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The setting for the Sheila & K'avir stories is the Star Trek Mirrorverse. Anything Star Trek-related are the intellectual property of Gene Roddenberry. All other characters, planets, star systems and content not within said scope are my own.


Switchblade Romance (13/?)


XIII.  The Cookout

When Shantreyl and her friends got into Malcolm’s Range Rover on Sunday afternoon, he said, “The Parkers live on the north end of Ravencliff, so we have a bit of a drive.  We’ve got to cross the Oriochi, so am I riding with tunnel enthusiasts or bridge fans?”

Renee and Jaya said simultaneously, “Bridge fans.”

Shantreyl added in a low voice, “I prefer the bridge over the tunnels whenever possible.  I like seeing the sun.”

Malcolm smiled at her and took her hand, holding it as he drove.  Renee nudged Jaya and pointed.  Jaya smiled.

“So, what can we expect today?” Renee asked.

Malcolm said, “No kids.  Full bar.  DJ—the same DJ that was at the Zodiac that night.  Catered barbeque—and Carlee’s Soul Patrol has the best barbeque in Suva Oriana.  Dancing.  Card and domino games.  Swimming.  Weed if you want it.”

“This sounds like my personal heaven,” Renee said.  “I just wanna get up on a spades game, eat some ribs, dance with Jay, have a drink or three and smoke some weed.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Jaya said.  “A real grown folks’ party.”

“Oh indeed,” Shantreyl replied, adjusting her Afro puffs, worn at Malcolm’s request.  “You should have seen my face when Malcolm told me about the cookout.  And they have two every year.  Good thing we don’t have to work tomorrow.”

Renee asked, “Malcolm, about the weed…is it good quality?”

“It’s primo.  Kaphiri’s parents smoke, so they’re not about to offer shitty weed to their guests.”

Renee grinned.  “Man, I am liking the Parkers more and more.  Jay, do you mind?”

“Just don’t overdo it,” Jaya said.

Renee kissed Jaya’s lips and rubbed her belly.  “Of course not.”

Malcolm said, “So Jaya and Renee, tell me about you two.  Shantreyl told me that you met in high school and that you’re having a baby.”

“Right,” Jaya said.  “We went to Shamrock High in East Hampton.  Renee was a year ahead of me.  We had two classes together: visual arts and math.  We were cool and usually worked in the same groups, but I didn’t know that she liked me.”

“I made sure we worked in the same groups,” Renee said.  She looked at Jaya while taking her hand.  “I thought Jay was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.  She wore her hair long back then and always wore skirt uniforms.  She had great legs.  Still does.  Anyway, we ran into each other ten years ago.  I saw her at the Vision Mega-Mall in Mallard Pointe and she recognized me.  We had lunch, exchanged numbers and that was it.  She called me that night and we were on the phone until when, babe…was it two or three in the morning?”

“Three,” Jaya said.  I had to work the next day, and I was exhausted.  But it was worth it.  We talked every day after that.  I was dating someone else at the time, but when I realized I was falling in love with Renee, I ended it.  Two years later, Renee and I got married.”  She caressed her wife’s hand.  “Renee is the best thing to ever happen to me.”

Renee leaned over and kissed Jaya.  Shantreyl smiled.  Malcolm glanced at her and smiled also.

“When’s the baby due?” he asked.

“December 15,” Jaya said.

Renee said, “So, Malcolm…I’m sure that you know that we know a lot about what you’ve been up to with our sister friend.  You’ve made her very happy in what…how long has it been since you two met?”

“Almost three months,” Malcolm said.  “And I know that I want Shantreyl in my life.  She knows that as well.  So all I really need to do is not fuck this up.”

Renee nodded.  “You better not.  I’m known to carry and I’ll square up with a man.”

“It’s funny,” Malcolm said.  “Some men know when they meet the right one and make short work of the dating process.  My friend Kaphiri—his parents dated for a whole six weeks before they got married.  Mercury—that’s his father—told me that he knew Persephone—that’s Kaphiri’s mother—was the one for him when she put him in check three weeks into their relationship.  She refused to put up with his bullshit, but she accepted his lifestyle and molded to it within a month.  Papa Merc said that was it for him; he knew he’d found the right woman and he wasn’t about to let her get away.  They’ve been married for forty-three years and are still very much in love.  You’ll meet them.  They’re hilarious.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Jaya said.  “But for the rest of us, it doesn’t work that way.  You need to vet people and to do it right takes time.  People lie about who they are and what they want.  And sometimes it simply isn’t meant to be—incompatibility is a real thing.”

“You’re right,” Malcolm said.  “People do lie.  I don’t because being dishonest doesn’t work for me.  Shantreyl and I had a talk about our expectations and that made everything a whole lot simpler.  Like I said, I know what she wants and all I have to do is not fuck it all up.  I haven’t so far, right baby?”  He held up her hand and kissed her knuckles.

“Right,” she said.  “I’m a happy girl.”

“Good,” Malcolm said.  “I’d better tell you now that my mother’s going to be there and I want you to meet her.  Is that all right with you?”

“Yes,” Shantreyl said.  “I’d like to meet her as well.”

“She doesn’t know that I’m dating.  I’ve never officially brought home anyone for her to meet, and she’s been harassing me about giving her a grandchild before she’s too old to enjoy one.”

“Your brothers don’t have kids?”

“Melvin has three, but his relationships with his baby mommas are strained at best.  My mother rarely gets to see his children and I know it bothers her.  Melvin’s such a dumbass; he doesn’t listen.  Michael’s dating a lady that already has two children, but I’m not sure how serious the relationship is, nor am I sure Mike wants kids.  As usual, it all falls on me.”

“Well shit,” Renee said.  “No pressure.”

“There isn’t any pressure though,” Shantreyl said.  “It’s not like I don’t want kids.  I’m just not interested in being a single mother.”

“I don’t plan for you to be,” Malcolm replied.

The conversation turned back to Renee and Jaya’s impending motherhood.  Forty-five minutes later, Malcolm turned onto a street in a neighborhood that had huge, beautiful homes on large tracts of land.  There were cars lining the street and they could hear music.

“Oh, we up in here with all these nice homes and shit,” Renee said.  “Folks got money in these parts.”

“Will parking be a problem?” Jaya asked.

“Not for us,” Malcolm said.  “Being family, I’m allowed to park in the Parkers’ driveway.”

“Good,” Shantreyl said.  “Because this looks like a very long street.”

A minute or so later, Malcolm pulled up to a gated residence.  A security guard was posted just outside of it.  Malcolm handed the guard his invite and the guard allowed him to enter.  When they got out of the car and headed around the side of the enormous house to the backyard, they saw a large crowd of people doing a variety of things.  The DJ was playing some James Brown and there were a few couples on the dance floor, drinks in hand, dancing.  The food was still being prepared and there was a line at the bar.  Citronella candles and tiki torches were everywhere.

Renee threw her hands up and laughed. “Aw shit, Jay…we finna have a good old time!!”

