XIX: Crimson Secrets
Shantreyl knocked on the door of one of the Vermilion’s Presidential Suites, yawning and rubbing her lower back. She was tired and left work as soon as her last class was done. Earlier, she received a text from her mother informing her that they had arrived and Shantreyl was excited to see her parents. She hadn’t been home in three years.
A moment later, Shannon Troy opened the door and screamed when she saw her youngest daughter. She held out her arms. Shantreyl grabbed and held her mother tight, feeling warmth flow over and through her the way it always did when her mother hugged her. Her eyes got misty because it had been a long time since the last maternal hug. “I’m so glad to see you, Momma. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you too, sweetie. How are you? How was work?”
A long moment passed and then Shantreyl broke the embrace. “I’m good, Momma. Work’s work. Nothing’s changed since I last talked to you.”
Shannon took her hand and led her into the hotel suite. Shantreyl looked around and whistled. She’d never seen the inside of a Presidential Suite and was impressed. “This is nice. Where’s Daddy?”
Her father’s voice boomed from the bedroom. “Daddy’s right here, Princess.” Trey Troy walked out with his arms spread wide. She went to him and embraced him, feeling that familiar groundswell of love from her father. “Daddy!”
“How’s my princess?” he asked, patting her on the back.
“I’m all right,” she said, yawning again as he released her.
Shannon waved her over to the sofa. “Come sit down, honey.”
Shantreyl went and sat on the couch. Trey walked over to the kitchen and said, “You thirsty? Want something to drink? This is the greatest mini-bar ever.”
“A ginger ale would be nice,” she said, yawning once more. “How was the flight?”
Shannon said, “It was very enjoyable. We’ve never flown first class before. The food was really good and Trey and I each had our own cocoon. We got to stretch out and relax, and it was nice. The eight hours passed by so fast we barely noticed. Are you sleepy, baby?”
“I’m just tired. This time of year takes it out of me. I’m okay, though.”
Trey brought her a ginger ale and said, “Your fiancé had a limousine waiting for us when we got out of baggage claim. Your mother and I felt like royalty riding in the back of it. When we arrived here, he and his business partner were waiting for us inside the hotel.”
Shantreyl looked at her father. Kaphiri was there too? “Really?”
Shannon said, “He greeted us and introduced us to his partner. Kafir, Kari—Kaf…what was his name, Trey?”
“Kafi…Kafi something Parker.”
Shantreyl smiled. “Kaphiri.”
“Yes. That’s it. He’s a big ‘un, and an absolute stud. And Malcolm’s very handsome too, Shantreyl. You did good. Let me see that ring.”
Shantreyl held out her hand as Trey said, “She did more than good. He’s rich. She hit the jackpot. We don’t have to worry about her anymore.”
“You didn’t have to worry anyway, Daddy. I’ve been taking care of myself for years.”
“I know, Princess, but still. I’m your father. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I like knowing you will have a good husband taking care of you when I leave this world. Kit treats Zuri like a queen and I need the same for you.”
"I know, Daddy. I know."
"I know, Daddy. I know."
“This ring is gorgeous, baby,” Shannon said. “It’s at least two carats. Gotta be. Whew! He’s got taste.”
Shantreyl rubbed the back of her neck, a secret smile on her face as she wondered what her father would think if he knew she had two husbands. She smiled wider, thinking of her babylove and honeybunny earnestly standing in the lobby of the Vermilion, waiting for her parents to arrive.
Shannon side-eyed her daughter and said, “They escorted us up here and introduced us to the floor valet, Maria.”
“Yes. Maria will take care of us while we’re here. She unpacked our luggage and put away our things. She asked if we wanted anything laundered and if we will be ordering room service or dining in one of the restaurants. She’s on standby if we need her. Malcolm also has a car and driver on reserve if we want to do any traveling around the city while you’re at work. He even gave us complimentary passes to the hotel spa and VIP access to the casino if we wanted to try our luck at the tables.” Shannon smiled. “I must say, your fiancé is pulling out all the stops.”
Shantreyl beamed. “He does that. How long have you been here in the hotel?”
Trey said, “Not long. About three hours. Long enough for your mother to have had Maria draw her a bubble bath in that freaking pool-sized tub, and long enough for me to stretch out and have a drink or two. We’ve been relaxing. We will do a lot of that in the upcoming days. Nice to be off work.”
Shannon nodded. “We plan to make the most of this opportunity.”
“This suite is enormous. I don’t blame you.”
Trey said, “It is. We thanked Malcolm and Kaphiri for their generosity and Malcolm said that he would see us later. He wants to have dinner with us.”
Shantreyl nodded, yawning. Malcolm told her yesterday that he planned to have dinner with her and her parents the day they arrived.
“Are you doing room service or one of the restaurants?”
“What do you suggest?” Shannon asked.
“Well, are you and Daddy tired from the flight?”
“We’re good,” Trey said. “We’re probably gonna turn in early, though.”
“Well, I’ve eaten at all three. They’re all good, so it depends on what you want. Embers is Brazilian, Medallion is French, and Carnival has a different menu every week.”
“What’s this week?”
“Not sure, but I can find out.” Shantreyl whipped out her phone and texted Malcolm, who responded in less than two minutes. She looked at the phone and said, “Carnival’s running an American dinner buffet this week. Honestly, I could go for a steak and some fried shrimp.” She yawned again.
“Same,” Trey said, smiling at his daughter.
Shannon said, “So, Carnival it is then.”
Shantreyl’s phone chirped and she looked at it. “Are you guys all right eating at six o’clock?”
“That’s fine,” Shannon said. “Your father and I look forward to talking to Malcolm.”
“What are you doing tomorrow…or what do you want to do?”
“Sleep late,” Trey said. “That jet lag is going to hit hard. Did you have plans for us?”
“I have to get fitted for my dress,” Shantreyl said, yawning again. “And I need to touch base with Julie, my wedding planner. I didn’t have any other plans in place for tomorrow, so if you guys just want to hang out here and rest up, that’s okay with me. You can call me when you’re up and about and we’ll go do something. I need to go Christmas shopping for Zuri’s kids.”
“Princess, you look exhausted. Why don’t you sleep in and get some rest? Your mother and I will be fine.”
“Daddy, I’m all right. I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I think it’s just wedding nerves. And I’m still having work issues with that woman I told you about.”
