69,245
07.03.2019

I have died. Just a little.

He cringes and says, “Too soon, huh?”

I smile and shrug. He sighs and pulls me into him. I’m wrapped in a Nik blanket and it feels great.

Screw soon!

I turn my head a little so our lips touch. I hold his jaw with my fingertips and peck at his lips one- two- three times.

Here goes nothin’.

I close my eyes and whisper against his lips, “I love you more.”

I feel his smile against my lips and he wraps me up tight.

Warmth washes over my body. I forgot what being in love with someone felt like.

We stay tangled together until Max and Ceecee got home.

As soon as Ceecee comes through the door she yells out, “Tina! Tina! Tina!”

Nik and I laugh into each other’s necks before separating. We both stand and watch Ceecee come towards us wearing the most beautiful crooked smile.

She looks happy. That makes me happy. I lean down and give her a big hug.

I push her hair behind her ear and tell her, “We were waiting for you to get home. I cooked breakfast for all of us.”

Max looks to the ceiling, throws his arms in the air and whoops. He walks toward me and kisses me on the cheek and says, “I knew there was a reason I liked you, T.”

Ceecee’s face has dropped. She replies quietly, “I already ate breakfast with grandma.”

Max peeks in the oven and yells out, “French toast and bacon? You’re a goddess, Tina.”

Ceecee’s face lifts a little. She whispers to me, “I love French toast.”

I smile at her and offer, “Well how about this, you go ahead and get yourself a piece and whatever you can’t eat, I’ll eat for you.”

She smiles shyly and responds, “Okay.”

I bring the food over to the dining table and go back into the kitchen. I peek out and see Max cutting Ceecee’s food for her. Ceecee doesn’t look happy.

I call Max into the kitchen and say, “Max, honey, Ceecee is nine years old. She doesn’t need you to cut her food for her anymore.”

He frowns and returns petulantly, “I like cutting her food for her. I’m her daddy.”

If there were dirt on the floor, he would’ve kicked at it.

Too cute.

I cup his cheek and ask, “You want her to be independent, right?”

He sighs, “Right.”

I kiss his cheek and say, “Help her by allowing her to help herself.” I hand him the syrup and butter to take to the table and he skulks away.

We all sit and I look over to see Ceecee cutting a strip of bacon.

She smiles big at Max and tells him, “See, daddy? I can do it!”

I shoot him a smothered smile. He smiles and shakes his head at me.

He responds ,“I know, angel. You’re not a baby anymore.”

Nik looks at us through narrowed eyes then winks at me.

We eat and when we finish the boys clear the plates. Ceecee and I go to watch some TV.

Ceecee sits next the sofa in her chair and I sit on the edge of the sofa with an arm around my little friend stroking her hair.

Still watching the TV, she says softly, “Is this what it’s like?”

I’m immediately confused.

I ask, “What what’s like, angel?”

She leans her head on my shoulder and whispers, “To have a family.”

I freeze.

Cue waterworks.

I clear my throat to steady my voice and turn my misty eyes away from her.

I say shakily, “Yes, angel. We are a family.”

Chapter Twenty

All good Bear’s go to heaven

Monday morning at Safira is busy for the first time in…ever.

We had a new shipment come in. It included a popular blazer worn by one of Hollywood’s elite actresses and there is a crush of women calling and showing up to the store to place orders or buy them. This price of each blazer is close to two hundred dollars and I ordered twenty of them so even though we’re extremely busy, I’m mentally doing the nutbush.

I make my way over to Winnie’s and place a coffee order. I chat to the young girl at the counter for a minute before making my way back to the store.

Rawr Raaawr

Crap. Damn. Poop! I forgot to change the batteries in the doorbell sensor which is slowly dying.

I glare up at it and turn and look to the counter and freeze.

There is another expensive flower arrangement on the counter. Nat stands there glaring because on the opposite side of the counter stands Omarr.

Oh, Crudsickles.

He delivered them by hand this time.

I mentally prepare myself then walk over. He turns and shoots me a beautiful smile. There is no malice in his eyes like the last time I saw him. He looks like a different man.

