2. Spark

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Of all the men Ray brought home, Trenton was the worst. Outside of the often visible and audible PDA they engaged in, he never seemed to leave. Reagan, now 15, usually ignored her mother’s company, since they never stuck around long anyway.

Reagan stood in the bathroom, snapping pictures of herself in the new striped shirt she’d purchased with her first paycheck. She’d felt him creep past a few times, but ignored him. If he was hovering for the bathroom, he could wait; this was HER house.

The last time he walked by, he lingered in the doorway. Even though he was obviously homeless, his clothes and shoes were always brand new. “Don’t you think those shorts are too short?” he said. Reagan turned to see his eyes snap back upward to her face.
“What?” she said. Normally, she’d answer respectfully, since he was an adult, but she didn’t take kindly to her mother’s company talking to her. At all.
“You got…a lot going on. I don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about you,” he said. By now, he was obviously looking at her body with more than concern. Reagan reached the handle and slammed the door in his face.
 
She remained there for the rest of the afternoon. Alma marched up the stairs and banged on the door with all the strength her palm could muster. “Reagan Mae Dobson, you better get the hell out my bathroom before I tear this door off the frame!”

Reagan opened the door, now clad in her grandmother’s robe. “I thought you had somewhere to be. Why are you in my robe?” Reagan tried to open her mouth and tell her grandmother what happened but she closed it. The only thing she felt was shame and couldn’t handle whatever her grandmother would say. She crossed the hall into her bedroom and shut the door.

Alma was on her heels, joining her in the room before the latch could catch in the doorframe. “Reagan, talk to me,” Alma said. She knew something was wrong with her granddaughter and she feared the worst.
“Trenton told me my shorts were too short.”
“Well, who the hell is he? If I bought them, they’re okay.”
“No. It’s not that,” Reagan said, folding her arms across her chest. She couldn’t shake the disgust that snaked up her spine. Alma sat on the bed next to her granddaughter, patient as she waited for her reply.
“It was the way he…looked at me. Like he does when he follows Mah into another room.”
“Lust,” Alma sighed. Beneath the surface of her smooth cocoa skin, she was fuming.
“Talking about he didn’t ‘want anyone to get the wrong idea about me’,” Reagan said. She roughly wiped away the tears that had begun to fall, annoyed she’d become this emotional again. Alma pulled the girl into her chest and held her. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Reagan. You’re a good girl, you always have been and I promise that it will never happen again, as long as you are under this roof and there is breath in my body.”

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1. Return

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Reagan didn’t know what to expect when she crossed the threshold of her childhood home. The walls had been repainted, the furniture was replaced but she still recognized it as home. Her grandmother’s wall of plants were still thriving, perfectly placed in front of the bay window. “Gigi? Mah? You guys here?” Reagan said, dropping her backpack on the couch. She walked down the hall towards the kitchen, hoping her grandmother was cooking a welcome home feast of all her favorite high-calorie foods. She found the kitchen spotless and empty.

Reagan made her way throughout the rest of the house until she found her old bedroom, still decorated with her Word Up! Posters of boy bands long gone. The collage of photos hung over her desk, full of pictures of friends and postcards of destinations she’d planned to take. The bed was freshly made, dressed with new yellow linens to match the yellow throw rug at the foot of the bed. As she slipped deeper into her nostalgia, she heard the heavy front door open and close. She galloped down the stairs to see her mother, kicking off a pair of 5 inch heels.

