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I spend the rest of the morning vacuuming around the drill holes and re-steaming clothes that got dusted yesterday. Once I’m sure the items are like new I place them back on display.

Lola and I chat. I ask her about Trick and what’s new.

She responds, “I’m not sure what’s going on with Trick. Just when I think he’s going to make a move, he stops. And I’m there, you know? I want it to happen. But something’s holding him back. Not sure what more I can do.”

I turn thoughtful. Nik told me Trick moved back in with his Mom. He didn’t elaborate but I’m sure it has something to do with her. Maybe she’s sick? I don’t want to make assumptions to Lola and freak her out so I stroke her pretty brown hair and utter, “Be patient, honey. Trick isn’t a player. There must be a reason.”

She nods and replies sourly, “Hope he’s worth waiting for.” She looks at me and immediately softens. “Because I will, you know? I’ll wait.” She lowers her head and nods as if reassuring herself. “For Trick, I’ll wait.”

I squeeze her shoulder and make my way towards the counter. Just as I get there I see an older man on the other side of the road. He’s clutching his chest and using his bowler hat to fan himself.

Holy Smokes!

He’s going to faint!

I run to the staff room, get a bottle of water from the fridge and snatch my stash of candy from counter before bolting out the door. I run into traffic using my hands to show cars I’m trying to help someone; luckily the cars stop.

I reach the short, African American man just as he’s about to fall. I put my arms around him and slowly lower him to sit on his bottom against The White Rabbit.

I quickly ask, “Are you okay?” I open the water and hand it to him.

He takes it from me with shaking hands, drinks a little and replies breathily, “Oh, thank you, child. It seems the sun has it out for me today.”

My heart slows its pace and I plop down next to the old man.

I open up my stash of raspberry bullets and hold it out to him. He raises a brow but takes one and pops it into his mouth.

With the candy at the side of his mouth he says, “These are my favorite.”

I nudge his shoulder slightly and reply a little over excitedly, “Me, too!”

Bonding with an old man over candy is nice. Don’t judge me.

He chuckles but quickly firms his voice and reprimands, “You could’ve got hurt rushing over here, child. Best not be doing that again.”

I nod and reply, “Sorry, I’d promise I won’t but if I saw someone going down the way you were, I probably would.”

I hold out a hand to him and say, “I’m Tina.”

For some reason, his face looks stunned for a moment.

He covers it quickly, takes my hand and replies, “Jermaine.”

We shake and smile at each other. Bonding over candy and water on a dirty sidewalk.

This is how good friendships start.

I’m just about to ask Jermaine to come to the store for coffee when I hear, “Uncle Jerm?”

Max stands there staring wide eyed at the two of us.

Oh, Crudsickles.

This sweet old man is big, bad Uncle Jerm of the Sixes? How can that be?

My face must show my unconcealed shock because when Uncle Jerm looks at me again he chuckles.

He looks up at Max and replies, “Was just coming to see my boy Nik. Felt a little dizzy when superwoman over here flew in and saved me.” He shuffled sideways and takes my hand in both of his. “You know, when people told me Nik’s woman was different, I didn’t get it. I thought a woman is a woman.” He kisses one of my hands and continues quietly, “Now I get it. You a special type of woman, Miss Tina. I’m glad to have met you. It was an honor and all my pleasure. Be sure of that.”

My throat thickens.

That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I don’t know how to respond. I just open and close my mouth like a fish out of water.

Uncle Jerm smiles at me and hold his hands up to Max. He says, “Help an old man up, son.”

Max helps Uncle Jerm up and holds his arm with one hand. Then he holds out his other arm to me and I use it to pull myself up.

I dust myself off and stutter “W- well, I better get back to work.”

I kiss Max on the cheek then do the same to Uncle Jerm. I know who he is but I feel we have a connection after today’s incident. I’m so happy when he takes my hand smiling and kisses it.

Then I waltz back over to the store leaving Max smiling and shaking his head.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Attack of the She-Devil

Poker night has turned into board game night.

