“I could’ve been a princess, you’d be a king. Could’ve had a castle and worn a ring but noooooo, you let me goooooo!”
Our very own Princess of China belted out the Rihanna assisted Coldplay song at top volume. I knew the reason behind her karaoke session but others in the neighborhood weren’t so understanding of the live entertainment. Washington Avenue at two in the morning was, for the most part, silent. Most of its residents were fast asleep but Ayanna couldn’t be told that and I was too much of a friend to stop her fun. Without a care, she sang perched on Liam’s back as we trekked home from a very eventful evening.
A pregnancy discovery.
A revealing/disturbing altercation.
A case of arson.
I had witnessed all three happenings and although none involved me directly, I was emotionally drained. And in dire need of the dark stuff. Me, Yoshi and Ayanna had located a watering hole per her request and proceeded to drink ourselves under the table. I guess that applied to Ayanna more than us. While we were almost too disgusted to really enjoy ourselves. Ayanna made best friends with the bartender. She was the life of the party, charming anybody she said two words to. She was enigmatic and carefree, the opposite of what she should’ve been after having the final showdown with Max. It was done this time, I could tell. Absolutely nothing was going to to align them again. I was relieved. I was saddened. I was a lot of things but dealing with my feelings would have to come later. Yoshi and I had agreed to show our friend a decent time, keeping our thoughts to ourselves.
We let her indulge.
Ayanna wasn’t sloppy drunk but she wasn’t feeling any pain either.
Since I deemed myself responsible for her, it was my duty to get her safely home. I could handle her on my own but Liam volunteered to escort us back, carrying her since it sped up the process. We had to look strange as we walked. I was holding Liam’s hand while Ayanna caught a ride on his back but I had insisted that she get special treatment. My guilt factored into that. After everything I’d heard, I felt the need to be overprotective. I followed behind Liam the four flights of stairs up to Ayanna’s room. She’d been between two places and ever since this morning, she had yet another residence. She told us about her home purchase but tonight she was going back to her old space. I needed to keep an eye on her. Liam deposited her carefully on the bed, seeing my worry before I could remove it from my face. I hadn’t filled him in on the events of the evening but he knew something unpleasant had taken place.
Ayanna sat up clumsily, letting her hair down. She patted my boyfriend’s hand, pulling him closer. “You know what Liam,” she said, “you are one down-ass white boy. Like the downest I’ve met. You are officially family. You’re my brother, okay? I got mad, mad love for you because you are there for my girl and you genuinely love her and not because you think she’s exotic or because she got pretty brown skin or because you assume that being with a black girl is some item to cross off your bucket list. You care about what counts and that is her insides.” She reconsidered. “Not those insides but the other ones. I appreciate that.”
Liam grinned. “Your approval means the world to me. You’re important to Leah which means you’re important to me. We’re here.” He directed his two fingers between the both of them and she gave him dap. “I’ll let your get your rest.” He leaned down and kissed me, sending a flurry of butterflies loose in my stomach. “And I’ll see you in a few.” He hadn’t said anything so enticing but in my mind, everything he did was suggestive. I would like nothing more than to see him in one of our beds but he realized that the welfare of my best friend was a current and pressing issue.
I didn’t have to choose.
I was left alone with Ayanna but the minute I had something concrete to say, her phone rang. Eyes half-closed, she found it and answered. “Yo,” she said tiredly. I was sure it was Mosai on the other end when a wide smile spread across her face. He was the only one who’d been making her smile like that for a while now.
“I miss you too lover,” she cooed. “Especially since I’m horny as I don’t know what right now.”
I looked away, covering my mouth to stop an embarrassed laugh. We shared a lot but I wasn’t sure I was comfortable knowing that information when I was sitting less than a foot away. I managed to hear Mosai’s reply. I knew for sure that I was not okay with their raunchy talk then and cleared my throat. Ayanna mouthed “sorry.” “Babe, let’s keep it clean okay. Leah’s not cool with our higher level of comfort…Yes, I’ve been….Uh-huh. Three Long Islands, a couple vodka tonics, some shots—basically the whole bar. I’m on cloud-motherfucking-nine…I went out with the crew but I’ll tell you what happened later…Yes, I’m safe and sound…Uh-huh…Tomorrow….Until…Love you lover.”