“Hey Mah,” Reagan said, coming down the rest of the stairs.
“Reagan? My baby!” Ray said, throwing her arms around her daughter. “I didn’t know you were coming in today! I would’ve taken the day off!”
“It’s fine, I just got here. Where’s Gigi?”
“It’s Wednesday. She’s got her card game with the biddies down the street. Come in, let me look at you!” Ray said, spinning her daughter around. They sat on the couch and Ray threw her arms around her daughter again.
“I have missed you SO much!”
“I missed you too, Mah.”
“Tell me everything. What happened with you and what’s his name? Jetson?”
“Hudson. And nothing really. He proposed, I said no, then bought a plane ticket,” Reagan said, shrugging her shoulders.
Ray patted her daughter on the thigh. “Good for you, baby. Don’t let these nappy-head niggas tie you down. You have so much more going for you than being a wife,” Ray said before standing again.
“We need to celebrate! Let’s go out tonight!” Ray said, pulling her daughter from the couch. Reagan had forgotten how much natural energy her mother had. “I don’t know, Mah, I kinda just want dinner and a hot bath.”
“Oh, don’t start that old lady shit with me! I get enough of that from Mah!”

As if on cue, the front door opened once more and Alma Mae entered the house and took in the scene. “Reagan! Baby!” Alma said, pulling her granddaughter into a tight embrace.
“Hi Gigi!” Reagan said, embracing her grandmother. Alma even smelled the same to Reagan, like warm shortbread cookies.
“What are you doing here? I thought you didn’t come in for another few days.”
“I was…really anxious about getting here,” Reagan said, partially fibbing.
“Anxious to get away from that Jetson boy,” Ray said, sauntering into the kitchen.
“Hudson and no, I was not,” Reagan yelled after her mother.
“Why, what happened boo?”
“He just…proposed a little.”
“OH MY LORD JESUS! Let me see the ring!” Alma said, clapping her hands together.
Before Reagan could offer an explanation, Alma had pulled her left hand up to inspect the ring that wasn’t there.
“He didn’t have a ring?” She asked, her top lip turned slightly in disgust.
“I didn’t accept it.”
“Oh, honey, you can always go pick out a new one. That’s what gift receipts are for,” Alma said as she headed to the kitchen behind her daughter. Reagan sighed before following them.
“I didn’t accept his proposal,” Reagan said, sitting down at the table.
Alma, who had begun pulling leftovers from the fridge, froze. “Well, why not?” she said, dropping the Tupperware on the table with a little too much gusto. Ray snorted into the glass of lemonade she’d poured.
“Maybe she doesn’t want to be tied down to some ain’t shit man for the rest of her life.”
“Oh, shut up Ray,” Alma said, swatting at her daughter.
“I don’t know. I just wasn’t…excited. I always thought when I met the one, I’d feel it. Sparks or something,” Reagan said, shrugging her shoulders.
“You don’t have to settle. There are plenty of men who will set your whole person ablaze,” Ray said, setting another glass in front of her daughter.
“Sparks are overrated. I felt sparks the first time I met your grandfather. Sparks lead to fire,” Alma said, sipping from the glass her daughter left unattended.

The woman straightened her dress after she pressed the doorbell. She’d seen the address on Theodore’s driver’s license so many times, she had it memorized: 341 Tireman Rd. The woman, his wife, opened the door and dried her hands on the towel she’d draped on her shoulder. It was the day before the holiday, July 3rd and she had plenty of food to prep before the family arrived.
“Yes?” Alma asked the mystery woman. She was empty-handed so Alma immediately knew she wasn’t a saleswoman.
“Alma Dobson?”
“Yes?” Alma repeated, finding herself annoyed.
“Who is it, Mommy?” A little girl appeared behind her mother, the spitting image of Theodore, with pigtails.
“Mind your business, Almathea.”
“Hi, little lady. What’s your name?” the woman asked the small child, kneeling slightly. Alma stepped in front of her child and placed her hand on her hip.
“Can I help you?”
“I just wanted to know if Theodore was coming home,” the woman said, straightening suddenly and staring Alma square in the eye.
“It’s the holiday. Theodore is already home.”
The woman chuckled and licked her lips, prepared to spill the secret she’d been keeping for weeks.
“Everyone knows he’s just playing house over here, until he gets up the courage. He might be afraid of you, but I’m not. I just wanted to let you know that—“
“Know what? You need to talk a little faster,” Alma said.
“Your husband has been sleeping with me. For weeks now. I just wanted to be a woman and let you know that we plan on getting married.”

