As time passed, Shantreyl’s workload didn’t decrease, but she got better with managing her time. She was not going to let Cindy win. But she did have a victory of sorts: poor Karen was struggling with the G12 chemistry class and their parents were livid. Shantreyl was as polite as she could be but kept her focus on her middle schoolers. She hated that the G12s were struggling but there was nothing she could do, as the mess was not of her making. She wondered if Dr. Bowlen would intervene if things got any worse. She wondered if the admin were humble enough to come to her and ask her to take over the chemistry classes to get the G12s back on track.
A large part of her doubted it, so she didn’t concern herself. Rather, she focused on her wedding and her eventual new house. About a week into October, Malcolm brought an architect, Nikki Portman, to the house one Monday evening and the trio sat down with her at the dining room table and described what they wanted. The only thing that was needed was a location. Nikki told them that she would get started on the blueprints and would check in with them in a couple of weeks or so.
After Nikki left, Malcolm asked, “Shantreyl…are you sure you want to leave Heather Hills?”
“I’m positive, baby. They fucked me over this year; I’m not going to be their whipping girl.”
“What would have to change for you to stay?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m not going to stay. Five years is long enough. I need to start job hunting, though. The first big job fair is in January and I need to be ready for that.”
“That’s my concern,” Malcolm said. “Have you even updated your resume?”
She smiled at him. “No. Haven’t had the time, with work and everything else. I admit that I haven’t done what I’ve needed to. You two have kept me quite busy.”
“Have you told them to post your job?” Kaphiri asked.
“I have until November 1st,” she said. “But I’m going to tell them to post it.”
“That’s three weeks from now, baby,” Malcolm said. “Unless you’re going to stay home one day and use it to update your resume and do all the job hunting prep you need to do if you’re getting back in the job market.”
Shantreyl sighed and put her chin in one hand. “There’s too much going on right now. I can’t focus.”
Kaphiri said, “Then wait before you change jobs, bambina. Let’s get married and get settled in our new house…if you get pregnant at some point, you’re going to be absent and it’s better to do that when you’re already established than have to start a new school year in a new place with maternity leave. You’ve saved up how many sick days now?”
“Seventy-eight.” Despite her statement to the contrary, Shantreyl hadn’t been absent since the school year started. She wanted to be petty but she couldn’t do that to her students.
“If you get pregnant, you can use those days along with maternity leave and be off an entire semester. We discussed this before, remember?”
“I remember,” she said. “But I don’t want to spend one more year dealing with Cindy. Word on the street says she’s gonna replace Dr. Bowlen at the end of the year. She will make my life a living hell, Malcolm. And I’m not pregnant, so...”
“Yet,” Kaphiri said. “I don’t know about Malcolm’s little bitch-ass soldiers, but mine are strong swimmers.”
Malcolm rolled his eyes. “They’re stronger than yours, dickhead.” Then he looked at Shantreyl. “Let’s just take it one month at a time, baby. But please give this some thought. I know she’s a bitch, but sometimes your enemy can become your footstool. Sometimes you have to let things play out even if you don’t like how it’s going.” Romeo was on the case.
“Fair enough,” she said. “But if I’m not pregnant by the end of this year, I will start looking for jobs elsewhere.”
“Okay,” Malcolm said, looking at Kaphiri before looking Shantreyl in the eye. “Challenge accepted.”
Kaphiri said, “Are you willing to go back to public school?”
“Hell no,” she said. “Been there done that…never again.”
“Would you be willing to be a stay-at-home mom for the first year?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I love my job. I never planned to be a stay-at-home mother. I always figured that we would hire a babysitter when it’s time for me to go back to work.”
Both Malcolm and Kaphiri laughed. Shantreyl frowned. “What are you laughing at?”
“Hire a babysitter? Baby, believe me…that is covered. Our mothers will babysit our children. If I even broach the subject of an outside babysitter with my mother, she’s liable to smack the shit out of me,” Malcolm said. “She will slap my teeth loose for being blasphemous.”
“Are you sure?” Shantreyl asked. “You said she lives in West Magnolia…she’s not gonna want to drive clear across town to—”
“You must not have heard Baba say that it didn’t matter where we lived; my mother and Mama Marion will drive anywhere anytime if it means they can be with our children. And besides, Malcolm can move Mama Marion closer to us if she wants…which she will want once you get knocked up.”
“I don’t want to assume anything,” Shantreyl said. “But if that’s how it plays out, then I won’t complain. It will be nice to have them help me out the first couple of weeks.”
Kaphiri smiled. “You’ll barely get to hold the baby except to breastfeed it; that much I can assure you. The problem will be allowing the kid to walk when it’s time.”
“Everything is gonna work out, baby,” Malcolm said. “You watch.”
On a beautiful fall Sunday, Kaphiri and Shantreyl were at Triple Creek Farms, buying groceries after a trip to the gun range. Malcolm had to go in to work early that morning, as some very special guests were scheduled to arrive at the Vermilion at noon. He promised to be home no later than five, and Shantreyl wanted to have dinner ready for him when he arrived. Kaphiri wanted tacos and tostadas, so they had to go to the store to get supplies.
Shantreyl was at the meat counter, waiting while the butcher shredded some sirloin. Kaphiri preferred to have his meat freshly cut, and she became a proponent of it once she tasted the difference. She was thinking about how much her aim had improved since July. Her accuracy was good, but her precision needed work. Kaphiri told her that he wanted her to be able to double-tap the head and the chest by spring. Shantreyl was just glad not to be afraid of guns anymore. She didn’t think Zuri would believe it and she was eager to show off her skills when her sister came to town.
