Riley Tyson primped and styled in front of the mirror as though she were on her way to the Oscars, but the outfit she had on screamed PTA meeting.
“I don’t know why you’re getting dressed, you know your sorry-ass husband isn’t taking you anywhere,” her younger sister, Tamia Stewart, said bluntly.
Riley gave a sigh, a long-suffering one that said she had heard her sister’s comments before. “Don’t you have a man you want to go out with tonight?”
Tamia grinned. “I have many men that I can be with tonight, but you’re more fun,” she teased. “Seriously, I don’t know why you bother. I don’t remember your silly husband ever taking you out for your anniversary. Why do you keep setting yourself up?”
Riley turned away from the mirror and looked at her sister. “He said he’ll take me out and I believe him. Besides, I called him earlier today to confirm.”
Tamia narrowed her mascaraed eyes at her sister. “Did you talk to him?”
“Well . . .”
“You got his voicemail didn’t you? Didn’t you?” Tamia pressed until Riley nodded. “That man is harder to catch than a straight man in San Francisco.”
“Not true,” Riley said with a laugh. “He checks his voicemail all the time. And I know that he got my message and we will be going out tonight.”
“You’re delusional,” Tamia muttered, low enough for Riley to pretend not to have heard her. “Why hasn’t he called you back? It’s almost six o’clock. If I were you, I’d stick on a sweat suit, heat up a Stouffer’s dinner, pull out the Ben and Jerry’s, and plop down in front of the TV. Because that’s gonna be your dinner and a movie.”
“We’re going out,” Riley stated firmly. She primly patted her slicked-down hair. “It’s our fifth anniversary. How can he not want to celebrate it?”
Tamia tilted her head in amazement, as if to say, What planet do you live on? “The same way he didn’t want to celebrate the other four,” Tamia mumbled.
“I heard you,” Riley said. “He always had a good reason.”
“Yeah, right. He had to work,” Tamia said with a snort.
“He did,” Riley said quickly, defending her husband. “And he always made it up to me.”
“That’s right, I forgot,” Tamia replied sarcastically. “He gave you wilted roses on your first anniversary. For your second he was gracious enough to give you a card, two weeks late, and it looked like he had picked it up off the bathroom floor. And—”
“He took me to the Bahamas,” Riley interjected, cutting her sister off.
“Yeah, but you admitted that you never saw him. He spent his days on the golf course and his nights in the clubs.”
“He bought me diamond earrings,” Riley protested while reaching for her jewelry box.
“Forget it . . . you don’t have to show me. They’re no bigger than a crackhead’s brain. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re fake.” Tamia was silent, then, “And he treats you like his personal maid. I can’t believe you clean up after him like he’s a two-year-old. This room looked like Aretha Franklin was in it getting ready for an awards show before you cleaned it up.”
“I don’t mind,” Riley blurted out. “We’re like yin and yang, he’s a slob and I’m a neat freak,” she said.
“Yin and yang? Is that what it’s called? You two are more like the Ying Yang Twins, bizarre.”
Riley ignored her again as she moved from the mirror and sat next to her younger sister. They looked so much alike that it was obvious they were related. Each with skin as smooth as toffee and the color of toasted cinnamon, behinds that were compared to perfect peaches, and breasts that would never see the inside of a plastic surgeon’s office because they were so full and perfect. Riley glanced at her sister. “Why do you hate Bradley so much?” she asked quietly. Tamia had been making the same remarks ever since Riley had introduced them to each other.
“Because he’s a fucking jerk!”
“Tamia! Watch your mouth! The children might hear you.” Riley glanced toward the open door. Even though they were across the hall, Brie, her one-year-old, and four-year-old Carter had bionic hearing.
“I’m sorry,” Tamia replied contritely. She tried another tack. “I don’t think he’s good for you.”
“Tamia, why do you keep pressing this? It’s been the same thing for the last six years.”
Tamia scrutinized her sister. “Because something’s going on with you two, I can tell. I don’t know what it is, but something is off. You two are off.”
Riley quickly averted her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong.” She picked up a scarf and absentmindedly began twisting it.
Tamia grabbed the scarf. “Are you sure?” Riley nodded. “You’d tell me, right?”
“Promise. He’s a very good man. He takes very good care of me and the kids. You just refuse to see it.”
“In six years I have yet to see Mr. Nice Guy.”
Riley studied her sister and cast her gaze downward, then out of the blue she said sadly, “Who’d want a lady with two kids?”
“So that’s it—you’re staying with him because you’re afraid of ending up alone?”
“A little,” Riley admitted. “Sometimes I just think about what would happen if I left. I’m not delusional. I know what a jerk he is and that he isn’t perfect, but who is? And I do love him,” she said honestly. “I have two kids to think about; it’d be selfish of me to take them away from their father just because he’s a jerk.”
Tamia snorted. “He’s more than a jerk. Anyway, he could always visit them,” Tamia added.
Riley shook her head. “I don’t want that. It would be too unsettling and confusing for the children.”
