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Red, white, and boo! (Full Story)

July 5, 2017

 

Part 1

July 4th, 2016

 

“Dawn, will you grab that potato salad out of the fridge for me? Oh, and some serving spoons? Look in the drawer next to the sink,” my co-worker Brandy called out to me before she stepped out her back door.

 

“Sure,” I said unenthusiastically putting my phone up and helping her. I don’t know why I thought I could come over here and just chill. So much for being a guest.

 

I got the things Brandy asked for and went in the backyard where a 4th of July cookout was in full swing. The hosts, Brandy and Alex Ellington, were true entertainers; this wasn’t your typical, throw some meat on the grill and drink a beer kind of shindig. No, this was more organized than anything I’ve ever attended. From the red, white and blue decorations everywhere, an outdoor bar complete with a professional bar tender, a DJ spinning old school cuts, a life guard for the kids in the pool and a food spread that would rival even the best chefs. All in little Americus, Georgia.

 

Brandy and I are teachers at Sumter County Elementary School. In previous years, she’d been a 4th grade teacher and recently made the switch to 3rd grade. Our rooms were next to each other and it was at the beginning of this past school year that we became fast friends. She invited me to her house often, knowing I was single and not from here. Augusta to Americus was about a three and half hour drive and since both of my parents were deceased, I didn’t go home often. So on most holidays, I was here.

 

And I loved being here. Their home in Meadow Woods was like my second home. This was my first 4th of July at the Ellington home but I’ve heard their parties were always fun. With an outdoor kitchen, large patio, pool, and fire pit, there was plenty of room for the 50 plus people here. Plus, one of Alex’s hobbies was grilling and he often volunteered to grill for various fundraisers around town. You knew if you had some of Alex’s food and people often supported whatever cause just because he was on the grill.

 

If you’ve never been to Georgia in July, I have some advice-don’t. While the temperature for the day was about 100, the heat index made it feel like it was ten times that. It was a little after five in the evening and it was still hot as the devil. I was trying to avoid coming outside, opting to live my life inside with the wonder of air conditioning. Stepping outside with the potato salad and serving utensils reminded me of why I hated summer time.

 

Even though I was festive in my red, white and blue sundress, I often didn’t have the option of dressing for the summer and this disrespectful Georgia heat. Being a big, beautiful woman, or a BBW, I didn’t have the luxury of dressing half-naked. At 5’4 and wearing a size 18, I was definitely plus size with my thick thighs, hips and an ample backside. I had a small waist and my stomach wasn’t that big but depending on who you ask, I could either be considered thick or overweight.

 

Unlike most women, I hate shopping because as a teacher, there was a challenge in making sure my clothes were appropriate. Thankfully Lane Bryant and Ashley Stewart understood the plight of us plus size women and I was able to find cute, quality clothes that fit my shape.  

 

I’d heard “I’m pretty for a big girl” most of my life and I couldn’t understand why people thought that was a compliment. Even though I had slightly slanted eyes, full lips and skin that looked like I bathed in the most succulent honey, that didn’t stop men from being shallow and overlooking me because my dress size had two numbers.

 

I placed the potato salad in the spot Brandy designated just as the last of the meat was coming off the grill. Because it was Brandy and Alex, hamburgers and hot dogs weren’t the main attraction. There were ribs, leg quarters, chicken wings, pork chops, sausage and steak. Everything looked good and smelled even better; I couldn’t wait to dig in.

 

Brandy announced it was time to eat and most people rushed to the spread. I held back waiting for the line to die down. I wasn’t worried about them running out of food; there was plenty. Brandy and I had small talk about our upcoming girls trip that we were taking before we went back to work in a few weeks. Finally, the food table opened up enough for me to make a plate. Brandy had to practically pull her daughter Jada from the pool to eat. After getting Jada situated at the kids table, Brandy and I took our plates to the fire pit area.

 

We were barely talking because the food was delicious. Alex could definitely throw down on the grill. Our silence was interrupted by a man greeting Brandy with a kiss on the jaw. “What’s up Mrs. Ellington? Where’s the man of the house?”

 

“Hey Byron,” she said covering her mouth because she had just put a spoonful of potato salad in her mouth. “I think he’s over by the grill. You worked today?”

 

“Not really. I just went to the YDC to cut a few heads. I usually go out there on Mondays. I hope ya’ll saved me a plate or three.”

 

“I didn’t know you were still going out there. I’m so glad that you do though,” Brandy exclaimed. It was obvious she was proud of her husband’s friend. “Oh, I’m being rude. Byron, this is Dawn. Dawn, this is Byron.”

 

Up until now, the guy was standing slightly behind me and I didn’t want to get in a conversation that had nothing to do with me. Plus, all my attention was on these ribs that Alex put his foot in. When I finally saw the man talking to my friend, my whole body begin to tingle. This. Man. Was. So. Fine.

 

I wiped my hands on my napkin and extended my hand to him. “Hey, Bryon. Nice to meet you.”

 

“Dawn.” He said my name as if it was a piece of homemade red velvet cake. Maybe it was wishful thinking but I could have sworn on my mama’s grave that he liked what he was seeing. “I haven’t seen you over here before. You must not be from around here?”

 

“I’ve been over here plenty of times. I’ve never seen you either.” But Lord knows I wish I had. He was tall, maybe close to six feet and I could tell he worked out because of the way his red t-shirt fit his arms. His caramel complexion reminded me that I had a huge sweet tooth. I assumed he was mixed with something because his hair was jet black and curly. I knew plenty of natural women that would be jealous of his curl pattern, myself included.

 

“I see I don’t come around often enough,” he replied. It wasn’t until Brandy cleared her throat that I realized he was still holding my hand.

 

“Do I need to leave you two alone or…” she quipped.

 

“You don’t have to go. I’m going to get a plate and I’ll be back,” he spoke to Brandy but looked directly at me. “I’ll definitely be back.”

 

He winked at me before going to find Alex. I went back to eating my food, deciding to take this conversation as flirting.

 

“Sooooo…you’re gonna act like that didn’t just go down?”

 

I feigned innocence. “What are you talking about?”

 

She looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

 

“Whatever, Brandy. He was just being polite. A man that fine wouldn’t be into someone my size.”

 

Brandy put her fork down and looked at me intently. “Dawn, it bothers me when you say things like that. No one puts more emphasis on your size than you. Embrace the size that you are and if you don’t like it, do something about it. But stop putting yourself down; you’re too beautiful and smart for that.”

 

I dropped my head in shame, silently acknowledging that she was right. We’d had this conversation before, plenty of times actually, and each time I was left wondering why I was so hard on myself. Plus size women were judged so harshly by the world and no one was harder on myself than I was. “You’re right. Old habit I guess.”

 

Brandy and I finished our food and cleaned up a little before mingling at the party. It was just after 8 and the party was still going strong. I was having a good time talking and laughing with some of Brandy and Alex’s friends. I was thankful they have adopted me over the last year and introduced me to some new people including Meka who kept my hair fly. I tried to go natural and quickly found out I wasn’t about that life. A few times I saw Byron and it seemed like he was looking in my direction. Each time, I averted my gaze and played with my hair, my nervous habit.

 

I was getting frozen margarita from the bar when Byron approached me again.

 

“You’re popular, I see,” he stated before ordering a beer from the bartender.

 

“What do you mean?” I sipped my margarita and enjoyed the awesome marriage of strawberry and tequila.

 

Byron took a swig of his beer and looked at me the same way he did when Brandy introduced us. “I’ve been waiting for hours for you to be by yourself. I told you I was coming back.”

 

I tried my best to hide my shock but I’m sure he saw it all over my face. He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. I’m sure Brandy told him to be nice to me that could be the only explanation for why he’s talking to me.

 

“I’m a man of my word, Ms. Dawn. I also had to make sure you weren’t booed up before I came back,” he said with a wink.

 

“Well how are you so sure that I don’t have a boo?” I challenged.

 

“Cause,” he began and then took another sip of his beer.

“No man in his right mind would let a woman as beautiful as you even give the appearance of being single.”

 

It was lame but I blushed at his game. “How many other women have you said that to since you’ve been here?”

 

“No one but you, Dawn. No other woman has my attention.”

 

Again, I blushed and as much as I wanted to revel in this attention, I couldn’t convince myself it was real. “Oh is that right? I’m sure your girl is sitting home waiting for you to bring her a plate.”

 

Byron chuckled and drunk more of his beer. We hadn’t moved from the bar yet and he ordered another one. “No one is waiting for me at home. My house is quiet and lonely. Except when my son is there and then, things can get real crazy.”

 

Oh, great. A kid. Which meant baby mama drama. Glad he went ahead and told me. “How old is your son?” I needed to be polite before I exited the conversation. The last guy I talked to that had a kid had so much baby mama drama it was ridiculous. I didn’t get why these women didn’t just move on when their relationship was over. Too many women get caught up with these men, expecting forever but ending up being a baby mama instead.

 

“He’s 8.”

 

“What grade is he in? What’s his name?” I wondered if I had this kid in my class. I’m sure I didn’t because I would have noticed his fine ass daddy.

 

“He’s going to the 3rd. His name is Byron Carson, Jr. Why, you know him?”

