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The Christmas Sweater


BY


Kassanna




*****


Copyright © Dec 2018, Kassanna

Cover art by C.V.A Dwight Copyright © November 2018


This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.


FlavorFullove Unlimited

Florida, USA

www.Flavorfullove.com













Chapter One
Thursday



Mother Nature is bi-polar. Earlier in the week it was a balmy seventy-eight degrees. Today it was in the lower forties and dropping fast. Crap, he would have to get Teeka a jacket. Did Mac pack her one? Aww shit, he should’ve checked first. Scotland Reeves wiped a big palm down his face. Mac had to pack Teeka a coat – something. She was a mother for God’s sake; making sure her kid has the right clothes should be instinctive. He shook his head. Maybe not, knowing Mac.

Scot twisted in his seat and met Teeka’s wide eyed caramel-colored gaze. “Tiki, did Mom pack you another coat?”

Tiki was the nickname he’d given her at birth. The face she made, screaming while being held up by the doctor minutes after entering the world, reminded him of the totems he’d seen while traveling. Babies were not born cute. It was his first and last time witnessing a birth. After his best friend’s boyfriend married a mutual friend – unexpectedly…the whole situation was a true mess. A week later Mac found out she was pregnant. He’d promised Macrina Welsh that if she chose to have Teeka he would stay with her every step of the way. And he had. But this was the first time he was keeping Tiki overnight, alone. Granted she was four and fairly self sufficient, but he was nervous. He’d made the offer when Mac complained about not being able to find a decent babysitter for the evening while she went out on a date.

He sighed. He was behaving like a damn woman with all his emotions bottled up inside him. A bolt of – he wouldn’t exactly call it jealousy. His feeling might be in that neighborhood but it was not that, really. He was feeling something, and he had the right to, dammit. She hadn’t gone out with anyone since Tiki was born; it was always the three of them together.

He’d been friend zoned in high school and he accepted that. They’d been best friends since they were six years old. He hugged her, bought her ice cream and plied her with liquor, whatever the occasion demanded. She’d done the same for him. Along the way, things changed. He looked forward to being with her. Hell, he even enjoyed changing Tiki’s diapers, sharing those monumental moments with her - them - like the baby’s first words, her first steps.

Teeka was the miniature image of her mother with smooth peanut butter-colored skin, big brown eyes and an infectious, genuine smile. The only difference was her daughter’s eyes were much lighter than Mac’s. The little girl also had a head full of thick, sandy brown, tight curls. Mac liked to keep her daughter’s hair loose in an unruly afro but sometimes she would braid it or keep it in ponytails. In one moment of desperation when Mac was sick, she’d directed Scot in how to wash and comb Teeka’s hair. They were all traumatized.

Through it all and somewhere along the line, his feelings for Mac became something more. That more had a name he wasn’t ready to own up to. So, he stayed quiet and now some jughead was stepping in on his territory.

“Daddy?” Tiki waved a hand.

Around the age of two, Tiki started calling him dad. He didn’t mind, but Mac always corrected her. Secretly, he allowed Tiki to call him that whenever Mac wasn’t around. He’d picked up Tiki at daycare and she would hang out with him at his office until he finished with his patients and took her home. He had a couple of hours before his afternoon rush of patients and promised Teeka that he would take her Christmas shopping.

“Aren’t you getting out?” Blu Simpson, his office manager leaned in, maneuvering so her cheek was a few inches from his.

He didn’t invite her to come with him. Somehow, she just tagged along. Before he knew it, she’d jumped in his SUV and was waiting for him to climb up into the driver’s side. There was no time to politely put her out since he was running late picking up Tiki.

Blu turned her green colored contact lens gaze in his direction. “You allow her to call you Daddy?”

He could have sworn he saw Tiki roll her eyes. Scotland eased back to put some space between him and Blu. His relationship with Mac and her daughter was his business. In his heart Tiki was his kid too. He ignored Blu’s question.

“He is my daddy.” Tiki scrunched up her nose. “Grammy said I have to project Mommy’s injest.” She clamped her lips together in a firm line.

A burst of laughter escaped past his lips. Ms. Sandi was always on his side. If it were up to her and his mother, Diana, he would have been married off to Mac the day after they graduated from university. “Unhook yourself, Tiki. I know you know how.”

Her little lips turned up at the corners and she worked her tiny fingers to free the latch belt.

“It’s not good to let her call you daddy. One day Macrina might marry someone…” Blu leaned toward the door and grasped the latch. “You’re just confusing the baby.” She exited the vehicle quickly and slammed the door.

He met Tiki’s gaze in the rearview mirror.

She shrugged. “Ready.” She scooted to the edge of her seat.

Scotland swung the door open to leave the car.

The back passenger side opened and cool air whipped through the SUV. Blu reached in and yanked Tiki up, snatching her out to set her down. She slammed the door.

Scotland trotted around the fender to find Blu tugging at Tiki’s tight curls. He scooped up the child and smiled gently at her before turning to look at Blu. “Don’t ever touch her hair.”

“Scotty, I was just thinking maybe while we are out we can grab something to straighten her hair. I can do it, or if you’d rather, we can drop her off to get her hair done. I know a great salon. Surely we can do something to make it more manageable.”

He hated the nickname ‘Scotty’ and barely tolerated it. Blu was trying to be cute, maybe coy, but he had no interest in her and if she wasn’t so damn good at her job, he would have let her go months ago. Mac liked to keep Teeka’s hair natural. She was always muttering something about chemical free whenever she combed the child’s hair. He had no clue what she was talking about, but he would respect her wishes.

He nuzzled the soft, coconut scented strands held back by a thin hairband and kissed her temple before lifting his head to stare at Blu. “Touch her hair again and you can find your way home. You won’t have a job.” He walked toward the big box discount store. “What would you like to get Mommy?”

The little girl tapped her lips. “I don’t know.”