Jaya took one of her wife’s hands.  “Let’s find a table.  They all look taken.”

“No,” Malcolm said, holding Shantreyl’s hand.  “We have a reserved table.”

“Really?” Renee asked.  “We got our own table?”

“Yeah, under one of the canopies.  Probably that one over there.”  He led them to the large round table and picked up the Reserved card, which read: “For M. Sullivan and guests.”

“Yep, this is us.”

Renee leaned over and raised her fist.  “I like you.  You handle things ahead of time.  I appreciate that kind of planning.”

Malcolm kissed Shantreyl’s knuckles and bumped Renee’s fist.  “You and your wife are important to Shantreyl, so therefore, you’re important to me.  While there should be a chair for every person, it can get frustrating trying to find a table with enough chairs for everyone in your group.”

“Who else will be sitting with us?  We have seven or eight chairs here.”

“My brothers, my mother, and my mother’s—ahem—friend.”

Shantreyl chuckled as Malcolm pulled out her chair.  “Your mom’s got a boyfriend?”

Malcolm rolled his eyes while Renee and Jaya snickered as they took their seats.  “I prefer not to think of him in that way.”

“Good for her,” Shantreyl said.  “Is he good to her?”  She put her purse underneath the table next to Jaya’s bag.

Malcolm sat down next to her.  “He is.  If he’s not, if he does anything to upset her, my brothers and I will kill his ass.”  There was no mirth in his tone, which caused Shantreyl to side-eye her boyfriend.

“Are you serious, Malcolm?”

He smiled at her.  “She’s my mother and she deserves to be happy.  I won’t accept anything less than that from the men who wish to pursue her.  But she’s been with this guy—I call him Pretty Ricky—for three years and so far, all’s well.”

Renee laughed.  “Pretty Ricky though?”

“His name’s Richard.  You’ll see.”  Malcolm turned to Shantreyl.  “Are you hungry or thirsty, baby?  I can have your drinks brought to you so you don’t have to wait in line.  The food’s not ready yet, though.”

Jaya smiled.  Renee, never one to miss an opportunity, said, “Does that apply to us too, Malcolm?”

“Sure, if you want.”

Shantreyl rubbed Malcolm’s fingers.  “We’ll be okay, as long as the lines aren’t too long.  I’d like to see what’s being served before I eat.  But I will take you up on that drink opportunity.”

He kissed her cheek.  “What do you want?  There’s a full bar.  I know you guys are sangria fans, but I don’t know if they have some prepared.  I’ll ask.”

“Mmmn, let me start with a Mojito,” she said.  “Renee, Jaya…what about you two?”

“I’m good with a Long Island,” Renee said.  “For now.”

“A virgin margarita,” Jaya said.  “No alcohol for me.”

Malcolm put his hands on the back of Shantreyl’s chair and leaned close to her ear.  “I’ll have the drinks sent over.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need to see if my mother’s here, and I need to say hey to a handful of people.”

“Are these people I’d like to meet?”

“Anyone I want you to meet I will bring to you, gorgeous.  I won’t be long.”  He kissed her lips and walked away.

Jaya smiled.  “He’s got it bad for you, Shan.  He’s not even trying to hide it.”

Renee leaned back, adjusting her Black Knights cap.  “And he shouldn’t.  She the second finest thing up in here.”

Shantreyl made a face at Renee.  Second?”

“Sorry boo…you can barely hold a candle to my wife.”  Renee laughed.

Shantreyl shook her head and surveyed the scene.  The DJ was playing some Al Green, and there were at least five couples on the dance floor.  Underneath a series of canopies were five card tables, all of them full.  There were people swimming in the huge pool and Shantreyl saw the clubhouse beyond the pool.  The doors were open and a Ping Pong game was going on.  The atmosphere was warm and vibrant.

“I don’t know about you two, but I’m already having a good time,” she said.  “Look at everybody.  They’re all so…chill.”

“I know,” Jaya said.  “Renee and I are going to dance after I have my drink.  I wonder if I could get some sort of snack plate or something.  Razberry and I are a little hungry.  I should have asked Malcolm if it was okay.” Razberry was the nickname Renee and Jaya gave their unborn baby.

“You want me to get him?”

“I can wait for him to come back.”

“Not if you and Razberry are hungry you can’t,” Renee said.  “Shan, can you call him?”

“Renee, it’s fine,” Jaya said.  “I don’t want to be that guest.”

Renee looked at Shantreyl and mouthed the words Call your man.  Shantreyl grabbed her phone and called Malcolm, only to hear his ringtone nearby.  His iPhone was on the table next to her.

“I’ll go find him,” she said, getting up.

“Shan, it’s fine.  I’m not going to starve to death,” Jaya said.

“Jaya, you wouldn’t have said that you were hungry if you really weren’t.  And it’s no big deal.  I’ll be back in a few moments.”

“Thanks sis,” Renee said.  “Jay didn’t each much breakfast and barely enough lunch to satisfy me, so if you don’t mind…”

“I don’t.”  Shantreyl started looking around, trying to see if she could spot Malcolm.  She walked over to the card tables and then to the clubhouse.  She didn’t see him anywhere and wondered if he’d actually gone inside the house.  She was hesitant to go in, remembering what Malcolm said about Mrs. Parker not liking strangers in her house.

The DJ started playing the Ohio Players' “Love Rollercoaster.”

“Who you lookin’ for, beautiful?”

Shantreyl jumped at the voice and turned around.  A tall, lanky man holding a red SOLO cup was leering at her.  “You lookin’ for someone?”

“Yes,” she said.  “Malcolm Sullivan.  You know him?”

“Oh you don’t want him, trust me.”  The man stepped closer and Shantreyl took a step back.  He smelled like Hennessey and weed.

“I’m afraid I do,” she said, trying to move away.  “Do you know where he is?”

“Maybe I can help you instead,” the man said, taking a long drink while brazenly staring her down.  “What your fine ass need, Red?”

“That’s okay,” Shantreyl said, turning away.  “I’ll find him if I keep looking.  Thanks anyway.”

“Aw, don’t run away, Red!  I’m sure I can help you get what you need.”  He grabbed her arm.

She pulled away.  “What are you doing, grabbing my arm like that?”

“Red, you ain’t got to run from me.  I said I’d help you find what you lookin’ for.”

Shantreyl looked around, suddenly nervous.  “Please leave me alone.”

The guy stepped closer to her and actually had the audacity to slap her on the ass.  Shantreyl gasped as he laughed and she pushed him away.  “What in the hell is wrong with you?” 

She took a step back, feeling angry and powerless at the same time.  A familiar fragrance wafted over her and she took a deep breath, immediately thankful for his presence.  Kaphiri’s voice was deeper than she’d ever heard it and there was a menacing tone to it.  “Melvin, what the fuck are you doing?”

