“Bitch, he’s divorced! I can’t meet with him no more. The only thing stopping me from wrapping my damn legs around his waist when he walked through the door was the thought of his wife having to go through that bullshit all over again. I’ve grown a conscience.”
“Well good for you, Mother Teresa.” Tasia joked over the phone. She’d become my listening ear over the past few months. A connection I definitely didn’t see coming since I pretty much don’t fool with females. “And if he’s as fine in person as he is on his Facebook page, you won’t be keeping those legs together much longer. Snag him, sis.”
I busted out laughing, as was usually the case anytime I was talking to this fool. But in all seriousness, I really wasn’t tryna take it there with Josh. The playing field was too uneven. With me being the one who got left in the dust on the last go around after being his certified side-piece, I’d be a fool to assume that I was good enough, even after he’d parted ways with his wife.
“Nah, it’s all lust and mirrors with me and Josh. And I’m in a different place than I was seven years ago.” I explained, talking over my shoulder at my phone on the counter, pulling a batch of snickerdoodle cookies out of the oven. “Anyway, when are you coming down? We need a spa day or something. This new gig has everything on me aching.”
“Soon, I hope. I’m homesick.” She sighed. “Aries is in football mode with the play offs, and my eyes are bleeding from all this damn homework.”
“I tried to tell you those online courses are harder than studying on campus. I barely made it through the first semester.” I grabbed a spatula and moved the cookies off the baking pan and onto the cooling rack. Me and Tasia had both taken on college and were having our asses handed to us. Of course, Tasia had a head start, walking into her final semester, about to secure an Associate’s in psychology, which was fitting, given her unique life experiences.
Over the past two months, I’d landed a gig as a janitor at the local hospital, and the pay was more than sufficient to keep me afloat. I can’t remember ever really wanting to be anything as far as careers went, but while interacting with staff and a few patients in passing, something sparked my interest in the nursing field.
At thirty-seven, I knew that entering college would be a giant leap. But I’d read in one of the self-help books Tasia sent me that every journey starts with a single step, and there was no such thing as being too old to start.
I’ll admit, the pending meeting between me and my son did kind of push me a little harder. And they never said it with words, but I’m pretty sure my girls didn’t exactly look at me as a role model. With all the moving around and me leaving them behind to be somebody’s else’s responsibility, they probably thought I was the most wayward bitch in the world. And I was gonna change that. Even though I didn’t know those thoughts to be true, I was gonna change the woman I’d displayed to my children as well as the child who didn’t know me at all.
“Well, I didn’t have much of a choice.” She breathed out, probably loosening her pants the way I’d noticed her doing whenever she was stress eating. “Tryna be a supportive girlfriend and shit, and that requires that I hop on a plane to deliver some of this groupies-be-gone pussy.”
“Girl, you stupid!” I chuckled. “I’m gonna let you go, though. Gotta box up these cookies and go meet the little man.”
“Wait, is that today?” She squeaked. I could hear her head tilting to the side.
“Yes. Why do you think I called you? Your crazy ass gives me courage.” I picked up the phone and held it between my ear and shoulder while folding the cookie box I’d bought from Walmart.
Josh told me Bailey loved snickerdoodle cookies, so I dug through Mama’s cookbook and found a recipe. Figured the best way to his little heart would be through his stomach. And I wasn’t good at many things in the kitchen, but I could bake a mean cookie.
“Well ain’t you sweet.” I heard the sarcasm in Tasia’s voice and smiled. “Seriously, I hope it goes well. I mean how could it not? He’s what, seven right?”
“Yes. But he’s sharp from what his Daddy says. I don’t wanna come at him half assed.” I neatly layered the dozen cookies into the perfectly sized box and closed the box, securing it with a big blue ribbon with.
I crossed my fingers that the bow wasn’t too much.
“You sound crazy.” Tasia smacked her lips. “Every seven-year-old boy is excited to see a pretty woman, even if the heffa is his other Mama. You’ll be fine. Just be yourself.” She advised. “Wait, on second thought, be yourself but on like a level five. You were a real bitch when I first met you and that might not be the best attitude to bring to a kid.”
Again, I was laughing. Tasia was truly a refreshing glass of wine.
