She lived in a brownstone now. I stood at her door with my hands in my pockets. Sadao, efficient as hell, told me everything I needed to know: where she lived and worked, where he lived and worked, and where Quintaz went to school. Phaedra worked as a paralegal in an upscale lawyer’s office, an upgrade from when she used to be a receptionist and then a legal secretary. I wondered if she wanted to be a lawyer.
“Who is it?”
God, but the sound of her voice was like music. “Phaedra?”
There was a long pause and I knew that she knew who I was. I waited with my heart in my throat, wondering if she would open the door. A very long moment passed; a second that could have easily been a lifetime before she unlocked the door. When she opened it and saw it was me, her hazel eyes ate up her face. I know my own did the same. Phaedra was stunning; totally unpretentious in jeans and a T-shirt, no makeup and her short hair flattened to one side like she’d been lying on the couch. She made beauty so easy, whereas Nysha wouldn’t let me see her without her makeup.
“Phaedra,” I said, feeling my nature rise as I stared at her.
“Orion...” she breathed, unable to hide the shock in her voice. “Orion, what the hell…?”
“Can I come in?”
She blinked; her large eyes shiny. “Six years…Orion?”
“Phaedra, Phaedra...please baby...can I come in?”
She looked at me for a moment, then back over her shoulder, and then back at me. I wondered if he was there.
“Orion, where have you been?”
“Around,” I said. “Getting myself together.”
“It took you six damned years to get yourself together?”
“Phaedra, may I come in?”
“Orion, it’s late. My son is asleep.”
“Phaedra, can I see him?”
“I won’t stay long,” I said. “I need to see him, see you. I couldn’t let another day go by. Let me see my son, Phaedra.”
She closed her eyes. “Quintaz is asleep.”
“I won’t wake him up. I just want to see his face.”
“You show up on my doorstep after six years? You come here and demand to see a child you didn’t give a shit about when I was birthing him?”
“Phaedra, that’s not true. I fucked up. I know it. I know it. Give me a chance to make it right.”
“Five minutes. I just want to see his face. Please.”
She bit her lip, looked back over her shoulder and then at me. “Five minutes, and then you go back to wherever the hell you came from. I can’t believe you have the balls to show up at my door after six years! I thought the worst, Orion! I was devastated!”
She let me in and locked the door behind me. I stared at her and then gazed at the apartment. Pictures of our son were everywhere, and there was a large portrait of her and Quintaz over the fireplace. It stung to see them looking happy without me.
“Five minutes, O,” she said. “And don’t you wake him up, either.”
He was soundly asleep and as I gazed at my little boy, my chest swelled. I never doubted for a second that the child Phaedra had carried was mine; we never had those kinds of issues. I was hers to the core, and I knew she was mine. But looking down at him, I saw me all over…cheeks, eyes, lips, skin as bronze as my own. He wore his hair in a short little spiky Mohawk. He was so beautiful. I ran my hand over the lump his body made under the covers. He was going to be tall like me. I looked around the room; Phaedra had it decorated in a Spiderman theme. I took note; I’d be sending my son Spiderman-related stuff within the next week.
“Don’t wake him,” she said. “Come out, Orion.”
I leaned forward and kissed his forehead. He squiggled underneath me and turned over. I tucked the covers around him and turned to leave. Phaedra closed the door. When we were back in the living room, I turned around and found myself knocked on my ass. Phaedra stood over me with a cocked fist and her eyes flashing with rage. I rubbed my cheek.
“You sucker-punched me!”
“If I could beat your ass, I would, Orion! How in the hell can you show up on my doorstep after six years? My God, you left me and our newborn child—”
“Phaedra, let me explain—”
“Explain? Explain? You can explain walking out of the hospital and my life while I was in labor with your son? You don’t have to explain anything to me! You walked out on me! You walked out on our baby! I don’t want to hear a word you have to say! Nothing makes up for that, you son-of- a-bitch!”
“Phaedra, at the time I had nothing to offer you,” I said as I got up, rubbing my face. She had a hell of a punch. I’d forgotten how strong her arm was.
“I don’t understand that, Orion,” she said, turning to walk away from me. I shamelessly ate up the sight of her denim-clad ass. “We were together for five years before I got pregnant; what changed?”
“I lost my job. I couldn’t take care of you, of him. I felt like all I could be was another mouth for you to feed; another person running up the bills. I was putting more strain on you. You were the only one working. I felt like a punk.”
“Orion, you sound like a fucking idiot. I knew I was the only one bringing in income, but that didn’t mean I was doing everything myself. You always took care of me. You kept the apartment tidy, even before you lost your job, you always made sure there were groceries, and you made my pregnancy bearable. I knew you’d get another job eventually! We would have been fine! So your excuse is bullshit!”