Macrina loved clothes and shoes; she had since they were children. Teeka loved to dress up her dolls. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. “What do you want for Christmas?”

“Toys.”

That was simple, and he still didn’t know what to get her. There was a little car at that store he got his mom’s gift from. Tiki would have fun with that. The minute Mac found out he bought it, she would make him take it back. Scot set the kid on her feet and took her hand. He would find something else.

“Hey, wait for me!” Blu jogged up beside them and reached for Tiki’s hand. The child inched closer to his legs. His office manager dropped her arm.

They entered the store and he stopped. He checked his watch. Time was catching up with them, he would need to get back to his office soon. Scot moved in the direction of women’s clothing.

“Dr. Reeves, what are you wearing to the office Christmas party on Saturday?” Blu fingered a sequined cocktail dress.

Yeah, he would have to get rid of her soon. “Nothing formal.” It was cruel to fire someone at Christmas.

Tiki broke away from him and ran toward a display with the signage Ugly Christmas Sweaters. On the rack beside it were matching sweaters in children’s sizes. “This.” Tiki held on to the hem of a shiny red one with colorful Christmas lights and snowflakes and had a sticker that announced that the lights really worked.

It wasn’t just ugly, it was hideous. “Teeka, sweetheart, Mac – Mommy – I’m not sure if-”

“You too.” She walked around to the other side of the display. Tiki pointed at a green sweater with Christmas Trees and dancing reindeers. Thankfully it didn’t have anything electrical attached to it. She moved to the children’s wear. “Me.” She held on to the sleeve of a white sweater with elves lining the hem and various toys scattered across the material. She peered up at him expectantly.

Blu walked up next to him. “Scotland, what do you think?” She held up a piece of clothing.

He didn’t bother to comment. She had to get the hint eventually. “Tiki are you sure?” He looked down. She was gone. “Teeka,” he called out, shoving the clothes out of the way to see the floor.

Panic welled up, his heart beat faster. He spun around in a circle. Everyone was a blur.

“What’s wrong?” Blu grabbed his wrist.

“Tiki was right here.” He pushed through the tops and pants on the other racks.

Blu walked a little ways away shouting out, “Tiki, sweetheart. Where are you?” She ran up to a security guard. “Have you seen a little girl?” She held her hand up three feet from the floor. “She is about this tall and has light brown hair.” Blu stopped.

“What is she wearing?” The guard pulled a walkie talkie from his belt.

“Oh God, my sweet little girl,” she exhaled. “I – I can’t remember.”

He caught Blu’s show in front of the growing crowd. Scotland closed the space between them. “Her name is Teeka Welsh, she is four, wearing red leggings and a black and white top with some kind of dog on it. She has on a denim jacket.” He should have paid closer attention to Tiki.

The guard recounted the description into the two-way radio. “We have a white…”

“She’s black,” Scot quickly corrected him. “Oh, and she has a red headband on.” The last thing he wanted to do was tell Mac he failed to keep Tiki safe. She would blow up and rage through the store like a blizzard. Tiki had to be there. He had only looked away for less than a minute.

A garbled notice went over the PA system. He reached into his pocket to retrieve his cell. Sucking in a deep draught of warm, recycled air, he rotated his phone in his palm. The wrath of Macrina was nothing to play with. Just as he raised the device to notify Mac a robust, older woman with a shock of white hair pulled neatly into a bun strolled up to them. Beside her was Teeka.

Blu ran for them with her arms extended. “I was worried about you.” She gripped the child by her biceps. “Don’t you ever walk away from us like that again.” She shook Teeka lightly.

Tiki squirmed. “Let me go.” Fat tears welled up in her eyes.

Scot stepped between them, breaking Blu’s hold. “Enough.” He scooped up Tiki. “You can’t walk away and not tell me where you are going, okay precious? I was scared someone had taken you.”

Tiki dropped her head and mumbled, “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“Thank you.” Blu nodded at the old lady. “We’re so happy you brought her back.”

The stranger cocked her head. A lock of alabaster hair tumbled across her forehead. She peered over at the little girl and winked. “Thank you for helping me.” She raised her head. “I dropped some outfits and this child was kind enough to come over and help me pick them up.”

“You’re welcome.” Tiki grinned.

“I’m sorry for worrying you. As soon as I heard the announcement I started toward the customer service desk with her.”

“I understand.” Scot nodded. With the disaster averted all he wanted to do was get out of there. Tiki was safe. That was what was important to him.

“I don’t. It is convenient how you lured her away from us.” Blu squared her shoulders and closed the gap between them. “If we hadn’t been so quick to report her missing I wonder if you would have brought her back.”

“Blu.” The group of customers around them was growing.

“It’s a legitimate question.”

Tiki leaned over. “She’s not my mommy.”

The white haired lady nodded as if in understanding. “It’s okay, Teeka. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. She has been on the naughty list for some time.”

Tiki nodded solemnly. “Okay.”

Scot checked his watch. He didn’t have time for this. “Thank you again. I’m sorry about all this.” He moved toward the exit.

“This – stay away from children,” Blu blurted out before following him.

“You shouldn’t have done that.” Tiki sang the words as they walked outside.

“Yeah why is that?” Blu sneered.

Firing people at Christmas is bad. Scot took long strides back to his SUV. He pressed the fob to unlock the door and yanked it open.

Tiki leaned over his arm. “That was Santa Claus’s wife and she don’t like you. Bad woman. You’re in trouble.” She sang the last words.

Scot pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. “We got to go to work, Teeka. It’s time to be good.”

“I’m on the nice list. Santa Claus’s wife told me.” Tiki met his gaze unblinkingly.

He hefted the child into her seat and buckled her in.

“There is no Santa Claus,” Blu growled as he shut the door.

He stared through the window, checking to see if Teeka heard her. The little girl had picked up a book and was flipping through the pictures. Her mouth was moving but he couldn’t hear her sound out the words.

