their way to find a table for the group. Tip had already seen someone he knew from the area and was heading their way to talk, which left Dee and Jason alone. Dee looked at her surroundings, taking note of who she could see.

“So, that’s my cousin Rhea,” Dee told Jason, gesturing across the room.

“That’s her fiancé Shawn, and my aunt Neesee and my other cousin Nahla, that’s her daughter too. Oh, there’s Daya,” Dee added, sounding surprised. Jason nodded at her descriptions, and waited on one for the latest name.

“Sorry, that’s Jarell’s girl.”

As Jason turned to look at the girl Dee was talking about, he saw a caramel coloured woman, with long brown hair. She was very pretty, and Jason wondered why she had decided to come on her own, considering Jarell was still inside.

“She’s brought Shontelle!” Dee exclaimed, as a little girl with a pale blue dress and braided hair made her way to Daya, and sat on her lap.

“Let’s go say hi.”

Dee made her way over to the table which Daya and Shontelle sat at, with Jason following close behind. As the little girl turned her head, she saw her aunty walking their way, and excited by the encounter, she jumped down off her mother’s lap to run over to Dee. She ran at full force speed and given her height, Dee could see she was going to run straight into her stomach. Guarding herself, she held out her arms extended and stopped her in her tracks before she got too close.

“Aunty Dee!” Shontelle squealed, beaming up at her.

“Hey girl, I didn’t know you were coming tonight.”

“Mama say we have to party for daddy too.”

“Did she?”

“Mmhmm,” Shontelle agreed, looking at Jason who was stood next to Dee.

Following her gaze, Dee spoke up. “Shonny, this is my friend Jason.”

“Hi,” Shontelle said shyly, looking away immediately.

“Shall we go see your mommy?”

Daya had already stood up from her seat at the table after she saw her daughter talking to Dee. She smiled as they headed over toward her, and held out her arms for Dee to embrace her.

“Dee, it’s so good to see you.”

“You too. I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Yeah well, we gotta represent the empty space for Jarell, right?”

“I guess so. You heard from him?”

“He called me today; he’s doing okay, keeping his head down.”

“I hope it stay down.”

“Me too, girl, me too.”

Daya noticed from the moment Dee came over there was a man with her, and she couldn’t help but look over at him as she spoke.

“You bring a date?” Daya asked Dee, pointing her eyes toward Jason.

Dee felt weird introducing him as her date, so she thought about what to say for a second, but before she could muster anything coherent, Jason spoke up.

“Jason, nice to meet you,” he said, holding out his hand for a handshake.

Daya eyed him up as their hands met. “Jason Taylor” she said, as a look spread across her face, one that showed the penny had just dropped.

“You know, your mom said you was pregnant by some famous guy, but I thought she was shitting me.”

Dee and Jason shared a look between them.

“I thought he was shitting me too,” Dee joked, and Jason laughed awkwardly.

“Well, this is his.” Dee said, rubbing her hand over her small baby bump that poked out from her dress, and Daya squealed excitedly.

It was an awkward situation having to follow Dee around to all different friends and family, telling people it was nice to meet them and having to stand around having small talk with people. He knew it was just part and parcel but it didn’t mean it was any easier. Some were more welcoming than others. Daya had certainly been welcoming; maybe because she knew how it felt not to be immediate family, after all, she was only in the family because she was a baby mother, and maybe an on-off girlfriend. Dee’s best friend Shaneeka had also been really welcoming, but she’d also warned him off hurting her ‘girl’ and threatened to chop his manhood off if he did, so that was definitely not a welcoming sentence. He had now met cousins, aunties and friends and it was exhausting. Kiki and J had managed to get the family a table, so while many of them moved around to different tables and to the bar, they also had a place to sit in down time. After a few hours, Dee and Jason made their way to the table and sat with Monique, Neesee, and Tip.

As Jason took a few glugs of his beer, he savoured the break from small talk. It was nice to finally sit down with people he knew. Luckily, he’d sat down next to Tip, someone who had welcomed him earlier at the house, so he had found it easy to get along with him. He couldn’t help but notice the family was more female orientated so it was nice to have a conversation with a fellow male around the same age as him.

“You wanna get some fresh air?” Tip asked, picking up a packet of cigarettes from the table and grabbing his beer in the other hand. Jason agreed. He knew the code for ‘fresh air’ was a smoke, and though he didn’t smoke regularly, he liked one when he was drinking.

The air outside was a refreshing change from the humid air indoors. The body heat radiating from everybody in such close quarters had made the area almost sweaty and though it was a nice night outside, the air had a breeze to it, which felt amazing on his skin. There was a small outside seating area with benches and an outside heater, though the heater wasn’t needed. The men sat opposite each other on the bench, and Tip handed Jason a cigarette, lighting him up before lighting his own. They sat there for a minute, not speaking, but it wasn’t an awkward silence. Jason didn’t think men always had to talk with each other, unlike women. It was nice to listen to the silence outside for a minute.

“Is it getting a little much in there?” Tip asked, flicking the ash from his cigarette onto the floor.

“No, it’s fine. It’s nice to have a break though.”

“Must be crazy meeting all this family and shit at once man.”

“It is a little crazy, but, we’re on borrowed time I guess.”

“Try’na do everything before the baby gets here?”

“Yeah. We just wanna do it properly, you know?”

“I heard that man. Sometime I wish I did shit properly.”

“You got kids?” Jason asked, puffing on his cigarette.

“Yeah man, I got four,” Tip laughed.

 “Shit,” Jason said, laughing at his surprise.

“You’re only Dee’s age though, right? How’s that work?”

“Had my first at fourteen man. It wasn’t cool but, I was just a kid, you know.”

Jason nodded in understanding. He couldn’t judge people that had kids as teenagers, it may not be ideal but he had seen it happen time and time again.

“You got girls or boys?”

“Both. I got two sons and twin girls.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yeah man, I try to see ‘em as much as I can.”

Jason appreciated Tip bringing him outside to talk to him. It was nice to know that somebody Dee considered as a best friend had taken the time to make him feel welcome and involved. He could see why she liked this guy; he was really down to earth.

“Anyway man, I’m going to the bar, you coming?” Tip asked, as he stubbed out his cigarette.

“I’ll catch up with you,” Jason said, as he took the last drags of his cigarette. He decided he would just take a minute to himself before he went back inside to the madness. Tip seemed to understand as he went straight back into the party, the music sounding louder as he opened the door inside. Jason sat quietly for a moment, drinking his beer in peace. It was pretty quiet outside which he was surprised at, as there was a crowd of people out here earlier. He thought maybe it was getting to the time of the speeches or cutting of the cake, which would explain why everyone was inside. He thought he’d better get himself back inside just in case, but as he stood up from the bench, he heard shouting coming from nearby. As he looked around, he couldn’t see anyone in the same space as him, but the voices sounded near nonetheless.

Though Jason wasn’t listening particularly to what was being said, the tone of the shouting didn’t sound too friendly, and he wondered where he had heard the girls voice before.  That’s when he realised, it was Kiki’s. As he searched outside for Dee’s sister, he noticed an alleyway round the side of the seating area, and there he found the source of the noise. As he stepped into the alley, he saw Kiki with a man, who he then realised, was her boyfriend J, who he’d met at the house. J had seemed quiet and down to earth at the house, and he had joked around with him and Tip, but this guy was not joking. He saw the rage pouring out of both of them, and before he had chance to react, J had grabbed Kiki by the throat and pushed her against the alley wall.

“Hey!” Jason shouted, his body reacting quickly as he ran in their direction. “Get off her!”

J instantly released his grip and jumped away from Kiki as if he tried to pretend it didn’t happen. As he saw Jason running toward him, he started to run in the opposite direction, and by the time Jason was next to Kiki, J had gone.

“Are you okay?” Jason asked, putting his arm around Kiki who was now crying, tears falling down her cheeks.

“I’m okay,” She answered through sobs.

“What happened?”

“Nothing, we just had an argument.”

“He had his hands around your neck.”

Kiki suddenly sobbed, as if the words had made her realise what had actually happened.

“Come on, let’s sit down,” Jason said, as he led her out of the alleyway. Kiki wiped her eyes incessantly as they moved away from the alley, as if she was embarrassed. Once they were back in the seating area, Jason motioned for her to sit down and sat opposite her, waiting for her to speak. He didn’t want to pressure her to talk, but he knew that what happened in that alleyway was not normal behaviour. He never thought it was acceptable for a man to put his hands on a woman, and he couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed, especially as the pair were only sixteen years old.

“He’s not usually like that.” Kiki said, once her tears were wiped away from her face. “He’s just, not himself lately.”

“Has he hurt you before?”

“No!” Kiki exclaimed quickly. “He’s not like that, he’d never hurt me. He’s just messed up on God knows what, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“Drugs?”

“Yeah. Please don’t say anything, my mom would kill him. Dee would kill him too, and I know you don’t want a pregnant woman on a rampage.”

“I don’t want that, but I can’t accept a 16 year old grabbing a girl like that.”

“I know, neither can I. He’s never done that before. That wasn’t even him; he had like, this distant look. He was messed up.”

“How long’s he been on drugs?”

“I don’t know. It’s a new thing. I never thought he would.”

There was a short silence while the two of them let the information sink in.

“Where are you staying tonight?”

“At home.”

“So you’re not seeing him tonight?”

“Not now.”

“Good.”

There wasn’t much time to process what he had just been told because after a few minutes Dee had rushed outside to find them.

“Come on, they’re doing speeches and cake.”

Jason and Kiki stood up from the bench and followed Dee inside, where everybody sat around with a glass of champagne, ready to toast the couple. As they were rushed to their seats by Dee, she handed Jason two glasses of champagne, telling him he could have hers too, since she couldn’t. Kiki and Jason took one last look at each other from across the table, both knowing something no-one else did. It was a tough decision he had to make, whether to tell anybody or not. She’d promised him it hadn’t happened before but could he really believe her? He didn’t know that boy from Adam, so as far as he was concerned, he could be capable of anything, and not saying anything could lead to something far worse. Whether he decided to or not, he knew he couldn’t say anything during the party, so he raised his glass along with everybody else and toasted the happy couple. 

[] Chapter 19 – Falling in Love with You

Once the party was over, it was pretty late, and as everyone headed to walk home or jump in someone’s ride, Dee and Jason followed her family back to her mother’s house. As the group of them walked, Jason slowly took Dee’s hand in his, entwining their fingers. It took her by surprise, as it had been a while since she’d walked hand in hand with somebody like that, and though she looked at him with surprise, he didn’t seem to notice, so she continued the walk without mentioning it. Monique had drank her fair share of drinks both before and during the party, so Tip had been roped into staying at Monique’s as he needed to practically carry her home. As she stumbled along the street, Tip kept an arm around her, propping her up. It was always handy to have somebody so huge as a friend.

 Kiki didn’t say much on the walk home, she walked quietly, every now and then taking her phone out of her pocket and checking it before putting it back, looking more disappointed each time. Dee noticed there was something up with her sister, and Jason could tell. He watched Dee watching her sister’s every move, almost as if she was deciding whether to say something, or what to say if she did. Around halfway through the walk, Dee finally piped up.

“What’s up Keeks?”

“Nothing,” she replied, not even looking her way.

“Why you got a face on you?”

“I don’t.”

“So why you not looking at me when I’m talking to you?”

“For Fuck’s sake!” Kiki spat, stopping mid-walk and turning around to look at her sister.

“What?” she asked, looking at Dee, her lips pursed angrily, almost as if she was waiting for a confrontation.

“Tell me what’s up.”

“There ain’t nothing up.”

“Where’s J at?”

“How should I know?”

“There we go,” Dee said matter-of-factly. “Trouble in paradise.”

“Dee, just shut up, you don’t know anything.”

Dee mocked her sister behind her back jokingly, looking at Jason to join in the joke, but though he smiled back, he didn’t seem to share the same jest.

It wasn’t too long a walk back to Monique’s, and while Monique, Tip and Kiki went inside, Dee held back outside the house and hugged everybody good night. Sometimes, she would stay at Monique’s for ease and sometimes, just so it wasn’t so lonely. Tonight however, she had Jason with her, and since he’d never seen the inside of her house, she figured it was probably about time. Plus, she didn’t want Jason spending any more time with her embarrassing family than he had to. Once they’d said their goodbyes, they headed in the direction of the end of the street, walking a few streets away to her own home. Jason had picked her up from outside her home before, so he knew where it was, but he’d never actually been inside.

As they entered the house, he took a look at his surroundings. There was a small living area to his left with a sofa and TV, a staircase in front of him, and what he assumed was a kitchen just behind the staircase. Dee could tell the house was being examined, but she tried to ignore it. She knew it wasn’t the best house, but it was hers, despite its faults. She’d done her best to hide the faults, to make the rest of the house look better. For example, the patch of damp that covered some of the living room wall, she’d placed the sofa in front of it. There were still some faults that she couldn’t hide too well, like the crack in the ceiling in her bedroom, and the leaking faucet in the kitchen. She’d reported the leaking faucet to her landlord plenty of times, but nothing ever got done. Unfortunately, it meant water was being wasted every day that it dripped, and as a result, she paid more in water rates.

“You want a drink? Don’t think I’ve got much in…” Dee said, moving to the kitchen, as Jason followed closely behind. He watched as she opened the fridge and stuck her head in, listing what she could see.

“I’ve got milk, and that’s pretty much it in there,” she said, as she shut the fridge door behind her. “Or there’s tap water, or cocoa and marshmallows. I make that for Tushaun at night.”

Jason smiled. He liked to hear her talk about her son.

“When’s he back from his dad’s?” he asked.

“Tomorrow dinner time,” she smiled.

“I’m missing him already.”

Remembering why she’d come into the kitchen in the first place, she asked Jason again if he wanted a drink, and he told her water would be fine. If anything, he hoped it would stop a hangover greeting him tomorrow morning. While he’d sobered up on the journey home, he had drank a lot during the night, even before they’d arrived at the party.

Following Dee back into the living area with his glass of water, which he was chugging mid-walk, he watched as she flung herself down onto the sofa sighing dramatically. “My feet!” she announced, before she slipped off her heels, throwing them onto the floor.

Jason watched her as she closed her eyes for a minute, not speaking or moving. After finishing off his glass of water, he set the glass down on the floor before joining her on the sofa. He picked up her outstretched legs from his side, and placed them gently onto his knee, before he started to rub her left foot. The touch made her open her eyes, looking at him with surprise before she closed them again and relaxed.

“You my best friend now for rubbing my feet,” she said through closed eyes.

Jason smiled, and listened to her sighs and moans as he massaged her feet one by one. He couldn’t lie that the noises were turning him on a little bit; after all, he was only a man, but he tried to ignore it as he saw how relaxed she was. Suddenly, in the midst of the foot rub, in their silence, there was the sound of a gun being discharged from far away. The noise echoed before it was heard again. While Jason stopped mid-rub and listened to the noise slightly concerned, Dee didn’t move from her position. She opened her eyes when she realised he had stopped rubbing, and noticed his face.

“Oh. That’s pretty normal round here, you’ll  get used to it.”

“You don’t even react anymore?”

“Nah. It’s like most nights you hear it, so you learn to ignore it.”

“That’s crazy.”

“That’s the hood.”

Once the two of them had gone upstairs to bed, they lay cuddled up talking quietly before they slept. Jason still couldn’t get over the sound of the gun, and how relaxed Dee had been about it. He knew for her to be so relaxed, she couldn’t be exaggerating about it happening ‘most nights.’ The thought frightened him, when he thought about how often she seemed to be walking the streets at night, and the fact she had a small child made the thought even more harrowing.

“Does Tushaun notice the gunshots?” Jason asked, a random thought turning to an out of context question.

“Yeah. He’s asked before but I just tell him not to worry and he gets on with whatever he’s doing.”

“ I just can’t get over that.”

Dee scoffed, almost laughing slightly. “Trust me, that’s nothing.”

“So what is something?”

Dee shrugged. He thought she probably did have an answer, but maybe she didn’t want to go into it.

The both of them were silent for a minute before Jason piped up again.

“How are you doing for money now you’re not working?” he asked. It was something that had been playing on his mind, knowing she couldn’t continue to work in a strip club while she was pregnant, and now the two of them were together, it was a thought that upset him a little bit. He thought she was worth so much more than dancing for men, and he didn’t even like the thought that she might go back to it in the future. Still, with no income from her only job, he wondered how she was getting by, and had never broached the subject with her before. He often felt awkward talking about money since he became wealthy. It was something that was hard to broach with people on a lower income because people didn’t take well to charity, or you discussing financial hardship when they know you don’t have any of that.

Dee pondered the question for a moment, knowing there was no way to sugar coat her answer, so she just came out with it.

“I get money from my other job.”

“You have another job?”

“It’s not exactly legal.”

“Elaborate…”

“Just weed. I been doing it for years.”

Jason let out an exhale of breath. He didn’t quite know how to respond to that.

“Dee. I’m not telling you what to do but, you gotta be careful now, you know? People are gonna know about us, you’re gonna be watched and followed, you can’t be getting yourself into trouble.”

“Well what the fuck else am I supposed to do?” Dee asked, her voice defensive. “I got bills to pay, a house to keep and a kid to feed. I can’t just sit and do nothing.”

“Let me help you.” Jason responded, bracing himself for her reply.

At that moment, Dee flipped around in the bed to face him.

“Help me? What, like give me money? I’m not a charity case.”

“I know you’re not, but you’re my girlfriend, you’re the mother of my child, I can’t just see you struggle.”

While the both of them were aware that the word ‘girlfriend’ had just been used for the first time, the conversation had suddenly turned dark, and from Dee’s perspective, there was more important issues to talk about.

“Struggle? Bitch what do you know about struggle?” Dee spat, suddenly looking at Jason with menace.

“You don’t know nothing about what it means to struggle, so don’t come up in here thinking you can throw some money at me to keep me sweet. I’m not this perfect bitch you probably used to. I’m not gonna let you change me or tell me what I can and can’t do.”

“Dee, I’m not trying to do that.”

“You not? So you didn’t just offer to give me money to stop me selling dope?”

“Well yeah, but…”

“But yeah, you did. So get off your high horse, we can’t all be rich and famous you know. I do what I gotta do to look after my family.”

“I know that. Dee, I’m not telling you what to do, I just want to help.”