“They’d adjust; children are very resilient. I hate to see you married to somebody who doesn’t appreciate you.”
Riley squared her shoulders. “I’ll deal with it; I just want things to work out . . . for the kids.” She stood up. “Do you like my outfit?” she asked, changing the subject. She twirled around.
“I still think it’s a waste,” Tamia muttered. “I don’t think his trifling behind is taking you anywhere.”
“Tamia!” Riley warned.
“Okay, okay. I’ll let it go,” Tamia relented. “And you look aw’right.”
“Just all right?” Riley asked, exasperated. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, you look like a mommy.”
“I am a mommy.”
“Yeah, but everybody doesn’t have to know that. And if you want to go out tonight, you should want Bradley to want to take you out . . . to show you off.”
“I think I look good,” Riley decided and returned her attention to the mirror. She paused. “What? Do you think I should change?” she asked hesitantly.
Tamia bit back a smile. Her sister had as much fashion sense as a nun. She strutted to Riley’s side. “The first thing you can do is let your hair down,” she answered while tugging at her sister’s ponytail. “What the hell did you do, slather it with Super Glue?” Riley’s reddish-brown shoulder-length hair was slicked to her scalp. “If it was pulled any tighter, your nose might end up where your eyes are,” Tamia joked.
“It’s easier this way,” Riley explained. “With two kids . . .”
“I know, I know.” Tamia had been hearing the same excuse ever since Brie was born. “You won’t have them tonight. Let it loose.” Tamia rolled the rubber band off her sister’s hair and ran her fingers through it. “Now, doesn’t that feel better?”
“Yeah,” Riley admitted, suddenly feeling as though her head had been released from a bear trap.
Tamia grabbed a comb and dragged it through her sister’s hair until silky smooth tresses caressed her shoulders. “Perfect,” she said, taking a second to admire her work. “Now we have to find you something sexy to wear.”
“This is sexy enough,” Riley protested as she ran a hand over her long-sleeve, knee-length dress and her confining pumps with their conservative two-inch heels.
“Yeah, if you’re dead,” Tamia called over her shoulder. She had sauntered over to her sister’s walk-in closet and was thumbing through her clothes. “This is going to be a challenge.”
“What’s that?” Riley eyed the garments her sister had slung over her arm. Victorious, Tamia scooted away from the closet carrying her selections.
“Girl, your closet is worse than a contestant on What Not to Wear. I had to dig deep to find this stuff. Very deep.” She held up a pair of black leather pants, a silky black camisole, and a black-lace cardigan. Dangling from one finger was a pair of black, strappy, four-inch heels.
Riley blushed. “I can’t wear that!”
“Why not? It was in your closet. So obviously you’ve worn them before,” Tamia quipped.
“Yeah, but not together,” she sputtered. “I’ll look like a whore!”
“Well, whores get sex and get taken out. Change!” Tamia ordered.
Riley sighed and quickly did as her sister had told her to do.
“You look hot!” Tamia said as soon as Riley slipped on a pair of oversize sterling-silver hoop earrings. “Hot! If you weren’t my sister and I was into girls, I’d take you out.”
“Thanks!” Riley’s eyes were bright as she studied her reflection. “I do look good, don’t I?”
“Yeah. Too good for Bradley.”
“Okay. I’ll shut up.” She grabbed her purse. “I’ma say good-bye to my niece and nephew then hit the road. I think there’s a bed somewhere in Atlanta that needs warming.”
“And you’re just the body to do it?”
“You got that right,” Tamia quipped before sauntering toward the bedroom door.
“Tamia!” Riley called. “Who are you going out with tonight?” She couldn’t resist asking. Her sister’s proclivity for eclectic men always amused her. There was Todd, the saxophone-playing vegetarian; Marcus, the seven-foot-tall bald Buddhist; and Alvin, the professional student who had more degrees than she had fingers. And none of her boyfriends lasted more than a month.
“Oh, I have a new one. You’d like him.” She winked.
“I bet.” Riley grinned as her sister jetted out the door.
Three hours later when Bradley strolled into the house, Riley was in the living room, her gaze bouncing between the TV and the children. Their eight o’clock bedtime had long since passed, but Carter wanted to stay up to see his daddy, and fortunately it just happened to be Brie’s feeding time. Without a word or a glance to his wife, he made a beeline for Carter.
Grabbing his son by the waist, Bradley hoisted Carter into the air and spun him around until he screamed with laughter. When he could no longer stand it, he begged to be let down. This is the side of Bradley that Tamia never sees, Riley thought happily as her husband gingerly returned Carter to the floor. Carter adoringly hugged his father’s leg, and Bradley lovingly patted his head. Riley’s gaze shifted from father to son. Carter was the spitting image of his father. Both had hazel-colored eyes that changed colors depending on their mood, sandy-colored hair that, like their skin, turned golden in the summer, and long limbs that made it hard for either of them to find clothes that fit properly.