“What is wrong with you?” Violence is bad. You’ll go to jail. Fire her in January. He held a hand up to keep Blu from talking. Her excuses were unnecessary. Scot crossed the front end to get into the driver’s side. They got into the vehicle at the same time. “Don’t ever get in my SUV again. If it doesn’t involve business or office management don’t speak in my presence.” He didn’t look at her and started the automobile.

****

The foggy mirror distorted her image. Macrina Welsh wiped a palm through her reflection and beads of water formed in her wake. What the hell are you thinking agreeing to a date? She had no answer to give herself. For four years it had just been her, Scot and Teeka. Of course, their mothers were always on the fringes but mostly it was always them – the three musketeers.

When her coworker asked if she was free for dinner, she wasn’t sure how to respond. After the birth of Teeka she was sure she’d lost her sexy factor. With the extra fifteen pounds she couldn’t lose and the stretch marks that bisected her inner thighs and lower stomach, physically she knew she was no longer sensual. Not true, if that was the case why was that sexy younger brother with the milk chocolate skin and the alluring eyes watching you like you were a cracker and he was a starving man? Stop. She picked up her lotion and slathered it across her body before moving to her bedroom.

It was strange not having her daughter or even Scot around. The house was quiet and she missed the TV blaring along with the peals of laughter and the scent of the dinner they made filling the house. Mac reached for her phone and swiped the screen, tapping it. “Calling” flashed as the connection was made.

“Hi Mommy!” Teeka’s high-pitched tone filled the earpiece.

Mac pulled the cell from her ear and tapped the speaker. “Hi baby, having fun?”

“Dadd- Uncle Scot took me shopping and I met Mrs. Claus and she told me that I would get everything I wanted for Christmas and Dad-Uncle Scot’s helper pulled my hair.”

“What?”

“Hey Mac.” Scotland’s voice replaced her daughter’s. “Ready for your – umm – date?”

“I got some time. What’s up with Tiki’s hair?”

“I already took care of it.” His tone phased out and returned. “-chicken nuggets and fries?” Teeka’s exuberant response reached her ears.

He wasn’t answering her question. “I’m sure you did. Besides our mothers, there is no one else I trust with her – so what’s going on?”

“Nothing I didn’t handle. You trust me with Tiki; trust that the issue is resolved.” There was a thread of iron in his tone. “Wear that cute black cocktail dress you wore to New Years Eve a couple years ago. When I took you to that party in New York.”

Why would he bring that up? She wouldn’t allow him to change the subject. Not when it came to her child. “Who touched her hair and why did they touch her hair, Scotty?” Mac could practically see in her mind’s eye his unpleasant response at the way she used his nickname.

As a child Scotland was a Trekki, practically an encyclopedia of all thing Star Trek. Kids can be cruel. One of their classmates started calling him Scotty from the show and mimicking the moves and accent whenever Scot was around. After a while the name stuck and even though he grew out of his television show phase the nickname itself followed him up until high school.

“Tiki and I are going to have our meal and watch that playhouse something or other that she loves and then I will put her to bed.”

He got an attitude because she wanted information about her kid. Fine, he knew how she was and understood she could give as good as she got. “I’m sure you will have a marvelous time. Don’t forget to go over her sight words with her and do not let her stay up past her bedtime.” She established rules for a reason and he was always letting Teeka slide, making her the bad parent.

Wait, she was the only parent. Teeka had taken to calling Scot ‘Daddy’ when she was two and although she corrected her daughter when she did it – it really didn’t bother her that Teeka had. He was the only father figure her child knew. Not even the sperm donor that contributed to her creation had met her.

“I’ll talk to you later.” Mac ended the call.

Why did she have to go and think about all that unpleasantness? She’d thought everything was good with Vincent until it wasn’t. The day of the wedding when a mutual friend called and told her to go to the courthouse – right then. She didn’t question the information and simply jumped in the car to drive to the building. When she got there her man and her good friend were surrounded by his family and a few mutual friends. They were celebrating. Laughing and walking, Sharon held up her hand and a ring glinted in the sun. Mac watched in horror as Vincent caught Sharon up in his arms and carried her to a car. The words just married scrolled across the back window.

She snatched up her cell and called the bastard; her hand shook as she tapped the keyboard. Watching as he placed her buddy in the passenger seat and answered his phone.

“I’m a little busy, babe. I’ll come by and see you later.” He ran around the back fender.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting ready to go out and meet the guys. Hang out, play some games over at Leon’s house.” He stopped and leaned on the trunk.

Leon was one of the smiling bystanders standing to the side. She took her foot off the brake pedal and the vehicle started rolling. He didn’t need to lie. All he had to do was tell her he wasn’t interested, she would have moved on. And Sharon, that bitch was there when he approached her the first time. Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel.

“What time you coming by?”

“Late, prolly early morning. You know how I like to snuggle.” He laughed.

She watched the wide grin brighten his face. Her automobile inched closer and he didn’t realize how close he was to her. The two-timing asshole. Pressing her foot down on the gas was all it would take to crush him between two cars. “Vincent, love, look up.”

He snapped his head up and met her gaze. That happy smile morphed into a perfect “O” and like a deer caught in headlights the fucker didn’t move. But her car did, picking up speed as she slowly pressed her foot down on the accelerator. She rammed her foot on the brakes. Tires screeched, and she was jerked forward when the vehicle suddenly stopped, inches from Vincent’s thighs.

He slammed his palms on her hood. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” The small crowd lined up along the passenger side of her car. Sharon pushed through the group and moved to the front fender peering at her through the windshield. Mac didn’t get out of the car. She put the gear in reverse and backed up. The aroma of burning rubber rose up from the tires when she spun around in the parking lot to leave. She watched them in her rearview mirror, hoping that would be the last time she saw them. A week later she found out she was pregnant.