Suddenly, the conversation turned to red for Dee, and she jumped up out of the bed with energy, pacing up and down the room, not able to keep still. Jason watched her pace as she spoke, and as he listened to her next sentence, he jumped up out of the bed himself, ready to bring her back down, realising her anger had gotten to another level.

“I’m not some broke ass bitch you can use as your next project, why the fuck do you want to help?” Dee shouted. At that moment, Jason stood in front of her, causing her to stop in her tracks. He took her by the arms, his blue eyes staring into hers in the darkness of the room; still, he could see her features perfectly. He saw her perfectly shaped eyebrows furrowing on her brow, her thick lips which he had always loved were pursed into what he now called her ‘angry face’ and her body was almost quivering with anger, still, he stood his ground, and looking into her eyes, he told her exactly why he wanted to help.

“Because I’m falling in love with you.”

They looked at each other in the darkness, and suddenly Dee was quiet, before she managed a ‘what?’

“I’m falling in love with you.” Jason repeated, not moving from his position in front of her.

All of a sudden, Dee had regained her fight.

“Shut up,” she said, as she tried to move away from him. However, despite her movement, Jason held on to her arms, keeping her exactly where she was.

“Deleisha Thompson, I am falling in love with you, whether you believe it or not. Shut up isn’t exactly the answer that I was hoping for.”

Dee was dumbfounded once again, surprised that he used her full name, and surprised because she realised he was serious. It hit her the same way his words hit her at his hotel. Suddenly, even without the use of her arms, she had leaned up on her tip toes to kiss him, though he met her halfway. He let her arms go, and she used them to wrap them around his shoulders, her fingers entwining around his hair as she kissed him with the same sense of urgency she had used previously.

As they kissed, Jason took hold of her legs and picked her up, her legs wrapping around his waist. He carried her to the bed and gently laid her down, before he undressed her and kissed down her body, starting at her neck. He was starting to think the fiery arguments he had with her may not always be bad, as the passion they shared could often be manipulated into better things. Though she may not have said it back to him, he couldn’t deny she felt something for him, as her passion was clear to see. He just hoped she would come to her senses about him helping her. He wanted to take her away from everything bad in her life, but for some reason, she was too proud to accept.

[] Chapter 20 – Lucky Charms

The next morning, the two of them woke to a phone ringing loudly beside them. As Dee felt around blindly next to her bed for the phone she knew was hers, she eventually had to open her eyes to discover it. “Hello?” she answered, seeing her sisters name flash up on the caller ID.

“Dee, I got some bad news,” Kiki said on the other end of the phone. “Jason’s cars been broke into.”

“What?” Dee asked, still struggling to adjust to the brightness in the room, and still trying to wake herself up fully.

“They smashed that shit up, took whatever was inside it.”

“Shit.” Dee said, as the words registered in her mind.

“I should of told him to move it.”

“Mom ain’t phoning the cops, I don’t know what he wanna do.”

It wasn’t unusual for people in their area not to phone the police when something happened. If nothing else, people just simply didn’t trust them. They didn’t want to get police involved when it wasn’t necessary, people preferred to sort things out between themselves. Officers could be corrupt in many areas, and there was certainly still an element of institutionalised racism. The Thompson family didn’t have the best track record with police, as Jarell could probably tell you from his cell.

“I’ll let him know. Thanks Keek.”

As Dee ended the call, she lay back down and sighed. She thought about the events of last night, and the argument they were having before the incredible make up sex. She thought about what he said to her, that he was falling in…she could barely even say it in her own head. Everything had happened so quickly between them but maybe it wasn’t a bad thing. Things had happened over time with Trey and it still ended up a huge shit storm so maybe quick wasn’t always bad. As she looked at the man lay next to her, she watched him sleep for a second before deciding she’d better wake him up. According to her phone it was already 9:30am and Tushaun was due home later in the afternoon.

As she shook him gently and called his name, she watched his eyes flutter open and a look of blankness appeared on his face before the recognition kicked in. He smiled.

“Morning” he said, rubbing his eyes.

“I got some bad news” Dee said, jumping straight to business. There was no point pussy footing around it.

“What bad news?” Jason asked, sitting up quickly, a serious look burrowed on his forehead.

“Someone broke into your car last night, it’s smashed up.”

“Oh,” Jason said, a sigh of relief exhaling through him. Dee looked at him in disbelief wondering why he didn’t seem more pissed.

“Oh? Is that it?”

“No, I mean, that’s shit but, you scared the shit out of me saying bad news like that.”

“I shoulda told you to move it last night.”

“It’s okay, it’s not your fault,” he told her, putting a hand on the small of her back and rubbing it gently.

“My fault for living in this shitty area,” Dee murmured, moving to the edge of the bed and getting out. Jason watched her move to the other side of the room, her naked body illuminated by the light peeking through the drapes. She opened the doors to her wardrobe and stood looking in it for while deciding on clothes.

“Dee, it’s not your fault, don’t worry. I didn’t have anything important in there. Worst case, I just get a new one.”

“ ‘Cause it’s so easy for you to just get a new one, just like that,” Dee spat. She sounded mad at him, just like she had last night. Once again, she was getting mad about money. He wasn’t sure what he’d said to deserve it, but he decided to just try his best not to piss her off any further. After all, maybe it was just pregnancy hormones, she was entitled to them.

Once Dee had picked her outfit for the day, she announced she was going for a shower. As she left the room, Jason thought about his car. He probably should get the situation sorted. Luckily, he was privileged enough to have a best friend as a PA, so he knew he would help him out. As he sat up in the bed, propping his back against the headboard, he gave Tom a call. When Jason told Tom exactly where he had left it parked, Tom laughed. He wasn’t surprised it got broken into, and in hindsight, neither was Jason. At the time however, he’d put all his concentration into thinking about the night ahead. ‘Typical man’ his mother would say, ‘can’t think about two things at once.’

Once Tom had all the information, he said he would sort it, so Jason relaxed. Sitting comfortably in the bed, he waited until Dee returned from the shower. She had already gotten dressed in there, and she was wearing a floaty maxi dress and sandals. The dress covered her bump well, and he wondered whether it was intentional. He knew her ex would be dropping her son off soon, had she not mentioned the pregnancy to him? As she came into the room, she smiled at him, and he could see already that she was in a better mood than the one she’d woken up in. He returned her smile, and she told him he was welcome to a shower, though she didn’t have any non-girly smelling scents, unless he used the kid body wash. He took her up on the offer, deciding that smelling a tad feminine would still be better than smelling bad.

By the time he had showered and changed his clothes it was getting on to 10:15, and as he opened the bathroom door he heard voices coming from downstairs. He certainly heard Dee’s voice, and at first he decided the other noise was just coming from the television, though he wondered why she would be talking to it. Then, he heard a little boy’s voice, and he stopped in his tracks.

Dee had told him Tushaun wasn’t getting dropped off until dinner time, and she’d certainly not mentioned Jason meeting him today. He wasn’t sure whether to go downstairs or whether to hide up there, after all, maybe she wasn’t ready for them to meet, and she could get mad if he just showed up uninvited. While he thought about it, he took his old clothes into the bedroom to pack them away and sprayed himself with some deodorant. Just as he sat down on the bed, he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Seconds later, Dee had walked into the bedroom, but she didn’t sit down next to him, instead, she stood at the wall opposite him.

“So, apparently having his son for a whole afternoon is too much, so he’s brought Tushaun home unannounced,” Dee told him, her head bobbing and her hands moving enthusiastically.

“That’s bad,” Jason agreed, not wanting to say too much.

“Mmhmm, so it looks like you meeting him has come early.”

“Really?”
“If you want to.”

“No, yeah, of course. Only if that’s ok with you though.”

“Guess it’s gotta happen sometime. You’re mommy’s ‘friend’ though.”

“Sure thing.”

As the two of them made their way down the stairs, Jason saw Tushaun sat on the floor in front of the TV, eating cereal from a bowl. He was oblivious to the noise of the footsteps on the stairs; instead, he was wrapped up in whatever kid’s show was playing on the TV. While Jason sat down on the sofa opposite him, Dee sat on the armchair to the side of her son, and took his arm gently to get his attention.

“Tushaun, look at me a minute baby.”

The little boy turned to face his mother, still eating his cereal from his spoon. He was dressed in jeans and a hooded top, the hood left up. Underneath, he sported a snapback on his head. Looking at him, his mother sighed and put his hood down. “Why your daddy gotta dress you like a thug?”

It was a rhetorical question, but the little boy shrugged.

“Anyway, mommy’s got a friend over, you gonna say hi?”

“Where?” Tushaun asked, in between crunches of his cereal.

“Behind you, turn around.”

Tushaun swivelled around on his bum to face the sofa, and saw Jason looking back at him. Jason smiled, and while some kids might face away shy, Tushaun showed no sign of that, and instead, he simply said “Hi.”

“Hey Buddy, what you got there?” Jason asked, gesturing to his cereal.

“Froot Loops.”

“Nice. Is that your favourite?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head.

“What’s your favourite?”

“Mmmm….” Tushaun hummed as he thought about the question. He scooped up the last mouthful onto his spoon and crunched away on it until he swallowed, then answered “Mallows.”

Jason looked to Dee for confirmation, and she explained.

“Lucky Charms. He likes the marshmallows in them, don’t you?”

Tushaun nodded at this question and started to tip his bowl up to drink the remainder of the milk.

“That’s why we have mallows in our cocoa every night too, right?”

Tushaun nodded once more, and Jason smiled.

To his surprise, the little boy then gathered a collection of colouring books and crayons from the floor beside him and brought them to the sofa. He put one onto Jason’s lap, and put the rest onto the sofa while he hauled himself onto the seat. After making himself comfortable, he took one from the pile and emptied the box of crayons in the middle of them.

“Are we colouring?” Jason asked.

“Yeah,” Tushaun drawled, picking up a crayon and starting to colour a tiger in orange. As Dee and Jason looked at each other with a smile on their faces, Tushaun spoke between colouring.

“What your fav-wit?” he asked in his baby-speak, and that’s when Jason remembered this little boy was only two years old. He thought he was very grown up for his age, and he was surprised how comfortable he was around a stranger.

“My favourite cereal? I like Apple Jacks. You ever had Apple Jacks?”

Tushaun thought for a moment again, and then shrugged. Looking up from his colouring book, the little boy turned to his mother and asked “we had them?” in the most inquisitive tone a young boy could ask. It caused Dee and Jason to laugh slightly. Dee told him they had had them, but mommy gets what’s on sale when she goes shopping. This answer seemed to satisfy Tushaun, and he nodded in understanding and carried on colouring his tiger.

Dee always knew her son was something special, after all, she was bias, but she loved how accepting he was of everybody. He wasn’t a shy kid that would hide behind her legs at the sight of anybody new, he would ask them who they are, and wait confidently for an answer. She hoped he never lost that sense of confidence when he got older, because to her, it was so endearing. She felt proud watching her son with Jason, and she loved watching the interaction between the two of them. She knew some men could be a little awkward around kids, especially men that didn’t have kids of their own, but watching Jason with him showed her that he was fine. As the two boys chatted away, she took the opportunity to go to the kitchen and make her and Jason a coffee, after all, they hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink since they’d woke up this morning.

As she waited for the kettle to boil, she stood thinking. She thought about how Trey had sent their son home early, probably so he could run off to his own plans. She thought about how his own father hadn’t even given Tushaun any breakfast before he’d sent him home, but how he’d managed to emulate his clothing to look exactly like his. She thought about how precious her son was, so clever, so polite, so funny, and she thought about who his father was. She hoped her son never ended up like Trey. In fact, she hoped her son never ended up like her either. She wanted him to remain clever, to go to school and make something of himself, not to drop out with no qualifications or start gangbanging like half of the people in these parts. She hoped he waited till he was married to have kids, not to come home at fifteen and tell her he got somebody pregnant. She wanted better for him, and she hoped that she would be in a position to give better to him.

She thought about how Jason was around Tushaun, and it made her think of the new baby she was carrying. This baby was going to have a good father, one that cared about it, not one that couldn’t last an entire morning with them. She didn’t know if her and Jason would work out as a couple. If she was honest with herself, she didn’t think they would. They were two completely different people, from two completely different worlds. She already thought it was weird that he wanted to be with her. At first she thought he was only doing it for the sake of the baby, but after his words the night before, she wondered whether it had turned into something else for him. She knew he wasn’t the lying type, so she couldn’t imagine him saying it if he didn’t mean it. She did like him, more so the more time they spent together. He made her feel good, made her feel like somebody important, somebody beautiful and intelligent, something she didn’t see herself as at all. She had gone through life having low expectations for herself and everybody around her; she hadn’t been raised to think she could do anything out of the ordinary. She knew she would never be a doctor or an accountant, and she was fine with that, but maybe she could be more than a stripper and a drug dealer.

As the kettle boiled and clicked off, her thoughts evaporated and she poured the two of them a cup of coffee. Once she’d stirred two cups of black coffee, she headed back into the living area to see Tushaun still colouring with Jason. The two of them were talking and laughing, and for a moment Dee stood in the doorway just watching and listening. She was amazed they were getting along so well on a first meeting, but she loved it. After a moment, she walked over to Jason and handed him a cup.

“I don’t know if you take milk, I forgot to ask.”

“No, I like it black,” he replied, before winking her way subtly before smirking.

“Did you just wink at me?” Dee exclaimed, her eyebrows raised, but as she saw him smirking she started to laugh herself.

“You bad.”

[] Chapter 21 – Five Months

Dee was in her fifth month of pregnancy now, and as time passed, her and Jason realised it was time they got more organised. While he was still trying to convince her to let him buy her a new home for her and the kids, she was standing her ground. She still didn’t like the idea of somebody buying her something so extravagant. She cared about what people thought, and she didn’t want them to think she was with him for his money, that she was one of those women who trapped men by getting pregnant just so she could take advantage of his wealth. He was adamant that he would convince her, and he thought it was only right that he set his child and the mother of his child up in a suitable home.

Though he couldn’t come right out with it to her, he didn’t like the area she was in. He didn’t trust the people that lived there or the safety of the area. The gunshots he had heard at her place worried him, especially the fact that she didn’t even flinch, that this was normal to her; she’d grown accustomed to that as a normal, regular sound. He’d seen the type of people hanging around in the streets, drinking, taking drugs and generally being loud. The very thought of his flesh and blood seeing that on a day to day basis made him nervous, and he wanted nothing more than to just force Dee into accepting his offer.

While he was still working on convincing her of the new home, she had agreed to let him take her shopping for baby items, after all, he was the one that got her pregnant, so why shouldn’t he take responsibility of baby items. This was something that she didn’t feel guilty doing, so when he picked her up she had a list as long as her arm of what she’d need. Jason, in the meantime had organised for the shop to be temporarily closed while him and Dee shopped. There was nothing worse than being mobbed while trying to get something done, especially something so important. He knew however, that this may be the time that the paparazzi finally cottoned on to the fact that she was pregnant.

He was prepared for the backlash and the questions, and after months of being careful, he didn’t care anymore. He cared about this girl, and the fact she was having his child made her even more special. Though Dee wasn’t aware of how the celebrity thing worked, Jason made sure he gave her a rundown of what to expect when they left the store, just in case. She did find it weird, but in true Dee style, she told him she ‘didn’t give a fuck.’

Jason took Dee to the best store he could find close to the area, and while Dee regarded it as an expensive store she wouldn’t usually come to, he told her not to look at the price tags, to just simply shop and get what she needed. It was a strange concept to her, she’d never in her life walked into a store and not looked at the price tag on something. It was a total foreign concept, a different world.

She was surprised when she first walked in and tried to take a shopping cart that Jason pulled her away from it, instead, taking an electronic device from a lady and handing it to her. She’d never used one before and wasn’t sure what it was for, but when she picked a baby stroller she liked, Jason showed her how to scan the item and save it into the device. He said it was easier, this way, he could pay for the items but keep them on hold in the store until they needed them; after all, he was hoping she would be in a new home by then. Dee had rolled her eyes at him as he mentioned the house again, but the more it was mentioned, the more she thought about it as a reality.

Dee had never had so much fun shopping. She loved looking around the huge store, at the variety of items you wouldn’t find in a cheaper store, and not even having to look at the price. Nor did she have to struggle to get something off the shelf, as she’d realised over the years, most things she wanted or needed tended to be on the top shelf, meaning her small stature couldn’t reach it. After they’d trailed around the entire store, the two of them headed to the counter to pay. The woman simply read aloud what they’d added to check it was right, and then tallied up the money onto the till.

Dee nearly choked when she saw what the final bill came to. It was practically more than her entire money for a year. She felt uncomfortable as Jason took out his card and paid like it was nothing. She’d never liked people paying for her, for anything. She was proud to be an independent woman who didn’t need to rely on a man. It was different to have a man pay for dinner, or a date, but to pay for your shopping, that was a whole other thing.

While the payment was going through, Jason spotted Dee’s stature and rubbed her shoulders affectionately.

“Don’t look so uncomfortable,” he smiled, but she didn’t smile back.

“I am uncomfortable,” she said, showing it in her face as the woman at the counter handed his card back.

“Relax,” he told her, putting his wallet back into his pocket and thanking the staff. Dee thanked them too, and made her way towards the exit with Jason. As they got closer to the door, Jason took her hand in his protectively, and stepped outside the doors. Instantly, there was shouting from around six different men, all piled on either side of the doors. As they walked, the men followed them, shoving huge cameras in their faces, bright lights flashing every step of the way.

“Is this your new girlfriend?” one tubby guy asked, practically attached to Jason’s side.

“How long have you been together? Why were you in a baby store? Is your girlfriend pregnant? What’s your name sweetheart? Where you from?” The questions kept coming from either side until they finally made their way to the car.

“Can we just get a little space please guys?” Jason asked politely, and surprisingly, the men did back off a little bit, allowing Jason to open the passenger side door and get Dee into the car before getting in himself. As he started up the car, Dee put on her seatbelt and relaxed into the seat.

“What the fuck was that?” she asked, watching as the paparazzi men parted, allowing a space in the middle of them for Jason to drive away.

“Welcome to my world.”