“Fine, level five it is.” I giggled. “I gotta go. Thanks for everything, woman.”
“You’re welcome. Call me later and let me know how it went. Especially if the serial cheater pries those red legs open!”
A loud cackle was the last thing I heard before I hit the red button, ending the call and laughed all the way to my bedroom to throw on an outfit fitting for meeting my only son for the second time.
An unfitting cool breeze nearly made me change my mind about having this unofficial meeting at the Winter Lights carnival where Josh and I agreed to link up. The displays could be seen from the backseat of my Uber, but were so much more breathtaking now that I'd made it though the gate.
As I stood in a designated spot just left of the entry, the sound of two little girls arguing over which decorated exhibit to walk through next, a thud of guilt pounded in my chest. I missed my girls and wished I had them with me. Luckily, it wouldn't be long before they were on a Greyhound en route to me. Until then, I’d be working my fingers to the bone in preparation for their arrival.
“I don't know. Maybe this pretty lady can help us. Excuse me, ma’am.” A familiar voice bellowed from behind me. “Do you know where the hot cocoa stand is?”
I turned around to find Josh standing there in an unnecessary trench coat with a black hoodie underneath, black leather gloves, slightly baggy jeans, and a shivering smile. And standing at waist level, holding onto his hand with eyes as big and bright as two brown moons, was the cutest little boy I’d ever laid eyes on. And I’m not just saying that because he was mine. The kid really was handsome.
“She doesn’t work here, Daddy. How’s she supposed to know?” The handsome little man looked up at Josh then back at me. “Sorry ma’am. He’s always assuming stuff.” He shook his head.
Lord, he was definitely a hand full.
“Well, you’re right, I don’t work here.” I spoke nervously. It was as if he was the adult and I was the child. “But I have spotted a few people passing by with hot cocoa in their hands. Maybe y’all could follow the direction they’re coming from. You mind if I tag along?” I smiled down at him. The resemblance between him and his father was jarring.
“I don’t mind.” His toffee colored cheeks spread into a smile. “Daddy, do you mind?” He peered up at Josh.
“It’s fine with me, son.” Josh nodded, slanting his eyes at me and sucking his teeth as I stepped beside them and joined them on the journey to find hot chocolate.
A huge lot that once served as a parking area for Gulf Greyhound Park-a dog racing track-was now an annual fair ground for the Winter Lights Festival. People from all over the area flocked there to celebrate the Christmas Holiday, and this weekend was the last weekend they’d be open, scheduled to close the second week in January. The New Year had come and gone, and folks had brought their kids out, no doubt celebrating the last weekend before they shipped them back off to school. And needless to say, the place was packed. Chilly weather and all, they were bundled up and enjoying the last of the most wonderful time of the year.
“What’s your name?” Bailey looked up at me and asked as we spotted the cocoa stand and rushed to get in line.
I looked at Josh for reassurance, not sure if he’d told him my name or not. A nod assured me that it was okay to be honest.
“Keshia.” I said. “What’s yours?”
“Bailey.” He answered just as presidentially as he could. “Bailey Joshua Shaw. My Daddy’s first name is my middle name because my auntie Joy named me. Daddy owed her a favor, but nobody will tell me what it was.” He rolled his eyes at Josh and I almost started laughing.
“Well it’s nice to meet you, Bailey.” I reached out to shake his hand. He accepted with a firm grip. “Wow! Somebody must be teaching you well. That’s a firm handshake.” I pressed my palm to my chest with a startled look on my face.
“I know.” He smiled. “I’m gonna be an entrepreneur like my Daddy someday, and Daddy says nobody wants to do business with a man with spaghetti hands.”
At that I giggled, and Josh blinked his eyes while shaking his head. “Bailey, cut it out.” Josh spoke over his embarrassment, though there was nothing to be embarrassed about. “I’m sure Ms. Keshia doesn’t wanna hear about your career plans right now.”
“Or maybe she does.” I winked at Josh. “Tell me more. I’m all ears.” I grabbed ahold of his hand and stepped forward in line.