The first person she called was Scotland. He warned her about Sharon, how the woman was always making passes at him. Her buddy was obnoxious about his looks. Scot was a cutie and he knew it, but everyone knew how close they were, so she blew off his comments. If Sharon had mentioned she was interested in Scotland, hell she would have hooked them up. Looking back, she should have paid closer attention to Sharon’s behavior around the men in her life. Her mistake.

When she told him she was pregnant, Scot arrived at her house with a gallon of cookie dough ice cream and a liter bottle of root beer. He promised he would stick by her no matter what she decided to do. He was a young chiropractor who’d just opened his office and she had a job at the local college as a junior financial aid coordinator. She didn’t want to put the stress of her pregnancy on her best friend. He promised they would figure things out day by day.

One day at a staff meeting the new head of security was introduced and Vincent stood proud in his rent a cop uniform. The bastard was back in her life. It sucked to work at the same place as Vincent. As part of campus security, they would sometimes run into each other. Although she ignored him whenever they came in contact, she could always feel his eyes on her. It was creepy. The situation was ugly. She was there first and wasn’t leaving her job.

The inevitable happened. At the cafeteria, Scot came to visit her at work and they didn’t want to go off campus…she ran into a very much pregnant Sharon with Vincent. Her petty rose up and she didn’t hold back. Smiling and nodding, she spoke with that fake surgery sweet voice that most Southern women could wield like a weapon.

“Vincent – Sharon, how good to see you. Oh, you’re pregnant. You’re huge, when are you due?” Sharon wouldn’t meet her gaze and her ex slipped a casual arm around his wife’s shoulders.

Scot didn’t say a word. She didn’t expect him to. He wasn’t the type to interfere unless he had to. One of them should have walked away. They stayed rooted in place.

“We’re good. I see you’re expecting?” Vincent smiled the boyish grin that once had her enthralled. “Do you know who the daddy is?”

Where once his words could cut to the bone, she felt absolutely nothing. Before she could comment, Scot slipped an arm around her waist and laid a palm on her protruding belly. “I am. We are having a girl. Her baby shower is Saturday. I can send you an invite.”

The look on Vincent’s face…confusion, anger maybe. She really couldn’t decipher it. A hint of a smile, or maybe it was a sneer, lifted Sharon’s lips. They offered congratulations and sauntered off. Scot had been around from the beginning but after that meeting – confrontation –hell, she didn’t know what to call the surreal moment… He stuck closer to her and was involved in everything that had to do with the baby she was carrying.

In essence, Scotland Reeves had become Teeka’s father and he had every right to be. The bond he shared with Teeka was something she would not interfere with and she wouldn’t let anyone else get between them either. Sweet heavens above, she hated taking long strolls down memory lane. The shrill rings of her cell brought her attention back to the phone on the bed beside her.

Mac snatched it up and answered. “Yes, Scotty.” She’d weld his nickname like he used her full name when he was annoyed.

“Low blow, Macrina. Hey you know what?”

She should be getting ready for her date. “What?”

“Yo momma is so fat, I took a picture of her last year and it's still printing.”

Giggles erupted from Mac’s mouth and she dropped back onto the mattress. “Well damn, what? You been practicing in the mirror? How long did it take you to come up with that one or did you cheat and find it on the internet?”

“I got you!” Scot’s voice was full of mirth. “Say what you want but that was all mine, baby!”

She’d bet her paycheck he was fist pumping the air. This game between them, the one-up-man-ship of competition, started in elementary school. She couldn’t let him get ahead of himself, it was time to shut him down – again. “Well, yo mamma smell so bad when she spread her legs people get seasick.” She snorted.

“Ouch, you’ve been holding back.” Scot quieted. “I wanted to hear you laugh.”

“We have become an old married couple,” she joked.

“Would that be a bad thing?” He spoke louder. “Are you ready for your date?”

“I am running behind. It’s just dinner. Nothing fancy.” Guilt washed through her. It didn’t feel right, going out with another man. Where once she could tell him anything, discussing this felt like a betrayal. She closed her eyes. Scot was always important to her but these other emotions, she couldn’t pinpoint when they started.

“Be careful.” He interrupted her thoughts. “Don’t be surprised when you get a call from Diana. I’m going to tell Mom you said she stank.”

“Tattletale. What are you, five? And don’t think the chat about Teeka’s hair is over.”

“Gotta go. Tiki is singing something about baby sharks. See you tomorrow.” There was no other sound.

Mac dropped the phone and sat up. The dress Scot liked, she wouldn’t wear it. She rose and ambled to her closet to slide the door open. Dressy casual, that’s the look she wanted. Jeans and a pretty blouse. Add a suede jacket and some boots. She nodded. Yeah, that would work. Too much and – no she didn’t want to encourage her date, but too little would be rude as if it was a pain to get ready. Lord please don’t let this date be a dud. She pulled the hangers off the rack and got dressed. Mac stopped. Even if it was, did it really matter?













Chapter Two
Friday



His mother lied. It was not easy to do a little girl’s hair. He was Diana’s only child. How the hell would she know if doing a girl’s hair was simple? He had always been taken to the damn barbershop. It didn’t help that he was functioning on two hours of sleep. Tossing and turning all night thinking about Mac and how her date went. He was a glutton for punishment. Instead of telling her how he felt, he encouraged her to see other men. He was a fucking idiot. A damn coward. But the idea of her being with him out of guilt because he’d been there for her and Teeka when they needed him, that shit didn’t sit right either. If they got together, he wanted it to be because they had deeper feelings for each other, because it was something they both wanted without an ulterior motive.

Scot glanced at Tiki through the rearview mirror. One lopsided ponytail pointed straight up like a unicorn’s horn. At least the other three plaits laid down – sort of. It was more like they pointed in different directions.

She met his gaze and smiled brightly before focusing on the thin book in her hands. “Daddy, play the shark song.”