Alma’s face didn’t budge, not from surprise or distress; she’d already known about her husband’s extracurricular activities. “Is that all?”
“I’d just like to know when Theodore is coming home,” the woman repeated, gathering up what little dignity she had left. Alma grinned at her audacity.
“You enjoy your weekend,” Alma said, attempting to shut the door, when the woman stuck her foot in the doorframe.
“Excuse me, bitch, I wasn’t done,” the woman said, trying to push the door off her now-pinned foot.

What happened next would be talked about for months and would prevent any of Theodore’s women from darkening their doorway. Alma opened the door again and stepped onto the porch, forcing the woman to take a step back.
“Theodore Macrae Dobson lives at 341 Tireman Rd,” Alma said before backhanding the woman with her left hand. The strike stunned her and knocked her to the ground.
“There is but ONE bitch with paperwork on Theodore Dobson,” she said, before punching the woman full in the face. She tried to crawl down the steps before Alma grabbed her and shoved her into the banister three times, breaking several of the wooden planks on the side.
“That bitch’s name is Alma Mae Dobson and if you ever come over here again, thinking you run some shit, you better remember that you are on MY property and the police won’t think twice about me defending my home and my family,” Alma said, before kneeling to whisper in the woman’s ear. “With my pistol,” she said before throwing the woman out onto the street.

Theodore, tall and dark, bound out the house when he heard the commotion from the kitchen. He came out to see his wife walking back into the house while Whitney struggled to stand in the street, her face covered in blood. Stunned, he turned to Alma, who kissed him sweetly on the lips before asking “Are the ribs done, baby?”

“Gigi, when are you gonna get this porch fixed?” Reagan asked, as she began pulling her boxes from the car out front. Alma stopped and admired the broken posts. “They remind me of your granddaddy,” she said, smiling to herself.

Ray didn’t give her daughter a chance to unpack before she began demanding they go out. “Here, wear this,” she said, tossing her daughter a strappy navy-blue dress.
“Mah, really?” Reagan said, inspecting the dress. Knowing her mother, it would reveal way more than Reagan was comfortable, however, she knew her mother would pick out something much worse if she complained.
“Just put it on!”

Dressed, Reagan tiptoed into her mother’s room and watched her at her vanity. Even as a child, Reagan loved watching her mother get ready to leave out, because she made everything seem as though it were a special occasion. Even in her 40s, she was still exceptionally beautiful and she used that beauty to pass for a woman in her 30s. Everything about her appearance had to be perfect and in place. Ray had encouraged her daughter to be everything she could be: smart, funny, cultured, but her emphasis on beauty was paramount.
Alma walked by and spotted her daughter in her mirror before she whispered in Reagan’s ear. “Maybe you guys will be gone by Labor Day.”
“I heard that!” Ray said, never taking her eyes off the mirror as she drew a perfect line of eyeliner. “I am so excited that you are here, Reagan. I just started going to this new place called Clover and I just LOVE it! And the men,” Ray said, before giving a suggestive shiver.
“I thought it would just be us, Mah,” Reagan said, sitting as best as she could on the end of the bed in the bandage dress.
“What’s a party without men?” Ray said as she sprayed setting spray all over her face.

The party at Clover seemed to be just that: men of varying ages, shooting their shots at every available woman in the room. As soon as Ray and Reagan entered, they were swept up in a bevy of offers and compliments. Ray, a frequent flier, danced away, eager to entertain her new friends, leaving Reagan standing awkwardly near the exit. She migrated to the bar, where she planned on staying until her mother tired herself out.
“What can I get you?” the pretty blonde bartender asked.
“Jameson and coke,” Reagan said, before surveying the room. Out the corner of her eye, she spotted her mother climbing up onto a table and dancing to the Migos song that was playing.
“Actually, hold the coke,” Reagan said over her shouder to the bartender.