 

“I probably will in a few weeks. I teach 3rd grade. But I don’t remember hearing his name around the building last year which means he is a pretty quiet kid.”

 

“Maybe you just didn’t ask the right teachers,” Byron joked. “Nah, but seriously. He’s not a bad kid. Just talks a lot. Really smart but likes to joke and play. He’s playing rec football this year so that is his motivation to do right in school. He knows I'll take him off the team if he doesn't do right in school.”

 

“We need more parents like you,” I said exasperated. “Nothing frustrates me more than entitled kids who have been made that way by their parents. Too many kids are going to grow up ill-prepared for the world because their parents won’t hold them accountable. There are only a handful of parents that I can call to get their children under control. Other than that, parents act like I’m the bad guy because I expect their kids to be respectful."

 

“BJ knows I will show out on him. Now his mama on the other hand…she’s one of those other parents. She doesn’t think he can do any wrong. His teachers stopped calling her, they call me now. Cause if I come up there, it’s going to be trouble. I’ve actually tried to get her to let him come live with me because she treats him like he’s a baby and I can’t stand it. When he comes to my house, he has chores or at the shop with me cleaning up. At her house, he has almost no responsibility.”

 

Byron and I headed over to the fire pit because two people moved to another area of the yard. As I expected, there was some baby mama drama but maybe it wasn’t about her wanting him; it was a difference in parenting. I could respect Byron for wanting to make his son be responsible. That made him more attractive than he already was.

 

“Do you have any kids?” he asked.

 

I took a big sip of my margarita and I felt the tequila working on me. I knew I couldn’t finish this whole thing or I’d be sleeping in Brandy and Alex’s guest room.  “Other than the kids, I teach, no kids. Never wanted to be a baby mama.”

 

“That’s rare,” he stated as if he couldn’t believe it.

 

 “What do mean by that?”

 

“A smart, beautiful woman with no kids…you don’t see that often. You must can’t cook?” he joked.

 

“I can cook, thank you very much, but it’s just hard to cook for one person.”

 

One of my favorite hobbies is to cook. I can be on Pinterest for hours looking at recipes and then I get frustrated that I really can’t cook any of them. Sometimes, I’ll cook and just eat off that one meal for a few days but since my ex and I broke up a few months ago, I’ve missed having someone to cook for.

 

“I’ll come over, if you need a taste tester.”

 

“Aren’t you bold, inviting yourself to my house?”

 

“Well, you were taking too long to invite me over.”

 

I laughed at him and I wasn’t sure if it was the tequila or if it was Byron’s personality but I was definitely feeling him. We continued talking for most of the night. I learned that Byron was 32, four years older than me. He was the owner of B. Cuts barber shop down on Lee Street. I passed by there almost every day on my way to work and never really paid attention. I actually had no point of going in a barbershop so I don’t know why I would have noticed it.

 

Byron also came from a large family and got together every year for family reunion, something that was almost unheard of for me. My family got together for funerals and weddings. Now that both of my parents are deceased, I really didn’t get around to seeing my family that often. Hearing about Bryon’s yearly, traveling reunions made me a little envious.

 

“We’ve had family reunion the second weekend in July for as long as I can remember. We’re leaving next week for Miami and I can’t wait!” he exclaimed. He really did sound like a kid in a candy store.

 

“Wow, Miami. Sounds like that will be a lot of fun!”

 

“It will. You wanna go? The Carson’s will show you a good damn time!”

 

I was assuming he was getting a little tipsy because he just met me. Why would I go to his family reunion? “Are you crazy? Your family would probably give you the business if you showed up with a strange woman!”

 

Byron finished his first beer before responding. “Please. I can think of a few cousins that would be mad jealous if I showed up with a woman as beautiful as you on my arm!”

 

This was about the third or fourth time Bryon has called me beautiful since we’ve met. I could definitely get used to this…

 

“So this is why your ass isn’t answering the phone. You’re over here courting,” Brandy interrupted.

 

Both Byron and I looked at Brandy because she snuck up out of nowhere. “Courting? Chile, I haven’t heard that word since I was 16. And I really don’t know where my phone is,” I admitted. I wasn’t worried; no one really called me anyway.

 

“Damn, Byron. You got my girl forgetting about her phone!”

 

“Oh my God, Brandy why are you being so extra?” I said while hiding my face.

 

“I’m just saying. I needed you to help me clean up. You did tell me you would help me,” Brandy reasoned.

 

Byron looked at his watch and his eyes went wide when he realized the time. “Your girl has me missing my daddy’s cookout. I was supposed to go over there hours ago.”

 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you from your family,” I acknowledged. It wasn’t lost on me that Byron didn’t get up to leave.

 

“Truth be told, I’d much rather be over here. A beautiful woman is much better company than drunk cousins,” he winked.

 

There’s that word again… I blushed and smiled hard.

 

Brandy looked back and forth between Bryon and I. “Hate to break up this courting session but as the saying goes…you don’t have to go home but…”

 

I rolled my eyes at Brandy. “Are you kicking me out?”

 

“I mean how long are you going to stay over here? Cause it’s almost midnight!”

 

“Wait, what? It’s what time?” I looked at Byron and he showed me the time on his cell phone. Plain as day, it was 11:54 pm. I finally looked around the yard and saw that it was practically empty. Talking to Byron made everything around me disappear. “Oh God, I didn’t mean to stay up this late! I have to get up early in the morning!”

 

“Let me walk you to your car,” Byron offered. He helped me up and I secretly loved the feeling of his hands.

 

We walked in the house so I could get my purse, phone and my to-go plates that Brandy was kind enough to fix for me. Byron chatted with Alex for a few seconds and Brandy pulled me to the side to get the 411.

 

“So you and Byron hit it off, huh?”

 

I couldn’t help but smile. “I mean…he’s a good conversationalist. And he’s fine. But what’s his story?”

 

Brandy looked over at her husband and Byron to make sure they were engrossed in conversation. “I’m not really sure. I know he and his baby mama have an on again-off again relationship but Alex said she’s getting married soon so I’m assuming it’s over. I’ll ask Alex.”

 

I’m sure he wasn’t over his baby mama. I wasn’t going to get caught up in this foolishness with him. Baby mama’s often had a hard time letting go. They feel like if the father isn’t with them then he can’t take care of their child. Talking to him tonight was great but baby mama’s weren’t something I have to deal with. He’s fine though…maybe I should give him a chance.  

 

“Dawn are you ready to go?” Byron asked jarring me from my thoughts.

 

“Sure, I need to get in the bed.”

 

“What time are the painters coming in the morning?” Brandy asked.

 

“Supposed to be seven. I hope they are running late.”

 

“I doubt it, James will probably be there early. Call me after they leave so you can ride to Albany with me to see if Old Navy is having a sale.”

 

“Hell no! We ain’t got no money to spend!” Alex quipped.

 

“Whatever, I’m going school shopping. Are you telling me I can’t buy Jada any school clothes?”

 

Alex looked at Brandy with disdain. He knew she was going to end up buy things for herself but Brandy knew throwing their daughter Jada in the mix would surely get her what she wanted. Seeing Alex with their seven-year-old daughter Jada was one of the sweetest things. She had her daddy wrapped around her finger and she didn’t even know it. Jada could have almost anything she wanted but she was such a humble and sweet little girl that she didn’t take advantage.

 

“On that note, we’re getting out of here to let you married folk handle your issues. Good night, ya’ll!” Byron announced while leading me to the front door. We said our goodbyes as Brandy and Alex continued to fuss about her going shopping. Alex put up a good front but Brandy knew she could have her way with her husband.

 

In the short time that I’ve known them, I loved them as a couple. Alex was a family man that doted on his wife and daughter and Brandy repaid her husband with the rarest love and loyalty. I wanted to be like them when I grew up.

 

Outside, Byron and I made it to my car and even though I was tired, I wasn’t ready to go home.

 

“So you have an early morning, huh?” Byron asked me.

 

“Yeah, I’m getting my living room and kitchen painted. I’ve put it off long enough.”

 

“Beautiful teacher homeowner, you just keep getting better and better,” Byron smiled at me.

 

He was surely laying it on thick but I was relishing in him calling me beautiful. It’s not something I hear every day. I blushed and played with my hair.

 

“So you’re going to Albany to break the bank with Brandy?”

I laughed and shook my head. “I won’t be breaking the bank. I’m sure I’ll be doing more looking than shopping.” I was an only child and even though I received a sizeable sum from my parent’s death and the sale of their home, I was frugal with my money. Since I decided Americus was my home now and Sumter County Schools had me for the long term, I bought a house.

 

“What are you doing when you come back to Americus?”

 

I knew where he was going with this and I was ready to shut him down with the quickness. “Umm…not sure. I don’t have any plans.” Won’t be no Netflix and chill either.

 

“Would you like to go get something to eat when you come back?” he asked, surprising me. I just knew he was going to ask me to come over but he was asking me on a date. I looked at him, unsure of how I wanted to answer.

 

“Unless you want to cook me a good ole southern meal. I like my chicken fried and my collard greens with hot sauce and vinegar.”