She let the phone fall and squinted at me. “The man says to tell you thanks. He knows you got me here in one piece.”
“You’d do the same for me,” I replied searching for something she could sleep in. When I found her XO t-shirt, I was prepared to put her in it but she politely avoided me. “Lee, I know it might not seem like it because I am pretty sloshed at the moment but I’m good. You don’t gotta hover. I’m not helpless and even if I was for a very short period of time, I’m not anymore. Nothing, I mean nothing, is on you. Please understand that.”
“But I’m sorry that you had to hear what you did but I’m squared away. I don’t another choice but to be. That person does not exist for me. It’s done. It took me confronting him and blowing up a certain baby momma’s car but it’s over. I’m okay, you know why? Because that whole situation is finally behind me so take it easy on the guilt. You couldn’t have know what I didn’t show you. Other than that, I’m only trying to have a good time. Don’t read to much into my inebriation. I got it from here.”
I didn’t want to let anything go but this time Ayanna was adamant about it. I couldn’t make myself believe that she was totally okay but sometimes you did more harm than good by furthering a point. It felt like I was leaving her out there again but I conceded.
“Okay Ayanna but I’m right downstairs and I’m going to check on you repeatedly and….and….”
“And I’m so sorry for everything that happened to you,” I said that rushed, hugging her so quickly that it took her by surprise but she held me. It was only then that I realized I was trembling. To say that I’d been holding in my angst regarding this was an understatement. I’d been internalizing my feelings, trying not to place them on her or anybody else. I felt horrible. I felt like the worse possible person because even though this wasn’t my fault, it was my job to notice the signs and do something about them. I only did that after the fact. I was just having trouble with the notion that this was happening behind the same walls we shared.
Ayanna rubbed my back. “Fuck Leah, stop this okay? Don’t even think about crying on me. As this beautiful gay man once told me, we’re too pretty to cry. Trust that we’re going to have more shitty things happen to us. We gotta store up the tears for a later date and this is not the date. It’s over. I can see clearly now. The rain is gone.”
I didn’t want to but I laughed.
She caught a tear before it had a chance to fall and grinned. “I’m serious about unnecessary water loss. Leah you’re my girl. Thick and thin but don’t carry this. The actions of one person don’t have to do with you. Now I need you to get yourself together and get lose. You got a man to make use of and I gotta sleep shit off.”
I nodded. “I love you Ayanna.”
“Love you back.”
I followed her instructions and left her room. I undressed and went downstairs, my heart still heavy on the subject. Liam was laying across the couch in the living room. It was the one we practically christened the first time we made love but those feelings of lust weren’t there as I nestled against him. He slipped his arm through mine, brushing his cheek against my neck.
“What is it Leah?”
I made a tired sound and buried my face in his arm. His scent put me at temporary ease and made my words come out smoother than before. “We saw Max tonight. Him and Ayanna had it out and more things happened to her than she let on. He’s sick, Liam. What I heard, it makes me sick. I’m not naive. I know how cruel people can be but I keep getting surprised by then and it doesn’t feel nice. How could you be with someone, live with them for so long only to have them turn on you like you’re a stranger? And even a stranger doesn’t deserve that treatment. I just…it’s scary. You have to promise me that we won’t end up like that.”
He heard my distress. Max and Ayanna were a cautionary tale playing out right before my eyes. It was disheartening. If tragedy could occur between them, it could happen with anybody. Relationships didn’t come with a warranty, no insurance or safety net. Nothing was going to catch you and put you back on your feet when it was all said and done. You hit the ground, you hit it hard and it was you that would be left with the damage. Maybe it was foolish but I didn’t want that to happen. For once, I wanted something to withstand. I was committed. I was ready to go the long haul with Liam but the future might have other plans. I didn’t know what was going to happen, all I could do was hope and pray that if we did end, we didn’t end like Ayanna and Max.
“I promise,” Liam said holding me closer. “We’re not them and even if we became very different from who we are, we’ll know when to let go but that won’t happen because I’m going to always need you. I can’t exactly afford to live without you now.”
I blushed deeply. “You were doing it before,” I pointed out.