“Phaedra, I’m a man. When I realized, when it kicked in that we were going to have a child…when you went into labor, I panicked. I did. I’m sorry; sorrier than you’ll ever know. I regret every day leaving you. I need you to forgive me for it.”
“Is that all you want, Orion?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is my forgiveness all you want?”
I stared at her, taking in the air around her. Everything about Phaedra was perfect. “I want to get to know my son.”
She looked up and sighed. “I suppose I have no choice with this. Orion, I never talked bad about you to Taz. I never disparaged you and I always told him that his father loved him even though he wasn’t around. He knows you send him presents and money. I don’t know what he feels about you, because you’re just words to him. I have no right to deny you access to Taz, but I will let you know that there is another man who loves him and wants to raise him with me. Best you know that up front.”
“Thank you, Phaedra,” I said. “I appreciate you giving me this chance, and I promise I won’t fuck it up.” I decided not to address the issue of her having another man in her life. “But why didn’t you name him Orion like we planned?”
She folded her arms and glared at me. “Are you kidding?”
She rolled her eyes and clearly decided to ignore me. “We are happy now, Orion. I am engaged and CJ is a more than adequate father to my son.” She wiggled her ring finger; a fat little diamond winked at me.
“But I am his father.”
“When you abandoned us, you forfeited that right! We got those presents you sent. I sold mine and put the money in a savings account. I would have gotten rid of the stuff you got Taz, except that wouldn’t have been right. He knows his real father walked out on him and he knows that’s where the gifts come from. But he adores CJ and calls him Daddy. So don’t you dare try that with me, Orion!”
“Phaedra, please...you don’t know what I’ve been through. I have been tormented—”
“Don’t you dare speak to me about torment, you bastard! How did you think I felt when the nurses told me you walked out! For two years I was tortured and tormented. My heart was broken! You left us, how could you have left us?” Tears slipped out of the corner of her eyes. “I loved you more than my own life and you left me…that was my mistake.”
I wanted to hold her and bury my face in her hair. “Phaedra, you know what you meant to me. You know I adored you; I practically worshiped the ground you walked on. You were my world, you and our baby. Your love was everything to me.” She still was.
“It must not have been, because it wasn’t enough to make you stay. God, I hate you for what you did to me! You made me look like a fool! I couldn’t even show my face in public; I was humiliated. You left me to raise our baby alone…you fucking son of a bitch…!”
I couldn’t help it. I put my hands on her forearms and pulled her to me, enveloping her in my embrace. I had to touch her. For a microsecond, she yielded, and then she pushed me away.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t you ever lay a hand on me again!”
“Phaedra, I’m sorry.”
She turned away from me and I watched her calm down by degrees; listened to her breathing even out and watched the relaxing of her hands. I waited. Phaedra had a temper. It had been a delicious part of our intimate life; whenever she was riled up was a guarantee of fantastic sex. I used to irritate her on purpose just so she could jump me. Our son was the result of one of those arguments. That was a fight that had been well-worth it.
When she turned around, I saw steel in her eyes. “Get out, Orion. I’m fine with you establishing a relationship with my son; he needs to know his father. But it will be done on my terms, is that clear? Until I’m satisfied, you will come here to see him, and only a few times during the week, and before his 8:00 bedtime. We understand each other, Orion? Because I’m serious.”
If she was willing to give me a chance with my son, I wasn’t going to put a toe out of line. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You’re okay with me coming by? What about CJ?”
“If I’m dictating that you have to come here to see Taz, then I’m obviously okay with it. And CJ is no concern of yours.” Then she looked at me. “You’re here for Taz, Orion. I’m not a part of this, and that’s something you’d better get used to.”
I stared at her. I knew Phaedra very well; knew her expressions, her mannerisms, and quirks. I knew when her mind was made up, and when there was wiggle room. In this case, the latter was true.
Phaedra and I worked out the days of the week I would get to visit Orion Jr.; Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays. I was no fool; I knew if I missed one visit, she would revoke my privileges and I would never see my son again. As a result, I made sure that any business I had to conduct did not take place anywhere around the time I was scheduled to visit. It was easy to arrange. My place of business was Jade’s, an Ishiguro-owned bar & grill on the corner of First Street and Prince Avenue. I was the manager of the restaurant, which was a legitimate front for other things. Sadao was willing and able to run things for me, especially when he learned that I had a chance to get to know my son.
Nysha was another matter. One evening, about four weeks after I started visiting Orion Jr., she was parading around our bedroom in a slinky black lace ensemble, made up to the nines even though it was almost midnight. I hadn’t had the desire to have sex with her in about a week, ever since I overheard an argument between CJ and Phaedra about my frequent visits. Nysha alternated between needing to get laid and not wanting me to muss her hair and clothes. This was a week in which she wanted me to fuck her brains out and I just wasn’t in the mood. I was watching television, my thoughts on the tension between CJ and Phaedra, and my role in it, and ignoring my current girlfriend.
