Please see "Chapters You May Have Missed" for previous chapters/parts.
Chapter 5: Everything Comes to the Light
Outside, the wind blew softly. The holiday lights running the length of the roof’s edge, accompanied by the neon sign of the roller rink, illuminated the parking lot. Lelani pulled into a space and shifted into park. She turned around in her seat and flashed a soft smile at Camden. He shifted his weight forward and flashed an innocent one in return.
The overhead light switched on when Neo opened the passenger side door. He got out and opened the rear door to let his son out. Lelani was the last to exit. The cold air hit her, sending a shiver over her body. The threesome hustled into the skating rink out of the cold weather. Inside, Neo paid the entrance fee, rented each of them skates, and reserved them a locker to hang their coats.
The New Years’ crowd at the skating rink was always much bigger than any other day of the year. Neo and Camden drove up for the Orlando versus Miami basketball game earlier that week and decided to spend the holiday with Lelani, as she was visiting her parents while still on break from school. Orlando was a beautiful city with many things for them to do. Throughout the week, Neo and Lelani had taken Camden to Disney World, Universal Studios, and Seaworld. The few weeks apart had been had been like months and Neo wanted to spend as much time showing Lelani that she was a special person in his life.
Camden held the wall as his father stood him up on the skates. The wheels rolled beneath his feet uncontrollably and sent him crashing to the floor. Lelani rushed over to comfort him.
“Aww, poor baby. You alright, sweetie?”
“Yes ma’am. I can’t do this. Its too hard.”
“Yes you can. You haven’t even tried yet. I’ll hold your hand and we’ll do it together. OK?”
“And daddy, too?”
“Yeah and daddy, too. Right, daddy?”
“Yep. I’m right behind you.”
“Can we stay near the wall. Its scary out in the middle.”
“Yep, whatever you want, Camden.”
“You and your dad go ahead. I need to go to the bathroom first.”
“Ok. Hurry though, ok?”
“I will, Cam.”
Lelani skated away in the direction of the restroom. Neo grabbed his son’s hand and carefully escorted him to the skating floor. He skated backward in front of Camden, being careful not to trip himself in the course of assisting his son. Camden fearfully braced the wall and shuffled his skates back and forth, letting his father do most of the work.
In the restroom, Lelani slid into the first available stall and proceeded with her personal business. Just as she was opening the door to step out of the stall, two ladies walked into the restroom. Lelani recognized one of the voices and silently pushed the door back into it’s closed position. The echo of the female’s ghetto dialect sent nervous ripples over Lelani. The two ladies congregated at the sink in front of the mirror.
“Yeah, so she was cold busted as we were walking out. Then, you know this nigga chases after her?!”
“Yeah chick. So I’m like screaming after him sayin “Ain’t no use trying to run behind her sorry, slimy ass. She ain’t nothing but a trick anyway.”
“Right. Yeah, then what happened?”
“He still ran after her. I been tryn to tell him this entire time-- since they got together--I don’t know what Andre ever saw in her corny ass.”
“Yeah she ain’t that fly.”
Lelani peaked through the open seam of the door to confirm her suspicions. The female voice on the other side of the door belonged to her long time adversary, Tayla. Her anger started to boil at Tayla’s ignorant testimonial. The restroom stall door couldn’t confine her any longer. Lelani yanked the door back, causing the hinges to rattle.
Lelani stepped out from inside the stall. Her body towered over the two women standing at the mirror. Echoes of the rink DJ announcing the next song bounced into the restroom. Other than his voice in the distant background, the room was silent. Tayla and her friend noticed Lelani’s reflection in the mirror. Lelani approached the Tayla with a malice look emanating from her eyes into Tayla‘s mirror image. Lelani clenched her hands into fists and primed for an altercation . Although her voice was shaky, she assertively addressed Tayla about her prior comments.
“What’s your fuckin problem, Tayla?”
“Oh so NOW you’re all confrontational. If you really wanna know. you’re my problem. You think you can run around doing whatever the fuck you want. Andre may put up with it but I don’t.”
“You’re in here running off at the mouth about me, but back in Miami, you were the one for little words.”
“Don’t come at me like that. You know what it is.”
“What is it then? Please tell me cuz I would like to know.”