“Was I really?”
I sat up and looked down at him with a tender smile. Liam had the habit of saying the most heartwarming thing at the right moment. My worries were valid but not so acute now that he’d talked me into believing him.
“More than that. I don’t want you to ever regret your decision.”
We hadn’t had much conversation about me shutting out another man for him but somehow Liam was understanding. When I kept to myself or gave off the vibe that I needed space, he allowed me that because as much as I was secure with him, I couldn’t manage to forget another. Tremain continued to be on my mind and he wasn’t going anywhere. The need to reach someone became more pronounced when you couldn’t. Periodically I’d been calling his office. I just wanted to hear Tremain’s voice, I guess just to gauge how he was. There was a flaw in my plan because he had no interest in speaking to me. That message was delivered by his assistant. The last time I called he let me know where Tremain and I stood.
“He isn’t here,” he said. He then lowered his voice. “Leah don’t waste your time okay? The boss is not going to talk to you. He is how he is. He’s playing the part of the rock and you’re not bound to get anything out of him. I don’t know what happened between you two but he’s not feeling very hospitable as of late.”
I hung up feeling even worse than I already did.
We were broken up but I couldn’t turn off my feelings in accordance. Instead of letting that go, I was holding onto things. I didn’t regret my decision, I just regretted the consequences of it.
“I love you,” I told Liam. “That’s more important than anyone or anything else.”
Without further question, he accepted my words and thankfully, changed the subject. Soon our relationship would hit a milestone. We would both meet each other’s families, my now single mother was excited for me to meet Liam’s mom and even made me promise to make introductions via video chat. Things were coming together for me in a way I had never dreamed of but I guess life shaped up that way sometimes. I always had this idea that my disease would overshadow anything good in my life but I was finding out different.
I was going to be happy.
Except for a few details, I already was.
The only thing interfering with that was Tremain but I had to let that go. If he wanted nothing to do with me than I was in no position to push contact. I was going to have to move on regardless of any closure I might want to have. I would be shutting down that whole portion of my past after my last interaction with Spider.
“This is going to work,” I mumbled under my breath.
“What was that?” Liam asked stroking my arm.
“Everything is going to be fine,” I said. “I know it is.”
It just goes to show you how optimistic I wanted to be at the time. I was hopeful about my state of affairs but I wouldn’t be so positive the morning I sat down with an ex-criminal.
Last night was catastrophic.
Everything that could’ve been done to fuck up things for me had been done and the whole disaster was my doing. I was out here with my prospects even more obsolete than before. Things for me had met and surpassed the point of hopelessness. I was out here with nothing tying me down. I had no legs to stand on, nothing to my name. You’d think that would bother me, that I’d be crawling the walls trying to escape my skin but my mind wasn’t at any of those things. In fact, you’d think that my life was in perfect order and not in the shambles it was because I was cool.
It was almost like I accepted everything wrong with my existance.
I didn’t, of course. I just couldn’t break this calm I was under. It was so heavy that I was twisting underneath it. I shouldn’t be carrying on like all was in order but once again, my image told another story. The man staring back at me in the mirror had this cool reassurance and a twinkle in his eye. It’s what made me avoid any reflective surface. I was afraid. It was now a constant in my life because more and more I was getting swallowed by no other than me. I talked to Schafer, told her as best I could what it was I was going through and she related it to my conscious. She reasoned that I felt so much guilt and shame that I was unknowingly coping with it by creating some alter ego. She said that I wasn’t dealing and that when I truly began to, I wouldn’t have these split personality problems.
That was one theory.
Another one was that I was clinically insane.
That word was taken too lightly nowadays, thrown around and normalized but when you felt the decline of your mind, when you knew you were helpless to do anything about it, you couldn’t find the good or the positive of anything. I was lost and no one was coming toward me. Anybody that I wanted to turn to wasn’t there. My short list of close people was at a zero. Rodney was holding onto his promise not to make contact and Joelle? Well she thought it was best for the both of us if I moved out of her place. Like the sad example I was, I stood on the other side of her door, bags in hand, trying to apologize for the total obliteration of her car by fire bombing. I promised her what I had saved and the sales from the show but with an exhausted shake of the head, she turned me down.
