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Reynold arrived when the festivities were almost over. Likkle was a small seaside joint, usually filled with locals. Tonight it was empty, except for two of the teachers he worked with, a bartender, a busboy, and Cheryl. She was jamming to Duke Reid, sipping something clear through a straw.
"I hope that's water."
Cheryl spun around, in her stool, "Glad you could make it, mystery man."
A fellow math teacher, Peta-Gaye, picked up her purse and got ready to leave, "I see you got him here. Let me make my exit, so you can get to know one another better."
Reynold smiled, "What is she talking about?"
"I might have bragged that I influenced you to come."
"Oh is that right?"
"Well, you came so late. Thank the lord Peta was here, because I would've been a liar."
"You're still a liar."
Cheryl looked him directly in the eyes, "How so, mystery man?"
"Because you didn't influence me. Trying to get away from grading is what got me here."
She touched his face, with her fingertips, "And clearly something else. What's got you running?"
Reynold doubted her intuition, she knew he was just trying to get under his skin, "Nothing. Bartender, I'll take a stout."
"It's cool. In time, you'll tell me."
Reynold and Cheryl spent the rest of the evening getting to know one another. They were the only ones left in the bar, an establishment that didn't close until the last drinker was gone.
Several weekday outings were spent at Likkle. Reynold would've loved to think he was falling for her, but he knew better. He was falling into comfort, something that he knew Cheryl was waiting for and that he needed. She spoke of an ex-husband and miscarriages. He spoke of Harlem and odd jobs.
She often inquired, "That's it? Smoke, jazz lounges, and bars? No girl? No children left behind?"
Reynold would briefly think of Ruth and then he'd shake his head no.
Ella put her hand on Evan's shoulder and pinched it. She whispered, "Can I speak to you, privately?"
Bethany and Evan's father were in the kitchen, making sure the food was ready. Ella, Evan, Reynold, and Rebecca stared at one another in silence. Evan finally broke it, "We'll be right back. I want to show Ella our garden."
Rebecca jumped up, "I loved that garden! Can I come?"
"It looks exactly the same."
Evan grabbed Ella's hand and brought her downstairs and out to the garden.
"Who is that girl?"
Evan sighed, "She's...she's my ex-girlfriend. I can't even lie to you."
"What is she doing here?"
Evan didn't expect her to be so calm, "My father invited her here, I didn't know he'd do something like that."
"What does that mean?"
Ella lowered her voice, "I've seen that girl, before. One of these days I came to meet you and your father was seeing her off. They looked a little too friendly."
"What? Why didn't you tell me that? Do you know what you're implying?"
"I do. That's how you know I'm not lying. I saw what I saw and she doesn't belong here."
Before Evan could reply, they heard the sound of glass shattering above them.
Cheryl sat on the edge of Reynold's bed, confused and crying. He still hadn't gotten used to the sound of the island, after being in Harlem. He was thankful for the crickets that drowned the sound of Cheryl's not so subtle tears.
"I'm not ready to be a father."
"I'm not asking you to be ready. I'm asking you to acknowledge that this child is yours and that you'll try."
"I don't have a choice, do I?"
"I want this child, Reynold."
On the first night she decided to sleep over, Reynold warned her. He knew he was no good to anyone and still she'd managed to slip into his life. She sat in his shirts, checking student solutions, at his living room table. She insisted on coming over to cook, even when he told her that he'd be fine. She met him at the bus stop, in the morning, hoping they could go in together.
When he told her their union wouldn't work, they were driving over potholes, the bus rumbling beneath their feet. She put her palm over his heart, "I'm broken, you're broken, I get it. Let's mend, together."
He was silent. He gave her no confirmation that he felt the same way. Yet, they'd made love time and time again. Once, he'd let Ruth's name slip. Cheryl pretended not to notice. She hoped the longer she stayed, the more his past would fade.
But his pain didn't dissipate.
Cheryl continued to pretend the attention he gave her was love.
They reached inside one another, trying to find tomorrow.
Jamaica's night whispered through their windows.
Reynold sat up and pulled Cheryl close to him, he placed his hand on her heart, "Let's mend."
But under his hand, was an aging tear, that would continue to crack, long after their daughter was born.
Evan Jr. tried to teach his son about love.
When Third came home, with his first crush slipped between a construction paper heart, he sat him down to talk about girls that would one day be women.
"Find one that loves you more than you love them."
"Because she'll be loyal, she'll never leave your side."
"Why can't you love each other the same? Why can't we stay by one another's side?"
Evan Jr. looked at his pre-teen son, he was wise beyond his years. He realized he could teach him nothing about love; his father knew nothing of it and his mother seemed void of it. No one had ever truly taught him how to love a woman. He mimicked what entertainment told him and what his father left behind:
Love was a fairytale at home, but whatever else you wanted it to be when you left.
A tan ring finger.
Something on the side.
A promise never kept.
He remembered where his father took his last breath. It was at his summer home, with his other family. He left this world where he felt content.
Rebecca, the girl his son loved since he was thirteen, showed up at his office a grown woman. She was 26, fresh out of a master's program.
She put her resume in front of him, closed the blinds, and sat on his desk, "I want an interview."
He was shocked, "I see that."
"Do I have the job?"
Something inherited and dark suddenly kicked in, "What job is that?"
Rebecca pulled her coat off, feigning that it was warm, "Any job you're willing to give me."
The last time he saw Rebecca, she was twenty-one and storming out of his house, upset with his son. He stopped to ask her what was wrong.
"Your son wants to be a philanthropist. I need to be kept."
"He has more than enough money to do that."
"Oh, I know. He broke up with me!"
Now, she was here asking to be kept once again. Evan Jr. stood up, thinking of his rebel son, docile wife, and irritating mother and decided that he wanted to be content.
There was glass everywhere.
The tray Ruth brought down the steps, with all the glasses, was strewn with shards all over the living room floor.
Rebecca stood with her hands on her hips, "Your grandmother was always a bat."
Evan almost raised his voice, but then he saw Reynold kneel down and start to pick up the pieces.
Ruth slowly kneeled down and assisted him. They stole glances at one another while putting the pieces into the tray, as everyone looked on.
Evan's father spoke, "Ma, I'll call the staff to do that."
Reynold and Ruth continued to pick up the pieces, until he broke the silence, "Let me do it, Ruth."
Ruth stopped but continued to look down, shaking the smallest glass from her fingers.
Evan's father was confused, "How do you know my mother's name?"
Reynold pushed the tray aside and helped Ruth up.
Ruth looked at him like it was the first time. He was just as handsome as the day she met him, if not more, "I see you found your way back to Harlem. I thought we'd have to meet on much higher ground, that upper room."
Reynold laughed, put his hands around her face just in case she wasn't real and kissed her full on the lips, "No, Ruth baby. I'm here. I'm still here."
Everyone in the room was stunned, everyone except for Evan.
"Is this the man from your stories, grandma?"
Ruth nodded and held Reynold's hand. She knew she'd never let go again. Evan's father walked closer to Ruth and Reynold, a realization plastered across his face.
"I don't know what's going on here, but I want you and that girl out of my house."