Turns out the guys were losing too much money to Ghost who has a supreme Poker face and no tell whatsoever.

Max, Ghost, and Lola sit at the dining table asking the others if anyone else wants to play. I see Nat raise her hand and walk over to the table.

Uh oh.

I don’t even try to hide my worry.

I walk over to Max and speak softly, “Are you sure you want to play with her?”

Max looks confused and replies ,“Sure, T. We’re a player short.”

I raise my brows and respond a long, drawn out, “Ooookaaay.” Then I lean closer and whisper, “Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

I make my way over to the sofas with Uno. Meems hates playing this with me but is always a good sport and a tad competitive which is great because she doesn’t give in easily when I whoop her butt.

Nik, Trick, and Mimi gather around me as I deal. We all take our cards and play.

Nik tries to cuddle me but I know he’s trying to look at my cards. I give him a don’t even think about it look that must look serious enough because he raises his brows, puts up his hands in surrender and backs away.

Shit almost got serious.

We play three rounds. I win the first two and I’m actually happy when Meems wins the other. I jump off the sofa and tackle her to the ground saying, “You want a piece of me?”

I’m even happier when she bursts out laughing. Mimi seems a lot happier these days.

Just as I jump off of her I hear Nat say loudly, “This game sucks.”

Oh poop!

Ghost smirks at her and responds, “No. You suck.”

Why, oh why, Ghost?! Don’t taunt the bull!

Nat stands and leans toward him over the table. I see her eye twitch.

That can’t be good.

She whispers in eerie calm, “Oh yeah?”

Ghost doesn’t even look at her when he replies a firm, “Yeah.”

Nat picks up the board and throws it across the room. It hits the wall and bits and bobs fly everywhere. Then she stands and walks coolly to the sofa where she plops down and says sullenly, “I’m bored.”

I smile and look over to a shocked Max, a chuckling Ghost, and a pissed Lola.

I say sweetly, “I told you so.”

Max nods his head and says, “Game over, Red Rover.”



I look to the monitor but see Tina is already making her way to the kitchen for a glass of water for Ceecee.

Smiling to myself, I think about how perfect a mom she’d be.

Then suddenly I’m frowning. Because we won’t ever experience that together.

Max watches Tina with a small smile.

She has been the perfect role model for Ceecee. She’s a successful business owner with good manners who loves to cook and involve Ceecee in everyday things. Her advice to Max about letting Ceecee be independent has really paid off, too. She gets herself ready for school, makes her own breakfast, and is generally happier. It was hard for Max to let go. He was so used to doing everything for Ceecee. Part of it being he liked being needed by her.

I think he worried he would be left out of Ceecee’s life if he didn’t have to do anything for her.

Tina disappears down the hall and we all resume playing.

Half hour passes and Tina hasn’t returned.

Sherlock Holmes time.

I creep down the hall and find Max eavesdropping on Tina and Ceecee. He looks like he wants to laugh. I tap his shoulder. He turns and holds a finger to his mouth.

I hear Tina first. “The thing about makeup is that less is more. You put on a ton of makeup and you’ll end up looking like a clown!”

Ceecee doesn’t speak for a long moment then responds with, “But I like clowns.”

Tina’s voice sounds wistful as she says, “Yeah, me too.” Then she excitedly offers, “Ooh! Next time the circus is in town we’ll go!” I can practically hear her bouncing up and down.

That’s my goofball.

Ceecee whisper replies, “You’re the coolest.”

Tina responds matter-of-factly, “Nuh uh. You’re the coolest. Ice cold, baby.”

Ceecee sounds full of awe when she asks, “Really?”

Tina replies, “Uh, yeah!” She makes it sound like Duh! “You think I come here to see your uncle or your daddy? Nope. I come here to see your pretty face, angel.”

Neither of them says anything for a while then Ceecee whispers, “Love you, Tina.”

Tina responds with a choked, “Love you more, baby.”

I turn sideways to look at Max. He looks to be in pain. His eyes are bright and he swallows hard.

He turns and creeps back down the hall without a word.

Well, damn.