Kaphiri was in the produce section, examining some tomatoes and listening to some classical music when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Bambina,” he said, turning around. To his surprise, it wasn’t his fiancée…it was Donna Minelli, Malcolm’s ex-girlfriend. She looked phenomenal as always, but he found it amusing that she was in a grocery store looking like she was ready for the runway. From what he knew about her, grocery shopping wasn’t her forte. She carried a basket that held two items. He pulled an AirPod out of his ear and put the tomato down. “Donna?”
She smiled at him and gave him the once-over. “Hi Kaphiri. You’re looking well.”
“So are you,” he said. “What do you want?”
“Right to the point, I see.”
“Well, your last words to me were an insult, so I can’t believe that you now want to engage in civil conversation.”
“I’m sorry for that,” Donna said. “It was very rude of me to call you names, Kaphiri. Please accept my apology.”
“Apology accepted. So, what do you want?”
Donna shifted her weight between her feet and bit her lip. “How’s Malcolm?”
“He’s good. Great, actually.” Kaphiri wasn’t stupid, but he was interested in what she had to say. “Why do you ask?”
Donna shook her long, dark hair and sighed. “I miss him. I miss us. I miss what we had. It was good.” She briefly examined her nails. “Does he ever mention me?”
Kaphiri didn’t have the heart to drag this out. “No, Donna. Malcolm’s engaged. He’s getting married in December.”
The look on Donna’s face could be best described as…melting. “He’s engaged?”
“When did he get all marriage-minded?” Malcolm had never so much as uttered a syllable about marriage when they were together, and they were together for over a year.
Kaphiri shrugged. “When he met the right woman. Which he did a little while after you two broke up.”
Donna blinked several times, as if she were pushing back tears. “Ouch,” she said.
Kaphiri shrugged again. “It’s true though. He’s in love and he’s happy. So if you were hoping to try and slide back into his life, forget it.”
Just then Shantreyl came up, pushing the buggy. “I got shredded chicken and sirloin, honeybun. Do you want shrimp tacos too?” Then she stopped and looked at Donna. “Who’s this?”
“Shantreyl, this is Donna Minelli. Donna, this is Shantreyl Troy. Shantreyl is Malcolm’s fiancée.” Kaphiri put the tomato he was looking at into a bag and put it in the buggy.
Donna looked at Shantreyl, who was comfortably attired in well-worn jeans, a Dawnstar State hoodie and some Adidas sneakers. Her hair was her normal glorious Afro. Donna put a finger against her nose as she studied Shantreyl. The woman was her complete physical opposite and Donna couldn’t figure out what Malcolm saw in her.
Shantreyl smiled and said, “Hello, Donna. Nice to meet you.”
Donna nodded and managed to reply, “Same. Um…so how long have you known Malcolm?”
“We met in April,” she said.
“Oh,” Donna said, mouth dry. They broke up at the end of February, and it was with a whimper, not a bang; enough of a whimper that she felt like it wasn’t truly over. “Well, please forgive me if I’m…struggling…with this a bit, but you don’t look at all like the type of woman Malcolm would marry. He and I were together for a long time and he’s always dated models. You clearly aren’t a model. I’ve never known him to be marriage-minded.”
Shantreyl wasn’t the least bit fazed. She held up her hand. “This ring says otherwise, and perhaps he decided he’d do better dating a schoolteacher instead.” Then she turned to Kaphiri and smiled. “Kaphiri, let’s finish up here. I want to stop by the bakery and get Malcolm a cake for dessert.”
Donna looked at Shantreyl’s ring and her breath caught. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m just…I was hoping…”
“Hoping for what?” Shantreyl asked. “Hoping to get back together with my fiancé? Donna, dear, that’s not going to happen. It was a pleasure meeting you. Have a lovely day. Come on, Kaphiri.” She began to walk away, pushing the buggy.
Kaphiri put his AirPod back in his ear and followed Shantreyl as he waved at Donna. “Bye.”
About five minutes later, Kaphiri decided he wanted to have shrimp tacos as well and was at the fishmonger. Shantreyl was at the bakery, staring down a chocolate cake and a vanilla sponge cream cake; unable to decide which one she wanted.
She turned towards the voice. It was Miles, of all people. “Miles?”
He came up to her, looking impossibly handsome. He was smiling. “Hey Shan. How you doing?”
Shantreyl rolled her eyes impatiently. “What do you want?”
Miles looked around. He didn’t see anyone in the vicinity. “I saw you over here and thought I’d come over and say hello.”
“Why? We have nothing to say to each other. Where’s your wife and kid?”
“We’re not together anymore,” he said. “It’s not working out. We’re getting a divorce.”
Shantreyl stared at him. “What?”
“I fucked up, Shantreyl,” he said. “I majorly fucked up. I should have never ever cheated on you. You were the best thing to ever happen to me and I…I couldn’t—I didn’t appreciate you when you were mine. I was stupid, selfish. Susan was…I thought she was what I really wanted, but after running into you at Mermaid Island, I realized that I made a huge mistake.”
“You sure as fuck did,” Shantreyl said. “But I gotta say thank you, because you did me a solid.”
Miles stared at her. She looked marvelous; she glowed. “You look fantastic, Shantreyl. Are you, um…are you still with old boy? The one I met?”