“All the more reason you need to rest. It’s settled, Princess. Don’t argue with me. Do what you need to do, and then go back to bed. Your mother and I will probably do room service all day and binge watch American Gods on that enormous television. Call us, but don’t expect us. We’ll all get together when Zuri, Kit and the kids arrive.”
“I agree with your father,” Shannon said. “While I would love to see your dress, you’re tired, honey. It’s all over your face. We’ll be fine. Get your sleep.”
Shantreyl nodded obediently. She was tired. End of the semester was always rough and her stress level at work was higher than usual. Cindy was being extremely petty, looking for any and every excuse to call Shantreyl down to her office. Shantreyl started getting stress headaches two weeks ago and her appetite was up and down. Plus, she was suffering from PMS. A day in bed sounded great.
Shannon took Shantreyl’s hands. “I’m so happy to see you, baby. Please don’t let so many years go by before we see you again. Are you and Malcolm planning on having children?”
“Yes. Soon, actually. Neither of us are getting any younger and we want two kids.”
“Good. I will be here when you go into labor, pending you go to term.”
“I know, Momma.” Shantreyl smiled, wondering what it was going to be like, having three grandmothers fight over her baby. “I know you will.”
“You talk to your sister?” Trey asked.
“I texted her when you told me that you had arrived. They’re supposed to arrive on Sunday, and they’ll be staying in the Executive Suite down on the other end.”
“Oh, Zuri’s gonna love that,” Shannon said. “The kids, too.”
“Malcolm is very generous,” Shantreyl said. “He’s got a big heart. It’s one of the reasons why I love him so much. He will do anything for me if it makes me happy. Renee and Jaya love him.”
“Speaking of, how are they doing? How’s that baby?”
Shantreyl smiled, thinking of sweet little Renaya. “She’s so beautiful, Momma. She’s two weeks old, fat and happy, and Renee and Jaya are so in love with her. I am too.” Shantreyl pulled up a picture of Renaya and showed it to her mother.
Shannon beamed. “Aaaaaw, what a little beauty! She’s so juicy! I love fat babies. What’s her name?”
“Renaya. Jaya and Renee love my name and wanted to do the same for their daughter.”
“Will Jaya still be able to be your maid of honor?”
“She said she could. Fortunately, she was able to find a dress in the right color. All’s well in wedding land.”
“Good.” Shannon looked at her daughter. “Zuri would have done it, you know.”
“I know, Mama. But Zuri’s got enough to do with the kids, traveling and whatnot. I didn’t want to add to her stress or fatigue.”
“But she would have done it, baby.” Shannon shook her head. “You’re sisters. I wish you two were closer.”
“So do I,” Trey said. “It’s not right.”
“We’re fine, Momma. We’re okay.” Shantreyl yawned again.
“Okay,” Shannon said. “We’re not going to push it. Do you want to wash up before dinner?”
Malcolm reserved Carnival’s private dining room. When Shantreyl and her parents arrived, the maître d’ escorted them there. Malcolm was waiting and his mother was sitting at the table. A small army of servers stood off to the side.
He stood up and held out his hand for Trey to shake. “How are you, Mr. and Mrs. Troy? I trust that you found the suite to your satisfaction?”
“And then some,” Shannon said as Malcolm kissed her hand in greeting. “It’s superb.”
Malcolm gave Shantreyl a quick kiss and waved them over to the dining room table. Marion stood up, a smile on her face bright enough to rival the sun.
“This is my mother, Marion Sullivan. Mama, meet Mr. & Mrs. Troy.”
Marion smiled and held out her hand. “It is so wonderful to meet you,” she said.
“Likewise,” Shannon said, taking Marion’s hand. “My name is Shannon, and this is my husband Theodore, but everyone calls him Trey.”
“Are you the third Theodore?” Marion asked, shaking Trey’s hand.
“I am indeed,” he replied.
Malcolm said, “Come everyone, let’s sit down. I have a team of servers who will bring whatever you like from the buffet.”
“Oh, we don’t have to get up and go through the buffet line?” Trey asked as he held out Shannon’s chair.
“No,” Malcolm said, pulling out Shantreyl’s chair. “There are menus on the table. Just tell your server what you want, and they will bring it to you, drinks included.”
“Thank you. You’re spoiling us,” Shannon said to Malcolm. “We’re not used to such lavish treatment.”
“It pleases Shantreyl for me to take care of you while you’re here,” Malcolm said, sitting down. “And anything that pleases her pleases me. Your stay here is completely covered and anything you want or need, just let me know.”
“Thank you,” Trey said, picking up a menu. He opened it and stared thoughtfully. “There’s a lot to choose from. This is far more elaborate than Ryan’s or Golden Corral back home.”
Shantreyl smiled at her father. “Carnival is two or three steps above them easily, no shade.” She turned to her server. “I’m going to order filet mignon, medium well, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, rolls and a mountain of fried shrimp. I didn’t eat lunch today and I’m starving. Daddy, you should try a Porterhouse. The steaks here are so good.”
Marion looked at Shannon and said, “I love that she has such a robust appetite.”
Shannon smiled back. “She’s always had one. Takes after her father. My youngest was never one to miss a meal.”
“Those other girls Malcolm dated…to my knowledge, they barely ate in front of him. Shantreyl’s the best thing to ever happen to my son. That, and meeting Kaphiri.”
“How did they meet?”
“One day, when they were kids, Malcolm got beat up by some bullies and Kaphiri stopped it. He taught Malcolm how to handle himself and they’ve been best friends ever since. I consider Kaphiri family; he’s my bonus son. I have two other boys: Melvin and Michael, but Malcolm is my heart; the one who takes care of me.”
“My daughter loves him very much,” Shannon said. “Whenever she talks about him, her face just lights up. See, like it is now.” She motioned in her direction. Shantreyl was gazing at Malcolm while he talked to her father. “That’s all I need to know.”
Trey waved a server over. “I’ll have a Porterhouse, medium, a loaded baked potato, some black-eyed peas, some fried shrimp and a roll. And let me get a sweet tea…do you have that?”
“We do, sir,” the server said. “Anything else?”
“Better make that a basket of rolls,” Trey said. He and Shantreyl loved bread.
Malcolm put his request in, as well as his mother’s. Shannon needed a moment to peruse the menu, as she and Marion had been chatting quietly while the others ordered their food.