“I don’t care about the car and I don’t need your money,” she said. “It’s what all of this means. The situation you have with her—it’s impossible and I can’t be a part of it. I honestly don’t know what I’ve been doing with you all this time. I was kidding myself by thinking we could have some variation of a family but I get it now. You are never going to let her go. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. I know that you love this baby, it shows in the things you do but you don’t love me. You never did. That doesn’t hurt so much anymore. We have to deal with each other but only for them. I’ll let you know when I have any pertinent appointments or anything changes but other than that, we are not connected.”
With a firm nod, she closed the door in my face.
I probably should’ve felt more about the mother of my child ending our relationship but she wasn’t the woman plaguing my mind.
“Eat something, you look pale.”
Observations by the other person who tied for most important in my life.
I would’ve taken offence to anyone else telling me about myself but when your mother decided to tell you her thoughts, you gave her the leeway to. She’d just gotten in from her job and found me sitting in her living room. Instead of relaxing and putting her feet up like I pleaded with her to do, she stood over the stove and made Lomo Saltado. My favorite thing to eat didn’t even spark my interest but I brought the fork up to my mouth anyway. Neither of us said much but I had to fill her in on my newest developments.
“If you are not at Joelle’s, then where are you staying Max?” Her tone was quiet, her eyes trying not to show their disappointment but like with everyone else, I saw it.
“I’ve got a place. It can probably be permanent if I want it to be.”
As long as I continued to give up my dick on demand.
The gallery owner, the lady I was now in business with, I was now conducting negotiations with in bed. We wound up sleeping with each other somewhere between me getting kicked out of my temporary housing and showing up at my mother’s. During the process of clothing removal, she had offered me the one-bedroom apartment she’d won during her recent divorce. At this point, I wasn’t in the position to turn down any place to live. Even if it came with strings. I wouldn’t be paying rent. My performance inside her had won me that. Trading my body for a roof over my head had never been something I’d had to resort to but this was a new day and I wasn’t a kid anymore. I would do what I had to do for survival and if that meant blowing a 40-year old’s back out every now and again I would do just that. It was all worth it in a way. My new place was in Brooklyn. I wasn’t going to label that as a coincidence, as fate’s way of bringing me closer to home but being back there had to mean something. It wasn’t Fort Greene but Clinton Hill which was just as good. Close to school and other things.
I cut into my food unenthusiastically, cognizant of my mother staring at me the whole time. She wanted to know what had happened last night at my show.
“She came,” I said finally. “I asked you for that and you got her to come. You have no idea how much I appreciate that but things didn’t play out the way they were supposed to do. I’ve done too much damage and I want you to know that I’ve learned my lesson. I can’t fix things. I realize that so I have no other choice but to back away. For good now. I love her but love isn’t always a good thing. My love isn’t healthy for her.”
I was saying all the right things and my sincerity was believable. For a few seconds I believed it even. I was poison to Ayanna. The wounds I had inflicted on her were more than skin deep and I’d seen it in her eyes that she was done with me but Joelle was right. I felt at my core that I’d never be quite finished with her. Now it was just about regulating the inevitable. Maybe that’s why I was so calm. I had accepted that I wouldn’t get over her, that I couldn’t. All I had to try to do was not make any waves. I couldn’t make a spectacle of myself. I had to have her in my life but not be in hers. It was all very complicated but I knew of a few ways to keep in touch with her without actual contact. I knew better than to say any of this to my mother. It sort of went against what I was telling her right now.
“I’m glad that you have come to this point Maximilian. You have to let people go sometimes. Ayanna is a beautiful person, a beautiful soul and she deserves some happiness. She deserves what you can’t give her.”
That stung but I nodded anyway. I was playing the role of the changed man. The reformed man. I was almost fooling myself into believing that I could live without her.
I spent the evening with my mother, doing all the things good sons do. I fixed a couple of things around the place, helped her with the dishes and danced with her to her favorite record. I almost felt normal. By night, my mother was in bed, aged photo albums across her lap. She was gushing over childhood pictures of me while I was almost indifferent to them. I was good looking. Nobody could look cuter with their hair parted to the side in a miniature suit but I looked like the perfect target. I was the kid you picked on in school, the one you wouldn’t let into a game of basketball, the one you picked last for anything. That had always been a constant for me throughout it all.