Shantreyl turned her head. Kaphiri was coming back with a wrapped package. His timing was exceptional.
Miles followed her gaze. “Oh, you’re with someone else now? Him?”
Shantreyl smiled as Kaphiri walked up to the buggy and put the shrimp in. “Kaphiri, meet Miles. Miles, this is my fiancé, Kaphiri.”
Kaphiri removed his AirPods and put them in his pocket. Then he held out one hand to shake, towering over the five-nine Miles. “How are you?”
“Wow. You’re tall,” Miles said, looking up at Kaphiri. Then he looked at Shantreyl and said, “Your fiancé?”
Shantreyl held up her hand, happy to show off her ring. It was much nicer than the one she threw back at Miles when he told her he was marrying another woman. Kaphiri released Miles’s hand and stood next to Shantreyl, putting an arm around her. “Yes. Is there a problem?”
“No, no problem. I was just talking to Shantreyl and the last time I saw her, she was with a different dude. I didn’t know she was engaged.”
“Surely you didn’t think a woman like her would be waiting around for your dumb ass to figure out what an asshole you are and take her back?”
Miles looked at Kaphiri, unsure on how to respond. Kaphiri forged ahead. “I hope you didn’t think that, but if you did…more fool you. You’re a fucking idiot, but I thank you for it. If not for that, she wouldn’t be mine now. Come on, bambina. Did you find a cake that you like?”
“Chocolate or the fruit one? I can’t decide.”
“Get both,” he said. “They’re not that big.”
Shantreyl smiled at Kaphiri and waved a bakery clerk over. Kaphiri saw that Miles had not moved and was staring at her with the tip of his tongue on his bottom lip. He left Shantreyl’s side and walked over to him.
“Why are you still here?”
“Sorry man, I was just thinking…”
“Whatever it is you’re thinking, please think about it somewhere else. Stay away from her. If you come near her again, you’re gonna have a very bad day. Am I making myself clear?”
Miles nodded. “Crystal.” Then he looked at Kaphiri. “Take good care of her. She deserves it. I didn’t do right by her.”
“You need not worry about that,” Kaphiri said. “Now get the fuck outta here.”
When Malcolm got home later that day, the house smelled of seasoned beef and chicken. Shantreyl was in the kitchen arranging trays and singing while Kaphiri played his guitar. He stood and watched them for a moment, pleased that everything was going so well. It hadn’t taken long for Kaphiri and Shantreyl’s relationship to blossom. He smiled at them, feeling blessed and happy about the direction his life was going in. It took almost twenty years, but it was definitely worth it.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked.
Shantreyl turned and her face lit up in that smile that Malcolm loved so much. “Tacos. We’ve got beef, chicken and shrimp.” She walked over and took his hand. “Dance with me.”
Malcolm grumbled, but allowed her to lead. He was improving; he no longer stepped on her toes, but he didn’t have an ounce of rhythm. Shantreyl gave up after a minute or so and led Malcolm into the kitchen. “You’re getting better,” she said.
“Thanks, baby. Tacos sound good. Soft shell or hard?”
“Both. We also have tostadas and margaritas. I figured you might want a drink.” Shantreyl took down a large wineglass and filled it with frozen strawberry margarita.
Malcolm took the drink. “You figured correctly.” He knocked back half of it in one gulp.
“How was your day, babylove?” she asked as she casually laid out condiments on a tray.
“Babylove??” Kaphiri sneered, side-eyeing the couple. “When did that become a thing?”
“Just now,” Shantreyl said. “It just slipped out and don’t you dare tease him about it, Kaphiri.”
“Fuck I won’t,” he said. Malcolm teased him about his love name every chance he got, and he was eager to return the favor.
Malcolm ignored his best friend. “Busy and tiring. I’m starving; I didn’t have time to eat lunch today. We got 32 super high rollers in from Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and New York. They’ll be here for six days, so it’s going to be a long week for me. Some of them may check out the Fountain, so forewarned is forearmed.”
Kaphiri nodded. “I’ll be on the lookout.”
“Why?” Shantreyl asked, pouring him more margarita. “Will you not be coming home on alternate days?”
“I will do my best to get here at a decent hour and will call you if I can’t.”
Shantreyl nodded as she arranged the rest of the tacos on the tray. “It’s fine, baby. I understand. You gotta take care of your hotel. It’s not like this is an everyday thing.”
“Ahem…babylove…” Kaphiri said.
“You’re not about to stress me, dickhead,” Malcolm said as he put his arm around Shantreyl and pulled her in for a kiss and a smack on the ass. “How was your day?”
“Kaphiri took me to the gun range.”
“How is your aim?”
“It’s getting better. I had two headshots, but I can’t hit the same spot after the first shot. Kaphiri said he wanted me to learn how to double-tap.”
Malcolm nodded. “It’s a good skill to have. Useful in certain circumstances. Other than that?”
“Uneventful, which I like.”
“Not exactly,” Kaphiri said.
“What do you mean?” Malcolm asked.
“Well, while at the store, Donna comes up to me and asks about you.”
“Exactly. She wanted to know if you ever talked about her and I told her no, and that you were engaged. Shantreyl walked up and Donna insulted her, but bambina set her straight real quick.”
Malcolm put a hand on Shantreyl’s shoulder. “What did she say to you?”
“That I wasn’t your type. Meaning that I’m not a skinny supermodel. I held up my ring and told her that I was enough of your type to wife up, and then Kaphiri and I finished grocery shopping. She didn’t faze me not one bit.”