 

I laughed at him because he lost his mind. I wasn’t cooking tomorrow, not when I had all these leftovers from the cookout today. “I will not be cooking that on a Tuesday. So, I guess that means we are going out to eat!”

 

“I thought so. Just give me a call when you get back in town and we’ll go from there.”

 

“I don’t have your number.”

 

Byron reached in his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He handed me one of his business cards. “Cell and shop numbers. Call me anytime.”

 

The way Byron looked at me was…different. He made me feel beautiful and simultaneously aroused. I know it had been awhile but damn.

 

I took his card and smiled at him. “I’ll think about it. “

 

“Oh, you’re going to play me like that? After we talked all night? I’m so hurt!”

 

I really liked talking to him and I really, really wanted nothing more than to call him as soon as I was out of his presence. But I didn’t want him to think I was desperate. “I’ll call you tomorrow when I get back in town.”

 

Byron gave me a big Kool-Aid smile. “Cool, cool. If you want to shoot me a text or call me during the day that’s cool, too. I’ll be at the shop most of the day but, I can talk.”

 

Byron’s rambling was really cute. I allowed myself to think he was truly interested in me but only for a second. I’m sure he wouldn’t show for our date but secretly, I was praying he did...

 

Part 2

September 2016

 

“Brandy, help me please! Byron will be here in 20 minutes. Am I making a mistake? Do I need to cancel? Oh my God! This is too much!” I practically yelled in the phone. I could hear Brandy laughing but I didn’t think anything was funny.

 

“I really don’t know what you’re panicking for. Your man wants to take you out of town for the holiday weekend; what’s the problem?”

 

“Is it too soon? I mean…it’s only been two months! Am I moving too fast?” I questioned. “And he’s not my man. We’re just friends.”

 

“Well…some may say you haven’t moved fast enough,” Brandy tried to say under her breath.

 

“Girl, whatever. Two months is too soon. I can’t be busting it down already!”

 

“Dawn, you’ve met his son and his mama. What the hell else could you be waiting for?” Brandy sighed.

 

“I met his mama and BJ on accident so that doesn’t count. I just wanna be sure I’m not making a huge mistake.” I saw Byron, his mama and his son one day in Wal-Mart. He introduced us and as soon as he said my name, his mama remarked that I was prettier than Byron described. It floored me that he talked to his mama about me. And BJ recognized me from school so he was a little standoffish about seeing a teacher.

 

“You like this man because you talk about him nonstop. And according to Alex, he talks about you at the shop. Byron has done nothing but show you he wants to be a part of your life. What’s the real problem?”

 

I exhaled deeply and sat back on my sofa. My bags were packed and I was ready to go but I kicked my shoes off. “I don’t want another Dexter situation. And what if he thinks…what if I’m too…”

 

“DAWN!” Brandy yelled cutting me off. “Don’t you dare do that. Please don’t get self-conscious about your size. Byron isn’t complaining so why are you? And Dexter, chile. Dexter was an asshole. Byron is far from that.”

 

Brandy was right but in my panicked state, I couldn’t grasp that Bryon really liked me. In the back of my mind, I worried he was just using me. Men as fine as Byron wouldn’t be serious about someone my size. But the way he treated me told a different story.

 

From day one, Byron has been nothing but a sweetheart. Our first date was the best date I’ve ever been on. It was almost nine when Brandy and I got back in town. I wasn’t that hungry so Byron bought us chicken boxes from Chevron and we went to Joyce Myers park to eat and talk. It was simple but it really gave me a chance to get to know him. Plus, you can never go wrong with a chicken box.

 

We talked every day after that. Multiple times a day. He took me out, we cooked for each other, took his son to Fun Park in Albany to play laser tag and mini golf and had dates to eat ice cream at Dairy Queen. He even helped me set up my classroom. Byron was such a great guy and it made me smile just to think about him.

 

But in the two months we’ve known each other, sex hadn’t come up. It made me wonder if he really just wanted to be friends. We’d done nothing more than hug and kiss; he didn’t push anything more. We’d never even spent the night with each other. Until last week when he asked if I wanted to go to Jacksonville with him for Labor Day weekend. I said yes but only because I figured he’d change his mind in a few days. He never did and now, he was on his way to pick me up.

 

“Dawn, stop doing this to yourself. You deserve to be happy. Byron obviously makes you happy so just allow that to happen.”

 

I finally calmed down and realized she was right. I’ve been trying to talk myself out of it. I’ve been self-conscious about my size for years; pretty much my whole life. I really wish I had the confidence some of these women had. I know I wasn’t that big but by societies standards, I was damn near obese. Everyone expected women to be a size two and I was so, so far from that. I had a hard time believing Byron was attracted to me.

 

A knock on my door pulled me back to reality. “Byron is here. I’ll call you when we get there.”

 

“Have fun, Dawn. You’re doing the right thing. Don’t fight it. I love you.”

 

We hung up and I went to the door to let Byron in.

 

“Hey beautiful. Are you ready to get on the road?” he asked while kissing me on my cheek. Just that simple act alone let me know I panicked for nothing. Byron grabbed my luggage and I did a quick walk through my house to make sure I turned off everything. I got in Byron’s Tahoe and clicked on my seat belt. Before backing out of the drive way, Byron leaned over to kiss me again, this time on my lips. He slid his tongue in my mouth and I was temporarily suspended in this feeling.

 

“Thank you for coming with me this weekend. I promise to make it memorable.” Byron grabbed my hand and squeezed it. I knew I was making the right decision.

 

Even though I hate road trips, riding to Jacksonville with Byron was so much fun, I almost forgot how much I hated them. We had snacks, we took turns playing old songs and singing and we talked. Talking to Byron was like talking to an old friend. Somehow or another, previous relationships came up. I asked him about his relationship with his son’s mother.

 

“We were young and dumb. High school sweethearts trying to be grown. We got our own place and then she got pregnant but she had a miscarriage. We eventually had BJ but I was too young and dumb to do right by them. I partied a lot. Cheated. Did her wrong. When she finally got tired, took out child support and refused to let me see my son, I realized I’d messed up. I grew up then and became the father my son needed. Tika, unfortunately, hates my guts so we still have issues here and there. I don’t blame her though because I did hurt her. I wasn’t a man then and I had to grow up. I’m still learning.”

 

“Wow. That’s a lot of history there,” I said uneasily. Sounded like she was still a little hurt, even though they hadn’t been together in years. “You haven’t dated since her?”

 

“Yeah, here and there. Nothing serious. Just haven’t met a real one yet,” he winked at me. “Enough about me. What about you? Why are you single?”

 

“I’ve been single for about six months,” I began while staring at the pavement as we cruised down 75 S. “He was ashamed of being seen with me in public. He’d want to come over but he’d rarely want to go out. He told me he wasn’t ready for a relationship but we spent a lot of time together. The last straw was when I posted a picture of us and he screamed at me to take it down. That’s when I knew I had to let it go.”

 

I was quiet as I remembered the embarrassment of Dexter chastising me as a child because of the picture I posted. We were smiling, he was happy, he made me feel like he loved me. As soon as he saw it, he called me and asked why I posted it and demanded I take it down. When I asked him why, he said that it was no one’s business who he was sleeping with.

 

I didn’t want to believe it but that confirmed that Dexter only wanted sex. I wasn’t good enough for public or a real relationship. Over the course of our “relationship” he made comments about my weight but he still slept with me. It was confusing that he could want me and detest me at the same time.

 

Byron reached over and grabbed my thigh. “His loss, baby. Some men don’t appreciate a good woman when they see one. I’m glad I’m not dumb or blind.”

 

Byron made my whole body warm. It wasn’t just a sexual arousal…it was something more. Could it be…naw it’s too soon, right?

 

Sensing that mood needed to be lightened, Byron started asking me completely random questions that were pointless and crazy. I laughed when he asked about my favorite Ninja Turtle. He insisted he wanted to know everything about me. I decided to take Brandy’s advice and just enjoy this moment.

 

It was close to nine when we arrived at the Hyatt Regency right next to the Landing and since we both worked today, we opted to order room service instead of going out. The lights from the bridges and downtown Jacksonville gave us an amazing view from our room. I took a shower while we waited on our food to arrive. I didn’t want to be too forward with my pajamas so I opted to put on a pair of pink leggings that showed off my curves and a green t-shirt. I still wasn’t sure if he was attracted to me sexually so I opted to sleep in this as opposed to my usual t-shirt and panties.

 

Byron packed a bottle of vodka and he made us drinks. I wasn’t a heavy drinker so he was light on the vodka. After we ate and drink a little bit, Byron went to take a shower. I forgot to text Brandy earlier so I let her know everything was going good. I surfed social media for a second even though my eyes were getting heavy. The next thing I knew, I was sleep.

 

I vaguely remember Bryon putting covers over me and pulling me close but I woke up around 2:30 am to use the bathroom. I looked at Byron sleeping so peaceful and I was in awe of how handsome he was. I felt bad that I fell asleep because I’m sure he anticipated more than a snoring woman. I got back in the bed and snuggled up close to Byron. Instinctively, he put his arms around me and I fell asleep again feeling protected.