I felt weak most of the time.
I wasn’t that little boy anymore but that feeling of inadequacy was still there. If I hadn’t been saved by the girl with the big hair back then who knows where’d I be. If I hadn’t been sheltered and looked after everyday since, I wasn’t even sure I would’ve made it. I know I wouldn’t have. I wasn’t solid enough and what did that mean? That I was weak. I had lashed out, maimed, ridiculed all because I needed to prove to myself some measure of strength. Maybe it had to do with manhood, maybe it had to do with a power trip, I didn’t know but it all came back to that.
Because it all came back to her.
Ayanna was the blood running through my veins, she was my air and I was being deprived. I tried to stay in the moment, listen and respond to whatever my mother was saying as she reminisced but I was doing some remembering of my own. I recalled what had been done to me when I was thirteen and how I’d committed that same act with joy. I relished hurting her. I had taken personal pride in it. I could still feel her nails digging into her arms…her shaking…her sobbing…
I jumped off my mother’s bed, forcing myself to not look so out of it. “I better go, ma. I’ve got work to do and I need to sleep.”
She closed the album and got up. “Maybe that’s best. You should get your rest. Let me get leftovers for you, mijo.”
I was right behind her, practically itching to get out of the shoebox apartment even though all I had to look forward to was a potential booty call and the walls closing in on me. When you were permanently anxious, anywhere seemed better than the place you were. I dropped my keys and went down to get them.
That’s when I saw it.
It was a flat trunk, gold decorations around the corners. I pulled it from under the bed, curiosity making me open it. There were only sentimental items. Keepsakes my mother had held onto from Peru. A tattered diary, some faded postcards, loose photographs but under all of that was something more interesting. I picked it up, staring at it with appreciation.
I quickly slipped it into the inner pocket of my jacket and pushed the box back in place. “I’m coming.”
“Ladies and gentlemen introducing, Bae I and Bae II.”
That served as the caption on her latest Instagram post. @akelly had over twenty thousand followers and with this picture she was bound to gain even more. It was on the Internet already that they were pursuing something but an official confirmation solidified things. They were together and she was happy to tell the world. And coincidentally me. I was one of the twenty thousand. Not as myself of course. A dummy account was my access to her everyday life now. She’d never been huge on social media but with her sarcasm, humor and looks she’d gained some status. Most of Brooklyn knew Ayanna already but now people across multiple countries were in awe of her.
Everybody was catching up to what I felt since the beginning.
Between FEMME’s launch, her posted writing on Tumblr and everyday outings, I was kept up on what she was doing and today she was professing love. To him. And his daughter. Mosai was laying across grass with a book in hand while Davina rested comfortably on his back listening. A series of other photos showed all three of them with ice cream, Davina in Ayanna’s lap. She always claimed to be a bad influence but she looked beautiful with children. She’d have some of her own one day, they just wouldn’t be mine like I originally anticipated. Another wave of jealousy came over me, so intense that I gritted my jaw to the point of pain but very slowly I resisted the urge. I had to be okay with this. I had to keep reminding myself that Ayanna was happy. And that I couldn’t make her that way. I won out this time, no pop-up voices playing the devil’s advocate in my head but my restlessness couldn’t be helped. Cautiously, I removed the arm from around me and got out of bed. Valerie, my benefactor had come over for a evening of non-committal fucking and I didn’t turn down the chance to bury my frustrations in her but now it wasn’t enough.
I got dressed and took to the street, my hiding spot calling my name. I passed a few people, some girls tried to make eye contact but I had one focus. It couldn’t be coincidence that we had both moved to the same area. When I sat on the brownstone for days at a time and didn’t see her, I just thought she had moved in with her new man but hearing innocent conversation had informed me of the opposite. Leah and Liam had passed by me on our old block, talking about how they were going to go paint Ayanna’s “new place.” They passed right by me, not even noticing who I was. I was an afterthought to everyone. A reason to take a detour for others. Rodney happened to be in one of my classes and made it a point to sit furthest away from me every time. When there was only one seat left, he turned around and walked back out.