A few minutes later, they were eating heartily with a casual line of conversation going. Shannon was talking to Marion and Malcolm was talking to Trey. Everything was very pleasant. While conversing with Malcolm’s mother, Shannon kept an eye on her daughter. She had bags under her eyes, and she kept yawning, but hid it under her napkin. She wasn’t talking much, but it seemed that her appetite was good. Shannon was concerned, and she had the sense that she and Shantreyl needed to talk privately.
“So, what do you and your husband do for a living?” Marion asked. “Are you retired?”
“I’m a surgical nurse,” Shannon said. “And not yet. I got a couple more years. Trey’s a software engineer project manager for Lockheed Martin, and he’s got a couple more years before retirement. We love our jobs, fortunately, and aren’t in a hurry to retire.”
“I was an elementary school teacher for 35 years,” Marion said. “I retired three years ago. I’ve been enjoying myself. I do what I want, when I want. I’ve got a friend and we have a lot of fun together. You’ll meet him at the wedding. His name is Richard Phillips and he’s a retired bus driver. We met shortly after I called it a career.”
Shannon smiled. “I can’t wait to meet him. You make retirement sound good.”
“Well, mine has been. Fortunately, my sweet Malcolm takes care of my needs, so I can do whatever I want to do with my money. Richard and I enjoy taking road trips.” Marion took a long drink of Coca-Cola. “Shantreyl says that she’s got an older sister,” she said.
“She does,” Shannon said. “Zuri. She’ll be here on Sunday; her, her husband and their three children.”
“You have three grandbabies?”
“Yes. I love them to pieces. They’re really good kids.”
“My oldest has three but he has limited contact with them, so I never get to see them. I am dying for Malcolm to make me an official grandmother.”
“Really?” Shannon said. “I’m sorry to hear that you don’t get to see your grandkids. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t see my sweeties. I don’t know how I’m going to handle being so far away when Shantreyl finally has a baby.”
Marion said, “I completely understand. I have plans to move closer to Malcolm and Shantreyl when they do get pregnant because Lord knows I don’t want to miss not one day of that sweet baby’s life.”
Shannon patted Marion’s hand. “I have to give you my contact info so that you can send me pictures every day. And I do mean every day.”
Malcolm was regaling Trey with the story of how he met Shantreyl at the Zodiac Club, respectfully omitting the part when Shantreyl followed him home to fuck, and his efforts to woo her. “She didn’t make it difficult for me, but she did make me put in the work.”
“My princess is worth it,” Trey said.
“Oh indeed,” Malcolm replied, looking at Shantreyl. She was finished eating and was sipping on a glass of sweet tea with a tired smile on her face. She hadn’t been sleeping well for the past couple of weeks and was suffering from stress headaches. Malcolm believed that part of it was wedding nerves and part was the stress of her job. When he and Kaphiri checked in with Romeo, he told them that everything was in place, but nothing had been decided yet by Cindy and her husband. It frustrated both of them, but there was nothing they could do about it short of putting a gun to Cindy’s head. Malcolm wished Shantreyl would take the week off work before the wedding just so she could rest and get her head right, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She couldn’t bear leaving her students in the hands of a substitute during finals week, even if they were middle schoolers.
Shannon asked, “Malcolm, how long have you been in the hotel business?”
“About seven or eight years. My partner and I made the decision about a decade ago that we were going to expand our business to the hotel industry. We managed a lot of small businesses and while we made a profit, I knew we could do more. Suva Oriana has no shortage of gamblers, but there was nothing official in place to cater to that segment. So, Kaphiri and I decided that we would build a five-star luxury hotel with the finest casino in the city. The Vermilion was built, and within two years it was so profitable that we decided to expand and build another hotel casino on the other side of the river. You know, for those who don’t want to cross the Oriochi to get their gambling fix. The Solar Fountain was built three years later. We’re doing very well.”
Trey asked, “Have you been married before, or come close?”
“No and not even,” Malcolm replied. “Honestly, I spent my early adult years learning about the business which began with Kaphiri’s father, Mercury Parker. He sent me to college, and I ended up getting an MBA and inherited the business when I was 27. Kaphiri was honorably discharged from the Army around that time and we put our heads and skill sets together and turned Papa Merc’s business into Sullivan Parker, Inc.” That was the sanitized version of events.
“And you didn’t take the time to date or have a family?” Shannon said.
“Mrs. Troy, I dated plenty of women, but my focus was on my career; not marriage or anything like that. I don’t have any children either—and I know that makes me like a unicorn or something—but I didn’t want to have a family until I was ready. My job took up a lot of my time, and the same is true of my partner, Kaphiri. We knew what we wanted and when we wanted it.”
“Is he married?” Shannon asked.
“Not yet. No kids either. But that won’t last long, now that everything’s in place. I wasn’t looking for a relationship when I met Shantreyl, but I couldn’t get her out of my mind after our first date. It was all over with for me after the second. Some things are very simple.”
“You’re right about that,” Trey said. “Six months after I met Shannon, I married her.”
Shantreyl was hit with a sudden yawn she couldn’t suppress. Everyone looked at her.
“OMG, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to…”
Trey said, “That settles it. You’re exhausted and you need to go home now, Princess.”
“But Daddy, we’re having a good time and…”
Shannon shook her head. “Shantreyl, you heard your father. We’ve already talked about this. Did you drive here?”
“You’re too tired to drive home. We’ll call you an Uber or something,” Shannon said.
Malcolm said, “I’ll see to it that she gets home safely, Mr. & Mrs. Troy. She’s been tired like this for the past few weeks, but she’s stubborn as hell and won’t do the things she needs to do…like take a day off.”
“That she is,” Trey said. “No surprises there.”
“We need to turn in ourselves,” Shannon said. “Both of us are tired from the trip. Malcolm, thank you for an excellent dinner. And Marion, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
Marion nodded. “Well, I look forward to talking with you more,” she said. “We must exchange numbers.”
Shannon patted her hand. “Absolutely.”
Shantreyl wanted to walk her parents back to their suite, but Trey insisted that she go straight home and exchanged looks with Malcolm. She was too tired to argue, and said her goodbyes to them and to Marion, whom Malcolm sent home in a limousine.
“Do you have to go back to work?” she asked her fiancé once they were alone.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s 7:30 and all’s quiet so far, so I’m gonna drive you home, baby. Your car’s safe in the garage. You can get it when you come on Sunday.”