 

I woke up the next morning so rested. Byron wasn’t in the bed and I figured he was in the bathroom. I got up but he wasn’t in there. I found my phone and I was surprised it was almost ten. I was accustomed to waking up early so my body was used to getting up and I relished in the fact that I got to sleep in. I checked my texts and I had one from Brandy and one from Byron. He told me he went to get us breakfast and just as I was replying to him, he walked in the door.

 

“Good morning sleepy head,” he greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. “Pancakes and sausage and coffee. Two sugars and three creams.”

 

Byron remembering how I took my coffee was enough to make me feel special and I felt stupid for even thinking he wasn’t interested in me like that.

 

“Thank you so much,” I said while taking a sip of my coffee. “And, I want to apologize for falling asleep last night.”

 

“Why would you apologize for that?” Byron questioned as he downed most of his orange juice.

 

I looked at him pensively because I know he knew what I meant. “I mean…a snoring woman probably wasn’t what you had in mind.”

 

Byron grabbed my chin forcing me to look at him. “Baby, I hope you’re not referring to sex. Cause that’s not going anywhere.”

 

He gave me a quick peck before sitting down to eat his breakfast. I decided this was the time to ask him why he hasn’t tried anything in the two months we’d been talking.

 

“Because,” he said after eating a hash brown. “You told me you weren’t interested in being a baby mama so I know that means you’re selective with who you sleep with. You’ll let me know when you’re ready.”

 

I did the only thing I’ve been doing since I met him: smiled.

 

“Go head and finish your breakfast so we can go to the beach.”

 

Before getting to Jacksonville Beach, we stopped at Wal-mart to get beach chairs, beach towels, snacks and drinks.  We spent our day at the beach having the best time. We sat out in the sand but I declined to get in the ocean because I didn’t want to take off my cover up. After I declined to get in the water for the tenth time, he asked what I was afraid of.

 

“Most people aren’t used to seeing a woman my size. I’m not trying to have people stare at me.”

 

“Your size?”

 

I looked at Byron incredulously. Surely he was trying to be nice. “Come on now. You know people aren’t used to seeing a big girl. I’m not a size two you know.”

 

Even though I wasn’t looking at him, I could feel him staring at me. “Dawn, look at me. You are absolutely gorgeous. The first day I saw you I got mad at Brandy for not introducing us sooner. You say you’re a big girl but all I see is a fine ass woman with a sexy body. Why don’t you see that?”

 

I dropped my head and tried to figure out the answer to his question. No man I’d ever dated made me feel like this; most of the time I didn’t think of myself positively. Not to make excuses but I’ve been self-conscious about myself pretty much all my life. Even my mama, God bless her soul, constantly spoke of my weight. But Byron didn’t see my size as an issue. That same tingling feeling I got the first day I saw him was back but much, much stronger.

 

“I do most of the time but sometimes, like when I see so many women much, much smaller than me, I get a little insecure.” Brandy is the only person I’ve ever discussed my size with but Byron was so easy to talk to, it just came out.

 

“You have no reason to be insecure. And stop comparing yourself to other people. Your body is sexy to me and I really want you to feel that way too. Plus, people are out here minding their own business. The only person that will be staring at you is me. Take off that cover up and let’s go get in the water.”

 

I threw caution to the wind and discarded my cover up. Byron was right; no one paid any attention to me in my purple high waist two piece. No one but Byron. He fawned over the large flower tattoo that went down most of my right thigh that he hadn’t seen before. All day, he found ways and reasons to touch me. I was trying my best to handle it but the way he touched me turned me on immensely.

 

After a few hours and we grew hungry for something more than our snacks and we headed back to the hotel. We showered and changed to get ready for dinner. Byron told me to dress casual so I opted to wear a black strapless romper with gold and black sandals. The romper was a little short and showed off the bottom portion of my tattoo. Bryon looked handsome in his khaki shorts and navy-blue Polo shirt. I loved the way the shirt hugged his muscular body.

 

We walked to the Landing and decided to eat dinner at Benny’s Steak and Seafood. Being able to eat and overlook the St. John’s River with Byron as my date was amazing. After our meal, I asked Byron if we could take the boat around the river. We only had to wait for a few minutes before the next boat was ready to take passengers. The boat wasn’t that full and Byron and I sat near the back. I snuggled up to Byron and loved the feeling of sharing this experience with him. Once we got to the other side of the river, a few people got off the boat.

 

Byron was rubbing my arm gently as we floated on the river. “Did you enjoy today?”

 

“Yes. I can’t think of a time when I’ve enjoyed myself more. Thank you for this.”

 

“You deserve it,” he replied.

 

I sat up and smiled at him. Byron moved my hair from my face before leaning in to kiss me. He kissed me gently, soft pecks that made me forget anyone else was on the boat with us. After a few moments, the kiss became deeper and his tongue was in my mouth. I whimpered softly as his tongue danced with mine. Byron’s hands caressed my arm and even went down to rub my exposed thighs. As his hand traveled back up body, he brushed against my hard nipple and I moaned.

Seeing that excited me, Byron continued to caress me. I broke our kiss because his hand on my breast was so erotic.

 

“Byron,” I moaned. “Byron, please."

 

“What do you need me to do baby?” he asked in my ear.

 

“Make love to me. Please,” I begged. I really didn’t care who heard me or who was watching. I needed Byron so bad.

 

“I got you baby, as soon as we get off this boat.”

 

I whimpered because I was dangerously close to stripping right now and taking what I wanted. Luckily, we were back at the Landing and I wasn’t going to have to wait long. Byron practically pulled me off the boat and we rushed back to the hotel.

 

On the ground floor, no one was on the elevator with us and Byron pulled me into him and kissed me again. This time, his hand grabbed my ass and squeezed. “I can’t wait to feel all of this,” he moaned to me.

 

The elevator stopped on the third floor and a woman got on. I turned around and leaned back on Byron. I felt his hardness behind me and I began to roll my hips against him. Byron was struggling to be quiet so he grabbed me and forced me to be still. Finally, the elevator dinged on our floor, we said excuse me to the woman and rushed off towards our room.

 

As soon as the door closed, Byron was kissing me while simultaneously pulling my romper down. He pushed me back towards the bed but I didn’t sit down. Once there, Byron reached behind me and unhooked my bra. With my breasts exposed, Byron took one in his mouth. My head fell back and I thought I was going to explode right then and there. Bryon took his time and paid attention to each of my breasts and I was reveling in the feeling of his mouth on me.  

 

Byron paused for a second and slid the romper down my body. I stepped out of it and his hands caressed my body. He lightly brushed against my sex and I almost lost it. He pulled my panties down and immediately kissed me between my legs. I exploded.

 

“OH MY GOD!” I yelled, surprised that Byron made me release so quickly. Unmoved that I had an orgasm already, Byron made me sit on the bed and he was back between my legs. I rolled my hips as I watched him devour me. He looked at me and his eyes commanded that I give him what he wanted, what he was working so hard for.

 

“Byron, baby! Byron! Byron!” I continued to moan his name as yet again, Byron pulled another orgasm from my body.

Byron got up from his kneeling position and kissed me. My essence on his tongue was erotic. He pushed me back towards the head of the bed. He stood up to remove his shirt and I didn’t think it was possible to be more aroused but the sight of his body was amazing. He removed his shorts and his boxers and I was so ready for him to make love to me.

 

“Give it to me, Byron, please baby. Please give it to me!” I moaned.

 

Byron didn’t speak. Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a condom. He covered himself and climbed on the bed with me. Byron looked into my eyes before he kissed me. I was becoming obsessed with his kiss and I couldn’t get enough of it.

 

Byron lined himself up with my wetness and he entered me gently. The sheer magnitude of him made me gasp. He began to move gently inside of me, making love to me with such passion.

 

“Shit, Dawn you feel so good,” Byron whispered in my ear before kissing me deeply. I was lost in this feeling, this pleasure. Nothing else in this world existed except Byron and I. I was in bliss.

 

I wrapped my legs around his waist making him drive deeper inside of me. I met Byron’s thrusts and we created our own rhythm of pleasure. I could feel my orgasm threatening to take over my body. Byron could sense it and he began to coax it out of me.

 

“Come on baby. Let me feel it, give it to me,” he moaned.

 

In this instant, my body became his and I released just as he told me to. I was almost incoherent as I tried to tell Byron how good he felt. Energized by my orgasm, Byron paused to reposition himself. He grabbed both of my legs and placed them on his forearms. When he plunged back into me, I saw stars.

“Oh my God, Byron! Oh God! Right there, please!” I moaned breathlessly.

 

Byron needed to feel me release again so he stayed right there. He looked at me so passionately, his eyes told me he was engulfed in this pleasure just like I was. I gripped the sheets as Byron’s movements began to quicken.

 

He roared as he released inside of me, feeling him throbbing inside of me was enough to set off another orgasm. I closed my eyes as I rode the wave of passion. I was so overcome with this feeling that tears welled up in eyes. I loved the way Byron made me feel, not just when he made love to me, but every single day. I quickly tried to wipe them away but Byron saw me.

 

He rolled off me and propped himself up on his elbow. “What’s wrong, baby?”

 

“Nothing,” I said. “I don’t know. It just came out of nowhere.”

