image

A Story written by Omolola…

Tomilola sat outside her bedroom on the balcony that ran the length of the back of the house. She rocked gently in one of the rockers that were strewn around the balcony and drew in a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves as she leaned back, propped her feet up on the railing and watched the sun dip beneath the hill’s top. The already waning twilight faded to night. Staring at the twinkling stars, she let the day’s emotions take hold of her.

Fresh tears pooled in her eyes. Tears she’d been fighting all day. Tears of frustration and sadness and anger. After Demola’s little bombshell on the trail, she’d come back to the estate and spent the day sifting through the bills in her father’s office. It had made for a tumultuous afternoon.

Footsteps echoed in the dark.

She quickly swiped at the tears and glanced toward the edge of the house where the sound of crunching gravel reverberated through the night. Who was wandering back here? The sound of crunching gravel turned into that of someone climbing the stairs at the end of the balcony. Demola’s head appeared as he made his way up the steps, the moonlight glinting off the sharp angles and planes of his face.

She looked heavenward, praying for strength. “Demola, I’m not sure I’m up for another one of your surprises. Seems like every time you appear on the horizon, my world gets a little shakier.” He stepped onto the balcony and held up his hands, a bottle in one, two shot glasses in the other. “No surprises Just thought a good stiff drink would go down good about now.”
“A little anesthetic for the havoc you created earlier?” He winced, striding over to her and setting the bottle and glasses on the rail. “Something like that.” She drew a deep breath, feeling guilty for dumping her bad mood on him. “Sorry. I’m shooting the messenger, I know. But, unfortunately, the two people I want to be taking over the coals right now aren’t here. And -”

“I am,” He extracted a lime and small knife from his shirt pocket and set them on the railing. She nodded.
He removed a saltshaker from his front jeans pocket and put it next to the line. “That’s okay. I can take it.”
Yes, he seemed to have as much inner strength as outer strength. He absorbed all the anger she threw his way with the calm acceptance of a man who had a bone-deep understanding of the world around him and where he belonged in it. And because she had never known where she belonged in this world, it was a quality that made him just that much more appealing.

Too damned appealing. Squelching those thoughts, she concentrated on the bottle in his hand. Red Label. Of course. She curled her free hand into a soft fist and poured herself a glass.

She waited while he got his own drink ready, then held her glass up in toast. “To a quiet, uneventful day tomorrow.”

“Hear! Hear!” He clinked his shot glass to hers. They both licked the salt from their hands, drowned their shots and bit into their limes. The liquor rocketed down her throat, hit her stomach and raced into her bloodstream. She rocked back, closing her eyes, letting the warmth slide through her. Letting the alcohol relax the muscles along the back of her neck, the tight knot in her stomach and chest.

Something clinked against the lip of her glass. She opened her eyes to find Demola pouring her another shot. “Easy, I’m not much of a drinker.”

“Just sip at this one.” He set the bottle down, she held her hand out. He proceeded to pour himself another shot and downed it without the salt and lime embellishments. She raised a brow. Had this day been as unpleasant for him as it had for her? Maybe. While she’d been certain from the moment she’d met him that he was determined to do whatever was required to fulfil his obligation to her father, including playing dirty, she didn’t think he liked making her unhappy.

She touched the end of her tongue and took a tiny sip of the drink as he filled his shot glass again. He obviously planned to stay awhile. “You going to pull up a rocker or just tower over me while we drink?” He pulled one of the other rockers alongside hers, grabbed his drink, sat and propped his feet next to hers on the railing. “Pretty out here tonight.”

She stared at the full moon hanging over the distant hills. “I will give dear Dad that. He picked a beautiful place to build his little empire.” Demola winced but he didn’t say anything. He just sat, quietly rocking, occasionally sipping at his drink, his shirt gently brushing her arm as his chair moved slowly back and forth, his heat seeping into her shoulder like a warm, tantalizing breeze.

Her traitorous gaze slid to his boots, ran up his long, denim-clad legs and settled at the masculine bulge at the top of those legs. Oh, man. She dragged her eyes off him and took another fortifying swallow of red label.

Demola took a sip of his own drink, then turned his gaze on her. “You want to talk about the estate? Or your dad? You must have a million questions.” He was back to pushing again. She slanted him a look “What if I say no?”
“Then we’ll just sit here, watch the moon climb up the sky.”
She laughed. “And how long do you think you’ll be able to do that before you break down and bring the subject up again?”
He smiled, rocking gently in his chair “Maybe a minute or two.”
“If I’m lucky.” Her thoughts slid back to the troubling questions that had plagued her all afternoon. “My mom was raised in group and foster homes, did you know that?”
He looked over at her, the moon’s silvery light highlighting and shadowing his face. “I didn’t know.”
“Her parents were killed in an automobile accident when she was eight.” She closed her eyes, thinking how tiny, how vulnerable a little girl of eight was. “Her father and mother didn’t have any family that could take her in. So my mother became a ward of the state.”
“And she was never adopted?”
“Nope. She used to dream of it. Said once she recovered from her parents’ deaths, she’d lay awake nights and fantasize about a couple coming along and falling in love with her, adopting her and bringing her home. More than anything else in the world, she wanted a home and someone to love her.”
“But it didn’t happen?”
“No. And it left a hole in her, I think. Made her desperate for someone’s love. Which is what I don’t understand. If my father loved her, why’d she play around on him?”

He shrugged philosophically. “The Big W was a new estate then; your father was just starting to build it. If she was needy for attention, maybe he didn’t have enough time for her. Maybe she felt neglected,”

She thought of all the men who’d come and gone in her mother’s life. “Maybe, God knows, when Mom was with a man she wanted all his attention. Needed all his attention. She even hated it when they went to work. I think its why most of the guys left. They knew whatever they gave would never be enough.”
“So you’re at least entertaining the thought your mother might have contributed to what happened all those years ago.”
“I’m entertaining the idea. But I still have reservations.”

He watched her, his gaze concerned and sympathetic. “What’s bothering you the most?”
“If my mom never intended to ask for my dad’s help, why did she pretend to call? Why tell me she was going to call?”
“I don’t know. Maybe just to make your dad look bad. It wouldn’t be the first time one spouse vilified another.”
“Maybe.” But that answer didn’t ease the turmoil roiling inside her.
“Is it that she pretended to call that bothers you, or that she so obviously didn’t want help from your dad?”
“The latter, I think. It just seems so…self-destructive.” She thought back, the faces of several men flashing through her head. Men that had been involved with her mother, sometimes for months. She sighed, dropping her head back against the rocker. “But now that I think about it, self-destructive is a pretty good way to describe Mom’s relationships. Most of the men she brought home were users. Takers. And once there was no more to take, they left.”

“Did she ever see any of them again? After they left? Try to rekindle the relationship?”

Now there was a provoking bunch of questions. “No, she didn’t. As much as my mother wanted to be loved. As much as she wanted a man to come into her life and stay, if things didn’t work out, it was over. Completely over. Once they left our house or we left theirs, she never saw them again. Not to settle up on old bills or for a cup of coffee or for anything.”

“She never saw them again?” Surprise sounded in his voice.

To Be Continued…

Previous Episode
Next Episode