“I’m really tired, babylove,” she said, caressing his cheek. “One more week and then I’m off for three weeks.”
“One more week, you’re Mrs. Sullivan Parker and we’re off to Thailand. I’m so ready for that.”
Shantreyl kissed his lips. “Me too, honey. It’s gonna be nice to be off, doing nothing except what we want to do.”
Malcolm grabbed her ass and kissed her once more. Then he pulled out his phone and made a call. “Romeo, I’m going home for the night. I’ll see you in the morning.” Then he hung up and took Shantreyl’s hand. “Let’s go home, baby.”
By the time they arrived at Fallon Station, it was almost an hour later. Downtown Friday night traffic sucked. Shantreyl fell asleep while Malcolm was driving and when he pulled up in his spot in front of her townhome, he had to wake her up.
“Baby, we’re home.” He put a hand on her thigh and shook it. When she didn’t respond, he shook it harder. “Shantreyl, wake up. We’re home.”
She sat up, wiping her mouth. “What is it, Malcolm?” She had been good and sleep.
“We’re home, baby. Come on, let’s get you inside.”
She nodded and slipped her shoes back on while Malcolm got out to open her door. He helped her out. She yawned again.
“I’m beat, babylove,” she said, closing her eyes. “I think I’ll text Julie and Aunt Pandora and tell them to come later.”
“I’ll do that for you,” he said, escorting her inside. “Do you want to take a shower or is that too much for you to handle right now?”
“I really need to,” she said. “A quick one will help me sleep better.”
“Okay baby. Come on, let’s go.” Malcolm escorted her up the steps. Had Kaphiri been there, he would have merely scooped Shantreyl up and carried her upstairs. ShoNuff followed, meowing.
Shantreyl said, “Baby, can you feed ShoNuff?”
“I’ll do it in a little while,” he said. “Let me take care of you first.”
A few minutes later, Shantreyl was in the bathroom, getting her shower water right. Malcolm called Julie and asked if it were possible that she could come later on Saturday, and she said she could. Then he called Aunt Pandora and asked her the same. She agreed and told him she’d be there at eight p.m. Afterwards, Malcolm began removing his suit. Under normal circumstances, both he and Kaphiri kept their suits at work, making sure to leave the daily worn one available for dry cleaning by the hotel. It was easier to get suited up at work rather than at home.
As he undressed, he heard Shantreyl get in the shower. He turned back the bed and flicked on the TV to find her favorite horror channel and pick out a new story. He sprayed the bed with eucalyptus and went into the bathroom. Shantreyl was standing under the rainfall shower with her face upturned, lathering her body with her favorite bar of soap. Malcolm got in the shower with her and closed the door. He came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.
“You all right, baby?”
“I’m good. Just enjoying the hot water. Did you call Julie and Aunt Pandora?”
He began to massage her neck and shoulders. “I did. Julie will come around six p.m. and Aunt ‘Dora will come around eight. You get all the rest you need, baby. Kaphiri and I will be out of the house by eleven. We won’t wake you.”
“Mmmmn, I will,” she said as she put the bar of soap back on the holder. “Rub a little harder, babylove. I need to get a massage or something. My muscles are so tight.”
“I can send someone here tomorrow,” he said.
“No. Momma and Daddy told me to get my rest, so I’m going to get some rest. Maybe send someone over next Thursday night or something.”
Malcolm began massaging her lower back as the water ran over them. “Anything you want, baby. Anything. But I wish you would consider taking the week off, especially with your family in town.”
“Malcolm, we’ve already been through this. We’re required to be at work before a major holiday. Dr. Bowlen was good enough to give me Friday afternoon off; I can’t push it.”
Malcolm rubbed her belly, reveling in her softness. “I know, baby…but I can’t stand to see you tired like this. This whole semester’s been a shitshow. You’ve got bags under your eyes, you’re not sleeping well, you’ve started having nasty headaches, your appetite’s been flaky…and with the added pressure of our wedding, Kaphiri and I are worried about you, Shantreyl.”
“I know,” she said, yawning. “But I’ll be all right. I’m gonna get some rest tomorrow. I’ll be fine in time for Zuri’s arrival on Sunday. Can’t wait to see my babies.”
Malcolm’s hands went up and cupped her breasts. Shantreyl flinched and pushed him away. Her breasts were tender, as they always were right before her period.
Malcolm was startled. “What’s wrong, baby? You okay? Did I hurt you?”
She turned to look at him. “I’m fine, babylove. My boobs are sore, is all. You know they get that way before my period starts. Besides, you and Kaphiri have been sucking the hell out of my nipples whenever we make love.” Which they hadn’t done for the past couple of weeks.
“Can’t blame us for that,” he said, gently touching her nipple. “We’ve been fascinated with them for the longest.” When his finger brushed against the skin, she hissed and moved away again.
“They’re that sore?” he asked.
“Yeah. But it’ll pass when my period begins. You know that. Happens every month.”
“But I’ve never known them to get that sensitive, Shantreyl. This is new.”
“I’m a year older, baby. My hormone levels are probably screwy.”
Malcolm looked at her breasts. He couldn’t tell if they were bigger. Her nipples poked up the way they always did when she didn’t wear her pasties. He and Kaphiri had been sucking on them whenever the opportunity arose, but she never once turned them away or asked them to stop.
“Can I?” he asked, holding out his hands. “I want to see something.”
“What? What do you want to see, babylove?”
“Just bear with me. Come closer.”
She did. Malcolm carefully cupped her breasts. Shantreyl groaned and sucked in a breath. He applied a little bit of pressure and she moaned. He had played with them often enough to feel the difference. They felt full and heavy. Then he touched her nipples again, as gently as possible. She emitted a soft gasp.
“Well?” Shantreyl said. “What do you think?”
“They feel different,” he said. “They feel full. Swollen.”
Shantreyl gently cupped her breasts and thumbed her nipples. “They’re sore, is all. I’ve got a feeling this period’s gonna be a doozy. Ugh.”
Malcolm cocked his head to one side. “You’ve been fatigued, you’ve been having headaches, your appetite’s been weird…Shantreyl, I think you might be pregnant.”
“What? No, Malcolm. I’m not. I haven’t missed a period. I’ve been regular as clockwork. Too regular.”