“That’s not everything,” Kaphiri said as he put his guitar away. “While I was getting shrimp, Shantreyl’s ex ran up on her.”
Malcolm frowned. “The fuck did he want?”
Shantreyl picked up the tray of tacos and carried them to the dining room table. She made it a point that when all three of them were present to eat dinner at the table. “He wants to get back together with me.”
Kaphiri grabbed two more wine glasses and the pitcher of margarita. “He was staring at her like she was a Wagyu steak. Straight eye-fucking her, tongue out. I wanted to punch him in the face.”
“Was he?” she asked, putting the tray of tostada fixings on the table. “I didn’t notice.”
Malcolm sat down and Shantreyl refilled his glass before getting napkins and the tray of condiments. “He did the same thing when we met. I hope you put a boundary down, because if he rolls up on her again, deliberate or otherwise, I’m kicking his ass.”
Kaphiri sat across from Malcolm and Shantreyl sat at the end of the table. “I did. He couldn’t stop looking at her.”
“Oookay,” she said, pouring margarita into Kaphiri’s glass. “He and his wife are getting a divorce and he wanted to know if I was still with you. Then Kaphiri came up and I introduced him as my fiancé.”
Kaphiri began putting together a beef tostada while Malcolm helped himself to some shrimp tacos and salsa. Shantreyl put two beef and two chicken tacos on her plate and dug in.
Malcolm asked, “What did he say when he saw Kaphiri?”
“He was surprised that I was with somebody else.” Shantreyl smiled devilishly as she thought about what Miles would think if he saw both Malcolm and Kaphiri by her side.
“I set him straight,” Kaphiri said, taking a large bite of his tostada. “I let him know that an ass whipping would be coming his way if he ever came near her again. I did not like how he was looking at her.”
Malcolm devoured one of his tacos in two bites. He wiped his mouth. “So he’s divorcing the woman he chose over you…and thought you might want him back?”
Shantreyl finished chewing and took a swig of margarita. “Apparently. I imagine he would have found a way to reach out to me had we not run into him at the store. He’s probably tried to call, but I got a new number shortly after we broke up.”
“Must be a damn epidemic,” he said. “Both Donna and Miles in the same place at the same time?”
“Closure like a motherfucker,” Kaphiri said, as he finished his tostada and began fixing another one. “I don’t have any exes, so we can move on now.”
A few minutes passed where the trio consumed the tacos and tostadas in companionable silence. When Shantreyl was finished, she refilled the glasses with the rest of the margarita. “Renee wanted to know if you guys had birthday plans for me.”
Kaphiri and Malcolm looked at each other. Malcolm said, “It’s next Saturday, right?”
“Honestly baby, I hadn’t had a chance to plan anything at all.”
Kaphiri wiped his hands. “Why did she ask?”
“She wanted to know that if you guys planned to have dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants to invite her and Jaya. They’ve never been inside the Solar Fountain or the Vermilion.”
Kaphiri smiled and drank his margarita. “We should give them a weekend pass.”
“I agree,” Malcolm said. “We can book them at either hotel and give them passes to the restaurants, spas and other services the hotels offer. We can put them up in one of the suites and they can do room service or whatever they want.”
“You would do that?”
“Sure,” Malcolm said. “Why not? They’re your friends—our friends.”
Kaphiri said, “Is there an anniversary coming up?”
“Anniversary in February. They got married on Valentine’s Day. Love won that day,” Shantreyl said, smiling as she thought about Jaya and Renee’s wedding.
“Love will win on December 21st,” Malcolm said as he and Kaphiri held up balled fists. They rock-paper-scissor’ed three times and Kaphiri won.
Shantreyl smiled. “What’s this for?”
“To see which hotel they will stay in, which will be the Fountain. We did this to decide where your family would stay as well—which will be the Vermilion.”
“The both of you are so generous. You don’t have to do any of this,” Shantreyl said. Malcolm and Kaphiri upgraded Renee’s Black Knights season tickets to the gold tier and gave her access to their courtside seats. Shantreyl had the upgraded package and was going to give it to Renee on Friday, a week before the season began.
“I told you,” Malcolm said. “Anything that pleases you pleases me. The people that matter to you matter to me. Renee and Jaya are your best friends and they are supportive of our relationship. It costs us next to nothing to do these things, but it will mean a whole lot to you and a whole lot to them.”
“I love my friends,” Shantreyl said. “That’s why I don’t want to move too far away from them. Our Friday rituals are the high point of my week and having Jaya and Renee nearby means everything. With them so close, I never felt like I was alone, especially after breaking up with Miles.”
“So you want to stay in Siren Heights?”
“I guess,” Shantreyl said. “I don’t know. But we haven’t found any good property yet.” Their focus had been in other districts near Shantreyl’s job.
Malcolm said, “I’ll put Romeo on it. If there is good land available in Siren Heights, he’ll find it.”
Kaphiri said, “You’d better find a condo or something close by for Mama Marion. She’s gonna want to move from West Magnolia to this side of the river.”
Malcolm shrugged. “Shantreyl, would you be willing to sell this townhouse to my mother after we move if we stay in Siren Heights?”
Shantreyl looked at him, startled at the request. “I guess so. Will she like it?”
“I’m sure she will. You have a nice place,” Kaphiri said. “And there’s plenty of room in case she decides to let Pretty Ricky move in.”