Please, Lord, not that again. All evening before he put her down for bed, she sang that song over and over, humming it until she finally dozed off. “I don’t think I can find it on the radio.” A lie but he was developing a deep-seated hate for the damn song.

“That’s okay. Mommy saved it for me.” She tugged her overnight bag closer and unzipped it to go through it. Teeka produced her little tablet. She settled back into the car seat, her tiny fingers dancing across the screen.

The tune filled the car’s interior and he wanted to bang his head against the steering wheel. He pulled into the medical building parking lot and stopped in the space directly behind his back door. The sooner they got out of the SUV the better, or he would have to buy Tiki a new device because the one she had would die a horrible death. Mac probably saved it to her tablet as another way to annoy the hell out of him. She was sadistic like that. “We are here, kiddo, put your stuff up.”

“Okay.” She had everything back in her bag by the time he opened her door.

They walked in through the little lounge area and down the hall toward his office. He would get Tiki settled in there until his mom came to pick her up to take her to preschool. Reba rounded the corner, running into them as they came from the opposite direction.

“Good Morning Dr. Reeves…Ms. Teeka.” Reba winked at the little girl.

Tiki giggled. “Hello. Merry Christmas.”

“Ms. Diana is here; she’s looking for you.” Reba raised her arms laden with file folders. “We have a busy day.”

“Got it. I’ll get with you shortly.” He brushed Teeka’s shoulder to keep her walking.

They passed the lobby. His mother was engrossed in a conversation with Blu. Teeka trotted up to Diana. “Hi Nana.”

“Hi precious.” She glanced down. “Oh.” She cupped the child’s face. “Daddy did your hair?” Diana looked up at him with an arched brow.

His mom knew damn well he did her hair. “Mom.” He wasn’t about to offer an explanation. Tiki’s hair was not something that could easily be done. To hell with what the women in his life said.

“Scotty, I was just telling Mom about our shopping trip…” Blu injected herself into their conversation. “We still need to get a few gifts for your family.” She eased closer, placing herself between him and Tiki.

His mother’s mask of kind interest slipped. It was rare she had anything to say about his staff, but right then he was sure he would get an earful about his office manager when they were alone.

Teeka pursed her lips. “Nana’s not your mother.” She gazed up at Scot, her brows drawn together.

“No more than she is your grandmother, dear.” Blu smiled sweetly. “Once Scotty has children of his own, I’m sure-”

“Family doesn’t always mean blood relatives and staff is always easy to get rid of.” Diana didn’t look in Blu’s direction. “Come along, Nana’s precious. We need to do something about your ponytails.”

“Can I keep this one? I look like a unicorn.” Teeka skipped beside his mother.

Diana was pissed. Fire Blu after Christmas. If she called him Scotty one more time, he would make her life so miserable it would force her to quit. Then he wouldn’t have to issue her any unemployment. He should do that anyway just for taking verbal swipes at his kid. That would make him petty. Fuck it, he needed to be petty and clarify things in the most painfully expedited way.

“Blu, let’s talk.” They needed to be alone, and in his bustling office that wasn’t always possible. Scot led the way to the filing office behind the reception desk and closed the door after she entered behind him.

“I was wondering when you’d catch on.” She sidled up to him, laying her palms on his chest. “Don’t worry about Mac. I’ll handle everything for you and she will never use you to help her with her child or darken your doorstep.”

“This thing…” He swirled his hand in the air. “…has gone on long enough. I don’t like you, your blue-tipped strands, or the green colored contacts you like to sport. It doesn’t make you attractive, it makes you look plastic. As an office manager, you are amazingly effective. It is your calling, but as a woman I don’t consider you human.”

“But Sc-”

“If you plan to call me Scotty one more time, our work relationship is over. Mac has known me for years and doesn’t attempt to use that as a nickname. Let me make things abundantly clear. You are my employee. Tiki is my kid. If I had to choose between the two of you – who do you think I would choose? We started out with a professional relationship; let’s take it back to that. I am not Scotty, Scot, or Scotland to you. I am Dr. Reeves. If any of this is a problem for you then we can end your employment at any time. I will happily offer you a letter of reference and wish you the best. Take the day off to decide if you would like to continue working here. Our office Christmas party is tomorrow night. Should you decide to attend I will consider you still under employment with my practice. If not, your severance pay and a letter of reference will be waiting for you to pick up on Monday.” He exhaled. This was so damn refreshing. The shocked look on her face was epic. Did she really believe her own hype?

“Sc-Dr. Reeves.” Blu cleared her throat. A tear rolled over her cheek. “I can give you an answer now. I won’t be quitting voluntarily. Should I leave, it will be because you fired me and believe me this isn’t over. You led me on: buying me lunch, taking the time to talk to me. Don’t think I don’t know what you were doing, singling me out.” A harsh laugh burst past her crimson tinged lips. She flipped her hair. “You wanted me and now you don’t. I don’t understand why you are playing these games. Dr. Reeves, you will regret ever crossing me.” Blu snatched the door open and hesitated, wiping a finger along the corner of her mouth. “Making someone’s life hell? Baby, I am a pro at that. Fall in line or face my wrath. You will come back to me. Since you so generously offered me a day off, I’ll take it. See you tomorrow night, Scotty. Merry Christmas.” She sauntered out of the room.

He marched to the open doorway and watched the crazy bitch disappear down the hall. What in the hell just happened? Scotland cocked his head. “I did not see that coming,” he muttered.

“Hot sex in the closet?” Mac spun around in a chair a few feet from him. “Generally when a woman comes out wiping her mouth she was kissing one of two things.” Her gaze drifted to his crotch.

Scotland shook his head. “Mac, I have just encountered a level of cray even your exes can’t compete with.” He never had to hold back with Mac and could tell her anything. “I think I got a stalker.”