“Are you sure, baby? We’ve been smashing raw since September.”
“I’m sure,” she said. “I know my body. It’s just PMS. My period’s supposed to start on Sunday. Thank God it will all be over with before next Saturday. I would hate to begin our married lives in Thailand bleeding.” Shantreyl moved back under the shower head. “Let me rinse off so I can go to bed. I’m tired, babylove.”
Malcolm nodded. “I’ll leave you be. The bed’s ready and I have a new story on YouTube ready to play. Do you want me to pick out a nightgown for you?”
“A T-shirt would be better,” she said. “My big blue Dawnstar tee, in fact.” She’d been sleeping it in for the past few days. It was big and comfy and didn’t rub against her nipples.
“Okay,” he said.
“You’re not gonna shower?”
“I’ll do it in the morning,” he said. “I mainly came in to make sure you’re all right. Go ahead, finish up.”
He got out and wrapped a towel around his hips. ShoNuff wound around his ankles, meowing. Malcolm bent over and scratched her head. “Give me five minutes, okay?”
ShoNuff meowed again, as if to say, ‘Hurry up!’
As Malcolm left Shantreyl’s bedroom to go to the guest room where he kept his things, he grabbed his phone and called Kaphiri.
“On your way home, stop and get a pregnancy test.”
“I think Shantreyl’s pregnant. She doesn’t think so; she thinks she has PMS, but I suspect otherwise.”
“Well, that would explain a few things,” Kaphiri said. “I’ll be home around ten or so.”
“She’ll be asleep when you arrive. We’ll deal with it sometime tomorrow or on Sunday. She’s sleeping in tomorrow; she’s exhausted.”
“Good,” he said. “She’s been tossing and turning for several nights now. You didn’t notice it because you sleep like the dead, but it’s been a while since she’s had a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you in a little while, unless you’re asleep too.”
“I’ll probably be up. See you soon.”
Shantreyl abruptly woke up at two in the morning. She climbed over Malcolm and ran to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before she threw up. She bent over the toilet and vomited until her stomach calmed down. She felt weak and nauseous.
Kaphiri felt her get up and heard her in the bathroom. He went inside, turned on the light and saw her sitting next to the toilet, her face tearstained. Kaphiri grabbed a washcloth and wet it before handing it to her. Shantreyl took the washcloth and wiped her face. Kaphiri handed her a glass of water so she could rinse her mouth.
“Can you stand up?” he asked as she spit the water into the toilet before flushing it.
“Yeah,” she said, getting up.
“Come wash your face, bambina. Is your stomach okay?”
“I hope so,” she said as she went over to the sink, her voice weak. “I just threw up my entire dinner…there’s nothing left, I hope.”
Kaphiri ran water in the sink. “Wash your face. I’m going to get you some crushed ice.”
“Okay. Thank you, honeybunny.”
When Kaphiri came back with her ice, Shantreyl was still at the sink, patting her face with the damp washcloth.
“Here,” he said. “Cool your throat. Come lie down.”
“In a minute,” she said, soaking the cloth in the water before applying it to her face. “I just want to be sure before I lie back down. I didn’t mean to wake you, honeybun.”
“It’s fine, bambina. Take your time, all right?”
Shantreyl nodded. Kaphiri went into the bedroom and grabbed the paper sack that he brought home. He went back into the bathroom and handed it to her.
“What’s this, Kaphiri?”
“It’s some pregnancy tests. I bought three different brands just to be sure. Malcolm thinks you’re with child and so do I.”
“It’s just PMS,” Shantreyl said. “I’m not pregnant.”
“Do you really think that, bambina?”
Shantreyl opened the bag. Before Malcolm shared his suspicions, she had not given the idea any thought. They had been having unprotected sex since September and nothing had happened. Her periods continued to come on time. What actually concerned her was the idea that she couldn’t conceive. She didn’t know what to do or how to handle it if she couldn’t give Malcolm and Kaphiri a baby. Would they still want to be with her if she was barren? What were the chances that both of them were infertile? Getting pregnant was never her fear; not being able to scared her.
Shantreyl took the tests out of the bag. She couldn’t look Kaphiri in the eye. “I was scared that it was the opposite.”
“I mean, we haven’t used condoms for a while, honeybunny. And yet, my period is regular as fuck. I haven’t even been late. I was scared that I couldn’t conceive.”
“Well, let’s find out,” Kaphiri said. “I’ll wait in the bedroom. Do you want me to close the door?”
“Yes,” she said. She wanted some privacy.
Kaphiri left the bathroom and closed the door. Malcolm lay on his stomach, one arm hanging off the bed, dead to the world. Kaphiri walked over and shook him hard by the head. “Wake up, dipshit.”
It took two more hard shakes before he opened his eyes and yawned. “What the fuck, Kap? What’s going on? Why’d you wake me up?”
“Shantreyl’s in the bathroom. She woke up a few minutes ago, sick to her stomach. I gave her the pregnancy tests.”
“What?” Malcolm sat up, adjusting his T-shirt. “Tests?”
“I bought three different brands. I want to be sure.”
Malcolm yawned again and rubbed his face. “What do you think?”
“After watching her puke her guts out, I think she is.”
“So do I. Her tits are so sore she can barely stand for them to be touched. I did some reading and that is definitely an early symptom.”
“That explains why she’s been sleeping on her back. But it’s not a comfortable position for her, so she keeps rolling to her side. If her breasts are that tender, then no wonder she can’t sleep in that position. How the fuck has she been able to wear her bras? Or those things that smash her nipples?”
“The magic of women,” Malcolm said. “Hell if I know how she does it.”
“The reason she doesn’t think she is pregnant is because she thought that she couldn’t get pregnant.”
“She told you that?”
“Yes. Her rationale was that we’d been going in raw for months and nothing’s happened. She hasn’t even been late. She told me that she was scared that she couldn’t conceive.”
“Oh no,” Malcolm said, wondering how far Shantreyl allowed that train of thought to go. “I bet she wondered if we would still want to be with her if she couldn’t get pregnant.”
“Or maybe she thinks it’s us. But the chances of both of us being impotent is very small.”
“Well, we need to reassure her,” Malcolm said, getting up. He went to the bathroom door and tapped on it. “Baby? You all right?”
“I’m all right.”
“Can we come in?”