That was my influence now.
I was ostracized from the group I had always known so I didn’t feel bad about this. It didn’t violate anything. She said if she saw me, I’d be in for trouble but that wasn’t happening. A full week and she hadn’t noticed me. She wouldn’t. She was all that I had and if sitting across the street from her loft was the only way to establish a one-way connection than I was going to do it. She was always alone and sometimes she forgot to pull her curtains closed. This was another one of those nights. I waited for her to appear but when she did come into a view it was with him. My heart clenched. I wanted to see her. Just her. That way I could ignore that I wasn’t a factor in her live anymore but that notion was crushed. The windows were open so not only could I hear but I could see. Ayanna pushed Mosai down on the windowsill with a smile, discarding her t-shirt and his. She got on his lap, her hands spread across his back as she moved back and forth. Her pretty face tensed, her hair falling over her face and his head but the soundtrack provided me with enough detail. Ayanna was moaning softly, murmuring something in his ear I couldn’t make out.
She hadn’t been that way with me.
She’d showed her appreciation, made some noises, let me dominate her but she hadn’t submitted. She hadn’t given me all of her, that higher-level of intimacy was apparently reserved for Mosai. She was soft in a way that I had never seen because he brought that out of her.
The only thing I’d gotten was fear.
And disrespect. She fucking disrespected you.
I shook my head, attempting to squash my inner monologue. “No,” I mumbled. “I did that to her. She deserves something of her own.”
"She deserves to be punished. She left us to be with him. Him! This pretty boy fuck. He doesn’t know her. You know her. You’re what’s best and even if you aren’t, that doesn’t matter. You want her, you get her. That simple. Listen to them. Listen to her moan. That bitch is ungrateful and she doesn’t know her place. It’s your job to put her in it. The motherfucker too.”
I paused, a few of those words making me consider them.
“It’s okay to hate her. There is no love without hate but you have to do something about it. Sitting out here, watching her night after night is weak. It’s pathetic. Do something about her.”
I stared up at the silhouette of Mosai and Ayanna, angry tears building in my eyes. I couldn’t take it but I couldn’t hurt her. I can’t. I repeated that multiple times until it was just me in my head. When I heard nothing more internally I gasped, my chest heaving up and down. The pressure, the frustration, the anxiety, I needed a release. My hand wrapped around it, squeezed so tight that it caused pain. When my shoulders fell, when I felt some return to normalcy Ayanna was gone and my hand was wet.
Blood ran down my fingers, a long gash across the center of my palm.
I hadn’t been without it since I lifted it without consent.
My mother’s knife was my new best friend.
It started like any other day.
Alarm at 6 am, run around Fort Greene, shower and breakfast. I took my meds, I got dressed and I went about my normal activities. The only thing different about this morning was that I would be coming into more money than some people saw in their lifetime. Millions of dollars were going to be at my disposal but I wasn’t going to use a dime of it. Not for myself anyway. I wasn’t unfamiliar with the premise of dirty money, I knew for a fact that my father was involved in something opposite of the law but I didn’t have to be okay with the idea of it. I had all I required, more than I needed but others weren’t so fortunate. I could help with my time, energy and attention but cash did a lot to assist also. My list of charities and organizations locally and nationally was compiled. All I needed were the funds. It was going to be a simple, quick process. Meet with a former gangster and all around bad guy along with his lawyer and collect a check. This would take no more than ten minutes and I felt okay. Enough to go alone but I was still grateful for her not taking no for an answer.
No matter what the occasion was, she had your back.
Ayanna just inspired a feeling of safety. Even in a cat-eared beanie and flannel shirt. I was dressed unremarkable in a t-shirt, sweater and jeans, the business at hand more important than how I looked. As always, Liam complimented my looks. He’d probably find me attractive in a garbage bag, he was just that in love with me. I had the same feelings when it came to him but I was more than justified. My boyfriend was nothing less than beautiful. He wanted to come, to support me but he had things to take care of at school. A dreaded trip to Columbia’s Financial Aid Office was in store so Ayanna was my company. Liam and I would be spending more than enough time together shortly. In exactly two days, we’d be in Scotland. Ayanna and I headed to the subway station hand in hand, behaving like our former selves, the versions before some of our most treasured relationships had to end. I had settled nicely into my life with Liam and Ayanna? I don’t think I had ever seen her happier. She wasn’t even smoking as much. We were both in good places and it was as miraculous to me as it was to her.
