“I didn’t mean to offend you. Claudia is a good friend. She’s just… well, you know.”
Rubio’s anger faded quickly.
“Yes. I know. The night we met, a friend of mine dragged me to a party. There was a girl I liked and I was heartbroken because I found out she started seeing someone else. I wanted to stay home but I went out anyway. Claudia saw me and she came over to me. She’s a big ball of happy energy and she insisted I cheer up. I told her about the girl and she told me to forget about her because I was her boyfriend.” Rubio had a stupid grin on his face.
“You belong together,” I said. Rubio seemed to like that. “Tell me more about Sophia.”
“She used to be sad. We cheered her up, but only for so long. I used to leave her and Claudia alone sometimes because I think it upset Sophia to see us so happy. She never said, but it was a vibe we got. That’s why we tried to set her up so much.” He shrugged. “Then she met you. She’s happy now. I hope you understand how lucky you are. I don’t know much about her past, but I know she is a good person. You should be careful with her.”
I looked at Rubio and his expression was very serious. Rubio was a good man.
“I plan to make Sophia very happy, Rubio. You don’t have to tell me what I have.”
“Good,” he said. “I never want to fight you.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I was picturing Rubio trying to fight me.
“I never want that either, Rubio.”
Things were considerably less pleasant when we finally arrived home. Claudia met us in the driveway and the expression on her face gave me heart palpitations.
“Where is she?” I asked. I was already rushing toward the house. I didn’t hear what Claudia was trying to tell me.
“Sophia!” I yelled. I bounded up the stairs.
“I’m in here!” she responded from the bedroom. A wave of relief shivered through me. She was safe. There was no danger. Our lives were different. It took me a moment to settle. I’d thought I was going to have to hurt someone.
When I walked into the bedroom, Livvie was sitting on the bed. She’d been crying, and there was a letter in her hands.
“What’s wrong, Pet?”
“I don’t know. I just…” She wiped at her eyes and sniffled.
“What happened? Did I do something?” I hated when Livvie was sad. I no longer relished the sight of those tears. They were bitter on my tongue.
“No, Baby. It’s not you.” She’d never called me baby before—well, not in a positive way.
“Tell me.” I sat next to her on the bed and she instantly found her way under my arm and against my chest. I rubbed her back and waited. Livvie was a talker and I knew she’d come out with it eventually.
“My mom sent me a birthday card. I brought my mail over and there was an unmarked envelope. I wasn’t ready for it.” She buried herself further in my chest.
Livvie’s relationship with her family presented a quandary. I wanted her to be happy. I wanted her to have all the things she desired. However, I wanted to be a part of her happiness. I wanted to be the largest part. Her family could threaten that—they could threaten us, what we had. I needed to tread carefully.
“What did it say?”
“That she’s sorry. She says she misses me, that they all miss me: my brothers, my sisters. She wants to know if we can work things out.” Livvie sobbed and held me tighter.
“Is that what you want, Pet?” I wanted her to say no. I wanted her to say I was the only person she needed and to hell with the rest of them. But I knew what that would mean. I’d been orphaned. I might have one living parent, but as far as I was concerned I was still an orphan.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s me. It’s always me. I don’t want to be the thing that keeps you from the people you love.” I wasn’t sure what I was trying to say, I just knew it hurt like hell to say it. Livvie’s relationship with me was always going to alienate her from the rest of the world and I was too selfish to change that.
“You don’t!” Livvie insisted. “Things were shit between us before you and I ever met. You know that, it’s just…”
“She’s your mother. They’re your blood.”
“So are you.” She kissed my chest and went back to lying against me. “We’ve bled for each other. That’s more than I can say for my ‘blood’.”
I inhaled sharply. While I found her words moving, they were also troubling.
“That was my fault too.”
“Caleb, is this about you? Are you trying to make me angry with you? You make me happy. Today was one of the best days I’ve ever had. Don’t ruin it by making this about us. This is about my mom and the way she manipulates everything. At least you had reasons for what you did to me. She’s my mother. What the fuck were her reasons, Caleb? What were her reasons for treating me like shit and then waiting five days to come see me in the hospital?” Livvie sat up. Her fists were clenched around what I presumed was her birthday card.
“I’m sorry, Kitten. I didn’t mean to make it about me. Here’s what I know: You deserve to be happy. If getting the answers to your questions is going to give you peace, you owe yourself that much. If you’re done with her, that’s okay too… but I don’t think you are.” I pulled her back into my arms. I didn’t know if I did it to comfort her or myself, but it seemed to help us both.
“Maybe I’ll call her next week.”
“Okay,” I whispered. It was all I could manage.
“Promise me you won’t leave.” Livvie’s arms gripped me tight.
“I promise. Can you say the same?” I almost dreaded the answer.
“I promise. I’m yours,” she said.
“And I’m yours.”