That night, after Dee had put Tushaun to bed, she sat on the sofa eating potato chips and ice cream. She had developed a craving for both foods pretty much all the time, but just recently, she’d discovered dipping the chips into the ice cream and eating them together. Everyone had expressed their disgust when she’d told them but she knew women who’d had way worse cravings. Her best friend Shaneeka used to eat pizza with gravy on top, and Tip had said his ex Kara had eaten noodle sandwiches and a mix of butter and sugar, like the beginning of a cake mix.

There was nothing decent on the TV, so after settling for something mediocre to put on in the background, she took her phone out of her pocket and went onto Google. She had been thinking about the paparazzi outside of the store since she’d left. She hadn’t had time to do any searches yet, as she had to pick Tushaun up from pre-school, make him something to eat and then bath and bed. This was the first time she’d had chance to sit down since then so she took the opportunity to search herself. She’d never searched herself on the internet before; after all, she’d never needed to. Now, however, she wondered if she would be on there. Jason had told her not to be surprised if her name ended up in the papers or on the internet. ‘People are very good at digging’ he’d told her.

She took a moment to pace herself. She told herself not to get angry if there was anything nasty on there, after all, if people really were good at digging as Jason said, they might know what she does for a living or where she’s from. Maybe they’d call her a gold-digger or something, she really didn’t know what to expect. After she clicked search, she didn’t have to wait long before a list of different articles appeared.

The first one at the top showed the headline ‘Jason Taylor and New Beau Shop at Baby Store.’ She clicked on it. The first thing that showed was a picture of the two of them, hand in hand, walking through the parking lot. It was weird to see herself on the internet, especially such a candid photo of the day’s events. As she scrolled past the photo, she started to skim read the article. They’d found out her name, but they’d said she was 23, when she was only 22. They also knew she was from the Detroit area, and that she used to work in a strip club. ‘Great’, she thought.

Just as she hit the back button to check out the rest of the results, her phone started to ring in her hand, the caller ID showed it was Jason.

“Hey,” she answered.

“Hey, I got a proposition for you…” he started, but before he could continue, Dee had to tell him about the article first.

“Wait – did you know there’s pictures of us from today on the internet?”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” he replied.

“You weren’t wrong though, they know my name, and that I’m from Detroit. I haven’t read the rest yet but shit, how scary is that. Like, fuck me. That’s just creepy, checking up on people like that.”

Jason laughed lightly on the other end of the phone.

 “Don’t read it Dee, you’ll make yourself crazy.”

“I can’t not though, it’s just too weird. I might as well know what they know.”

As she spoke, Dee picked up more chips from the open bag next to her and dipped it into the ice cream. As she finished her sentence, she put the whole thing into her mouth and began to crunch.

“What’re you eating?” Jason asked.

“Chips. And Ice Cream.”

“Together?”

“Yeah, it’s really good.”

“That’s nasty.”

“You’re nasty.”

Jason burst into laughter.

“Great come back, you get that one all the way from high school?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Dee said, but she laughed too.

“Anyway,” Jason began. “I need to ask you something.”

“Shoot.”

“So, you know my albums coming out soon. There’s always an album launch party, and this year I’m gonna have it at home, in Tennessee.”

“Okay.”

“I want you to come, like, officially, as my date. As my girlfriend.”

“What like, announce it?”

“Yeah. Nothing spectacular, just to say, ‘this is my girlfriend Dee, and yeah, she’s having my child.’”

“Really?”

“I just think people probably already know now so there’s no point in lying.”

“I guess.”

“Anyway, I thought while we’re here we could kill two birds with one stone, and you could meet my parents.”

Dee stayed silent on the other end.

“They’ve said we can stay the night before, so you can get to know each other before the party, and then we all go the next night.”

“Okay”

“Okay, like, okay, let’s do it?”

“Yeah. When is it though?”

“Saturday. So, Friday we get a flight?”

“I’ll have to ask my mom to take Tushaun Friday night, and Saturday if Trey doesn’t come.”

“Is he not taking him this weekend?”

“I’m just not holding my breath.”

“That’s sad. Well, let me know what your mom says.”

“I will. I’ll call her now.”

“Okay, talk later.”

“Later.”

[] Chapter 22 – Flight

Dee

As the end of the week approached, Dee felt more nervous about the meeting with Jason’s parents. She worried what they would think of her. She wasn’t sure that she’d have anything in common with them, and she worried something would offend them, maybe her bad language or her upbringing. She thought of all the things that were pretty normal to her but could sound bad to people who didn’t know her or those that didn’t share the same lifestyle. The fact she was a stripper, the fact she sold drugs to get by, or the fact her brother was in prison.

In her hometown, she knew plenty of women that made a living by stripping, it wasn’t something to be shocked about, but to somebody who didn’t understand why she did it or how hard other jobs were to come by, they could find it dirty or seedy. Selling drugs was also common place, mostly with men, but some women too. She’d been lucky in a way to have an older brother to teach her to sell properly, to sell safely, and to know how to avoid trouble. She just wished the same brother wasn’t spending time inside right now.

There were plenty of other things in her past that could shock people if they came up in conversation. Again, maybe not those in her neighbourhood, but surely those who had a nice upbringing. There were things that she’d been through, even at her young age, which had been hard for her to deal with, things that she didn’t like to talk about. There were plenty of things that Jason didn’t know about her past, but mainly because it had never come up in conversation. Dee had never been one to open up about her feelings, and she’d always carried around trust issues. She felt now that she did trust Jason, but a nagging feeling in the back of her mind always stopped her from saying too much. It was nothing against him, just the way she felt toward anybody and everybody.

There were moments where she realised nothing that had been said or had happened so far had put him off her, so she wondered if revealing something to him would have that affect. He hadn’t been fazed by the fact she stripped for a living, he had met her in the strip club and had never mentioned it since. While he didn’t approve of her drug selling, he hadn’t lectured her or forced her to stop, and he wasn’t put off by the fact she had a son, in fact, he had gotten along really well with Tushaun.

As Dee packed her bag for the weekend, she wondered what it would entail. She was nervous about attending Jason’s album launch party, and couldn’t stop thinking about who might be there and how she should act. He was introducing her as his pregnant girlfriend to the world, she didn’t want to act like some crazed fan the minute somebody she liked passed by. She was excited too, through the nerves. She had always dreamed of making it herself in the entertainment industry, and wondered what it would have been like to make it as an actress. She thought when she landed the role in that music video somebody might have noticed her, asked her to audition for something else, but, alas, she carried on with her normal life like nothing had happened. She still got excited though a little embarrassed when it came on the TV, but since it was years old now, it rarely did.

Though the plane ride was only a matter of a couple hours, Dee was nervous – she’d never been on a plane in her life. None of her family had. She’d not mentioned this to Jason, as she didn’t think it was much of a big deal, but as the time got closer, she started to feel more nervous. What if it was something to be afraid of? She knew people did have fears and phobias of flying, and it couldn’t be for no reason, right? She thought maybe she should have told Jason earlier, but what difference would it make. She wasn’t going to cancel the trip because of it, and she was sure of all the things she’d been through in life, this wouldn’t be the worst. So, she waited for Jason to pick her up in his ride.

It had become a routine now that Jason picked her up, whether he was driving his own car or a chauffeur was driving. He’d asked after the first couple of times he’d picked her up whether she drove, and she’d simply said no. It wasn’t a lie after all, and she didn’t feel like telling him something so personal when they barely knew each other. Telling someone you got your license suspended only leads the way for them to ask why, and then you have to tell them about your ‘criminal activity’ –not exactly the best impression. She decided this would also have to be the answer should his parents ask.

It felt like forever that she sat waiting, with her weekend bag packed, playing music on her phone and singing along as she waited. Tushaun was at her mothers, she’d dropped him off a few hours ago, and there’d been no communication from Trey, so she assumed he would stay with her mom for the duration of her trip. She didn’t feel comfortable letting Tushaun go to Trey’s when she was so far away, and on such short notice, so she’d left her mom instructions not to answer the phone should Trey call her, and under no circumstances to let Tushaun go with him for the weekend. She wanted routine in her son’s life, for things to be planned in advance, not for his father to give a damn when he felt like it, and have him switch up his plans in an instance.

Finally, she heard a beeping outside of her house, and she cut the music off her phone. As she picked up her weekend bag, she pulled it to the front door, picking up her keys off the coffee table on the way. Before she made it to the door, there was a quiet knock before it opened and Jason stepped in. He greeted her with a small kiss and took the bag off her, carrying it outside. The Chauffeur had cut the engine and walked to the boot of the car, ready to pop Dee’s bag inside. Once Jason had handed the bag over, he opened the back passenger side door for Dee to get in, before letting himself in the other side. After they buckled up, Jason turned to her.

“Are you nervous?” he asked, knowing she probably had a big weekend ahead of her, with the album party plus meeting his parents. However, her answer wasn’t what he expected.

“I’ve never flown before.” She blurted out, deciding it was best to get it out in the open now.

Jason’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “You never said.”

“I didn’t really think about it. Didn’t think it was that much of a big deal but now I’m nervous.”

“Wow. That’s crazy. You’ll be okay though, it’s not a big deal really.”

“People are scared of it though.”

“Yeah, but, people are scared of heights, are you?”

“No.”

“Doesn’t mean what’s scary for one is gonna be scary for all.”

“I guess.”

“I’ll hold your hand,” he smiled, taking her hand across the seat and rubbing it gently.

Jason explained the fact that he had a private jet; so actually, the experience would be a lot nicer than if she was on a regular economy flight. It made her feel a little better, knowing there wouldn’t be anyone else around other than Jason and his team. She thought about the pilot too, and decided since Jason knew the pilot as a regular person in his life; it was a better scenario than it being a total complete stranger on a regular flight.

Once they arrived at the airport, Dee saw the jet and she was surprised by the noise and how big it was. While she didn’t expect it to be small, it was different seeing it at eye level than seeing them flying in the sky, they did look small all the way up there. She was surprised by the interior too. She decided a regular plane probably wouldn’t look as nice inside, but Jason’s jet was decorated nicely. It almost looked like somebody’s house, the amount of thought that had been put into the design. She suddenly felt a lot more at ease, and once she sat in the comfortable seat, she sunk into it, letting her fears subside, for the moment, at least.

As Jason took his seat next to her, they waited for everybody to come onboard. Jason’s PA and best friend Tom was last to board, blaming his wife for keeping him on the phone. Tom sat in the seat across from them. It was the first time Tom and Dee had met officially, despite Tom hearing a lot about her, and remembering her stage performance the first night they went to the club. Dee and Jason spoke a lot about their friends when they were together, and though Jason had now met her two best friends, Dee hadn’t met any of his, so he was excited for them to finally come together.

“So here she is, the woman we’ve all been waiting for,” Tom announced, smiling at Dee. It was a bold statement in Dee’s eyes and she wasn’t quite sure how to respond, so she simply smiled back.

“It’s her first time flying today,” Jason announced to his friend, and Tom responded the same way that Jason had.

“What?” he elongated, looking between Jason and Dee.

“I’ve never been out of Detroit,” Dee explained, suddenly feeling all eyes on her.

The three of them made small talk while they waited for the flight to take off. They spoke about Memphis and what it was like, and Jason told Dee about his family dogs. He had two, Millie and Milo, a Golden Retriever and a Black Labrador. Dee had never owned a pet growing up. It wasn’t that she didn’t like animals, because she did, but her family had simply never had the time for one. Her mother worked three jobs, and the kids were either at school or out of the house, so a pet would be neglected. Even now, she was always out of the house so a pet still wouldn’t be ideal. Whenever she’d been around other people’s animals though, she got on well with them. Tip had a male Akita dog named Buster and her friend Keisha from the club had two cats.

It wasn’t long before Dee felt movement below her, and as she looked out of the window to her left, she saw they were moving on the ground. She looked at Jason with a look of concern.

“Is this it?”

“We’re just getting speed, and then we’ll be going up.”

“Can you feel it?”

“A little. It’s not bad.”

Soon enough, she felt her body elevated backwards into the seat.

“I don’t like it,” She announced, and Jason and Tom shot each other a look. It was almost amusing to them because they had been on so many flights in their lifetime, they didn’t even notice things anymore. Flying was a regular part of their job, and they’d become accustomed to it. They could eat, sleep, play games and talk like usual on a flight with no problems, it was nothing to them. For Dee, it was a whole new experience. Once the plane had levelled out, Jason squeezed Dee’s hand and told her that was it until they landed. She blew a sigh of relief.

“So it’s gonna stay like this till we land?”

“Yep.”

“I can’t even feel it now.”

“You won’t, that’s it.”

Tom shuffled forward in his seat, and turned to Dee. “Congratulations, you’re on your first flight. And you didn’t cry, so that’s a bonus,” he joked.

“Bitch, I don’t ever cry,” Dee replied, and the men turned to each other to laugh.

“You picked a feisty one, man.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 

[] Chapter 23 – Meet the Parents

Once she’d survived the landing of the flight, Dee felt a sense of relief that it was over. Though it hadn’t been bad, it was a weird experience and she was just glad to see the back of it so she could concentrate on more important things. Another Chauffeur had picked them up at the airport to take them to Jason’s parents, and her impending sense of doom came back a little bit. She wondered what they would look like, if they would be posh or if their home was a mansion. She wondered what they would think of her, whether they would like her. She was quiet in the car ride and Jason could sense she was worried about it. He tried to put her mind at ease but she still didn’t have much to say.

It wasn’t until Dee felt a kick in her stomach that she was reminded why the two were making things work in the first place, and suddenly she remembered that it didn’t matter what they thought, they were getting a grandchild whether they liked it or not. Her feisty spirit seemed to return to her, and as they parked up outside the house, Dee hopped out with a confidence that Jason hadn’t seen since she’d boarded the jet.

Dee took a look at her surroundings, eyeing up the house in front of them. It was beautiful, and she hadn’t even seen the inside yet. It was a typical ‘straight out of a magazine’ house that she totally expected, with the white picket fence and flowering garden. She could tell somebody had spent time out here in this garden to make it look so nice, so she wondered whether one of his parents was a keen gardener, or whether they had the money to afford a gardener. It was certain that these people had money, and why wouldn’t they when their son was a millionaire. However, it wasn’t the mansion she was expecting.

There was an intercom system to enter the garden, but she presumed it was needed for their safety, or maybe just to stop crazed fans of their sons thinking they could go knocking on the door when they felt like it. Though you could tell it was a big house, it was no mansion. That made her feel a little more comfortable, thinking it was probably a normal house with normal people as opposed to some rich folk with a butler and a maid.

Their chauffeur took their bags out of the boot of the car and placed them at the front gate, where Jason had pressed the intercom button. Jason thanked the chauffeur, and no sooner than his mother had answered the intercom, the chauffeur had driven away. His mother sounded excited on the intercom, and Jason knew she would have been waiting for them, probably peering through the window until she spotted a car pull up.

She was always excited to have her son home for a period of time, but he knew today would have a whole other excitement to it by bringing Dee along. His mother had always looked forward to meeting his girlfriends. While some mothers could be overprotective of their sons, or even have the opinion that no woman would ever be good enough for them, Joy was the opposite. She loved to see her son happy, so she always welcomed women with open arms. Of course Dee was extra special, because she was carrying her first grandchild.

Jason heard the familiar click on the gate as they unlocked, and he pushed it open, gesturing for Dee to go ahead while he grabbed their bags. Dee waited closely beside Jason inside the gate, nervous to go too far ahead. Just as Jason followed her inside the gate juggling their two bags, the front door opened and his step-father Paul stepped out, making his way to the couple.

“You must be Dee,” he said in his southern drawl, holding out his hand to shake hers.

“I’m Paul, Jason’s stepdad.”

He smiled, and Dee found herself smiling back. “Nice to meet you,” she told him, and Jason thought that he’d never heard her speak so sweetly. It almost made him chuckle.

“Give me that bag here, son,” Paul said, as he took the heaviest bag from Jason, which happened to be Dee’s. Jason always travelled light when he came back home, mainly because his bedroom was still intact at the family home and he still had wardrobes and drawers full of clothes and anything else he needed while there. He only really came back with things he would want, such as his laptop, especially as he never stayed too long. As he made his way up the path to the house, Jason watched Dee walking in front of him, following Paul with her bag. He heard him tell her how excited Joy was to have them stay, and he asked her how the flight was. Dee told him it was her first one, and Paul sounded as surprised as him and Tom had been.

“Your mom’s in the kitchen,” Paul told Jason. “Give that here, I’ll go take your bags up.”

With that, Paul trundled up the staircase which stood to the left of the front door. Beside that was a long hallway, full of pictures on the walls and a table with flowers. Dee looked at her surroundings the best she could in a short space of time. She thought it looked really homey, and that’s when she noticed the smell of baking in the air.

“Kitchen’s just straight ahead” Jason told her, gesturing down the hallway. While Dee stood in front of Jason, she didn’t start to walk; instead, she hung back and asked Jason to go first. He chuckled, finding it surprising that someone as tough as Dee was so nervous about meeting his mom. Nevertheless, he went ahead of her. As he entered the doorway to the kitchen, he saw his mom stood at the kitchen counter, pouring lemonade from a jug into four glasses. As she saw her son enter the doorway, she threw abandon to the jug, placing it back down on the counter, and practically sprinted to meet him halfway, engulfing him in a tight hug.

“My baby,” she exclaimed, kissing him in between the hug. Jason laughed lightly but held her embrace until she let go.

“And this must be Dee,” she said as she saw Dee stood slightly behind Jason looking uncomfortable. Dee tried her best at a smile as Joy moved toward her, and as she expected a handshake similar to her husbands, she was thrown off guard when Joy threw her arms around her for a hug too.

“It’s so good to meet you,” Joy said into her ear as she pressed against her, leaving room for the baby bump. As she moved out of the embrace, Joy instantly turned her attention to the bump, cooing over how beautifully she was carrying, though Dee didn’t think there was a ‘beautiful’ way to carry a baby.

“It sounds so stupid, but it makes it so real when you see the bump, you know? I can’t believe my grandchild’s in there, it’s so exciting.”