“This is gonna sound bad but this feels too weird not to mention,” Ayanna said when we boarded the G train. “I have nothing to complain about in my life right now and it’s bugging me out. Mosai and I are banging like bunnies, we talk, we laugh and my love for him is more than I ever thought it could be. We’re deep and I can’t ask for more.”
I smiled, more happy for her than I was for myself. She deserved all the good things bound to come to her. Hell, we both did. We crossed the river into Manhattan bringing us that much closer to our destination.
Less than fifteen minutes later, we were entering Cipriani Downtown. I was sure the place wasn’t open for breakfast but this was no regular sit down or for the purpose of sharing a meal. The restaurant was empty except for the two men seated at one of the middle tables. One was a balding, white with an impressively expensive suit. He was a lawyer. From what I had heard the lawyer to the criminal du jour. If you were high profile enough and had the cash to afford his retainer and hourly rate, he’d represent you no matter what you were guilty of. The prime example of that was the other man sitting next to him. He was Romel, otherwise known as more dead than alive. It felt strange now that I had ever been intimidated by him at all. This person who represented my darkest nightmare was slowly becoming a fading memory. The fading part applied especially because Romel was not who he was from just a few weeks ago. He was smaller, eyes gaunt, his hand shaking when he attempted to gip his glass. He didn’t even stand when we approached. Not because he lacked social graces but because it would do him more harm than good.
“Leah,” he greeted plainly. “Miss.” He held his hand out to Ayanna but she glared at him. He chuckled. I don’t think he’d take her so lightly if he really knew what she was capable of.
We sat, both of declining to order anything. For whatever reason I was suddenly nervous. Not about receiving the money. Once it was signed over it wasn’t going to be mine anyway. No, something else was making me feel uneasy. I just couldn’t place it. Ayanna seemed to pick up on my angst and gave me a wink. I took a breath and we got down to business. Multiple signatures were required, the lawyer reading the required statements but it only took me twenty minutes to come into 3.45 million dollars. Once the transfer was confirmed in my name, it hit me that I was actually going to be able to help a great deal of people. It felt nice that I could back up my service with real funds. I didn’t feel a “thank you” was in order. I could never thank the man that had infected me but I needed to say something.
“You did the right thing,” I said as we got up.
It was only then that I noticed he was walking with a cane. And not very well. The lawyer excused himself, climbing into the back of a chauffeured car, leaving the three of us. Ayanna had stepped literally two feet away, still vigilant. Like me she couldn’t dissociate Romel from his former self.
“After a life of wrong, that’s what I was aiming for,” he replied, coughing into a handkerchief. “I’m just glad I could do this. You’re trustworthy. You’ve always been a good girl and you always will be.”
Those were his last words.
Romel opened his mouth to say something else but he only gasped for air. There was a popping sound, blood spraying me across the face. My hearing went out, my outside perception following. Everything became muted. The sun was shining too bright, I was too cold and there was a lifeless body at my feet. I looked up slowly barely recognizing who stood there. My heart dropped into a level lower than my stomach, a dangerous bout of nausea threatening me. I shook my head as Ayanna muttered a surprised “fuck.”
“What did you do?” I think I asked.
The answer was obvious even more to the two nearby cops. A lifeless body, a smoking gun and a black man all wrapped up in a very apparent crime. I jumped as he was tackled and wrestled to the ground. His face was shoved into the pavement but he managed to look up at me. The look on his face I couldn’t decipher but I could make out the smile he gave me. It was numb, like none of this was touching him. My heart stopped. Everything stopped. People surrounded, more cops came an ambulance arriving. I got examined but nothing on me was hurt, not externally. I couldn’t take my eyes off him and he didn’t dare to look away. He stared at me from the back of a squad car while blood was cleaned off my face, that same smile haunting me. Sirens blared, him mouthing something to me.
“Because I love you.”
Tremain was giving me the motive for his crime ♥