“Fuck all that shit,” Malcolm said. “He’s not moving into a goddamned thing.”
“They don’t live together?” Shantreyl asked.
“No. Mama is old-fashioned; she doesn’t believe in shacking up. Rick comes to visit, but he goes home at night.”
Kaphiri kept on. “Betcha not every night.”
Malcolm glared at his friend. “Asshole.”
Kaphiri smiled and finished off his drink. “Get over it, Malcolm. Pretty Ricky is fucking the shit out of your mama and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Rick’s laying that pipe. That’s why Mama Marion is so happy all the time. He’s doing what a man is supposed to do.”
Shantreyl giggled. She couldn’t help it. The thought of Pretty Ricky sexing the shit out of Malcolm’s mother was funny as hell; even more so because Malcolm didn’t like it.
Malcolm glared at Kaphiri. “Don’t make me punch you in the mouth.”
Kaphiri’s smile was wide. “Take your shot but make it your fucking best.” Then he said, “I don’t know why you’re so twisted up about this. I know my parents still fuck and I’m unbothered.”
Shantreyl jumped in, changing the subject before Malcolm took a swing at Kaphiri. “It will be nice to have our loved ones close by. I want to raise my baby alongside Renee & Jaya’s daughter. That way, they won’t be lonely.”
Malcolm and Kaphiri looked at her. “What makes you think our baby will be lonely?” Malcolm asked. “They’re gonna have a sister or brother, trust.”
Kaphiri ran his finger over the lip of his wine glass. “Bambina, you’re gonna be pregnant for the better part of two years. May as well know it now. A year after you have Malcolm’s baby, you’ll have mine. Remember, you don’t want to be pregnant at or after 40, so we have to get this done before then.”
Shantreyl started to protest but realized Kaphiri was right. “Two years…two kids should be enough.”
“Sure,” Malcolm said. “That’s plenty.”
“Fine with me,” Kaphiri said. “Whatever you want. It’s your body.”
Malcolm looked at her. “Did you want to do something specific on your birthday?”
Shantreyl shook her head. “Not really. Usually, I do something nice for myself, but that’s it. I don’t need a whole lot, especially now. I may go to the spa and go out for dinner. I tend to be reflective.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to do anything special?”
“Malcolm, with everything you and Kaphiri have done for me since we met…you wouldn’t have to do anything more for as long as our relationship lasts and I would still be content. You don’t have to do anything. I’ll just make it a me day.” She grabbed his hand and held it.
Malcolm nodded and finished the rest of his margarita. “If you insist, baby. Kaphiri and I will be working late on that day anyway.” This had been the case since mid-October. Fridays and Saturdays were chaotic and tended to get even crazier during the holidays, and so the decision was made to leave at nine instead of six p.m.
“Yeah, you’d better get your hours in now,” she said. “I don’t want anything getting in the way of our honeymoon.”
“Nothing will,” Malcolm said, kissing her fingers. “Kaphiri and I will make sure of that.”
That Friday, Shantreyl sat on Renee & Jaya’s couch, sipping on peach sangria and snacking on chips and queso. Jaya’s feet were propped on the ottoman and she was munching on fresh grapes and cherries. Renee was sipping on a beer. The baby shower was scheduled for Saturday.
“I have something for you,” Shantreyl said, sliding the black envelope towards Renee.
“What is it? Is it for the baby shower?”
“It’s an early Christmas present. Open it.”
Renee put down her beer and opened the envelope. Shantreyl watched happily as her friend’s face lit up in a huge grin.
“What is it?” Jaya asked.
Renee got up and walked over to Shantreyl, her arms outstretched. Shantreyl stood up and hugged her friend.
“I’m glad you like it,” she said.
“What is it?” Jaya asked.
“Like it? I love it, Shan!! How’d you manage this?”
“Malcolm and Kaphiri are part owners of the Black Knights.”
“Really? They own the Black Knights? For real?”
“Yes, a piece of them. I asked if they could upgrade your season tickets, and they did.”
Jaya said, “What’s the upgrade?”
Renee sat back down next to her wife. “Gold tier. The highest. Full season, VIP entrance access, a dedicated rep, complimentary parking, food and beverage loaded tickets, all kinds of little perks and benefits. And access to their courtside seats.”
“Wow!” Jaya said. “That’s amazing! Please let them know that we appreciate their generosity.”
“I’ll be sure to do that in person, when our paths cross,” Renee said. “Tell them thank you. Now that’s what you call a fuckin’ hook-up. Drown them in pussy, Shan. Smother their asses with that sweet stuff you got.”
“They’re so generous,” Shantreyl said. “They’re so good to me. Like, I can have any and everything I want…all I have to do is ask, and sometimes not even that.” She massaged one of her wrists. “It scares me, honestly.”
Jaya side-eyed her friend. “What scares you?”
“Our relationship is perfect. Too perfect. We don’t argue; we hardly ever disagree. Kaphiri and Malcolm do whatever I want them to do and then some. They’re financing my family’s trip out here and putting them up in the Vermilion for the wedding. Everything I want, I can have. It’s too good, too right. There’s something else, something more…but I’ll be damned if I have any idea of what it is. It’s not another man or woman; that much I know for sure. But the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet…and it will; it has to. I just don’t know what it’s gonna be or if I’ll be able to handle it.”
Renee said, “There may not be another shoe, Shan. Maybe these men are exactly as advertised. Maybe they did choose to spend the last twenty years building an empire and are now ready to reap the benefits and enjoy life with you. Sometimes a rose is just a rose.”