Brie solemnly watched the action from her mother’s lap. Bradley didn’t say a word before plucking Brie from Riley. Brie immediately erupted in tears and Bradley drew his lips back in a snarl before depositing her back in her mother’s lap.
Twenty minutes later, with Carter trailing after him, Bradley headed toward his son’s bedroom. Riley followed silently while carrying a now-cooing Brie. He glanced over at his wife, his gaze running coldly over her outfit. “Why are you dressed like some bitch ready to hop on the back of a motorcycle?” he asked, his lips twisted into a sneer.
Riley’s eyes widened at his harsh words. “I’m dressed like this because we’re going out to dinner.”
“Who’s going out to dinner?”
“We are. Don’t you remember? It’s our anniversary . . . and you promised,” Riley said at Bradley’s blank look.
He shook his head. “I didn’t promise you a damn thing. I have a meeting tonight. I just came home to change.”
“Bradley!” Riley protested. “I got all dressed up, and the babysitter will be here soon to watch the children.”
“You’d better call her and let her know that we won’t be needing her tonight.”
“But it’s our anniversary. Our fifth one.”
“And?” Bradley said with a snarl. “Like I said, Riley, I have to go back to work. If you want to celebrate our anniversary, fine, go for it! But you’re on your own.” He stepped into Carter’s bedroom.
“Hey, little man, put your pajamas on and hop into bed.”
Carter looked up expectantly at his dad. “Are you gonna read me a story tonight?” he asked, his voice hopeful. Months ago Bradley had read him a bedtime story, but he hadn’t cracked a book since. Riley had been reading to him ever since, picking up where Bradley had left off.
“I don’t have the time, little man. Daddy needs to get back to work.”
“But, Daddy,” Carter whined.
“I need to go. Go to bed!” Bradley roared so loudly that Carter jumped.
“Yes, Daddy,” he whimpered as soon as he found his voice.
Bradley stalked out of the room.
“I’ll be right back. Here, take your little sister,” Riley whispered to Carter before placing Brie in his arms and racing after her husband. “Bradley!” He stopped and Riley heard him sigh before turning to her. “Come on, your work will be there tomorrow. We don’t even have to go out. You can read Carter a story, then we can order in and rent a movie. Just spend the evening with me,” she pleaded softly and reached for his hand.
Bradley glanced down at their intertwined hands, then into his wife’s eyes. All her longing, hurt, and love stared back at him. His gaze guiltily shifted away.
“Just stay with me, Bradley. Okay? Just stay. Are you going to stay?” Riley begged her husband as tears began running down her face. Bradley just rolled his eyes and turned away. Wanting him to stay with her, Riley dropped to the floor and wrapped her arms around his legs.
“What the fuck!” Furious, Bradley looked down to find his wife tearfully peering up at him.
“Tell me that you want to celebrate our anniversary with me,” she begged.
Bradley shook her off as though she were an overaffectionate puppy. “Get off me!” he ordered.
Suddenly Carter ran out of his room. “Leave my mommy alone!”
“Go back to your room!”
“Leave her alone!” Carter demanded.
“Carter, go back to your room. Otherwise be prepared to get in line for an ass whipping. You’ll get yours right after your mother’s.”
Carter’s presence sobered Riley. She sniffled and pushed herself up to her knees. “Go back to your room, baby. I was just playing with your father.” Carter’s worried gaze went from his mother to his father. “Go on back to bed. I’ll be there in a minute. Have your book out, baby.”
With an eye roll to his father, he reluctantly backed his way into his bedroom while keeping his gaze fixed on his parents.
As soon as Carter was out of sight, Bradley slapped Riley across the face and she fell to the floor. “Don’t you ever do any of that ghetto shit to me. Grabbing my legs like you’re crazy.” A whimper squeezed past Riley’s lips, but she pressed back the scream that threatened to erupt. The children.
Bradley left her on the hallway floor as he went into their bedroom and quickly undressed, dropping everything on the carpet for Riley to pick up later. After throwing on a clean set of clothes, he stalked out of the bedroom.
“Bradley!” Riley called, stumbling after him. The sandals her sister had picked out slowed her down. “We don’t have to go out, we can stay home. I have a steak in the freezer; it’ll only take twenty minutes if I microwave it. Come on, baby, stay with me.”
Bradley suddenly stopped and studied his wife. The right side of her face was red from the slap, mascara ran down her cheeks like black tar, and her once neat hair hung sadly around her face. “You look like a shitty whore.” He slammed out of the house. Riley fell against the door.
Loud banging snatched Riley from a restless sleep. She tiredly reached for Bradley but found herself groping air. Her eyes popped open and she turned toward the clock: 3:00 glared at her. “He must’ve lost his keys.” She threw on a nightgown, stumbled down the stairs half asleep, and pulled open the door. “I see you forgot your ke—” She stopped when she saw the two police officers standing in front of her.
“Mrs. Tyson?” Riley nodded. “Wife of Bradley Tyson?” Riley’s hand went to her mouth as she began to tremble. She nodded. “May we come in? We have some bad news.”
© 2010 Desiree Day