“Well for starters.” He smirked up at his father. Josh had no defense against the little monster he’d created. “I’m gonna take over my Daddy’s barbecue joint and put a play room in it, cuz right now, the only thing for kids to do is color. And that’s soooo outdated.” He threw his little head back, hair tapered on the sides just like his daddy’s and curly just like his sisters’.
“Wow, that sounds pretty interesting.” I entertained him because he was definitely entertaining me. “What about the staff? I’ve been to your Daddy’s restaurant a few times and the customer service can be a little shady.”
Josh’s eyes ballooned. He probably couldn’t believe I said that out loud to a seven-year-old. But the kid wasn’t average for his age. It was almost like conversing with a tiny adult.
“Tell me about it.” Bailey blew out a breath as Josh approached the counter and ordered three hot cocoas with marshmallows on the side. “My big sister, Karlee, works the take-out counter. And she always gives everybody a hard time. I told Daddy to put her on dishes but he’s too easy on my sisters. That’ll change when I’m in charge.” He puffed out his little chest and I completely lost it.
“Bailey, here.” Josh handed him a lidded cup of hot cocoa and grabbed him by the hand while balancing our cocoa in the other. “Sip on that so no other evil plans slip from your mouth.” He shook his head.
“The man is always tryna keep me down.” Bailey said before sipping his cocoa. All of a sudden, getting to know him didn’t seem like such a task.
I grabbed my drink from the carrier and sipped while we walked through the festival, stopping to admire different themed exhibits decorated with lights, snapping pictures of Bailey with my phone, some with him posing and others while he wasn’t paying attention. Josh eased back for the most part, allowing me and my son to forge some type of friendship. Toward the end of the visit, I started feeling guilty for not coming clean. Bailey was really enjoying my company, and I obviously enjoyed his. But how could one really know when was the right time to tell such a thing? This shit was gonna be way harder than I imagined, and I’d already imagined it being hard.
I didn’t wanna say goodbye because I’d decided that I loved this little boy in a matter of a couple of hours. So, I walked him and Josh to their car and stared at him as he slept in the back seat, completely oblivious to the puzzle piece that I was in his life. I could hardly catch my breath with all the emotions I’d allowed to build up in the course of our time together. And I was sad to say good bye. I wanted nothing more than to take him home and tell him how sorry I was for letting him go so easily.
“I appreciate you doing this.” Josh said to me as I leaned against the hood of his car. “I know it couldna been easy.”
“Actually, it was.” I smiled. “Bailey’s cool as hell. So grown!”
“Yeah. Mama said he’s been here before.” Josh chuckled, rubbing his hand over the top of his head, searching the pavement for words to say.
“Listen, Josh, I don’t know what the pace is supposed to be for stuff like this. And I honestly didn’t expect for it to be this hard to figure out. But I wanna… I love him. Like without any effort on my part, I just love him. And I feel so guilty right now for lying to him. Ya know?”
“What? You’re not lying to him.” Josh raised his head and shoved his hands in his pockets. “You’re just postponing the truth. That’s not the same thing.”
“Okay, first of all, you’re the last person who should be helping me define a lie.” I folded my arms across my chest with a smirk on my face. “And second, it’s a lie. No matter how you rearrange the words, it’s still the same definition. And I don’t wanna lie to him anymore.”
Josh licked his lips and crossed one foot over the other while he leaned on the hood beside me. “So, what are you saying?” He looked down to the side at me.
“I’m saying that the next time I see my son, I wanna tell him that he’s my son. We’ll deal with whatever happens after that when it happens. Now I have to go home and cry. So… bye.”
“You catching the bus?” Josh stood as I stood, blocking my path.
“Uber. Why?” I tightened my folded arms, staring up at him.
“Hop in. Save your money.” He walked around to the passenger side of his ride and opened the door.
“I’m fine.” I insisted, still standing in front of the car with my arms folded. “Remember what happened the last time I took a ride from you?”
Those sexy lips curled into a smile; that irresistible smile that had me crazy, and stupid, and doing things I knew weren’t good for me all those years ago.
“Yeah, we had fun. Now get your ass in the car so I can take you home. I’ll keep my hands on the steering wheel and you can keep yours in your lap.” He stood at the door and waited until my stubborn ass finally climbed in.
To be continued...