Shantreyl turned and looked up at Kaphiri gratefully.  “I was looking for Malcolm.  Jaya’s hungry and she’s pregnant, and the food’s not ready but she should eat something…”

Kaphiri put an arm around her and glared at Melvin.  “The fuck are you doing putting your goddamned hands on her?  You want your ass kicked in front of all these people?”

“Back off, Kap.  I wasn’t hurting her.  An ass that fat needs to be slapped, and she liked it.  Right, Red?”  Then he looked at Kaphiri funny.  “She yours?  I thought you liked dick.”

Shantreyl said, “I don’t know who you are and certainly didn’t give you permission to touch me!”

“I don’t need no muffuckin’ permission to do what I wanna do, bitch,” he said and that was it.  Kaphiri punched him in the mouth and the force of the blow sent Melvin stumbling to the ground.  People turned to look.

Kaphiri pulled Shantreyl close and simultaneously she relished and regretted being in his arms.  “I saw him walk up on you and got over here as fast as I could.  Are you all right, bambina?”

“I’m fine,” she said.  “The way he looked at me…he made me feel dirty.”

“Malcolm’s in the house,” he said.  “I’ll take you to him.” 

“No, that’s all right,” she said.  “Just tell him that Jaya’s hungry and needs to eat.  A plate of fruit or cheese or something lightweight should hold her over until the food’s ready.  I just want to sit down now.”

“I’m sorry you had to experience that,” Kaphiri said.  “That’s Melvin, Malcolm’s older brother.  Malcolm will not be happy to hear about this.”

He walked her back to Malcolm’s table and Shantreyl said, “I don’t want to cause trouble, Kaphiri.”

“Melvin caused the trouble when he put his hands on you and he knows that there will be consequences.”

Shantreyl nodded as Kaphiri pulled out her chair and she sat down.  Renee and Jaya looked at her.  Jaya asked, “Shan, you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Renee was staring up at Kaphiri.  He put a hand on Shantreyl’s shoulder.  “You’re her best friends, right?”

“Yes,” Renee said.  “I’m Renee Harris and this is my wife Jaya.”

“I’m Kaphiri Parker and it’s nice to meet you.  Welcome to my home.  Jaya, what would you like to eat?”

“Whatever you guys have available.  I don’t mean to be any trouble.”

“You’re not,” he said.  “You are our welcome guest.  I’ll be back shortly.  Malcolm should be out soon, Shantreyl.  Are you sure you’re all right?”

“I’m good,” she said.

He gave her a measured look and she smiled at him.  “I’m good, Kaphiri.  I promise.”

“I’ll be back with your food,” he said to Jaya before leaving.  When he was out of range, Renee whistled.

“What?” Shantreyl asked.

Gaaatdamnnnn, he’s hot as fuck!  I don’t even notice dudes like that but holy shit, that’s a fine ass man right there.  Whooo, come through Asian Jesus!  He's sexy as hell!”

Jaya nodded, rubbing her belly.  “He’s very handsome.  He could be a model.”

Shantreyl nodded as well.  “That he is.  He smells good, too.  Did y’all catch that?”

“I didn’t,” Jaya said.

“I did,” Renee said.  “That’s Malcolm’s best friend and you said he’s single?  Bull-fucking-shit!  Somebody tagging that ass.”

“You sure you’re okay, Shan?  You looked strange when he brought you back here.  What happened?”

She made a face.  “I’m fine.  I met one of Malcolm’s brothers and he slapped me on the ass.”

Jaya’s mouth formed a perfect ‘O’ and Renee leaned forward, saying, “The fuck?”

“I’m all right,” she said.  “Kaphiri saved me.  He called me a bitch and Kaphiri punched him in the face.”

“Where he at?” Renee said, standing up, fists balled.  “I got his bitch right here in these hands.”

“No, that’s not needed, Renee,” Shantreyl said.  “Kaphiri handled it.  But I’m gonna make sure I stay out of his way.  If he touches me again, I’m smacking him with whatever’s in my hand.”

“Ugh, some men make me so fucking sick,” Renee said, sitting back down.  “Show me who he is so I can avoid him too.  He come for Jaya, he gonna have a bad fucking day.”

“He just walked up and smacked you on the ass?”

“He asked me who I was looking for and I told him, and then he said he could help me.  When I said no, he slapped me on the ass.”

“Are you going to tell Malcolm? You should,” Jaya said.  “He needs to know that his brother is out here harassing his girlfriend.”

Shantreyl sighed. “Kaphiri’s going to tell him.  I hope it doesn’t turn ugly.  I was having a good vibe just now and I don’t want to ruin it.”

“Let’s focus on getting it back, all right?” Jaya said.  “I’m the one who caused it all.”

“No,” Renee said.  “You didn’t do anything and neither did Shan.  So don’t burden yourself with consequences that aren’t yours to carry.”

Just then, Malcolm came up to the table.  “Shantreyl,” he said, sitting next to her and taking her hand.  “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, baby.”

There was anger in his eyes.  “Kaphiri told me what happened.”  Then he looked at Jaya.  “Kaphiri’s going to bring you a plate.  Did anyone bring your drinks?”

“Not yet,” Jaya said.  “No worries, Malcolm.”

Malcolm turned his attention back to Shantreyl.  “I’m really sorry you had to meet Melvin in the way that you did.  I’m so pissed right now.”

“Let it go, Malcolm.  I’m fine.  It’s not worth ruining your mood, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, leaning in to kiss her cheek.  “I’m going to go get your drinks and I’ll be right back.  I promise.”

A few minutes later, he was back with their drinks and a beer for himself.  He sat next to Shantreyl and took a long swallow.

“Is your mother here?”

“She is.  She’s in the house with Mama ‘Nee and three of Kaphiri’s aunts.  She’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Okay then,” Shantreyl said.

Just then, the DJ started playing Maze's “Before I Let Go,” and Renee started chair dancing.  A handholding couple walked through the crowd and up to the DJ’s table.  The man asked for the microphone and the DJ paused the music.  Everybody stopped what they were doing and focused on the man and the woman.  Shantreyl stared at them, knowing exactly who they were without needing to be told.  The woman was easily six feet tall with fabulous curves, flawless dark skin and locs that she wore up, entwined with a green and yellow scarf.  She wore a green and yellow catsuit with an open back and gold bangles on both wrists.  The man was light-skinned, well over six feet with snow-white hair that was slicked back into a ponytail.  He was big; barrel-chested with thick muscular arms and legs, and sported a polo and shorts that matched the colors his wife wore.

The man began to speak.  He had a deep voice. “’Nee and I want to welcome everyone to our annual Summer Solstice Cookout.  We will make our way around and greet everyone personally, but we just wanted to officially get this party started.”

Someone in the crowd yelled, “SET IT OFF!” and others cheered.

“For those of you new to the SSC, my name is Merc Parker and this is my beautiful wife, Persephone.  Glad to see such a good turnout.”