She got on the bed and draped her torso over my lap. As I’ve said before, Nysha was a bombshell; voluptuous, curvy, flawless, gorgeous. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have been a problem for me to take her up on her offer. Not now. Not after learning that there could be the slightest inclination of a possibility that I could get Phaedra back.
I tried to look around her head. There was a Lakers/Celtics basketball game on. “What is it?”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m trying to watch Kobe lead the Lakers to a win.”
“Turn off the TV.”
She slid her hand over my groin and gave me a gentle tug. My dick barely twitched. I was clearly not in the mood, and said so.
“This is unlike you. Normally, I have to beat you off with a stick. But lately, you haven’t wanted to touch me. I know you haven’t started batting for the other team, so what gives? You never leave me hanging like this.”
She smelled fruity, like strawberries, or some other equally potent fragrance. I wasn’t the least bit turned on by her, in spite of her looks. “Sorry, Ny. I’m just not in the mood for sex.”
She groaned and got off the bed, fiddling with her hair. “Do we have any D-cell batteries?”
I smirked. I’d sent her to her toy box more than once this week; likely, she’d worn out the batteries on her favorite vibrator. It didn’t bother me. She would do better getting an orgasm from one of her toys. The last time I saw Phaedra, she was in a fly green dress that screamed ‘fuck me.’ Unfortunately, I know CJ got to do the honors, and I can’t reiterate how much that bothered me. Any hard-on I might have was for Phaedra and Phaedra alone. “I wouldn’t know, Ny.”
“Orion, what is going on?”
I took a short breath and looked at her. She was twirling a long lock of hair around a finger. “I have a child.”
“What? Since when? Have you been fucking around on me, Orion?”
“No,” I said. “My son is six years old.”
She stared at me as if she didn’t understand. “Did you get hit with child support papers or something? Why am I just now learning about your kid? You know I fucking hate children, Orion.”
I was aware. That was one of the reasons I knew that I’d have to get rid of Nysha. Once Phaedra was comfortable enough to allow Orion Jr. to visit me, I intended for it to stay that way. “I know, Ny. And no, I haven’t been served with papers. I’ve been taking care of my son from the beginning.”
“Why am I just now learning about this, O?”
“Because I’m now in a position for him to be able to stay with me. And rest assured, he will be staying with me. I’m already making plans to have the guest bedroom turned into a room for him.”
“Oh no, oh no no…I’m not about to have a kid up in my apartment, Orion!”
“Last I checked, I paid the rent and bills, Ny. You’re no more than entertaining decoration.”
|Can Nysha compete with Phaedra?|
She was too distracted to be insulted. “What?”
“Don’t think for a second that I’m going to choose you over my son. I’ve been out of his life, but that’s changed. His mother and I have come to an agreement, and I can now be an active part of his life…which I intend to be.”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“I don’t recall saying those words. You’re the one who doesn’t want my kid around. So you’re leaving me.”
“No I’m not! You’re my man! MY man! I’m not about to let you go!”
“But you expect me to ignore my son?”
“No, Orion…it’s just—”
“What about the mother?”
“What about her?”
“You’re trying to get back with her?”
I wasn’t trying to get back in with Phaedra; our interactions had been strictly restricted to Orion Jr. But if I thought there was a chance—and I’m now of the opinion that there is—I would be with her in a heartbeat. “No, Nysha. She’s involved with another man.”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Is she married to him?”
“She got a kid with him?”
“Then there’s nothing keeping her from getting back with you if she wants to.”
I was intrigued, but I wasn’t about to let on. “Ny, we haven’t been together in over six years. She’s moved on.” I hesitated and decided to toss in a lie. “So have I.”
“You’re her baby’s daddy, and I know you. You’re a one-woman man, Orion, and it’s one of the things I love about you. You have a child with her. You have a connection to her that I don’t have with you, and I won’t be able to compete with that.”
“By your choice, Nysha. I haven’t said a thing about breaking up with you. But like I said, I’m not choosing you over my child. If you can get over the fact that I have a son, and that he will be staying with me from time to time, then you can continue to remain my girlfriend.” Yeah. Right. The moment I knew that I had a real shot at Phaedra, Nysha would be gone.
She shifted her weight a few times and then sighed dramatically. “Do I have to play stepmom or something; take him shopping, make him breakfast, watch cartoons with him, shit like that?”
“To be perfectly honest, I’d rather not have you within ten feet of my son. Your dislike rolls off you in waves. I don’t need Orion picking up that vibe and thinking he’s unwelcome in his father’s home. So no, you don’t have to worry about any of that stuff. Leave him alone.”
She rolled her eyes and turned to go into the bathroom. “You can be such a fucking asshole, Orion!”
I turned my attention back to the game, just in time to see Kobe dunk on Paul Pierce. “Whatever.”