Just then Joy remembered the lemonade she was pouring on their arrival and moved back to the kitchen counter, asking if anybody wanted some. They both politely accepted and sat on the breakfast bar stools opposite. As Joy poured the freshly made lemonade into four glasses, Dee looked around the kitchen quickly and reality checked herself on where she was and who she was speaking to. Though she’d been seeing Jason a while now, meeting his mother and being in their family home kind of reminded her what she’d let herself in for. She hadn’t gotten pregnant by a random guy in the hood who made his living hustling, she had actually been with a celebrity, someone who was worshipped by millions of people. He had it all here, the white picket fence, the family dogs and a mother making fresh lemonade. As she took it all in, she almost laughed in disbelief, but she stopped herself, and instead, turned it into a smile directed at Joy who returned it before handing over her lemonade.

“So you excited for tomorrow you two?” Joy asked, as she popped a straw into the lemonade glasses.

“I’m definitely excited,” Jason replied, taking a sip of his lemonade and turning to Dee.

“I bet you’re still nervous though right?” he asked her.

“Kinda,” she replied, taking a sip of her drink before speaking again. “I just don’t wanna embarrass you.”

“No!” Joy exclaimed. “Why would you embarrass him?”

Dee struggled to think of a reply. It was easy to explain to Jason why she might embarrass him, because he knew her and her ways, but Joy didn’t know her at all, so she managed a quiet “my cussing or something.”

Joy smiled and shook off Dee’s comment. “We all cuss a little girl, don’t worry about it.”

“But Dee cusses like a sailor,” Jason joked, before Dee’s elbow nudged him in the ribs under the breakfast bar.

 Jason jumped a little at the surprise, and started to laugh. Though he joked with her, he wasn’t actually bothered at all if Dee swore or said something deemed ‘inappropriate.’ He knew she was nervous about attending the party and he didn’t want to make her feel any more uncomfortable than she had to. He knew she wasn’t used to attending formal events, and he didn’t expect her to be the queen of England, he just wanted her to enjoy herself, and feel like she could fit into his world a little. He knew it was going to be hard for her to get used to the paparazzi and the questions and the travelling, but it was just something about one another that they had to except. He didn’t particularly like the idea now that he’d seen where she lived that Dee and her son lived in the area they did, but he had to respect that it hadn’t always been a choice for her.

Though he’d offered many times to move them out, especially in time for the new baby arriving, she’d still refused his offers, and though he was going to keep on trying, he could accept that she was used to doing things of her own accord. She had been raised by a single mother and taught to grind for her own things in life. She’d never had parents or a loved one to provide for her financially, and she was used to being an independent woman. He couldn’t lie, there was something really attractive about seeing a woman who didn’t need a man to help her out, but now the opportunity had presented itself, he did feel frustrated that she wouldn’t let him help her.

After a few minutes Paul came back down the stairs and into the kitchen. He told Dee and Jason that he’d put their bags in the big guest room, and made his way to the kitchen counter where he saw a glass of lemonade going spare.

“Oh, you made lemonade,” he announced, picking up the full glass and chugging half of it in a few large gulps. After wiping off his mouth, he said “Beautiful” and kissed his wife affectionately on the cheek. Dee watched the two of them interact, and though it sounded silly, she thought it was nice to see folk of an age still be together, and happy.

She’d never really grown up around couples. Her father was never around as a child. Her brother remembered him slightly, since he was four when Dee was born, but she was pretty sure he went missing after that. Kiki had a different father, and since Dee was six by the time her sister was born, she remembered a man being around for a short space of time, though she remembered nothing about him, only slightly what he looked like. By that point, Jarell was ten, so he remembered more. He remembered this man hitting their mom and trying to get in the way to protect her when he smacked his ten year old frame. Needless to say, the man was gone after that as far as they both could remember. The only thing Monique had ever mentioned was that Kiki’s father was a teacher, and he was smart, which explained where Kiki got her brains from. In the same drunken conversation, Monique had said their father was a ‘dumb fuck’ , so that explained where they got their brains from’. She laughed afterwards, meaning it as a joke, but words like that hurt.

Jason, Dee, Joy and Paul sat around the table for a good hour chatting with a jug of lemonade making plans for the rest of the night. They mentioned Jason’s grandparents wanting to meet Dee and the bump, and while Dee felt a bit like a sideshow attraction, she tried to remember that these people were only excited, and it was her that was making it a negative. Her grandparents had moved to the Carribbean when she was nine, so she’d never had them around for very long.

Sadness at home had meant they weren’t happy in Detroit anymore, and while they still sent Christmas cards, they didn’t speak to them very often. She thought it was nice that Jason was so close to his grandparents, and when she found out they only lived down the road, she found it crazy. They all agreed that maybe it was best for them to go round now so they could relax for the rest of the night.

It was still nice outside, and the sun was shining bright. Dee had put on her sunglasses before they left the house but the sun still warmed up her skin. They walked slowly hand in hand in the sun, and Dee admired all the houses they passed on the way. They all had a front garden, filled with flowers and benches. Some had the sprinklers going, and some had dogs or cats lazing in the grass. Some people were sat outside on their patios, soaking up the sun. Of those that were, Jason waved and greeted them as he passed, and everybody spoke to him by name. It was clear to see he was a local celebrity to everybody here, but it was a world away from getting mobbed by the paparazzi.

“You love it here, don’t you?” Dee asked, seeing how his demeanour had changed since they’d arrived.

Jason smiled. “I really do.”

“Don’t you ever think about just quitting music and living out here? Like, you must have enough money right?”

Jason chuckled and squeezed her hand affectionately. “Yeah, I guess I do have the money, but, I love it still.”

“You love it more than here?”

“That’s a hard question,” he said, as they crossed over the road and stopped outside a house with another white picket fence. As he unlocked the gate, he turned to her.

“I love them both,” he said, and he kissed her on the neck. As he opened the gate, and let Dee go first, she smiled. In a weird way, she thought some of that conversation was aimed at her.

[] Chapter 24 – Family

Jason had opened the door to his grandparent’s house and let them both in. He’s shouted their names as they entered, and instantly they both smelt baking. Dee felt like she’d just entered a bakery by the smells that were coming from inside. It smelt really good whatever it was, and it made her mouth salivate.

“Uh oh, I think Nan’s been baking,” Jason chuckled.

“Why’s that a bad thing?”

“Just wait till you see,” He said, as they both made their way down to the right of the house, passing a living room and study on the way. Dee could tell they were getting closer to the kitchen as the smells increased.

“Nan! It’s Jason!” Jason yelled as they made their way into the kitchen, not sure if she’d heard him the first time.

“Come in baby, I’m in the oven,” she announced, and Dee and Jason frowned at each other before chuckling at the weird sentence, hoping she wasn’t actually in the oven. As they made their way in, it was clear to see she had been baking as the kitchen table was full to the brim with plates of desserts and pastries. Dee realised Jason wasn’t joking when he said ‘uh oh’, this woman had really gone all out.

Once they were in the kitchen, they saw Jason’s grandmother stood at the oven taking a baking tray from it, which was full of cookies. She was an elderly lady with grey hair in a perm hairdo, and she was dressed in traditional old lady clothes; a long skirt with a blouse. Though her appearance was old, watching her move across the kitchen it was clear she wasn’t frail by any means. She stood up straight, and her hands didn’t shake. She moved with ease, and on her face sat a pair of designer glasses.

“Two minutes my darlings,” she said, as she picked up a pair of tongs and individually picked up the cookies, placing them onto a serving plate on the table, the last one by the looks of it. As soon as she finished, she put the baking tray to one side and took off her oven mitts, before taking off her glasses which hung by a string round her neck. She took one look at the both of them, and started to coo, as she made her way over.

“How are you my baby?” she asked Jason, as she grabbed his face and began to plant kisses on him. She clearly wasn’t concerned about embarrassing him and though Jason looked slightly embarrassed, he didn’t protest.

Once his grandmother was finished planting him with kisses, she turned to Dee and took her hands in hers, taking a step away from her to check her out fully.

“Now let me take a look at you,” she said, as she admired her body from head to toe.

 “Aren’t you beautiful?” she admired, and Dee laughed out of embarrassment. It was weird to hear somebody say that, especially when they didn’t know her.

“How are you my darling?” she asked, as she let her hands go.

“I’m good thank you, how are you?” Dee replied in the best voice she could muster.

“I’m great now my grandbabies are here,” she announced. Dee thought it strange that she said ‘grandbabies’ and not ‘grandbaby’ as if she was already accepting her into the family.

Jason piped up then, realising they hadn’t been formally introduced.

“Oh. Dee, this is my Nan – Norma – and Nan, this is Dee.”

“And who is this going to be?” Norma asked, putting a hand on Dee’s baby bump. Though this was Dee’s second pregnancy, and she was used to people wanting to touch her bump, she didn’t particularly like it. She felt it was a slight invasion of privacy but she was just that kind of person. However, in situations like these she just had to grin and bear it.

“We haven’t actually thought about names yet,” Jason told his grandmother, as he eyed up the goods on the table.

“Oh, but you must,” Norma said. “It’ll be here before you know it, and you don’t want to be stressing yourself out in the hospital, you’ll have enough on your plate.”

“We really should start thinking,” Dee agreed.

“Anyway, I can see Jason eyeing up the food,” Norma said, changing the subject. “Take whatever you want; I’ve made pie, cookies, cheesecake, brownies…everything.”

“Whatever we don’t eat, we’ll take home,” Jason told Dee, winking at her.

As Dee made her way over to the table to inspect the food, she couldn’t believe how much this woman had baked for them coming over. It must have taken her all day, and considering she could barely make a cupcake, she was impressed. As she watched Jason digging in to a corned beef slice, she picked up a chocolate brownie, and took a bite. Unintentionally, she made what she would consider a sexual noise, and Jason looked at her and smiled.

“Good, right?”

“How are you not a chef?” she asked his grandmother, and she laughed, waving away her compliments. Honestly, Dee wasn’t just being complimentary; it was the best brownie she had ever tasted.

It wasn’t long before the chatter coming from inside had attracted the attention of Jason’s granddad, who was sitting outside in the garden.

“I thought I heard voices,” he said, as he made his way into the kitchen. Despite the warm weather, he was dressed in long pants, a short sleeved shirt and braces. He looked like a typical old man, and to Dee, she thought he moved a little bit more like one too. He definitely moved slower than his wife, and he had a slight limp to one of his legs.

“Hey granddad,” Jason greeted him, and the two men hugged. “Been out in the garden again?”

“Yeah, you know, this lawn won’t mow itself son.”

“You should get a gardener,” Jason told him, but the old man scoffed.

“Gardener? That’s plain lazy.”

His attention turned to Dee then, and as the two made eye contact, Dee put down the cookie she was eating onto a plate and finished off what she was chewing.

“Granddad, this is Dee.”

“Oh yes, the young lady you’re starting your family with,” he said, and as Dee came closer, he held out his hand to her.

“This is my granddad, Bill,” Jason told her.

“How do you do,” he said, and Dee smiled.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, feeling awkward all over again.

“It’s about time Jason found himself a beautiful lady.”  

By the time they had left Grandma Norma’s, the pair had made their way through pies, quiche, brownies, cookies, and they still had a plate of cupcakes to eat later which they were carrying back to his parents. Dee had never felt so fat, but it was all worth it. She felt like she’d just been let loose in a bakery, but she didn’t regret any of it. She’d never had anybody that could bake in her family, so this was a treat. She could see why Jason loved to come home when he was greeted by this reception.

She could tell by the way his parents and grandparents greeted him that they absolutely worshipped the ground he walked on. Dee thought about what people back home would be like if she’d ever made it big. She knew there’d be some shady characters who would want to milk her for everything they could get, but seeing him walking around these streets, people respected him. Though people greeted him and chatted to him, nobody was up in his business; they didn’t ask for anything or make him uncomfortable. It was crazy to see, but in a way, she felt sort of proud to be walking with him, knowing that somebody that had entered her life was being respected in the way he was.

By the time they’d gotten back to Jason’s parents, the pair of them were stuffed, and were ready for their relaxing night. Joy and Paul had suggested a DVD that night with a pizza, but now, as the pair thought about more food, they definitely decided against it. While they explained how much Norma had baked for them, Joy laughed.

“I should have known,” she remarked, as she poured them all a drink to head into the living room with.

As Dee stood in the kitchen with the rest of them, she screwed up her face and held onto her chest for a moment as she felt the burning sensation of heartburn hit her. She should have known all that pastry and sugar wouldn’t agree with her when she was pregnant. She had suffered with indigestion and heartburn when she was pregnant with Tushaun, and at one point, she was constantly popping lozenges to soothe it. While Joy made her way to the fridge to put the juice back, she noticed Dee holding onto her chest and stopped to check she was ok.

“You ok sweetie?”

“Oh, yeah. Just heartburn.”

“I got that all the time when I was pregnant with Jason. You want something for it?”

“Um, yeah, if you don’t mind.”

“I’m sure we’ll have something in this box of tricks,” Joy said, as she pulled out a box from a cupboard in the kitchen which was filled with an assortment of pill boxes and plasters to name a few.

“It’s okay if not,” Dee said, watching Joy finger through the box, feeling like she was an inconvenience.

“If not Paul will go get you something, there’s nothing worse than having that all night.” Joy said, and Dee smiled. It felt nice that she cared so much, that she was going all out for her when she didn’t have to. Dee wondered whether Jason had mentioned what she did for a living or how they’d met. She didn’t really know what Jason had told his parents at all, and while it didn’t concern her what people thought about her, it always felt nice to be accepted, especially if people did know the bad things about you.

After a minute of searching through the box, Joy found some indigestion lozenges and handed the packet to Dee. Dee thanked her, and took one instantly, feeling the cooling sensation as she sucked on the lozenge. All she wanted now was to feel comfortable for the night.  Now it was steering towards the evening, she felt it was slightly more acceptable to excuse herself, and while she hadn’t checked upstairs out yet, Jason offered to come with her and change himself. Joy and Paul decided to order a pizza for the both of them anyway, despite Dee and Jason not being hungry anymore, so while they ordered and chose a movie, Dee and Jason headed upstairs.

On the way up the staircase, Dee looked at the family photos which were posted on the walls. There were baby photos which Dee assumed was Jason, then more embarrassing child and teenage photos which she couldn’t deny was him. He still had the exact same face, just with a few more spots and worse hair. She pointed them out as she walked, and Jason laughed, his face turning pink. He tried his best to hurry her up the stairs, though she wasn’t one to be forced in any direction.

Dee took in everything in her path, including the huge hallway, and the beautiful room they’d been given to sleep in. Jason explained this was the room he always used as his when he stayed at his parents, and it was clear to see by the little things, such as the guitar leaning against the wall closest to the door. Dee saw hers and Jason’s bags near the bed, and she instantly opened hers and found her pyjamas, changing into them quickly.

Once she’d changed, she sat on the king-size bed and watched as Jason undressed. She was starting to feel like a part of the family being here, and she thought how different her welcome into this family had been compared to the welcome her family had given him. She remembered her mother being rude to him, and getting everybody drunk. She remembered how she’d had to be reminded to be nice, as though she was a child. Joy had never been told to be nice to Dee, neither had his grandparents, and considering they were from a different time, it surprised her that they weren’t more strange around her because of her colour. Not everybody could handle the interracial thing.

Once Jason pulled on a t-shirt, Dee walked over to him from behind and embraced him by wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face into his back. Jason stiffened for a second, surprised by her embrace, and moved to turn around and face her, taking her embrace once more.

“What’s that for?” Jason asked, looking down at Dee who stood at chest level.

“I like your family.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

At that moment, Dee loosened her embrace and stepped back a little so she could see him better. Then, standing on her tiptoes she reached up to meet him for a kiss. Jason bent down slightly, and their lips touched. For a minute, they kissed, saying nothing, before they broke away smiling. 

[] Chapter 25 – Fight or Flight

While Dee and Jason had enjoyed a chilled out evening at his family home the night before, the next day was not so chilled. The launch party was looming, and while Dee didn’t have to do much other than get her outfit sorted, Jason had last minute preparations to sort out. Joy however, had taken advantage of the nice weather and had set her and Dee loungers up in the garden so they could relax while Jason took care of business.

Dee had never had a garden of her own, so sitting in a nice garden such as theirs was a treat. She soaked up the sun in her shades and shorts, while Joy provided her with iced tea and fresh fruit. As Dee lay back in her sun lounger, she thought about home, and how it was a million miles away right now. Though she liked Jason’s family and had the impending launch party to think about, Dee was ready to head home. It wasn’t personal; she was just used to her hometown with her own family and friends.

Almost as if on cue, her phone started to ring in her lap as she lay back on the lounger. Sitting up to answer it, she tried to glimpse at the screen to see who was calling, but the glare from the sun prevented it, so she answered unaware.

“Dee, it’s me,” her mother’s voice sounded from the other end. Before Dee could hardly reply, her mother spoke again.

“Call me back will you, I’ve got no credit.”

“I-“

Before Dee could even get out her first word, the phone was hung up on the other end. Dee growled in annoyance and put the phone back down in her lap. If her mother had let her finish, she would have told her she had no credit herself.

“Everything Okay?” Joy asked, looking up from her lounger with her hand over her eyes.

“Yeah. My mom tried to call me but we’re out of credit.”

“Do you wanna use mine?” Joy offered with no hesitance.

“If you don’t mind.”

“Course not,” she replied, getting up from her lounger and retrieving her own cell phone from her pocket. Her ash blonde hair shone in the sunlight as she aimed her head down while unlocking the phone. When Joy handed over the phone to Dee, she thanked her and instantly typed in her mom’s number. Monique’s voice greeted her seconds later.

“Mom. I didn’t have any credit myself but you put the phone down,” Dee told her.

“Well you’re phoning me now.”

“’Cuz Jason’s mom lent me hers.”

“Well there you go, they got money.”

Her mom’s attitude annoyed her sometimes, but she sighed and ignored her this time round.

“What’s up?” Dee asked instead. She assumed there was a reason she was calling her other than to see if she was okay, she wasn’t like usual moms.

“Just checking when you back. Tushaun here with me, deadbeat ain’t even call for him.”

“For fucks sake,” Dee spat. “He don’t deserve him.”

“Preach,” her mother agreed.

“It ain’t fair to Tushaun not to have a routine, but what can I do? Not let him see him again?”

“Boys gon be boys, can’t change ‘em. So when you back?”

“I’ll be back tomorrow, like, late afternoon I think. I’ll come get him when I’m back.”

“Aight. See you tomorrow.”

“Mom.”

“Yeah?

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah of course he is, he with his favourite grandmomma.”

“Good,” Dee smiled. “See you tomorrow.”