Nat disappears from the counter. I force a small smile and greet, “Hello, Omarr.”

He looks good. He’s wearing black jeans, sneakers and a polo shirt. His hair still styled in short neat dreadlocks. He walks over to me and surprises me when he kisses my cheek.

He says, “Hi Tina, how are you beautiful?”

I flush.

I’m confused. Why is he here?

I respond quietly, “I’m fine thanks. How are you?”

He smiles and says, “I’m good but I’d be better if you’d come to dinner with me tonight.”

My face falls.

What the heck? Didn’t he get the delivery of crushed flowers the last time he tried this?

I put a hand on his arm and reply, “Omarr. I’m sorry. I’m with Nik. We’re together.”

His eyes flash hatred and I’m immediately panicked.

He gently removes my hand from him and says, “You made the wrong choice, mami.”

Now I’m getting pissed.

No I didn’t. Nik is good to me.

I stand taller and state, “No, Omarr. I made the best choice.”

He shakes his head, looks up with sad eyes and replies “Tina, you don’t know your man. He isn’t right. You should be with me. I’d treat you like a princess.”

I’m fuming now.

I spit, “Why would I be with you and get treated like a princess when Nik treats me like a queen. And like in a game of chess, the queen protects her king.”

Take that, Omarr!

Uh oh…he’s pissed now.

He shoots me an acid smile, “Wrong choice, babe.”

I’m on the verge of tears now. My neck is red and itchy as hell and all I want to do is scratch it to death with a pen.

I whisper, “I could never be with you. You have hatred seeping out of your pores.”

His eyes flash pain and he responds, “Maybe there’s a reason for my hatred. Maybe you should ask your boy about Marcus.”

Marcus? Who is Marcus?

“Is there a problem here?” This sounds terribly bored and coming from the store entry.

There stands Ghost leaning in the door frame.

He says to Omarr, “You lost?”

Omarr replies, “Naw, man. Just catchin’ up with a friend.”

Ghost looks my way than back at Omarr.

He says, “Friends don’t make each other look like Tina looks right now.” He steps closer to Omarr and whispers, “Do I need to take this to Uncle Jerm or are you going to let it go with some dignity?”

Omarr stands taller, forces a smile, and responds “Naw, man. No problems here. Just visiting.” Omarr turns to me and says, “Sorry I upset you, Tina. Won’t happen again.”

And then he’s gone.

I walk backwards to the wall, put a hand on the wall, and place the other on my chest. I think I’m having a panic attack.

Ghost walks towards me, puts his hands on my cheeks, and forces my face to look into his.

Calmly he instructs me, “Breathe, Tina. Just breathe. Nice and easy. There you go.”

I try control my breathing as Nat appears with an ice pack for my flushed face and neck.

Ghost takes the ice pack from Nat and gently runs it along my neck and cheeks.

He looks at her and says, “Thanks for calling.”

She nods but remains focused on me. I haven’t had a panic attack in a year. I don’t feel like I’m in control of my own body and that sucks. I definitely did not miss these.

Nat puts a hand on my forehead and whispers, “You’re safe. You’re grounded. Calm yourself, babe.”

I nod and close my eyes. My heart won’t stop racing.

Nat comes closer to my ear and whispers, “Remember how Mia always said My instead of I so when she would ask for something it would come out My want to watch a movie or My want candy?”

I smile at the memory. I nod and my breathing slows slightly.

She goes on, “Or how she couldn’t say the letter L properly so she would say Mia wants yunch instead of lunch?”

I chuckle. I’m sweating like a pig but I can breathe deeply now. I nod.

Nat chuckles quietly, “Remember when she emptied a whole container of baby powder on the couch and was throwing it around like snow?”

I burst into laughter but it quickly dissolves into silent sobs. I slide down the wall and sink to the floor. My body is boneless.

Mia is gone. My precious baby. All I have are those memories.

Nat sits down next to me and holds my limp, shaking body. I feel her body shake with mine. Mourning my daughter together. A true friend feels your pain and knows nothing they say can compose you, but a simple embrace can be worth more than any words ever could.

Without warning I stand, take the flower arrangement, and walk out the door. My blood boils and my breathing heavies. I shriek as I throw into the street and watch as a car runs over it.