An hour had gone by before she saw her mother again, who had rushed to the bar on the arm of a stranger. “Reagan! Meet Hammer! Hammer, this is my daughter, Reagan,” Ray said, snuggling up to the large man.
Hammer?” Reagan said, giving her mother an incredulous look.
“Daughter? You guys could be sisters,” the man said, looking too hard at the two of them. Reagan could sense the gross thoughts that were crossing his mind as he stood in front of two beautiful women and she scoffed.
“Can I buy you another drink?” he asked.
“No, Hammer, I’m good,” Reagan said, before downing the remainder of her third drink and walking off.

Ray followed her daughter to the bathroom, where she was washing her hands. “Are you ready to leave?”
“Yeah, kinda. I don’t wanna stop the party between you and Hammer,” Reagan said sarcastically.
“I’m sorry, I just wanted to cheer you up.” Reagan sighed as she looked up in the mirror at her mother.
“No. I’m sorry. I have been a Debbie Downer today. I guess I’m just more tired than I thought. We don’t have to leave if you don’t want.”
“Or…you could take the car and I can ride with Hammer,” Ray said, smiling.
Reagan turned around, ready to tell her mother off. It annoyed Reagan that her mother was still up to her old tricks and had used her as an excuse. However, the whiskey was kicking in and she wanted nothing more to lay in her bed. Plus, she’d just be wasting her breath. Her mother would never change. “Sure, Mom. Have fun,” Reagan said, pulling her mother into a tight hug.

Handsome

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The cardboard box in Marie’s front seat jingled as the car came to a halt. It had recently been filled with her personal items from a cramped desk after she was emailed a layoff notice. She sighed as she yanked her purse from beneath it and left the car.

Woody’s was her normal haunt on the weekends, a means of celebrating her often short-lived weekends with her friends. During the week, like this particular Wednesday, the place resembled a ghost town.
“Whiskey, please. Make it a double,” she said, perching on one of the lesser worn stools at the end of the bar. The bartender, one of the weekday workers, poured the drink swiftly and slid it in front of her. Marie downed the drink in one gulp.
“Another one, please.”
“Looks like you had the same kind of day I had,” said the man several seats away.

She hadn’t noticed him, at first. She’d been too preoccupied with her drink choice before deciding it didn’t matter; it wasn’t as if she had to work in the morning. Now, looking at him, he was far more attractive than his surroundings. “Well, I just lost a really cushy job. Of course, they wanted me to finish the day first,” she said, taking a sip from the fresh glass in front of her.
“I guess we both learned how little we matter today,” he said. His words stung a little deeper than she expected.
“I’m sorry. My girlfriend…she left me today,” he said, shaking his head before sipping the clear drink in front of him.
“Her loss,” Marie said, raising her glass and taking a sip as well. The man wiped his hand on his jeans before extending it to Marie, leaning across the seats between them.
“Jefferson,” he said with a grin.
“Marie.” Continue reading

More of the Same

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The stove’s clock changed to 10:52 silently. The flat was dark, except for the dim light that shined in from outside. Sonia sat at the dining room table, spinning her 3rd glass of cognac between her fingers. The last 6 years had been the same: her husband would walk out the door for work and manage to find his way between the legs of a young co-ed. Marcus was beautiful and charming in the beginning. He’d lavished her with gifts and trips, promising that she was the only woman he’d ever loved. They consummated their relationship in the balmy waters of Santorini & they were inseparable from then on. The first year they were married was everything she’d hoped. He spoiled her, prompting to her to quit the measly desk work she’d believed was her career. He helped her mother & sister move to a better home in a better community and doted on his wife, loving her as largely as he could. Continue reading

COMPLICATED {6}

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Elise knew he would be there, but she was still unprepared when he walked in the door. She’d spent the last two weeks painstakingly arranging every detail for the bachelor/bachelorette party at the secluded cottage; It was her way of focusing on something other than her missing lover.