“Bye.”

When Dee ended the call, she realised she may have been talking a little too candidly with her mom, considering Joy was so close by. As a matter of fact, Joy had barely moved from her lounger, and when Dee handed her the phone back, she simply asked if everything was ok.

“Just my son’s dad, he didn’t pick him up this weekend.”

“Oh, that’s sad. Who’s looking after him?” Joy asked.

“My mom. She was just asking when I was gonna be back.”

“Running her ragged already?” Joy joked.

“No, my baby’s so good.”

“How old is he?”

“He’s 2. Almost 3.”

“Awww. What’s his name?”

“Tushaun.”

“Tushaun,” Joy repeated before breaking into a smile. “Must be lovely to have one that young.”

“He’s amazing,” Dee gushed, and Joy smiled as she saw her face transform. All mothers are biased towards their children but still, Joy could tell how much she meant it.

While Joy didn’t know a lot about Dee as a person or who she was other than her son’s girlfriend, the way she spoke about her child made her feel reassured that she was going to be a good mother to her son’s child. It was something she had been thinking about ever since Jason told her he was about to be a father. Knowing he was away a lot for work, she wanted to feel reassured that the child would be well looked after. She wanted to know that she could see her grandchild whenever she wanted, not necessarily only when her son was around. Sometimes she’d worried that she would never get the chance to have grandchildren of her own based on Jason’s hectic lifestyle. He was committed to his career and he’d never chosen anything over it.

While Joy was proud of her son and all his accomplishments, part of her wanted to see him be a ‘normal’ man, and have the things that other men his age have. She wondered whether this would be a turning point for him, whether he would take a step back from his craft to be a family man, but something told her he wouldn’t. She knew her son better than anybody else, and she knew he would more than likely try to fit everything in, make everybody happy.

Joy could tell Dee wasn’t raised the way her son was raised, there was a clear class division just by what Jason had told her about where Dee lived, and the way she spoke sometimes, but she didn’t judge her for it. She knew not everybody could be lucky enough to make it out of a difficult place, and Joy had struggled when her son was little. She struggled to pay the bills, to put food on the table, and she practically bankrupted herself to send her son to all the things he wanted to do, singing lessons and acting lessons, theatre and singing groups. He was an ambitious child and she never had the heart to tell him they couldn’t afford it, so somehow she scrimped and scraped the money together.

She was lucky to have a husband that worked, and once Jason was old enough and at school, she got herself a job too. She didn’t look down on anybody because they didn’t have money or nice things, she had been there herself, maybe not to the same degree as some, but she understood. Joy had always prided herself on judging people accurately, and she could always tell when somebody had a good heart. Dee did.

The rest of the day was spent in the garden until it was time to get ready. Dee and Joy of course thought that time came around a lot sooner than the men did. Dee still found it weird getting ready for the night without having a drink, or at least a smoke.

As she got ready, Dee couldn’t help reality check herself of where she was going, and where she’d come from. She knew people probably wouldn’t believe her if she’d told them this stripper from Detroit was going to an album launch party of a famous singer, never mind the fact the famous singer was her new boyfriend, as well as her baby’s father. She still didn’t know what Jason saw in her, but she tried not to think about it too much, knowing it would probably drive her crazy. She’d never been to something as big as this, and she was nervous about what to expect. She didn’t know if she’d have to take photos, or answer questions. Would people really want to speak to her? What would they ask her about? She didn’t know if there were things Jason didn’t want her to speak about, or things she shouldn’t say. She figured she’d probably have to be on her best behaviour, making sure she kept it classy and not hood, and kept the cussing inside her head. She knew it wasn’t the time to be showing out and being ghetto.

Though Dee knew she had to go now, she felt a fight or flight response brewing inside, and everything in her wanted to choose flight – a flight back home to see her son and her family. She tried telling herself it was only one night, a few hours at most, but she couldn’t lie, she wasn’t looking forward to it. As she finished the last of her makeup, she looked at herself in the mirror one last time, turning around to see her butt in her dress. She thought it was hard to stay classy when she had a butt as big as hers. Dresses were constantly riding up because of it, so something that would have looked classy on somebody else looked short and sexy on her. As she looked herself up and down, she failed to notice Joy coming into the room, till she spoke and made her jump slightly.

“Don’t you look lovely,” Joy admired, and Dee found herself blushing slightly, something that she never did.

“Thank you. You too.”

“Oh, this old thing,” Joy joked. She was wearing a white dress, down to the knee, paired with some silver strappy heels. She looked good for a woman of her age, Dee had to admit. Even though she was taller than her, Joy now appeared shorter as Dee’s heels gave her the extra height to stand above her. She didn’t worry about being pregnant with heels, practically everybody she knew was still wearing stilettos near their due date.

Jason and his stepdad Paul were waiting downstairs for the women to finish getting ready, having already opened a beer or two while they waited. As Dee and Joy made their way downstairs, they could hear laughing and joking coming from the men, they sounded jovial. As the women entered the room, Dee following behind Joy, their laughter stopped, and instead, they admired the women as they came through the door.

“Very nice,” Paul commented, kissing his wife on the cheek lovingly, before he handed her a glass of wine he’d already poured for her arrival.

“Wow,” was all Jason could manage as he watched Dee enter the room, before Joy stepped in.

“Doesn’t she look lovely, boys?”

“Great,” Paul chimed in, taking a sip of his beer.

“You look beautiful,” Jason said, resting his hand on the small of her back as she stood next to him. He rubbed his thumb over her back caringly as he took a sip of his beer. He felt himself blush a little bit after he spoke realising his parents were listening and probably could tell how smitten he was with Dee; they always knew exactly how he felt.

[] Chapter 26 – Twins

How does it feel to have a boyfriend so famous? Where did you grow up? Do you like the album? Where did you two meet? When’s the baby due? Is it a boy or a girl?” It felt like the questions from reporters, photographers and the like just kept on coming, with no break. The flashing lights from the cameras was something Dee wasn’t used to, and every time she blinked, she saw little bright spots. Just when she thought she’d regained her sight, another one would go off inches from her face and she’d have the struggle again, all the while questions were being thrown left, right and centre. Some had more calming, down to earth voices, while others were rough and ready, and didn’t even give her chance to answer before they followed with something else. There were definitely a fair few that Dee wanted to punch, but she had to keep herself composed not only for the sake of Jason and his family, but for her own reputation.

The party itself wasn’t bad and Dee’s only disappointment was that there was a free bar she couldn’t take advantage of. However, there was also free food so it wasn’t all bad. She never passed up free food; it was almost ingrained into her that that was something you just don’t do. Back when she was a child, her mother couldn’t always afford snacks or treats, so whenever an opportunity presented itself, you took it.

While everyone was in high spirits, no one was sloppy drunk or wild, and she couldn’t help but think it was like no party she’d ever been to. A party wasn’t a party in Detroit unless someone was being sick. For the beginning of the night, Jason stayed close beside Dee, showing her off like she was a trophy to anybody that came into close proximity, but by the middle, he was nowhere to be seen. She tried to remember this was his career, and she knew he probably had to keep up appearances, make everybody happy, but she couldn’t help but feel a little pissed off. She was never really left alone since Joy or Paul always stayed close, or at one point, when they were whisked off somewhere, Tom was on hand to talk to her.

While she didn’t have anything against Tom personally, she felt there was something between them, stopping them from getting along. Part of her thought he probably didn’t approve of her as a partner to his friend. There was nothing particularly that he’d said or done, but she found they quite often had awkward silences, like there was nothing to say. Something was off about the guy, and she couldn’t put her finger on it, still, she put up with him.

Dee listened to songs from Jason’s new album, which was playing during the event. She thought it was weird to hear him sing and remember that was a voice she’d heard for years, never paying much attention, and not even realising he was who he was when they met. Towards the end of the night, when everybody was a little merry, including Jason, he took to the stage to thank everyone for the support and coming out, before he performed one of his well known songs for everybody. Everybody was dancing and cheering, and generally in awe of him, again, something that was weird to watch from Dee’s perspective. She felt almost as if she were in awe of him too as she watched, though she would never say it out loud.

The night overall wasn’t bad, though she was happy when it was time to leave. She knew tomorrow she could wake up and get a plane back home to see her son, who she was missing already; she’d never been so far away from him.

Dee thought about the arrival of the new baby, and everything that Jason had been offering over the months. The offer of a new home and money was something that was hard to think about. She was a proud person and she would never in a million years think about taking money from someone, though currently paying the bills was starting to become difficult with not working at the club. In a regular job, she would get maternity pay for the last few months. Not in her line of work.

What many people didn’t realise about that type of job is that most strippers aren’t employed by the club as such, they’re self employed ‘independent contractors’, meaning Dee actually paid money to the club to dance there. The tips she earned were her payment. It wasn’t an ideal situation to be in, but with no high school certificate, jobs were hard to come by, and people in her area did what they could to survive. Every day was a new hustle and challenge.

Dee knew she was lucky to have met someone like Jason who had money, because it meant the expensive baby things were all paid for by him, meaning she didn’t have to rely on handouts and help for those too. She’d kept some of Tushaun’s old things just in case she ever had another baby, and while she was happy to use those, Jason had insisted she buy new ones anyway, feeling it was his duty to help her out with things like that.

It was late by the time they’d all got back to Joy and Paul’s home, and they were all ready to head straight to bed, which they did. They were all evidently in high spirits, and it was nice to go to bed on such a high. Dee could see a sparkle in Jason that she hadn’t seen before, which she could tell was from his love of music. She thought it must be nice to do something you truly loved and enjoyed and get paid for it, a total win-win situation.

They chatted idly as they got ready for bed, Dee changing into a pair of comfortable pyjamas and taking off her makeup in the en-suite bathroom mirror. She left the door open as she wiped her face, and Jason watched her from inside the bed covers. He yawned as he flicked through the TV channels with the remote. He’d learnt just from a few short months with Dee that she liked to fall asleep with the TV on, the background noise helped soothe her to sleep. She told him that sleeping in silence was impossible, because her mind worked on overdrive.

Evidently, there was nothing decent on at this time of night, so eventually he just stopped flicking and left it on whatever was on. He knew they probably wouldn’t watch it anyway, and that it was only there for the background noise, so he put the remote to one side and shuffled lower in the covers, turning on his side to see the TV.

A small child was screaming in a supermarket, and a mother looked utterly embarrassed as she tried to peel him off the floor. In the background, Supernanny stood to one side and shook her head. Jason chuckled lightly; he didn’t mind a bit of Supernanny. Dee soon finished up in the bathroom and turned off the light before joining him in bed. She shuffled down into the covers and turned onto her side too, as the pair watched the show silently for a minute.

“How come these parents don’t do shit when their kid’s bad?” Dee questioned.

“You the damn parent, you letting ‘em rule!”

“I guess not everyone’s cut out to be a parent,” Jason observed, as Supernanny took the parent to one side, and started to explain the procedure for dealing with the boy’s bad behaviour.

“On another note…” Jason started, as he remembered his grandmother’s words the day before.

“We should start thinking about names.”

“I know,” Dee agreed. “That’s the hardest part.”

“You got any ideas?” Jason asked her.

“Um…I like Devon, for a boy. Or Darrell, or Tiann.”

“Darrell’s not too bad. I always liked Olivia for a girl.”

“Mmm, I don’t know.”

“Or Nora.”

“We ain’t calling her Nora, that’s like an old woman.”

Jason chuckled. “An old woman?”

“Yeah, it’s like Margaret or something.”

“No it isn’t!”

“What about….Zavier for a boy?”

“You think it’ll be a boy?” Jason asked.

“Yeah, I don’t know why.”

The two of them went silent for a minute, thinking in their own heads for more names as they continued watching Supernanny on the screen intermittently. The little boy on the screen was now talking to the cameras, and his name appeared underneath in a caption.

“Rio,” Jason read the little boy’s name aloud from the screen, and as his brain registered it, he repeated it again.

“What about Rio?”

“Rio,” Dee repeated, almost in a whisper, and before Jason had prepared himself for her answer, she rolled over in the bed and faced him, a smile on her face. It was a strange look, because though she was smiling, Jason could see there was pain hidden there too.

“Let’s call him Rio,” she said, and at that, her eye’s began to fill up with tears, something Jason hadn’t seen very often. Every time he had seen her emotional, she’d managed to avert the tears, remove them almost as if they never existed. This time, one fell effortlessly from her face before she wiped it away. Her face still showed a bittersweet look; her mouth was curled and smiling but her eyes showed the pain.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Jason asked, smiling at her encouragingly, hoping she would confide in him about whatever had made her emotional. He knew pregnant women could get over-emotional, and while he was prepared for her to laugh it off, something in him thought it was more than that.

“I had a brother called Mario,” she started, sniffling. “We used to call him Rio.”

Jason listened intently and his heart pulled in his chest at her words. Used to, he thought, past tense. She’d never mentioned another brother before, and he wondered why she’d never said anything. Was he young? Was he ill? Or was it an accident?

“What happened?” Jason asked, rubbing her arm affectionately under the covers. He didn’t want to pry or make her upset, but he needed to know.

“He was killed in a shoot out when he was thirteen.”

“How old were you?”

“Nine.”

Jason watched her sympathetically, his heart wrenched as he saw the pain before her eyes. He couldn’t imagine how horrible that must have been.

“I’m sorry, I can’t imagine how hard that was.”

“It’s okay, it was a long time ago. But the name is perfect.”

Jason smiled. “Guess we got ourselves a Rio.”

“My family’s gonna freak.”

“Freak in a good way, right?”

“Yeah,” Dee smiled.

There was a minute of silence. Jason took all of the information in and let it register. He thought about a nine-year-old Dee losing her big brother. He couldn’t imagine it, especially losing him in such a tragic way, taken too soon and without warning. He thought about her siblings too, thinking Kiki must have only been a toddler. Then he wondered about Jarell. He was sure Jarell was a few years older than Dee, though he wasn’t exactly sure by how much.

“He must have been around Jarell’s age, right?” Jason asked, seeing Dee was now tearless.

 “They were twins.”

“Wow.”

“Not identical, but pretty similar.”

“I didn’t realise.”

“Yeah. It was hard on him.”

“Poor guy.”

“He was with him when it happened so I guess he thought he could have done something.”

“You can’t think like that though.”

“I know.”

“Was it completely random?”

“Gang related. I guess there was some shit going down and they just got in the way.”

“Did anybody get caught?”

Dee scoffed. It was a sarcastic notion.

“You’re kidding right? Gangs don’t get caught. Police don’t give a shit if a ghetto kid gets shot.”

“But they investigated?”

“Not for very long. No leads, no witnesses willing to say nothing, so case was dropped, just like that.”

“Did people see it?”

“It was like, five in the afternoon so some mo’fucker seen something, but nobody wants to say shit. You speak out on shit like that, you next. Just the way it is.”

“I can’t believe it,” Jason sighed. He was utterly speechless that things like that could happen. He knew it happened somewhere but it was hard to stomach that it happened to somebody he knew, to somebody he cared about. He had a feeling that this wasn’t the last of the things she was keeping quiet from him. He could only hope she felt comfortable enough to talk to him about them, because Lord knows bottling things up is never a good thing. 

[] Chapter 27 – Touchdown

The plane ride home was less eventful than the first for Dee. She knew what to expect this time round, and she was excited to get home and see her family. More than anything, she was looking forward to seeing Tushaun, especially after his father hadn’t shown up that weekend to spent time with him, she wanted to show him that one of his parents still cared.

Just before she’d set off for the airport, she’d received a text message from Kiki reading ‘Got some news when u home[* x’, so she was also curious to find out what the news could be. She wondered whether it would be about Kiki, or maybe about Tushaun. It worried her thinking about the possibilities, because by default, she was a pessimist and always thought as one, though Jason eased her worries, reminding her that the news could be something good. After all, it would explain why she wanted to say something before she was even home. Dee admired that quality in Jason; that he could see the bright side of situations, seeing positive when there was uncertainty.*]

Jason’s parents and grandparents had sent them away with plenty of food, probably more than the pair of them could go through in a lifetime. While his grandma Norma had baked cakes and pies and cookies, Joy had made a batch of her famous casserole. They’d boxed them up for the pair in Tupperware boxes, which now lined the bottom of multiple bags, some for Jason to take back to his hotel, and some for Dee to take home to her family. Dee appreciated the fact that they’d thought about her, treated her as one of them while she stayed with them, and made extra food just so she could feed her family too. She’d never felt so accepted by strangers in her life, and it was a weird feeling.

Since their conversation the night before, when Dee opened up about her brother, Jason had seen a different side to Dee. He understood she’d been through things that he could never fully understand; things that she would always carry round with her. So far he understood that she’d lost a brother, had a mother that was difficult to cope with at times, though she had never fully talked about specifics with Monique, and she had struggled to bring up a son practically on her own, without the help of her ex. He thought there was probably more difficulty in her life than she’d  mentioned, but he wasn’t in a hurry for her to reveal them. He’d wait until she was comfortable.

During the short flight, the pair of them were pretty quiet as they digested the weekend’s events, thinking about what had happened and what was to come. Jason had realised during the weekend at home that he didn’t have to come back to Detroit after all since all recording was finished, and the album was out for release. However, after speaking about it with his parents, he decided it was a good idea to stay close to Dee, to be there for her if she needed anything during her pregnancy and to continue to get to know her, to spend time with her, so they could prepare to be a real family. He could always jump on a plane to go home every now and then during the coming months when he needed to, and his parents understood and supported his decision. Dee had told him he didn’t need to come back, that she would be fine on the plane home if he wanted to stay at home a little longer, but although he knew she was capable, he didn’t want to leave her, especially as it was only her second time flying.

Jason looked at the seat next to him where Dee had turned her attention away from the window, and sat staring vacantly, looking deep in thought.

“You okay?” he asked, watching as her concentration broke.

“Yeah, just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Just, what’s gonna happen once the baby comes, where we’re gonna live and when you’re gonna see him, stuff like that.”

“You know my original offer stands.”

“To buy me a house?”

“Yeah.”

Dee twisted her face up, almost as if she was thinking, but she looked unsure.

“I just want to look after you.”

“You don’t need to.”

“But I want to,” Jason explained, putting the emphasis on ‘want.’