It was a two hundred dollar gift. Now it’s nothing but trash. Just like the person who gave them to me.

I turn on the sidewalk to see Ghost and Natalie standing in Safira’s entry smiling.

I close my eyes and breathe deep.

After gathering back what is left of my mind, I walk over to Ghost and kiss his cheek. I kiss Nat’s right after.

I walk right into the stock room, close the door, sit on my desk and sob.

“What exactly did he say to her?” I ask.

Ghost replies, “I don’t know, Nik. She was wound up tight when I got there. She had tears in her eyes.”

My heart clenches.

He looks uneasy as he continues, “That’s nothing compared to what happened after he left. Your girl had a meltdown. Shaking like a leaf, flushed, sweatin’ like a fountain, out of control panic attack. Had to cool her down with an ice pack. Nat said a few things to her I couldn’t hear but whatever she was saying seemed to be working. They both ended up in tears.” He smirks. “Then Tina gets the flowers, walks out of the store and throws it into oncoming traffic. Beautiful, man.”

That is funny.

I just can’t bring myself to think about anything other than Tina having a breakdown. This is why I got out of Chaos. It affects your family. Now, I’m not even a part of the brotherhood anymore and it’s still affecting my girl.

Nope. I don’t like it.

So many thoughts are running through my head. I ask, “You think this is the last we see of Omarr?”

Ghost furrows his brow and responds, “They call him unpredictable for a reason, brother. I just hope Tina didn’t diss him. He’ll take it as a personal insult.”

Tina is sweet as pie. No way she dissed him.

I shake my head and point out, “This is Tina we’re talking about. She hates confrontation. No way.”

Ghost nods his head in agreement.

So why do I still have a bad feeling?

My phone pings.

I check it and see I’ve received a text from Nik asking me if I’m okay. He called a few times but I didn’t have it in me to pretend I was.

I’m feeling a little better now. I’ve drowned my sorrows in coffee and candy. I decide to go see him. I leave Nat in charge and she waves me out the door.

Probably look like death warmed over.

I walk into his office. Nik’s sitting behind his desk on the phone. He spots me and his face softens. He waves me over. I reach him and he pulls me down sideways onto his lap. He tucks me deeper into him and continues to talk on the phone all the while rubbing my back and planting whisper-soft kisses on the side of my head.

I’m suddenly relaxed. Nothing compares to this. Nik is my personal form of stress relief.

My body becomes lax and I feel sleepy.

Nik ends his phone call, puts his phone on the desk and wraps me up tight.

He asks, “You okay, baby?”

I nod into his chest. I don’t trust myself to speak. It’s been an emotional day and I’ve been known to cry at the drop of a hat.

I feel his breath on my ear as he sighs and continues to hold me.

I decide to break the silence with, “Who’s Marcus?”

Nik’s body stiffens. And there it is. Not good.

He softens his body and explains, “Marcus was Omarr’s older brother. He was killed years ago.”

I don’t believe that. There’s more to this and, gosh darn it, I want to know.

I whisper, “How did he die, Nik?”

He sighs and tightens his hold on me as if he thinks I’m about to go berserk.

He starts the story, “Marcus broke into our family home when I was fifteen. He tried to get into my dad’s office to steal something. Dad heard someone in the house. Dad shot Marcus and he died later that night.”

I gasp and grip him tight. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Nik continues, “When the police arrived to take statements and asked who took the first shot, I said it was me. Omarr thinks I shot his brother dead. I was just a kid and protecting my dad, babe. I got a suspended sentence and a few months later my dad was dead. So it didn’t make any difference anyway. Omarr is a part of the Sixes. Uncle Jerm leads them and he knows I didn’t do it. That’s all that matters.”

I stay silent while I process this. It explains a lot of the tension between Omarr and Nik. Maybe Omarr just wanted to use me to get back at Nik.

“I’m sorry baby, this is all my fault,” he whispers on a shoulder squeeze.

I whisper back, “No, it’s not. Your dad was protecting your family and you were protecting your dad. I would do the same for my dad, Nik. Really, I would.”

❮❯