Ceecee is finally asleep and I tiptoe down the hall back to the others.

I see the games have stopped and everyone has taken their usual places on the sofas watching yet another Will Ferrell movie.

Everyone except Max, that is.

I look over to Nik and shoot him a questioning look. He nods his head toward the patio.

I step out to the patio to find Max with both hands on the rail, head slumped down between his shoulders. I touch his arm and ask quietly, “Honey, you wanna tell me what’s bothering you?”

He replies a short and firm, “No.”

Using my hand to lightly tousle his hair I say, “Okay, honey. But I’m here with open ears if you need ‘em.”

I’m halfway back to the door when I hear a pained, “You got no idea, babe.”

I walk back over to him, touch his arm and tell him, “So help me understand.”

Max swallows hard and says quietly, “You got no idea what it’s like to love someone so much, with all ya freakin’ heart, but she looks exactly like someone you hate. It feels like a cruel reminder every time I look at her I see the face of the person who put her in that fuckin’ chair.”

Sadness eats away at what’s left of my heart.

Wow. This is the most Max has ever spoken to me about Ceecee and her accident. Nik has since told me the story just so I’d have all the facts and not be completely ignorant about Ceecee’s mom.

I feel honored that Max would let me in.

What Max doesn’t know is that I know a bit about how he feels. Mia looked just like Jace and every day was a reminder of the heartbreak I felt. But then Mia would smile or giggle and I’d also be reminded that Jace was a big fat stupid head to leave that behind.

Wrapping my arms around his waist, I squeeze and rest my forehead on his back.

We stay like this a long time before I break away and give him some time alone.

As I reach the door I look back to my damaged friend and pray that someday he’ll find love again.


Saturday night comes and all us girls are itching to get to the club.

We need drinks and laughter, stat.

We are over people trying to bring us down and Mimi told me that if I had any more problems with anyone this week to flip em the bird and say some really nasty words which made me giggle and blush.

We’re all dressed in our usual attire and head to The White Rabbit or, Wonderland as we like to call it.

Anticipation drives us crazy. As soon as we exit the cab we bound up to B-Rock whooping and jumping around like loons. He chuckles, holds his cheek out to accept our kisses and lets us in.

It’s bangin’ tonight!

We make our way up the stairs to the VIP area and Asian Alice is there to greet us with a smile and escort us to our booth.

Trick and Max are already seated, talking and laughing together. As soon as they notice us approach they both stand to hug and greet us.

I ask where Nik is and Max shrugs and tells me he was called to his office to deal with an emergency.


That sucks.

Maybe I should go over there and make his emergency a little more fun.

I smirk internally and decide I’ll do just that.

But first, I need a drink.


I wonder how the fuck I’m standing in my office with Sissy when I should be out waiting on Tina to get to the club.

This was not the emergency I had in mind when I was called to my office.

Sissy is dressed in a white thigh high dress. It’s a miracle it covers her pussy and I suddenly wonder what I ever saw in her.

She was easy.

Oh, yeah. That’s it.

I sit in my office chair and Sissy sits very close to me on the edge of the desk.

I ask, “What can I do for you, Sissy? You know, it’s funny, but I thought you were banned from the club.”

She throws me a sour look and replies, “Don’t be mean, Nik.” She smiles what I used to think was a sexy smile and says, “I just wanted to see how you were.”

This is a fuckin’ emergency?

I stop myself from rubbing my hands down my face and reply, “I’m busy. And speaking of busy, I need to get back so please escort yourself out.”

I move to stand but she stops me with a foot on my thigh. She scoots closer to me and my eyes narrow.

She’s up to something.

Lightning quick, she slips off the desk and into my lap, lowers her face to mine and kisses me.

Not a nice kiss either.

It’s sloppy and her tongue prods at my lips. Revulsion washes over me. Her hands remove my shirt tails out of my slacks. I stand. She falls to the floor on her knees.

I’m fuming.

I spit, “I had one fuckin’ rule, Sissy. Don’t ever kiss me. My kisses go to special people. Not people I used to fuck.”