 

Another tear tried to escape and Byron wiped away. “I’ve been trying to keep the way I feel about you to myself but I can’t anymore. Dawn, I love you. I’m in love with you. And I know it hasn’t been that long but you’re just everything I’ve needed in a woman.”

 

Again, the tears poured from my eyes. I wanted to believe him. I needed to believe him. I was just scared. “Byron…I don’t know. I just, I’m scared.”

 

“Scared of what? I’m not going to hurt you. Have I done anything to hurt you?”

 

“No. But…I know it’s not fair but my last relationship…it was a lot for me to deal with. He hurt me,” I eeked out.

 

Byron pulled me in closer as I cried out my fear. “Dawn, listen. I understand your apprehension and if it’s too fast, we can slow down. But I’m not going anywhere. And I’m not your ex. When I see you I don’t see a size, I see a smart, beautiful, caring, sexy woman that I’ve fallen in love with.”

 

“I’m just afraid of giving my all to someone again and being left with nothing. I can’t go through that again.”

 

“Give me a chance to prove to you that you won’t have to worry about that. I am a man of my word, Dawn. I won’t hurt you and every day that you are my woman, I will treat you like the queen that you are.”

 

I closed my eyes and exhaled deeply. There was nothing so far that made me worry about Byron hurting me. He’d been nothing but sweet to me and I surely didn’t want to lose him.

 

When Byron kissed me again, I could feel that he really did have feelings for me. I owed it to him and myself to see where this thing could go.

 

Part 3

 

March 2017

 

In all of my days of living, I’d never known happiness like this. Since our weekend in Jacksonville, Byron had me head over heels in love with him. I initially thought we were moving too fast but with the way Byron made me feel, it didn’t matter. I was in love with him.

 

Not only did he treat me like a queen as he promised, he didn’t mind showing me off. When I went to his shop, Byron made sure every man in there knew I was his woman. It really didn’t matter where we were, Byron wanted the world to know he loved me.

 

Beyond that, Byron made me more confident. I didn’t necessarily dress different but he made me think less about my size. Matter of fact, he offered to help me lose weight if I was really that unhappy with my size. Since my birthday was next week, we decided to start after that.

 

It was the last day of school before spring break and I was excited to be getting out of town. Bryon and I were taking his son to Orlando. We were leaving out in the morning and BJ has been talking about this trip nonstop. We let him invite his friend Jarius to come with us so that he wouldn’t be forced to hang out with us the whole trip.

 

“What time are ya’ll leaving?” Brandy asked as we gathered our things to leave.

 

“Byron wants to hit the road around 8,” I replied. I looked around my classroom one last time making sure the room was clean. One thing I couldn’t deal with was a junky classroom and my students knew to clean up their mess before they left my room.

 

“I’m so glad you met him. I’ve never seen you so happy,” Brandy announced out of the blue.

 

I paused and smiled at her. “I’m happy too. This man makes my heart smile.”

 

“Ms. Dawn?” I heard behind me. I turned around and saw BJ.

 

“Hey BJ! What’s wrong?”

 

“My mama was supposed to pick me up today but she didn’t come. Can you take me home?” he replied. He looked a little fearful but I wasn’t sure why.

 

“Sure, honey. Let me just get my things. Are you going home or are you going to the shop with your dad?”

 

BJ looked uneasy. “Home. I haven’t packed anything yet.”

 

“BJ, what’s wrong?” When Byron told BJ about the trip, he talked about it nonstop. Now it was the day before the trip and he seemed unhappy.

 

“Nothing,” he said but refused to look at me.

 

Brandy and I exchanged looks and she shook her head at me. I wasn’t going to pry but I was definitely going to say something to Byron.

 

I hugged Brandy and BJ and I left the building. The entire ride to his house, BJ was quiet. When I stopped at the stop sign on Bumphead Road, I shot Byron a text that I was taking BJ home because Tika didn’t pick him up. I also told him something was wrong with his son.

 

When I pulled up to BJ’s house on Harrold Ave, I told him I’d see him in the morning. He gave me a half smile before getting out of my car. I was going to the shop as soon as I left here because something was definitely wrong. Before I could pull off, Tika was coming out of the door. She had on a long sleeve shirt and just seeing her in that shirt made me hot. Georgia didn’t really have spring; we went from winter to hot as hell.

 

“Hey Dawn,” she said flatly. Tika didn’t care much for me but she was always cordial. I wasn’t sure what problem she could have with me because she recently got married but she tolerated me.

 

“Hey Tika. BJ couldn’t get you so I brought him home,” I told her. I wasn’t sure what other reason she would have to come talk to me.

 

“I was going to call Byron in the morning and let him know BJ can’t go with ya’ll to Florida,” she announced.

 

My heart dropped into my lap. “Awww man! Why not? He was looking forward to it.” I assumed that he may have had some behavior problems so she wasn’t letting him go. But I don’t recall him having any issues at school.

 

“I mean spending all that money to go to Florida seems…unnecessary. Byron can give me that money and I can buy him the iPhone 7 plus he wants. Plus, I don’t know how I feel about him going to another state with you.”

 

I was floored. I wasn’t a parent so I couldn’t tell her how to raise her kid but I did think it was crazy that a mother would deprive her kid of an experience in lieu of something material. What did an eight year old need with a iPhone 7 plus anyway?

 

She didn’t seem to have an issue when he stayed with his father and I was there. I thought BJ and I were developing a pretty good relationship. I usually stayed at my house when BJ stayed at his daddy’s house but he often asked where I was. Matter of fact, he liked when I stayed with his dad because he liked my pancakes. Byron asked BJ over and over again if he was comfortable with me being around and BJ told him every time he didn’t mind. I tried to think of a time when there was an issue BJ could have told his mom about.

 

“I just don’t trust him going so far without me. I’m sure you understand. But thanks for bringing him home.” She turned to walk away leaving me hurt and confused.

 

I drove to the shop and as soon as Byron saw my face, he knew something was wrong. He told the guy in his chair that he would be right back and we went in the back to talk. I told him what Tika told me and I could see the anger creep up on his face.

 

“She actually said that? She’d rather buy him a $600 phone? Let me call her,” he said while pulling out his phone.

 

“I’m going to go and let you handle this. Are you coming over after work or do you want me to come to your place?”

 

“Just go ahead and go over to my place now.  I’ll see you when I get off,” he told me. I kissed him and left.

 

Byron gave me a key to his house about a month ago. I rarely used it but having a key solidified my confidence in knowing Byron was all mine.

 

I went home to get my bags, hoping this trip was still going to happen. We’d already made reservations at Westgate Resort and bought tickets for Universal and Wet and Wild. I got my things and decided to go to the store to get something to cook for dinner. Byron grew up eating fish and grits on Friday so I went to the Fish House to get some catfish.

 

I was sitting down watching TV when Byron came in with BJ and Jarius in tow. BJ’s whole mood was changed.

 

“Hey Ms. Dawn!” BJ called to me. He and Jarius ran to BJ’s room to change clothes and head outside to play basketball. I was going to have to go back and get some more fish because I wasn’t anticipating BJ and Jarius.

 

Byron kissed me before sitting down next to me on the sofa. “I’m sorry for not calling. I didn’t want to talk with them in the car.”

 

“It’s ok baby. I went to the Fish House to get fish to cook. I can run out and get some more,” I said while grabbing his hand. “What happened with Tika?”

 

“Oh, she was just on her bs again. She doesn’t want him to go so she tried to convince him to ask for a new phone. I just don’t know why she’s starting this mess again,” he said leaning back on the sofa. I could tell he was frustrated.

 

“What did BJ say?”

 

“He’s such a mama’s boy. He doesn’t want her to be mad at him but he admitted he wanted to go to Florida with us. So Tika got mad and said she doesn’t trust him with you. I shut that down because she hasn’t had an issue up until now.”

 

Even though BJ was going with us to Florida, Byron still looked down. “Is something else wrong?”

 

“Something was off with Tika.”

 

“What do you mean, baby?”

 

Byron exhaled deeply. “I don’t know really. She seemed…sad or something. And nervous. Whatever is wrong with her is the reason why she didn’t want BJ to come.”

 

I wasn’t really sure what I needed to say because I’ve always thought it wise to stay out of their parenting affairs. “Maybe you should ask her about it. Or ask BJ.”

 

“Nah, I don’t want to put BJ in it. Maybe I’m tripping.” Byron kicked off his shoes. “Thank you for getting him. I appreciate you baby.”

 

“You’re welcome. You don’t have to thank me for that. Anything I can do to help you, I’ll do.”

 

“More reasons for me to love you,” Byron said. He leaned in to kiss me again. This time, instead of a peck, he slipped his tongue in my mouth.

 

“Hey now, don’t start nothing,” I whispered. “The boys can come in any minute.”

 

“Let’s go in the bathroom and lock the door,” he whispered back while rubbing on my thighs.

 

I laughed and broke the kiss. “Don’t worry baby, this isn’t going anywhere. I’m going to get some more fish to cook. You want anything else?”

 

Byron raised his eyebrows and the look in his eyes told me want he really wanted. “Just you, sexy lady.”