A pause. Malcolm knocked once more. “Shantreyl? Baby? Can we come in?”
“Yes,” she said.
Malcolm opened the door. Shantreyl was sitting on the edge of the tub, her hands on her knees.
“What’s the word?” Kaphiri asked.
“One more minute,” she said.
Malcolm walked over and sat next to her. “Are you scared, baby?”
“A little,” she said.
“What if I can’t get pregnant, Malcolm? What will you and Kaphiri think if I can’t give you a baby?”
“You think our feelings are tied to your ability to reproduce?” Kaphiri asked. “They’re not, bambina.”
“Shantreyl, if those tests are negative then that means we won’t have any children of our own. We can adopt. I don’t care.”
“Are you serious, Malcolm?”
“Shantreyl, my feelings for you are absolute. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, as does Kaphiri. You have a good heart and you’re a wonderful person. Don’t think for one second that we will love you any less if those tests are negative. We’re committed to you, to this. Tell us that you feel the same.”
She caressed his cheek. “I do. I love you both very much.”
“Then it’s gonna be fine,” he said. “Regardless as to what those tests say.”
“It’s been a minute,” Kaphiri said.
Shantreyl got up and walked over to the sink, eyes closed. Kaphiri walked over to stand next to her. She picked up the tests and looked at all three.
Malcolm got up and went to stand next to her. “What is it, baby? What do they say?”
She stared at each test carefully and then checked the box instructions. “According to the instructions…they’re all positive. I’m pregnant.” She put the tests back down on the counter, absorbing the information. It was unbelievable. She was going to have a baby. This had been one hell of a year.
A fleeting thought passed through her mind as she put one hand on her belly. ‘Who’s the father?’
Not that it mattered.
Malcolm smiled. “I knew it,” he said, taking one of her hands, a smile spreading across his face. “I’m so happy right now, Shantreyl,” he said, kissing her knuckle.
Kaphiri took her other hand and kissed her palm. “We’re going to be parents, bambina,” he said.
Shantreyl breathed a sigh of relief. It was as if a weight had been lifted. “Well, now we know.”
“So, when do you want to tell our families?” Malcolm asked. “My mother may actually float away.”
“I have to tell my mother while she’s here,” Shantreyl said. “She wants to be present when the baby is born. And you have to tell your mothers, but only your mothers. Can we swear them to secrecy? I’d rather not let everyone know right now. I don’t want the extra attention.”
“I’m fine with that,” Kaphiri said. “Mama will keep our secret.”
“So am I,” Malcolm said. “You need to make an appointment for the doctor first thing on Monday morning.”
Kaphiri said, “I want to make sure that you get the best care possible, bambina. I would like it if you would utilize the staff and services of and have my baby in our private hospital.”
Malcolm rolled his eyes. “Our baby, fucknugget.”
Shantreyl looked at him as if she’d been hit over the head. “You have a private hospital?”
“Sullivan Parker does. Morningside Medical Center in Kanzhao. The clinics in the hotels are extensions of it. It’s the best hospital in Suva Oriana as far as I’m concerned.”
“I agree,” Malcolm said. “Would you be willing to use the facility? I’d feel better knowing that you won’t be rushed out of the hospital immediately after having our child.”
Shantreyl smiled at both of them. “Sure. I won’t have to worry about insurance issues. That’s a relief.”
“You won’t have to worry about anything except taking care of yourself and our baby,” Malcolm said.
Shantreyl yawned. “I think I’ll go back to bed,” she said. “I’m still really tired.”
“By all means,” Malcolm said, squeezing her hand. “You need to take the utmost care from now on, Shantreyl. All right? Don’t fight us on this, okay? All we want is for you and the baby to be healthy.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Kaphiri replied. “Do you want us to go sleep elsewhere so you can be comfortable?”
Shantreyl smiled at them. “No. Now that I know why I haven’t been, I can adjust, and the two of you will have to adjust right along with me.” She put a hand on her stomach. “I’m going to need more pillows.”
Shantreyl woke up at noon the next day, feeling somewhat refreshed. She sat up in bed and grabbed her phone as she put a hand on her belly.
‘I’m going to be a mother,’ she thought. ‘I’m going to have a child.’
Renee and Jaya were going to have a fit, but the first person Shantreyl wanted to tell was her mother. She dialed Shannon’s number. After two rings, Shannon answered.
“Hey baby. How are you doing? Did you get some sleep?”
“I just woke up,” Shantreyl said. “I got some sleep, but I’m still tired.”
“We woke up not too long ago. Your father ordered room service and we’re gonna lie in bed, watch season two of American Gods and eat like kings.”
Shantreyl said, “Momma, I need to talk to you. I hate to ruin your plans with Daddy, but I have to tell you something. I wanted to do it yesterday, but I don’t want to talk about this around Daddy.”
She could hear her mother perk up. “What is it, baby? Are you all right?”
“I need to do this face to face. Please, Momma. Can you come to my house?”
Shannon heard the concern in her child’s voice and said, “I will be there within the hour. Text me your address.”
“What are you gonna tell Daddy?”
“Whatever I need to, honey. Don’t worry. I’ll see you soon.”
True to her word, Shannon Troy was at her daughter’s house forty-five minutes later. She hugged Shantreyl and grabbed her hands.
“What’s going on, baby?”
“Come sit on the couch. Do you want anything to drink?”
“Not right now,” she said, sitting down. ShoNuff came over to inspect Shannon’s ankles. Satisfied, the cat jumped up on the couch next to her and sat down.
Shantreyl sat beside her mother. “I have two things to tell you. The first one is this: I’m pregnant.”
Shannon looked at her daughter and broke out into a smile. “Oh honey, that’s wonderful! No wonder you’re so tired. I’m so happy to hear that you and Malcolm are expecting. How far along are you?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I found out last night. I’m going to the doctor on Monday morning.”
“Why don’t you want to tell your father? He’ll be ecstatic to learn that he’s gonna be a grand again, especially to your child. Why don’t you want him to know?”
“It’s not that,” Shantreyl said. “I will tell him soon enough, but that’s not the biggest reason I called you over.”
“Well, what is it then? What can be bigger than that?”
“I’m not exactly sure how to say this,” Shantreyl said. “But I need you to know and understand that I’m in love, Momma. This past year has been full of surprises and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
Shannon held her daughter’s hands. “I can see that, baby girl. Whatever it is you need to say, just say it. Nothing you tell me will make me love you any less.”