As Jason thought about the situation in his own head, he realised that Dee was probably never going to say yes to him buying her a house. She would probably never let him do it if she was given a choice, nor would she accompany him on viewing houses, or even accept the idea. He realised that maybe the way to handle this was to not give her a choice. Dee was probably used to being independent and making her own decisions her entire life; she’d probably never been forced into something before. All he wanted was for his baby to be safe and well, in a house that provided that for him, where his mother didn’t have to worry about paying bills or struggling to look after him. He wanted them both to be happy and safe, and he didn’t see why that was such a bad thing.

Money wasn’t anything to him if he couldn’t look after the ones he cared about. He would never dream about spending money on frivolous things if his loved ones weren’t looked after, and now Dee was in his life, she was his loved one; her, his baby, and Tushaun. He decided once he got back he was going to start making plans, whether she was involved in them or not. If she didn’t move into the house, he would, and then it wasn’t a wasted effort, he could still have somewhere to stay other than a hotel so he was close to them, and maybe over time, they would get closer to the decision to live together as a family if everything went well.

Even if the house was still in Detroit, it could be a little further away from the rougher area and he could set it up with security features so he was sure they were safe, he could get her a car too so she had easy access to her family and friends. Once the thought of a car popped into his mind, he thought about the fact Dee didn’t drive. Suddenly, he realised it may not have been the fact she couldn’t afford a car, maybe she couldn’t drive altogether. Or maybe she just never needed one in her small neighbourhood with everything at walking distance.

“Hey Dee,” he said, distracting her once again from staring out of the plane window.

“I never thought to ask before. Did you ever learn to drive?”

“Yeah, I have my license.”

“Did you ever have a car?”

There was a pause, and Dee sighed next to him.

“I know it’s not cool but, me and my homies used to just drive each others, rather than everybody pay for their own car. Jarell used to let me drive his too.”

“Oh. I just wondered if you ever did drive.”

“I’m actually on a suspension.”

There was a look of embarrassment on Dee’s face, and Jason could see it. He made sure his reaction didn’t overreact.

“Oh, okay. How come?”

“I was young, and stupid. I got done for a DUI. I’m not proud of it.”

“We’ve all been young Dee.”

“I bet you never got a DUI.”

“No, I didn’t, but I always had a driver,” he chuckled.

“Oh, I always had a driver,” Dee mocked, and suddenly the pair were laughing.

“So when’s the suspension over?” Jason asked.

“Early next year.”

“Cool.”

Jason made a mental note that maybe a car wasn’t the best choice for now, but early next year he could start to make plans for one. He was surprised to hear Dee got a DUI, but he had to keep reminding himself that this girl was a few years younger than him. She was still young, and had so much responsibility already. Considering she’d told him she was young and stupid, he couldn’t judge. Everybody had done stupid things when they were younger, and while he’d never been charged with a crime, he’d done some stupid things himself looking back on his teen years.

He’d grown up in the industry, and there were things that were hard to avoid. He’d tried various drugs, lost his virginity at fourteen, had unprotected sex, and generally made some bad decisions. There was never an excuse, but he appreciated people that could learn and move on from mistakes.

“Are you going back to the same hotel?” Dee asked Jason once the pilot had announced they were about to land.

“Yeah, I like it there.”

“I feel bad that you came back.”

“Why?”

“You could have spent more time with your family.”

“I can go see them whenever I want, don’t worry. Means I can spend time with you.”

Dee smiled, and Jason found himself smiling back. He loved it when Dee smiled, and if anything, he thought she didn’t do it enough. He hoped that the more time they spent together, the more he would see her smile.

Jason arranged for the car to drop Dee at her house first so she could leave her suitcase there, before taking her to her moms. She insisted she could walk to the next street but Jason insisted just as hard that he didn’t mind waiting. He had no plans for the night, and with Tom staying in Tennessee, he didn’t know what he would do with himself. He never had a lot of time to himself, and when he did, he found himself bored, so in a way he was dreading the long evening to himself.

Once Dee had been dropped at her mom’s house, the car took him back to the hotel that he’d become accustomed to over the past few months. It was beginning to be a home away from home, and the staff gave him a warm welcome upon his return. Though he’d managed to keep a low profile, even using a different name upon check-in, there were a few people wanting pictures in the hotel lobby upon his arrival, to which he didn’t oblige. He could never do enough for his fans, however inconvenient or annoying at times, he owed them everything he had.

He’d told Dee he would call her tomorrow, and left her to be with her family. He knew she was excited to see her family after a few days away, especially Tushaun. He understood for somebody that had never even been on a plane before, she’d probably not spent a lot of time away from home. He thought about the fact she’d probably never had a real vacation, and he felt sad to think about it. He thought about the amazing vacations he’d had as a child, and imagined not having them as memories. Some of his best memories were from vacation, especially Disneyland. He couldn’t wait to take his own child on some of the best vacations he’d had, and for Dee to experience them right alongside them.

h1<>{color:#000;}.

[] Chapter 28 – Kiki

“Mama!” Tushaun shouted as Dee made her way through her mother’s front door. She could hear him before she saw him, but before long, her little boy raced over to her. She swooped him into her arms, kissing him all over. She squeezed him tightly, realising how much she’d truly missed him, and she told him so. In around three weeks time, Tushaun would be turning three years old. She’d watched him grow from a tiny baby into her precious little boy, and she couldn’t believe how fast the time was passing. She was so proud of his character already, and she knew he had big things in his future. She refused to let him grow up a gangbanger or a drug pusher; she wanted him to lead a normal, legal life, something that no one in her family had really managed to do.

Dee carried Tushaun into the kitchen to see where everybody was. She smelled food, and upon arrival she saw her sister was stirring something in a pan.

“Hey,” Dee greeted, and Kiki turned around from the cooker to greet her sister.

“What was Memphis like?”

“Good. His parents are real nice.”

“That’s good.”

“What you cooking?”

“Mac and cheese, for this guy’s dinner.”

“Where’s mom?”

“She took an extra shift at the Laundromat.”

Monique had always had multiple jobs, and while Dee would be the first to admit she hadn’t been the best mother growing up, one thing she couldn’t deny was that her mother worked hard for her money. She always made sure she had food on the table for her kids, and that they had clothes on their back, which was more than could be said for some mothers. She’d worked in the local Laundromat since they were kids, as well as a local convenience store and a bar at night.

She was actually a hit with the punters – her larger than life attitude kept people coming and she’d got to know every regular that came in for a drink, something people appreciated. It meant she often found herself keeping change for tips, which worked out for her. While some people were lucky to find one full time job, Monique had always had to divide her time between jobs due to poor contracts and poor pay, it was the only way to live.

“Have you had him all day?” Dee asked, realising her mother’s promise to look after Tushaun had fallen through.

“Pretty much.”

“Thanks Keeks.”

“It’s okay. We’ve had fun haven’t we, T?”

Tushaun agreed enthusiastically and Dee put him down as her back started to hurt.

“You ready for your dinner?” Kiki asked him, as she turned off the stove and fished out a bowl from the kitchen cupboard. Tushaun said he was, before seating himself at the table ready. Dee got him some cutlery from the drawer as Kiki plated his food up and placed it at the table.

“Wait a little bit, it’s hot” Kiki told him, and he nodded in understanding, swinging his legs under the table, waiting patiently.

Dee loved that Kiki had such a hands-on role with Tushaun. She truly was the best aunty she could have asked for, and at only sixteen years old, she was so mature for her age. Even when Dee first had Tushaun, she offered to help and learnt to change a nappy, even though she was only a teenager.

“So what’s your news?” Dee asked haphazardly, as she looked in the fridge for something to drink, not expecting anything out of the ordinary. Once she found a carton of orange juice, she took it out and found a glass to pour it into. She couldn’t help but notice the whole time she manoeuvred, Kiki hadn’t said anything.

“Okay. Don’t freak out,” She finally said, and Dee agreed as she continued pouring her drink.

“I’m pregnant.”

Dee stopped pouring her juice and placed the carton down, turning to her sister.

“What?”

“It wasn’t planned or anything, but, it’s done now.”

Dee blinked, utterly shocked. “What?” she repeated.

“I said don’t freak.”

“I’m not freaking, I’m reacting,” she insisted, her tone of voice growing a little mad.

“I told mom already.”

“You told mom before me?!” Dee exclaimed, and Kiki sighed.

“Only because I didn’t want to tell you both at the same time. I knew mom was gonna react bad, and then you’d stick up for me and y’all would end up in a fight just like when you told her you were pregnant.”

“Shit, Kiki.”

“I know.”

“How far are you?”

“Three months.”

“Shit Kiki!”

“I know. I didn’t know.”

Dee tried to process what she’d just told her. She couldn’t believe that of all people, her sixteen year old sister was pregnant. She thought she had more brains than that, after all, she was the brains of the family, she’d always done well in school and Dee thought she might actually have a shot of making something of herself. What sort of life was she going to have now, getting pregnant at sixteen?

She was still in school for a start, was she going to have to drop out? Even if she didn’t, she’d end up missing a lot of school and work, she might fall behind; end up not graduating just like her and her Jarell and their mom. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t disappointed. She never expected this news when she’d first texted her, and in a way, she now felt mad at Jason for making her believe it could be something positive, she knew she always had reason to suspect something bad.

“Are you mad?”  Kiki asked, a sheepish look on her face.

“I’m fucking disappointed.”

“Don’t say that.”

“You’re too smart for this shit, though.”

“I know, I’m an idiot, but I can’t change it now.”

“Does J know?”

“Yeah, he’s real supportive.”

“As long as he sticks by you. Tell him I’mma kick his ass if he don’t.”

“He will, he loves me.”

“Trey loved me once upon a time.”

“This is different.”

“Why?”

“He’s not Trey.”

As if to fill the silence, Tushaun piped up about how nice his Mac and cheese was, and the girls laughed at the spontaneity of the comment. It broke the tension in the air for them, and the girls smiled at each other. Despite the disappointment and the bad timing, Dee loved her sister, and she’d be there for her. Family was everything.

She watched Tushaun eating for a second before making her way over to sit next to him at the table. She wanted to talk to him about his weekend, find out if he was okay, find out if he even knew his dad hadn’t turned up to see him, or whether it wasn’t mentioned at all. Monique had a habit of running her mouth without thinking first, meaning she often said things in front of him Dee wasn’t happy with.

Dee had a lot of the same traits as Monique, and everybody could tell she was her daughter. She had picked up the ability to fly off the handle without warning, as well as speaking before her brain engaged, though she tried to have a filter when it came to Tushaun. She thought there were things he shouldn’t have to hear, and while she had some choice words about Trey, she didn’t want to influence his decision about his dad. She knew he would probably love him despite everything, and if he later wanted to make a different decision about his father, that would be his to make, not because he’d been brainwashed by her.

Dee couldn’t help but keep looking over at Kiki as she washed the dishes at the sink. Dee stared at her stomach, trying to see if there was even an inkling of a pregnant stomach, but she couldn’t really see one. She was probably going to be one of the lucky ones that hardly showed, a neat little bump even when she went into labour.

Dee felt excited to give Tushaun a little brother or sister, and as she thought about Kiki’s pregnancy, she imagined having another niece or nephew for her own, as well as a little cousin for Tushaun. Jarell already had Shontelle, but as she was already four, it would be nice to give the new baby a cousin the same age as them. Dee realised her and Kiki would give birth only months apart, and she looked forward to having two new babies in the family. She knew it would be a challenge but she thought they could handle it.

“Hey, have you told Jarell?” Dee asked her sister from across the room, as she remembered her brother in prison.

“Not yet. I thought I’d tell him in person on visit day.”

“Yeah, that’d be better.”

“It’s only a week away so it can wait I guess.”

“You know he’s gonna kick your ass?” Dee told her sister, and Kiki agreed. Jarell could be protective of his sisters, and he’d always given their boyfriends the ‘hurt my sister, and I’ll kill you’ speech, so his 16-year old sister being pregnant was probably not going to go down too well.

Once Tushaun had finished his dinner, Dee took him upstairs to put him in the bath and read him a story in bed. She cherished moments like these because at night, when it was just the two of them, she didn’t have to worry about Monique saying anything out of turn, or rushing around to get him ready in the morning, she could just take her time with him and enjoy his company.

She loved his questions, and the way he knew the stories by heart. Even though he couldn’t read yet, he’d know if she missed out part of the story, and make her read the page again. He always knew when it was the last page, and when Dee finished the last sentence, he would say ‘The End’ before lying down under the covers. Once she’d given him a kiss goodnight, she hovered in the doorway for a minute, just looking at him, cherishing him. She smiled as she shut the door.

There was only one person that was on her mind that night after her crazy weekend. She was exhausted and glad to be home, but she couldn’t stop thinking about Kiki’s news, and her own plans for her and the baby. She thought about her brother sitting in his jail cell and wished he was home. She thought about her mother having to live with another of her grandchildren when Kiki’s baby came along and she felt almost guilty for it. As Dee processed everything that had happened over the weekend, she stared at the text screen on her phone and sent a simple message,

‘Kiki’s pregnant.’

[] Chapter 29 – Birthday Plans

Dee must have been more tired than she’d thought because when her phone rang half an hour later, she didn’t hear the vibrating next to her; instead, her dreams were filled with cameras and flashing lights, and angry paparazzi. The next morning, she realised that Jason had tried to call her after her text message about Kiki. He’d left her a text too, to tell her he’d try calling her again tomorrow afternoon. Until then, Dee had adult shit to get done. It was Monday, and as usual, Monique would be working at the Laundromat till late afternoon.

Since she was a kid, Dee had taken her washing to the Laundromat when her mother was on duty, that way; she got to use the machines for free when the boss wasn’t there. It was a good way to save money, and while she didn’t think the boss knew, she didn’t really think she’d be bothered; after all, Monique was a loyal worker despite everything.

Before the afternoon was over, Dee had taken her laundry to get washed and seen her mom in the process, cleaned her house top to bottom and she was now heading over to her mom’s house to see Tushaun. It was now September, and Dee was 28 weeks pregnant. Her energy levels were starting to dip the more pregnant she got, and by the end of the afternoon, she was exhausted. She’d made the mistake of sitting down at home before she set off for her mom’s, and found it hard to get back up again. On top of that, she was starving, and in desperate need of food, since she’d only managed a bowl of cereal that morning before the cleaning process started.

On her way to her mom’s, she sent a text to Kiki, knowing she’d be at home. The day before, Kiki had told her sister she’d be off school the next day due to teacher training, so she would look after Tushaun for as long as she needed. It gave Dee a chance to get back on top of the housework, and she appreciated her little sister so much for helping out.

It was a exactly a week today till Tushaun’s birthday, and Dee knew she had her work cut out for her to organise a kid’s party. She’d lost track of time with everything going on lately, and she didn’t have long left. She knew Kiki would be on hand to help her organise so she’d taken the blank party invitations with her.

When Dee walked in her mom’s house, she saw Tushaun sat at the TV, engrossed in his favourite show. He greeted her without even looking up from the screen, and she carefully placed a kiss on his forehead as not to disturb him too much and let him watch his show. On one sofa, Kiki and her boyfriend J were sat side by side, Kiki with her legs strewn across his lap. They both greeted Dee happily, and Dee wasted no time in telling Kiki about the invites while Tushaun was distracted. Talking quietly, she asked the pair what they thought about a cake and decorations.

“Can’t you just bake a cake yourself?” J asked, which had the sisters bursting into surprise laughter.

“Do I look like I bake?” Dee asked J sarcastically, and he shrugged before suggesting something even more ridiculous to them.

“What about Monique?”

The girls laughed even harder this time.

“Mom baking?” Kiki mused. “I don’t think she ever did that in her life.”

“Ain’t women supposed to know how to cook?” J asked, and Kiki slapped her boyfriend playfully.

“Ey, sexist. Why don’t you bake a cake?”

“Yeah right.”

Dee watched the interaction between the couple and smiled. She’d always liked J, from the minute she met him. Sure, he was a typical moody teenage boy at times, and he’d had his fair share of trouble, but he had a good heart. Looking at where he came from, Dee was surprised he wasn’t dead, in jail or at least in care by now. His mother had to be considered the worst mother she knew, and that was saying something. She made her own mother look like Mother Theresa.

Jon Banks, aka J to his friends had grown up with a single mother, Debbie. Debbie had him when she was fourteen, and she’d never really wanted him. J’s grandmother looked after him for the first two years of his life until she became ill and Debbie had to have him back, much to her displeasure.

Debbie had never been a good mother to J, neither physically or emotionally. As a child, he learnt very quickly to look after himself, whether that meant bathing himself, feeding himself or dressing and taking himself to school. He did such a good job of it that social services never got in touch with the family. J learnt to hustle as a child, whether it was for money or for food. If he knew there was no food in the house, he’d invite himself to other children’s homes for dinner, and the parents would never oblige.

Debbie struggled with a drug addiction which made her mood swings out of control. If she’d been unable to get hold of her drugs, she’d take it out on her son, making him feel unloved and vulnerable. She threw around emotional abuse as if it was going out of fashion, and for sixteen years, J had carried that around.

Luckily, J was popular and he did his best to stay out of his own house whenever he could. As he got a little older, he found solace in friend’s homes and public libraries where he could study for school and use the computers. Despite everything, J wasn’t doing badly in school; in fact, he was pretty much on track with everybody else.

When Kiki brought J home as her boyfriend at fifteen, her family all fell in love with him. Through stories and rumours, they expected him to be a troubled kid, a thug, but he was nothing like that. It was a natural progression that J spent a lot of time at Kiki’s. At first, they were a little worried about them spending so much time together, but it turned out they were a positive influence on each other. In a way, they grew up together, and though they were dating, they were like best friends too. J would come over for dinner most nights and they’d study together, making sure neither of them slipped off the radar in school.

“What about party games?” Kiki asked, as they filled out party invitations.

“What party games is there for a three year old?” J asked, looking up from his pile.

“Pass the parcel, pin the tail…Oh, a piñata!” Dee remembered, writing down another note on her ‘to do’ list. “That’s gon’ be another thing I gotta buy.”

“Can’t you make your own Piñata?” Kiki asked.

“Yeah man, Paper Mache and shit, I could do that,” J said, looking pleased with himself.

“Would you?” Dee asked, happy she could cross something else off the buy list.

“Yeah man, what lil dude like?”

“I don’t know, spiderman, or animals or something, he loves tigers and monkeys.”