 

I leaned in to give Byron a kiss before heading to the store. I came back and began cooking dinner for the guys while they played basketball outside. I loved this; it felt like we were a family. I definitely could get used to this. After we ate, Byron and the boys cleaned the kitchen while I packed snacks for our trip tomorrow. I was so glad Tika changed her mind and let BJ come with us. I fully believed in kids having experiences over material things. Phones, clothes, shoes and video games became obsolete after a while; the memories from a trip and a new experience would last a lifetime.

 

That night, after we finally got the boys to wind down enough to go to bed, Byron made love to me with that intensity and passion that my body craved. Byron often brought me to tears with the way that he brought my body to multiple orgasms. Wrapped in his arms, I felt everything he said to me: I was beautiful, I was sexy, I was wanted and I was needed. This was perfection.

 

Our spring break trip was so much fun. BJ and Jarius enjoyed the resort just as much as they enjoyed Universal Studios and Wet and Wild. Byron and I also relived our childhood trying to keep up with the boys but we often fell asleep early every day because these kids had a lot of energy. But it was worth it to be able to give them these memories.

 

Before we left, we asked the resort staff to snap a picture of us. I planned on going to Walgreens to print it and put it in a picture frame.

 

As soon as we got on the road, Byron’s phone rang. He had the Bluetooth enabled in the truck and I saw that it was Tika calling.

 

“Hey, Tika. We’re just leaving out. Do you want me to bring him home or-“

 

“Oh so you think you and your new bitch are a family to MY damn son? Tell her that she will never be BJ’s mother!”

 

Byron disconnected the Bluetooth but the damage was already done. My eyes went wide and I turned to look at BJ and he had a look of fear on his face. I heard Byron ask Tika what she was talking about. He could hardly get a word in edgewise because Tika was going off. She finally hung up and Byron looked exasperated.  

 

“Did you post any pictures?” he asked me.

 

“Yes. Just pics of me or us. None of the kids.” Neither BJ or Jarius were in any of my classes but I thought it best not to post any pictures of them. I didn’t want anyone to be able to say anything so I just erred on the side of caution.

 

“I sent her some pictures on my tablet, Daddy,” BJ said in an almost whisper.

 

Byron and I looked at each other. “Show Ms. Dawn what you sent her.”

 

BJ showed me the pictures he’d taken and a few that I had no idea he or Jarius had taken. There was a picture of BJ holding my hand before we jumped in the pool at the resort and him sleeping on my shoulder one night while we were watching a movie. BJ sent his mother most of the pictures he took and because he was a child, he didn’t think there was anything wrong with any of them. We hadn’t made it out of Orlando yet so Byron pulled over into a gas station parking lot and asked BJ to get out of the truck.

 

I really wanted to get out and hear their conversation but I didn’t want to over step my boundaries. To avoid the awkward silence, Jarius put his headphones in. About ten minutes later, Byron and BJ got back in the truck and we got back on the road. I know I couldn’t talk about it but I could tell Byron was really upset. About two hours later, we made a pit stop for gas and to use the bathroom. I pulled Byron aside to ask what was going on.

 

“I think I made the situation worse because I was mad,” Byron told me. I could see the hurt in his eyes. “I basically told him that his mama was crazy and there was nothing wrong with the pictures. BJ told me he didn’t mean to make his mama mad and I told him it wasn’t his fault. I just don’t get what her problem is now.”

 

Maybe she wants him back...I tried to push the thought out of my mind but that’s the only reason I could think of for her behavior. “Does she think I’m going to hurt him? I don’t mind talking to her if it would make her feel better.”

 

Byron hugged me and kissed me on my forehead. “No baby, it’s ok. I know it’s about you but this is something I need to handle. I’ll sit down with her and BJ and we’ll figure this out.”

 

I conceded but in the back of my mind, I feared this was just the beginning of the end.

 

******

As much as I loved Byron, I was growing weary of his baby mama drama with Tika. Apparently, she and her husband were having some issues and in her frustration, she took it out on Byron and kept BJ away from his dad.

 

Not seeing or talking to his son made Byron angry and irritable. Whenever Byron would go by to see him, Tika said he wasn’t there. Once, Byron came to the school to eat lunch with BJ and Tika showed up and caused a scene. I told Byron he needed to go to court and fight for visitation so that he would have a legal leg to stand on but he refused. He told me he didn’t want to take BJ through that but to me, the alternative was dealing with seeing his son when his mama felt like it was ok.

 

I know he tried not to take it out on me but, I was the closet person to him. I tried not to take it personal but it was getting harder and harder to deal with his attitude. Byron was short with me, snapped at me, and made a big deal about the simplest of things. About a week ago, we argued because I threw away his old Chinese food. It was exhausting dealing with him.

 

To make matters worse, BJ was having behavior problems in school. At least twice a week he was put out of class, in the principal’s office or his new favorite place, in school suspension. Tika was no help; she accused the teacher and principal of picking on her son. At the rate he was going, BJ was going to have to attend summer school. Byron was at a loss as to what to do; apparently my suggestion of talking to a counselor was a silly idea.

 

Brandy and I were walking out of school on after a long day of state testing. We prepped our students for months for these tests and this was the most stressful time of every teacher in the Sumter County School system. This was our last day of testing and I wanted nothing more than to go get a drink. Actually, I wanted to be laid up with my man but after our argument yesterday, we weren’t exactly speaking right now.

 

“So what are you going to do?” Brandy asked me after I told her about last night. Byron told me I couldn’t possibly understand what he was dealing with because I’m not a parent. Maybe that was true on some levels but I’d been there to comfort him when Tika told him he could come get BJ only to send him to her brother’s house in Albany for the weekend. Because I loved him, I understood his hurt. I didn’t need to be a parent to get that.

 

“I don’t know. I kind of want to call her and see what her issue is with me,” I replied. Every time I suggested it, Byron shut me down claiming it wasn’t my place.

 

“I would say that would be a good idea except she’s not the type to be reasonable. I’d probably let him handle it,” Brandy suggested.

 

“You’re right but…I’m just tired of him taking his frustrations out on me.”

 

“I understand but these things can get complicated. I wish I had better advice for you.”

 

“Me too.” I checked my phone and I didn’t have a text or a call from Byron which meant he was still sulking. “Wanna go get a drink?”

 

“I can’t. Jada has gymnastics tonight and then Alex wants to go to Lowe’s to look at new patio furniture for our 4th cookout.”

 

“You’re preparing for that already? It’s not for another three months!”

 

“That’s what I said but I have to oblige my husband. We’re not buying anything but I have to let him have his way sometimes,” Brandy laughed. “But call me later.”

 

Brandy hopped in her car heading to pick up her daughter. I wanted to go by Byron’s shop but instead, I decided to go by Roman Oven and get a salad. At home, I changed and ate but still didn’t have a text or a phone call from Byron. I cast my pride aside and called him. He told me he was busy and he’d call me back. I threw my phone on the sofa and sat back with a huff.

 

Frustration tears threatened to fall from my eyes but I wiped them away. I had to do something. I refused to lose the best thing that ever happened to me without putting up a fight. I grabbed my phone and found Tika’s number. I hesitated for a second before calling her.

 

I heard her laughing in the background before answering. “Hello?”

 

“Hey Tika, It’s Dawn. Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure, DAWN. What’s up?”

 

Maybe I was crazy but she seemed to emphasize my name. I took a deep breath before starting my speech. “Listen. I’m not going to pretend I know how you feel about another woman interacting with your son because I don’t. But I really just want you to know that BJ is a respectful and sweet kid; hurting him is the last thing I’d ever do. Just tell me what you’d need me to do in order for Byron to be able to see BJ.”

I held my breath waiting to see how she would respond. I heard my phone beep with a text message but I ignored it.

 

“I appreciate your call, Dawn but the only thing you can do is let his father and I handle our son. This has nothing to do with you.”

 

“I understand but it’s obvious your issue is with me. I just want to make it easier for you,” I said.

 

Tika laughed and I heard my phone beep again. “Actually, there is something you can do. Your fat ass can stop trying to be my son’s step mother because this thing with you and Byron won’t last. BJ doesn’t need the confusion of women coming in and out of his life.”

 

I was so shocked that I couldn’t formulate anything to say. I found it hard to believe that BJ met every woman his daddy ever dated. She took my silence as the go ahead to continue. “I mean if you want to ask him yourself, you can. Bryon!” Tika called. “Do you want to talk to Dawn?”

 

I began to sweat and my eyes burned with tears. “Byron is over there?”

 

“Yep. He wanted to see his son and the only way he can see him without your big ass hovering over him is for him to come over here. Matter of fact, he’s been over here every day this week.”

 

I’d heard enough. It was childish of me but I hung up on her. I really wish I would have listened to Byron and Brandy and not call her but my in love ass thought I could help. I couldn’t believe that Byron had been going to her house but he didn’t tell me. Why was that a secret? Was he sleeping with her again? Was there a possibility they were getting back together?

 

It also wasn’t lost on me that Tika took cheap blows at my weight. And Byron was sitting right there letting it happen. It was then that I remembered I had text messages. They were from Byron.

                                Byron: Why the hell did you call her?

                                Byron: Stop talking to her! This isn’t your                                     business

 

He didn’t stand up for me. He took up for her. He was choosing her over me. I laid down on my sofa, unable to cry because I was in disbelief that Byron was doing this to me. I don’t know how long I was lost in thought but I heard Byron come in my house and slammed the door.