Then Mercury handed the microphone to his wife, who spoke in a patois Shantreyl didn’t recognize.  “Welcome to our home, everybody!  The game tables are open, the food’s ready and the pool and bar been available, so eat, drink and be merry!  But don’t start any shit, or you’ll be escorted out faster than a cat can lick its ass.”

Some members of the audience clapped and others laughed.

“Too late,” Renee said.

Persephone continued to talk.  “There are bathrooms in the clubhouse in back; please keep them neat and be respectful of others.  Don’t get into the pool if you don’t know how to swim.  If you need any assistance, just ask my husband, my son, my sisters, or me.  Now let’s have some fun!”

The crowd cheered as Persephone returned the microphone to the DJ and Frankie Beverly returned to the speakers.  Persephone and Mercury began to sing along and step, and everybody started clapping to the beat and cheering them on.  They were superb dancers.

“Aren’t they a pair?” Malcolm said, smiling.

Shantreyl watched the dancing couple with a grin on her face.  “They are indeed.”

“They’re tall,” Jaya said.  “He’s huge.”

Malcolm said, “Papa Merc is 67 years old and Mama ‘Nee is 65.”

“Sixty-five my fucking ass,” Renee said.  “She doesn’t look a day over forty, and he’s barely fifty.”

Malcolm shrugged.  “The Parkers take good care of themselves.  And if you’re into playing spades, don’t play with them unless you want to go home with your ass in your hands.  There’s a second spades table for regular players.”

“Can’t be that bad,” Renee said.

“You and Jaya can go play against them if you want to, but I don’t advise it,” Malcolm said.

Kaphiri walked up with a tray of food for Jaya.  It was loaded.  “I didn’t know what you might like, so I got a bit of everything.”

Jaya gasped.  “Kaphiri, I can’t eat all this!”

“No worries, babe.  I’ll help you,” Renee said.  “It smells good.”

“Me too,” Shantreyl said.

While they busied themselves snacking off Jaya’s tray, Kaphiri sat in the empty chair next to Malcolm.  He said in a low voice, “You see Melvin yet?”

“No,” Malcolm replied.  “And I don’t want to.  I’ll deal with him later.  Now is all about Shantreyl, all right?”

“All right.”  Then Kaphiri turned and looked back towards the house.  He smiled.  “Oh, look who’s here!”

Malcolm and Shantreyl turned.  A skinny man with a slicked back ponytail, sporting a pale blue leisure suit and matching sandals, was walking up to the table with his arm around the waist of a chubby woman in a beautiful gold maxi dress that looked sublime next to her copper-colored complexion.  The woman wore her reddish-brown hair cropped short.  She had a brilliant smile that was directed at Shantreyl.  Clearly, it was Marion Sullivan.

Malcolm stood up and held out his hand.  “Mama.  Hey Rick.”

Pretty Ricky shook his hand and replied, “Hey Malcolm.” 

Shantreyl stood up and smiled and Marion beamed at her.  “Is this her, Mal?”

“Mama, this is Shantreyl Troy.  Shantreyl, this is my mother, Marion Sullivan.  This is her friend, Richard Phillips.”

Shantreyl held out her hand but Marion held out both arms and said, “Give me a hug, baby!”

Warm arms encircled Shantreyl and she hugged Marion back.  Marion whispered in her ear, “Praise Jesus!  I’ve been waiting at least a decade for you, you beautiful thing!”

Shantreyl couldn’t help but grin as Marion released her.  She shook Pretty Ricky’s hand.  “Nice to meet both of you.”

“It’s good to finally meet a lady friend of Malcolm’s.  Lord knows I’ve been waiting for years.” Marion said and Pretty Ricky nodded.

Shantreyl waved her hand in the direction of Renee and Jaya.  “Mrs. Sullivan, this is Renee Harris and this is her wife, Jaya.  They’re close friends of mine.”

Just as warmly as she embraced Shantreyl, Marion hugged Renee and then Jaya.  “It is a pleasure to meet you too!  Oh, today is a glorious day in the name of the Lord!”

Shantreyl pulled out her seat.  “You can sit in my chair, Mrs. Sullivan.”

“Naw honey, that won’t be necessary.  Richard and I can sit right over here.  I’ve no intention of separating you and my son.”  She walked around Renee and Jaya and sat next to Kaphiri and Pretty Ricky sat next to her.

Kaphiri put an arm around Marion and kissed her cheek.  “Hello Mama Marion.”

“How is my handsome bonus son?” she inquired, smiling at him.  “Do you have a friend for me to meet too?”

“I’m fine and not yet.”

“Well it took over fifteen years for Malcolm to do it, so I won’t rush you.”

“I may surprise you one day,” Kaphiri said.

“You do that, honey.”  Then she looked at Malcolm.  “Are your brothers here?”

“Melvin is.  I haven’t seen Mike.”

“I’ll see him soon enough,” she said.  “Now Shantreyl, talk to me.”

“Before she does,” Malcolm interrupted, “I’d better get her a plate of food.  Baby, we have everything…what do you want?”

Shantreyl, who’d been snacking off Jaya’s tray, said, “I’d love a bacon cheeseburger, a brat, some baked beans, some mac and cheese, and some sour cream and onion potato chips.  Ketchup and mustard on the burger and just mustard on the brat.  And some fruit.  Will there be cake?”

Marion smiled at Shantreyl.  “Praise Jesus, she’s got an appetite!”

“If there is, I’ll get you some.”  Malcolm looked at Renee, who was also munching off Jaya’s tray.  “Renee, do you want the same?”

“No, I’ll get up and come with you.  We can skip the line, right?”

“It’s not that long.  We’ll be back here in a few minutes.”  Malcolm looked at Pretty Ricky.  “Rick, are you gonna get my mother a plate?”  It wasn’t a question.

“Guess I’d better,” Pretty Ricky said, getting up.  He wasn’t stupid.

The three of them walked over to the serving line.  Kaphiri got up and walked towards the game tables.  Jaya continued to eat while Marion repeated her question.

“So tell me about yourself, Shantreyl.  Malcolm says that you’re a teacher.”

“I am,” she said.  “I teach high school science at a private school in Paradise Park.”

“Over there with them rich kids?”

“Yes.  I can’t do public school anymore.  My classes are small and the school is STEM-focused, so I have access to all kinds of wonderful resources.”

“How long have you been teaching?”

“Fourteen years come August.  I love my job.”

Marion looked at the snacking Jaya.  “And what about you, dear?” 

Jaya wiped her fingers on her napkin.  “Thirteen years, ma’am.  I teach elementary school.”

Marion nodded her head.  “I’m a retired elementary school teacher myself.  Thirty-five years, first and second grade.  How I raised my boys.  Wasn’t easy, especially after their no-account father ran out on me after Michael was born.”

Jaya smiled.  “I hope I can say the same twenty years from now.  About the profession, not the family.”

“So, honey,” Marion asked, “how far along are you?”

Jaya looked at her.  “I’m four months.  How can you tell?”