“I agree with Renee,” Jaya said, rubbing her belly. “They’ve been remarkably consistent and have never given you a reason to question anything they say or do, Shantreyl. If there were any secrets or anything of the sort, they would have come up by now. It’s been eight months since you met Malcolm and he’s never given you any reason to doubt him. At first, I had my suspicions, but when he showed me that your happiness is his primary priority, I let it go.”
“You’re both right, of course,” Shantreyl said. “But I can’t help but feel like there’s something I don’t know that I should.”
“Are you pressed about it enough not to get married?” Renee asked.
“No,” Shantreyl said. “I’m happy and I’m in love…I’m not about to let them go. I’m getting married on December 21. I just feel like there’s something…missing…well, that’s not the right word…I don’t know. I need to stop looking the gift horse in the mouth.”
“Girl, you are worth everything they give you and then some. Don’t worry about it,” Renee said. “If there was anything you needed to worry about, it would have come up a long time ago. You deserve all the happiness. Don’t question it.”
Shantreyl nodded. “You’re right. How’s Razberry?”
Renee put a hand on Jaya’s enormous belly. “She’s good.”
“She’s active,” Jaya said. “She’s been kicking the crap out of my kidneys. I have to pee every ten minutes.”
“You got what, a month to go?”
“Yeah. I don’t know if I’m going to make it. I’m so uncomfortable.”
Renee said, “We decided on a name.”
Shantreyl took a sip of her sangria and smiled. “What is it?”
Jaya put her hand over Renee’s. “You know I’ve always loved your name, and I asked Renee if we could do something similar. She agreed. Our daughter’s name is Renaya Dechelle Harris.”
“Renaya? Renee Michelle and Jaya Denai?” Shantreyl screamed. “I love it!”
“Thought you might. We haven’t told anyone else. We’ll reveal it tomorrow.”
“I’m so happy for you guys. Are you ready?” Jaya’s mother Brenda and Renee’s mother Gwendolyn were hosting the baby shower at Brenda’s house in Mallard Pointe.
“Yes,” Jaya said, smiling at her wife. “Renee spent this week getting the baby’s room ready. She won’t let me help.”
“You’re doing all the real work,” Renee said, kissing Jaya’s lips. “You don’t need to concern yourself with anything other than bringing our child into the world.”
Shantreyl rubbed her hands together. “Ooooh! Can I see it? What’s the color scheme you decided on?”
Jaya smiled. “Yellow and grey. I didn’t think I’d like it at first when Momma suggested it, but after she showed me some pictures, Renee and I were sold.”
“That cake is going to be awesome,” Renee said. “Kaphiri’s aunt is talented.” After the cookout, Shantreyl gave Renee and Jaya the contact information for Proserpina’s bakery and Joyce’s photography studio.
“She is,” Shantreyl said, smiling. It turned out that Julie had indeed retained Proserpina to make Shantreyl’s wedding cake, Pippa to cater the festivities, and Jeri & Tick to do all the floral arrangements, as a courtesy to Kaphiri. Kaphiri was fine with it, but let his aunts and uncles know that they had to deal with Julie and only Julie. “I can’t wait to see her mock-ups for my cake.”
Jaya started to get up and Renee helped her to her feet. “I gotta pee,” she said as she waddled towards the bathroom.
Shantreyl smiled at her friend. Renee finished her beer. “Honestly, Shan…I don’t think Jay will make it to December 15. I got a strong feeling that Renaya’s gonna come earlier than that.”
“You think so?”
“I do. I wish she could take maternity leave now, but her doctor insists that she’s all right, and more importantly, Jay insists she’s all right, but still…”
“Does she have sick days saved that she can use?”
“I think she’s saved about three weeks’ worth, without counting the holidays. We agreed that she will use them for maternity leave.”
“Honey, she needs to take as much time as she can get. Kaphiri already worked the math out for me. He’s got it figured down to the day, depending on when I get pregnant.”
Jaya returned. “Speaking of…are you with child?”
Shantreyl took a large gulp of sangria. “That answer your question?”
“Not really,” Jaya said. “You could be preggo and not know it.”
“I had a period three weeks ago, Jaya. I’m not pregnant, but it certainly isn’t from lack of trying. Kaphiri and Malcolm are committed to the cause.”
Renee sat back on the couch and propped up a leg. “I’ve been wondering for the longest time, Shan. I don’t mean to be uncouth, and feel free to say none of your damn business, but I can’t help it. What’s it like being with two men? Sexually, I mean.”
Shantreyl finished her sangria and smiled slowly, thinking of the other night. “Satisfying.”
Jaya sipped some water. “And?”
“You really want to know? Both of you?”
“We’re curious,” Renee said. “We have been for the longest. You have been a threesome since the cookout.”
“While that’s technically accurate, we didn’t become a true triad until September; the day they proposed. We got home and…and…and I hoe’d all the way out. It was so…intense.” Shantreyl crossed her legs, thinking about that afternoon and night. “How much of this do you want to hear?”
“However much you wanna tell us,” Renee said. “Right, Jay?”
Jaya nodded. “Right. Don’t worry about us; we’re adults. As you were, sis.”