He had to figure this out. Blu Simpson was dangerous. There was nothing she could do to him. He kept excellent records and paid an outside firm to manage his accounting. If anything got flagged he would know immediately, but the way she went after Tiki…Mac would eat her alive. Maybe he should let her. No, that would be messy. Mac had a temper and one word about how Teeka was treated… For now he would play it by ear. Talk to Diana? Get some advice from his local precinct? His thoughts circled back to the woman before him. Let Mac handle her. Would Blu’s body even be found?

“Ooo, do tell.” She leaned forward placing her elbows on her knees.

“Wait, why are you here?” Damn the woman looked good. He was rushing around to get out of the house this morning, he didn’t have time to stop for breakfast, but Mac breezes in all put together. “Must have been a good date.”

“Eh, we had more in common than I thought but less than we should have.” She shrugged, and he was reminded where Tiki got the aloofness from. “I called the school and was told she wasn’t there yet. I figured there was a reason. It’s a short day for me and voila, here I am. Why isn’t Teeka in class?”

“There were some technical difficulties regarding her hair.” He did not want to explain himself.

“A brush, comb, and the knockers were in her bag, and a little grease. Easy. Two parts and boom, four plaits.” Mac shook her head. “Or you could have just picked her hair out and let it blow in the wind. My personal preference.”

“Knockers?” How the hell did she equate hair to math? Two parts…he was a doctor and the way she processed things was sometimes beyond him.

“The little rubberband-like things with the pretty colorful balls on the end.” She stood. “Where is my baby girl?”

“That’s what those things were? Hmm. Tiki is probably on her way to school. Mom met me here to take her.”

“Oh, well, I can visit her for lunch.” Mac pushed past the chair.

He gripped her wrist. “You didn’t answer my question. What happened last night?” He couldn’t hide the deeper timbre of his tone.

“I told you.” She twisted her arm. “What’s up?” Mac gazed at him with wide eyes.

How did he tell her? She had to know. The idea of her with another man cut through him like a hot knife through cold butter. Still, he endured everything - for Tiki and for Macrina. For his love for them both.

Scot dropped her hand. “What time are you going to visit Tiki? I’ll clear my schedule, we can go together.”

There was a look on her face he wasn’t sure about. Mac narrowed her eyes. “Do you ever worry that people might misunderstand our relationship?”

Scot crossed his arms to keep from reaching out for her again. “Who are these people and what is there to misconstrue?” Macrina and Tiki were his family. Mac just hadn’t realized it yet. Or maybe she had.

Every year they had the same chat. He wasn’t a child but if he had a Christmas Wish it would be that they could finally get together.

“Never mind. Her lunch is at eleven thirty – will that work for you?”

“Yeah, that’s perfect.” That feeling was back. Like he was forcing her. “If you don’t want-” He pushed through the awkward feeling.

“How about we go Christmas shopping instead?” She hurriedly interrupted.

His breath stopped. It was usually him that initiated an outing. He chose his words carefully. “It’s a date.”

“Yes it is.” She waved her fingers in his direction. “I’ll meet you here. See you later.”

For the second time in the same morning he was dumbfounded by the actions of a woman. What the hell just happened?

****

Mac sauntered to her car. A bout of laughter erupted through her lips. Phew, she should have done that sooner. The look of surprise on Scot’s face – amazing. Her intention was to check on Teeka, have that talk about her daughter’s hair. Then she saw that damn office manager skulking out of the filing office like she had something to hide, and who follows that woman but Scotland. Faced with the idea that there was another woman in Scot’s life, something she never felt before reared its ugly head. For all the years that she’d known him, Scotland Reeves was hers. Well, hers and Teeka’s.

No, Scotland was his own man. Who he saw was his business. He was always supportive of what she did, right down to who she dated. One of his more exasperating traits - unfailing loyalty. She should support his choices in women. But that Blu chick, yeah, she couldn’t stand her. There was an air of insincerity to her. It seemed like she could miraculously become whoever she needed to be for the person she was with. Did he not see that? The more she thought about the episode she witnessed this morning the more it annoyed her. It was Scot’s fault she couldn’t focus on work. That damn arm on the clock in her office wouldn’t move fast enough. Thoughts swirled around in her head, touching on everything between them over the years.

When she would purposely mention dating someone, he never said anything. She stomped her feet and spun in a circle stopping when a wave of dizziness flowed over her. The man was unpredictable. Had always been so. She should not stand in his way if that Blu bit—no she wouldn’t call the woman names—was who he wanted to be with.

For the first time in their relationship, she wasn’t comfortable. When she got pregnant, they were friends. As her pregnancy progressed, he became more involved, but she never expected him to step up and treat her kid like his daughter. That had to be bad for him dating-wise. Especially when Tiki started calling him daddy. No matter what she did to stop it, he encouraged the child to do it. After a while she took everything for granted and stopped mentioning it. Although she didn’t go out much with anyone, she still did it. When she had dinner last night, did he feel the way she does now?

Mac pressed the key fob to her truck and unlocked the door. She climbed into the seat, distracted. That uneasy feeling of seeing someone you care about deeply – with someone else. No, she wouldn’t call it love. They’d never done anything beyond a platonic brush of the lips. On a few occasions they slept together in the same bed after a party or late-night study session. The only thing she could claim to know intimately was that he snored – badly – when he was tired. Unlike Scot who, after a miscommunication with her mother ended up being very much present for the birth of her daughter. He saw her body at its worst. Since Teeka came into the world the man hadn’t missed a milestone.

Her mom and Diana were right. She was a straight up oblivious idiot. After her issue with Sharon and Vincent, there were very few people she trusted. The only other person besides Scot she was close to was her mother, Sandi. She stared outside watching a smattering of snowflakes dance in the air. Frost outlined the windshield. Darkening skies reflected a pending snowstorm coming. It would snow all weekend. Was it a prediction of her life to come? Was she losing her best friend?