“He sits and watches animal planet,” Kiki laughed.

“Ya never know, he might end up like a vet or some shit, lil’ dude clever,” J said.

“I know” Dee beamed. “My lil’ brain box aren’t you baby?” she asked Tushaun rhetorically, though he wasn’t listening.

For the rest of the afternoon, the trio worked on ideas for Tushaun’s party. They finished up the invitations, thought about food and drink to buy, and J decided on what Piñata to make, and decided on what tools he’d need to make it. He said he’d do it just a few days before to keep it nice but also in case it didn’t work out.

By the time Monique came back from work, almost everything was organised for the party, and Dee put Tushaun to bed while her mom cooked dinner. The four of them sat round the table to eat together, which was rare, but nice.

After dinner, Dee’s phone began to ring in her pocket, and as she viewed the caller ID, she saw it was Jason.

“Thought you was calling me this afternoon?” she answered, and Jason was taken aback by her greeting.

“I’m sorry; I ended up being real busy. Are you mad?” he questioned.

Dee scoffed. “Nah, I ain’t mad. Was just saying.”

“Oh, okay. Good.”

Dee saw her family looking at her as she spoke on the phone and started to feel watched, so she stood up and left the room as she continued with the phone call. She wandered into the other room, pacing as she talked.

“I called you last night actually, but you must have been asleep already.”

“Yeah, I didn’t hear it at all, only saw the call this morning.”

“You must have been beat.”

“Yeah. I feel pregnant now.”

“Only a couple of months to go.”

“Tell me about it. I’ve just been organising Tushaun’s birthday party.”

“It’s his birthday?”

“Yeah, next week. The 24th.”

“Is he three?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow, you gotta be excited.”

“I’m kinda sad too, my baby growing up.”

Jason smiled, though Dee couldn’t see it. “Am I invited?”

“What, to his party?”

“Yeah.”

“If screaming kids if your idea of fun, sure.”

Jason chuckled. “Not really, but, I just wanna be involved, you know?”

“Okay.”

“Do you need help with anything?”

“Not unless you can bake?”

“I definitely can’t do that. I know a couple women who can though.”

“You’re not asking your mom or your nan. How they gon’ get it over here?”

“You’re talking about a cake, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sure I can arrange something.”

“Don’t be going to no trouble.”

“Don’t worry.”

“So how you feeling about your sister?” Jason asked, waiting to gage her reaction before he said anything of what he was thinking.

“It’s crazy. I’m kinda mad ‘cuz she’s too smart to do that but, it’s done now.”

“You think they’ll be good parents?”

“Kiki will. I hope J do the right thing and stick by her, you just never know.”

There was a pause on the other end before Jason spoke.

“Dee. I didn’t know whether to bring this up or not, but now I’m thinking it’s better to say something rather than it coming out years later or something…”

“What is it?”

[] Chapter 30 – No Apologies Given

Dee waited for Jason’s answer, wondering what he wanted to say. She’d never heard him sound so serious before, and the tone of his voice worried her slightly. The fact he was having some sort of moral dilemma about it too made her even more worried. She waited quietly until Jason spoke.

“You know the night of your cousin’s engagement party?”

“Yeah,” Dee replied, waiting to see where it was going.

“I was outside with Tip, and he went back in. Then I heard yelling and I saw Kiki and J arguing.”

“So?” Dee questioned, wondering why he was making a deal of it, after all, everyone argues.

“He had her pinned by her neck.”

“What?!” Dee exploded, the words hitting her as soon as they were said.

“Please don’t freak out. He left as soon as I stepped in but, I was just a little worried that it wasn’t a one time thing.”

“Don’t freak out?” Dee spat angrily, hardly hearing anything else he said.

“Dee. Listen to me. I spoke with Kiki and she said that it’d never happened before and he wasn’t like that but obviously, I don’t know him. I don’t want to speak out of term and get involved with something that’s not mine to get involved with, but-”

“But you did,” Dee interrupted.

“But I couldn’t live with myself if it was an ongoing thing and I could have stopped it. Especially now there’s a baby in the picture.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line, though Jason could tell Dee was still there. He was starting to regret saying something over the phone, and knew he should have waited until he was with her in person, though the thoughts were nagging at him all the time, and he knew he had to say something soon. He’d wondered ever since the party whether to say something to Dee, after all, if it was a real domestic violence case then it was his responsibility as a civilian and a fellow human being and do the decent thing and raise alarm. However, if it was a one time thing of teenage love getting out of hand, then he didn’t want to cause anything unnecessarily.

He’d thought about it ever since the party, and though he’d told Kiki he wouldn’t say anything, he couldn’t help but feel he had a horrible secret he needed to tell. He decided in the end that the pros outweighed the cons, after all, he could apologise for saying anything out of turn, he couldn’t however, apologise about lying to Dee and her family. When Dee had told him the night before about Kiki’s pregnancy, Jason knew this couple was in each other’s lives for good, and with a baby on the way, he needed to be sure that what he saw wasn’t anything more serious.

“I’m gonna fucking kill him,” Dee said, breaking the silence on the other end. Jason’s heart pumped loudly in his chest, the coldness of her sentence filling him with a sense of dread. What would she do?

“Dee, please.”

“Don’t fucking ‘please’ me,” she replied. “No-one puts their hands on my family.”

“Don’t do anything you’ll regret,” he told her, worrying that she was about to leave the conversation, and he wasn’t wrong. Seconds later, she told him she would call him later and ended the call. He could hear the anger in her voice, though it was almost too calm for his liking. If she was shouting and crying, he felt he could have talked her down, but her cool, calm tone suggested she’d already made up her mind. Instantly, he tried calling her straight back, hoping there was still a chance to calm her down, but the call just kept ringing, before sending him through to voicemail. In his hotel room, he sat worrying, waiting to hear back from her.

As he sat waiting, he remembered a conversation he’d had with Dee one night about the first time they met in the club. She’d laughed about a customer she’d punched in the face on the dance floor when he got a little too friendly. It surprised him how she spoke about it, that it was pretty normal and even humorous.  It was hard to believe that the same night he’d taken her to his hotel room; she’d broken some guys nose. Knowing that she was capable of doing that to a stranger, it made him worry about what she might do to somebody who hurt her family. He desperately wanted to know what she was going to do, but from the other end of the phone, he was no help. All of a sudden, he was regretting his decision to say anything in the first place.

Once Dee ended the call on her end, she stomped back into the house, her eyes seeing nothing but red. She was like a bull in a china shop, ready to stomp on anything that came into contact with her. She threw her phone down onto the kitchen counter and made her way to the front room. She saw nothing in her path other than her main goal. As soon as her eyes made contact with his across the room, she spat at him to stand up. Confused and possibly a little tipsy from Monique’s wine, J stood up.

“What the fuck?” he asked, seeing the look of anger on Dee’s face. She was like a tiger in the jungle that had just set its eyes on its prey. She could see him, and she was ready to pounce. In a few short strides she was in front of him, and since he only stood a few inches above her, she didn’t have to reach very far to punch his face with all her strength. It was over before Kiki and Monique could even react to what was happening. Soon enough, the women jumped up from their seats and raced over to J’s aid. Blood gushed from his nose and down to his lips, and now Dee had backed him into a corner of the room.

“You feel good about yourself intimidating girls?” she spat, and he looked at her with the same level of confusion that he had when she told him to stand up.

“Dee, what are you talking about?” Kiki yelled, trying to pull her sister away from her boyfriend, but failing miserably. Dee was stubborn in both attitude and strength, and once she had something in her head, it was hard to stop her.

“No-one EVER lays a finger on my family, you understand?”

“What’re you talking about?” J protested, trying to slip away to the side, but Dee put her arm out to block him in. Though he had the physical strength to move her, he decided to stay where he was; he wasn’t about to fight a woman, a pregnant woman at that.

“So you didn’t have my sister pinned by the neck at Rhea’s engagement party?” Dee asked him, and at that, Monique charged forward with the same look of anger on her face that Dee was showing, and it was clear to see they were mother and daughter.

 “Dee, it wasn’t like that. Get off him!” Kiki protested, still trying to pull her sister away from her boyfriend.

Angered now by her sisters words, Dee pulled away from J and turned to her sister, moving the heat to her.

“So how was it Kiki? Did you ask him to do it? Was it a joke? ‘Cuz Jason didn’t see it that way.”

“Jason told you?” Kiki asked, surprise in her voice, though she didn’t know how she would have known any other way.

“Yeah, he told me, ‘cuz he was worried it wasn’t a one time thing, so start talking.”

“Somebody better start talking!” Monique yelled.

“Let me explain,” J piped up, pinching his nose at the top in an effort to make it stop gushing. He looked utterly devastated, most likely not from the punch, but what was being said about him.

“No, I want to hear it from my sister first. Was it the first time?” Dee asked Kiki, who had now started crying.

“It was the only time, he’s not like that.”

“But he was like that.”

“He didn’t know what he was doing.”

“How’s that?”

“He was fucked up out his mind.”

“So you doing drugs now too?” Dee questioned J, turning back to him, and he looked like a deer caught in some headlights.

“Y’all better get out of here bringing trouble into my house,” Monique yelled, ushering them out of the room and toward the front door. “Come back when y’all sort your shit out.”

As Kiki opened the door for them to leave the house, Monique took a final look at J and told them to wait. Seconds later, she came back armed with tissues and handed a bunch to him, before looking him dead in the eye.

“If I find out you put hands on my daughter you better get yo’ ass so far away I can’t find you, ‘cuz so help me God I will cut your motherfucking balls off.”

It wasn’t unusual in their town to see people fighting on their own porch, or even out on the street, so when Dee, Kiki and J moved away from the house and down the street, nobody batted an eyelid. J held a tissue to his nose and did his best to wipe away the mess. At this point, he didn’t care much what he looked like but he preferred not to have blood running into his mouth as he spoke.

“Dee, I can’t say I didn’t do it, but I need to explain.”

“I don’t really know what you can explain.”

“Please,” he begged, seeing she wasn’t going to make this easy.

“I did do it –and I know this ain’t no excuse but I don’t remember it at all. Keeks had to tell me the next day what happened, ‘cuz my brain was gone.”

“How long you been doing drugs?”

“I don’t do that shit no more. Not now we gon have a baby and everything. I just, it helped me for a lil’ while.”

J looked emotional as he spoke, yet the tears in his eyes didn’t waver Dee’s expression, who was still looking at him with her lip curled up.

“Things was hard at home, and I just saw a way out for a lil bit.”

There was a pause of silence.

“I never meant to hurt her.”

At that, Kiki stood on her tiptoes and threw her arms around him, kissing his neck as she spoke in his ear.

“It’s okay baby.”

Dee watched her little sister hug her boyfriend, and suddenly she saw it for what it was. She’d just punched a 16-year old boy in the face and made her pregnant sister cry. Hell, she was six and a half months pregnant and was going around punching people in the nose. She took a step back and reality checked herself, suddenly, she felt a fool. He made a mistake, but he wasn’t the type to hit women.

“Come and clean yourself up,” Dee told J, as she headed back toward the house. No apology was going to be given, because that wasn’t Dee’s style. She saw apologies as a sign of defeat, a sign that you had something to be sorry for, and while she may have regretted flying off the handle a little bit, she didn’t regret trying to protect her sister. She would protect her family till the very end at all costs. 

[] Chapter 31 – Painful Memories

It had been an emotional night, and while they’d hoped that was the end of it, it seemed Monique had other things in mind. Though Monique had caused utter chaos and devastation in their lives while they were growing up, since she’d gotten clean she’d turned into a different woman; a woman that didn’t want drama in her home, a woman that wanted an easy life, and she was damned if she was taking shit from anybody these days, even if it was her own family. Whilst the three of them had stepped outside to sort out their own problems, Monique was sorting out some problems of her own, on the phone to Debbie Banks.

Whatever possessed Monique was unknown to the others, but she’d found it appropriate to phone the worst mother of the century and tell her about the trouble J had brought into her house. Monique told Debbie she didn’t appreciate the drama, and asked her whether she was aware her son was aggressive to girls. Most mothers would defend their child to the high heavens, even if you’d just told them they’d committed the worst of crimes, but not Debbie Banks.

Debbie Banks was not happy to have another mother calling her up on the evening to tell her what a bad child her son had been. She was not impressed that it had interrupted a night with her latest boyfriend and she was not impressed that the mother in question was Monique Thompson, someone who had looked after Jon a lot when she didn’t.

For Debbie, the phone call wasn’t an innocent excuse to have an argument as Monique had envisioned it, it was the defining moment she decided she’d had enough of her son once and for all. She hadn’t wanted him when she gave birth to him at fourteen, and she sure as hell didn’t want him at 30 years old, when she was in the prime of her life. High on drugs and angry at the interruption, Debbie gave Monique some choice words before she started bagging up all of J’s belongings and throwing them into the street. Debbie slurred at Monique that J had better get there quick to collect them before the homeless set on them.

At that moment, Debbie Banks became more cold, heartless and ruthless than she had ever shown herself to be. She was tossing her son aside as if he had never meant anything to her, and it was questionable whether he ever had. Monique then had the heartbreaking task of telling her daughter’s boyfriend what had just happened, and the look on his face made her decision for her in a heartbeat. She was going to move him into her home.

“She’ll probably change her mind,” J had said, used to Debbie’s sudden outbursts and overreactions.

“Honey, she ain’t changing her mind,” Monique told him, and the teenager looked as if somebody had stabbed a knife in his gut as the reality set in. Monique imagined he wasn’t actually too hurt about not living with her anymore, after all, what child could love a mother like that, but she could see the rejection on his face. No child of any colour, sex or age wanted to feel rejection. Rejection meant you weren’t good enough, you weren’t loveable, and you weren’t wanted.

As Monique and Dee watched J and Kiki walk out of the door ready to collect his things, Dee made a bee-line for the door, shutting it over before she lay into her mother.

“Did you see his face?” she yelled, furious with her mother’s actions.

“Why you yelling at me?” Monique retorted defensively.

“’Cuz you just fucking told his mom some shit she didn’t wanna hear and now she kicking him out.”

“Oh, so it’s my fault his momma don’t care about him?”

“It’s your fault that you just called her for nothing. He was sorry! What you expect her to say?”

“I don’t know,” Monique shrugged, picking up the glass of wine she was drinking before the nights events kicked off. Dee watched her mom intently as she took a sip.

“Damn it mom, could you put down the wine for five minutes and speak to me?”

“Don’t you speak to me like that!” Monique roared, as she slammed the glass back down onto the table, causing wine to splash everywhere.

“Look what you made me do!” she practically screamed at her daughter, her face full of rage. She stood up from her seat and for a matter of seconds; the women had a visual standoff, until a small figure appeared in the doorway.

“Why shouting?” Tushaun asked timidly, rubbing his eyes sleepily as he watched the events unfold.

Dee’s heart sunk as she wondered what her son had heard or seen between them, and quickly, she rushed over to him, scooping him up in her arms.

“I’m sorry baby, were we loud?”

Tushaun nodded, staring ahead at Monique. As Dee followed her son’s gaze, she saw the frosty look Monique was sporting on her face, and she turned his body away so he couldn’t see it anymore.

“Come on baby,” she told him, as she carried him up the stairs, but instead of putting him back to bed, she sat him there while she gathered a bunch of his things. She put some shoes on his feet and put a coat on him over his pyjamas, grabbing his favourite soft toy he slept with.

“We’re gonna go stay at mommy’s tonight.”

“Why?” Tushaun asked.

“Because mommy wants big cuddles tonight.”

Tushaun seemed to accept this excuse, and nodded in understanding, though Dee knew it must have been confusing for him. Truth be told, she just wanted out of this drama filled house and she wanted her son out of it with her. She didn’t want him to be woken up by anything else that night and she didn’t like the frosty look on her mother’s face. Dee’s stress levels were elevated, which people always told her wasn’t good for the baby. She headed back downstairs and told her mom Tushaun was staying with her tonight. With that, she left, leaving an angry and confused Monique shouting at the door.

Dee felt like the worst mother in the world as she carried her son through the brisk weather in nothing but his pyjamas and a coat. She looked at his face to see him struggling to keep his eyes open, every now and then they would shut over but the coldness in the air and the movement in his mom’s arms would keep him opening them again. Dee walked as fast as her baby bump would let her, wanting nothing but to get back to her house and forget the mess of the night.

Dee knew her mom wasn’t all bad, and truth be told, deep down, she loved her more than words, but she often told people what a terrible mother she was. Sometimes, she was, and memories of childhood had been ruined because of it. Dee was nine years old when her 13-year old brother was killed. It was a shock to everyone, something no-one expected; something no-one could have predicted. Dee would never forget that day, because it scarred her for the rest of her life. Sometimes she still saw her brother, lifeless, cold and bloody. She remembered Jarrell carrying his twin brother in his arms and placing him on the sofa. Mario’s head lolled to the side, he was dead, just like that.

Dee remembered seeing a change in her mother, it was almost instant. She stopped being the loud mouth mother she was used to, and she would sit around the house miserably, hardly speaking, just drinking and smoking endlessly, trapped in her own thoughts. No-one spoke about Mario very much, and Dee felt like he never existed at times. She never even spoke to her own brother about it, because she knew he was finding it hard to cope with, and she didn’t want to upset him. Kiki was only three at the time, and she never spoke about him either. She mentioned him maybe once or twice after his death but by then, she’d practically forgotten about him. Dee couldn’t blame her, after all, she was so young, but in a way she was mad at her for forgetting him – that was their brother. No-one ever spoke about their feelings, and they never cried in front of each other, it was an unwritten rule. Today, Dee still never cried in front of people. She saw it as an embarrassing thing, something to keep to yourself, and she’d never seen her family cry since that day either. It was just the way they were.

As she carried her precious boy home and put him to bed, she thought about everything that had taken place over the last few days. The fact that J had hurt her sister, the fact he no longer had a home to go to, the fact that her sister had gotten pregnant when she still had her life ahead of her. Dee thought about Jason and the baby and the lifestyle she had allowed herself to get involved with. She didn’t want her private life aired for anybody to see, and the fact she’d already seen magazines talking about Jason’s pregnant stripper was unsettling. What if those reporters soon found out other things, like her turbulent relationship with Trey, her drug dealing, her brother’s stint in prison, or her dead brother? She wanted none of it to be public knowledge, it was her family’s right to privacy and she may have ruined it all for a man. While she felt angry towards Jason for it, she also wanted nothing more than to call him and hear his voice. 