“I’m not the one you need to be addressing all your fuckin hostility towards. Why aren’t you this forthcoming when Dre’s around?”
“What happens between me and Dre is our business. Not for you to be running around the world talkin shit.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t be all cocky if Dre was around.”
“And what would make you think that? I’m not scared of to say anything in front of fuckin Dre. I’ll tell him the same thing I’m telling you.”
“Well, sweetie, tonight’s your chance. Dre’s here, too. So I’m sure we’ll see you around tonight. Oh and don’t try running off like a bitch like you did in Miami.”
Tayla smugly walked around Lelani, with her friend in tow. Her unwavering composure led Lelani to believe that Dre was in fact there at the rink. It was New Year’s Eve and for the length of her relationship with Dre, they made an annual appearance at the skating rink. There was nothing which she knew that would stop him from coming, not even the fact that they had long been broken up. But fro some reason it had never crossed her mind that he would be there that night. She turned to walk out the restroom, knowing that she could possibly run into Dre while returning to Neo and Camden.
Thankfully, nothing transpired en route to Neo and his son on the rink floor. Lelani found the two shuffling slowly near the side wall off the first turn. She smile at the site of Neo helping his son learn to skate. Camden was a mini version of his father, with the same honey brown eyes and creamy complexion, and he had the makings of an upstanding gentleman, if Neo continued to groom his son as his father had done for him. Neo looked up at Lelani and gave her a quirky glimpse. She laughed to herself and returned the face.
The DJ interrupted the song blasting over the speakers and announced a dedication. He mixed in a classic slow jam and declared it a couple’s skate. People cleared the rink floor for the couples, leaving Lelani, Neo, and Camden scrabbling for the nearest floor exit. Lelani led the threesome to a booth nearby the concession stand and slid into the bench seat. Neo lifted Camden into the adjacent seat and slipped in next to Lelani. He rested his arm on the back of the bench behind Lelani, pulling her closer to him by her shoulder. She rested her head against the fold where his arm met his body. Camden folded his arms on the table top and rested his chin on top of them, innocently looking upon the two lovers with enjoyment.
“You guys hungry? Want some hotdogs or something?”
“Yeah, with mustard and relish!”
“What about you Lani? You want something?”
“Not now. My stomach is uneasy.”
“Why? What’s wrong, babe.”
“Nothing serious. Just a little upset.”
“Maybe you gotta fart. That’s what daddy says when my stomach gets bubbly.”
“I don’t know, Camden. I don’t think that’s the problem, lil one.”
“Your dad’s right. That’s not it, but thank you, Dr. James.”
“The bill is in the mail,” Camden said with a grin, sitting back.
“How about some water to settle you nerves?”
“Make it a bottled water, please and thank you, baby.”
Neo left the two sitting at the table to get the refreshments. A few minutes later, the music changed and the DJ announced an all-skate. A rush of people blew pass the table headed for the rink floor. Lelani proposed another round on the rink floor but Camden quickly shook off her request, anxiously awaiting his smothered hotdog. Lelani was amused by his youthful deportment; there were so many things she loved about kids and Camden made them resurface.
She looked at Camden’s face as it began to morph into a chocolate-toned little girl. Her hair was pulled into ponytails, fastened with shimmering bobbles. The dimple craters in her cheeks accented her bright smile and innocent eyes. She opened her mouth and began to laugh. The young girl’s laughs sobered and tears began to stream down her face. Her sobs echoed in Lelani’s ears. The little girl looked up into Lelani’s eyes and mouthed the word “why.” Lelani’s eyes filled with tears and her heart began to hurt.
The memory of her forgotten child replayed over in her head. She recalled that fateful day standing in the doorway of the bathroom in the apartment she shared with Dre. The white strip lay atop the sink counter as she hovered over it. The display window slowly creamed over revealing her pregnancy results. Positive. She pushed the second strip next to the first and compared the results. There was no mistaking it, she was pregnant with her first love's child. Her heart grew heavier and the pressure in her stomach increased with nausea.