The harsh knocks on her window made her jerk. She glanced through the glass and a groan escaped through her lips. Just when she almost had things figured out. She checked the in-dash clock. She would be late meeting Scot if she stayed at the university much longer. Mac opened the door and reluctantly eased from the warmth of the seat.

“We’ve ignored each other for years. What do you want?” She kept the car door cracked, unsure about Vincent or what he wanted. “Sharon won’t like you seeking me out.”

“Something has been bothering me for a long time and – well – I want an honest answer.” Vincent pressed his hands into his pockets.

Not all men were bad, but Vincent was an exception. He bought in to that I’m a player bullshit. Mac stared at him. She’d been attracted to his appearance and not the person. Another one of her mistakes.

The years had not been kind to her former lover. His once creamy café au lait complexion was sallow. That smooth and wavy hair she once ran her fingers over was missing from the center of his head to expose shiny skin at his crown. He was still fit but the late nights of beer and partying were starting to take its toll. A little paunch protruded where he once had a nice washboard stomach. Standing with him in the brisk air that whipped through the near empty parking lot, she felt like she’d dodged a bullet. “I’m late for an appointment, Vincent. Say what’s on your mind.”

“Is that little girl, your daughter…” He waved his fingers between them. “Is she mine?”

She wasn’t a lightweight, but damn if the wind couldn’t have blown her over in a breeze. What the hell did she ever see in the man? She blew out a breath and fog formed around her lips. Didn’t they have this conversation years ago when she was pregnant? Scot stepped in then. He hadn’t just been around for Teeka. He’d always protected her too.

Vincent cleared his throat. “I’m waiting for an answer.”

This asshole. She didn’t owe him a damn thing. Only one man deserved to be in Teeka’s life and it wasn’t the jerk standing in front of her. “My little girl has nothing to do with you.” It wasn’t a flat out lie; he’d donated the sperm that helped create her, but Scot was the man that was raising her and she would respect him for that. “She has a father. Scot.”

“That child don’t look like no mixed baby.”

You’re dealing with ignorance. “What does a biracial child look like?” The fucker didn’t deserve to be Teeka’s dad.

“She has light eyes and sandy hair but her skin isn’t light and her strands are nappy. She doesn’t have any of your fucking friend’s features. She should at least favor your white best friend.” Vincent sneered.

“I’ve seen your kid. She has green eyes and straight hair. Are you sure she is yours? I mean you and your wife – umm, that baby – she doesn’t exactly favor either of you.” Comparing her child to his, bastard please. Thank God her baby took after her in the looks department. “We come in all hues from cream to deep dark chocolate. How can you fix your mouth to say something like that?”

“Doing to you what I did, fucking your friend at the same time as you…I felt bad. But you are no better than me. I guess once a bitch, always a bitch. Sharon was right. You’re no better than a whore. I should have known there was something up when you introduced white boy as your ‘best friend.’” Vincent crooked his fingers in the air.

Such vitriol. “You sound like you’ve been holding in a lot of anger there, Vincent.” Why today of all days when she was supposed to be somewhere that this SOB decides to show his ass? This is the season of giving. She would let the stupidity tumbling out of his mouth slide. If only for her peace of mind. They could go back and forth until the Sun circled the Earth, the bottom line was did she care?

“I don’t give a damn about you or your half breed, you sellout bitch.” He shook his head and grumbled. “I should have trusted my wife. That little bastard doesn’t look anything like me.”

Yeah, you and Sharon belong together. All day she’d been trying to figure stuff out, her feelings, Scot’s actions, she was racking her brains for no reason. They’d established a family before Teeka was born and stuck together through every road bump life had thrown at them for over four years.

Mac returned to the warm interior of the cab. No wonder she’d felt like shit dating the adjunct professor. She’d ended the date early because she kept thinking about what Scotland and Teeka were doing. This morning, Diana had already called and told her about picking up her daughter and taking her to school. She went to his office anyway because she wanted to see him.

Mac pressed the start button and let the engine idle. Yeah, idiocy was definitely her second language. Her cell rang, the chimes ringing around her. She tapped the blue tooth in the steering wheel. “Yes, Scotland.” His name rolled smoothly off her tongue.

“You’re not here.” His voice wrapped around her like a warm cocoon.

“Vincent wanted to chat.”

“About what?” His tone took on a sharp edge.

“Nothing important.” Giving that dumbass rent-free space in her head, Vincent wasn’t worth it. “To quote you. I handled it.”

“Quotes?” A lull filled the space. “When did I say that?”

“I can’t with you.” And she hadn’t wanted to but now if felt right to make that next step. Fear bubbled up roiling in her gut. Could she do it? “If you have to get back to the office…”

“I already cleared my calendar for the rest of today to prepare for tomorrow night. Meet me at home and we’ll pick up Teeka for lunch.”

“I thought we were buying gifts? Or something.” Mac peered over at the clock. “She already had lunch.”

“You meant to buy Tiki’s Christmas presents too? Crap.”

“Santa will be here in eight days and I haven’t gotten anyone anything.”

“Really? I got the gift that Tiki wanted to give you.”

That wasn’t necessarily a good thing. “I’ll be at your place in twenty minutes.” The two of them buying her gift together meant her present could be anything from homemade slime to jewelry.

“I said home.”

“I know, I’m coming.”

“I meant your place. That’s home to me.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” As much time as he spent with her and Teeka there she could see why he saw it as his place too. It was time to settle the ambiguity between them. She would claim what’s hers. Mac pressed her lips together. She would try.











Chapter Three
Saturday



Staff fluttered to and fro in the restaurant, making last minute adjustments to the food stations and finishing up the decorations. Scot twisted around. Presents were under the tree and Tiki circled it several times, her little finger in the air as she counted off the festively papered gifts. Mac was still out buying last minute presents.