 

“Dawn, what the hell! Why did you call her? I told you I would handle it!”

 

“You were handling it alright, why didn’t you tell me you were going over there?”

 

“I don’t have to tell you I’m going to see my kid!”

 

I was taken aback by his attitude but I wasn’t going to back down. “You’re right; you don’t. But seeing as to how I’m the woman you supposedly love, I don’t get why you wouldn’t tell me. Unless you’re trying to get back with her.”

 

Byron glared at me. “I don’t want her. But if I want to see my kid, I have to make sacrifices. You wouldn’t understand.”

 

“Stop telling me I don’t understand! You need to be in your son’s life, I understand that. You need to see him, I understand that. You need him to know you aren’t abandoning him, I understand that. But who was here with you when you were dealing with all that, Byron? I was! I told you before that if you were serious about seeing BJ you needed to go to court and get visitation established but I guess it’s easier to just sleep with your baby mama.”

 

“Watch your mouth, Dawn,” Byron warned. “I’m not sleeping with her! I told you why I wasn’t going to court but you’re so hell bent on being in business that doesn’t concern you!”

 

I jumped up and found my keys. The tears that wouldn’t come earlier were falling freely now. I could hardly see but I found Byron’s house key and threw it at him. “So BJ only concerns me when you need me to help you with him? Cook for him? Pick him up? Now it’s not my concern? You were my concern but since you don’t want that anymore, get the hell out of my house!”

 

Byron opened his mouth to say something but changed his mind. Instead, he picked up his key off the floor and slammed my door on his way out. Once he was gone, I couldn’t breathe and my chest got tight. Byron leaving took all the air out of the room. I steadied myself on the wall but I needed to sit down.

 

As much as I was upset with Byron, I was even more upset at myself for allowing myself to be hurt again. The night we made love for the first time, Byron told me he wouldn’t hurt me. He lied to me and I was the fool to believe anything he said. Nothing he’d done for me mattered now; he proved that that he wasn’t a man of his word. And I was so smitten with him that I believed that he loved me. There was no way that he did.

 

Even though Byron proved himself to be a liar, that didn’t stop my heart from breaking into a million pieces.

 

Part 4

 

May 2017

 

“Dawn, will you at least consider calling him? I know it doesn’t seem like it but he really misses you,” Arlene, Byron’s mama told me.

 

She invited me to her house after church on Sunday hoping that Byron would come by and we’d be forced to talk. “No ma’am. There’s nothing to say. He made his choice. I just have to move on with my life.”

 

I didn’t want this to happen but I started crying again. It seems like that’s all I’d been doing lately. In the two months since Byron and I broke up, I’ve cried damn near every night. And twice at school. BJ came to my class to ask why I haven’t been at his dad’s house. I really didn’t know how to explain it but I told him we were just taking a break. He really didn’t understand but I didn’t really know what else to say.

 

“I understand but he still loves you, baby. I’ve never seen my son like this before. I know he’d be happy to hear from you.”

 

I sighed deeply as I considered her words. Maybe he did love me but I hadn’t talked to Byron in two months. It’s not that he hadn’t tried but I refused to talk to him. Even when he showed up after school one day, I spotted him before I got to my car and I ran back to my classroom. Brandy promised she’d get me to call him so that he would leave and I could come out of the building. I left her hanging because I wasn’t calling him.

 

I told Ms. Arlene I’d think about it. I lied to her and told her I needed to run but truth of the matter was, I didn’t want to be there if Byron came by. She fixed me a to go plate and I went home.

 

Despite being disappointed by men so often, I was still a hopeful romantic. I believed so much in love that I ignored my gut telling me a man with kids was a bad idea. And I believed his lies when he told me he didn’t want her and he wouldn’t hurt me. He promised me he wouldn’t hurt me. But he did hurt me because Tika confirmed my fear: they were getting back together. Brandy begged me to talk to him about it because she didn't believe it was true but I refused. What other reason would he have to go to her house to see their son and not tell me? I was so sick of crying but it seemed like I wouldn’t stop anytime soon. I decided to take a nap because that was the only time I didn’t miss Byron.

 

I woke up to a banging on my door. I got up disoriented and went to open it. Whoever was banging like they were crazy was about to get the cursing out of a lifetime. I flung the door open and I was shocked to see BJ standing there. His eyes were bloodshot, his lip was busted and his shirt was torn. I could tell he’d been in a fight.

 

“Oh my God, BJ! What happened? Come in, baby. Let me clean you up.”

 

I ushered BJ into the house and I could tell he was upset. I got a wash cloth to wash his face off and got a zip lock bag of ice for his lip. “BJ what happened baby?”

 

“He hit me,” was all he offered.

 

“Who hit you?”

 

“My mama’s husband, Stew!” BJ’s hands curled up into a fist and he silent tears fell from his eyes.

 

My first instinct was to call the police and have this man charged with child abuse, assault, something. I’d seen him once; he was a big guy that would intimidate an eight-year-old. I calmed myself down enough to ask BJ what happened.

 

“He and my mama were arguing about money or something. And they started fighting and I tried to break it up. He stopped fighting my mama and punched me. My mama pushed me out of the way and told me to stay out of it but I’m tired of them fighting.”

 

“They’ve fought before?”

 

“Yeah all the time.” BJ was so upset he could hardly get the words out.

 

It dawned on me that day I took him home that Tika had on a long sleeve shirt, probably to try to hide bruises. “How did you get over here BJ? And where is your mom?”

 

“I rode my bike. She was still at the house.”

 

“Ok. I think we need to call your dad. Have you talked to him?”

 

“He wasn’t home because I went there first.”

 

I reached out and hugged BJ and he broke down in my arms. “It’s ok baby. It’s going to be ok. Let me get my shoes and we’ll go find your dad.”

 

I figured Byron was at his mama’s house. I had BJ put his bike in the garage and we headed to his grandma’s house. As I suspected, Byron’s truck was there. We got out of my car and knocked on the door. Arlene came to the door and her face dropped when she saw her grandson’s face.

 

“Baby, what happened to you? Byron! Byron! Come here, NOW!” Arlene called into the living room.

 

Byron rushed to the front door not sure what his mama’s panic was. He was surprised to see me but even more shocked to see his son. “BJ, what happened?”

 

BJ couldn’t respond; he just cried. I wrapped my arms around him and told Byron and his mama what BJ told me. Byron grabbed BJ and asked him if his step-daddy has hit him before. BJ shook his head yes. My heart dropped and Arlene covered her mouth.

 

Byron stormed out of the house, heading to his truck. I told Arlene to take care of BJ, I was going with Byron. Without him even asking, I hopped in the front seat of his truck and buckled my seat belt.

 

“What are you going to do?” I inquired. This wasn’t the first conversation I envisioned us having after two months.

 

“Kill him. Then kill her,” he said calmly as he headed over to Tika’s house.

 

“Maybe we should call the police,” I suggested.

 

“Do whatever you want.” Byron’s hand gripped the steering wheel so tight I was afraid he was going to break it.

 

I made the call to 911 and gave Tika’s address but I was told officers were already on the scene. We pulled up to the house and saw about five police cars and an ambulance. I panicked thinking her husband beat her to death.

 

Bryon parked the truck behind one of the police cars and hopped out. Byron knew one of the officers from the barbershop and he stopped us from getting any closer because the house was a crime scene.

 

“What happened?” Byron asked.

 

“Your baby mama and her husband got into a fight and once officers arrived, there was a substantial amount of cocaine bagged up,” the officer looked around and lowered his voice making sure none of the other police heard him. “That’s an automatic felony. It looks like Tika has gotten herself in a mess.”

 

Byron didn’t care about that. “Yo, this dude punched my son. Where the hell he is?”

 

“Punched your son? When?” the officer asked.

 

“During this fight. My son left the house and went to my girlfriend’s house and told her that. Just tell me where he is so I can beat his ass for putting his hands on my kid!”

 

“Byron, calm down man. He’s in custody heading to the police department. What I need you to do is go get your son and come down to the police station so we can get his statement. The more we can charge this dude with, the better.”

 

Byron wasn’t satisfied with this but I touched his arm and told him I’d drive back to his mama’s house to get BJ. I wanted to revel in the fact that he referred to me as his girlfriend but I’m sure he just said that for convenience.

 

Byron, BJ and I spent the next couple of hours at the police department giving statements. When the officers talked to BJ, we learned that this stuff has been going on for months. BJ said that while his mom and Stew fought often, he’d only hit him one other time.

 

“BJ, why didn’t you tell me about any of this?” Byron asked obviously hurt.

 

“Because,” BJ sniffed. “He told me I better not tell anyone. Cause of the stuff he had in the bags, I guess. And mama told me that I wasn’t supposed to let anyone know what was going on in our house.”

 

Byron dropped his head and I heard him sniffling. I handed him and BJ tissues to wipe their eyes. I put my arm around Byron as he listened to BJ describe what was going on in their house. This explained his behavior at school. And it was probably the reason she kept BJ away from Byron: she didn’t want him to talk about what was going on in their house. I stepped out to call Arlene to let her know what was going on so she wouldn’t worry. Finally, they had all the information they needed and told us we could go.