Marion smiled.  “I had three boys, dear.  I see it.  It’s in your face and neck, and in your skin and hair, and in the way you’re eating.  Not to be insulting, mind you.”

Jaya wiped her mouth with her napkin.  Marion smiled at her.  “You go right on feeding that baby.  You don’t need to be self-conscious around me now.  Go on, eat.”  Marion said before turning her attention back to Shantreyl. 

“Honey, do you know that you’re the first woman Malcolm has brought home for me to meet?  I mean, actually meet?”

“He told me so, but it’s my understanding that he’s had a bunch of different girlfriends in the past.  You never met any of them?”

“Not properly, honey.  It was more like us randomly crossing paths, usually at this function.  Malcolm never formally introduced me to any woman he’s dated until today.  I’ve been waiting patiently, but I’m getting up in age and I need a grandbaby to spoil.”

Shantreyl said, “Malcolm told me.”

“I wouldn’t be so rude bringing it up if my eldest was any kind of man.  I swear fo’ Lord, he turned out like his daddy in spite of my best efforts.”

Shantreyl smiled just as Malcolm, Pretty Ricky, and Renee returned with trays of food.  Malcolm took his seat next to Shantreyl and Renee sat down.  Malcolm announced that they would be getting refills of their drinks shortly and that there was some pre-prepared sangria.  They began to eat.

Marion took a bite of fruit salad Pretty Ricky passed her and continued her line of conversation.  “So honey, are you looking to get married and have a family?”

Shantreyl took a healthy bite of her burger right as Marion asked the question and she put a hand over her mouth.  Marion nodded and turned to Renee.  “So honey, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a forensic sculptor, Mrs. Sullivan.”

“Really now?  So you create faces for cops?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Do you like it?”

“I love my work, Mrs. Sullivan. It’s very satisfying and rewarding.  I can provide a good life for my family.”

“That’s what matters, sweetie,” Marion said.  “You take good care of…what was your name again, dear?”


“You take good care of Jaya and your little one.”

Renee nodded, grinning from ear to ear.  “I already do, Mrs. Sullivan.”

Marion turned back to Shantreyl.  “You finished your burger, honey?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Sullivan.”

“No need to apologize.  I asked a heavy question—I understand if you need time to think about the answer.”

“It’s not heavy.  I would like to have a family one day.  Malcolm and I have talked about it.”

“Good.  I like to hear that my son’s not wasting any more time.  Lord only knows how many years I have left.  I need a grandchild.”

“We have plenty of time, Marion,” Pretty Ricky said, kissing her cheek.

Malcolm rolled his eyes.

Just then, Kaphiri walked up to the table holding a pitcher and two cups, his parents in tow.  Persephone and Mercury greeted Marion and Pretty Ricky before Mercury stuck a hand out in Malcolm’s direction.  Malcolm stood up and took it as Mercury brought him in for a hug.

“How you doin’, son?” he asked, patting Malcolm on the back.

“I’m good, Papa Merc.”

Then Persephone embraced him.  “Love, Kaphiri tells us that you brought someone for us to meet.”

“Yes, I have, Mama ‘Nee.  This is Shantreyl Troy, and these are her friends Jaya and Renee Harris.”

Shantreyl stood up and the Parkers exchanged looks before Persephone pulled her in for a hug.  Shantreyl’s face was buried in her shoulder for a brief moment.  The woman was tall.  Mercury smiled down at her and bowed his head respectfully.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Shantreyl.  Do you know that you’re the first woman Malcolm’s officially introduced us to?  For a while there, we all thought he played for the other team.”

Renee and Jaya giggled.  Shantreyl smiled as she sat back down.  “He doesn’t.”

“Malcolm, she’s stunning,” Persephone said.  “Pretty face, long legs and thick where it counts.  How long have you two been dating?”

“Three months.”

Mercury nodded.  “What do you do for a living?”

“I teach high school science, Mr. Parker.”

“Which disciplines?”

“Chemistry and physics.”

Mercury snickered.  “I must say, I would have never missed a day of school if I had a teacher that looked like you.” 

Persephone elbowed him, annoyed.  “Can you not, Merc?”

“Praise the Lord, she’s smart!” Marion said.  “Shantreyl, don’t you take any mess off my son, you hear?  You check him when he needs it.”

Shantreyl smiled at Malcolm, a smile so genuine everyone at the table felt it.  “Mrs. Sullivan, your son has been nothing short of a perfect gentleman since we met.  He takes good care of me and moves mountains if he thinks they’re in my way.  He’s made me so happy in the short time I’ve known him and I’m crazy about him.”

Malcolm stared at Shantreyl, suddenly and completely horny.  Mercury recognized the look and chuckled again. “Good to hear that, young lady.  Malcolm’s practically a son to ‘Nee and me and I like to hear that he’s taken my instruction to heart.”

“Pleasure to meet all of you,” Persephone said.  “Merc and I need to run on now.  Do check in before you leave, all right?”

“Yes, Mama ‘Nee,” Malcolm said.

“Kaphiri, are you going to eat?  Come sit by me,” Marion said, patting the empty chair.  “I haven’t talked to you in a while.”

“I’ve eaten, Mama Marion.  But I’ll sit with you for a few minutes.  I brought some sangria for Shantreyl and Renee,” he said, pointing to the pitcher.  “Jaya, I asked them to make you a virgin version and someone will bring it to you when it’s finished.”

“Thank you, Kaphiri.”

“You’re welcome.”

While Marion engaged Kaphiri in conversation, Malcolm leaned over and kissed the skin under Shantreyl’s ear and whispered, “I’m so hard for you right now…if it were appropriate, I’d take you into the house.”

Shantreyl giggled.  “Can you spend the night at my place instead?”

“I can and will,” he said, kissing her once more.

“Okay lovebirds.  We get it,” Jaya said, pushing the tray back.  She’d managed to decimate about 75% of the food Kaphiri brought her.

“You good, Jay?” Renee asked as she finished her own plate and polished off her drink.

“Now I need to pee,” Jaya said, getting up. 

“The clubhouse is over there,” Malcolm pointed.  “And if you want to smoke, ask for Ray.”

Renee got up quick, smiling.  “I’ll go with you, babe.”

Jaya smiled at her.  “Don’t overdo it, okay?”

“I won’t.”

When they left, Marion said, “Well, look who finally decided to show his face! Michael Sullivan, where have you been?”

Michael sat down in Renee’s seat.  “Hi Mom.  I had an emergency and Papa Merc allowed me to come late.”

“Is everything all right now?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Then come give your mama a kiss, boy!”

Michael smiled and followed instructions, taking time to greet Kaphiri and Pretty Ricky.  Then he and Malcolm gave each other some kind of funky handshake and greeted each other.

“Who’s this?” Michael asked, looking at Shantreyl.

“This, Mike, is Shantreyl Troy, my lady.”

Michael looked at her and then at Marion and then back at Shantreyl.  Really?”

“Hi Michael,” Shantreyl said, holding out her hand.  “Nice to meet you.”