Since yesterday, the woman had been in a frenzy. He stared at Tiki but in his mind he was going over the day before. Mac was acting strange, reminiscing about things they’d gone through over the years. Talking about the future. He cocked his head to the side; something was up.

“Daddy?” Tiki tugged on his sweater. “I like your top.” She smiled widely.

“Thank you, my daughter picked it out.” He winked.

Giggles burst through her lips. “I’m hungry.”

Reba walked up to them. “Hey Dr. Reeves, Tiki. Everything is ready but all the Santa’s were rented so I had to go with an alternative.”

Tiki’s eyew widened. “Santy Claus is busy. Of course he’s not available.” She sucked her teeth as she shook her head.

He pressed his lips together to keep from chuckling. From the mouths of babes. “You took care of everything else?”

“Yes, and you’re right, Tiki. Santa sent his apologies and has offered a replacement.” Reba nodded.

“I hope it’s a reindeer and not an elf.” She scrunched up her nose. “They look annoying.”

A snort escaped him before he couldn’t call it back. He was reminded of how much his little girl had a mind of her own. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. She was Macrina two point zero. “Come along, my little love child, it’s time to pick up Nana.”

“And Grammy,” Tiki chimed in.

“We can’t forget her.” He took his daughter’s hand. “Reba, thanks for taking on the office manager role. I’ll take care of you in the New Year.”

“Not if Madame Blu is around.” She snorted. “I got this, Doc. Go have fun with Ms. Tiki.”

He would take care of the problem employee. You can’t fire someone at Christmas. If he knew who made up that asinine rule he would strangle them. They stepped through the glass doors into a flurry of flakes. “Come on, little bit, let’s run.” He scooped her up and they ran for his SUV. Her giggles floated on the breeze.

Themed Christmas music drifted from his cell. He dug it out before opening the door to set Tiki in her seat. He slid his finger across the screen. “Scot.”

“I picked up your mom. Pick up mine; you’re closer.” Mac’s tone exploded through the earpiece.

“I was on my way to get them both.” He slammed the door and jumped into the driver’s side.

“I know but I went to Diana’s to shower and change since her house is closer. The snow is starting to really come down, now.”

“Do you want me to get a couple rooms at the hotel we’re having the party at?” Three rooms would probably be enough. Him, Mac and Tiki, his mom and Ms. Sandi. Perhaps he should block a few more for employees who didn’t want to drive in the snow or were too drunk to get home.

“Are you trying to tell me something, Scotland Reeves?” Her throaty laughter sent currents to his cock.

He squirmed in his seat as his erection pressed into his zipper. Was she flirting with him? How the fuck was he supposed to respond? This was all new. Be honest. Yeah that’s the best way to handle Mac. “You have been throwing hints since yesterday. I’m just replying…baby.” He threw that last part in for good measure.

“Mommy is not a baby,” Tiki shouted from the back seat.

He forgot the child was behind him for a minute. Because of Mac he had lost his damn mind. “No she isn’t, Tiki.”

“Get off the phone and drive safe with our baby in the car.”

Wait – what? There was something wrong…Did Mac say our? Fuck, it might snow in Miami. “I’ll see you later.” And when he did, they were going to have a long talk.

“Daddy, I’m cold.”

He started the car. “Sorry Tiki.” He spun the thermostat knob and warm air blew through the vents. “Well get Grammy first. Okay?”

“K!” She pulled her bag across the seat and rifled through it. “Shark song, Daddy.” Annoying music filled the interior.

Yes, he and Mac would have a long talk. He owed her for the damn song that wouldn’t die. Snow grew thicker, coating his windshield. If the storm kept up, the Christmas celebration might be a bust. Lights flashed red ahead of him and he braked. What would normally be a ten minute drive was going to be infinitely longer. Scot pressed the buttons on the radio, searching for the weather station.

Intermittent flurries throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Beware of black ice on the roads…

Great. He turned down the street and twisted the steering wheel to turn again. Snow drifts were forming on the curbs. Scot slowed to a crawl and the music that kept Tiki entertained changed. The wheels on the bus go round and round. She belted out the words to the tune.

He pulled into Ms. Sandi’s driveway. Mac’s mom was hurrying out the front door and down the porch steps before he had his door open. She hustled around the front fender and wrenched the door open. Cold air whipped around the seats.

She stepped up into the SUV and scooted into the seat. “It’s colder than a witch’s cootch.”

“I though it was hotter.” Scot looked over at his best friend’s mom.

“You have it backwards, boy. It is ‘hotter than the Devil’s drawers’ and ‘colder than a witch’s cootch.’” She set the bag she carried between her legs and settled in the seat. “I was ready, then Macrina called and told me to pack a bag for an overnight stay.”

“Hi Grammy!” Tiki called out.

“Hello Grammy’s precious.” Sandi twisted around to peer into the backseat.

“When we get back I’m going to block some rooms so family, friends or staff can stay over if they are drunk or don’t want to drive home tonight,” Scot added between the lull of Tiki and Ms. Sandi.

“You’re a good boss and it’s about time,” Sandi breathed out.

“It’s better to sleep off the alcohol than to get on the road. Even sober driving in a storm isn’t safe.”

“That’s not what I am talking about.” Sandi shook her head. “Diana is right. You and Macrina are oblivious.”

Sometimes Ms. Sandi spoke in circles. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He backed out of the drive and drove down the lane.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Teeka is four and even she knows the truth about you and Macrina.” Ms. Sandi shook her head.

And so it begins. Best friends and college roommates Sandi Smith and Diana Neuburg had a dream. Not something normal like world peace or ending hunger. No, they wanted something much more personal and that was to be related. They already acted like sisters but if they just happened to have children of different sexes all the better because their offspring could be married off – to each other. He knew this because Diana had told him her wishful little fairytale that she and Ms. Sandi schemed up many times over the years.


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