The image flashed in her head and skipping past like fast forwarding through a movie. The new scene was one she remembered vividly. She rolled her head from one side of the exam table towards the window. She felt the nurse squeeze her hand and coach her through the remaining few moments of the termination procedure. Closing her eyes, she recalled how the silhouette of her unborn child looked on the ultrasound monitor. The tiny legs, hands, and feet all positioned on the tiniest body with a distinctive round head that reminded her of Dre‘s. The buzzing of the evacuation machine resonated in the room and over and over in her mind. A single tear rolled down her face and silently splashed on the paper stretched beneath her. The pressure she felt in her stomach just a moment before moved downward, lingering in between her thighs.
The images flashed again fast forwarding through the weeks she drained her body of water from crying herself to sleep, the days she lost trying to avoid Dre, and the hours she spent plotting her escape from the life she had been fed up with living. Her true reality was ready to come into the light. Lelani could feel it in her body that her secret was surfacing, much faster and so much sooner than she had wished.
As her mind went blank, the pressure that once ached in her lower body shifted to her shoulders. Lelani cleared her mind and returned from its temporary state of imagination. She turned to find a hand gripping tightly on her shoulder. Lelani traced the path up the arm the hand was attached to. Neo was standing over her speaking. Her ears were deaf on his words. She could see his mouth moving but nothing was coming out. Lelani closed her eyes, squeezing the built up teardrops out the corners of their almond shape. The tears clouded her vision as she slowly reopened her eyes. Neo stood over her incessantly shaking her, yet still Lelani was unresponsive.
A cold stream of water splashed against her cheeks. The stinging pain of a damp slap on the face awoke Lelani from her fugue state. She covered her pale cheek with her palm and cut her eyes up at Neo. Neo glared back down at her with concern. He placed his hand over hers and tried soothing her pain.
“Hey, are you ok? You zoned out for a minute.”
“Umm, yeah. I think. Did you just slap me?”
“Sorry. I’ve been calling you, but you didn’t answer. You were looking up at me, but it was like you weren’t here.”
“So you slap me?”
“What else was I suppose to do, Lani? You were acting strange. You’ve been acting strange since we got here.”
“But Neo, you slapped me!”
“Calm down. It wasn’t that kind of a slap. I didn’t do it to hurt you, just to wake you up, or whatever.”
“I’m shocked that you would do something like that. You slapped me!”
“Lelani, I think you’re taking this a bit too far!”
“Daddy, are you ok? You’re not getting mad are you?”
“No Cam. Papi’s not mad. Finish you hot dog.” Neo turned back to Lelani, “Are you sure you’re ok now? Do you want to leave?”
“No I don’t want to leave, but I cant have you slapping me in public. I know some of these people around here.”
“What are you talking about? Nobody is watching us.”
“You don’t know that Neo!”
“Why are you yelling? What’s the deal?”
“You slapped me!!”
“Lelani. I didn’t slap you to slap you. Look, if its such a big deal we can leave. I wouldn’t want to send the wrong message to any of these people that may know you.”
“Oh, so now its my fault? Remember you slapped me.”
“What’s wrong with you, baby. You’re acting weird and its making me nervous. What happened in the bathroom?”
“The bathroom?” Lelani took a short pause and recalled the incident from the restroom. "Nothing happened in the bathroom. What would make you say that?”
“Because you were happy as hell before you went and then you come out and everything seems different.”
“Nothing is different except for the fact that you just slapped me.”
“Well I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable but you really zoned out. I was worried that something was seriously wrong with you. You were crying and looking straight up at me but you didn’t respond to anything I was saying.”
“I didn’t realize I was out of it. I just remember looking over and Camden and then…”
Lelani cut her sentence short when the images and memories of her love child with Andre played again in her thoughts. She choked back her tears and slumped back against the back of the chair. Neo could tell what was on her mind. As he did the night she confessed her past to him, he wrapped his arms around her shuddering body and calmed her. He whispered into her ear words of comfort. Camden looked on with confusion, still engulfed in the remaining bites of his hotdog.
“Baby, who did you see in the bathroom?”
“Tayla. She was in there running her mouth about me. She told me that he’s here.”
“Yeah and I just got to thinking about the baby. I don’t know if I can handle the confrontation. Can we leave?”
“Yeah. I can see this is too much for you. Lets go.”
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Please see "Chapters You May Have Missed" for previous chapters/parts.