“Oh, so you’re on that bullshit tonight, huh?” Josalyn said, watching attentively as Elise finished the large cup she’d just poured. Elise gasped and winced as the liquor burned its way past her throat and stomach.
“Long week,” she said flatly.

It killed her to keep the secret from her best friends, especially when she needed their advice at the moment.
“What’s the point of having a bachelor/bachelorette party if they’re already married?” Amara said, swigging from her own cup.
“His family is very traditional. I don’t even know if they know about the house yet,” Elise said. She poured another serving of Hennessy into her cup.
“I see what kind of night this is gonna be,” Josalyn said, still awed by her friend’s consumption.
“She’s just trying to keep pace with Liam.”

Elise found her eyes, scanning the room for him. His animation with her sister made him easy to spot, booming over the speakers and conversations. The rage that had been boiling inside her pooled into another heat that sat between her thighs at the sight of him. His beauty and charm gave him access to any woman he chose. On anyone else, the busily-patterned button-up would be played and his exposed chest from its lack of buttoning would be corny, but Liam was regal. Elise watched him like a hawk, examining his every move, anticipating her attack. She knew he’d seen her and was waiting for his opportunity to strike. He made his way to the trio to deliver his traditional greetings. He seized Amara in his arms and squeezed her as tight as he could.

“Are you drunk?” Amara asked.
“Quite,” he said, hugging Josalyn before turning his attention to Elise.
“What’s up?” he said, taking her in.
“What’s up?” she repeated before he swept her into his arms. She’d kept her hands glued to her side as he pulled her into his chest. Her icy demeanor held briefly, until it was thawed by the gentle press of his lips onto her neck. Suddenly, she was ablaze beneath her skin. “I hope you didn’t drive,” Elise said.
“Well, this is a slumber party, right?” he said, winking at Elise before he walked away.

Elise managed to drag her sister off of her husband’s lap, just long enough to pull her into the master bedroom. “I literally can’t hold this in any longer,” she said, shutting the door behind her.
“What, what happened?”
“My secret one-thing? It’s Liam,” Elise said. The words felt like she was releasing a breath she’d been holding in.
“Shut the fuck up!”
“Yeah, but I fucked up. I asked him out and now I know he’s weird about it.”
“Go talk to him! Not me!”
“I can’t! What am I supposed to say? Hi, I know I asked you out and it’s cool if you don’t like me that way, but I’d still like to hit that?
“Yes! Say exactly that!”
“Em! Be serious!”
“What do you want?”
“5 minutes in the linen closet?”
“Make it 10,” her sister said before shoving her back out the room.

In her mind, she’d known she still wanted him. She’d plotted the whole night, from the decorations and the music, to the black dress she wore that accentuated her body. With her sister’s approval, Elise was ready to make her move.
“El, do you wanna play this drinking game?”
“Yeah, let me grab a cup,” she said, making her way into the kitchen. As she reached for the red solo cups on top of the fridge, she could feel the hair on her neck raise sharply before the hands snaked around her.

“Shit,” he whispered into her ear as he draped himself over her. “This dress is driving me crazy. I need to take it off,” he said, his hands lazily ambled across her body. Just as she settled into his warmth, he was gone, several feet from where he had once been as one of the guest wandered into the kitchen. They exchanged heated looks, before Liam went back into the living room. She’d managed to let out an annoyed sigh as Amara entered.

“Five bucks he’s passed out on the floor before midnight,” Amara chuckled, refilling her cup.
“I’m not gonna take that bet. He’s blasted.”
“He’ll be ok. He just broke up with someone and he’s a little raw.”