Shantreyl squeezed her mother’s hands. “The reason you met Kaphiri yesterday along with Malcolm is because I’m…engaged…to him too.”
“Malcolm, Kaphiri and I are getting married next Saturday. What everyone believes is that I’m marrying Malcolm, which I am, but we’re also committing to Kaphiri on that same day. I’m in love with both of them, Momma, and I’m going to be with both of them.”
Shannon looked confused. “How are you marrying two men at the same time, Shantreyl?”
“I’m marrying Malcolm, but I’m also committing to Kaphiri, Momma. It’s not legal for me to marry him too, but I can give my heart and my love to him. He and Malcolm are best friends—no, they’re not gay—and they want to be in a polyamorous relationship with me. They are in a polyamorous relationship with me. We’ve been in this since the summer. I need you to understand, Momma. I’m in love with Malcolm and with Kaphiri, and they are in love with me. They treat me like a goddess.” She wasn’t about to tell her mother that Kaphiri was bisexual.
Shannon stared at her daughter. “So, you’re in a threesome with two men?”
“It’s more than just a threesome, Momma. It’s a full-on relationship. We live together already; they stay here with me, and we’re having a house built.” She remembered the analogy Malcolm used with his mother. “It’s like that show Sister Wives, except I have two husbands.”
“How did this happen, Shantreyl?”
“I don’t know, Momma. It just did. I can’t really explain it. Malcolm and Kaphiri have been best friends since they were kids. They look out for each other.” Shantreyl squeezed her mother’s hands again. “They’re not jealous of one another and our relationship works. It works. I’ve never been this happy with a man before. I’ve never been loved like this before. I know it sounds cliché, but I’m so content with them in my life. Please understand.”
Shannon made a face. “I understand, Shantreyl. But who’s going to father your children? Which one of them fathered the baby you’re carrying right now?”
Shantreyl shrugged. “I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. I’m going to have a child with both of them and we’re raising them together. Our children will have two fathers. Simple as that. Same last name as mine will be: Sullivan Parker.”
A long moment passed. Shantreyl looked at her mother, her eyes becoming wet. “Please, Momma. Please be happy for me. Don’t question it. Neither Malcolm nor Kaphiri will ever hurt me. My happiness is their priority. And I’m happy. I’m so happy.”
“Oh baby, don’t cry,” Shannon said, hugging her daughter. Shantreyl couldn’t help it; she started crying freely. She needed her mother to understand.
Shannon rubbed her back. “Don’t cry, sweetie. Don’t cry. I understand. I get it. You haven’t done anything wrong. You’re in love, you’re getting married, and you’re having a baby. With these men. And,” Shannon broke the hug and looked in her daughter’s light brown eyes, a wicked smile on her face, “there are the added benefits of them being handsome, wealthy men. Especially that Kaphiri. He’s the kind of man who needs a warning label, he’s so big and fine. As far as I’m concerned, you won 2019.”
Shantreyl wiped her face. “Really, Momma? You’re okay with this?”
“It will take some getting used to, but this is your life, honey. If this is what you want, then I’m fine with it. If living with and loving two men who love you back is what it takes for you to be as happy as you are, your father and I won’t question it.”
“Don’t tell Daddy,” Shantreyl said. “I don’t think he’ll understand.”
Shannon shook her head. “Now you know your father and I don’t have any secrets between us, Shantreyl. Don’t ask me to break that trust.”
“But he won’t understand, Momma. He’s gonna think it’s bad or wrong or something. He’s not gonna like it. He’ll dislike them and I can’t have that.”
“Give your father some credit, baby. Yeah, it might sound strange to him, but if this is the life that you want and these are the men that you want, he’ll be okay with it. It’s you, sweetie. You’re his heart; you have been from the moment they put you in his arms, and you always will be. You’ve always had him wrapped around your finger. Trey will be all right with anything and with anyone who makes his Princess happy. Don’t worry so much. Besides, like he said, they can take care of you. That’s all he really wants, is to know that you and Zuri will be all right when we shuffle off this mortal coil. You having two husbands makes that obvious.”
“Are you sure, Momma?” Shantreyl didn’t want her father looking at her any differently. “Are you sure Daddy will be okay with it?”
“He will be,” she said. “I’ll explain it to him. Now, when do you plan to tell him that he’s going to be a grandfather again? That needs to come from you, Shantreyl.”
“I told Malcolm and Kaphiri that they could tell their mothers, but no one else. I don’t want the extra attention. I’ve got enough on my plate as it is. I just want to get through the wedding and be off work. I’m really tired. This school year’s kicking my ass.”
“You need to tell him before we leave, sweetie. He deserves to know.”
Shantreyl nodded. “All right, Momma. But don’t tell Zuri anything.”
“I’m not ready for her to know yet. I’ll tell her when I am.”
Shannon shook her head. Her daughters’ relationship with one another was an ongoing stressor. She sighed. “Okay then. So, we need to find out when you’re due so I can be here with you.”
“I haven’t missed a period, Momma. My next one was supposed to start tomorrow. I’m trying to think of when I might have conceived, and it had to have been last month. Malcolm, Kaphiri and I haven’t—”
Shannon’s eyebrows rose. Shantreyl continued. “It had to have been last month.” She did a quick count. “Maybe around July or August, if there are no complications. Kaphiri’s done the math and I’m saving up sick days so I can be off the entire semester.”
“Why don’t you take the school year off, sweetie? Be home with the baby. You certainly can afford to do that now.”
“No,” Shantreyl said. “I want to keep on working, Momma, if I can. I’ve discussed this with them, and they understand. I was always gonna be a working mom. Like you.”
“Honey, if I’d had a choice, I would not have been a working mother. But you can do what you want, and I’m sure Marion and Kaphiri’s mother will be pleased to babysit when you go back to work.”
“I hope that when you come, you can be here for a while,” Shantreyl said. “A month or so, maybe? The house will be finished by then and we’ll have a place for you to stay.”
“I will do what I can to make that happen, sweetie. I’m so used to being near Zuri’s kids…I don’t know how I will handle not being near yours.”
Shantreyl yawned again. “I think I’m gonna need to lie back down, Momma. I was up at two a.m., puking my guts out. It took me a while to get back to sleep, but I’m still tired.”