“Well, I’m usually between them; one in the front and one behind. My mouth’s typically full, as is my vagina, and they find a rhythm that works. Sometimes I’m sucking a dick while one of them eats me out. And yes, they’re both skilled at giving head, to the point that I can climax from that alone. Sometimes Malcolm watches me with Kaphiri and sometimes Kaphiri sits and listens to Malcolm and me. They’re not afraid to try things; they don’t have issues with toxic masculinity. I thought that would be a problem, but it’s not. That day, in the shower, Kaphiri held me up and open with my feet dangling in the air while Malcolm fucked me." Shantreyl smiled. “And Kaphiri uses a switchblade on me from time to time. Malcolm too. You recall what happened the night Renee gave me Mary Jane, before we went to the club? And how I responded to it?”
Jaya and Renee stared at their friend, remembering what happened with Renee’s switchblade all those months ago. “Yeah.”
Shantreyl continued. “Well, Kaphiri found out, recreated the experience and I nearly lost it. They’re very creative with the physics of it all. I don’t worry about a thing; if they want a particular experience, they arrange it. Malcolm wants to get into role-playing and Kaphiri asked me how I felt about bondage. I’m open to doing whatever they want; I’m easy. Haven’t been disappointed yet. Now we don’t get down every night, but I can depend on getting dicked at least two times a week.”
Jaya smiled and shook her head. “Consistency is a real thing, you know.”
“Wow,” Renee said. “They brought that hoe in you out front and center. I’m almost jealous. Anything else?”
“The other night,” Shantreyl closed her eyes, remembering. “I experienced my first DP. They’d been preparing me for it since October and they had me twisted up like a pretzel on the edge of the bed. I didn’t know my body could contort like that.” Shantreyl’s eyes were still closed and she had a sublime smile on her face. “It was exquisite, having both of them inside me at the same time. I never thought I’d ever have such an experience, and I squirted so many times we had to change the bed. The next day, I was at work, smiling like a damn mental patient. The kids couldn’t annoy me, though they tried, and even Cindy’s ass couldn’t ruin my high.” Shantreyl opened her eyes. “I love it. I love having sex with Malcolm and Kaphiri at the same time. I love having sex with them, period. They’re about my pleasure and it’s satisfying as hell.”
“The look on your face,” Jaya said. “It speaks volumes. I haven’t seen you this content in a long time,” she said. “Even when you were with Miles, you didn’t look this satisfied.”
“That’s because she’s involved with men who know how to be men,” Renee said. “They’re not coming at her with that bullshit like most men do. They mean what they say and do.”
“Speaking of bullshit,” Shantreyl said. “Guess who I ran into at the store this week. And guess what? He’s getting a divorce.”
Renee and Jaya stared at their friend, sporting matching expressions of surprise.
“He said it didn’t work out and he basically wanted to know if I was still single. Luckily, Kaphiri came back at that moment and I flashed my rock and introduced him as my fiancé. You could have knocked Miles over with a feather. You know how big Kaphiri is.”
Renee started laughing. “Karma is a motherfucker.”
Jaya shrugged. “His loss.”
“That’s what Kaphiri said. But then he told me later—when we were telling Malcolm the story—that Miles was staring at me when my back was turned, and Kaphiri threated to whip his ass if he ever came near me again.”
“The audacity,” Renee said. “The absolute audacity. Fools like him get on my last nerve. You have a good woman who loves you and you fuck her over…then expect for her to take you back when you realize that you fucked up. I’m so glad you met Malcolm that night.”
“Do you think Miles will try to reach out to you again?” Jaya asked.
“If he’s smart, he won’t. Kaphiri wasn’t playing when he said he’d beat his ass.”
“Shit, I kinda hope he does try,” Renee said. “Just so Kaphiri can knock his no-good ass out.”
“I’m curious,” Jaya said. “If you hadn’t met Malcolm and Kaphiri, would you have considered getting back together with Miles?”
Shantreyl coughed. “Are you serious, Jaya?”
“Of course not! He married another woman. He wasted four years of my life and he married a woman who, as far as I’m concerned, was a downgrade. Why would I ever give him a chance to waste any more of my time? He didn’t want me when he had me, so why would I ever want a man who didn’t want me?”
“Good,” Jaya said. “I’ll be honest; I wondered about that.”
“Don’t,” Shantreyl said. “I’m a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. Miles can fuck all the way off.”
“Are you guys still house hunting?” Jaya asked. “You haven’t said much about it lately.”
“Really? I could have sworn I told you two that we decided to have a house built. At the last cookout, Baba—Kaphiri’s father—suggested that we build instead of buy.”
“No,” Jaya said. “I would have remembered that.”
“Well, I insisted on being near you guys. I want to be here for Renaya’s birth and I want to raise my baby alongside her. So Malcolm got his assistant to find some land in Siren Heights. We’d been looking in Paradise Park, Mallard Pointe and Ashwood, but I didn’t see anything I liked that would suit our needs.”
Renee asked, “Did he find any?”
Shantreyl smiled. “He did, actually. There’s a new community being built in East Siren Heights, about ten miles from here, and it’s enormous. Romeo—that’s Malcolm’s assistant—found some lakefront property. We went out to look at it and it’s perfect. The homes are spacious and spaced apart, similar to the community Kaphiri’s parents live in.”
“What’s the name of the community?”
“Crestwood Glen. The architect Malcolm hired is already working on blueprints. I’m getting my dream home.”
Renee smiled. “You guys are gonna live next to a lake? That’s awesome. How big is the lake?”