[] Chapter 32 – Proposition

When Jason picked up the phone, Dee reacted differently to what she thought she would. While she planned to just speak to him calmly and casually ask if he wanted to come over, instead she found herself emotional.

“Hey, what happened? Is everything ok?” Jason asked, a concerned tone to his voice. That was when Dee remembered she’d hung up on him to punch J and she hadn’t called him back. It was now 11pm and though it was late, Dee could tell he was wide awake.

“I’ve had a really bad night,” Dee answered, finding her voice cracking in between her sentence.

“Are you crying?” Jason asked, sounding more concerned than before.

“No,” she said, though her voice gave it away that she wasn’t far from it.

“What happened?”

“I had a fight with J and my mom so I took Tushaun out of bed to bring him home.”

“Is Tushaun okay?”

“Yeah, he’s asleep.”

“Do you want me to come over?” he asked, and while Dee would usually play it off and tell a guy no, she knew Jason was different. He would never hold this against her, she could tell he’d never bring it up in an argument ‘that time she needed him’ or any bullshit that others could. She did want him to come over, so she said she did, and with that, Jason ended the call and told her he’d be straight over.

Dee found herself pacing around the room as she waited for Jason to arrive. Every few minutes she would look out of the window to see if she could see a car’s headlights, but she’d pull herself away again and continue pacing. She wasn’t sure why she couldn’t just sit down and relax but her mind was in overdrive, and she was ready to have a conversation, something she was going over in her head. After a while, Dee pulled herself away from the window and decided to make them a drink. Seeing the half empty bottle of Patron in the cupboard, she wished she could pour herself one but instead she poured herself a herbal tea, knowing it was good for her. She poured Jason one too, and finally, she sat down at the sofa.

A few minutes later there was a quiet knock at the door, which was difficult to do on her hollow door, so Dee knew Jason must have been aware of not waking Tushaun up. As soon as she closed the door behind him he took one look at her and she made her way into his arms. It felt good to not say anything for a minute and just take in his warm body. His muscular frame felt firm and comforting against her and for a moment she closed her eyes and just took in the feeling, forgetting everything for just a moment.

“What happened?” Jason asked, following Dee to sit down on the sofa where she told him about the tea she’d made. Dee sighed, trying to think how to start.

“Basically after you called, I got pissed and confronted J about what you said, but, I kinda punched him first.”

“Dee,” Jason scolded, sounding like a disapproving parent almost.

“You tol’ me he hurt my sister so I defended her.”

“So what happened?” Jason asked, ignoring the fact he didn’t agree with her aggression.

“We fought, and then mom made us go outside to sort it out. But while we was outside she phoned J’s mom and tol’ her everything. So his bitch mom fucking kicked him out and now he got nowhere to go.”

“Shit,” Jason muttered. “What’s he gonna do?”

“Well he’s gonna live at my mom’s. He don’t really have any other choice, and it was her fucking fault telling his psycho mom anyway.”

“Is his mom really that bad?”

Dee rolled her eyes dramatically.

“You have no idea,” she told him. “She well known round here.”

“Shit Dee, I feel so bad,” Jason sighed, rubbing his face.

“Why?”

“If I hadn’t told you, you wouldn’t have acted like that and then your mom wouldn’t have made the call. It’s all just escalated.”

”So you’re basically saying it’s my fault,” Dee repeated, and Jason blinked once looking at her, wondering if he’d heard her right.

“What?” he asked.

“You’re saying it’s my fault,” she repeated.

“How did I say that?”

“If I hadn’t reacted like that. That’s what you just said.”

[
“No. I said it’s my fault for telling you like that.”]

“Which made me act like that, and it escalated from there.”

Suddenly the lip pout was on Dee’s face and Jason paced himself. He’d seen the look before, and nothing good had ever came from it.

“You don’t need to fucking sugar coat it, I know what you’re saying. I can’t be trusted to act normal when you tell me something. You think I’m fucking aggressive or some shit.”

“Dee. I never said that.”

“You implied it.”

“Well, I don’t think I did,” he told her, his brow furrowed in confusion. He found it extremely confusing how she could twist his words to make him feel like he’d said something completely different, and it was quite scary in a way. If she could do it with this serious conversation, what else could she twist.

Jason sipped his tea awkwardly, hoping she would restart the conversation, because at the moment he didn’t want to say anything else to her that she would deem out of turn. It was moments like these he felt he didn’t know this woman at all. She was a completely different person to the fun, interesting woman he’d started to date. She had an angry side, a side he felt he didn’t know and couldn’t predict. He didn’t know where that side of her came from, but he just wanted to understand the woman he was falling in love with.

“So why’d you take Tushaun?” Jason finally piped up, deciding Dee’s silence was probably there to stay.

“He heard me and mom arguing and I just didn’t want him there in that atmosphere.”

“Is he okay though?”

“Yeah, he was just tired. I felt horrible having to pull him out of bed and put his coat on and everything, carrying him round in the cold in his PJs.”

“He should live with you,” Jason said, verbalising his thoughts.

“I know that, but it was too hard. I can’t pay bills and feed and clothe him. I don’t know what to do.”

At that moment, Dee put her hand into her hands, rubbing her forehead, and Jason could see the stress she was feeling over everything. He could see how much she loved her son and how bad she felt for not living with him, how bad she felt over her actions with J. Jason never agreed with violence or aggression, but he couldn’t say anything to Dee about it. She obviously had a reason for the way she was and he wasn’t in her head.

Seeing her slumped into her hands, he thought about what he’d been up to that day, why he didn’t call her back until the evening, and how he never had a chance to tell her what he’d been up to because the guilt of Kiki’s situation had made him go for that conversation first.

He knew there was never going to be an easy way to introduce the idea to her, because he already knew that she had a stubborn nature. She didn’t take orders or suggestions from anyone else, she was her own boss and she did things her own way. If she said no, it probably meant no, and he knew he was going to have a challenge on his hands, however, if he wanted things to go his way he knew it might take time to convince her. Though she’d had a bad night, and he could tell she was stressed enough already, he decided to just come out with it. He figured her mood couldn’t get any worse to what it already was.

“I know what you can do,” he told her, and she looked up from her slump, her eyes looking intrigued as she waited for him to speak again.

“Move into the house I bought.”

“What?” she asked instantly, before her brain had chance to think about it properly. Suddenly, Jason realised she may think he meant with him, and he thought that could be pretty creepy to her, considering it was so soon in their relationship. Plus, it wasn’t what he meant at all.

“I don’t mean with me,” he explained. “I mean with Tushaun.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked again, her brow furrowing as she looked at him.

“I bought you a house, to live in with Tushaun. It’s in Detroit, and it’s yours.”

This time, Dee frowned even harder. Jason knew she must have heard him right, but maybe she just couldn’t get her head around it. “Again, what are you talking about?” she asked.

Jason smiled slightly.

“So, I suggested this to you way back, back when we were baby shopping, and you told me no, but, I want things to work out for you. I want Tushaun to come live with you. You’re gonna need more space when the baby arrives and I need somewhere to come visit you. Without sounding conceited, I’m famous, so, there’s only so long we can keep hiding out at your place before someone finds out this is where I am all the time. When the baby gets here, people are gonna want to catch a glimpse, sell photos, be up in our business. I just want to protect our family, and there’s more security at the other house, it’s safer.”

Jason couldn’t lie that he was surprised when Dee sat and listened through his whole speech, and even more so when she continued sitting silently after he’d finished, creating a little bit of an awkward silence. Awkward for him, considering he couldn’t gage her reaction. After a little while of looking at him, she finally spoke.

“You’ve really thought it through haven’t you?”

“Yeah, I have.”

“Do you really think people are gonna be up in our business with the baby?”

“Dee, I wouldn’t lie about stuff like that. Those people can be animals, and I just don’t want you to get caught up in that. Who knows what kind of crazies will find out, they might start knocking on your door, trying to get in, you just don’t know.”

“Is it close?” she asked, and Jason frowned this time.

“Is what close?” he asked.

“The house. Is it close to here, coz I don’t wanna move away from everyone.”

“It’s real close, but it’s safe.”

Dee nodded.

“Is that a yes?” Jason asked. “Are you gonna move in?”

“I don’t know,” she said, and Jason sighed.

“What’s there to not know?”

“It’s weird, like, somebody buying you a house. You ain’t just bought me a purse, it’s a house.”

“I know what it is, but it’s important. It’s more important than a purse.”

“I just don’t know,” she said again, looking mentally distressed by the situation.

“You look tired,” Jason observed, and Dee nodded.

“I am. It’s been a long night.”

“Tell you what. Let’s go get some sleep, and we’ll talk about it again tomorrow.”

Dee agreed, and the two of them made their way up the stairs to her bedroom, Jason following behind.

[] Chapter 33 – Maybe

Jason meant business when he’d asked Dee to move in to the new house. The next day, after much discussion, he’d convinced her that’s what they were doing, and even as they were packing up her stuff days later, she still deliberated whether they were doing the right thing, though he constantly reassured her and never let her change her mind. Dee told all her family and friends what Jason was ‘making her do’ and they were all happy for her.

Dee couldn’t help but feel a fool, like some woman caught up in a stupid love story or a gold digger that only wanted him for what he could buy her. Though he’d bought her the biggest gift of all, a house, as well as baby essentials, he’d never turned up with anything materialistic, such as some shoes or a purse. She knew it wasn’t through wanting, but because he knew how she’d handle it. She didn’t like the idea of people buying her things, she felt guilty, as if she didn’t deserve it, that they shouldn’t spend their money on her.

Dee had been to see the house before they started moving things in, and she couldn’t deny it was absolutely beautiful. It was like a show room house that she’d see on the TV or in one of those fancy magazines, and she couldn’t believe it was now hers to live in. She felt guilty again thinking how much it must have cost, and the fact it was already furnished saved a lot of work. As she looked at the beautiful sofas, she knew she no longer needed hers, but Jason insisted he would find a good home for them. Dee was starting to realise that though he had a ridiculous amount of money and fame, he had a kind heart. He didn’t throw money away, and rather than getting rid of the unwanted items from Dee’s home, he made sure they went to charity.

Outside of Dee’s new home at the front gate was an intercom system that people had to press to get through to her. It meant no one could turn up on the doorstep unannounced, which was a lot safer than having random people knocking at all hours, something she was used to in the hood. Now she was in her new house, she was close enough to home that she could walk or drive around whenever she wanted, but she was also further away from trouble.

It took a good few days to get everything moved into her new place, but once it was all done, Dee couldn’t believe it was finally hers. She gave her landlord notice she was moving out, but gave him the keys back straight away. Jason said he would pay the next month’s rent for her due to the short notice, and everything was sorted. She finally had a home of her own, and her son was living with her. Monique was sad to see Tushaun move out of her house permanently. Though she complained about having to raise her grandkids, she’d grown used to having him around, and really, he was never any trouble.

They’d moved into their new home in time for Tushaun’s 3rd birthday, which meant calling everyone who’d already received an invitation and changing the address, but Dee was excited to christen the house with such a perfect event. Jason had even done some groundwork with his family, and organised for their visit to fall the day before Tushaun’s party so his mom could set out baking a cake. Joy went shopping the minute she arrived in Detroit and made herself at home in Dee’s kitchen.

When the day arrived, they all woke up early to get ready for everyone arriving. J had pulled through on his promise of making a piñata, and he’d filled it with all sorts of candy. Joy had made way too much food than would fit on the table, so in between getting ready the adults snacked on the rest of the food that was left over.

Though Dee had told Trey where they were living now, his visits were getting more and more sporadic. Though Dee didn’t exactly want to invite him to the birthday party, she had for the sake of her son, and though he’d agreed to come, he turned up late. So late, he’d missed him blowing out his candles. Everything inside Dee wanted to smack him upside his head the minute he’d arrived at the party, but she had to keep it together for everybody there, and most of all for Tushaun. Despite Trey’s actions, the day had been perfect; the perfect start to a new life in a new home.

Jason had finally met the elusive Trey, and once everybody had left, Jason told Dee he didn’t like him, and that he too, in fact, had wanted to smack him upside his head. It made Dee laugh to hear him say it, and she actually appreciated the unity of the hate, rather than him trying to be nice about it. Just maybe, things would work out between them, just maybe. 

[] Chapter 34 – Labour

A week passed, and the 1st of October came. Dee was starting to feel like a real family for the first time in her life. She had the perfect house and the perfect son, and now she had a boyfriend that supported her and loved her. His family accepted her as their own, and she could finally be one of the rare people out there that could say she had nice in-laws. She routinely mentally pinched herself just to be sure this had actually happened and she wasn’t dreaming. Now she had hit seven months pregnant, Jason had released a statement to his fans to tell them he was taking a little time off from everything until his baby arrived, something most people were supportive of.

They hadn’t managed to keep Dee’s private life out of the tabloids for too long, and though Dee was a strong woman, it still hurt to read some of the things they were printing, as well as the comments people replied to online. Jason had warned her not to read the comments; he told her how nasty and brutal people could be. He reminded her that these people were behind a keyboard, and faced with her in real life they probably wouldn’t say anything. Dee knew that was probably true, but she couldn’t help but read them anyway. She’d never been in a situation in her life when her private life was advertised anywhere. No-one had ever known she’d existed outside of her hometown so to have random people mentioning her name was intriguing, and she couldn’t tear herself away from looking.

Most comments derived from the fact she was a stripper by trade, and most people couldn’t get their heads round why a respectable man like Jason would shack up with a stripper. It was funny to her how people were judging her just by her job, because that was something that had never really happened at home. People got by any way they could in the streets, so to judge somebody for what they did for money was ridiculous. If anything, you would judge them if they weren’t working or hustling to make a living, and sponging off somebody else for example. Right now, that was exactly how she felt; that she was sponging off Jason’s money and generosity. No longer did she have to pay bills, or sell drugs to make money.

She knew for certain she wasn’t living off Jason’s money forever, and she was anxious about the prospect of finding another job. What would she do? She wondered if her new found ‘fame by association’ could help her get some more acting or modelling jobs. She’d modelled in the past, but found it hard to get the money to travel to casting calls, and acting jobs were hard to come by, though she had starred in that one music video. Music videos, movies, modelling; she wanted to do it all, but she was worried that for one, she might not get any offers, or two, she might get offered things purely because she was with Jason, and she wasn’t sure she wanted that either.

The pair had already set about making one of the spare rooms into a nursery. The colour was already neutral, so they’d placed wall stickers of animals around it, making it a little brighter and more baby friendly. Now, they just needed the furniture to make it complete. Though they’d both agreed it was too early for them to be moving in together, it seemed stupid for Jason to be staying at a hotel when there was a perfectly good house now, plus he was her boyfriend, it wasn’t exactly unusual to want to be in the same bed.

Dee had made sure she’d had the chat with Tushaun about what Jason was to her. Though she’d initially introduced him as her friend the first time they met, it was too complicated to explain why he was practically living there with them, and she needed to make him understand that he was the new baby’s daddy, though he wasn’t his. As usual, her little boy took it all in his stride.

As a result of practically living at the house, Jason was spending a lot of time with Tushaun, and he had to admit he loved that kid. He was a real little character and everything he said had Jason laughing. He felt like they were starting to become a family already, and he knew the new baby would just be icing on the cake for them. He’d never expected a pre-made family like this, but he couldn’t imagine it any other way now.

It had been a long day for Dee, who had been busy doing housework, cooking dinner, and adding some finishing touches to the house, so she hadn’t noticed so much that the niggling pain she’d woken up with had been getting progressively worse as the day went on.  It had started almost as a flutter, but now that she was sedentary, she noticed it was more than a niggle, more than a flutter. She tried to ignore it the best she could, but as she sat chatting idly with Jason by the television, he noticed the look on her face.

“Are you okay?” he asked her, watching her wince as she touched her stomach.

“I don’t know.”

“Is it the baby?”

“Yeah. I think so,” she said, before a pain hit her so hard it took her breath away.

“Fuck,” she exhaled, as her body tensed up in response.

“Dee, what’s happening?” Jason asked, growing more concerned by his girlfriend’s facial expressions. He stood up to move closer to her and that’s when he saw her face change. It was no longer a look of pain, but one of utter terror.

“My water broke,” she said through tears.

[] Author Note

Thank you to anybody who has taken the time to read this book. It genuinely means a lot to me. I hope you’ve fallen in love with Dee and Jason in the same way that I have, and that you continue to support their difficult relationship. This isn’t the end of their story, but merely the beginning. You can continue on their journey in the next instalment of the Synergy series.

If you’ve enjoyed this book, please consider leaving me a review at Amazon or Goodreads. As a new and self-published author, it’s extremely difficult to make a name for yourself, and reviews are so important so that others can discover your work.

Thank you for reading. Hopefully I’ll see you at part 2!

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Georgia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resistance (The Synergy Series #2) Coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[] About the Author

Georgia Payne was born in a small town in England in 1991. She has studied Criminology, Sociology and Psychology, and is passionate about people.

 

Meeting and working with a diverse range of characters, she hopes to use this to her advantage and bring diversity to the books she writes, bringing under-represented groups to the forefront of her fiction.

In her spare time she runs a music blog, and has always had a keen interest in celebrity culture. Her debut novel ‘Synergy’ brought her two main interests together, in a contemporary romance with a difference. 


Synergy

Murder, drugs and violence are the norm for 22-year-old Dee Thompson. In her small neighborhood in Detroit, she makes her money stripping and dealing drugs, but she wants more for her 2-year-old son, before he too, gets trapped in her world. From a young age, Dee learnt to keep her feelings under wrap, but her anger is something she can't control. Jason Taylor is an international star. He may be a household name, but on the inside, he's a down-to-earth southern man. Honest and charming, with a smile that can melt the nation, he's dated plenty of women in the industry, but they just don't excite him anymore. When the pair meet in Detroit, neither of them expect to see each other after their one night encounter. Dee's world is a far cry from Jason's luxury lifestyle, and she's not willing to let him break down the walls she's spent years building up, but Jason has always loved a challenge.

  • Author: Georgia Payne
  • Published: 2015-12-29 01:50:14
  • Words: 77369
Synergy Synergy