Elise found it impossible to mask her fury as she turned and stormed out onto the porch. She’d been saving her special friend as an after-party treat, but her anger rose in her throat like bile. Her breath was jagged as she inhaled and exhaled the thick smoke, almost immediately calming her raging brain. She replayed the last two months over and over in her head, looking for any sign in her murky memories. She’d known Liam her whole life and found it hard to believe that he’d lie to her and cheat on someone. She’d always held him to a slightly higher standard but it dawned on her that Liam was a man, just like that rest: capable of anything. The weed began to work its magic, slightly relaxing Elise, as she heard the door creak open.

“There you are,” Liam said, before he dropped onto the steps next to her. He reached out to take the cigar from her hands, when she pulled it out of his reach.
“Oh, you being stingy tonight?”
“I don’t like to share,” she said in a grim tone.
“What’s wrong?”
“You’ve been with someone this whole time?”

Liam sighed and rubbed his face. He’d come to the party to avoid his thoughts of Kim and her “happy” marriage.
“It wasn’t anything serious. And it’s over.”
“Obviously it was more serious than you thought,” Elise scoffed. Up close, Liam was a sweaty, drunk mess, which eliminated a lot of his charm.
“It was. Or I thought so. But it’s over and I’m over her.”
“So you couldn’t tell me you were with someone else? Or did you just want to have your cake and eat it too?”
“That’s the dumbest idiom ever…”
“Only because you don’t understand it,” Elise said, ashing the blunt and standing to leave. Liam leapt up and blocked her path to the house.
“Come on, don’t be mad. I’m sorry,” he said, running his hands over her chilled skin.
“No, fuck you. I’ve been, I don’t know, holding out hope that one day you would see me since I was a kid. I’d given up until…. I don’t know what you and ole girl had going on, but obviously you’re upset about it. You came here, hoping I’d be ok with you ignoring me for weeks now so you could get your sad little rocks off but it’s not happening.”
“Ok, I’m upset! Damn, I thought friends were supposed to be there for one another.”
“You don’t know what a friend is, Liam. Everything is always about YOU. You think the world is supposed to just stop for you and it doesn’t. I have feelings too. You don’t even have the decency to turn me down properly!”

Liam’s face changed instantly, an unfamiliar emotion Elise had never seen. He took his hands off of her and stood back. “Is that what this is about?”
Elise bit her lip and shook her head. She’d be damned if she dropped tears in front of him.
“Bro, you’re tripping. No, I know what it is. You’re jealous.”
“Jealous?! Of what?”
“Jealous that I actually wanted something with her. Terrified that you were another side piece just waiting for a ride around the block and a pat on the head.”

Elise felt as though the air had been ripped from her lungs. If her reaction time hadn’t been impaired, she might have tried to peel the flesh from his bones. She shut her eyes for a moment, trying to turn off the brewing storm.
“Goodbye Liam.”

COMPLICATED {2}

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Elise stood in the triple mirrors and willed the dress down over her stomach. “Everything ok in there?” the clerk asked for the 3rd time. Elise growled and gave up, recognizing the dress wasn’t as “flowy” as she described.
“It doesn’t fit,” she said, yanking the flimsy material back over her head. As she redressed, she felt a short moment of embarrassment and shame. If she’d stuck with the keto diet, it may have worked. She yanked the curtains open and stepped back out into the showroom. The clerk, petite and brunette, made a face before taking back the dress. “This is the largest size we have,” she turned to announce to the rest of the wedding party. Emerald, Elise’s older sister and the bride, stood and smiled slightly.
“We’ll look somewhere else,” she said before leading the bridal party out of the store.
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The Trouble With Diamonds: Eleven

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It took Dorian a split second to react to Noelle standing at his front door. His arm whipped to his waistband and seized the gun, swinging it to her face. She grabbed the muzzle and forced his arm down, sending the gun flying. Dorian grabbed the thief by her lapels and dragged her into the apartment. She used her forearms to break his grip and block his strikes as he came at her full force. She was the reason he was out of a job & under investigation. She had seduced him, made his drop his guard for one minute, and outfoxed him, something he could proudly say didn’t happen often. Dorian hated to admit it to himself, but he had a point to prove.  Continue reading