“That’s fine. I’m going to go back to the hotel and talk to your father. I asked if he could hold off on watching American Gods until I got back. He might be good for two hours, but no longer than that. He loves Mr. Nancy and Bilquis. What time are you getting fitted?”
“Eight o’ clock tonight.”
“I’ll be back then, okay?”
“Okay. Love you, Momma.”
Shannon hugged her daughter. “I love you too, sweetheart.”
Zuri, her husband Kit, and their three children arrived in Suva Oriana on Sunday evening. Malcolm had a car waiting to take them to the Vermilion. Malcolm was there to greet them when they arrived and escorted them to the Executive Suite. He showed them where the Troys were staying and introduced them to Maria, the floor valet. He inquired about their plans for dinner.
Kit talked to Malcolm while Zuri got the kids settled. “We’re exhausted and room service is probably the likely choice. The kids are tired and need to take baths, as do we. Are we good with room service?”
“You’re good with whatever you want,” Malcolm said. “Everything’s taken care of. Anything you need, Maria will help you get it. She’s also taking care of your in-laws on the other end.”
Kit held out his hand. “Thank you for taking care of my family, Malcolm. I really appreciate your generosity.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied, shaking Kit’s hand. “Now if you don’t need anything else, I have to be leaving.”
“We’re all right,” Kit said. “But let me see if Zuri wants to speak to you.” He turned and said, “Zuri…do you want to come say good night to Malcolm?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’ll be there in two seconds.”
Kit nodded to Malcolm and went to go see about the kids as Zuri walked over to the door. She held out her hand and Malcolm shook it, looking at her. Zuri looked exactly like her mother and Shantreyl took after her father.
“Thank you, Malcolm,” she said. “I appreciate all of this. How’s my sister?”
“She’s okay. You haven’t heard from her yet?”
“We’ve been texting and she said she wasn’t feeling well, but she would see me tomorrow after she gets off work.”
Malcolm nodded. He was eager to get home to Shantreyl, who had been sick all day. Kaphiri was home taking care of her. “Yeah, something she ate didn’t agree with her.”
Zuri said, “A lot of things she eats don’t agree with her but she eats them anyway.”
Malcolm looked at Zuri. “What did you just say?”
Zuri looked at Malcolm. “Nothing. Again, thanks for your generosity. Will we see you tomorrow?”
“I’m not sure,” Malcolm said. “I’m typically off on Sundays and Mondays, but Shantreyl may want me with her when she comes to see you. I wanted to be here for your arrival, and now that you’re settled, I need to get home and see about my wife. So, if you’re all good…”
“We’re good,” Zuri said. “Good night, Malcolm. Thank you again.”
When Malcolm got home, Shantreyl was lying on the couch under a thin blanket, her head on a pillow in Kaphiri’s lap and ShoNuff curled up at her feet. They were watching American Gods, a show Kaphiri liked but he himself was not crazy about. For two men who didn’t watch much TV in the past, he and Kaphiri were now veritable couch potatoes…and they loved it.
Kaphiri had a hand in Shantreyl’s thick hair, massaging her scalp.
“Hey,” Malcolm said. “How are you doing? Feeling better? How’s our baby?”
“We’re okay,” she said. “My stomach has settled down, finally. I hate vomiting. It’s unnatural. Kaphiri made me some chicken noodle soup.”
“Homemade, right? You’d better not be feeding her that canned shit, Kap. All that salt is not good for her or the baby.”
“Of course it’s homemade, you doofus. You’re the one who can’t fucking cook and has to rely on canned goods. I know what I’m doing.”
“I know,” Malcolm said. “I just don’t want her to be any more uncomfortable than she has to be.”
“I second that,” Shantreyl said.
Kaphiri continued to massage her head. “I hope this isn’t gonna be one of those pregnancies where you’re sick all the time.”
“That makes two of us, honeybunny,” she said. “I don’t think I can stand that.”
“Well, we will deal with it regardless,” Malcolm said, as he sat down. “Your sister and her family arrived safely. I checked in with them before I left, and all is well. Have you heard from her in the last hour or so?”
“Yeah,” Shantreyl said. “She sent me a text telling me how attractive you are in person. No doubt she’s compared you to Kit.”
“Well, her husband is a good-looking guy. The fuck is she comparing us for?”
“It’s what she does, Malcolm. Don’t worry about it.”
“She said some slick shit about you before I left. I asked her to repeat it and she didn’t. I’m telling you right now, Shantreyl. Whether your parents are there or not, I won’t have her shading you in my presence. I will check her. Okay?”
“Fine with me,” she said, smiling at him. “She’s a grown ass woman; she’s responsible for what she says and does. Do what you need to do. I don’t care.”
“What are your plans tomorrow after you get off work?”
“Probably have dinner with the entire family. You know, to catch up. I haven’t been home in three years.”
“Do you want me to be there, baby?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“Do you want me there too, bambina?”
Shantreyl craned her neck to look Kaphiri in the face. She wasn’t about to hide anything, especially since she knew that her mother told her father the truth about her relationship. He may as well get used to her being with two men. “Yes.”
Kaphiri continued to massage her scalp. “Good.”
“Did either one of you share the news with your mothers?”
“No,” Malcolm said, removing his shoes. “After you went to sleep, we agreed to wait until after the wedding to tell them. When things settle down, then we can give them something new to get excited about. Keep the momentum going, as it were.”
“Also, we wanted to wait until after you went to the doctor a couple of times,” Kaphiri added. “Your mother will keep the secret, right?”
“Yeah, but she wants me to tell Daddy before they leave. I’ll tell him later this week, but I’m not sure when. He’ll keep the secret if I ask him to.”
Malcolm asked, “Did she tell your father about us?”
“She did, but she told me that it’s best if he hears it from me. Which is why I want both of you there with me before dinner. We’ll talk to him then.”
Kaphiri asked, “Did she give you any indication of his feelings about the situation?”
Malcolm asked, “Does that worry you, baby?”
Shantreyl sat up, adjusting the blanket. She wore her big blue Dawnstar State T-shirt and a pair of blue panties. “Not too much,” she said. “He’s my daddy and I know he loves me. He might be a bit…confused at first, but once he sees how happy you and Kaphiri make me, he will be all right.”
“Okay,” Malcolm said. “Whatever you say, baby. Whatever you want.”