Wow.  Um…hi, Shantreyl!  It’s a pleasure to meet you.  Malcolm, you never said a word about her!”

Marion said, “He picked a pretty one.  She’s smart too.”

“Because I didn’t want to jinx things.  But now it’s time for you all to meet.”

“Where’s Melvin?” Michael asked.

“Around here somewhere,” Malcolm replied.  “Don’t call him over here, though.”

“Why not?  Has he met her already?”

“Yes, and not in the way I wanted.  I’m still pissed about it and I don’t want to deal with him right now.”

Marion sighed, knowing where it would lead.  “Malcolm, what did he do?”

“Slapped Shantreyl on the ass and called her a bitch.”  Malcolm found himself getting angry again  “Kap punched him in the face.”

Marion sighed again and put a hand to her forehead. 

“Did he know who you were?” Michael asked Shantreyl.

“No,” Malcolm said.  “And It!Doesn’t!Matter!”

Michael shook his head.  “He’s a Neanderthal, Malcolm.  You know that.”

“I don’t give a shit.  I’m fucking him up on sight, so don’t bring him over here, all right?  I don’t want to disrespect Papa Merc and Mama ‘Nee.”

“Calm down baby,” Shantreyl said, taking his hand and caressing it.  “Please?”

Malcolm nodded and drank the rest of his beer.  Over by the game tables, there was a chorus of “Uh ohs,” “Aw shits,” and “Aight nahs.”

“What’s going on over there?” Shantreyl asked.

Malcolm said, “Sounds like Papa Merc and Mama ‘Nee have taken their places at the spades table.  They’ll be there for most of the night, running Bostons on everybody.”

Michael laughed.  “Good thing they don’t play for money.  Too many people would be walking out of here unsure on how they’re gonna pay next month’s rent.”

Shantreyl laughed.  “They can’t be that cutthroat!”

Marion, Malcolm, Michael, Pretty Ricky and Kaphiri all looked at her.  “They are.”

“Really?  Seriously?”

“You’ll see for yourself,” Kaphiri said.  “If you sit down at that table, you better know what you’re doing.”

“I’m gonna get a few rounds in, but not at their table,” Malcolm said.  “I’ll stay in my lane and sit at the secondary table.  Is Uncle Tick here, Kap?”  Uncle Tick was one of Kaphiri’s uncles and Malcolm’s spades partner.

“He couldn’t make it this go-around.”

Michael got up.  “I’m gonna go get me a plate.  They got beef brisket?”


Renee and Jaya came back from the clubhouse just as the DJ put on Parliament's “Flashlight.”

“Oh baby, come on and let’s dance!” Renee said.  “You know this my jam!”

Jaya was smiling.  She was in a good mood.  “Okay, let’s go.”

Shantreyl stared after them and then looked at Malcolm, her face a question.  Marion read it instantly.

“You poor thing!  Malcolm can’t dance, not one bit!  I don’t know where he got that from.”

“Can you try for me?” she asked.  “I want to dance with you.”

Malcolm leaned over and whispered in her ear.  “I’m planning to suck on those pretty red toes tonight and I can’t do that if they’re smashed and bruised…which they will be if I get on that floor with you.”

Shantreyl couldn’t help but giggle.  Malcolm continued whispering.  “Kaphiri will dance with you if you really want to get out there on the floor.  Just go over there and he’ll be right behind you.  I don’t mind.”

Shantreyl sighed, looked at Malcolm and then at the dance floor.  

“What?” he whispered.

She huffed in a low voice, “If we get married, how in the hell are we gonna do a couple’s dance?  What do I look like, dancing with Kaphiri on our wedding day?”

Shantreyl had never once actually entertained the concrete concept of marrying Malcolm; she always said, “We’ll see,” to any of his thoughts on the subject.  Malcolm nodded.  “Dance with him tonight and I promise to learn how.  You can teach me.”

“Fine,” she said.  “And you’d better not try and get out of it either.”

“I won’t,” he said.  “Go on, now.”

She got up, adjusted her red halter and shorts, and headed towards the dance floor, which was now full.  Malcolm didn’t notice Pretty Ricky checking her out.

Malcolm looked at Kaphiri, who nodded and got up, following Shantreyl.  To keep her from noticing, Malcolm asked, “So Mama, what do you think of her?” 

“She seems like a nice girl, Malcolm.  Does she go to church?”

“Shantreyl’s not very religious, Mama.  But she does believe in a higher power, same as me.  Is that okay with you?”

“Malcolm, if you love her and she loves you—which it appears that she does—then it doesn’t matter what I think, as long as she’s good to you and treats you right.”

“What do you think, Rick?”

“It’s not hard.  She fine.  Marry her,” Pretty Ricky said.

* * *

The DJ put on Marvin Gaye's “Got to Give It Up,” as Shantreyl reached the dance floor.  Jaya and Renee were dancing together and laughing.  Shantreyl smiled at them just as she felt a hand on her lower back. 

“Hi Kaphiri,” she said, inhaling.

“Dance with me bambina,” he said, taking her hand.

She thought about what happened the last time she saw him.  “Do you think we should?”

“Why not?”

“I still have memories of Thursday.”

Kaphiri gave her a look and kissed her open palm.  “So do I.  Let’s dance.”

She looked up at him and thought, ‘Fuck it.  Malcolm wants us to be bffs anyway’ and turned around.  Kaphiri put his hands on her waist and they began to dance.  A few minutes in and Shantreyl had to acknowledge that he was a really good dancer and she was enjoying being on the dance floor with him. 

The DJ played a stream of classics from random decades:  “Summertime,” “What’chu Like,” “Like You,” “Pass the Courvoisier,” “Candy,” “Got to Be Real,” “Get it Up,” “Love & Happiness,” “Fantastic Voyage,” “Let’s Groove Tonight,” “Tell Me Somethin’ Good,” “Too Hot to Stop,” “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,” and “Toss It Up.”

Kaphiri pulled Shantreyl close and they moved in sync.  She was smiling at him; unable to believe she was still on the dance floor after all those songs.  But he was so much fun to dance with that she could ignore her fatigue.

The DJ put on Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me,” and Shantreyl put her hands on Kaphiri’s chest, stared up at him and began to sing in a voice loud enough for only him to hear: “No no no…You don’t love me and I know now.  No no no…You don’t love me yes I know now.  Cause you left me baby…And I’ve got no place to go now.  No no no…I’ll do anything you say boy.  No no no…I’ll do anything you say boy.  Cause if you ask me baby…I’ll get on my knees and pray boy…”

Kaphiri dipped his head and whispered in her ear, “Is that right?”

She thought about Kaphiri’s unwillingness to tell her the name of his cologne.  Turnabout was fair play.  She said, “You have to figure that out for yourself,” and turned around so she could press her back against his chest.  He ran his hands up and down her sides and she put her hands over his.  The seductive dance continued until the DJ changed the song to something more upbeat, which in this case was Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration.”  