 

Again, I drove to Byron’s house and we all went inside. I asked them if they were hungry and they both nodded yes. I looked in Byron’s fridge and he had some bacon and eggs so I made them breakfast for dinner. While they ate, Byron apologized to BJ for not protecting him.  

 

“It’s ok daddy. Can I live with you? For good? I don’t want to go back home.”

 

“Well, we have court next week to finalize the visitation. I’m sure this will change that so for now, yes, you will live with me. We will have to see what happens but I will fight for you to stay with me permanently. I love you, son.”

 

“I love you too, Daddy.”

 

Byron and BJ hugged and I saw more tears from Bryon. Seeing him with his son like this warmed my heart and BJ had no idea how lucky he was to have a man like Byron that was fighting for him. I was happy to hear that Byron did go to court about visitation.

 

BJ told his daddy he wanted to take a shower and play his game for a little while, leaving Byron and I alone. We looked at each other and I was the first to break eye contact.

 

“I’m glad BJ is ok,” I began. “I completely forgot my car is at your mama’s house. I will call Brandy and ask her to come get me.”

 

“Can you stay?”

 

His question caught me off guard and I wasn’t sure how to answer. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. BJ’s had a pretty eventful day. I’m sure you want to spend time with him.”

 

“I need you here. Please Dawn?”

 

“You need me?”

 

“I do. I’ve been trying to apologize for two months. I messed up, real bad but today you jumped in to help my son and that means the world to me. Dawn, I’m so sorry for how I treated you. You were only trying to help. I want to blame it on being a man and my pride but I really don’t have an excuse. But I need you in my life. I’ve been lost without you.”

 

“Byron, you told me you wouldn’t hurt me and you did. And Tika told me you guys were getting back together.” I wiped a tear away and I saw the hurt in Byron’s eyes.

 

“Wait...what? We were never getting back together. The only reason I didn't tell you was because I was afraid that if you got involved, Tika would stop me from seeing BJ altogether. I panicked. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing.”

 

I felt foolish for not giving him the benefit of the doubt.“I want to apologize, too. I should have called you and talked about it.”

 

Byron grabbed me and hugged me tight. “It’s not your fault. You don’t have to apologize. I’m sorry I let my pride get in the way. I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry for not keeping my word. But I promise you this. If you give me the chance, I promise I’ll be a better man. I love you, Dawn. Can we try this again?”

 

I heard everything Byron said and I wanted to jump at the chance to get back with my man. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give him a chance to hurt me again. “Let me think about it.”

 

“I understand. I can’t promise you I’m not going to pressure you because I’m not letting you go again.”

 

Hearing that Byron was going to fight for me, the same way he was going to fight for his son made me think he really wanted me back. “Let’s just take it slow and see what happens. I’m not making any promises.”

 

“That’s all I can ask for.”

 

******

 

July 4, 2017

 

“Are you ready to go, baby?” Byron asked.

 

“Yes,” I sighed.

 

I tried to be excited about going to Byron’s daddy’s 4th of July cookout but I wasn’t. I had nothing against his family but I would much rather go to Brandy and Alex’s. After last year, their cookout was the standard I held other cookouts to and I knew Byron’s father wouldn’t be able to meet my expectations. Call me stuck up; I’ll be that. I pushed my disappointment to the side and vowed to just enjoy my day with the man I loved.

 

It took me a day to forgive Byron. The day after all the drama, Byron made love to me and I didn’t realize I missed him so much. Even though it was a physical act, Byron poured so much of his emotions into pleasing me. Beyond that, Byron and I talked extensively about what I needed and what I expected from this relationship and he did the same for me. We both promised to put forth the effort to make this work.

 

We talked more, we spent more time together and he even made mention of moving in together. It made sense because I was out for the summer and Byron needed help getting BJ to summer camp and summer league basketball games. I was at his house more than I was at mine.

 

With this situation with BJ’s mama, Byron was vulnerable and I believed he needed me. Byron was granted temporary custody while Tika’s trial was pending. Even though Tika swore up and down that she had nothing to do with the cocaine in their house, Stew insisted she was complicit. Even BJ admitted that his mama put “white stuff” in small bags. We really didn’t know what was going to happen if this thing went to court.

 

Byron was almost opposed to it, but I convinced him that BJ needed to go to talk to a therapist to help him deal with the situation with his mother. Surprisingly, BJ revealed some hurt from the way his mama treated him at times. Byron was appreciative of me pushing BJ to talk to someone.

 

I could hardly believe it had been a year already and I thought about how much has happened in the year since I met Byron. I wasn’t jaded to this being the perfect relationship but it was the relationship that we were perfecting. I thought I was happy before but since I was practically living with Byron and BJ, being a mother to BJ was preparing me for having my own child.

 

I took a pregnancy test two weeks ago and it was confirmed at the doctor’s office yesterday that I was almost two months. When we get home tonight, I planned on letting Byron know that he was going to be a father again. I swore Brandy to secrecy and I am sure she was bursting at the seams to tell her husband.

 

I never wanted to be a baby mama but that night we made up, things happened so fast. I wasn’t mad because I was in love with Byron and I knew he was in love with me. We would make this work, no matter what.

 

We pulled up to Byron’s father’s house and BJ took off looking for his cousins. We mingled with his family and even though it wasn’t the same, I was still having a good time with Byron’s cousins and other family friends. Around 8:30, Byron asked if I wanted to ride out to Brandy and Alex’s house. My face lit up as I could practically taste Alex’s ribs now.

 

Byron, BJ and I said our goodbyes and we drove across town to our friend’s house. When we pulled up, the party was still in full swing. Brandy spotted us first as if she was waiting for us.

 

“Please tell me you have some ribs left!” I said while embracing my friend.

 

“Of course! But first, let me show you the new bedroom furniture in the guest room! You’re going to love it!”

I looked at Byron and pleaded with him to save me. I didn’t want to look at bedroom furniture; I wanted some damn ribs. I didn’t want to be rude so let her drag me upstairs to look at her furniture. We made it to the guest bedroom and even though I didn’t want to be impressed, the furniture was beautiful. I loved the dark cherry wood and immediately my mind wandered to furnishing my baby’s nursery.

 

“Don’t you think this dark furniture will look great in the nursery? That’s why I wanted you to see it,” Brandy said reading my mind. “I was hoping you told him but I’m assuming you haven’t.”

 

“I’m going to tell him tonight. I didn’t want him to announce it to all of his family today,” I reasoned.

 

“Whatever. Hurry up already. It’s killing me to keep this from Alex!”

 

I laughed at Brandy knowing that she wasn’t exaggerating. As my grandma used to say, she couldn’t hold water.

 

“Oh, let me show you something else,” Brandy said dragging me to her master bedroom.

 

I rolled my eyes at her again and I was about to leave her up here because I wanted my ribs. We went to her bedroom and she stood by the window which overlooked the backyard.  

“Girl, look at these folks out here trying to dance!”

 

I walk over to the window but I didn’t see anyone dancing. Instead, lights near the pool caught my attention.

 

Surrounding the pool was the party guests holding sparklers. There were red, white and blue floating lights in the pool. I saw something floating in the pool and at first, I couldn’t make it out. When I focused my eyes, I saw the words “Will you marry me” floating among the patriotic lights.

 

I looked at Brandy, back at the pool and back at Brandy. I stared at her with my mouth open but no words came out. Her eyes were filled with tears as she led me out of her bedroom, downstairs and into the backyard where BJ met me at the backdoor. BJ grabbed my hand and led me over to the pool area where his father was standing.

 

Byron grabbed my other hand and we formed a little circle. “Dawn, at this very place last year, you came into my life. I wasn’t expecting to meet you but here we are. This past year hasn’t been easy and because I was stupid, I almost lost you. I’ll never make that mistake again. I realized I loved you in a way I didn’t understand at first. But now I know that loving you isn’t an option; it’s a necessity. BJ and I talked about it and we have decided that our lives are so much better because we have you. And we need you to be with us forever so Dawn Lynette Sanders…will you marry me?”

 

Byron dropped down to his knee and opened a ring box. I had no idea what the ring looked like because my tears were flowing. Again, I couldn’t speak so I just nodded my head yes and the party erupted in applause and cheers. Byron slid the ring on my finger and BJ hugged me tight. Bryon got up and wiped away my tears before kissing me. It took about five minutes for me comprehend what just happened.

 

“Who told you about the baby?” I asked him finally finding my voice and wiping my eyes. I got a good look at my ring and I knew Brandy had something to do with it.

 

“Who told me about what baby?” he inquired completely confused.

 

I looked at Brandy and she shook her head indicating she hadn’t revealed my secret. “What baby? Are you pregnant, Dawn?” Byron asked quietly.

 

“Yes,” I whispered.

 

Byron picked me up and swung me around causing me to squeal in excitement. “This beautiful woman is having my baby ya’ll!”

 

Byron’s excitement made my smile somewhere near my soul. The happiness I felt at this moment didn’t compare to anything I’d ever felt. Who would have thought that a simple 4th of July cookout would have introduced me to the love of my life?

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