“It’s huge. I’ll have to take you guys out there one day. Anyway, my understanding is that they will break ground in January and it’ll take about three or four months for the house to be built. Kaphiri wants a pool and a clubhouse. I want six bedrooms. We need at least a three-car garage. Malcolm wants a man cave. Kaphiri needs room for a studio and a library. Baba was right in that we would never find what we needed in an already constructed house.”
“That’s a lot,” Jaya said.
“Three floors, including the basement,” Shantreyl said. “I want a big master bedroom and bathroom with an adjacent sitting room. I want Kaphiri and Malcolm to have their own bedrooms and bathrooms; we’re adults and even though we share a bed, we all need our own space. That’s the arrangement we have now and it works. Kaphiri has instruments and a studio, and he needs room for all of that. He’s got a beautiful baby grand piano that’s gonna look fantastic in the living room. We need the space.”
“Have you timed how long it takes you to get there from here?” Jaya asked.
“No more than twenty minutes, traffic dependent. I have to pass Fallon Station to get there, so it will be easy for me to stop by before I go home. I’m not gonna lie, though. I’m gonna miss being so close to you two.”
“Aw, it’ll be fine,” Renee said. “You’re moving into a fucking mansion, sis. You’d be crazy to turn that down just to stay next door to Jay and me. We will miss you being so close. But I can only imagine how much it’s gonna cost to have that behemoth built. I already know Jay and me can’t afford to live over there if it’s what you say it is.”
“There are some available homes in Crestwood Glen, Renee. They’re not all as large as the one we’re having built. You never know. Maybe you and Jaya should come with me one day and take a look.”
“We can look,” Jaya said, “but we’re not in the position to buy a house. Not with Razberry due in a few weeks. Maybe a couple of years from now. I would love to have a yard for her to play in.”
“Well, at least take a look,” Shantreyl said. “So you’ll know where it is and can come visit.”
“Fair enough,” Renee said.
Jaya drank some more water. “When do your parents arrive?”
“December 13. Malcolm will have them picked up at the airport and taken directly to the Vermilion. He’s putting them up in the Presidential Suite. I’ll go by there after work to see them. Zuri and Kit will arrive on Sunday, the 15th. I can’t wait to see the kids. I’m gonna go Christmas shopping for them at the end of the month.” She planned to send them back to Virginia with a fuckton of gifts.
“Have you told your mother about your relationship?”
“I’m waiting until she gets here so I can do it face to face. I think it’s best that way. But I’m not telling Zuri shit. I don’t trust her with the knowledge.”
“It’s a shame you two aren’t closer,” Jaya said.
“It is what it is,” Shantreyl said. “I’m fine with it. Momma will keep my secret.”
A week later, the night before Shantreyl’s 36th birthday, Kaphiri gave her an envelope that contained day passes for the Solar Fountain’s spa, Purity, and gift certificates for all four restaurants for her, Jaya and Renee.
“Treat yourself and your friends, bambina,” he said. “Malcolm and I couldn’t let your birthday pass without any kind of acknowledgement. Purity opens at ten in the morning. I will send a car to pick you up.”
Shantreyl pulled him down for a kiss. He smiled at her and stroked her chin. “You have fun, okay? I’ll see you when you get home.”
“I love you,” she said, caressing his face. “Thank you, Kaphiri. You and Malcolm are so fucking good to me. What did I do to deserve you two?”
“A better question is what did we do to deserve you. You could have been bad news; you could have been a lot of things. But you’re you and you deserve every wonderful thing we can give you, bambina. Let us love you and spoil you. That’s what we want; all we want.”
Renee and Jaya were super excited when Shantreyl called them a few minutes later. The next morning, they were picked up in a limousine and taken to the Solar Fountain. Charm ran a breakfast buffet on the weekends and the trio indulged in the wonderful food. Jaya happily ate for two. Then they spent the day in Purity, trying a variety of all of the amenities the luxuriant spa had to offer. They enjoyed lunch at Enigma and dinner at Amuse. At ten p.m., the limousine was ready to take them back home.
As they rode back to Fallon Station, blissfully relaxed, Renee said, “You can’t ever break up with these men, Shan. You can’t leave them, ever. I’m enjoying the hell out of these perks and benefits. We’re gonna be friends for life.”
Jaya rubbed her tummy. “Renaya agrees, as do I. She was very calm today.”
Shantreyl grinned. “She’s not the only one. A day at the spa will do that. That salt glow, mudwrap and deep facial was absolutely everything. I feel so…clean. This might become a monthly thing. I don’t think Kaphiri knows what he’s started.”
“Look, sis,” Renee said. “If your future hubby and baby daddy decides to indulge that whim, don’t forget about us.”
Jaya shook her head. “Renee, you don’t have an ounce of shame! Kaphiri and Malcolm are probably tired of including us whenever they do things for Shantreyl.”
“Then they will let her know,” Renee said. “Until then, don’t forget about us, Shan. I’m serious.”
Shantreyl smiled. “I never do.”
Jaya yawned and stretched. “That pregnancy massage was amazing,” she said. “I’ll be honest…I’m so relaxed that I think I’ll go right to bed when we get home. Our baby’s had a fairly quiet day; here’s hoping that she has an equally quiet night.”
“I think we all will,” Shantreyl said. She knew she’d be asleep before her fiancés got home.
Two weeks later, Jaya went into labor. Renaya Dechelle Harris was born at 4:34 a.m. on December 1st. She was seven pounds, eight ounces, twenty-one inches long and the most beautiful thing Jaya and Renee had ever seen.