Shantreyl turned around and looked at Kaphiri.  She was horny and needed to get away from him.  “I’m going to take a break, okay?  My feet hurt.  We’ve been dancing for a long time.”

“Sure, if that’s what you want.  Would you like a drink?”

“More of that sangria is fine.”

“Okay,” he said.

When Shantreyl returned to the table, Jaya was sitting there by herself, sipping on a fruity beverage, one hand on her tummy.  She eyed her friend as she sat down.

Shantreyl asked, “Where’s Mrs. Sullivan and Pretty Ricky?”

“They’re dancing.  Look, over there,” Jaya pointed.  “Pretty Ricky’s got some moves.”

Shantreyl looked and indeed, Malcolm’s mother and her boyfriend were getting it on the dance floor.

“Where’s Renee?  Did she get her weed?”

“Yeah.  She and Malcolm are playing spades.”

“With the Parkers?”

“No, they’re at the kids’ table.”

“Oh good.  I don’t want them losing their souls because of a card game.”

Kaphiri came over and brought Shantreyl a large cup of sangria.  “You okay?  Jaya, are you all right?”

“I am.  Thank you, Kaphiri.”

“I’m good too,” Jaya said.

“No problem.  I’ll see you guys before you leave.  Tell Malcolm to call me before then.”


Kaphiri put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it before walking in the direction of the clubhouse.  Shantreyl saw a young man get up and follow him.  She took a long drink of sangria.  When she put the cup down, Jaya was staring at her.


“You want to tell me what’s going on with you and Malcolm’s friend?”

Shantreyl giggled nervously.  “Girl, what are you talking about?”

“Don’t,” Jaya said.  “I’m your best friend, so please don’t.  Renee and I saw you two on the dance floor and you guys were in your own world.  He had his hands all over you.  I mean, if you’re attracted to him, I get it.  He’s beautiful and he seems like a nice guy, but you’re Malcolm’s girlfriend.”

“I know that, Jaya.  Believe me, I’m constantly reminding myself of that whenever I’m in Kaphiri’s presence.  I am attracted to him and I like him.  He’s very charismatic and very seductive.  I try to keep away from him but Malcolm insists that Kaphiri pick up his slack.  Malcolm can’t dance and he doesn’t want to keep me from dancing, so he asked Kaphiri to dance with me.  The other day, I wanted to surprise Malcolm for lunch only to discover that he was in a meeting he couldn’t get out of.  So he sent Kaphiri to have lunch with me instead and we spent the day together.”

“And what happened?”

“We ended up making out on a countertop.  I couldn’t help myself.  He’s a better kisser than Malcolm, and Malcolm’s really good at kissing.”


“I know, Jaya.  I know.”

“What are you going to do about this?  You can’t betray Malcolm like that.”

“Believe me, I am well aware of that.  I love Malcolm.  I’ve fallen for him and I want to be with him, but Kaphiri is…magnetic…and my emotions go haywire whenever I’m around him.  It’s like I can’t think straight.  The best I can do is to try and stay away from Kaphiri, but it’s difficult when Malcolm insists on me doing things with him.”

“That’s a conundrum.”

“To say the least.”

“What are you going to do, Shantreyl?”

“I don’t know.  What do you think?”

“It’s complicated.  I can’t really relate.  It’s always been Renee for me, even though I was dating Zoe when she and I reconnected.  Renee is real to me in a way Zoe wasn’t, which made it easy for me to be with her instead.  Is it like that for you?  What you feel for Kaphiri, is it merely physical?  Or is there something more?”

“It’s physical mostly.  You’ve seen what he looks like, and he smells so good.  He’s big.  That’s my weakness.  I know some things about him, but I don’t really know him.  He prefers to be alone.  He’s a musician, a former Army Ranger, a weapons collector, and according to Malcolm, a genius.  He deals with me when Malcolm can’t, but he never seeks me out on his own.  I suppose I need to be honest with Malcolm.  I refuse to hurt him.”

“I agree.  That’s what you need to do.  He adores you.  Don’t break his heart.”

* * *

It was around 10:30 p.m. when Jaya mentioned to Shantreyl that she was tired.  She and Shantreyl were sitting at their table, talking to Marion and Michael when Malcolm and Renee walked up.

“How did you guys do?” Jaya asked.  “You were over there for almost two hours.”

“We did all right,” Renee said, pleasantly high.  “Malcolm’s a good partner.  We won what…six out of ten rounds?  Even ran a Boston one time.”

“Yeah, but you guys were at the kids’ table,” Jaya teased.

Malcolm laughed as he took his seat next to Shantreyl.  “I know my lane and I stay in it.”

Shantreyl grabbed his hand and pulled him close.  “Jaya’s tired, baby.  So am I…can we leave now?”

“Sure,” he said.  “We need to say bye to the Parkers.  Mama ‘Nee would feel slighted if I left without seeing her and Papa Merc beforehand.”

“Kaphiri said to call him before you leave.”

“Are you getting ready to go home, Malcolm?”  Marion asked as he stood up.

“Yes Mama.  Shantreyl’s tired.  I’m gonna take her to say bye to the Parkers.”

“Well, let me say goodbye first, baby.  Richard and I are leaving as well.”

“Tell you what.  You guys sit here and I’ll bring the Parkers over.”

Shantreyl nodded as she rubbed her ankle.  Something bit her.  “Can we get to-go plates?”

“If there’s food left, sure.  Typically you just ask one of the servers to make one for you and they’ll do it.”

Renee got up.  “I’ll go.  Jaya, Shan…do you want the same thing you ate earlier?”

Shantreyl nodded.  “Yep.”

“Yes,” Jaya said.  “And some of that strawberry cake Malcolm brought Shantreyl.  Like a slab of it, if they have enough.”

Renee kissed Jaya’s lips.  “Anything my babies want.”

About ten minutes later, Mercury and Persephone Parker were at Malcolm’s table.  Persephone hugged Marion as Mercury shook Pretty Ricky’s hand.  Then Persephone held Shantreyl’s hands, her amber eyes alight with joy.  “I’m so glad my darling Malcolm’s finally found someone worth introducing us to.  Don’t be a stranger, all right?  You’re family now.”  Persephone pulled her in for a strong hug.

“Exactly,” Mercury said as he gave Shantreyl a sideways hug and a peck on the cheek.  Then they said their goodbyes to Jaya and Renee, who had returned with three large bags, with “Carlee’s Soul Patrol” scrawled across the front.

“Wow,” Jaya said.  “I was expecting a plate.”

“No baby,” Renee said, a smile on her face.  Plates.  In boxes.  They gave us some of everything.  We can eat off this for the next few days.”  She handed Shantreyl her bag of food.

Marion hugged Shantreyl and she realized that it was time to tell her family about Malcolm.  A couple of phone calls were in order the next day.

“I’m so pleased to have met you, Shantreyl,” the older woman said.  “Don’t tell him this, but Malcolm is my favorite and his happiness is everything to me.  You make him happy.”