“Sophia? Should we go?” Claudia shouted from downstairs.
“No!” Livvie said. “We’ll be down in a minute.” She sat up and kissed me, softly at first, and then passionately. I pulled her to me and caressed her breasts. She broke the kiss. “Later, Sexy. We have all the time in the world.”
“I plan to hold you to that.” I kissed her one more time.
“Good. I love it when you hold me.” She smiled and I could see she was in a better place.
I went downstairs to keep our friends company while Livvie cleaned herself up. Once she came down, we dined on arroz con gandules and steak. We had birthday cake for dessert, and I will always remember the smile on Livvie’s face when she blew out her candles.
That night, after everyone else had left and we were finally alone, Livvie and I sat on our new sofa and stared into the flames of our new fireplace.
“Thank you, James. I had a great birthday.”
“Moving boxes, emotional trauma, and birthday cake—you’re easy to please.”
She nudged my ribs.
“I’ll let you have that one since it’s your birthday.”
“Speaking of, do I get a present?” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“Yes. Do you want it?” I coaxed.
“Very well, but first… I believe it’s customary to give the birthday girl a spanking.”
“But… I’m so tired!”
“Good. Less chance of you moving around so much.” I adjusted our bodies and placed her over my lap. It was the most uninspired spanking I’ve ever delivered. She giggled through the entirety of it and I did nothing to curb her behavior.
“Aww, you went soft on me.” She was still laughing between panting breaths.
“There are no drapes in the living room. I don’t want to scare the neighbors just yet.”
“Oh. My. God. I forgot about the windows.” She scrambled up and sat in my lap. “They probably think we’re perverts.”
“Good point. Now, kind sir, my present please.” She held out both hands. I lifted her off my lap and we walked upstairs.
I’m going to interject now and tell you upfront that I won’t be sharing the details of my gift to Livvie. Don’t pout! It’s simply too embarrassing to rehash. However, as I don’t want to read the incessant questions about it on the internet, I’ll tell you this: It involved recreating another of Livvie’s memories… of me… alone… in the shower. Make your own panties wet! I’m moving on to the next chapter.
I was dreaming. I hate it when I dream, but for the first time in recent memory… it was good. I was having the kind of dream a person doesn’t wish to wake up from. Rafiq was there, but it wasn’t really him. It was a version of him I’d never know and that he could never be. His presence made it obvious I was dreaming, but his company added something and I chose to go along.
Livvie and I were having a party. We were celebrating my birthday. There were lots of people I didn’t recognize, but Livvie seemed to know them. I think one of them was her mother. They were in the kitchen together, pouring champagne into long flutes. One of Livvie’s sisters was trying to convince them she could have a glass. She looked the way I imagine Livvie looked as a child. Livvie looked so happy.
“You’ve done well, Khoya. I’m proud of you. You deserve this,” Rafiq said. He clapped me on the back and ruffled my hair the way he used to when I was a boy. I swatted his hand away.
“I’m not a child. Stop doing that.” I couldn’t stop smiling.
“I know. You’re a man now. You have a family of your own. Perhaps I am only reminiscing over the boy I knew.” He ruffled my hair again and I didn’t mind.
“I’m glad you could come. I don’t have any other family.”
“We’re orphans, Caleb. We make our own families.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“And the rest? Do you remember that as well?” Sadness had crept into his voice.
“I forgave you. It’s all led me here.” I looked toward Livvie and her mother. They waved at me and I raised a hand to acknowledge them.
“Who’s this guy? He looks rather interesting and scary.” Claudia bumped into my side and nearly pushed me into Rafiq.
“Do you always have to be so forceful?”
“I don’t like it when I’m not the center of attention.” She winked.
“It’s my birthday!” I chided. Claudia shrugged.
I introduced Claudia to Rafiq and made a hasty exit. She was already asking him intimate questions about his role in my life. Rafiq looked like he’d smelled something foul and I laughed. He deserved it.
As I walked into the main living room, Rubio was working on connecting the PlayStation. He turned toward me when I came in.
“Give me a hand, James? I can’t seem to do anything in these ridiculously skinny pants.” Rubio is a quiet guy. My head couldn’t create inventive dialogue for him.
I couldn’t quite put the PlayStation together either.
“I’m dreaming, Rubio. I can’t put this shit together. Hold on.” I kicked the PlayStation and all the cables were magically connected.
“Nice! Someday, when Claudia stops coddling me like an infant, I hope you can teach me how to be more of a man,” Rubio said (it’s my dream—stop judging me).
“You can start by taking care of this.” I took out a pair of scissors from my pocket and cut the large hank of hair covering most of his face. There was a large round of applause.
“Okay everyone, it’s time to sing Happy Birthday!” The crowd parted for Livvie as she walked out of the kitchen holding a large chocolate cake covered in candles.
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