“Yes, Mrs. Sullivan,” Shantreyl replied, smiling at the secret.

As they were leaving, Shantreyl realized that she hadn’t seen Kaphiri since he left her sitting at the table.  It seemed odd that he would willingly miss an opportunity to say goodbye, especially when he said he would.  It didn’t matter because shortly, they were in Malcolm’s Range Rover, headed back to Siren Heights.  Jaya was yawning every few minutes.

“You’re really tired,” Malcolm said.

“Razberry is kicking her ass,” Renee replied.  “We’re sleeping in tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to work?” Malcolm asked.

“I’m very fortunate,” Renee said.  “I have the ability to telecommute when I want.  I prefer to do my sculpting at home.”

“I’m so grateful for that,” Jaya said, yawning again. 

Malcolm reached over and took Shantreyl’s hand.  “Traffic’s not bad; we will be in Fallon Station in about thirty minutes.”

“Good,” Jaya said.  “I’m ready to lie down now.”

“What about you, Shantreyl?” Malcolm asked.

“I want a hot bath.  I got some mosquito bites in spite of those citronella candles.  I knew I should have worn bug repellent.”

“All right then,” he said.

A half-hour later, they were getting out of Malcolm’s truck.  Renee and Jaya said their good nights and disappeared into their townhouse.  Shantreyl smiled at her boyfriend as she unlocked her door.

“Did you happen to bring a change of clothes?”

“Of course I did,” he said.  “I need to use your bathroom first and then I’ll come out and get my gym bag.”

“All right,” she said.

* * *

Shantreyl’s bathroom was her own private hedonistic lair.  She preferred baths to showers, and one of the amenities that sold her on Fallon Station was the very large master bathroom.  There was an enormous garden tub with jets underneath the window and an equally large shower off to one side and the toilet off to the other.  There were his-n-her sinks and two walk-in closets.  One she kept as a linen closet and the other she kept her toiletries, bath products, hair products, and makeup in so that her counters weren’t cluttered.  There were large candles on the countertops and in the corners of the tub.  The bathroom was done in shades of sea green and Carolina blue.

Shantreyl sat on the edge of the tub adding bubble bath to the running water.  The candles were lit.   She stood up and took off her clothes.  She removed the pasties that hid and protected her nipples, sighing with her eyes closed as she massaged her breasts.  She smiled as she thought about Malcolm’s adorable mother and her cute little boyfriend.  Pretty Ricky was one of them old school players who kept a pint of Old Forester in one of the pockets of his pastel blue leisure suit.

Malcolm stood in the doorway of the bathroom, still dressed.  “What are you thinking about, beautiful?”

She looked at him.  “Your mother and Pretty Ricky.  I bet they fuck.  I bet he’s good at it.”

Malcolm rolled his eyes and groaned.  “Don’t.”

“Why not?  Pretty Ricky loves your momma and she ain’t dead.  They’re definitely having sex.  Probably right now.”

Malcolm groaned again.  “If you don’t mind, I’d rather not picture that.”

She turned the water off.  The tub was full of eucalyptus-scented bubbles and the room was fragrant.  “Are you going to join me?”

“I can’t right now, baby.  There are two or three phone calls that I need to return.   If you’re still in there when I’m done, then I’m happy to hop in.  How long do you typically stay in the tub?”

“Until the water gets cold, so thirty or so minutes.”

“Well, hopefully, these calls won’t take that long and then I can get in there with you.”

Shantreyl removed the elastics that held her Afro Puffs in place and fluffed out her hair.  She grabbed a bandanna from a drawer and used it to tie her hair up before getting into the tub.  She blew Malcolm a kiss as she lay back and closed her eyes.  “All right then,” she said.

Fifteen minutes later, Malcolm was easing into the warm, bubbly water opposite his girlfriend.  He closed his eyes.

“Feels nice,” she said.  “I prefer the water be hotter than this when I get in, but it’s still very warm.”

“It’s nice,” he said.  “I’m not big on baths, but I understand why you are.”

“Did you finish your phone calls?”



“One was.  The other two were personal; situations that I needed to address as soon as I got you home.  Melvin was one of them and Kaphiri was the other.”

“I never saw Melvin again after Kaphiri intervened.  Did he leave?”

“No, but he wisely kept out of my sight.  I called him and let him know that I knew what he did and that I would handle it come Tuesday.”

“How are you gonna handle it?”

“I’m gonna beat his fucking ass, is how.  That’s the only language Melvin understands.  He needs to know that you are off limits.”

“To be fair, he didn’t know I was your girlfriend.”

“I don’t give a damn what he knew or when he knew it.  He put his uninvited hands on a woman.  The only reason Kaphiri didn’t beat the fuck outta him was because he wasn’t about to disrespect his parents’ event; something Melvin can’t seem to get.”

Shantreyl nodded.  Malcolm was still irritated about the situation.  “Relax,” she said.  “Forget about it for now, okay?  Let’s enjoy the bath, all right?”

“All right,” he said.  “Did you have a good time?”

“That was the greatest cookout I’ve ever been to.  The food was divine, the music fantastic and the company excellent.  That sangria was absolutely perfect.  I like your mother and Mike, and I like Pretty Ricky too.  Kaphiri’s parents are really cool.  I still don’t believe Mrs. Parker is 65.  She has no wrinkles, none at all, and no gray hair.  Her skin is flawless and she’s got an hourglass I’d kill for.”

Malcolm grabbed her foot and began to knead it.  “Persephone Parker is Black Girl Magic personified.  Papa Merc told me that mad dudes were after her for real before he stepped up.”

“I want to age like that,” Shantreyl said.  “I hope I look that good when I’m 65.”

“Of course you will,” he said.  “You’re doing all the things you need to do.”

“No,” she said.  “I eat way too much.  I gotta stop.  I’m already fat.”

“You’re not fat and I don’t even know where you get that from.  You have a beautiful curvy body.  I love lying next to you because you’re so soft and you smell good.  You are not fat and please stop saying you are.  I love that you love to eat.”

Shantreyl had no response.  She stared at Malcolm, her eyes shining.  He smiled back at her.  “I wouldn’t change a hair on your head, Shantreyl.  I love you just the way you are.”

A few minutes passed where it was quiet and they enjoyed being in the water and with each other.  Earlier, Shantreyl thought that she would get some dick tonight, but she underestimated how tired she would be.  Kaphiri wore her out on that dance floor.

“We should take more baths together,” she said.

“We will,” he replied.  “You should check out the tub I have in my suite at the Vermilion.  It’s enormous and it’ll be nice to break it in with you.”

A few more minutes passed.  Malcolm grabbed her other foot and began to rub it.  Then he looked her in the eyes and said, “I have a question for you, baby.”

Lyrics to “You Don’t Love Me” were written by Dawn Penn, Bo Diddley and Willie Cobbs.  Performed by Dawn Penn.  No infringement intended.


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